I'm just back from my annual pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham for the bike show, Motorcycle Live. I enjoyed it – seeing the bikes and the people and, more than anything, the bustle and excitement. No sense of doom and gloom here, just a celebration of biking, with something for everyone.
I admit, I arrived thinking there weren't too many new bikes to see (and the one I really did want to see – the new Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello wasn't there) but in fact there were plenty of bikes ticking the new box... and while I'm not sure I saw anything that would make me swap my Kawasaki Z1000SX or Honda CrossTourer, I saw lots I liked.
Ducati Multistrada Rally
I've ridden and very much enjoyed the Ducati V4 Multistrada S, but now it's joined by this beast: the same 170bhp motor but now with a 30L tank, spoked wheels and longer-travel (but still semi-active electronic) suspension; the GS-Adventure style off-road/round-the-world spec. The riding position feels really natural, seated or standing, and it looks beautifully put together. As it should be for £23,590 (before you add any extras). Apart from the price, I think the chain drive and thirst of that V4 motor might put me off… but with a Lottery win I'd be right there.
Ducati Desert X
The other bike on the Ducati stand that grabbed my attention and Nick's was the Desert X. "Now that's more affordable," I said confidently, before seeing it's actually £14,795... so quite a chunk less than the Rally, but not a budget bike by any means. It's far less hi-tech than its more expensive stablemate, with a 110bhp twin and less electronics, but seems just as well screwed together. With 21in front and 18in rear wheels it does feel more of a go-anywhere on/off-roader.
The updated, revamped Honda Transalp also looked very much the part – 21/18 wheels, 17 litre tank to keep the weight down (less than 210kg) but with a 90bhp 755cc parallel twin that should be impressively frugal, for a decent range. It definitely felt smaller than the Desert X (the 850mm seat is 25mm lower) and didn't have quite the same "premium" feel – instead it seemed a nice mix of practical and tough, though I bet the gold spoked wheels will be a pain to keep clean...
Suzuki V-Strom 800DE
The middleweight spoked-wheel adventure bike market does seem to be where it's at, with the long-running but recently restyled V-Strom getting a third version – an 800 powered by an all-new 83bhp 776cc parallel twin, sitting between the 1050 and 600 versions. It's only available in DC form – which means 21/18 wheels and long-travel suspension. Personally, I still preferred the looks of the 1050 XT version, but I suspect this 800 is going to be great-value.
When we're talking about bikes that promise to be great value, though, I was very taken with the new Honda CB750 Hornet. Previous Hornets used inline fours (derived from FireBlade and CBR600 lumps) but this one has the same 755cc parallel twin as the new Transalp. Claimed kerb weight is 190kg, so it should be lively enough to be entertaining – and it's just seven grand (sorry, £6999). It doesn't seem built down to the price: just well made but simple. Which is great.
There were a lot of electric bikes at the show... and I'm sorry, but I'm still sceptical to the point of being dismissive. I don't use a bike to do short journeys – I need it to be able to get me across entire countries in a few hours and electric bikes can't do that (yet). Neither can hydrogen bikes, but Kawasaki had prototypes on its stand, along with the motor in a box – looking not too dissimilar to a petrol engine (the problem, though, will be carrying enough hydrogen – never mind being able to buy it on your travels). Clearly, that's not a viable replacement for petrol yet, either... but it's nice to see someone is seriously working on an alternative to electric.
There were loads of other bikes to see as well – from pretty retros like the Yamaha XSRs and Kawasaki Z900RS and Z650RS to the resurrected (again) Nortons and beautifully build CCM Spitfires. There were good-sized stands from all the major manufacturers – apart from the Piaggio group (Aprilia and Moto Guzzi) – as well as smaller brands such as AJS and Benelli. There was a reasonable shopping area (and I managed to get a new flipfront helmet at a decent discount) plus all the demo and exhibition areas, a constant stream of activities on the main stage and, generally, a really positive vibe to the whole show. I very much enjoyed it (but my feet are sore now...). If you can go, I recommend it.
Motorcycle Live runs until Sunday November 27. For ticket info click here