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2003 Milan Show
The 61st edition of the Milan's EICMA show has not failed to impress, regardless of all the new model pics that leaked through the net in the last weeks. Yep, MO and the rest of the web are a priceless source of info, but with bikes being bikes, there's nothing like getting up close to freshly shaped body panels, finely extruded frame spars or sexy stewardesses. So, just as I was turning into a cynical international show goer that has seen and touched it all, there comes a show with some really fine content, mighty interesting concept bikes and a real deluge of hypersport models. OK now, lets go stand by stand.
Aprilia's boss, Ivanno Beggio wins MO's prize for the biggest balls in the industry. From Bicycle maker to world beater in about 30 years, the guy owns besides Aprilia, also Moto Guzzi and Laverda and the amount of new stuff to be seen in their common stand was nothing short of amazing. MO-ridians have already read about the mightily fun new RSV- R in its Mugello launch story. Now the exotic Erre Factory model gets an even exoti-er brother in the form of The RSV-R Nera, which means black in Italian, as in coal\carbon black. All body panels and the fuel tank get the aerospace stuff treatment, there are some light engine tweaks and this Limited Edition super lightweight model is not going to be cheap. We were all half hoping for the Mana or Blue Marlin to go into production but got instead an amazing jewel in the shape of a 450 V-Twin that's intended for off-road use and supermotards. I wouldn't be surprised if the thing develops 60-70 HP at 12K. With Aprilia being Aprilia, I wouldn't be surprised either if the same power unit will be slotted into RS250 frames, something that could result in a very nice hypersport lightweight.
A very strong trend spotted in Milan was that of ever sportier scooters, all with 500 cc, 40 HP and up engines. Aprilia's new entry was rather special being a fuel injected 500 two-stroke single developing 50 hp. D-Tec air injection technology allows it to pass the tight Euro2 emission controls. Claimed 1/4 mile times for the Leonardo 500 scoot are in the 12.5 sec zone. Will this do something for the anti-scooter brigade of MO?
A bit of a disappointment really. Photos of the new, lighter and more powerful 1200GS were leaking days before the opening but it was a no-show. So there weren't much news in the German stand besides the Montauk version of the R1200C and a 850 version of the plain R1150R painted in somber black, just like the first Beemer of 1923. A merry way to celebrate 80 years. See you in Munich, guys.
Claudio Castiglioni's guys are beginning to breathe again after the whole acquisition mess/flop with Piaggio has cleared. Biggest effort was lashed on the new MV1000 and on re-launching the Husqvarna range but it didn't stop the talented Miguel Galuzzi from producing a cool Raptor Variant named X3. Enjoy the view.
All sorts of racing variations on the 999 - 749 theme, all costing an arm and a leg but at last, Ducati is serious about returning to SS racing. Mere humans though, get a nicely upgraded ST3 sport tourer with a new 3 valve per cylinder engine of 992 c.c.'s. With its claimed 102 hp it should be a closer rival to other Euro Tourers without the extra cost of the 996 engine of the ST4. ST3's and ST4's get a new upper front fairing, which is characterized by a new front headlamp. A real improvement on the odd old headlight of the ST range but it has some oriental aftertaste about it. Smaller versions of the excellent selling Multistrada are about to arrive. Maybe in November's Bologna show.
The brand that belongs to the Piaggio group has seen some ups and downs. Two years ago I was at the presentation of a gorgeous GSXR 600 powered supersport model that was never heard of again. The guys concentrate now on the sportier scooters of the Piaggio range but have not forgot that this was once a GP winning factory. Using two upper ends of the Piaggio Beverly 500 engine, they have built an 850cc 90 degree V-Twin. Thing is that its got an electronic controlled automatic gearbox. This nice power unit has been slotted now into a sporty and aggressive looking streetfighter concept model named "Ferro". The rider can choose to go with the fully automatic box in city traffic or switch to pedal "shifting" in the twisties.
For those wanting a very sporty scooter/motorcycle right now, the Nexus 500 has entered production and sports nice features like a progressive linked monoshock hidden under the tail and rigid bearings instead of rubber bushings holding the engine/swingarm unit.
As Moto Guzzi's owner for the last 3 years, Beggio is now proving that behind his acquisition of the brand there was serious respect for this historic name and not a quick-buck strategy. The small 750 Breva is proving to be a very nice seller for Guzzi and is being joined now by an 1100 brother. Although I did enjoy the 750 Breva, I was left with the feeling that there was too much old Guzzi technology of the wrong period in it. The 1100 Breva is something else. There are some very heavy updates in the engine, gearbox and final transmission areas. They are just to numerous to list here. In any case, it's a really gorgeous looking, classy standard mount that closes a big gap in the line-up. Look at that new swingarm with a patented, concealed anti-torque reaction mechanism. Cool.
The cruiser-custom market has always been a big segment in Guzzi sales and the people from Mandello jump now onto the Power Cruiser bandwagon with the extravagant Grisso that is going into production. See it in the next Terminator sequel?
Last, the sex oozing MGS 01 goes into a limited production run but only as a racer. On the other hand Americans should get more than a glimpse of the thing as its going to be entered next year in the air-cooled twin class in Formula Extreme.
The Honda stand wins MO's special trophy for the best legs in the show. Go and examine the new CBR1000RR and the like under those towering extremities. A hard job but somebody had to do it. The technical details of the 1000RR are already known but Honda (like Kawasaki) still won't divulge power and weight figures. We are yet to ride front to front the new liter crop, but with the new philosophy frames of the ZX10 and R1, you can't help but notice that the trademark bulging frame spars of the CBR are a bit old school. So is the bore/stroke ratio, the most conservative of the new liter crop (although still shorter than the GSXR's). On the other hand, there is plenty of hi-tech stuff in the RR. The electronic steering damper was put on a special try-out stand and showed the smooth transition from low to high damping that is controlled by acceleration sensors. Then there is the unit pro-link in the back.
Quite a lot of gossiped about models, like upgraded Superblackbird and Firestorm, were a no-show but there were some pleasant surprises for entry and mid-level riders. A new family called the CBF was presented and reminded me of the times when the CB range started at 250 and went up to 750. The CBF 250 single is an air cooled beginners bike, the CBF 500 Twin gets a monoshock and new body work whereas the CBF600 four is a more touring oriented version of the successful Hornet 600 and comes in naked or faired (S) versions. It sports also ABS and adjustable seat and handlebars and thus raises the standards in mid-level mounts. Honda has become now the company with the largest range of ABS braked model with the Varadero 1000 and the new CBF500 also getting the system. Talking about concept models, shades of the ill fated Pacific-Coast 800 could be seen in the cute scooter/motorcycle proposal with a true trunk, big enough for two full face helmets between the rider legs.
On this side of the pond, we don't know much about cruisers. The VN2000 V-Twin looks the part with its facsimile headlamp "Nacelle" and other bad-boy detailing. Looks like it should also give Honda's VTX 1800 a good fight.
If you've seen the Z1000, you've seen the Z750. The nose fairing is changed a bit and the strange four silencers give way to a sportier looking 4-1 system. The Z1000 is doing nice things for Kawasaki. In Italy alone, it, together with the 636cc ZX6R have raised sales of green meanies big time. Now Kawasaki tries to do the same capacity-outflanking trick, confronting the Z750 with the sales leading Hornet 600. Last but not least, Kawasaki presented a concept touring bike with a very futuristic ZZR. Center hub steering, changeable riding position by a parallelogram mounted handlebar. It's good to see that these guys are planing ahead even if it looked more like the work of non-riding car designers.
Not much news in their large off-road offerings now that the 450 and 250 four strokes are out and in direct confrontation with Japan. More exciting for road riders was of course the final production version of the 950 Duke. It looks just as good as the Show model of last year and its 75 degree 950cc twin should develop 115 hp. Coupled with a 175 kg of weight it should make for one wild ride. Thing is that production is scheduled for the later half of next year, so stunt addicts out there are going to hold their breath some more.
We are not done with Beggio yet. Last jewel in the crown is the Laverda brand. The promised blaring orange SFC 1000 enters limited production. 549 samples, exactly the number of the original 750 SFC's production racers that were produced back in the early seventies. Lower spec Laverdas 1000, powered by the RSV-R V-Twins should follow the exotic SFC. The unpainted, hand welded, Chrome-Molly frame and the aluminum swinging arm are a beaut.
As said in the context of Cagiva, The Castiglioni owned MV group is slowly raising from the ashes and at last, the much expected 1000cc version of the F4 has finally arrived. It looks gorgeous, but it should be as the design is very much the same as that of the 750 F4. Nothing wrong with the masterpiece, it's just that with it being 6 years old, it's more like excellent old wine rather than a shockingly new pink pill. At a claimed 166 hp, the new MV1000S is right there with the 172 hp R1 even if in the weight department its should be quite a few kilos behind. For those that find the 1000S version just too mundane, there is a special Tamburini edition with has some nice technical touches under the few tank. An F1 technology, variable geometry intake tract, should enhance both low and high RPM breathing instead of compromising them both. At a claimed 174 hp, the new MV1000 Tamburini can claim to be the strongest sports liter bike in the world and at 40,000 Euros a pop, it better be.
New investor's money in Mondial was in evidence. Rather than just one naked model based on the Piega Honda RC51 engine and proprietary frame, two were on show. The wild RZ streetfighter is the handiwork of designer Massimo Zaniboni while the more production minded RZ Nuda was done by the French Boxer Design group.
We all expected Suzuki to react to he SS600 wars with a revamped GSXR600, nobody expected Suzuki to soldier on with the 750 displacement that falls into a wonderful no-mans land of almost 600 agility with almost 900cc power. Both new GSXR's follow the 1000 footsteps with narrow extruded frame spars and overall design line. Though it must be said that the 600/750 headlamp is much better looking than the one in the 1000. Both engines are seriously upgraded and titanium valves should let both rev to the moon. Their ultra low weights are phenomenal. With the liter wars going totally insane, me thinks the 750 might be the better street sport bike with the rider's life expectancy thrown into the equation.
The V-Strom's small 650 brother is just that. Close examination of the new faired GS500 reveals that its still the good old two valve engine in there rather than a four valve as first thought. Reasonable considering that beginner bikes in Europe are limited to 33 hp anyway. The Marauder 1600 cruiser seems to be the fruit of the first real technology exchange between Suzuki and Kawasaki as it uses the same power unit of the 1600 Mean Streak.
Big news at the stand was of course the 2300cc Rocket Three. After seeing in it in the flesh, its easy to see that Triumph got their inspiration for the model from those 30's American in-line fours rather than from Milwaukee products. To house such a behemoth of an engine within a manageable wheelbase, the cylinder block sits off center to the right while the left side of the crankcase houses the transmission. Humiliating R1's with its 2,8 seconds for 0-60mph should be a matter of just twisting the throttle and laughing all the way to the next stoplight. The Thruxton 900 is maybe what the new twin should have been in the first place. An increase of displacement to 865cc and hotter cams result in a healthier claimed 70 hp while styling wise it's a cafe racer's dream come true.
Judging by the sheer size of the crowd gathered around the R1, this bike wins MO's "Most Wanted" award. Have a look at the sectioned bike, have a look at the whole thing, me thinks that Yamaha's got a real winner here. The tightness with which the mechanical elements fit within this tight package is amazing. Look at the way the exhaust pipe and shock linkage fight for space within the swingarm or the tight hugging of the tire by the swingarm cross brace. The thing is really 600SS narrow between the knees and that red line at 13,500 for chrissake, this is really mind boggling (11,500 in the CBR ). Funny to see the engine going back to a 40 degree tilt, just like in the FZR1000 of old. The design is almost up there with Italian masterpieces.
MO-ridians have already read about the 600 naked FZ6 that's going to do battle with Hornet 600 on the sales floor.
Another two new models are the result of a total revamp of the good old XT big thumper. It's got now a water-cooled, 4 valve top end, 660 c.c. and a twin cradle frame instead of the old single backbone. Its good to see a fresh big trailie, a class that has been a bit neglected in the past few years (Honda's XR650 never being sold as a road model really). The XT660 in its X version is also the first official Japanese made Supermotard. Till now it was only local importers that were fitting 17" road tires to off-road Japanese models. The MT03 concept bike carries the Supermoto theme forward and offers a glimpse on the sort of multiroad big singles that we could be riding in a few years time.
This year's New and Notable Award: