Hibernating over winter?

Stephen Edwards 28.3.2012

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Winter is not generally a busy time in the motorcycle world and as such most of us will have turned our thoughts to other more appropriate past times, since last years season ended. There has, however, been a few things going on in the industry that have been noteworthy since the weather turned cold.

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The annual Milan show, EICMA, happened last October and its events were, of course, well covered here on Moto Denik. That is not to say that some of those things and their after effects are not worth mentioning again. The talk of the show was the new 1199 Panigale from Ducati and much hype was made of it before and during the launch. On the surface this was just another super sports bike launch and while interesting, not exactly a new experience for any of us. There was however some much deeper undertones here, for the company, as they had given themselves a couple of very hard acts to follow. Two years previously Ducati had launched the long awaited Multistrada and it had taken the industry by storm. The success of the bike was down to a good number of things but fundamentally it was because it saw the Italian brand leading the industry in the ways of adopting and developing new technology that previously would have been seen as the domain of the Japanese. There was no question that this bike was going to be a hard act to match any time soon. That however is exactly what the same company did twelve months later when they unleashed the Diavel on an unsuspecting public.

This was an ever braver move as it took the brand away from its traditional, hard core, sports roots by a far greater margin than ever before. There is no doubt the Diavel is still a performance machine, by anyone's standards but the aesthetics alone divided opinion amongst the faithful and opened up the company to a whole range of people who previously would not have given them a second look. The sales success of these two models is now well written and helped Ducati, in 2011, to a record year of sales. This is no mean feat considering the crisis was still very much in everyones minds and most other manufacturers were reporting stories of financial and sales problems. So to the latest offering and just what could the company do to keep the momentum rolling. We all new that the launch was going to be a replacement for the 1198 and we also new, that for the first time, the new bike was not just going to be called by a number but also a name - the 1199 Panigale.

This being the second part of the suburb of Bologna that Ducati are actually located in i.e. Borgo Panigale. The market for super sports bikes is shrinking as people move towards the all rounder category such as the best selling BMW GS range and its like. So this machine had to be something pretty special to peak interest and well it is. I have not ridden one yet but you just have to read the reviews of the worlds press, who were lucky enough to be on the launch, to realise just how good it is. I will not go into details here about the features but let's just take it as read that for the third year in succession there is something pretty special in red! I don't know if Ducati have something up their sleeves ready for a launch in 2012 or not but what has happened is that these events, along with some very good business practices has put Ducati right at the forefront of the business world and thus they are being offered for sale. This is also nothing new as the company has changed hands at least three times in the past twenty five years. The thing that is significantly different now is the state that it is in this time and it is testament to all that has been done that it is being offered at a value of 1 billion Euros and even at that price there are a good number of serious parties interested.

Another, slightly lower key, launch at Milan but in some ways perhaps even more notable came from Honda. The Japanese have not had a lot of really ground breaking news over the past few years and have shown some real conservative restraint and prudence whilst things have been economically tough. It can be said that actually the Honda NC700S and NC700X are very much in that vein too, at least on the surface. These two bikes,however, have the potential to move the industry into a totally new direction. At one time the motorcycle was very much a cheap, utilitarian mode of economical transport, aimed at the masses as a simple way of getting from point A to B. The situation has turned from being primarily that, at least in the western world, into a hobby and leisure past time, where the vast majority of riders use their bike as a secondary mode of getting around. In the main the motorcycle has become neither cheap to buy nor economical to run. The market demanded big engines that would give good speed, power, comfort and do it all with unquestionable reliability. No matter how we try to twist the figures in our favour, the basic truth is that a small, diesel family car can be bought for similar money to many large capacity bikes and run a whole lot cheaper. In addition to all this we are firmly in the mobile phone and i-pod age where consumer goods are changed and upgraded on a regular basis just because a new feature has been found. To quite a number of people this also applies to their motorcycle, as bizarre as that seems to me personally.

So with all of this in mind it was very refreshing to see these new Honda machines, which are squarely aimed at offering cheaper, more economical, real world motorcycling. I have heard it said, in simple terms, that what Honda have done is taken the engine from their Jazz car, cut it in half and thrown it into a motorcycle frame. I am fairly sure that there is whole lot more to it than just that but in essence there are some basic effects that would be true if such thing had happened. This new machine runs at, by motorcycle standards, low engine speeds and as such it is ridden in a different way to higher performance machines, requiring it to be 'short shifted', or at least feeling like that. The up side is that this machine is returning some fantastic fuel consumption figures but all the while it is still a full size, 700cc motorcycle that you can use as every day and holiday transport. It is not going to win any races against a determined rider on most other machines of a similar size. On the other hand it is still more than capable of taking you into speed zones where your licence will become ancient history, if the Police should notice you misbehaving. So here we have a full size machine, that sips fuel, will put a grin on your face, will do the every day commute and more, has the now legendary Honda build quality and service back up yet still has a purchase price of a little over 135,000Kc. It will not be for everyone, that is for sure and some people are feeding back that it is not engaging to ride. It would appear however that they have not realised that this kind of machine needs a re-calibration of the brain to adapt to a different style of driving. In any case that is not important, what is significant is that Honda have taken the step to develop and launch something new that addresses the economical side of usage and it has been a brave thing to do. No one knows if it shall be a sales success or not but it certainly deserves to be and if it brings more people into and/or stops others leaving biking, then it can only be for the good.

As previously mentioned the all round bike category has seen a strengthening over the past years and perhaps more specifically in the Adventure category. BMW, more or less, defined this genre with the GS range, now close to thirty years old and is still the bike against which all others are measured. It certainly tops the sales chart in a good number of countries, attracting customers that the likes of KTM, Yamaha, Moto Guzzi and Triumph are all trying to poach. It is the last name on this list that have made the latest release into the sector with a new 1200 Explorer. A lot of interest surrounds this new model and the British factory know that they have to get it right to turn the heads and wallets of those who would, by default, be heading towards BMW. Indeed it is thinly veiled statements aimed at BMW that Triumph have used as a platform for some of their launch features. They have taken note that, allegedly, some of the power figures provided for BMW machines in the past were true for those bikes that were provided to the press but were not what was delivered to the actual customers. Now I am not saying if that is accurate or not but it lays out quite plainly where Triumph are aiming this machine. I also think it would be a whole lot better to focus your efforts in launching a new machine, 100% at your own product and not mention the competition at all. There has also been much talked about the quality of the engineering that has gone into the shaft drive of the new Triumph and their claims that it will be the best system available. There is little doubt that BMW have had more than their fair share of issues with shaft drives on their bikes, primarily with failed oil seals but also instances of crown gears failing, though as is always the way, it is only the bad that people talk about. Lets face it, when you are number one, as they are, then you are there for others to take pot shots at. The new Triumph enters the arena priced very competitively against its main rival, though this is one area that is rather hard to judge, as it seems that no one ever buys just the standard GS but loads it up with many extras. It will be interesting to see how the new Triumph sells but there is no doubt that it has already attracted a lot of interest.

Sticking with talk of BMW, they also made news at EICMA and subsequently with the launch of the production versions, of their new maxi scooters. These bikes were shown to the public at the previous years show as a concept idea but this was the idea taken to reality and come to us as the C600 Sport and C650GT. In spite of the different numbers both bikes share the same 647cc, twin cylinder engine and chain final drive. This is not the first time that BMW have entered the scooter market, though I am sure they hope that this time round they have a bit more success than they managed with the previous C1 model. That, of course, was a small wheeled machine, with a roof that attracted a hard core range of devotees but never reached the hearts and minds of the wider biking public. It remains to be seen how these new machines will be accepted but it is a bold step and like the Honda NC700 offers a practical side to biking. I am not convinced that the maxi scooter will be as economical as the Honda but in all honesty I don't have figures right now to know one way or another. The purchase price of the Honda is certainly lower, indeed if you take the high spec version of the C600/650 then you are nearly getting to be double the price and that, I feel, is a big problem. It is going to be hard for many people to see why they should spend that sort of money on a scooter when they can get a full size motorbike, for nearly half the price, that has Honda quality, better economy and will out perform the scooter in nearly every area. Very briefly whilst talking of large scooters, Aprilia also launched the worlds biggest and fastest scooter in the shape of the 850cc Aprilia SRV850.The parent group of Aprilia, Piaggio previously had made the Gilera GP800, which was also a large engined maxi scooter that went like a scalded cat, so how similar the two are shall be interesting to see. It is of note that this large corporation also sees value in this market sector. These maxi scoots do attract buyers in places like Italy, France and Spain and they are quite prepared to spend the money on them so hopefully BMW can join in the game and do well.

So whilst I am glad the weather is starting to get warmer at least the winter has not been completely void of biking activity. There has been lots of other things happening but these are what caught my attention.

Ride safe out there this season and remember that we all need to try and do our bit to promote motorcycling in this country. Please ride with courtesy for others, safely and if you really feel the need to try and ride like Rossi then head to Most or Brno to do it. It is a lot more fun on the track than the road and a whole lot safer too.

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