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ICYMI – EICMA 2020

A look at all the other stuff that caught my eye from this year's big moto show in Milan

I am a moto-nerd, inclined to talk about motorcycles incessantly even when I know full well that no one cares. That is, after all, the reason I started this blog. So it should come as no surprise that EICMA is one of the highlights of the year for me.

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I usually try to ride out to Milan, Italy, to attend the Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo e Motociclo in person – having arrived in previous years via a Victory Vision (RIP Victory), Kawasaki GTR1400, and Honda Gold Wing Tour – but missed out this time due to financial hardship. With petrol, food, hotels and Channel crossings, tackling the 2,000-mile roundtrip from Cardiff to Milan ain’t cheap – typically costing in excess of £1,200. Motorcycle.com’s Ryan Adams told me this year’s event was “smaller than in years past” but I think he was just trying to make me feel better.

Even if he was telling the truth there was still a hell of a lot of new stuff announced, considerably more than I would have predicted. I’ve already covered Suzuki’s ‘new’ V-Strom 1050, as well as Harley-Davidson’s trickling of details about the Pan America and Bronx, and the release of the BMW F 900 R, but with November fast becoming December and all kinds of other reveals on the way , I thought I’d do a round-up of all the other things that caught my attention from this year’s show.

Note my phrasing there: “things that caught my attention.” I’m sure the new Honda CBR1000RR-RRRRRRRRRR is a thing to behold, for example, but it just doesn’t really fire the imagination for me. I don’t look at it and start to daydream about what life would be like if I owned one. Same goes for that middleweight Aprilia that quite a lot of other folks seem keen on. Such is the beauty of EICMA, though: there’s something for everybody. 

BMW

Before EICMA I would have guessed that the bike I’d be going all stupid for would be the R 18 concept bikes. Being from Texas I can’t help but be at least a little bit interested in humongous engines. The humongouser and stupider the better, by gawd. Surprisingly, though, it turns out the thing I actually care about is the aforementioned F 900 R. Having now seen that bike in person at Motorcycle Live I can confirm that space does exist for cruise control buttons. Its ergonomics are a teency bit sportier than I would have predicted but something I could get used to. As I say, I’m becoming an old man.

I’m nonplussed* by the F 900 XR, however. I’m sure I’d not hate riding it but the styling is so poor that I feel a strange pre-emptive buyer’s regret just looking at it. It looks like what you’d get from a Chinese motorcycle company that’s trying to copy a Kawasaki Versys 650 after having only been told what a Versys 650 looks like.

KEEP READING: I Do Not Understand My Fascination With the BMW F 900 R

Actually, I feel something similar about the styling of the R 18 /2 concept bike. Sure, it has a colossal 1800cc boxer twin powerplant that almost certainly delivers the fun on an equally colossal scale but aesthetically it’s a disappointment (UPDATE: BMW has released specs for the R 18 engine, claiming 91 horsepower and 150 Newton-meters of torque). This is what you would get if a Suzuki designer was asked to copy a Harley-Davidson Low Rider S but only allowed to view it in passing.

“Look, there’s one over there. Make it like that. But more plasticky. We love plastic.”

DUCATI

Ducati sought to get the jump on EICMA coverage by releasing most of its stuff a week or so before the show. As implied above, I don’t tend to be all that taken with sportbikes, but it seems Ducatis are the exception for me. It’s completely illogical; the 108hp SuperSport is one of the least pleasant motorcycles I’ve ever ridden but I want one sooooooo much. So, although I lack the skill to get the most out of the 154 hp of the 955cc Panigale V2, as well as bank account to obtain it, I can’t help but stare at it and think: “Ooooooooh. Shiny.”

More pertinent to my interests, however, is the Scrambler Desert X bike that was unveiled as a concept. Aesthetically, the bike is very obviously inspired by the Cagiva Elefant of the 1990s. In those days Ducati was owned by Cagiva and its Dakar-focused Elefant was driven by a Ducati V-twin. There’s some classic history revisionism taking place in Ducati’s having conveniently forgotten that the Elefant was largely seen as a dud. The bike was beset by the sort of quality issues that make people distrust Italian bikes in general.

But, hey, Ducati’s had five different owners since then. And this time ’round we’re dealing with a bike that is effectively a Scrambler 1100 playing old-school dress-up. I’m fully behind this. The only criticisms that stand out in memory of my time with the Scrambler 1100 were the absence of weather protection and the fact that even the smallest amount of muck on the road will end up on you due to the absence of mud guards. It’s uncertain when (or if) the Desert X concept will become a reality, but I’d certainly be interested. However, I’d think that it would face strong competition from another Italian retro-styled adventure bike.

ENERGICA

Speaking of Italians, Energica, which currently has the best-looking electric bike on the market in the form of its Eva EsseEsse9, announced that new ‘+’ versions of its bikes will be capable of ~250 miles in city riding, or ~110 miles in straight highway riding. Combine this with a fast charger that can bring the battery up to 80 percent in 40 minutes and you’ve got an electric that I can easily and happily live with. I mean, 80 kW of power and an arm-ripping 200 Nm of torque, four riding modes, six-level lean-sensitive traction control, lean-sensitive ABS and cruise control – yes to every bit of it. There’s only one problem: it costs €21,400. That’s £18,300 – markedly less than a Harley-Davidson LiveWire (which costs a cup of coffee less than £29,000) but still pretty damned hard on the wallet.

Energica EsseEsse9
Energica EsseEsse9

HARLEY-DAVIDSON

An addendum to my previous comments on the Bronx and Pan America: I got a chance to see both in person at Motorcycle Live last week and found my opinion of both improved. The Bronx is far better looking in the flesh; it looks more put together and more thought out than pictures would suggest. However, it sure does have a hell of a lot of plastic. The girls at Harley’s stand were on me like a hawk, but the one piece of plastic I did manage to flick at struck me as a little less robust than what I’d want for whatever Harley will inevitably charge for this thing.

The Pan America, meanwhile, looks great. I absolutely love it. It is a tank. It is so ugly and so stupid; I want one. It reminds me of the sort of wild thing I would have drawn when I was 10 years old, sketching myself into funny cars with huge rear wheels, engine pouring from the hood, mounted machine guns and rocket launchers (when I was 10 literally everything I drew was heavily armed), and a rack of flood lights. The Pan America is of that spirit, which, I think, truthfully is the spirit of Harley-Davidson. If the company were brave enough to be honest, it would use the motto: “Fucking stupid. Fucking awesome.”

KEEP READING: Harley-Davidson Offers Glimpses of Pan America, Bronx 975

That’s the KSP of Harley-Davidson. Its bikes are stupid, and that’s awesome. Some people don’t get this, obviously, which is why they are so vitriolic in their response to Harley bikes. As I stood at Motorcycle Live ogling the Pan America, trying to memorize every chunky nook and cranny so I could go home and daydream about owning one, I overheard at least three blokes spluttering their disdain, using descriptives that, if you think about it, don’t actually make sense. Like calling it a disgrace. What? The lady doth protest too much, methinks. It occurs to me that some folks hate on Harley because they feel that’s a thing they’re supposed to do.

It’s not something people really do with other manufacturers. The aforementioned BMW F 900 XR is ugly-lazy in its design and I’ve encountered quite a few people who would agree with me on that. But you could stand next to that bike all day at a moto show and I doubt very much you’d get any blokes swaggering up to it just so they can loudly proclaim: “Ugh! What a fookin’ disgrace.”

All that said, I’m still pretty sure I wouldn’t want to take the Pan America on dirt any more challenging than a fire road. There’s something about this bike that just screams “BROKEN FEMUR.” But I think it will be a fantastic road/touring machine.

HONDA

Look at the comments sections in the handful of outlets that covered Honda’s CB4X Concept and the general response is a bunch of whining from old dudes who feel they’re clever for using the old “Honda’s answering questions nobody asked” slight. Personally, though, I really like this thing and would love to see Honda bring it into production.

The concept was developed by Honda’s Rome R&D Center and perhaps in homage to that fact Honda’s media release has a certain Italian level of hyperbole, claiming the bike’s “fuel tank hunches forward, like a cobra ready to attack its prey.”

Sure. Whatever. Nonetheless, the recently retired CBR650F format had solid potential to serve as a middleweight sport tourer. It was replaced by the more sport-focused CBR650R but that doesn’t mean that the idea of a comfortable, tourable 650cc inline four should be abandoned. This bike looks great to me (though, it does have a certain Motus quality to it). With some typical touring features like ride modes and cruise control I’d think you’d have a hell of a machine on your hands. Ignore the old dudes, Honda, and make this thing.

KAWASAKI

Back in February when I was very seriously considering buying a Kawasaki Z1000SX (I ended up getting a Triumph Bonneville T120 because, yeah, those two bikes are totally comparable) one of the major drawbacks for me was an absence of cruise control. I told myself I could live without it – and, indeed, I could have – but somehow I just knew that the feature was going to show up in the next model year. And I knew that the frustration of having bought the Z1000SX just one year too early would burn my soul.

Lo and behold, Kawasaki has introduced cruise control for the Z1000SX… and changed its name slightly, calling it the Ninja 1000SX. Usually name changes exist solely for the purpose of making you think something is newer than it really is (eg, changing the Tiger Explorer into the Tiger 1200) but in this case I suppose it’s a good call. Going forward Ninjas have fairing, Zs don’t. That was largely the case, anyway, but Kawasaki has now codified it. 

Outside of the name, cruise control, a TFT screen and a few electro bits the Ninja 1000SX has indeed changed very little from its 2019 version. Perhaps not a bad thing, as the bike has been the most popular sport-touring machine in Britain for a number of years.

KTM

I don’t know. Do I care about the 890 Duke R? On paper I do; 89 kW and 99 Nm of torque sounds pretty damned impressive. The looks don’t set my heart aflame but I don’t hate them. Most moto-journos I know swoon over KTM bikes…

And yet, I feel I’m only mentioning this bike because I feel I should. Truthfully, there is something about the KTM brand that misfires with me. I don’t understand it. I feel I’m not the only one, though. KTM seems to be the brand that everyone agrees is really good but no one really buys. Discuss.

2020 KTM Duke 890 R

MV AGUSTA

The whole time I was growing up, my father loved the Jaguar E-type. In my late 20s, I found an early ’70s model that needed some work and showed a bunch of photos to my dad to gauge his enthusiasm, offering to help him buy it. I pointed out that his youngest son, my brother, works in the auto body field and has a fleet of friends who are mechanics. So, although the car wasn’t in mint condition it was far from a lost cause; with some work and time it could have been a beautiful machine.

My father demurred, however, explaining: “I don’t really want to own a Jaguar. I want to be wealthy enough to own a Jaguar.”

This is more or less my attitude toward pretty much everything made by MV Agusta. I don’t really want to own the new Rush 1000. I just want to be wealthy enough that I could pay £29,000 for an extraordinarily gorgeous, batshit crazy 155 kW Italian machine from a manufacturer that is famous for reliability issues. It really is gorgeous, though.

2020 MV Agusta Rush 1000
2020 MV Agusta Rush 1000

SUZUKI

I also got to see the V-Strom 1050 up close and had two observations: Firstly, it looks more robust than the bike it replaces. The V-Strom 1000 received a light update in 2017 that resulted in its feeling/looking cheaper than the 2015-2017 model years. The manufacturer has pulled things back with this latest version. It’s still pretty plasticky but doesn’t look outright cheap-o.

Meanwhile, the multi-level screen is adjusted via a lever on the front center of the screen. Not only do you have to be stopped to adjust it, you have to be off the bike. I’m not sure I understand what Suzuki was thinking in doing this. But maybe it doesn’t matter; the screen doesn’t look all that tall. Personally I’d be hoping that I could replace it with a Givi Airflow.

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050

YAMAHA

I feel there wasn’t enough hoopla for the restyled Tracer 700. True, there isn’t really anything new about the bike from an internal perspective – it’s still driven by a 689cc parallel twin engine (which is now Euro 5-compliant) capable of a claimed 72 hp and 68 Nm of torque – but I feel the new look gives it a bit more… veritas? Not sure that’s the word I’m shooting for there. Hitherto, the Tracer 700 (and, indeed, the Tracer 900, but to a lesser extent) has felt a little like an “And Also This” model for Yamaha – something the manufacturer is making now but is not necessarily committed to making a year from now. It’s as if it’s been a placeholder, as if Yamaha has said: “We want a bike that does X and appeals to demographic Y. But we’re not exactly sure what that bike is supposed to look like, what sort of character it’s supposed to have and which features it needs to be the most successful. Until we come up with the answers to those questions we’ll make this.”

I suspect the narrative of the Honda VFR800X has been largely similar.

So, now Yamaha has brought its Tracer 700 more into the fold by giving it styling that extends down from the manufacturer’s flagship sportbike, the R-1. I would be surprised if the Tracer 900 weren’t given the same treatment very soon. I’d also expect to see a Tracer 700 GT showing up at some point with fancier gizmos (eg, a TFT screen) and rider aids. As with the Honda CB4X concept mentioned before, I’d like to see the thing equipped with cruise control because there’s little point in making middleweight touring bikes that aren’t as adept at touring as they should be.


* Using the modern, American sense of the word here, though, I suppose its traditional meaning would apply as well.