EICMA: Playing it safe, but still sexy

The EICMA show opened this week in Milan, Italy, and runs until Nov. 12. So, what’s happening in the industry this year? What’s booming? What’s a bust? What future trends can we guess at, judging from what we saw?

Read on for some analysis on what we saw at this year’s show. It’s broken down by Euro, Japanese, and American manufacturer, and at the end, we’ve provided links to all the major news stories that came out of this year’s show.

The Euro manufacturers

Everyone’s playing it safe, except Ducati — and even Ducati isn’t really sticking its neck out.

Because EICMA is based in Italy, the biggest releases usually come from Italian manufacturers, especially Ducati. This year, Ducati brought out some desirable bikes: the new Panigale V4 and Scrambler 1100 were well-received, and the updated Multistrada 1260 is also exactly what the doctor ordered for that line.

The V4 superbike is definitely a bold gamble for Bologna, but the Scrambler 1100 and 1260 Multi are remixes of existing technology. And that’s what we saw from pretty much everyone else. Moto Guzzi gave us basic repackaging of the V7 III platform, MV Agusta gave us a new Dragster, Aprilia extended its factory race parts program, Triumph added a lot of refinements to its Tiger adventure bikes, but they didn’t gain any power or torque. That’s not saying any of these are bad ideas, but they’re not breaking much new ground.

The new BMW F750 and F850 aren’t terribly revolutionary, but they do improve over the old models, and that kind of sensible progress makes sense if sales are really dropping.

Same goes for BMW; the new F850 and F750, like the revised Triumph Tigers, were full of sensible changes over the outgoing models. They’ll be very good bikes, with more power and/or less weight than before, and likely improved handling.

KTM did introduce its new parallel twin design, and this is mostly a sound economic decision. Despite the practicality and utility of parallel twins, motorcyclists aren’t rioting in the streets demanding more of them. Parallel twins are cheaper to build than triples, and they pollute less than singles do, and that’s what the industry needs.

If the manufacturers want to play it safe, that’s fine. It’s their money after all, and we can’t get new litrebikes from everyone at EICMA. The only real bummer this year was that not only were the new releases more toned-down than usual, but nobody really teased us for the future. The Euro concept bike scene was a bit flat.

The Concept V85 was a very fetching prototype from Moto Guzzi.

There were a couple of exciting exceptions, though. As an adventure rider, the coolest concept bike I saw was by far the new Moto Guzzi V85. This ADV prototype hails back to the glory days of the Paris-Dakar rally, making a much more convincing effort than BMW’s R NineT Urban GS. If Guzzi had brought this bike into production two or three years ago, they’d be selling like mad.

The other standout was the Husqvarna 701 Svartpilen. While it’s not based around a new engine like the Guzzi, the 701 is an incredibly competent powerplant, and here, it’s stuffed into a neo-retro package that screams Blade Runner 2049, but with Steve McQueen starring instead of Ryan Gosling. I’m betting this will be the next big craze, and with the groundwork Husqvarna has laid, it’ll reap great rewards down the road once the public starts buying these bikes like mad.

The Japanese manufacturers

Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Honda all had big releases at EICMA, but we didn’t see much from Suzuki.

The leaning three-wheeler Yamaha Niken that we first saw a week earlier in Tokyo was easily the most polarizing machine at EICMA. The squids all hated it on Facebook, but make no mistake: if this comes to market at an affordable price, the designers will eventually be hailed as geniuses. Even if this bike trike thing never makes it past cult status, chances it will be one of the strongest moto-cults of all time. Despite the antipathy of the unimaginative hoons, the Niken is a beautiful sight to see. It shows the motorcycle industry is still willing to boldly adapt for the future.

The haters were all over the Yamaha Niken. Like it or not, it’s likely a sign of the future.

Of course, the news that Yamaha’s T7 adventure bike is still in prototype stage was a bitter pill, but don’t kid yourself: the T7 will come to market. Yamaha just wants another year to make sure it’s competitive with the rest of the mid-sized ADV segment.

Kawasaki flexed some serious muscle by releasing not only the supercharged sport-touring H2 SX, but also the Z900 RS Cafe Racer. Okay, both of these are revisions of previous platforms, but who else is building supercharged sport tourers? Nobody.

And as for that Cafe Racer, it’s a very lightly tarted-up version of the Z900 RS that was unveiled at Tokyo. We’re seeing the first stage of the Next Great Trend in motorcycling, the realization that the Big Four can sell retro bikes based on the merits of their own history, instead of just riffing on themes developed in the UK or USA. It’s a bit of a bummer to see this machine erring towards Mods vs. Rockers instead of Eddie Lawson Replica lines, but it’s still a good opening move in this match.

The SV650X looks cool, but doesn’t really reference Suzuki’s storied history.

Sadly, Suzuki’s SV650X didn’t go far enough down the Big Four retro road. Instead of referencing Suzuki’s great history with the SV650 line – maybe releasing a version with upgraded, track-ready suspension – we see a bikini-type fairing bolted on, and some revised bodywork. As for the rumour that we’d see a new GSX-R600 or GSX-R750, or a turbocharged Hayabusa — nothing. Certainly, we’d hope to see spy shots of these bikes start circulating this year, as there’s still interest in these models.

If retro Japanese UJMs are the Next Great Trend, then neo-retro is what’s coming afterwards. Husqvarna’s Svartpilen and Vitpilen concepts have been fan favourites at EICMA for years now. Honda has taken notice, and brought its own Neo Sports Cafe concept into production as the new CB1000R.

The CB1000R isn’t as rad as the Neo Sports Cafe prototype, but you can bet it’s a sign of things to come.

The production-ready CB1000R and its scaled-down, entry-level CB300R sibling are both toned down just enough that Honda can sell them to your average square. They don’t have as much of that cyberpunk vibe as the concept bikes before them. But Honda has always had a strong ability to see future trends, and bring out bikes to meet those demands before they even exist. How else do you explain the NX250?

Make no mistake: Somewhere in the Honda conglomerate, there’s a designer or design team who’s spent a lot of time watching Akira, and is still determined to bring out bikes that reflect the dystopian future seen in that film. How else do you explain the Vultus NM4? The CB1000R and CB300R will sell far better than that oddball, and, with the Husky machines, will lay the foundation for the cyberpunk-influenced sales boom.

The American manufacturers

Typically, Indian and Harley-Davidson don’t make any waves at EICMA, but yesterday, Indian released its Scout FTR1200 flat-tracker concept bike, and Harley-Davidson announced the Sport Glide. Both manufacturers know they’ve got to expand internationally to succeed in the future, in an ever-shrinking North American market. Will either of these bikes be the answer? Maybe not, but it’s a step in the right direction

EICMA: The breakdown

Here are the links to the major stories that came out from this year’s show

Factory Works racing kit updated for RSV4

F750 GS, F850 GS models debut

C400X scooter

K1600 Grand America

Panigale V4 superbike

Ducati Multistrada 1260

Panigale 959 Corse

Scrambler 1100

Sport Glide released

CB4 Interceptor concept bike

CB300R beginner bike unveiled

NC750X updates

CB1000R updated

Africa Twin Adventure Sport

Svartpilen 701 concept

Vitpilen 701 production-ready

FTR1200 flat-tracker concept

Z125, new 125 Ninja coming

ZX-10R SE to get semi-active suspension

Ninja H2 SX sport tourer

Z900 RS Cafe Racer

790 Adventure R still in concept stage

790 Duke announced for production

CV2 adventure scooter concept

CV3 leaning three-wheeler

Moto Guzzi
V7 III Rough, Milano, Sport models introduced

Concept V85 adventure bike concept

Moto Morini
Scrambler model unveiled

961 Commando California

MP3 Sport leaning three-wheeler updated

Royal Enfield
Interceptor, Continental GT models announced

SV650X cafe racer

Tiger 800 line updated

Tiger 1200 line updated

Vespa Sprint, Primavera lines updated

Vespa Elettrica

R1 and R1M updated

MT-09 SP unveiled

Super Tenere Raid Edition

Niken three-wheeler

MT-07 update

Tracer 900

T7 adventure bike concept

2 thoughts on “EICMA: Playing it safe, but still sexy”

  1. This industry is still struggling obviously. True novelties are rare and far between and companies are very prudent and cost is still a major concern. Otherwise how to explain why Yamaha did not put the TFT display on all 2018 Tracers?

    Japanese companies in particular seem to be searching where to go next, designs are all over the place and often weird, Euro firms are much better at producing appealing designs.

    Take the new Kawasaki turbocharged tourer for example, it’s probably technically brilliant but among those who can afford it who in hell is going to buy a bike that looks like that???

    I think the Japanese are losing ground and will lose more if they can’t come up with more appealing products.

    BTW Congrats to BMW for is beautifully designed new F850GS.

  2. I always enjoy the coverage of EIMCA. I miss the updates on products from Asian and European manufacturers that will never make it to Canada. They often are by far the most interesting.

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