Special: Tokyo Motorcycle Show report (it’s a wrap)

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After a busy three days of noise and bluster, the 42nd running of the Tokyo Motorcycle Show came to an end. Some of what I saw made me smile. Some of it made me shudder. At the end of it all, I came away with the feeling that the industry isn’t really clear on where it wants to go.

Themes on a Variation

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Triumph America “Royal Bad Style Joker” custom

If there were an overall theme that I’d have to ascribe to the show, it’d be customization. The OEMs seemed, for the most part, to fail to come up with anything truly new. Sure, there were H2Rs and a few other interesting tidbits lurking, but the overwhelming sense was that the OEMs were all too happy to leave it to custom builders to bring something unique to the party.

Take, for example, the “Royal Bad Style Joker”. (Yes, that really is the name.) This is a Triumph America with a collection of parts slapped together by Triumph Yokohama-Kita. I’m sure somebody liked it. I just wasn’t a fan.

And what  do you get when you cross Moto Corse Japan with a Panigale 1199 Super Leggera? You get the NVC 1199SL, that’s what.

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Moto Corse NVC 1199SL

The Nuda Veloce Super Leggera brings a bunch of special parts to an already special bike. Weight is reduced beyond the already “Superlight” weight. Unlike other nude variations seen on the Panigale, the Nuda Veloce retains just enough of the body work to keep some of the less pretty mechanicals out of sight and out of mind.

Is it a better bike than a plain Super Leggera? That’s difficult to say. For those with the money to care about such things, we leave it to them to decide. Should you like what you see, Moto Corse would be delighted to help you part with ¥17,500,000 (~$185,000).

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Kawasaki Z400 custom build

BMW, HD and Yamaha all had custom bikes on display, as well. In fact, it might be fair to say that BMW had the largest collection of customs on the floor. It seems that the marque is trying to appear to be something more than its classically conservative history describes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does risk diluting the brand image.

Some of the custom builders did do some remarkable work, mind you.  There was no shortage of eye candy and interesting builds. The custom scene is quite expressive in Japan. Not only are there a number of “coach builder” types who rework new bikes, some create totally unique designs, and the restomod crowd is alive and booming. From cafe reworks to full-on superbikes from days past, there’s something for everyone. The Tokyo Motorcycle Show totally reflects that.

Regulation Bastardization

From the “What Were They Thinking” file, we now take you to a some quick examples of how perfectly reasonable motorcycles can suffer at the hands of monkey patching to pass Japan’s strict  emission regulations.

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Ducati 899 Panigale Japan spec

First up, we have Ducati’s Panigale 899.

All of the Panigale models sold in Japan feature an exhaust hack to keep the dBs within the Japanese guidelines.

The extension to the stock muffler is awkward and gets in the way of a rider’s foot. Most Japanese owners will quickly dispense with the OEM solution to quiet the bike and replace it with a set of Termis as found in other markets.

Next up, we have Royal Enfield’s Continental GT.

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Royal Enfield Continental GT Japan spec

Ignoring its Bold New Colour for 2015 (the bike comes in GT Black, GT Red and GT Yellow), those with an eye for detail will note the very charming ‘reworking’ of the exhaust tip for the Japanese market.

The treatment is a complete eyesore and seriously reminds me of my efforts to patch a blown exhaust on my XS360 with muffler tape after a trip to Canadian Tire. (It didn’t work – much like this).

And finally, MV proved the point perfectly by having all of their triple-based bikes being something less than Motorcycle Art.

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MV Agusta Dragster 800RR Japan spec.

While the 4-cylinder bikes seem to have slid through relatively unscathed, the 3-cylinder bikes all had huge Arrow cans tacked on the back of the bike. The cans in and of themselves aren’t really an issue. The slapped-on-as-an-afterthought appearance all stems from MV not replacing the usual three-exit exhaust cover behind the right side footrest bracket. The result is less than appealing.

I have a lot of sympathy for OEMs who face this battle. For smaller manufacturers, the cost of market-specific visual design tweaks is probably too high. And that’s a shame; I don’t think I would want an MV triple with that can on the back.

The Weird, The Wacky

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Show model posing in maid cosplay garb

Of course, not everything is straight up and normal. Japan brings its own cultural quirks to the table that can both amuse and confound. Whether it be the bikes and outfits from the latest Kamen Rider movie or a show model posing in a maid outfit for photographers (there’s an entire industry built atop the maid cosplay fetish here), those appear at the show, too. It’s an interesting snapshot of the cultural fringe as riders within the cultural context of Japan.

One of the scenes that plays out over and over at a Japanese trade show are throngs of photographers focused exclusively on the models and seemingly oblivious of the products. It’s one of those things that I’ve never quite understood. Perhaps it’s just that photographers are finally given cart blanche to focus on the objects of their desire.

And Finally

As an industry, we mix lifestyle and business. One of the things that most struck me was that Scrambler Ducati was pretty much the only obvious attempt by an OEM at selling lifestyle at the Tokyo show. Even the Harley Davidson floor featured little more than bikes. I’m not sure whether that’s important or not, but I did find it really interesting. Ducati really brought life to the party, too, with a jazz combo sporting Scrambler tees jamming away in the corner beside a mock garage with a Scrambler to sit on. It was rather effective and I think Ducati will do quite well with the Scrambler in Japan.

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Lady’s Bike had mirrors beside the bikes. Clever.

The Japanese magazine Lady’s Bike did a remarkable job of promoting the sport and its lifestyle to women attending the show. The magazine took a very large section of floor along one wall and their booth was filled with women’s apparel, knowledgable staff and bikes with mirrors strategically placed so that newbies could get an idea of what they might look like perched atop a bike.

It’s a clever approach to winning over new riders that I hope to see again and again, year after year. In an industry that generally targets a male audience, Lady’s Bike having a significant presence at Japan’s largest motorcycle show made a strong and welcome statement. They made it seriously easy for a women to try on a bewildering array of gear, listen to talks by industry insiders and talk with accessible staffers. A double thumbs up!

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Fujio Yoshimura, president of Yoshimura Japan, engaging fans during a Team Yoshimura Suzuki event on Sunday

To finish things off, I’d like to comment about Yoshimura. Yoshimura is a name that racing fans will instantly recognize. It’s a brand with a legacy that goes back decades to Hideo ‘Pops’ Yoshimura.  Beyond just being a manufacturer of high-performance goodies, Yoshimura embodies racing spirit. I still have strong memories of Wes Cooley winning back-to-back AMA Superbike championships with Pops Yoshimura some 35 years ago.

Over the three days of the show, the Yoshimura booth was a busy place. And in that busy space you could see Fujio Yoshimura talking it up with show-goers. Despite the international stature of the company, it still has a family-business feel to it that I well and truly admire. After all these years and having a conversation with Yoshimura-san himself this weekend, I’m more of a fan than ever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage.

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