It's November and it's Milan so it must be EICMA, which stands for a lot of very long Italian words that mean Bike Show. This year's Esposizione (told you) comes against the surprisingly cheery background of European motorcycle sales being 7.2% up for the first six months of 2018. Given that moped sales were down by 32% over the same period, you might come to the conclusion that manufacturers are getting increasingly good at mining niches in the 'proper' bike market. They're certainly getting good at charging for their products. The days of the sub-£10k bike that's worth having may be numbered.
Good news, then, that Royal Enfield is stepping up to the 'affordable fun' plate. The route they're taking is 'doing a Triumph'. Not modern Triumph: RE has a way to go yet to get to that level. No, they're doing an old Triumph by hashing up their range of post-WW2 design single- and twin-cylinder bikes for the 21st century, or for the later part of the 20th century at least.
Luckily for Royal Enfield, products like the recently launched and unexpectedly decent Interceptor GT and Continental GT café racer 650 twins (selling in the UK for £5500 and £6200 respectively) fit perfectly with the hipster craze which, against all the odds, is showing no signs of easing off just yet. For EICMA they have put together a Concept KX bobber based on a 1938 (!) Royal Enfield and powered by an 834cc V-twin engine that has a certain Morini look about it.
Not quite sure where that came from, as the only RE V-twin connection I'm aware of is with Australian customer builders Carberry who created a 1000cc vee for the company based on two 500cc singles. This Concept KX lump doesn't look anything like that, so it could well be a mockup. Front suspension is by girder fork, a format first seen in 1913, but thankfully the traditionally spine-shattering solid rear end has been averted in favour of a monoshocked single-sided swingarm.
The Concept KX was turned round in six months as a showoff project for the design team. Whether this sort of thing appeals is a matter of personal taste, but as a means of letting us know that Royal Enfield has a design team, it works. We wish them well.
Ironically, Triumph is itself 'doing a Triumph' by continuing to develop its own neanderthal offerings alongside its proper bikes. We mean that in a nice way: today's vertical twin Triumph is a hell of a lot nicer than the last one turned out by the Meriden co-op back in 1983. It's also a hell of a lot bigger in cubic displacement. Now they're up to 1200cc, which seems an unearthly amount for this inherently vibey engine format, but Triumph has managed to tame the throbbing. The Bonneville T120 Diamond on their EICMA stand has a MINI look about it, with phased-out Union Jack motifs a-plenty. A bit like the Shoreditch hipster, you'd have thought that this 'God save the Queen' trend might have waned somewhat by now, but there you go.
BMW recently released a 1250 version of its round the world backwards, forwards, anywhichwaywards flat-twin GS adventure behemoth. It's the sort of machine that won't let mountains or most other natural phenomena get in its way, but don't expect to be able to squeeze a broken one through a kindly Iraqi greengrocer's door of an evening because it won't fit. The new BMW F850 GS Adventure will, though - you'll just have to remove its engine bars first. It's a lot easier than taking the cylinder heads off.
The steel-framed 853cc parallel twin motor puts out the normal GS 95hp and 92Nm, which is more than enough for your average world trip. Standard F850GS owners beaten down by the hammering they get from the wind will be gnashing their teeth in envy at the sight of the Adventure's two-stage adjustable windscreen. That plus the extra suspension travel, wide enduro footpegs, LED headlight, 6.5-inch TFT dash, adjustable footbrake and gearchange levers, stainless steel back rack, multiple riding modes, emergency call function and 23-litre tank promising up to 340 miles between filling points suggest a degree of focus that should put the Adventure on any dust-basher's short list. It's no lightweight at 244kg though.
KTM is the thorn in BMW's two-wheeled side, so you'd expect them to use EICMA to annoy the Munich lads. And that's just what they've done, launching not only a loony 690 SMC R, which is sort of parkour on two wheels, but also a rival to the F850GS Adventure that's called the 790 Adventure R. Coming in two iterations - Adventure, distinguishable by its street-style front mudguard and Avon Trailrider tyres, and Adventure R with underlight fender, knobblier Metzeler tyres and long-travel suspension including 48mm WP XPLOR forks (up from the base bike's 43mm items). Both weigh in at 189kg dry.
Although the 790's engine is smaller than the BMW's, it's just as powerful at 95hp, and we already know from the 790 Duke that it's a right barrel of laughs. Throw in a TFT dash with smartphone connectivity, cornering ABS for angst-free madness and KTM's reputation for quality and robustness, and you can see that BMW really has got a job on here.
We won't even mention Yamaha's new Tenere 700, powered by the MT-07's 72hp 689cc parallel twin motor. Smaller than the German bikes and set to be a good bit cheaper than them too, this quad-headlight beast could be a very attractive and accessible option to the BMW and KTM if it's anything like as focused and functional as the original Tenere single of yore.
No show would be complete without the odd concept, and MV Agusta's Superveloce 800 fits the bill. Criticising an MV feels a bit like having a pop at a supermodel but the seat looks a trifle boudoir-ish and the small circular light motif comes across a bit '50s sci-fi comic. Add in the slightly overwrought yellow screen and leather tank strap and this could be one of those Italian bikes that looks better with the panels taken off, but full marks for the alloy wheels which are surely the spindliest ever. Doubt they'll make it to the production model that we're promised will arrive towards the end of next year.
Aprilia turned up with a more down to earth but still attractive concept, the RS660 Supersport. It's another parallel twin - what is it with parallel twins these days? Whether it will be coming to the UK is as yet unknown. The firm's press release seems to be suggesting it's aimed more at carving out a market in Asia. For UK riders requiring serious performance in a real Aprilia they'll be able to buy next year, the bike whose engine was chopped in two to make the RS660, the RSV4, has been bored out to 1074cc, taking its output to 214bhp. The rev-limiter is set at a heady and possibly window-destroying 13,600rpm.
Not to be outdone, Ducati whipped out a new 211hp Panigale V4S range-topper, also available in limited edition Panigale V4 Speciale format with a titanium exhaust, or with a production world-record 221hp in the leg-wetting V4R. They also brought a new version of the slicked-up/offroad Hypermotard 950 with 112hp, a monster 95Nm of torque and a modded riding position, and tweaked Diavel and Diavel S models featuring the 159hp/129Nm Testastretta 1262 engine with desmodromic variable timing (DVT) in a new, more agile trellis frame. The S has Ohlins suspension at both ends and clutchless shifting via Ducati's DQS system.
Naturally the Japanese were present in force at EICMA, and just in case you haven't had your fill of parallel twins Kawasaki confirmed the Z400 Ninja as a naked replacement for the Z300 while Honda announced some engine upgrades for its now 47hp CBR500R (also available in X adventure format). Both should be perfect for those with zero mechanical sympathy and a totally unreasonable expectation of big-bike performance from a small engine.
Mentalist rates of progress will be more easily achieved on the tuned-up and faired four-cylinder CBR650R (or naked CB650R version), or with ridiculous ease on the 2019 CBR1000RR Fireblade, coming this time in rather more attractive liveries than in recent years. To answer customer grumbles, Honda has reined in some of the Fireblade's more intrusive traction control and throttle systems. You can now be more aggressive coming out of corners and can more precisely fiddle about with the wheelie control settings. For 2019, the Fireblade's Selectable Torque Control will even factor in tyre profiles. Wow. It was never like this in my day, when the only traction control was your right hand and the only wheelie settings were Way-Hay! or Ow. Amazing stuff really.
Kawasaki trumpeted some electronics upgrades for its doughty Verysys 1000 tourer, and also managed to tick both the parallel twin and the retro boxes in one fell brown swoop with the re-release of the W800, a reasonably well liked machine in its own way but also a pastiche of a pastiche of a pastiche, given that it's based on a 2011 model that was based on a 1999 W650 model that was based on a 1967 model that was based on a 1946 BSA A7. Eeeh, there's nowt new under the sun.
If you want to gawp at all this stuff for yourself, Milan's a 665-mile hop from Calais via Switzerland. It's unseasonably warm at the minute so you could easily take the bike. EICMA runs from 8-11 November and it's 23 euros on the door. Or la porta, as they say over there.