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Honda Nubia Hybrid concept
Honda Nubia Hybrid concept
KTM RC8 supersport concept
Suzuki GSXR 1000
Mar 23, 2005 Motorcycle design is a term that conjures up many images to different people. To the majority North Americans, designing a motorcycle suggests a garage where several enthusiasts resembling the hit TV show Orange County Choppers assemble bikes based on the Harley Davidson model, with acres of chromed after market parts and hand lacquered custom paint jobs.
To many others no thought is given at all to how the shapes of the bikes on the street came into being. The reality is that the major motorcycle manufacturers employ professional designers and serious technology the same way as in the car industry does, even if the final product is so different.
The Intermot exhibition held in September in Munich is the largest international show of its kind in the world attracting 1000 exhibitors into its more than 100,000 square meters of halls. Alternating with the EICMA show in Milan every other year, these annual shows are where the worlds motorcycle, scooter and accessory manufacturers unveil their newest products. In addition to the displays, live demonstrations of motorcross, outdoor closed circuit racing and a classic bikes section adds to the festival atmosphere. As part of the 2004 exhibition, Intermot proudly hosted a Design Cafe where many of the worlds manufacturers and independent designers and consultancies showcased sketches and prototype models from past years. The Motorcycle Design Association used this venue to present the awards for the best designs of 2004. (www.motorcycledesign.com)
The 2004 show was interesting since the many smaller specialized manufacturers clearly stole the show rather than the Big Four Japanese brands (in order of size: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki), who normally overwhelm visitors and exhibitors alike with dozens of new models and concepts in each category each season. The contemporary motorcyclist demands more originality and character than before, and for bikes to succeed commercially they need to have this as well as exceptional performance and quality. The best of the smaller specialists now appear to have discovered this balance, as they have caught up in reliability and quality, areas where the Japanese traditionally dominated, but also add an authentic brand heritage and exclusivity the Big Four sometimes fail to reflect.
Honda had no significant new model on show, other than the XR660 in both enduro and supermotard version which was little than the old Dominator warmed over with some new parts and chromed plastic. A notable European introduction was the Zoomer, a kind of hollow scooter than was previously only available in Japan. Its ultra utilitarian, tubular steel design makes it seem more like a portable generator than a vehicle, in stark contrast to the often over-styled plastic scooters that have flooded the market in recent years. It has proven very popular in the Japanese market, and may do so here as well.
Even though they presented impressive advanced ideas like the Nubia Hybrid concept scooter and another scooter with passenger airbags, the Honda stand was large and scarcely filled with old models sporting only new paint schemes and minor technical refinements. Two such models included Grand Prix replicas based on their CBR900 Fireblade and CBR600RR with the Repsol graphics worn by the official factory team on which Valentino Rossi so famously won last year's world championship.
For the worlds number one manufacturer of powered two wheelers to not issue significant new production models, it stands to reason that they are busy with serious developments for next year. Honda has been clear announcing its intent to offer standard ABS on all models and have industry leading emerging technologies like alternative fuel engines available soon.
The relatively small Austrian manufacturer KTM which specializes in motocross and enduro (off-road) shocked and amazed show goers with several radical road models. Its RC8 supersport concept was known since its debut at the Tokyo show last year, but sharing its stand was an intriguing street fighter (essentially a semi naked RC8) named Venom. Both bikes share frame, tank and tail bodywork, but differ wildly up front. The hard edged, rectilinear shape language synonymous with all KTM bikes was dominant on both, but taken to an extreme level that polarizes opinion. The Production ready RC8 features some novel thinking for the supersports category, such as the under belly exhaust exiting through a ovular ports, minimal tail piece devoid of passenger amenities, and the vertical splitting front fairing sandwiching the front lights. The Venom streetfighter is much more sculptural with evocative ram air scoops twisting around the front forks and somehow appears more balanced than the fully faired RC8 from which its derived.
KTM also extended its formidable off-road and enduro range by adding the production Duke 2, a radical 950 cc street rod and a more traditionally styled supermotard derivative. These loud looking machines, like the RC8 and Venom, take the KTM hard edged language to the extreme, polarizing opinion and continuing to mark out this brand.
BMW, a traditional brand that caters to quite a conservative touring audience (a complete contradiction to the aggressive sport pedigree image of its four wheel cousin) launched the K1200S, a model boasting 165 hp and claiming to vie with the heavyweight japanese for top supersport touring honors. As with most BMW street models, the K1200S looks very front heavy with a vast fairing and tall screen necessary for good rider protection at high speed. The proportion suggests that the volume becomes complete with the occupant sitting on board. The Naked version of the same presented only on press day continued BMW Motorrad's quirky styling themes of asymmetry and revealed the novel front suspension which does away with the traditional telescopic fork.
Another BMW model that appeared for the first time at a major show, though has been available commercially since the spring is the GS1200 enduro. This large capacity on/off road touring bike has been a runaway success for the Bavarian brand since the mid 90's. This latest version features acres of exposed aluminum structure, advancing the strong no-nonsense utility theme that made previous versions so popular. The alloy fuel tank is left partially exposed, the rear luggage rack integrates locks for optional aluminum hard case luggage and GPS navigation is also available.
The GS's smaller sibling the F650 is styled to appear like an enduro, but is clearly marked for dominantly urban use, like most modern SUVs. Thoughtful touches like no-maintenance belt drive (replacing the conventional chain), integrated luggage space and low seat height have all contributed to make this BMW's best selling motorcycle line ever.
One of the brightest and freshest collections came from Spanish manufacturer Derbi (a part of the Italian Piaggio Group) which displayed two impressive show models. The Mulhacen 660 cc roadster is a simple, unpretentious street bike with a clear dirt track racing influence. A strong horizontal theme accentuated by the straight through exhaust system, capped by classic Supertrapp mufflers, is evocative without gimmicks. The equally no nonsense treatment of the tank, tail and particularly the front number plate incorporating the headlights add minimalist appeal.
The other striking concept was the GP1 scooter, a sports model with styling cues lifted from the GPR 50 and 80 cc supersport models launched successfully last year. This small run-about took the design prize for best scooter at the Motorcycle Design Awards.
Yamaha launched the MT01 power cruiser, a 1700 cc monster v-twin cylinder bike based on the popular concept model first presented in Tokyo in 1999. The impression is of a massive power plant dominating two fat wheels suspended beside it, with two trumpet exhausts rising out from within the condensed mass of machinery. The tank, usually dominant on naked sportsters is subdued by the wildly exaggerated essentials. The fine detailing, careful and consistent design of small parts also set this model apart from the typical Japanese mass production machines that usually trade down such things for price. The MT01 was a clear winner of the overall Best New Motorcycle prize, which dovetailed nicely with an honorary Lifetime Achievement award being presented to GK Dynamics president Ishiyama, head of the styling house responsible for Yamaha design.
Yamaha backed up its highly successful and iconic R-series supersport line by introducing a Valentino Rossi replica R6 tying itself in publicly with the famous young Italian racer who is very likely to win the World Championship for Yamaha in this years Grand Prix season. The bike itself was nothing more than a colour and graphic special, but to supersport customers this creates a powerful emotional link to their heros.
Some small capacity models were also introduced to the European markets from the far east, a reflection of the growing interest in simple, basic two wheeled transport outside of the usual sports and purely recreational types traditionally preferred in the west.
Kawasaki had perhaps the strongest show of the big Japanese manufacturers this year, debuting its contender in the hotly contested 600cc super sport category, the completely new ZX6R Ninja as well as a half faired Z750. As with the hugely successful big Ninja ZX10 launched last year, its smaller sibling features similar class beating specifications and shares its aerodynamic styling with central ram air scoop dominating the nose. Under-seat exhausts, and exquisite mechanical detailing around the human interface points (foot pegs, handle bar triple clamps) give the ZX6 an exclusivity normally associated with much more expensive Italian models.
The Z series expanded with the addition of a half and fully faired Z750 S, aimed at commuters and general purpose street riding. While consistent with the shape language of the naked Z1000 and 750, the S suffers from a plasticy feeling. The exaggerated manga styling that works so well on the no-compromise naked streetfighters doesn't lend itself well to the sensibility of the all-rounder concept. Noteworthy was the reintroduction of the mildly redesigned 90's ZX6R now as the ZZR600 and pitched as a less radical, sports-touring machine.
Suzuki launched the latest version of its range-topping GSXR 1000 superbike, with completely new bodywork and some revisions inside. The new styling retains certain GSXR hallmarks such as the vertically stacked headlights and split air ducts, but features a strong visual departure from previous GSXR's by segmenting the ram-air scoops and rear side-markers and treating them as separate volumes from the main body. Most controversially talked about component was the very large, triangular titanium exhaust pipe. Although it is certainly different and undoubtedly efficient, its stubby proportion and location are at odds with the narrow speed-form of the body.
The Bandit line was similarly refreshed, though this latest version of the entry level street bike was disappointing. Previous Bandits had an honest simplicity to their look which appealed to many, offering genuine value for money in a classic motorcycle package. The 2005 model has virtually the same mechanicals but the bodywork is a little over ambitious, the small front fairing looking more like an aftermarket component rather than a factory design.