2018 new bikes: what you need to know

Roland shrinks EICMA & the NEC into 800 words

Several spectacular bikes caught the eye when the motorcycle firms unveiled their 2018 models at the annual EICMA extravaganza in Milan. Votes for best in show went to Ducati’s Panigale V4, for its pure performance; to Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 SX for its supercharged technology; and to Yamaha’s three-wheeled Niken for originality and boldness.

But the overriding impression, now being echoed at Birmingham’s Motorcycle Live, was that 2018 will be the year that middleweight motorcycling comes of age. Bikes including KTM’s 790 Duke, Kawasaki’s Z900RS Café, BMW’s F850GS, Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 701 and Yamaha’s MT-09 SP all provide style, performance and technology from less than 950cc.

This development is hardly surprising. In recent years large-capacity bikes have become more sophisticated, powerful… and expensive. They have adopted TFT displays, LED lighting, two-way quick-shifters, plus IMU-governed traction control and cornering ABS. But prices have risen sharply.

Suddenly all those features are about to be available with KTM’s Duke, whose 799cc parallel twin engine makes a relatively modest 103bhp, and whose price looks set to be competitive with Triumph’s Street Triple. Sister marque Husqvarna’s Vitpilen, powered by a 693cc single-cylinder engine, is a distinctive but simpler alternative. But with KTM’s prototype 790 Adventure also due in production soon, the middleweight bar looks set to rise.

BMW will be contributing with the F850GS and F750GS which, despite their names, are each powered by an updated 853cc parallel-twin engine. The F750GS produces 76bhp and is an entry-level roadster; the F850GS makes 94bhp and adds off-road ability with long-travel suspension and 21in front wheel. BMW’s other newcomers are the C400X, the firm’s first sub-500cc scooter; and the K1600 Grand America, a US-aimed variant of the K1600GT with unchanged 158bhp six-cylinder engine and even more luxury.

Triumph also adds to the middleweight charge, upgrading its Tiger 800 family with TFT displays, one-handed screen adjustment and tweaked three-cylinder engines. The bigger Tiger 1200 triple, formerly the Explorer, gets its own substantial revamp that also incorporates cornering headlights and ABS.

Honda also has a dual-purpose addition: the Africa Twin Adventure offers familiar A-bike advantages of taller screen, bigger fuel tank, extra suspension travel and crash protection. Another famous Honda name in the spotlight is the Gold Wing. The GL1800 six is slimmed, lightened and updated with a double-wishbone front suspension system, seven-speed DCT gearbox and high-tech digital display. The Big H also has a new naked family, headed by the CB1000R and including similarly styled CB300R and CB125R models.

Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 SX is the crazy supercharged H2’s slightly more sensible cousin, its 999cc motor smoothed for sports-touring but still producing 207bhp. Kawasaki also unveiled an upmarket SE version of the Ninja ZX-10R, featuring Showa electronic suspension, two-way shifter and stealth-black paintwork. But Kawasaki’s big sellers will surely be the retro duo of Z900RS and Z900RS Café. They share a 948cc, 110bhp four-pot engine and steel-framed chassis, the Café adding a bikini fairing and racy lime green paint scheme.

Arguably the most authentic “heritage” models were Royal Enfield’s parallel twins, the Interceptor INT 650 and Continental GT 650, which hold a 648cc, sohc, 47bhp aircooled engine in a steel-framed, twin-shock chassis. Norton has a glitzy, high-barred California version of its Commando 961, while another old British name, Brough Superior, introduces the Pendine, a fresh take on the SS100. Named after the Welsh beach famed for speed records, the 997cc V-twin features a new swing-arm and high-level exhaust.

Other glamorous V-twins include Harley-Davidson’s Sport Glide, which promises versatility with its removable headlamp fairing and panniers. American rival Indian displayed a classy Scout-engined prototype, the FTR1200 Custom, inspired by the firm’s AMA title-winning FTR750 flat-tracker.

Ducati’s new V-twins start with the Scrambler 1100, powered by the 1079cc, 85bhp aircooled engine from the old Monster 1100 EVO. The Multistrada 1260 gains a new 1262cc, 156bhp version of the firm’s DVT variable-valve V-twin engine. And Bologna’s big news is the MotoGP-derived Panigale V4, with its fearsome blend of 1103cc, 211bhp powerplant, minimalist aluminium frame and next-generation electronics.

Italian newcomers include Moto Morini’s Milano, an 1187cc V-twin styled to resemble the firm’s famous 344cc Sport of the Seventies. Moto Guzzi’s dual-purpose prototype, the V85, is powered by a new aircooled, 850cc V-twin engine. MV Agusta, emerging from its recent financial problems, showed the limited-edition Brutale 800 RC, whose race kit boosts power to 150bhp.

Yamaha’s new middleweights could start a trend all on their own. The MT-07 parallel twin is restyled and given new suspension. The MT-09 triple is joined by an SP version with fully-adjustable forks and Öhlins rear shock; the Tracer 900GT has a TFT dash plus hard panniers, one-way shifter and cruise control. And the most spectacular MT-09 derivative is the three-wheeled Niken, which combines the MT’s 847cc, 113bhp triple engine and the 125cc Tricityscooter’s twin-wheeled front end, featuring two telescopic struts on each side.

Whether the Niken becomes a trend-setting success, like Piaggio’s MP3, or flops will depend on its yet-to-be-revealed price, as well as on how well it handles. Either way, it should be a blast to ride and is among the bravest and most imaginative new models of this or any other year.

Almost all these bikes can be seen at Motorcycle Live, which is at the NEC, Birmingham until November 26. Details: www.motorcyclelive.co.uk

Words & pics by Roland Brown

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