Cool Bikes, Hot Trends

We visit the 28th Annual International Motorcycle Show to see what's coming down the road

Given the increasingly grim economic news over the months leading up to February 19-21, I wasn't expecting much from the 13th and final Cycle World International Motorcycle Show, moved from its long-term location of Atlanta to Greenville, S.C. True enough, some manufacturers didn't show or left the big displays at home, but spectators showed up in droves. None of the "whistling past the graveyard" feel I expected was apparent among these marketers of luxury goods or their potential customers.

There were plenty of new models to look at, sit on, and fantasize over, plus an assortment of vendors ranging from Arai Helmets and Graham County, N.C., to ShamWow and that guy who wanted to rub some magic spooge on my sunglasses. If you wanted to test ride a new Ducati, try on great-smelling new gear, or fondle golden Brembo monobloc goodness, there was something for you inside the huge Carolina First Center.

The adjacent Harley-Davidson and Buell displays occupied the largest piece of real estate inside the hall, and entertained a steady stream of seat-sitters and throttle-twisters all weekend. Andi Rabbe, Harley's manager of event marketing, pointed out the Motor Company's show highlights: the Iron 883 Sportster, the 1200 Nightster, the XR1200 we rode in last month's Handlebars, and the Tri Glide Ultra Classic, the first ever Harley-Davidson trike with a factory warranty. Based on the Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the Tri Glide is produced out of an arrangement between Harley and Lehman Trikes, and has a starting price of $29,999, competitive with kit trikes. The Iron 883 is a minimalistic Sportster with matt finish and a short, almost bobber stance.

The Buell folks were showing off their new 1125CR, CR for Café Racer. Removed is the rather large fairing of the 1125R, creating an even more close-coupled look. I couldn't decide if the CR front end reminded me of an evil insect or a black plastic spork with the center tang snapped off. Side by side with the liquid-cooled 1125 Buells were the original air-cooled XB12R and XB9SX. The man in the Buell shirt was quick to point out that the XB motors share only 17 part numbers with its Harley-Davidson forefather. A cutaway version of the 1125 motor was fascinating.

The Honda display was busy and right in the center of the hall. The big attractions were Big Red's own new chopper, the Fury, and the "crossover" DN-01. The three Furies on the floor were as popular as drunken cheerleaders at a fraternity party, and guys were lined up for a test-sit. For fashion trailblazers, Honda's DN-01 is half scooter, half motorcycle, and all strange, with a face like a '73 Corvette Stingray. I'd like to ride it, though. In addition to the new models, Honda had a still-dirty Baja race bike and an exquisite little Moriwaki road racer on display.

The KTM folks were really laid-back and brought their whole line of dirt and street bikes, although, according to the reps, Greenville was definitely a street-bike crowd. KTM's star was their RC8, and the matte orange model really wanted to come home with me. Even though the origami look has been around for 10 years, KTM got it right with the shape of the RC8.

Ducati had their big house tent set up inside the hall, with a full complement of Monsters, Superbikes, Sport Classics, and Hypermotards. The 1098R Bayliss LE, built to commemorate the World Superbike champion, was hot in race replica colors, but you better be fast if you plan on riding it around. It'd be humiliating to own such a flashy machine and get passed at Deal's Gap by some geezer on an old airhead BMW.

Triumph had a smallish display, but the Street Triple R and the new fuel-injected Bonneville Thruxton seemed to be the most popular offerings. Changes to the '09 Thruxton include the EFI (which looks exactly like a pair of CV carburetors) and a switch from low clip-on handlebars to slightly less-radical clubman handlebars. The black Thruxton on display wore Triumph's tasty "off-road" two-into-one exhaust, made by Arrow. I did not see the giant parallel twin Thunderbird 1600 on the floor.

Suzuki brought their big display, and Kevin Schwantz was on hand to sign autographs on Saturday and Sunday. New for 2009 were the range of GSXRs, the SFV650 Gladius, and a cute little single-cylinder TU250. The Gladius is an SV650-powered naked bike with a steel and alloy trellis frame and the currently faddish Salvador Dali melted-clock headlight. According to the reps, the TU250 on display was a Japan-market model (I could tell because the taillight was actually attractive), but the model is included in Suzuki's 2009 U.S. model line-up. It looks retro but is scaled normally, a standard 250 single boasting 82 miles per gallon, but pricey at $3,499.

Risen from the ashes of bankruptcy (again), Indian Motorcycles was back, with four Chief models for 2009. Now manufactured in Kings Mountain, N.C., and using an updated version of the 105 cubic inch PowerPlus air-cooled V-twin motor, the limited-edition Indians are sold through a seven-dealer network. Starting at $30,999 for the base Chief Standard, the new Indians are competing in rarified air.

Yamaha had their enormous new V-Max on display, vanquishing Suzuki's B-King for ugliest bike awards, and the new cross-plane crankshaft R1. MotoGP 2008 Champion Valentino Rossi's YZR-M1 outshone the rest of the display.

Roland Sands Designs' Architects of Inspiration display was somehow tied into Toyota Trucks, the show's title sponsor, but I couldn't really figure out how. Regardless, he had an array of customs, from a trio of dirt-bike-single-powered café racers to his Glory Stomper chopper and Sands' own interpretation of Ducati's Hypermoto. I really wanted to hear what the Hypermoto sounded like with its lightly baffled shorty megaphones.

Knoxville's Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club brought 15 bikes to display, and were assigned a spot next to the AMA's History of Motorcycles exhibit. An annoying Internet "personality" with camera crew in tow crossed the ropes into the display and shot a promo (without asking) with his biker-garbed dog sitting on Dan Moriarty's Triumph Cub trials bike. It was a good thing Dan wasn't around for that scene, or things might have gotten ugly.

Overall, the inaugural show in Greenville appeared to be a success. Unofficial estimates of 33,000 attendees on Saturday and another 18,000 on Sunday compare very favorably to the official numbers for the 2008 Atlanta show of 36,015, although it did snow in Atlanta for last year's show. The rumor mill indicates the show will return to Greenville for 2010 and 2011. Hopefully that will prove to be the case.