Recently we examined the resurgence of the Land of the Rising Sun after several of the Japanese manufacturers made an impressive splash at the INTERMOT and EICMA motorcycle expos in Cologne and Milan.
Now that Milan, the second of the year’s major bike shows, is well and truly over, we have a clearer idea of the European response to this fresh onslaught from the East. Although Honda showed off what looks much like a new adventure bike in the shape of a possible return for the iconic Africa Twin, most of the coverage concentrated on several impressive new sport models.
Kawasaki’s H2 stole most of the headlines, its supercharged 1.0-litre, four-cylinder engine promising just over 150kW and a class-leading spread of torque. Yamaha at last revealed a heavily updated R1 and Honda made waves by revealing a road- going limited edition version of its V4 MotoGP racer.
The European manufacturers seem to be concentrating on more road-oriented models, although BMW’s updated S 1000 RR and Ducati’s announcement of a larger 1299 Panigale (up from 1199) reinforce what a tough job the Japanese have to regain the ascendency. Ducati’s 1199 Panigale has been at the top of the V-twin superbike pile for some time, so the announcement that the Italian manufacturer is upping the bike’s capacity to 1299cc must be giving the four-cylinder builders a bit of a headache.
As you’d imagine, the Panigale looks much as it always has. Apart from the obvious although modest (7kW) boost in power, most of the model’s development is electronic, with a new traction control system, ABS, wheelie control and a quick- shifter that, like the S 1000 RR’s, now works on down-changes (with an automatic throttle blip). In Europe, and across much of the world, the sport bike has been in decline for a good half-decade or more, and adventure (on- and off-road tourers) models are the new bestseller, although the class itself is expanding to include adventure-themed bikes that have lost almost all their off-road-ability.
Such models are typified by the likes of Triumph’s Tiger Sport, but at the top of the pile in terms of cost and performance is Ducati’s Multistrada 1200. For 2015 the traction control and ABS have been uprated by borrowing the part of the Panigale’s brain that measures yaw, pitch and roll. The big news for the Multistrada, though, is, for once, mechanical. In a first for production bikes, there is a variable valve timing system that controls both the intake and exhaust camshafts (unlike the intake only on Honda’s VFR), the idea being to get the best of both worlds — good mid-range without sacrificing anything at high rpm.
Ducati’s decision to smother the Multistrada in so much techno-love is undoubtedly a response to the impending arrival of KTM’s latest offering. The Austrian firm is best known for its hardcore sport bikes, off- and on-road, but like any growing business it needs to broaden its appeal, hence the arrival of the 1290 Super Adventure. Although it might look like a run-of-the-mill adventure bike, this new model marks a significant moment for KTM. I know this because for the first time in a long and undistinguished career in motorcycle journalism I was confronted on multiple occasions by the word ‘‘comfortable”. In a KTM press release, no less.
But times change, and KTM is hoping to attract some of those riders looking for the advantages of an adventure-type bike, but solely for the road. The Austrian Multistrada has a detuned 120kW version of the 1290cc V-twin from the Super Duke. With both the Milan and Cologne shows now finished, we can absorb what has been a vibrant return to form for the motorcycle industry. Although the overall trend is towards all-round road bikes, and affordability, it’s refreshing to see life being breathed back into the stagnant sport bike market.