Alistair Maclean's Web Site
The NYC Bike Show 1999 

The Motorcycle Show Season.

From the mild and sunny, though snow covered, North Eastern USA, comes a biased and jaded synopsis of the New York Motorcycle Show ('99 edition).

As the penultimate show of the millenium (Don't get me going, we have over 600 days to bitch about it) this was an interesting show. The format was slightly smaller than previous years, even given the 17% sales increase in the USA this year. The show was contained in just the main hall of the Javitt's Conference center, the lower floor was a retailers exposition. The retailers were probably thankful that the motorcycling community is a nice one... yours truly excepted, I sneer at anything I want to!

The show broke down into three themes; Knuckle Draggers, Knee Draggers and Boot Draggers. Cruisers, sports bikes and dirt tackle.

The cruiser market is now dominated by bikes that require a JCB to pick up, have enough chrome to make any Namibian feel proud (Namibia is a leading supplier of raw Cr), and have handlebars wide enough to require an Interstate or motorway lane to allow for the extra width of those leather dangly bits that every right minded cruiser dude puts on his `bars. Not being a cruiser fan leads one to making a very important discovery: I can't tell them apart. There were monstrous cruisers from everyone. A new player in this arena was Victory motorcycles. They have a $12,000 entry into the thundering V-twin market in the form of a 1500cc lump of iron. Harley showed the usual line of lettered bikes - I'm sure one of them was lettered as the XCOC, whatever! I slung a leg over the Honda Valkyrie, that was about all I could do; this 700lb behemoth is a little unwieldy, the wide bars became integral in my being able to move the front anvil, err wheel and raise this monster.

In the dirt realm there has been a BIG push to get out of dirty smelly two strokes and into clean, environmentally friendly four-strokes (being, of course, heavier and less powerful). This mostly effects the bigger capacities, but as California is soon to go all four-stroke, even for racing, the writing is on the wall for the ring-ding. New RM Suzuki's and a lovely little 50cc Yamaha (perfectly sized for my 6' 2" frame) vied for attention amidst the growing scream of charging KTM's. The KTM stand was awash in colourful and competitive tackle. The current Dakar Rally situation, where the top 10 starters were KTM mounted, must be effecting the sales picture: Race in Africa, Sell All Year!

Knee Dragging has never been more enticing. The US rider is garnering the benefit of a US dollar that is so strong its turning Lire into Monopoly money. Even since this time last year the Dollar/Yen rate has seen marked change - consistency. This has meant that for the first time in years the real cost of bikes has come down. A few years ago it looked like the $10,000 600cc sportsbike was inevitable (ultimately it will be, but for...), now the entry price is something in the order of $7000 to $7500. The new Yamaha R6 and Honda F4 both look like bikes that are competitive enough for the likes of Bazza Sheene and Kenny Roberts to have been flicking V signs at each other 20 years ago. For $7199, the Yamaha R6 looks a steal. It's light, looks the part and has all the street cred its bigger R1 brother could give it. The Honda is hardly any less extreme.

The Yamaha R7 was at the show to show the punters what they could not buy. Only 50 will be imported and they will all go to racers and museums.

On the cubes-is-better front, Suzuki's new 1300cc 'Citation Invitation' device looked pretty awesome. At 10 grand it is a fearsome piece of hardware that even a spotty seventeen year old kid could slice a meandering minivan in half with... and so start the great motorcycle legal speed wars again. In the Kawasaki camp, still replete with the ZX-11, a new ZXR-1100 took the stage. This is the bike that puts retro back in the line up for Big-K. It felt big, looked very nice, but the big radiator was not right on a bike that somehow needed to have an air-cooled engine, or an engine that looked like it was air-cooled. However, at $7199, the same as the R6 (which incidentally has more peak ponies), the new ZXR is not a great deal of money for a full on 1100cc bike. The old rearsets might still fit the new bike, it definitely needs them; the seating is Ok but the foot positioning is too low and forward - Eddie Lawson would never have approved. Interestingly, the person trying the bike on for size in front of me was a Honda person with the express aim of checking competitors products; the CB1000 never sold well here. A company Called Orient Express had a 260 bhp version of the new ZXR at the show, claiming it to be street legal; that sort of thrust just might get you to appreciate how Eddie worried about his old 1023's get up and go.

In the red corner, things have not been quiet. The Italians have had a major year: lots of new bikes, several updates and more exposure. For the first time the new 750 Laverda's were on show. They look like nice bikes, though it takes a moment to realise that the problem with the fuel tank is that... its not a fuel tank. Where you normally expect a filler cap is blank fibreglass. When I asked the young man at the stand about 1000cc triples, he looked blankly back. Mention of Jota, drew more blank looks. Next!

The stand next to Laverda was occupied by BIMOTA. [Pray in the direction of Italy.] The drop dead gorgeous DB4 is an $18,000 piece of art. No seating or touching arrangements could be obtained, and the Pope was not on hand to make special decrees. The DB4 takes after earlier Bimota/Ducati efforts; providing an even more stylish home for big 900 lumps. Bimota was saved by the DB1, its new owners will probably make quite a bit from the DB4, too.

Aprilia displayed for the first time at this show, exhibiting their new range of machines including the 250cc road bike version of the World Championship bikes that have won them so much fame and the RSV Mille. The 250cc road bikes (with lights) were for show but not sale, the ones without lights were for sale but not for the road (for racing only. Kill joys.) The RSV Mille should be available in the US in the summer, there are expected to be 10 dealers in New York State to sell them (None in New Jersey, rats). The Mille is a pretty bike with a great many exotic parts. It felt like it had a less extreme seating position than the 996, but less hospitable than say the Honda F4. No price was quoted for the Mille, but I expect that 13,000 copies of George Washington's face might suffice.

Ducati now has so much commercial appeal their stand was sandwiched between Harley D. and Buell. This might have been a cunning sales move; but what all the Harley types thought of the little Monsters and 996's is anyone's guess. For the first time the US is going to get a full on 996. There are two 996 models coming into the US, both of which are to be street legal, the 996 and the 996S. The difference? 4 big ones, and much carbon fiber and magnesium. Enough Unobtanium to reduce the 996S's weight by 20lbs in comparison to its bloated stable mate, which weighs in at a portly 436lbs (so it says here in the glorious catalogue). At 16 Grand (US), the 996 is no bargain, at least if you exclude the cruiser market, the touring market, and the Bavarians. Its still the prettiest bike you can buy, and its available everywhere Ducati's are sold.

The Monster is black! Nowhere was the Dollar situation more apparent than with the Ducati Monster prices. A new plain-jane (sorry, Jane) version with an almost matte black finish, 750cc engine, and all other bits was a cool $6995, deals negotiable! The wife LOVES this bike. New York loves this bike. Monsters are everywhere in the Big Apple. Of course the one parked outside the show was being ridden by a Brit, but a Brit who's been in NYC for 4 years so I suppose he partially counts as a "Nu Yawkah."

An aside: The size of tyres is getting incredible. The Suzuki 1300 comes with a 190 rear. This is bigger than most cars tyres. If it were car tyre shaped this bike would have positive stability when stationery. In a day and age (and country) where owners (myself included) only do 5000 bike miles a year I suppose the price for these tyres is not unbearable. But if I were a little younger and more inclined to 10 and 20 thousand mile years, the cost of tyre replacement could imperil my wallet.

Bavarian might displayed the new RS1100S. This is a pretty (and expensive) bike, that is doing wonders for BMW's fortunes. For the record there seemed to be a $3000 discrepancy between the "with" and "without" ABS versions of this bike, 16 grand got you the added braking security.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. It's getting late. I now have to think how I can afford a 996, Monster, ZXR, Guzzi 1000, BMW and a little dirt bike. And then how I will get time to ride all of them. Aren't problems fun sometimes.



A page index