This year’s motorcycle show at the Birmingham NEC (UK) was excellent. I spent the whole day there on Saturday and wore myself out, looking at bikes and chatting to the many people I bumped into.
It was busy and there was a buzz about the place which seemed to have been lacking in recent years. Perhaps it was the feeling that the economy is finally on the move again that engendered a better feeling about the show.
This year I tried to concentrate on things that I don’t normally spend too much time looking at. One of those might just prove to be a little too tempting for me. Who goes to a motorcycle show and falls in love with a car? More on that later. Back to the bikes....
I wanted to see the new Indian motorcycles and they certainly did look very good. This is the Indian Chief Vintage….
I was drawn to the Moto Guzzi Street V7 Scrambler, which looks cool and classic at the same time. I really like its rugged looks and this is one of the best looking of the new recent Moto Guzzi bikes. I do question though the combination of knobbly tyres with the cylinders sticking out sideways so much. Yes, I know this is the classic Guzzi engine layout, but the knobblies suggest this could be taken off-road, but can you imagine what would happen to the cylinder heads if you dropped the bike a few times in deep mud or on rocks? It does look great though…..
Compare those good looks to the diabolical Guzzi Griso SE. That engine block has to be the ugliest thing recently designed for a motorcycle. It is so fugly, it just makes you wonder “what were they thinking”…..
One of the bikes that really surprised me was a BMW GS with a sidecar fitted. I sort of get it, and sort of don’t. The guy on the stand told me he was selling about one a month, which means they wont be around for much longer…..
One bike was creating a lot of interest and that was the Ducati 1199 Superleggera. Launched this month, Ducati have said that just 500 of these bikes will be made. It certainly is an impressive looking bike….
Red bikes are obviously popular and this striking Aprilia caught my eye. The bike is much better than its model name which is a baffling RSV4 R APRC ABS, which doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue. The bike is stuffed full of technology with 8-stage traction control, wheelie control, launch control and a quickshifter, plus ABS and fully adjustable suspension. Oh and a little matter of 180bhp to go with it all….
This looks like it could be fun. An Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 ABS….
Back in the seventies I loved this MV Augusta. My feelings for the bike haven’t changed….
Love this old Beemer Airhead as well….
I cannot recall having seen a Royal Enfield café racer before. Maybe some of my readers have?....
Talking of unusual, how about a Moto Guzzi café racer with, wait for it, a slipstreamed sidecar attached….
You gotta love a Vespa….
A very nice Victory. You don’t often see them with eight additional cylinders though….
My favourite lady from the show. Who knows who she is?....
Here she is again with some of her friends….
Coventry Transport Museum had a very nice display of old motorcycles. Here are a couple of my favourites….
My friend Henry Cole has launched a new motorcycle, called a Gladstone. Their first model, appropriately called No.1, was on display at the show. A hardtail with a Triumph engine, some of the details on this bike are very nice indeed….
I need to ask Henry where these lever / grip combinations come from, as I really like them and I have a current project build they would suit….
A very nice custom Harley-Davidson, built by Warrs in London….
The Harley-Davidson stand included a replica of the shed in which William S. Harley and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson first built motorcycles. This shed at the show contained an old model H-D, lent to the show by Warrs….
This is one of the Metisse Desert Racer motorcycles, currently being made as a replica of one of the bikes Steve McQueen once owned….
Back Street Heroes magazine had a big stand with many custom motorcycles on display. I like this shovelhead…..
I imagine not many people go to a motorcycle show and end up really liking a car, indeed some may say that is sacrilege. However, how could anyone not like this Morgan three-wheeler. It is the Brooklands Special edition and I feel a test drive coming soon. 1976cc V-Twin S&S engine, 82bhp, 0-60 in 6 seconds, top speed 115mph….
Finally, what did surprise me was how many people I bumped into at the show. Andy Hornsby of American-V magazine was on good form in a bright orange Hawaiian shirt. I didn’t know he was going, but I was happy to see Jon Hickman who I rode with to St Tropez earlier this year. Marjorie Rae, the Customer Experience Manager for the UK and Ireland spared me some time to talk about my new touring business. I met one guy, Gary Fleshman, who I last met in 2010 while on my tour of the USA. TV personality friend Henry Cole was there chatting to lots of his fans and he presented his new Gladstone bike. Ian Thorburn (AKA Bosunsbikes) was there as well, taking loads of pictures....
All-in-all, it was a terrific day, looking at motorcycles and seeing lots of friends. I slept well that night!
The show continues for another week with its last day being 1st December.
I also love motorcycles, but there is one thing I am very clear on. Using technology while on the move is the last thing a biker needs to do. We all know that to ride safely, we need to concentrate 100% on the road conditions ahead and we especially need to look at what other road users are doing. Anything that distracts bikers from concentrating on riding can only lead to problems.
I am therefore amazed at three motorcycle helmet manufacturers that are proposing to included on-board gadgets and technology within their helmets. Between them, they are suggesting we need Internet enabled helmets, with heads-up displays, inbuilt gps, the ability to make phone calls and send texts, see weather forecasts, and look at 180 degree rear view camera displays. Wait a minute, yes, all WHILE riding. Are they crazy? They all claim these sorts of features will help riders, but are they right?
Let’s look at what they are proposing.
The guy presenting on the Scully video (see below) already struggles with being able to read a sign at the side of the road, let alone look at the in-view displays he is suggesting. He says he slammed into the back of the car in front when looking at a sign when riding. That means he is unable to ride properly now.
This is the guy that wants to fill our heads with wait for it….. gps maps floating in front of me….. an internet enabled heads up display mobile platform that takes data from onboard sensors, gps and rear view camera and renders this up on a heads up display. It is claimed with its onboard micro-processor and Android based OS, it is the smartest helmet on the planet.
It also has a 180 degree rear view camera with a screen built into the helmet so enabling the rider to look behind and to the sides, while looking forward at the same time. The video suggests we could make and take phone calls. It even has a full screen gps view(!). It even invites other developers to suggest other apps that could be used on their platform. Other information says riders can send texts using voice commands WHILE RIDING. This is idiotic.
Just take a look at the video, especially 2:25 for about 25 seconds. This is where you see the rear view camera view in your field of vision. I guarantee when watching the this your eyes will dart about looking at the heads up display and you will not concentrate on the road ahead.
Anybody wanting to buy one of these might be attracted by the technology, but I certainly wouldn’t want one and more importantly, I wouldn’t want somebody riding behind me who was wearing one of these helmets.
The first of the Reevu helmets have been available for some time and these existing models make some degree of sense as it gives a rear view of the road behind on a small screen just above your eye line. You do have to look up though and take your eyes off the road ahead. This though is not too dissimilar from moving your eyes to look in the mirrors mounted on your handlebars.
However, the new innovations that Reevu want to build into their new helmets take things to a different level. Here is one of their images.
It seems Reevu may be planning to connect the heads-up display to the motorcycle to show RPM, speed or fuel consumption, along with indicator repeaters and possibly high beam and neutral idiot lights. From their imagery, it looks like Reevu are also targeting heads-up gps. Can you possibly imagine trying to read this information while riding? The new helmets will use the small mirror above the eyeline for the rear view, plus it will also show the sort of information on the image above. Isn’t this too much to use while riding?
Nuviz claim the world’s first Head-Up display for motorcycle helmets.
This is different from the other two manufacturers as Nuviz is technology that gets mounted to the chin piece of existing helmets. This then projects a heads-up display onto the inside of the visor somehow. The type of information it displays ranges from gps maps and directions, weather forecasts, distance travelled, speed, estimated arrival time, gear selected, revs, as well as allowing telephone calls and listening to music.
It even allows you to take photographs and video. For the social media savvy, photos can be sent to your Facebook page while you ride. Yep, you read that right – WHILE YOU RIDE!
The system uses the Nuviz Ride Cloud app and once again, through mobile internet technology, this allows riders to share data such as routes before, after or even DURING the ride. Really, why?
Okay, so it looks as if this new technology may well be available soon – some of these manufacturers say the technology will be here in 2014, but one big questions remains. Will these gadgets help or hinder riders?
Some will love what is coming our way and will covet the technology for the sake of technology. That is okay, if it is safe to use. I have my doubts though, as riding needs 100% of your concentration all of the time. Gizmos that require us to move our view away from the road cannot be good, nor can the inevitable toggles and switches that we will need our hands to manipulate the data.
Is this really a good idea that will make riding easier, or is it utter lunacy, dreamed up to exploit a potential market? Time will tell.
Reaction to the new Harley-Davidson Street 500 and 750 models has been predictably vocal.
What surprises me is the passion from many in their initial reaction to the new bikes. Social media is flooded with the polarised views of the “love it” and the “over-my-dead-body” sections of the biker community.
When the knee-jerk reactions are stripped away, the views about the new models are likely to be good overall. Of course, there will be some who will always consider a smaller, liquid-cooled motorcycle to be the work of the devil and too far removed from Harley-Davidsons core history to be acceptable, but what any vehicle manufacturer cares about is what the majority think, not the vocal few.
Look back just a couple of months to when Harley-Davidson launched the new Project Rushmore bikes, when a lot of the initial reaction in the first couple of days was negative. However, a few months later, when the bikes have actually been test ridden, looked at, sat upon and judged based upon fact, the reaction is very different and has resulted in one of Harley-Davidsons best-ever sales quarters.
Harley-Davidson has very different motorcycle geographic markets to consider. Along with trying to please its loyal, invariably older, existing customer base, at the same time it needs to develop models that appeal to newer, younger riders, and this results in only one thing being certain - whatever it does, it isn’t going to please everyone.
As I see it, Harley-Davidson has to consider many variables when developing new models. The most important five are likely to be…..
One, geography. Harley-Davidson is a global company that needs to appeal to riders across our planet. Motorcycle riding is very different depending where you are in the world and what is right for one market is very wrong for another. Many Harley-Davidson owning Americans love their big twin, large heavy touring models, but those models are very inappropriate for the very congested streets in some parts of Europe and Asia. The smaller, lighter 500cc and 750cc models are aimed at street riders, not open road riders. The clue is in the name!
Two, emissions. Many naysayers have written things like “Water cooled! I will never give up my air-cooled twin!”. They have missed the point here in that the introduction of the new water-cooled models is likely to help Harley-Davidson to keep producing their famous air-cooled models. In many places in the world, vehicle manufacturers not only have to meet strict emissions standards for each model, but they also need to meet standards for their range when taken as a whole.
A quick look at the US Environmental Protection Agency website shows “All vehicles sold in the US must comply with federal emission standards. However, the standards are packaged in various “bins” that manufacturers can choose from, meaning that in a given model year, some vehicles will be cleaner than others.” By introducing some new models with lower emission qualities means that other models with higher emissions can be kept.
Three, a broader customer base. Harley-Davidson has a long-term problem with its business that it simply had to address. The age profile of their customers is too old. Us grey-beards are not going to be around forever and Harley has to target younger customers if they are to maintain or grow their market position. The simple fact is that younger riders don’t go out and buy large expensive motorcycles. Women riders generally don’t want large heavy motorcycles. Newer riders need smaller bikes to ride as they learn. Younger riders want something they can buzz around town on with their friends. Just watch the H-D promo videos for the new models. These new models are mainly for these groups, so I just don’t understand the rhetoric when people complain the new models are too small, or too far removed from what Harley’s should be like. It is simple to understand – if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but don’t complain about it at the same time!
Four, kerbside appeal vs price. As design is a very personal thing, this is the hardest part of a manufacturers strategy to get right. We all have slightly differing views about what we like and don’t like and designers have to try to appeal to the majority.
Like nearly everyone, I have not yet seen the new Street 500 and 750 models first hand, let along ridden one yet. While they clearly won’t appeal to the traditionalists in Harley circles, they will look pretty cool to many. The prices seem okay as well, but the real test will come when somebody has cash to spend and when they look at the options available to them from different manufacturers. It is likely that many will buy the new Street models because they are different to other manufacturers machines.
Five, profit. Harley-Davidson are not fools. They have to make good profits or they will struggle badly. They need money to re-invest for the future and if that means using a cheaper supplier then that is what they will do. When it comes down to it, most riders care about quality and they don’t want they machines to break down. To most, that is far more important in the long run that where the parts are made, or where the motorcycles are assembled. For most companies, making profit equals cutting costs.
So, reading the initial gut-reaction of many to the launch of the new models has been interesting. Social media is great in that it gives us all a voice.
It will be interesting to see what impact the new Street 500/750 has upon the H-D Sportster models.
For me, I probably won’t buy one of these new models as they are not the sort of motorcycle I ride, but my sons might.
Are you like me in loathing organisations that have very poor customer service and seem to not care about their customers?
I really cannot understand why some large businesses don't do a better job in dealing with the people that keep them in business - us, their customers.
We can all accept that sometimes things go wrong. When they do, we just want it put right quickly and efficiently, but here in the UK, this rarely seems to happen. All too often, when trying to get things resolved on the telephone, we are passed from one person to the next, with nobody either capable or willing to solve the problem. When this happens to me, I am left with a feeling of frustration and often, anger.
It happened today and being tired of getting absolutely nowhere, I have decided to publicly denounce the guilty party, in the hope they do actually do something to improve. Who knows, it might work.
It was Hewlett-Packard that let me down. Having nearly run out of the high quality photo print paper and urgently needing some more for a large print job, I went online and saw on the HP shop website te paper I needed was available and would be delivered the next day. That was perfect and just what I needed. About £100 / $150 of this was ordered. Sadly, it didn't arrive the next day.
Telephone calls to HP were made and the farce started.....
Despite the HP website statement of delivery the next day on this specific product, I was told the delivery could not actually be made for over two weeks.
I spoke with seven different people. Shamefully, not one offered to solve the problem, or even gave good advice.
There is no way to make a complaint on the telephone as HP do not have a process for this. They insist customers write in. (We all know that most written complaints receive not much more than scant attention and nearly always receive just a standard reply).
After being on the phone for twenty minutes, one person tried to transfer the call to someone else but disconnected the call.
Nobody could suggest which of their vendors might have the paper.
One person thought the best way was for me to order the paper from their website as it showed next day delivery! Duh, that is the very problem I was talking to her about.
Two people I spoke to suggested the best thing for them to do was to cancel the order. Pretty unbelievable stuff!
Several members of HP staff gave me the wrong telephone number for their head office. I later learned the number was changed some time ago, but apparently, nobody has bothered to tell the staff.
One person I spoke to told me if customers ask for the head office telephone number, they must be referred to the HP website. That website lists the head office number as the same one I had dialled to speak to the person who suggested I look on their website to get the head office number.
I tried to send an email to their shop, but couldn't because their inbox was full.
Needless to say, I got nowhere and the problem was not even close to being solved.
Does this sort of chaos and disorganisation sound familiar?
What is really silly is I must have been speaking to the various HP staff members for about 45 minutes in total. In that time they achieved precisely nothing, but if just one person had tried to help, it would have taken far less time than that to actually solve the problem. Lets remember this is an IT organisation, so they really should have the systems in place that give their staff the information they need to help their customers. It is purely down to training and attitude.
Sadly, this is depressingly all too common with UK businesses. There are notable exceptions, but they are rare. Quite when and how things will get better is difficult to see. What is important though is than organisations like HP actually try. I wonder if they really do want to improve?
UPDATE 30 November - despite HP first saying the product would be delivered the next day, then saying it would be over two weeks, I drove around my area and found the product I urgently needed. Those buffoons at HP just sent an automated email to me saying the product has been despatched. What good is that to me now? I have already gone and found it elsewhere! I despair of organisations like this.
I often ride with the Chelsea and Fulham (C&F) Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). September this year saw the conclusion of my 2014 foreign riding season with a four-day C&F HOG trip to Reims, in France.
The night before we left, we stayed just five minutes from the Channel Tunnel rail terminal in Folkestone. However, this closeness didn't mean all of our group would make it onto the train. One scallywag, who will remain nameless, had a problem with the visa in his passport and knowing the immigration people didn't always check passports on the way to France, he decided to chance it and see if he could travel anyway. He didn't make it as the eagle-eyed immigration officer spotted the error. Gavin (oops) is now going to make sure he gets his visa up-to-date.
Those that did make it were missing Gavin badly.…
The trip was organised by C&F Road Captain Nick Deal. I never knew that Nick was quite so organised. In the weeks before he led the C&F ride to Reims in France, he produced a briefing note, a short lesson on French road signs (I have ridden in France a lot and I did learn something) and gave us options where we could go while on the four day trip. It was impressive stuff, so hats off to Nick. This is Nick with his wife Jane….
The ride down to Reims was in two parts – a blast on the French motorway system through less interesting parts of northern France, followed by great back roads in the afternoon. Under blazing hot skies, we cruised along twisting roads through farmland and seemingly deserted small villages. It never ceases to amaze me when riding through rural France were the people go. Just occasionally we glimpsed a person tending their garden or working on their house, but for the rest of the time, nobody could be seen. Where do they all go?
A break was needed and we rumbled into the town of Bohain-en-Vermandois, famous for being the place where painter Henri Matisse grew up. The quiet ambiance of the town soon became a little louder as we parked our motorcycles in the centre of the town square and re-arranged the café furniture so we could eat as a group. After lunch, the C&F Chapter flag was unfurled, the bikes aligned and a shot of the group taken with their Harleys….
188 miles later on day 1, we arrived at our base for the weekend, in the city of Reims, which is important in French history as it was the traditional site where the kings of France were crowned. More importantly to us however, is its location at the very heart of the Champagne region.
It was a Thursday night and the place was buzzing. Street cafes, bars and restaurants were full with people. It was a good job that Nick had made a reservation at his favourite restaurant, the Grand Café, for our group. Nick and Jane come to Reims often, as evidenced by the warm greeting they received from the waiter (hugs all round). By now, Janet (the partner of the errant passport owner) had arrived having left Gavin to sort out the mess with his missing visa. It would have been wrong to ignore the regions local products, so we tucked into a few bottles of Bollinger champagne as we ate a good meal on the warm September evening.
The next morning, after the obligatory visit to the local Harley-Davidson dealership, we were in for a treat. Between 1926 and 1972, there was a major motor racing circuit called Reims-Gueux and we went to see what was left of this historic place. Built on public roads with permanent facilities, Reims-Gueux hosted 14 French F1 Grand Prix, with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Lorenzo Bandini, Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn all having raced here. This video gives a taste of what the circuit was like in its heyday....
A lot of the track, the pits and main grandstand survive today and that was where we chose to park our motorcycles….
I liked the look of the old BP pavilion, so later parked my custom bike Amelia there….
The Chelsea and Fulham HOG Chapter is centred around Warrs, the London Harley-Davidson dealership. Les Channing, from Warrs parts department was on the ride and proudly posed in front of one of the old pits at the circuit…
Les, along with Ken and Dof decided to use the track for the purpose it was built and went for a blast along the main straight. They roared past at just over the speed limit (!) and flashed past the pits just as Geoff Duke would have done in 1955 when he won the 1955 French motorcycle Grand Prix.
On their return run, they came past us a little more sedately and it made for a great picture….
The afternoon saw a change in pace when we went to see what must count as one of the most oddest visitor attractions in France. Situated 140 miles from the sea, Phare de Verzenay is a lighthouse perched high on a hill, surrounded by the grapevines of the Champagne region. The lighthouse is flamboyant centrepiece of a museum built to celebrate the Champagne produced in the area….
Photo by Keith and Susie
We then rode along some fantastic twisting and fast roads through some glorious French countryside. We passed a few immaculately kept war cemeteries with their neat rows of headstones. These bring powerful feelings, as the sadness of all of these men that died is a very strong emotion in me. I am also very proud of those men. They fought and died for our freedom from an evil tyrant, and for that I am forever grateful. I like to say a silent thank you to the men that lay in those cemeteries every time I pass one.
Photo by Keith and Susie
I have often stopped and walked around the graves of different allies nations. I can recall being in British, French, American and Canadian World War I and II cemeteries. On this day when we were out riding through the French countryside, we stopped at a German cemetery, a first for me.
This was the Fort-de-Malmaison cemetery which contains the graves of 11,841 German soldiers who fell between 1940 and 1944 in France. Many of them were killed during the liberation offensive of the Allied forces in 1944. With their simple black crosses, the graveyard was a sobering sight.
I was born just 12 years after the end of the second World War and the memories of those dark days were still engrained in the minds of the adults around me. It was understandable therefore that as a small boy, I learned the German soldiers were bad and were the enemy. It wasn't until I stood in that German cemetery that those feelings finally left me as the sadness of the German men that died really hit me for the first time. They were only doing what their deranged leader had told them. They were just following orders. As I read the leaflet from the cemetery, I discovered that just under one million German soldiers are buried in France. I had no idea it was that many….
The next morning, we had planned to go on another group ride, but not until 10am. Being an early riser, this was way too late for me and I discovered the same applied to Ken and Dof as well, so we did what any keen biker would do and went for a pre-ride ride. It was only for an hour or so but there were very few cars on the road, so we headed east, found some deserted roads and, well, blew the cobwebs away. This was hardcore riding at its best and both Ken and Dof can ride pretty darn fast. It was as much as I could do to keep up at times, as while Amelia is fast in a straight line, her long forks means she needs to take the bends a little slower. We did hit some amazing speeds though and our bikes must have sounded incredible to anyone that was awake.
After the rest of the group finally got out of bed, we reformed and went riding again. We went to see the monastery in Hautvillers where Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon lived. He did much to improve the process of making quality champagne and of course, one of the most famous champagnes is named after him. Across the road from the monastery, we went to taste the champagne and at 10.30am, the one glass we each had really hit the spot….
In the afternoon, we left our motorcycles at the hotel and went to see another great champagne producer, Taittinger, or more precisely, one of their cellars where they keep their wine during the manufacturing process.
During the French Revolution, the Abbey that used to stand on this site was destroyed, but the caves underneath, once a chalk quarry, are now used to store 3 million bottles of Taittinger champagne. This is the smaller of the storage cellars and the other holds an incredible 16 million bottles! Each bottle stays in the cellars for between three and seven years while the fermentation process happens. The tour of the cellars took about an hour and covered all aspects of making the champagne. Of course, we had to try some….
Our time in Reims ended with a visit to the magnificent Cathedral. It is easy to see why French kings were crowned here….
Congratulations must go to Nick and Jane for organising such a terrific long weekend away. They made everything work so well and all the rest of us really had to do was turn up and do what they said. Many thanks also to Les, for being Last Man the whole way. A great foreign ride all round!
This blog was originally started to record a five month, 21000 mile tour of the US on my Harley-Davidson. I continue to use this blog to record my own motorcycling adventures, wherever they may be, along with my thoughts and opinions about motorcycling generally.
Having devoted most of my adult life to being a ‘company man’, the transition to the next phase of my life away from the construction industry was always going to include some challenges. Planning and then making my dream trip to explore America on my Harley-Davidson proved to be the ideal vehicle for clearing my mind of old ways of thinking and being.
I rode 21,475 miles, in 27 US states in four-and-a-half months.
My motorcycling trip have continued, with journeys across much of Europe and Cuba.
I live just north of London in the UK.
Please note all photographs on this blog are copyrighted. Do not copy or use, in whole or in part, any image from this blog either in its original form or altered in any way. If you do want to use one of the photographs, then you must ask first and I will almost certainly say yes! Thanks for your understanding.
US Tour - My Favourites Places I Went To....
It is difficult to choose, but here is my list of the highlights of my US tour, in the order I saw them in....