Written by contributing writer Zapata Espinoza
Whether it’s been strolling through Piazza San Marco in Venice or walking into the massive entrance hall at the Fiero Milano convention center to attend the annual EICMA motorcycle show, the same question has always raced through my mind, “What must it have been like to be here back-in-the-day?”
Keeping in mind that Marco Polo was born in Venice in 1254, thinking about a day in the life in that majestic city of canals indulges a grand history of almost a thousand years. Did they even have pizza back then? For EICMA, their sweep of history “only” extends 119 years, but imagine what a day it must’ve been to stand among so many moto-crazed Italians attending that first show in 1914! Even more compelling, just think about the state of two-wheeled technology that was on display.
Fast forward to 2023, and the EICMA trade show remains the crown jewel on the bike show calendar. Although many grumble about the cost/benefit ratio of participating in public exhibitions, I’d venture that they’ve never attended the Milano show or have simply chosen to remain ignorant of its unbridled success. Either way, given a reported five-day attendance figure (two days are industry only) of more than 550,000 people, don’t tell the EICMA crew that the day of big public shows is over! Inside the eight massive halls were over 2,000 brands ranging from 45 countries. And spotted within the aisles could be everything from state-of-the-art MotoGP bikes, ADV bikes of all sizes, every moto accessory imaginable and a plethora of start-up e-bike brands.
What about the bikes?
Once the place to see an abundance of motorcycles representing every known category, the EICMA show has shifted to reflect the most popular consumer market trends over the years. Street bikes continue to play a central role, but the adventure bike was once again the ascendant theme. And apart from the usual players, there were some head turning new models from brands looking to plant their flag in the ever-growing dual-sport market. One segment that still appears in flux is that of e-moto. While there was no shortage of new names in the game, the category remains decidedly lean among the major players.
Chief among the newbies would include the re-vamped Royal Enfield Himalayan that’s advanced from a five-speed, air-cooled 411cc powerplant to a new water-cooled 452cc mill with a six-speed transmission. Perhaps the most unique thing about the Himalayan is that it’s offered in five colors.
Highlighting the growing strain of ADVinspired scooters was the new CV-L6 maxiscooter from Kymco. Replete with a 550cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected parallel-twin engine that delivers a claimed 51 horsepower, the CV-L6 brings enhanced performance credibility with its radially mounted, dual Brembo front brakes and a complete set of built-in hard bags from Givi.
However, it didn’t take more than an hour into the first day of the show when MV Agusta set the stage for all ADV bike hype when they had four-time Dakar Rally champion Edi Orioli pull the drape off their beautiful, limited edition “luxury all-terrain motorcycle.”
Dubbed the MV Agusta LXP Orioli in honor of Orioli’s Dakar wins aboard the bike’s earliest Cagiva Elefant predecessor, only 500 autographed models will be produced. Powered by a 931cc inline triple, as you’d expect, the MV Agusta features a wide array of start-of-the-art electronic power and navigation aids, all wrapped in a quasi-Lucky Strike livery of old. The word in the aisles was that a production version of the bike will be released later in 2024 as the Enduro Veloce.
As for the MX side
Despite EICMA’s best effort to keep the motocross spirit alive by promoting their own MotoLive supercross races during the show, the motocross market is probably the least represented at EICMA. Still, there was plenty of anticipation among moto fans of getting a firsthand look at two of the latest MX entries from two of the most unexpected brands. Although plenty of video action has been seen and a brief halftime show at the World Supercross round at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the public has yet to sit on the bike and twist the throttle in an imagined on-track battle. Unfortunately, the closest anyone got to an MX bike in the Triumph pavilion was the family of good-looking 1200 and 400 Scramblers.
If the air of disappointment was palpable over at Triumph, it was downright abundant at Ducati’s big presentation when there was zero mention of the hoopla surrounding their recent announcement of developing a motocross bike. Sure, there was plenty of noise surrounding the release of their 698 Mono RVE Hypomotard (voted the “most beautiful” bike of the show), but you could feel the crowd’s collective let down when Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali closed the presentation without ever uttering a word about their abducting nine-time World MX Champion Tony Cairoli from arch competitor KTM to head the effort.
The first motocross bikes we saw were on display at the Kove booth, making up for the absences of the British and Italians. With a manufacturing legacy of just five years, this upstart Chinese brand has jumped into the off-road market in a big way. Awash in a teal green color scheme, the MX 250 and 450 boasted contemporary features but impressively outdated prices. Young as the brand is, they’ve already proven their hand by finishing three of their 450 Rally bikes in last year’s Dakar Rally – a factory bike on which the current production version is based.
What about the others?
As with every EICMA show I’ve attended, the end of each day brought a familiar question, “So, what bike did you like the most?” The problem with answering is that there are too many bikes to “like the most.”
But if I had to start choosing, I would start with the Bimoto Terra. It is not an adventure bike but a “crossover” bike. The Tera borrows the brand’s unique chassis and suspension layout made famous on their Tesi sportbike. Add to that a supercharged Kawasaki motor pumping out 197 horsepower and some sensuous bodywork, and you have a bike that is the very definition of extravagant.
Thankfully (at least for this one old guy), neither the industry nor at least an influential slice of the market has seemed to tire of retro-themed bikes. At EICMA this year, the winner for the best-looking and most talked about model must be Yamaha’s race-inspired XSR900 GP. If anyone could’ve conceived of a modern, four-stroke version of Kenny Robert’s edition RZ350, this bike would be based on Yamaha’s popular MT series of sports bikes.
This year’s most notable MIA brands? There would be two: Italy’s e-moto pioneer brand, Energica, who’ve traditionally shown up with the most advanced electric superbike on display, and Harley-Davidson, who had consistently enjoyed an equally large pavilion booth and spectator count.
Of course, with each passing year, the number and sophistication of e-moto entries have only increased. While there was no shortage of janky Surron replicas, two bikes stood out. The impressive Rawrr Mantis (in street and dirt versions) outdoes the mass-selling Surron in price and quality components. The brand is fronted by former American 250cc GP rider and Cycle World magazine publisher Andy Leisner, who spoke to the art and value of industry re-invention.
As the minutes ticked away for my two-day tour of duty inside the halls of the Fiera in Milano, there was still enough time to get in one last new model unveiling. And what an impressive discovery it was. UltraViolette is a promising e-moto brand from Bangalore, India. In addition to showing a nicely outfitted street bike already in production, they unveiled their exceptionally well-executed F99 Superbike, which was undoubtedly one of the most performance-oriented e-motos I’ve ever seen.
As I walked out of the main hall and headed to the shuttle bus, I couldn’t help but think about the future of the EICMA show. Not just the happy celebration of their 120th anniversary next year but much further beyond. What are the chances there will be another excited journalist entering the hall 100 years from now, who, anticipating the motorcycles they were about to see, would also be wondering what it must’ve been like to attend the show in 2023?