Motoring: Putting the brummm into Brum

For the first time in years the Motor Cycle Show in Birmingham packs a real punch.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's an indication of motorcycling's current popularity in Britain that, for the first time in living memory, there are some real surprises in store at the Motor Cycle Show, which opens at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham today. For years the major bike manufacturers have launched their new models at shows in Italy, Germany or France. And although most of next year's machines were unveiled in Munich in September, enough have been held back to put the NEC in the global spotlight as never before.

Much of the interest is centred on Yamaha's YZF-R7, an ultra-racy, four- cylinder 750cc rocketship based on this year's hugely successful 1,000cc YZF-R1.

In contrast to the mass-produced R1, the R7 is a limited-edition machine, highly tuned and fitted with special parts, that will be built in small numbers as the basis for Yamaha's challenge in next season's World Superbike Championship. A racing R7 was displayed in Munich, but the road-going bike has been held back for unveiling in Birmingham.

Two more Yamahas are making their world debuts at the NEC. The XVZ13TF Royal Star Venture is a giant tourer, powered by a 1300cc V4 engine, that is designed for long-distance comfort and incorporates luggage, stereo and cruise control. Like the XVS1100 Drag Star, launched in Munich, the XV1600 Wild Star, on view for the first time this week, is a big V-twin cruiser whose style is shamelessly borrowed from Harley-Davidson - whose recent Dyna Super Glide Sport and other Twin Cam 88 powered models will be at the NEC for the first time.

Yamaha also has the new YZF-R6, a sporty 600cc four whose 120bhp output and weight of 169kg make it the most powerful and lightest in the class. At about pounds 6,000 the R6 will cost well under half as much as the R7, and will provide plenty of high-revving thrills. Its closest rival next year will be the latest version of Honda's CBR600F, the popular middleweight that is comprehensively uprated this year with a new 108bhp engine and its first aluminium frame.

Honda's big NEC news is the launch of the CBR900RR FireBlade Evolution, an exotic, ultra-powerful version of the familiar four-cylinder hyperbike.

The Evolution has been developed by Honda UK in conjunction with Hertfordshire tuning firm RS Performance, and will be built in limited numbers next year for sale at pounds 18,000. With a 165bhp power output and a chassis uprated with upmarket parts including a single-sided swing-arm, the Evolution is set to outperform even Yamaha's R1.

Even so, the Evolution won't be the fastest superbike at the NEC. Suzuki's new GSX1300R Hayabusa, whose 1,298cc, 16-valve engine produces a massive 173bhp, has been produced to snatch the World's Fastest Motorcycle title from Honda's Super Blackbird. Aided by aerodynamically efficient but ugly bodywork, the Hayabusa could have a top speed of over 180mph.

Suzuki also has a brace of new V-twin middleweights, the naked SV650 and half-faired SV650S, which promise lively performance at an attractive price. Kawasaki's main new models are V-twins of a very different type. The VN1500 and VN800 Drifters are cruisers whose old-fashioned styling, incorporating enormous mudguards, mimics American-built Indians of the Fifties.

Although Kawasaki also has a modern budget 750cc four called the ZR- 7, its other new model is the bizarre W650, a Sixties style parallel twin.

In contrast Britain's Triumph, back from the grave since its Sixties heyday, has a new bike that is bang up to date. The Sprint ST is a new generation sports-tourer that combines a 108bhp, 955cc three-cylinder engine with Triumph's first twin-spar aluminium frame. And the Leicestershire firm also has a new version of its dual-purpose Tiger model, whose lighter, lower chassis holds an 885cc triple engine producing 86bhp.

BMW has one of the biggest bikes at the Show, in the rounded shape of the K1200LT luxury tourer. Beneath the all-enclosing plastic, the bike billed as the two-wheeled 7 Series is powered by a 98bhp four-cylinder engine.

Equally important is its equipment list: adjustable screen and passenger seat plus a radio are standard; CD changer, cruise control and heated seat are optional extras.

The show's main Italian interest comes from Ducati, whose plethora of new models includes the uprated 996 sportster; the 916cc, eight-valve ST4 sports-tourer; and the 750SS, a smaller-engined version of this year's 900SS. Disappointingly the Ducati that stole the headlines in Munich, the stunning prototype MH900e Hailwood Evoluzione, is not at the NEC - but that doesn't prevent this being the biggest and best bike show for years.

The Motor Cycle Show, National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 14 to 22 November, 10am-6pm; admission: adults pounds 12, under-16s and OAPs pounds 5, under-10s free when accompanied by adult