The gripping world of modern biking

At the International Motorcycle and Scooter Show, proof that two wheels mean fun
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Two wheels good, four wheels bad. It is not as simple as that, but as a nation we are seriously considering motorcycles and scooters as realistic transport alternatives. The Motorcycle Industry Association says there are 1.5 million active riders and last year moped and scooter sales were 36,113, plus 122,318 motorcycles. So it is not surprising 200,000 visitors are expected at the International Motor Cycle and Scooter Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

Unlike cars, there is a very real connection between the bikes you can see racing and the ones that you buy. Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have revealed sports bikes inspired by the machines that raced in this year's MotoGP championship, the two-wheeled equivalent of Formula One racing.

New models include Kawasaki's ZX-10R, their first all-new super sports bike for 10 years and Yamaha's YZF-R1, directly inspired by their YZR-M1 MotoGP machine.

Honda, who effectively blueprinted the modern super-sports bike with the CBR 900 Fireblade, reveal their latest CBR 1000RR Fireblade. Near by, Honda are displaying the race bike that won the World MotoGP Championship for Valentino Rossi.

Suzuki's GSX-R1000 has dominated the sports-bike class. Now they have a radically revised model and unveiled a 750cc version, the GSX-R750, which weighs just 2kg more than the 600cc model produces a staggering 148bhp. Aprilia's RSV1000R and MV Agusta's F4-a 1,000cc version are regarded as one of the most handsome big-bike designs.

Legendary manufacturer Ducati has introduced a 2004 range with an all-new 749R at the centrepiece of their display. If you turn up today you will also get a chance to meet new World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson.

If you prefer older bikes, there is the Classic Village area where you can drool over great displays of old bikes. BSAs, Nortons and classic Triumphs make a stirring sight. You might be surprised to learn you can even buy a new classic with the greatest of 1950s throwbacks on the Royal Enfield stand. "You wouldn't buy a 50-year- old washing machine," I was told. "But our customers love our Bullet."

Last built in the UK in 1954, production was moved to India where they have been made since. Apart from an electric starter, this is fallible 1950s technology. "If you want reliability, buy a Honda, but our customers want something they can tinker with. They just love being involved with the bike." Few other manufacturers would be as honest, or as accurate. Prices for this brand new classic, the 350cc Bullet, start at £2,485.

Many manufacturers are getting in on the retro groove with modern makeovers of iconic 1960s and 1970s classics. So Ducati fans marvel at the Sport Classic concept machines that pay homage to the company's race-winning models from the 1970s. And Triumph have revealed their Thruxton 900, the mirror image of a 1960s Café Racer.

Biking is not simply an exercise in nostalgia, because if you want to know the real reason why more of us are switching to two wheels it is worth stopping off at the larger scooter stands. Scooters outsell supersports bikes by two to one and the nation's favourite has been the Peugeot Speedflight 2. With prices starting at £1,799 for the 50X, there are special editions on show and a radical new addition to the so-called twist-and-go range of scooters called the LUDIX.

It has a unique modular concept so buyers can add the engine, wheel size, colours, interchangeable body components, and accessories of their choice. Prices are expected to start at just £999 on the road. For youngsters, there is the Sachs Madass which, as the name suggests, is slightly out of the ordinary. This 50cc machine has a stripped back frame and knobbly tyres. It should look good parked outside the youth club if that's where yoofs hang out.

In sheer quantity terms, Piaggio sell more mopeds and scooters than any other company. The Vespa Granturismo, launched this year is the first new Vespa model to be introduced since 1996. The model combines classic Italian style and sophistication, with cutting edge design that makes it unmistakably Vespa. The Vespa Granturismo 125cc costs £2,599 OTR and the 200cc version costs £2,999 on the road.

Then there is the just-launched Gilera Nexus, the sportiest scooter ever to hit the market. This 500cc bike combines motorcycle-style features, but with the comfort, practicality and ease of use associated with a scooter, and it will be interesting to see if this concept catches on.

The Motorcycle Show realised long before the now dead Motor Show that it should not simply be a tame, static display, but an event.

If you want to ride a bike then you really can at the NEC. If you still need convincing two wheels is a good idea, the Devitt Try A Scooter Area offers visitors over 16 the chance to try the latest scooters, supervised by a qualified BSM instructor, and all necessary safety wear is provided. Bookings are taken at the BSM booking desk outside the Try a Scooter Area in Hall 6. Then you can wobble around the course and discover how much fun it is.

For the more experienced rider, there is a specially prepared circuit where you can race a mini-moto bikes. Each of the mini-moto machines, scaled-down replicas of a thoroughbred race bike, is powered by a high revving, two-stroke engine which gives a potential top speed of 60 to 70mph. Running on wheels just six inches tall, they achieve outrageous angles of lean, and instructors are on hand to show you how to get the most out of these great bikes.

If you want to see a bike ridden properly, four times a day in the Live Action Arena, World Champion riders on motorbikes and push-bikes will try to ride up a 30ft indoor waterfall, which is, not surprisingly, the only one of its kind in Europe.

Few us could do that, but most of us reckon commentating would be a doddle. So Steve Parrish, the former racer and BBC commentator will host six daily live chat-shows on the Blackhorse Motorcycle Finance stage. Show-goers will be invited to try commentating on the action from this year's race series, broadcast on a giant screen.

After a day walking around the NEC, you will be left in no doubt that four wheels is may be good, comfy, safe, boring, but two wheels can in so many ways be better. In terms of economy, slashed journey times and the fun factor, here is conclusive proof that you cannot beat bikes.

2003 International Motor Cycle & Scooter Show, 14 to 23 November
www.motorcycleshow.co.uk at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham (10am to 6pm) £14 adults and £6 children (11-16) and seniors.

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