The motorcycle and scooter show: Bike heaven

Look past the models in scanty clothing, says Tim Luckhurst, and the bikes might grab your attention
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Deciding whether to attend the annual Motorcycle and Scooter Show at Birmingham's NEC is not an easy call for grown-ups. But it is particularly hard for the many women bikers who do so much to make modern motorcycling civilised.

If ogling bored models in plastic mini-skirts is your thing then you will find the show unmissable. But if you find such unimaginative marketing embarrassing then the event can be a tad tiresome. There is fun to be had, but it is too often gilded by the sort of tat that once made "motorcycling culture" an oxymoron.

Last year such criticisms were less valid than before. This year, I dare to hope they will appear invidious. Bad lingerie will be present: there are still motorcycle manufacturers who believe that draping a partially naked woman over the saddle can magic mechanical catastrophe into a classic. But they are becoming rarer and look likely to be outnumbered this year by classy firms exhibiting cool products.

Ducati took a year out from the NEC in 2006. I imagine many Italians found it too tacky for comfort. But this month the Bologna-based outfit is back as World MotoGP champions and with an eclectic range of new machines to parade, including a new Monster 696 and the innovative 848 superbike.

Britain's charismatic home-grown manufacturer, Triumph Motorcycles, also has new products to display. The Rocket III Touring converts this 2,300cc brontosaurus into a plausible holidaymaking mile-muncher. The trick has been achieved by adding a new frame, suspension, seat and fuel tank.

It will come thundering down from Triumph's headquarters in nearby Hinckley, Leicestershire, for a first meeting with British admirers. The massive, three-cylinder behemoth will be accompanied by a revamped version of the iconic and savagely quick Speed Triple.

BMW Motorrad will showcase six models, including the new F800GS middleweight adventure tourer (global circumnavigation for those without Ewan and Charlie's budget) and its baby sibling the F650GS (for those without Ewan and Charlie's make-up artist's budget.) There will also be an opportunity to see the G450X Sports Enduro, a street-legal enduro-style racer.

KTM will show their RC8 Superbike and all four of the big Japanese manufacturers, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, are due on site with their full 2008 ranges of bikes for the British market. This includes Honda's updated CBR 1000RR Fireblade and Suzuki's GSXR750, still to my mind the most practical pure-sports motorcycle on Earth.

If buying a new motorcycle or scooter is not on your agenda at this time of increasing economic uncertainty, then the NEC still promises diversions from soaring oil prices and a fragile property market. Gordon Brown has not volunteered to ride the wall of death, but there is a karting and mini-moto track for visitors aged over 12.

For adults, the ever-inventive Buell Motorcycle Company is offering an obstacle course designed to test riders' low-speed handling skills.

The point is to emphasise the agility of their own machines, but if you have not experienced the joys of Erik Buell's mass-centralised technology this is a golden opportunity. Buells are not the world's fastest motorcycles, but in the right hands they belt round tight corners as if on rails – and look great doing it.

For nervous types who fancy finding out what it feels like to corner quickly without risking injury, a superbike simulator, built around the frame of a Yamaha R1, will offer the thrills without any danger of spills. Real scaredy-cats can just look at the displays of classic racing machines and drag bikes arrayed in the exhibition halls or examine the biggest range of motorcycle clothing ever assembled under one roof (including a stylish new suit from Hein Gericke).

This will be the last NEC Bike Show before the European Union's Second Driving Licence Directive takes effect in October 2008, and some analysts had expected to find British motorcyclists sunk in depression. The directive is designed to make it harder for novice riders to pass their tests. It will reduce the number of venues for motorcycle testing in Britain from around 200 to 60.

But budding riders appear to have accepted the philosopher John Stuart Mill's recommendations on the virtue of individual liberty.

Figures from the Driving Standards Agency show the number of tests in the period April-August 2007 up by 13 per cent since 2006. Registrations of bikes under the 125cc learner limit have also leapt.

British motorcycling is refusing to be killed by the dead hand of bureaucracy, which is good news for the environment and an excellent reason to visit what promises to be the industry's most impressive shop window yet.

The NEC Bike Show is at the NEC from 23 November to 2 December ( www.motorcycleshow.co.uk; 0870 739 2007)

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