Fashion's supermodels may be in decline, but motorcycling continues to be dominated by superbikes. The star exhibits at this year's Motor Cycle Show, which opens at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on Tuesday, show that what attracts most bikers is still performance and excitement.

With the removal of the immediate threat of a European Community 100bhp power limit, almost all the big manufacturers are introducing machines that promise speed, variety and style. Top of the bill goes to Honda's RVF, an exotic 750cc rocketship designed with the prime intention of winning next season's superbike world championship.

Powered by a compact, fuel-injected V4 engine producing 118bhp, the RVF is closely based on Honda's 'works' racing bike of the same name. Its sumptuous specification and ultra-lightweight chassis will result in a price approaching pounds 18,000 - at least pounds 10,000 more than Honda's comprehensively revised VFR750F sports-tourer, which will also be on display at the NEC.

Much of the Italian firm Ducati's current sales boom is based on superbike racing success, and its new 916 sportster is intended to exploit this further. Enlarging the watercooled, eight-valve V-twin engine from 888cc to 916cc should give useful extra performance. For road riders, the most important features are likely to be its revised chassis and sleek new styling.

Ducati also has a pair of new middleweight V-twins, the M600 and 600SS, which are small-scale versions of existing 900cc models.

Triumph, Europe's other fast-growing manufacturer, offers a rapid new 900cc model powered by a variation on the three-cylinder-engine layout that it has revived as its own. The Super Three uses a tuned, 113bhp triple manufactured in conjunction with Cosworth, the Formula One experts. Essentially a substantially uprated version of the existing Daytona 900 sportster, the Super Three features new brakes and numerous components in lightweight carbon-fibre. Triumph's other new model, the 900 Speed Triple, is a naked derivative of the Daytona.

If Honda's trademark engine is the V4, Ducati's the V-twin and Triumph's the triple, Kawasaki's is undoubtedly the in-line four-cylinder. The Japanese firm's new ZX-9R Ninja also has a 900cc engine, echoing great Kawasakis of old. This one is a watercooled, 16-valve unit producing 125bhp. Kawasaki says the ZX-9R is intended not as a pure sports bike but an all-rounder, combining high performance with comfort and practicality.

BMW's main new model, the R1100GS trail bike, shares the flat-twin 'boxer' engine of the R1100RS sports-tourer. Detuned slightly to 80bhp, the GS features chunky styling, dual-purpose tyres and a revised version of BMW's innovative Telelever front suspension. The German firm also introduces the F650 Funduro, a single-cylinder roadster built in partnership with the Italian manufacturer Aprilia.

Yamaha's main new model, the FZR600R, is the latest in a long line of sporting middleweights. With an all-new, 99bhp four-cylinder engine, uprated chassis and aggressive styling (almost identical to that of this year's YZF750), the FZR will make the crowded 600cc division even more competitive next year. Other middleweights at the NEC will include Honda's CB500, a versatile parallel twin, and Kawasaki's revamped GPZ500S.

Among the biggest new bikes will be Harley-Davidson's Electra Glide Road King, a 1340cc V-twin high on the American marque's trademark retro styling. Among the smallest will be the MuZ Skorpion, a single-cylinder sports bike whose British-built prototype was finished just in time to become the surprise star of last year's NEC Show.

The strikingly simple Skorpion, created by the London design consultants Seymour Powell for the revitalised German manufacturer (formerly the East German firm, MZ), has been modified to house a 660cc Yamaha engine; production is to start next year. Its performance will not approach that of Honda's RVF, but on looks and handling, it should be hard to beat.

The Motor Cycle Show, National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 26-31 October, 10am-7pm (6pm Sunday). Admission: adults pounds 8; children and OAPs pounds 4.

(Photograph omitted)

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