Article and Photos by Marilyn Stemp
Originally Published In The August 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
As early as the 1860’s, primitive two-wheeled vehicles were being developed in France, England, Germany and the U.S. But no matter where the modern motorcycle traces its pedigree, the EICMA show in Milan, Italy last November proves that European riders connect to biking with a fierce enthusiasm seldom seen here in the States. EICMA is the massive trade and consumer show that’s considered the world’s largest dedicated motorcycle event. Over six days (two trade & press and four public), manufacturers intro new models, custom builders reveal stunning projects, and more than 600,000 riders crush in to see it all. Yes, it’s a mob scene. For the 73rd edition of EICMA, exhibitors filled six huge halls at Milano-Rho trade fair with every OEM’s latest models, tons of gear and helmets, and aftermarket and performance parts. Outside at the 85,000 square foot MotoLive arena and village, there were test rides, demos, stunt riders and more. Indian showed the new Scout Sixty, BMW’s R NineT scrambler held court, Yamaha revealed their 2016 XSR 900 Sport, and Ducati Scramblers were in wild abundance. Speaking of Ducati, their new XDiavel model was all the rage in a special blacked-out area that showcased a line of RSD bolton bits. Touting a 25% increase in production, MV Augusta launched new Brutale 800 and Dragster RR LH44 models. Meanwhile Honda wowed the crowd with the Africa Twin adventure tourer and Victory intro’d a concept of their next generation – an 1133cc 60-degree V-Twin based on Project 156.
Though Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire models and jump-start demo area were swarmed, the company is just one of the crowd at EICMA. H-D doesn’t enjoy anywhere near its U.S. market share in Europe and more than one visitor was underwhelmed by the Street 500 and 750 models. But U.S. companies were present. Parts Europe hosted S&S, Memphis Shades and Klock Werks while MAG Europe’s booth housed reps from Mustang, Performance Machine, Kuryakyn, and RSD. Italians undoubtedly appreciate beauty, not only on two wheels but also on two legs. It was all but impossible to photograph a bike without a sleek and lovely Italian lady posing on it. That said, men and women alike jumped on and off bikes in OEM booths, trying them out and comparing features, arms in motion and fervor apparent. Watching the crowd so engaged and animated made something else quickly apparent: Italian men are easy on the eyes, too. (Just one writer’s observation.) So why did so many people come to Milan for this show? For the same reasons we would: to see what’s new in bikes, gear and performance first hand. The €21 admission wasn’t cheap, either; at 600,000 visitors? Yes, biking is good for the Italian economy, a fact not lost on U.S. vendors looking to expand overseas. Milan also sustains a reputation as a world fashion capital, so visitors at the show were overwhelmingly well turned out. A survey of people’s shoes (a telling indicator) showed there wasn’t a scuffed up slouchy pair to be found. What does that have to do with anything? It speaks to the cultural place of motorcycling here. Biking is a sport but it’s also transportation and an ingrained part of life in a country that values beauty and function working in concert. Not surprisingly, this attitude also expands to styling and custom trends.
Though EICMA has been essential an OEM show, a show within the show the past five years addresses custom bikes. EICMA Custom is a separate area with a lifestyle vibe that includes the Virgin Radio stage, personalities, custom shop displays and The International Custom Bike Show sponsored by Low Ride magazine. This is where you’ll find builder displays such as Deus, Kesstech and PDF plus the likes of Ace Café and Gran Prix Originals. Low Ride Editor Giuseppe Roncen said that in today’s European custom scene, there’s more passion in Germany and Italy the last five years for classic bikes like BMW Boxers, K models, and older Guzzis and Ducatis. Europe has tough restrictions on modifications and titles carry many details. But, said Roncen, authorities that perform the bi-annual technical inspection don’t know the older models well so you can skirt some rules. This trend, Roncen said, has resulted in a broader range of custom platforms, too. “A big part is played by companies like BMW and Yamaha who are now sponsoring custom builders who only used to work on Harleys,” he said. Proof stood right there in Low Ride’s booth where several late model Yamahas had recently been customized then featured in the pages of this once Harley-only magazine.
Roncen pointed out many café racer and scrambler customs, bikes he described as having their roots in British and Italian models of the ‘60s at home on both asphalt and in the dirt. “The Cruiser is out of fashion,” Roncen said. “People want to work on a cheaper basis and are turning to dirt bike or enduro style bikes that can be ridden on the street.” And he sees the aftermarket supporting this with motocross bars, suspension components and seats that fit a Sportster or BMW. And, of course, there’s Ducati’s army of new Scrambler models. Trends continue to involve the race-inspired look of piecedtogether exhausts and artsy bits like wingnuts, faucets, mesh inserts and steampunk cues. Americana paint jobs and details such as iconic cigarette tins and whiskey logos remain solid. Top finishing methods like patina surfaces, metal flake and metal etching can reveal a builder’s craftsmanship. Naked bikes are big but chopper styling has faded while bobbers hold steady. Alternative platforms are growing more common and better accepted. We noticed many more custom and performancemodified Buells and V-Rods than in the States, more Victory customs, too. Notably missing were baggers, which are a small part of the custom landscape overseas and Roncen explained why. “Most in our countries like light, nimble and stylish bikes and this leaves baggers out. Baggers are old people customs,” he said. He did concede that it’s more common to find custom baggers at ride-in shows such as the Fakker See rally in Austria. Industry thinkers have mused for decades about who’s knocking off whom in custom and OEM bike design. And though a show like EICMA clearly shows motorcycling as a worldwide pursuit, it’s refreshing to see that cultural and regional differences remain. Whether your preference is bagger or bobber, we can each learn from the other while adapting ideas to our own needs. That’s biker culture in the real world.