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This year’s EICMA extravaganza threw up contrasting contenders for Bike of the Show. Some might suggest Ducati’s Panigale V4 for pure performance; Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 SX for outrageous technology; Royal Enfield’s Interceptor and Continental GT for budget-priced promise; or Yamaha’s three-wheeled Niken for originality and boldness.

Words and pics: Roland Brown

The overriding impression, when the Milanese show halls’ press day lights had dimmed, was that 2018 looks set to be the year that middleweight motorcycling comes of age.

Bikes including KTM’s 790 Duke, Kawasaki’s Z900RS Café Racer, BMW’s F850GS, Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 701 and Yamaha’s MT-09 SP all provide high levels of style, performance and technology from less than 950cc.

This development is hardly surprising. In recent years the best large-capacity bikes have become ever more sophisticated, powerful… and expensive. They have adopted TFT displays, LED lighting, two-way quick-shifters, plus IMU-governed traction control and cornering ABS. But at the same time prices have risen sharply, out of many riders’ budgets.

Suddenly all those features are about to be available with KTM’s Duke, whose 799cc parallel twin engine makes a relatively modest 103bhp, and whose price looks set to be competitive with Triumph’s Street Triple – and not just the fancy RS version. Sister marque Husqvarna’s Vitpilen, powered by a 693cc single-cylinder engine, is a distinctive but less high-tech alternative. But with KTM also displaying a prototype 790 Adventure that will soon follow the Duke into production, the middleweight bar looks set to rise.

BMW will be contributing to that with the F850GS and F750GS which, despite their names, are each powered by an updated 853cc parallel-twin engine. Their characters are different: while the F750GS produces 76bhp and is essentially an entry-level roadster, the F850GS makes 94bhp and adds off-road ability with long-travel suspension and 21in front wheel.

BMW’s other newcomers head in opposite directions. The C400X is the firm’s first sub-500cc scooter, and comes with 33bhp, optional TFT screen and expanding Flexcase storage. The K1600 Grand America is a US-aimed variant of the K1600GT, with unchanged 158bhp six-cylinder engine, bigger screen, reshaped panniers, top-box and pillion arm-rests.

Triumph adds to the middleweight charge, upgrading its Tiger 800 family with features including TFT displays, one-handed screen adjustment and tweaked three-cylinder engines. The bigger Tiger 1200 triple – formerly the Explorer – gets its own substantial revamp which incorporates cornering headlights and ABS.

Honda also has a dual-purpose addition: the Africa Twin Adventure offers familiar A-bike advantages of taller screen, bigger fuel tank, extra suspension travel and crash protection. Another famous old Honda name in the spotlight is the Gold Wing. The giant GL1800 six is slimmed, lightened and updated with a new double-wishbone front suspension system, seven-speed DCT gearbox and high-tech digital display.

The Big H also has a new naked family, headed by the CB1000R. The Fireblade-related, four-cylinder engine gains power to 143bhp and is also 12kg lighter than the outgoing model. Its round-headlight, brushed-steel appearance is echoed by smaller CB300R and CB125R models. Honda prototypes included a monkey bike and a cool café racer, the CB4 Interceptor.

Kawasaki’s four-cylinder newcomers are set for immediate production. The Ninja H2 SX is the crazy, original supercharged H2’s slightly more sensible cousin, its 999cc motor smoothed for sports-touring duty, but still kicking out 207bhp. The standard H2 SX comes with Z1000 SX style panniers; the upmarket H2 SX SE adds taller screen, TFT display and cornering headlights.

Kawasaki also unveiled an upmarket SE version of the Ninja ZX-10R, featuring Showa electronic suspension, two-way shifter and stealth-black paintwork. But Kawasaki’s big sellers will be the retro duo of Z900RS and Z900RS Café Racer. They share a 948cc, 110bhp four-pot engine and steel-framed chassis, the Café Racer adding a bikini fairing with racy lime green and white paint scheme.

Arguably the most authentic “heritage” models were Royal Enfield’s long-awaited parallel twins, the Interceptor INT 650 and Continental GT 650. Developed in India and at the firm’s UK base at Bruntingthorpe in the English Midlands, they hold a 648cc, SOHC, 47bhp air-cooled engine in a steel-framed, twin-shock chassis. Designed to appeal to both home and export markets, they are sure to be very keenly priced, and look like taking Enfield to a new level.

Another famous old British name, Brough Superior, unveiled a contrastingly expensive twin-cylinder model. The Pendine is a fresh take on the Anglo-French firm’s exotic 997cc V-twin the SS100, named after the Welsh beach famed for speed records, and featuring a new swing-arm and high-level exhaust.

Other glamorous V-twins include Harley-Davidson’s Sport Glide, an additional member of the recently refreshed Softail family, which promises versatility with its removable headlamp fairing and panniers.

American rival Indian displayed a classy Scout-engined prototype, the FTR1200 Custom, inspired by the firm’s AMA title-winning FTR750 flat-tracker and surely destined for production.

Ducati also showed new V-twins, of course, starting with the new Scrambler 1100, powered by the 1079cc, 85bhp aircooled engine from the old Monster 1100 EVO. Available in three specification levels – Standard, Special and Sport – the big Scrambler combines familiar Seventies-inspired styling with high-level silencers, LED lighting, traction control and cornering ABS. Ducati’s typically high-tech newcomer, the Multistrada 1260, gains a new 1262cc, 156bhp version of the firm’s DVT variable-valve V-twin engine.

But Bologna’s big news is the MotoGP-derived Panigale V4, with its fearsome blend of 1103cc, 211bhp powerplant, minimalist aluminium frame, machined-from-solid Brembo Stylema brake calipers and next-generation electronics. In the Panigale’s case, the three specification levels are standard V4; V4 S with semi-active Öhlins and forged wheels; and limited-edition V4 Speciale, with tricolore paint, titanium exhaust and host of lightweight details.

Other Italian newcomers included Moto Morini’s appropriately named Milano, styled to resemble the firm’s famous 344cc Strada and Sport of the Seventies, and powered by a softly-tuned, 110bhp version of the firm’s 1187cc V-twin engine. Moto Guzzi also displayed a Milano, a grey-finished version of the V7 III, as well as a dual-purpose prototype, the V85, powered by a new air-cooled, 850cc V-twin engine.

MV Agusta, emerging from its recent financial problems, showed the limited-edition Brutale 800 RC. The initials stand for Reparto Corse, or Race Department; the bike comes with a race kit that boosts power to 150bhp.

Yamaha unveiled enough hot new middleweights to start a trend all on its own. The MT-07 parallel twin is restyled and given new suspension. The MT-09 triple is joined by an SP version with fully-adjustable forks and Öhlins rear shock, while its Tracer 900GT derivative features a TFT dash plus hard panniers, one-way shifter and cruise control.

But Yamaha’s most spectacular MT-09-related model is the three-wheeled Niken. A production version of a concept called the MWT-9 that was shown two years ago, the Niken is a mash-up of the MT-09 and the 125cc Tricity scooter. It combines the MT’s 847cc, 113bhp triple engine and the Tricity’s twin-wheeled front end, with its pair of telescopic struts on each side. (The Nuvion prototype, developed by Sym of Taiwan and Swiss firm Quadro, offered a different take on the leaning three-wheeler theme.)

Whether the strikingly styled Niken becomes a trend-setting success, like Piaggio’s MP3, or bombs completely, will depend on its yet-to-be-revealed price, as well as on how well it handles. But it promises to be quick, exciting and unusually stable – and it’s surely among the bravest and most imaginative new models of this or any other year.