The dust has settled and the 2019 story of the annual motorcycle extravaganza known as EICMA has arrived.
Home Sweet Home
I find myself back in snow-covered Alberta, Canada after enduring 12 hours of travel time on the journey home.
I’m plopped down in front of my keyboard now, pouring over the vast collection of photo and video footage I took while roaming the EICMA halls and booths. What an experience!
The excitement and hustle I lived and breathed over in Milan matched the intensity of my personal obsession with motorcycles! That’s saying a lot! I definitely found my tribe, or peers, in Italy at EICMA. They may even have me beat… nahhh, not possible.
I made many new friends and business contacts in Italia. Remembering the fun times so freshly shared over 4 days on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Milan’s motorcycle-friendly culture and comparatively mild climate momentarily helps me forget about the chilly -12 degree Celsius (10 F) reality lurking just outside my window back here.
I so enjoyed the Exposition, or “Rho”, and feel it was close to being “mission accomplished” for wBW despite the fact this was my first time attending this splendid event and I was flying solo.
It was great sharing photos and videos of the experience with members of the wBW Facebook group and reading the resultant entertaining comments and discussion. You are quite a crew of clever, quick-witted people and I love hearing your take on the posts. Thank you all for sharing my enthusiasm for the newest motorcycles coming in 2020!
Now it’s time to package up both the highlights and lowlights for you to digest here on the website as well.
Check out the video montage below that shows the bulk of footage I shot.
My focus was on the most exciting new motorcycles and smart helmets for 2020. I would have loved to cover every single motorcycle and product, but that would have been logistically impossible and so I apologize if I didn’t cover something you wanted to hear about.
I’m happy to report that I met all the right people and saw all the right motorcycles (I set out to see and meet) with the exception of a couple:
The two BMW R18 production bikes (I’m so ANGRY I missed seeing these!)
The Harley Davidson Pan America media reps
That’s not bad, all things considered! I did get a fairly close look at the Pan America itself from behind plexiglass (without being able to lovingly caress and touch it, much to my dismay) and the media people for Harley also left after Day 1 so I couldn’t even interview them to get some desperately needed details about the bike.
The Pan America is still scheduled to hit showroom floors in September 2020. I am so keen to test ride it before then, though I’m doubtful it’s going to have a low enough seat for me to ride comfortably based on what I saw at EICMA. A chance to swing a leg over it would have made a world of difference.
The Winners & Losers Of EICMA 2019
I have only a few “losers” from the list of products and motorcycles I’ve managed to evaluate without actually riding down the road with them. Bear in mind these observations and conclusions might change in the future after getting riding time with them.
Then again I’ve been known to get it right the first time even without a ride.
A big goal for me was to meet with the team of developers behind 3 smart helmets: Forcite, Shoei, and Crosshelmet and to sample their wares if possible. I did get face time with all three of those helmets, as a matter of fact, but with varying degrees of success.
I even chance encountered an unexpected fourth “smart helmet” while scouring the EICMA landscape.
Shoei IT-HL Smart Helmet
Going in I figured this would be the smart helmet most likely to impress me because it’s from Shoei (who needs no introduction as one of the best helmet manufacturers in existence today).
Shock and disbelief ensued immediately after I located the Shoei booth and asked where their smart helmet was – only to be informed it wasn’t at the show!
I walked away shaking my head in as earlier this year I’d read about Shoei promising to put a smart helmet into production in 2020. I’d even seen published photos of the prototype helmet and could easily pick it out of a lineup if given a chance. I guess Shoei’s plans have changed?
By sheer luck a few hours later, I was passing by the booth for Motociclismo (an Italian motorcycle news publication) when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the Shoei smart helmet sitting on display inside a plexiglass case. I felt like rubbing my eyes to clear them like characters in movies do when they feel deceived by a mirage in a desert place.
I went closer and realized against all odds, logic, and reason… here it was before me. Unguarded and out in the open. Was I dreaming? It seemed to be and yet there it was before me. I nudged the plexiglass lid and found it wasn’t even bolted down so I lifted it off, freeing up the helmet without any alarm going off. What in the wide world of sports is going on here? Am I on Candid Camera? Was Ashton Kutcher about to pop out from around the corner and scream that I had been “punked”? Something was amiss…
It matched perfectly the photos I’d seen of it online and the buttons on the left side control module actuated in a convincing manner when pressed, as the real deal would in my estimation. I unsuccessfully tried powering up the unit and then before I knew it the helmet was on my head. I couldn’t resist getting some selfies with it for my Facebook profile picture at least.
A perfect fit. Too bad it seemed only to be a decoy or perhaps a realistic conceptual model of what will one day undoubtedly be one of the best smart helmets on the market.
Well played, Shoei! You really had my heart all aflutter for a few minutes there and made my day.
I’ve been in communication with the people at Crosshelmet for close to 2 years, eagerly waiting for a chance to examine and demo their feature-loaded lid in person. It’s got to be one of the highest tech smart helmets in concept and is reportedly very close to being shipped to buyers in the next couple of months.
I tracked them down at EICMA sharing a booth with BST Rims and introduced myself as their biggest fan from wBW. I requested a demonstration of their Star Wars-esque motorcycle helmet and they attempted to provide it.
The moment of truth was finally at hand! I lifted the Crosshelmet X1 prototype off the head form it had been resting on and installed it on my head. A sweet sense of victory washed over me, but that feeling fled almost immediately as I became conscious of the reality of this situation.
My first impression? Holy moly is this helmet HEAVY and unbalanced. I would peg the weight distribution at 80% in the rear section of the helmet that protrudes outwards. The helmet weight I’d peg at about 5lbs or higher. Most of that gravitational pull stresses the wearer’s neck due to the location of the electronics package housed in the back protrusion.
Yowza! Okay… no need to panic just because it’s woefully heavy and uncomfortably balanced. If it’s got kick-ass technology built into it, I can likely overlook these undesirable traits. Let’s see what it can do before condemning it, right?
The demonstrator activated the “Heads Up Display” for me and I was presented with a brutally out of focus picture with the scene unfolding behind me thanks to the integrated, rear-facing camera. I attempted to use the “focusing dials” on each side of the HUD to adjust the images into a single point of visual reference, unsuccessfully.
The sales representative took over the attempt and also tried in vain. Uh oh… it’s beginning to feel like all the King’s horses and all the King’s men aren’t going to be able to put Humpty back together again.
The company owner (and authority on how to troubleshoot his creation) was also present for this technical problem. Unfortunately, even after he gave it a whirl he was unable to get the camera image to stabilize.
I’m sorry Crosshelmet friends, that was a brutal display of what could have been a really special piece of headgear. The price for this smart helmet is $1799 USD, too.
If it had dazzled me with the seamless function of the camera, Bluetooth music, and navigation features along with the control touchpad on both sides of the helmet… well, honestly, even then the price is a real tough one to swallow.
I stopped the demonstration there and told the team that I’m still interested in reviewing the Crosshelmet after they have all the bugs worked out first. I don’t like sharing bad news and wBW is committed to sharing the straight goods on our product testing. It’s got to be ready to perform before it reaches our desk.
There’s always next year, I suppose.
Forcite Smart Helmet
Here’s the most impressive piece of gear I encountered over the 3 days I spent covering EICMA. That’s no exaggeration either.
Admittedly at this point, after handling the last two malfunctioning or non-functioning smart helmets my expectations were perhaps lowered just a bit. Happily, I was wowed by the fellows from Forcite.
This team of bright, young men from Australia really impressed me with their helmet’s design and thoughtful answers to my sometimes insensitive and pointed questions about their company and helmet.
None of them are older than 32 and the CEO/Co-Founder of Forcite, Alfred Boyadgis, was one of Forbes’ Top 30 under 30 in 2017. They’re down to earth and approachable chaps despite the temptation to become puffed up due to their success and smarts.
Even if there wasn’t any snazzy and practical technology built seamlessly into the Forcite smart helmet, I think it’s put together in such a calculated way as to be completely worth the $500 USD price tag. I can venture to say without hesitation I would buy the Forcite over a Ruroc helmet costing the same number of greenbacks but lacking the smart tech (just as a quick example).
The Forcite is a featherweight (1380g or 3lbs), carbon fiber helmet. It features great placement and design on the air vents with an easy-to-find, smooth-acting slider switch for raising or lowering its integrated sun visor lens.
Another nice touch is the easy-off, easy-on visor system. The interior of the helmet is soft, comfortable, and fits well.
In short, this appears to be a well-built product on par or slightly above any comparable “non-smart helmet” out there.
What’s really impressive is the app interacts with integrated sensors and an LED indicator built into the helmet chin bar interior. Light signals combined with clear audio information provided by quality integrated speakers give the wearer “Foresight” into road hazards ahead.
Police, construction, weather factors, and some custom preferences are all monitored by the Forcite app and conveyed to the wearer in real-time. The goal is to help Forcite wearers avoid unpleasant surprises, possible injury, and accidents like the one Alfred was in years ago. That setback was the catalyst in the creation of this smart helmet and the company.
There’s also a camera on the front that begins recording footage on an SD card as soon as you roll out. Forcite can monitor whether or not the helmet’s onboard system is working correctly and update the firmware remotely to ensure it continues to do so. They can even sense if the helmet has been dropped or subjected to a crash, taking appropriate action to warn the owner that repairs or replacement may be necessary.
I didn’t get to go riding with the helmet myself so I can’t say whether it’s a quiet ride or how it feels after wearing it longer than just a few minutes. I did watch footage and a light show in person to give me enough assurance that this is no “snake oil cash grab scheme”, as you can see in the video I made of it (embedded at the bottom of this section). This is a functional product that has been getting real-world use in Australia by real-world owners for some time now.
Forcite will be launching in North America likely in the first quarter of 2020 and there’s a high probability I’ll personally be meeting up again with my “mates” from “Aus” to road test this helmet on US soil.
Have a look at the video below to get a greater idea of how it works and e-meet this crew.
HJC Smart Helmet
I really have always been more lucky than good, but that’s never bothered me. Similar to my discovery of the Shoei IT-HL, I stumbled across HJC’s smart helmet at EICMA too.
I apologize to everyone else who was standing around the two HJC prototypes at the booth. I probably shoved them out of my way in order to get close enough to experiment with the camera and integrated smart systems on display.
My enthusiastic nature is all-consuming when I get around something new and exciting – and I really can’t help myself.
We’ll Agree To Disagree
The only problem is that I couldn’t for the life of me understand what made the HJC systems “smart” other than perhaps connecting via Bluetooth to a smartphone using the HJC app.
Compared to the Crosshelmet or Forcite systems, the HJC setup was merely a nicely integrated communicator in the new I70 from HJC. It didn’t seem a whole lot different than any decent Sena or Cardo system, to be blunt. I connected it to my iPhone and everything worked perfectly from what I could tell… but labeling this a “Smart Helmet” doesn’t seem accurate.
Maybe I missed something? The reps told me these were both about 70% completed prototypes just about ready for release into the wild, but failed to share with me any earth-shattering or original features from a technical perspective. There may have been a slight language barrier causing the problem.
The camera model worked perfectly but looked pretty strange.
I’m not usually someone to concern myself with looks or value “go before the show”, but even I would find it hard not to feel like a member of the Teletubbies group wearing the camera “half-halo” unit… and I suspect I’m saying what everyone was thinking when they looked at it.
I apologize for being so blunt HJC, but this is the wBW tradition. We pull no punches.
The Motorcycle Winners
The Honda CBR1000RRR Fireblade
A physically beautiful motorcycle and rumored to have the best power-to-weight ratio in the class of 2020. If I recall correctly, that was also the claim to fame for the last generation of Fireblades, right?
It’s also got a lot of Rs in the model name which is fun to laugh about but has definitely helped it get a lot of attention and press.
As everyone knows, there’s no such thing as bad publicity and that includes Honda, apparently.
I watched people’s eyes as they climbed aboard this bike at the show. As they leaned forward and tucked behind the screen I could tell everyone was envisioning themselves as Marc Marquez at that moment. This isn’t the bike Marquez rides in MotoGP, but it has inherited some characteristics from actual Honda racing motorcycles. “Close enough”, is the general feeling.
I couldn’t find anything wrong with it when I stared carefully from every angle and spent a couple of minutes sitting on it. This bike has a terrific dash display on it, electronic suspension, and looks like what it is: a very fast motorcycle. It was difficult to get near it for several hours at the show and I predict this will sell very well in 2020. A big win by Honda.
The KTM 1290R Super Duke, 890R Duke, & 390 Adventure
I barely escaped alive from the crushing mob at the KTM booth when these bikes were unveiled. The excitement teetered on the edge of hysteria – and rightly so. KTM is absolutely dominating by innovating something awesome every year, including this one.
These bikes will be stiff competition in their respective classes which are based on power, performance and looks. They’re a likely challenge to lead while everyone else follows.
The 890R engine, in particular, will be watched very carefully by 790 Adventure owners who were pining for a big bore upgrade this year but won’t get it in 2020, according to the KTM reps.
The 390 Adventure is a Bajaj/KTM collaboration and should make a huge impact in the Asian market, a huge boon for KTM.
The Ducati Streetfighter V4S & V2 Panigale
Home field advantage is likely what pushed the Ducati Streetfighter V4S to a 36% share of the popular vote to reign as the “Queen” of the EICMA show, but honestly, this bike is visually hypnotic along with its cousin the V2 Panigale.
With the flash, panache, and performance numbers we’ve been told, these motorcycles have created the perfect storm of lust Ducati aimed to induce in nearly anyone who sits on them. I stop short of labeling them perfect (because nothing is) but these two bikes are special.
There wasn’t a quiet moment to be had where you could enjoy either bike’s company.
There was always a lineup of potential suitors waiting for their chance to court these vermilion vixens of the show.
Ducati won the battle and the war with these two. The only question remaining is how reliable they’ll be – bah! Who am I kidding, no one cares about that. They just want to be seen riding these in public and get their “5 minutes of heaven” with the belle of the ball. Myself included.
“Where do I sign” and “take my money” immediately come to mind.
The Husqvarna Norden 901
There were some great concept bikes at the show, but the Husqvarna Norden was the winner in that category in my eyes.
Adventure bikes have never been hotter and most everyone has been casting a sideways glance at Husky ever since the 790 Adventure dropped with an expectant “Et tu?” look on their face.
One minor complaint from 790 owners is that the bike doesn’t have quite the “grunt” of the old glory 990 Adventure. It’s a fair point, I suppose. I wouldn’t mind a little more power out of my 790 if I’m completely honest.
The Norden is near perfect from what I can tell (other than perhaps that the seat is too tall). It features classy and clean styling along with every premium add-on you can install on a 790 AND more engine displacement. To my eye, this bike looked like a production model and not a concept bike.
Let’s be honest and just say it’s the updated 990 Adventure while really the 790 is something else. Serious adventure riders all recognized it right away and even people who don’t adventure ride look at this bike and admit: man, that is a beautifully crafted piece of hardware!
Please build this bike into a production model, Husqvarna/KTM. It will likely cost a fortune, but people will buy it.
BMW S1000RR, F900XR, & S1000XR
These were some more bikes I couldn’t get close to for most of the show without having to dodge droves of German motorcycle fanatics.
The new XR models are definitely getting attention and plenty of it.
I wondered how they would do and the addition of the “M-powered” badging alone is likely enough to draw in fans without even going into the technical improvements. It’s going to be another banner year for BMW and I’m really pleased to see them continue to push for motorcycle excellence with their awesome tech and styling.
The S1000RR… no one is surprised it brought people out in droves. Had this been Intermot in Germany instead of EICMA in Italy I’m convinced the popular vote would have crowned it or possibly one of the other BMW bikes the “Queen”.
And Then There Were The Losers Of EICMA
Harley Davidson Pan America & Bronx
There weren’t many, but the biggest loser for me was Harley Davidson because they isolated their two most exciting bikes in a plexiglass prison.
Many people are super excited to see, touch, smell (maybe even taste) the Pan America and Bronx streetfighter. Harley seemed to be showcasing how out of touch it was with that enthusiasm making this move. Every bike at the show was bolted securely to the floor. There was zero chance of tipping any of them over and at worst we may have put some scratches in the paint of these prototype “Hogs.”
Sorry, Harley, I love you and your brand, but this lame move gets two thumbs down from me.
PS: I still want to ride the Pan America… call me, please!
I’m going to resist taking a swipe at the Livewire here. At least Harley had them out in the open and was even allowing people to twist the throttle with electrons flowing through the motor, enabling us to hear the electric engine wind up.
They get a golf clap out of me for this move, but media test rides are still high on my list of must-haves from HD.
Suzuki V-Strom 1050
The V-Strom has a faithful following as few other bikes enjoy and the old glory days of the Dakar-styled Dr. Big 800cc Thumper is well-loved as well. Rumors pre-EICMA suggested a marriage, of sorts between these two beloved bikes was imminent and going to drop at the big show.
It did, but not in the form of a factory-built V-Strom.
There was a Hessler Racing version of the 1050 on display featuring a bright yellow, Dr. Big type sticker package and about $4000 in quality aftermarket upgrades on a rally-esque V-Strom present at the booth.
I came away feeling like that impressive setup should have been a factory optional package to give the Strom more of the spotlight in 2020. Keep the less expensive stock version as well (economy is a big reason the V-Strom exists) but also wow us with what’s possible for this bike.
The V-Strom 1000 did get a 1050 sticker package, but essentially nothing worthy of note was actually done to the motorcycle. It really deserved better, Suzuki, and this is a swing and a miss. Strike 1, in my opinion.
It wasn’t a strikeout and you’re not out of the game yet Suzuki, but that wasn’t the best cut you could make with one of your best selling models. Please try again harder in 2021 and really thrill us.
The biggest winner of all at EICMA was Jim Pruner!
Yes, it was me, because I got to experience the best motorcycle show on earth and, as a bonus, a lovely European city in Italy!
Meeting Chris Birch
If you don’t know who Chris Birch is you’re missing out. I’m so pleased I got to spend some time chatting with this gentle giant from another planet of elite adventure riders. The name of that planet: New Zealand.
There’s no better example of a down-to-earth, superhuman, athlete. He’s won so many different enduro type races everyone has lost count, but these days he tends to spend most of his time coaching at riding clinics all over the world trying to teach average joes to ride like he does. It’s mission impossible, and yet still he strives to help all us mere mortals begin to approach his level of skill.
I spotted him the first day of EICMA as I was wandering around without a clue where I was. He was in the same boat which made me feel better!
What do you ask someone like this when you meet them for the first time? Well, there was really only one question on my mind and I put it to him:
“Do you have a sense of self-preservation that you just ignore while riding the way you do? I mean, do you have that cautionary “voice” in the back of your consciousness most people have that tells you NOT to try riding a 500lb motorcycle through impassable terrain or jump it off 6-foot tall cliffs?”
His response was that he definitely did have that voice of reason inside and that he never attempts any move that he wasn’t 70% to 80% confident he’ll be able to do.
So there’s my learning moment of EICMA courtesy of Chris Birch. Don’t try anything you’re not at least 70% sure will pan out. Obviously his confidence must be a lot higher than mine in his riding ability. Bravery and guts are the difference between him and I… and about 7 inches of height!
I don’t suppose his answer is anything we didn’t already know in reality, but I still appreciated his candor.
Here’s what I know for sure. Chris is a very classy individual who will always make time to answer stupid questions from his fans.
Milan, Italy’s Charm
Every fan of motorcycling should visit EICMA at least once if they can manage it. Despite claims from the locals that it’s not a “pretty city”
I found plenty to enjoy at the Piazza del Duomo (Plaza) downtown and even the EICMA event center is stylish, well designed, and impressive to experience.
The people in Milano are friendly and most speak English very well in accommodating those who are “monolingual”. There’s no need to stress about getting stuck somewhere unable to get help because you don’t speak Italiano. Don’t worry about it!
The only people who aren’t friendly are the soldiers you’ll find scattered throughout the downtown area and airport. Just to save you the embarrassment of asking, they’d prefer you not take photos of them… ask me how I know and I’ll just change the subject.
Photo above shows the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. Homemade at a restaurant called Miscusi, which is probably the Italian equivalent of McDonald’s in reality.
The subway isn’t expensive to use, especially when compared to Milan’s taxis. Uber to my surprise wasn’t an option, unfortunately.
I’ll be dreaming about my time over there for quite a while over the next 5 months of winter back here in North America.
*Sigh*… I miss you already, EICMA. Until next year, Arrivederci!