2006 Seattle Motorcycle Show

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Yamaha Warrior Custom

Moto Guzzi Norge

Saturday, December 3, 2006, Qwest Center, Seattle, WA.

The annual pilgrimage to the Seattle motorcycle show started on an upbeat note as I crossed the I-5 Interstate Bridge from Portland and looked east to a snowcapped Mt. Hood against a backdrop of pale pink dawn sky. Still a pang of regret was felt as I realized I could have made the trip on the bike.

Leaving at 7:00am in the morning, I arrived at Qwest Center to the minute at 9:30am and walked straight into the show with my pick of booths to visit before the big rush started. I've never owned an X-Box or Playstation but had to stop by the PS3 mobile demo unit immediately inside the southeast entrance. The only adrenaline I'd expended in my cage during the trip from Portland had been due to exposure to some fortunately lowkey road rage from a RAV-4 full of yahoos who were having trouble keeping a straight line in the fast lane and aroused my curiosity as to what they would do next. The PS3 experience was considerably more violent but equally without consequence from behind the safety of a very sensitive joystick.

As much as I enjoyed my first exposure to a true high resolution dedicated gaming console, my excitement didn't come close to that of the little guy playing on a machine next to me. Bounding from butte to butte across a digital Utah landscape in a buggy on steroids, he was somewhere between ecstasy and apoplexy. You could tell his dad was going to hear about it every minute between now and Christmas.

Back to the real world of hard iron, paint and chrome that fills a motorcyclist's toybox. All of the above were in evidence on the Victory booth. To me, these bikes get better every year and appeal to several of my criteria for a traditional V-Twin cruiser - massive, prominent engine, narrow profile and clean lines. All the Polaris machines seem to have it, the profile only bowing to the craze for fatter and fatter back stock back tires. Comfortable and solid with easy clutches and throttles, I could see myself winding happily through mellow curves and plodding down the straights at a steady pace, but most models are supposed to be capable of more than that. Test rides at local dealerships were being encouraged. I think I just might take them up on that. Two eye-catching models were the Hammer and the Vegas 8-Ball.

Venturing beyond the Victory booth toward the east of the hall, a whole new section had been opened up to the smaller vendors who normally occupy the south end. Inventory for sale was piled high and ready to fly off the hangers to new owners. At a rough estimate, the expansion increased the overall size of the exhibition by about 40%.

The latest Japanese offerings were quickly absorbed. Notable newcomers were Kawasaki's new Concours 14 based on the ZX-14, arguably the quickest way to get round the country in some degree of comfort. The latest FJR from Yamaha was there. For me the jury's still out on the A version with fly-by-wire gearchange, but the word is you get to like it after a while.

Consistent with last year's performance, Suzuki again took the prize for ugliest, aesthetically most ill-conceived motorcycle in the form of an M109R in custom trim. Despite extensive paint and bodywork, this performance cruiser's appeal is marred by so-so chrome and rattle can finish on frame members, not to mention the 'foul cowl' housing the headlamp. The display model had one trick feature - adjustable height air shocks. What a pity the rumored high performance of the power unit and flexibility of on-the-fly adjustable suspension was imprisoned in a such a hideous shell. 'Jabba the Hutt with chrome kneecaps' was the enduring impression. Unkind words ? Might want to take a look at the Yamaha Warrior, still a tribute to brute presence combined with sleekness. Too tame ? Go for the custom version.

BMW stayed true to its excellent finish, clean and aggressive lines. Ducati wanted you all to itself once you had penetrated the fortress that was its booth this year. What treasures lay within ! The new 1098 and retro bikes such as the GT1000 and the Sport 1000S along with the promise of extended maintenance periods in the new models rekindled my desire to own one of their bikes someday.

Harley Davidson still wows with the quality of its chrome and if you were looking for an aggressive power cruiser with looks to kill, you could do worse than the HD VRSCDX Night Rod - stubby mufflers, compact layout and a seat to cosset your rear and your ego all included. The Buell XB12R gets steadily more radical in its design, this year sporting, amongst other things, Apple iMac style transparent faux tank covers.

So from the sublime to what some might consider ridiculous in the form of the still popular Royal Enfield range. While the old models are still legal, the new 'Electra', shown here in green and red has a similar looking but completely redesigned engine with increased bore, shorter stroke and a sharper valve angle to help meet ever more stringent emissions standards. The engine is a little squarer than the standard model's but still retains its classic look. A great way to buy some of the past if you're still turned on by relics of technology such as the twin leading shoe front brake. 'Equivalent to the performance of the machine to which it is fitted, sir' was the salesman's polite reply to my inevitable question.

Last, but by no means least, on my brief tour before heading back to Portland, was the Piaggio booth where, dare I say it, the three wheeled scooter fascinated all who stood before it and witnessed the video running in back of the display model. Whether you like the looks and / or concept or not, for around town and the 'burbs, it would probably combine a lot of convenience, safety and fun.

Star of that booth, however, would have to be the Moto Guzzi Norge, Guzzi's contender for the Sport Touring crown. I'd hazard a guess that the marketing folks at Guzzi will eventually tire of hearing that a Norge is a long discontinued but famous brand of American refrigerator, but 'Norge' it is for the foreseeable future. Critics will say the new model is still the mutton of an agricultural pump engine dressed as lamb, but all I had were visions of day long cruising and carving through mountain passes on a comfortable, muscular-but-graceful creation from Mandello. The instruments almost made it to completely analog in an ever more soulless digital world, but some other functions are displayed via LCD. White analog dial faces would have been a nice salute to the past. (Okay, it's a fetish...).

Triumph was noticeably absent as was the case last year. A local dealer showed one new and one recently speed trialed Rocket III (still with authentic Bonneville Salt Flats dust on the black paintwork). The gunmetal gray 675 looked sharp, but on a subjective test still felt a little heavier than the Yamaha R6 with which it competes. The Triumph topped out at 14,500 RPM, the Yammy at 16,500 ! Neither of those two considerations seem likely to stem the 675's meteoric rise in popularity with the motorcycling press. It will be interesting to see if the 2007 sales figures back up that impression and justify Triumph's decision not to field a factory booth for a second time at the Seattle show.

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© 2006 Open Road Rider: Photographs and Report. Other copyrights as acknowledged.