February 3rd, 2007

rt

On Show

I love a bike show, but the NEC's a long way to travel, usually in bad weather, and getting there by train's an expensive luxury. This year the London bike show's moved from the Ally Pally – theoretically nice, but inaccessible and impractical – to Excel, the purpose-built Docklands exhibition centre implausibly named after a spreadsheet. Yesterday I took a day off work and went along with huskyteer and our friend Howard.

Leaving home at 8:45, it was dull and grey and the local rush hour congestion was miserable. (I'm still working on a rant about the realignment of Canford Bottom Roundabout.) Half an hour later I was on the M3 in bright sunshine, and when I stopped for a coffee at Winchester services, the Mondeo driver in the next parking space expressed his jealousy of my vehicle. "No roof", I pshawed, "no heater". But he said it was a lovely day to be out on a bike, and I couldn't disagree.

The M25 was back to damp greyness, and while taking on more coffee at Clacket Lane I was moved to clean the headlamp as well as my visor. It was sunny again on the A2. Emerging from the Blackwall Tunnel, I quickly located Excel, parked for free (cars £3/hour) and entered the show on the dot of my noon ETA.

The absence of the big four Japanese, and the one and only British manufacturer, was a disappointment for many, not least the organisers, and probably accounted for the pleasantly uncrowded show. But it let the Europeans shine. Best looking bike in the show was the Ducati 1098. Having lost their way with the previous model range, Ducatis are once again looking like Italian bikes should – sex on wheels. I especially admired the space-age brakes. It's not exactly a commuter though, and six-foot-four Howard (who's in the target market) complained that as well as being uncomfortable on it, he couldn't see the clocks.

I had a sit on a KTM Adventure – comfortable, great view, and on days when Mountbatten Way was excessively congested I could off-road it along the central reservation. But the bike that really took my fancy was the BMW R1200RT. After nearly a year on my 1150RT I seem to have been assimilated. It fitted me like a glove, and ticks all the boxes. It's gained a few 'osses, benefited from BMW's weight reduction programme so that it's actually lighter than my previous FJR, and has a new smooth gearbox and balancer shafts to cut vibration. Seemed like a lot of bike for the money, if you can get past the idea that a bike can cost five figures, although the display model with radio, CD player, cruise control, electronic suspension adjustment and colour-matched luggage was well into that bracket. Have requested a test ride. A year from now will be soon enough.

I made sure to visit the Gerbing's stand to thank them for the swift replacement of my failed glove last week. They have a new electric neck-warmer – mmm. First time exhibitors were our friends John and Jen from Bike Normandy, doing well, fully booked already for June and July. Perhaps I'll visit them again soon, but not for their Dangerous Tour, thanks.

The route back to huskyteer's place took in the Woolwich Ferry, which was pleasant, and a load of South London congestion, which was less so, apart from making me glad to live in Dorset. More traffic hell on the M25, of course. Back home I was glad to take my boots off, after 250 miles and plenty of walking in them, but well pleased with the day out.
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