Last month saw the annual Motorcycle Live Show at the NEC in Birmingham. My hubby has been to this every year for longer than I care to remember, and whilst I do love biking and travelling pillion on his BMW 650gs (or Tigs for those that know her well) I have only recently become more interested in the bikes themselves, as I am looking to start my CBT training in the near future. Whilst it is always handy for a rider to sit on a bike with pillion to check the comfort for both riders, I was always a bit worried that it would be too bikey for me, and I wouldn’t enjoy it. As it turned out, I generally couldn’t make it anyway for work. But this year, especially as Dave was working the show and I wouldn’t see him for 9 days otherwise, I made sure I had the day off, to go up with some friends.
I’ve been looking at various bikes for a while now, sitting on them when and where I can, but it does make a huge difference having the bikes at a distance from all the others, avoiding the dreaded domino effect moment, as well as sitting upright so you can actually assume the riding position without someone hanging on to the back of the bike to stop you from falling over. I’ve been working my way up from smaller bikes – being petite at 5ft nothing with tiny legs, it’s a bit trickier for me than most choosing a bike, but I can see it is all about confidence. I went from sitting on a Kawasaki Ninja 250 very comfortably (it was the forerunner for a while!) to Triumph Bonnevilles, and I even managed to sit on a BMW without too much grief. But I was really looking forward to seeing so many more bikes, all shiny and new, without the worry of causing a minor catastrophe in some rammed showroom.
We had a good run up there, getting up at 5.30am to leave at 6am, going through the discussion that the hour should only exist if you’re doing something exciting. Fortunately, we were. Stopping off at Warwick services, we had a well needed fry up to keep us going for the rest of the morning. I’ll skip the part where we arrived at the NEC and I nearly burst with excitement at seeing Dave, but hey, it was a big part of my day! We wandered over to the stand he was working, to drop off jackets etc whilst we had a look round the show. He was on the Traveldri stand, a company selling bike-friendly camping gear including a pretty indestructible thermos flask that’s been across the country with us, and still kept Dave’s 8am tea piping hot until well past lunchtime. Also on the Traveldri stand was the lovely Sam Manicom, one of those fantastic ‘get-up-and-go’ travellers who toured the world for 8 years, starting not very long at all after even passing his bike test! He really is an inspiration, and after not very long speaking to him at all, a lovely, lovely guy. Sam has written one of Dave’s favourite series of adventure books, following his adventure across the world, showing how it really is possible to make that decision and just go for it.
Dave was there with Metal Mule, a company selling premium adventure panniers with top quality build. I may be biased because Dave works for them, but being a woman travelling on the bike for holidays across the UK, these have been a life saver. The size of them is fantastic, even for my rubbish packing skills (I’m not joking, I’ll pack my pannier so its full to bursting, and Dave will neatly rearrange so its only half full. Its not fair -.-) and the lock is easy enough for me to open without being overly complicated, with a very clever system locking it all together and to the bike. And whilst all this does come at a bit of a premium, the Motorcycle Live Show actually saw the premier of the new Ute system, panniers including frames for £650. The quality is there, as it will always be, but at a more affordable price. Whether you are planning an expedition to deepest darkest Peru to visit Paddington, or popping down to the West country for a cheeky weekend away, these panniers are ideal. And as my hubby keeps telling me, they definitely look the part!
After that, we made our way around the rest of the show. The first stop was Kawasaki, so I could say hello to my beloved Ninja. They’ve recently bought out a 300cc version, over the old 250 which is what I’ve previously sat on and fallen in love with. I’m not actually that good at recognizing one version of something over another, so I just assumed I was sitting on the same bike I’d sat on at our local Kwak dealer, but obviously it was the updated version. As such, it didn’t feel right! I was really confused, until later I realized it was because I was sitting on a different bike. I had similar issues with the Triumph Street Triple, which is a firm favourite at the moment, only I was pointed towards the Street Triple R instead of the standard, and again was met with confusion and disappointment as it wasn’t working for me again! Fortunately, just before we left at the end of the day, we came back to the Triumph stand and I found the standard, in love again! I need to get better at this -.-
Throughout the day I sat on various bikes, from the classic Triumph Bonneville to AJP’s little dirt bike, something which surprised me how much I liked it. I’ve never really thought that even a little bit of off-roading or rough roading would be something I’d consider, but me and Dave are looking to go all sorts of places, and it’s good to know that AJP do an Abbie-sized dirt bike, suitable to handle the kind of thing we’d be doing by touring various places across the globe, even if I don’t plan to do the Dakar Rally anytime soon (ever). Salesmen on every stand were so helpful, treating me for me as an interested customer, not just the pretty face on the back of the bike. Harley Davidson are rolling out a great offer at the moment, of letting you put on finance not just a great beginners bike, but also the cost of everything to start you up – from gear, to test, and everything in between! Whilst a Harley isn’t quite my thing, I think it’s a fantastic idea and I really hope other manufacturers cotton on to an amazing idea.
I even sat on the dreaded Honda – for those of you who don’t know, I have this weird, irrational hatred of all Honda’s. Literally, Dave can show me a bike, I won’t like it, and lo and behold it’s a Honda. Its not that I don’t like it because I recognise it; I just don’t like it and it turns out to be a Honda. Anyway, for the sake of fairness I sat on the Honda cbr250R, and it wasn’t too bad! I think the problem I have is Hondas are a bit too angular and sporty for my liking, but the riding position was pretty good. I’m also excited about the 500cc bikes unveiled at the show – you weren’t allowed to sit on them, but it’s interesting that these size bikes are coming around just as the new changes on the bike test, giving a nicer bridge between a small 125cc and the larger 600cc bikes for the Direct Access course for example. A lot of bikes seem to be staying at the higher 800cc level so I’m told, and I know that would be a bit daunting for me, particularly as the bigger the cc, the bike itself tends to be bigger as well. It will be interesting to see if other manufacturers pick up where Honda started!
Whilst I was getting very excited seeing all these options open up for me, as I sat on bigger bikes and felt my confidence growing, it was also a bit disheartening, as all the bigger bikes in the world isn’t going to do me much good between passing my CBT and the bike test. I’ve sat on a few 125s, from Yamaha’s YBR to the Suzuki VanVan, also looking at Dave’s first bike, the Marauder. But try as I might, none of them were doing anything for me. Some people, namely non-bikers, may wonder what’s so important about getting a bike that ‘feels’ right, but one that is right for what you need. But biking is such a personal thing, it’s why Dave has named his bike, and why I’m not getting excited about the 125s I’ve been sitting on. But, upon seeing the Vespa stand, I came up with a plan. Everyone loves a Vespa; the vintage retro look, the bright colours, and ease of use with the funky little scooters. I had always thought it wasn’t a good idea to learn on a bike with gears, to go to an automatic, to go back to gears, but Ged, who I went up with, couldn’t say enough amazing things about a little 125cc to get you started, or even later on in life as an amazingly fun little get around. I was also concerned about how much poke it might have, but again, Ged reassured me he was always able to get to the good bike haunts in the area, with no problems. So, the plan is in action. Vespa, Ninja, Street Triple. Sorted.
The Motorcycle Live Show was a fantastic experience for me. It was a shame we didn’t get around to the smaller accessories stands, but being able to look at all the bikes, all separate from each other, with no worrying about the weight of it or other bikes close together, was a brilliant way to increase confidence and find a broader range of bikes that I might be able to consider. There weren’t many women at the show, but I found all the salesmen were really helpful, none too pushy, so helpful and friendly and enjoying the atmosphere just as much as we were. At the end of the day, the bike of the show for me was a toss-up between the Triumph Street Triple, just because of how gorgeous and perfect the bike felt, and the little blue Vespa I sat on, for finally opening up the excitement of learning to ride a bike, instead of dreaming of when I was already skilled and well underway. I would thoroughly recommend this show, it was a really great day out, the atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was just really friendly and having a great time. But hey, that’s bikers for you. 😉
The Vintage Housewife x