I Like My EICMA

The take-away from my three-day getaway at the world’s biggest bike show.

Photography by Jeff Allen

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

After only a couple days in Milano at the world’s biggest motorcycle show, in the world’s hippest fashion capitol, I have to say I have never felt so short, old, unkempt and uncool in my entire life. I don’t know what they feed the Italian women to make them grow so long, but whatever it is works. Many if not most of the bikes on display were topped by these tree-like girls clothed in the most aerodynamic fashions. Gordon Jennings used to say he didn’t feel old until women started to pat him on the head; these girls could’ve done it to me with very little elbow flexation. To walk along behind one or two of them was to experience an excellent anatomy lesson in human locomotion conducted upon a raised platform, as well as have a newfound appreciation for the work the gluteus maximus performs.

And the men aren't so bad, either. Most of the guys working the coffee machine could be leading men in Hollywood, with beautifully maintained coifs, cultivated facial hair and operatic baritones that keep up a steady, good-natured patois as they serve up the orders.

"Why don't they just make a big pot of coffee?" I asked Jeff, our photographer. Then they could do something else with the rest of their day. Well, for one thing, it wouldn't be nearly as good as the stuff they brew one little cup at a time (not even your Starbucks compares). And for another thing, that's not the Italian way. You need three guys to make coffee this good. Of course, Italy is plunging off an economic cliff as I write this, but then again, so is the U.S.; we're just doing it more efficiently.

Like any small mammal that feels threatened, I was able to find safety by going underground. So what if the traffic's terrible? The Milano subway will get you all over town for 2.5 euros (including to the huge fairgrounds where EICMA is located), and many of the people riding it look more like me. Nobody else got up to give women their seats when it got crowded, so neither did I. Then it got even more crowded, making for more in-your-face anatomy lessons: Even the less-beautiful Italians still look pretty damn good from neck to knees. We decided it must be all the walking and the fact that while the eating is great, there is no Italian word for "super-size it." Or maybe there is; there's a McD's right next to il Duomo, but I didn't go in. Not so much Coca-Cola, either; it's all mineral water, and—a big plus in my book—nobody gives you the alcoholic stink-eye when you're drinking a nice vino rosso with your lunch unless you're having the whole bottle.

When my eyes finally adjusted and I was able to notice people other than the models working the show (and some of the models on the bikes were men, too), it seemed like a lot of the people in attendance were themselves a nice slice of humanity. As a group, we were a pretty fit, highly motile and happy looking bunch of humans from all over the world. In Italy, if you’re from California, you can’t not pay attention to history. And what is history, really, but a record of war and trade.

History continues at EICMA. Japan’s struggling economy and the rapid resurgence of the European Big Three (BMW, Ducati, Triumph) has the Japanese talking tough but looking a little less cocky than in years past, playing catch-up and struggling to come up with fresh designs. As one Honda executive said in his speech, “We’re a people company. If you have ideas, we want to hear them.” Which is quite a change from a company known for coming up with ideas that rocked the world not so long ago.

Meanwhile, anybody who thinks the Germans and British have buried the hatchet after WWs One and Two haven’t spent much time drinking beer with the British. Is cross-channel rivalry driving development of BMWs and Triumphs the way it once drove V2 rockets and radar?

Meanwhile, the Akrapovic guys are melting down titanium nuclear subs and invading the exhaust pipe industry in metaphorical horned helmets and bear fur vests: Who knows how many more eastern Europeans will storm the gates behind them? Russia is about to become a huge market for motorcycles, as is India, as is Brazil. Erik Buell tells me via text that HeroMoto in India—where the population just surged past 1 billion—is already the world’s biggest producer of motorcycles, cranking one out every 16 seconds from each of its several assembly lines.

How will our first-world lives be affected? Perhaps monsieur vould like somezing in a nice, big scooter, says BMW. Or maybe a smaller, less-expensive one we can sell to the whole world, says Honda. Meanwhile, Hyosung and Kymco are easy to ignore (maybe only because their marketing departments are less developed than their bikes), but every year, their products look a little better. And at every show, those two big fish are surrounded by schools of Asian minnows looking to become big fish themselves.

It’s truly a tower of babble and enterprise. The days I went to EICMA were press days—for journalists and exhibitors only—and it was still impossible to swing even a compact cat without snagging somebody in Lycra. The shabbily dressed people are press (Sir Alan Cathcart excepted); the ones in the nice suits and team shirts are there to make money. I may be coming to a point.

Rich or poor, ambitious or lazy, Italian, Croatian, American, Native American, Native Islander, Long Islander, what_ever_—everybody at EICMA is there because they’re a motorcycle nut, and all of us were skipping around the whole time like little kids set free in a million-square-foot toy store (not to mention another million feet out back covered in dirt and paved tracks where the public gets test rides).

As for me, I think all the traffic jams, Motel 6’s, overcrowded Disneylands, megachurches, political debates, Indian casinos, Congressional hearings, wide-stance sex scandals, aggressive ignorance and ridiculous radio rants have ganged up lately to get me a little bit down on the human race. A few days at EICMA and bumping around Milan, though, were almost enough to make me proud to be part of it all again, specifically the motorcycle part. For me, there’s no malaise a shiny new motorcycle can’t fix. Maybe even global malaise, if we’re lucky.

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up

EICMA 2011 Milan Motorcycle Show Wrap-up