The German way was to have it all in seven tremendous 747-size former airline hangars. Up and down through the industry displays we tramped as overhead hummed somebody’s promotional zeppelin. Look at the time! It’s BMW? It’s Kawasaki? We crowd in and sit. Soon pounding rock and bursts of excited announcing take turns.
Yes, there is some information, but it requires diligent filtering. One year it’s “stealth”—flat black, ziggy edges. Another year and gas tanks, in their march forward, split at the steering head and flow on either side. Honda proclaims the “mass-forward look.” Stare and think: What is important here? I pass a group of reps for Asian manufacturing. I see from their stunned faces that they’ve just arrived.
There are cutaway engines! Ducati has the Mike Hailwood Replica on a turntable, overhead spotlights transforming color into nourishment. A whole wall is a huge engineering drawing of the Testastretta cylinder head. Journalists stand frowning at their phones. The local cell is so overloaded by their flood of image files that everything’s locked up. Maybe later, back at the hotel? Can we plug in at the press room? Sorry, only 10 positions—booked solid.
I pause for a reality check. See the bored models? Lovely but tired, they will later file onto their agency buses, thinking of showers, of not having to smile, and food. Next week, they’ll be back but instead of motorcycles it will be the giant home furnishings show. Or an arms fair full of Germans and Saudis.
The Italian way is to schedule the presentations of the big makers all over rainy Milan. How many taxis? I have the address here…somewhere. What joy that the board of trade has laid on “The Magic Bus.” Its doors hiss open, you enter its close inner silence and settle into a seat. Next is Harley’s earthquake, presentation of the new 500 and 750 Street, together with its perennial insistence that The Motor Company is a young brand.
The bus keeps us dry, calm, and on schedule. Wonderful. Why is Harley here? Because today, just as in the 1920s and ’30s, overseas sales of large American motorcycles are hugely important. The “resto del mondo” exists and is fast catching up economically. Chinese people buy more Buicks than do Americans. We must all cash in where our credit is good! Travel, think, read The Economist. It all unfolds faster than we can understand it.
I seldom pick up the richly glossy manufacturer literature because by evening I can’t carry it all. But here is a display of motorcycle castings, including the aluminum chassis/airbox of the Ducati Panigale. So many have tried to do away with the chassis—Vincent, Elf X, and now Ducati—but ringing in my head are the words of veteran Grand Prix engineer Mike Sinclair, saying, “Something must decouple the heavy engine from the tires.”
Can we get a word with Claudio Domenicali, the man who rose from junior engineer to commander in chief at Ducati? No, the group around him looks solidly secret service. Moments later a black 12-cylinder Audi whisks him to his next responsibility. On the wall of his office has always been the photo of a Porsche 911, “the affordable exotic.” Focus.
So many words and images squeeze the sleep out of us. Back at the hotel, drinks and food in the bar, excited conversation, manic feelings. On the wall, pure style: seven identical ornate picture frames—no pictures in them. Upstairs, open the laptop and hope you can remember everything that must drive your flying fingers.