The 2023 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan displayed the hottest new bikes, but it wasn’t all just about the latest machines. From the various bikes, we could also glean some information on the future direction of the entire motorcycling scene.
Adventure bikes seem set to continue their triumph, but traditional manufacturers may soon face stiff competition from an easterly direction. Some new developments in the area of electric bikes could also change the game.
Here are my thoughts and insights on the future motorcycling trends from EICMA.
Trend: Adventure Everything
Adventure bikes were omnipresent at EICMA with the Bimota Tera, the new BMW GS 1300 R, Yamaha Ténéré 700 in all its desirable EU variants, and the new Honda Transalp seemingly around every corner outfitted with a host of aftermarket farkles. The ADV craze is also seeping into other markets, including a surprising but also deserving segment—scooters.
“Adventure scooters” may seem like an oxymoron, but they seemed to be coming from every direction at EICMA. Honda was at the forefront with its ADV160, 350, and ADV-X (750cc) models, but it was far from the only brand.
Aprilia had a sharp example with crash bars, auxiliary lights, and what appeared to be 15-inch wheels on longer suspension bits with 70/30 tires. Taiwanese scooter giant Kymco also had its top-tier AK550 super scooter outfitted with hard bags, aux lights, and more.
Kymco’s rival SYM showed off a new model, the ADX TG 400, which includes a footwell and redesigned handlebar to enable standover riding, plus numerous ADV features, including ABS controls and more robust construction.
Scooters far outnumber cars in central Milan since they can park for free in large motorbike-only parking areas, or anywhere with enough space, including on sidewalks. Car drivers have to seek out a rare parking spot and then pay handsomely for it.
Although North American riders tend to view scooters as low-powered urban playthings, they are critical to transportation in pretty much every other part of the world. Giving them more robust suspension and drivetrains can only help.
Many of the huge variety of scooters had larger wheels and robust, knobby tires. There was no small number of three-wheeled tadpole-type scooters, either.
Riding in India earlier this year—and also in Milan on a rented Vespa 125 after the EICMA show—drove home the point quite well. I encountered challenging riding conditions, including pockmarked and patchwork asphalt mixed with old cobblestone and ubiquitous in-road train tracks with wheel-swallowing gaps.
Being a seasoned Vespa pilot, I fared fine, but it was no Roman Holiday—total concentration and fairly aggressive riding is required on the streets of Milan.
Trend: China Riseth
More known for the cheap tiddlers you can buy on Amazon, Chinese motorcycle makers like Kove brought some eyebrow-raising machines to EICMA that may give legacy manufacturers pause. They also now operate some familiar brand names, including Benelli and Moto Morini, and have partnerships with Honda, Harley-Davidson, BMW, KTM, and others.
Quality remains a concern, but if the stuff is good enough for Honda, it may be an outdated concern.
There were several head-turning machines on display, such as some 1000cc-class in-line four-powered superbike models from QJMotor, complete with stylish bodywork, de-rigueur winglets, and no shortage of tech. CFMoto and others also displayed mid-size adventure tourers, some of which are already available stateside.
Moto Morini had an impressive 1200cc X-Cape rally-style adventure bike on display.
For the most part, Chinese motorcycle manufacturers are sticking to scooters, small and mid-displacement machines up to about 900cc, and some interesting electric ideas. But it was clear from the units on display, whether they ran or not, that their ambitions go far beyond that.
Trend: Battery Swapping
One advantage full-size electric scooters have over electric motorcycles is that they don’t require large, heavy battery packs. Several years ago, Taiwan-based scooter maker Kymco started a battery-swapping program that allowed scooter riders to repower their machines with quick-swap batteries from kiosks.
At EICMA, Kymco announced a major boost to that program with its new iONEX battery swap stations and scooters. The sleek scooters can pack two good-sized power cells under the seat for extended range, along with a third smaller internal battery—just in case.
I tried the swap system out and it takes only seconds to replace the batteries, which pop up like electric toast from the swapping stations when they reach full charge. Naturally, transactions are handled with a tap from a smartphone app. It takes less than a minute to swap the batteries; a far shorter time than it takes to get gas (and far cleaner as well).
I talked to Kymco’s CEO about the iONEX push and he said they were talks with other scooter makers to join the iONEX system. At present, though, there is no standard for battery swapping, so iONEX batteries can’t be swapped out for cells from other swap stations operated by other companies.
In time? That remains to be seen, but motorbike powerhouses Honda and Yamaha have recently joined a coalition of like-minded companies that are also cooperating on scooter battery swap tech between brands.
Battery swapping clearly works for scooters, but the size and weight of motorcycle batteries make it impractical—for now. Never say never, as some electric car makers are also looking at quick-swap stations (typically staffed by robots) that may help mitigate one of the biggest complaints against electric vehicles of all kinds, that being the time it takes to charge them up.
Milan is preparing to curtail ICE vehicles in the city center and electric scooters, full-size EVs, and crazy tiny electric minicars already prowl the streets in large numbers. Electric motorcycle maker Zero was on hand and I got the chance to chat with CEO Sam Paschal, who hinted that Zero is considering other possible form factors for future offerings.
After seeing a multitude of Vespa-type electric scooters zipping around Milan—almost all of them from Chinese makers—I think I may have some idea what form those future products may take. Paschel said he was certainly open to the idea of producing electric scooters but could neither confirm nor deny anything specific was in the works. Stay tuned.