Anyway, we finally arrived at Junction 6 of the M42 and followed the signs for the NEC – not easy to do when you’re blinded by the low sun but we finally managed to park up and start the trek to the main halls. The NEC runs a system of free shuttle buses between the car parks and the various exhibitions but the drivers seem to have developed a sixth sense which allows them to arrive at a bus stop just after everyone had given up waiting and set off walking! Still, the walk was no doubt was very beneficial.
After paying the £17 entrance fee £8 parking and the extra £4 for the Show Guide (with free poster!), Chris and I entered the main hall. Considering we didn’t arrive until just after mid-day I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of punters. Although there were plenty of people milling around the main manufacturers’ stands you could still get to see, and bounce on, any models that took your fancy quite easily.
Chris has very different tastes to myself when it comes to bikes, partly driven by the difference in stature between us. Whereas I tend to gravitate towards the Tourers and Sports Adventure bikes, Chris is more the flashy Cruiser style. Plenty of scope for leg pulling there as we try to look cool and knowledgeable as we sit astride the bike of our choice, flicking control levers, twiddling knobs, pressing buttons ad trying not to make “brrmm brrrmmm” noises! ‘Best fit’ bikes for me were the BMW R1200GS and KTM990 Adventure – no surprise there, although I was also taken with the BMW HP2 Supermotard for it’s sheer lunacy. Chris swithered between the Suzuki M800 and the Yamaha XV range – tarts handbags all, you’d need to have shares in Solvol Autosol if you bought either of those!.
Interestingly neither Honda or Ducati had a stand (well there was one stand with two Ducatis on it which was shared with the Owners Club) so perhaps the recession is biting those particular manufacturers hard. All the other major players were there, even Norton, with lots of corporate shirted minions trying their hardest to avoid the gaze of the assembled masses. First prize for the most disinterested show staff easily goes to Suzuki – four members behind the desk arrangement and not one of them could be bothered to point Chris in the direction of the right brochure. At the other end of the spectrum, the prize for most dedicated show staff goes to the gent on the Norton stand who carefully polished the tank of the red Commando after each Numpty had put their sticky fingers on it. I’m surprised there was any paint left!
Luckily it was quite warm in the show as various young ladies circulated amongst the great unwashed (quite literally, in some cases) dressed in what my mother would describe as ‘unsuitable for the season’ skimpy clothing. After much deliberation, my brother-in-law voted the Kawasaki stand the best, even though he didn’t like any of their bikes. One particularly attractive young lady invited me along to what I can only assume was the launch of a new toothpaste called Spearmint Rhino, indeed we were given VIP passes with pictures of more young ladies baring their teeth to prove the efficacy of the product.
Having worn out the seats of a number of bikes we continued our stately progress into the Clothing and Accessories area, via the very nice young ladies on the Carole Nash stand. If I had been in the market for a new road helmet or gear there were some stonking bargains but sadly nothing for those of us that prefer to do it in the dirt. Chris tried on a few sunglasses of the type worn by Cruiser riders (no comment needed!) but nothing tempted us to part with the readies. Another quick coffee, a laugh at the poor unfortunate having his first go on a motorbike, and a last scout round in case we’d missed anything before returning to the main hall for a last look at the bikes.
All in all I found the show as disappointing as ever. It’s nice to see most of the manufacturers’ ranges in one place and accessible but is that really worth £17 and a whole day trekking up to Birmingham and back? There were certainly lots of bargains if you were in the market for some new riding gear but there was also a lot of tat, particularly leather, masquerading as motorcycle gear. I reckon about two hours was the maximum time it took to see everything (and some of it two or three times!)
In the ‘good old days’ at Earls Court I used to buy a new helmet every year plus occasional riding gear but I think my present road gear will outlast me at this rate. Back then I used to be on the Star Rider stand but that’s another story – two quick memories though: taking an 80cc scooter back to the Suzuki stand after one of the instructors totalled it inside Earls Court; and drinking far too many pints of Okells beer and still coming up negative on the Met Police’s new breathalyser (no I didn’t drive home!). At another event, I even managed to crash my BMW as I left the Felixstowe Motorcycle Show (who said motorcycling isn’t glamorous?) resplendent in my Chief Instructor’s uniform – it wasn’t my fault, it was the ex-wife, honest.
The journey back was relatively uneventful for a Friday evening having opted to travel down the A14 / M11 / A120 / A130 route which a) meant we missed the M1 and M25 completely and b) allowed for a short stop at one of my favourite pubs, the Compasses at Littley Green. Proper pub, proper beer, and no piped music. Bit of a holdup around Chelmsford meant it took another hour to get home but I walked through the door to the welcoming smell of stew and dumplings – what more can a chap want in life?