October 7 2010.

Jon Urry reports back from Intermot in Cologne....

The 2011 bike season kicked off at the Cologne show in Germany this week with Kawasaki emerging as the force to be reckoned with when it comes to new models in 2011 after a fairly poor showing from the other Japanese manufacturers.

"We want to bring a new level of excitement to the hearts and minds of Kawasaki riders," said Kohei Yamada, Kawasaki's general manger for R&D in motorcycles before unveiling the all-new 2011 ZX-10R. And he wasn't joking. The new Ninja is a bike very much built around excitement, coupled with a small degree of fear it has to be said! For the first time since it was launched in 2004, Kawasaki has completely revised the ZX-10R and the 2011 model is a ground-up new machine with state of the art electronics as well as a fearsome engine. Kawasaki is claiming 200PS (just shy of 200bhp) from the all-new powerplant, which if it's true will make the ZX-10R the most powerful litre bike in the class, eclipsing even the BMW S1000RR. As you would expect the chassis is completely new and comes with the new 'must have accessory' of Big Piston Forks, but it's the electronics that should set the ZX-10R aside from the other Japanese litre bikes. As well as optional active ABS, the ZX-10R has traction control (S-KTRC) that was developed while the firm was racing in MotoGP and it is claimed to be so clever it can distinguish between torque wheelies and sudden wheelies as well as predicting the grip of the tyre. Add to this a revised riding position, new fairing, lightweight wheels, radial brakes with petal discs and a very funky new instrument cluster (reminiscent of an SP-2) and you can see that Kawasaki means business. Make no mistake, this is one seriously hardcore bike and is a return to what makes Kawasaki so popular with a certain section of riders - completely bonkers machines!

And it doesn't stop there. The Z1000 has grown a fairing and become the Z1000SX, a bike that promises to gain sales on the back of its excellent naked brother. Kawasaki is targeting it at the sports tourer/practical rider market and a range of accessories including panniers and a top box will be launched alongside the bike. A slightly hotted-up Z750 in the shape of the Z750R is more of a case of adding new life and more performance into an older machine through parts borrowed from the old Z1000, but should add spice to the competitive naked middleweight class while the retro-styled W800 could well prove a surprise hit as Kawasaki has got the look of the bike spot on.

With a range of five new bikes, (there is also the VN1700 Voyager Custom, but it will only be available in limited numbers in the UK), 2011 could be a strong year for Kawasaki as the ZX-10R is certain to steal the headlines and put the company at the forefront of rider's minds. Which is the problem Suzuki will have with its new models.

While both the GSX-R600 and 750 have received substantial updates, visually they appear almost unchanged. A 9kg weight loss, revised engine and chassis and BPF forks should see the GSX-Rs perform considerably better in comparative tests than the current models, but Suzuki will need some way of driving home the fact that these bikes are so different to potential owners as visually it's hard to split the 2011 bikes from the 2010 models. A tough job for the sales department.

Likely to be less effort to sell is the new GSR750, which uses a re-tuned GSX-R750 motor in a budget street bike. The naked middleweight sector is a tough battleground, but if the GSR keeps with Suzuki tradition and has a low price tag it should steal sales from Yamaha's premium FZ8.

And speaking of Yamaha, it has to be said that its stand at the show was more than a little disappointing. Two 'concept' bikes that were little more than a few bolt-ons thrown at a Super Tenere, plus a V-MAX and an electric scooter. Hopefully they will have a few surprises to unveil later in the year. But at least they did better than Honda, who chose to unveil 'new colours' - And that was it at Cologne. The Milan show in November had better be strong for both of these manufacturers or Kawasaki will steal 2011.

On the European scene the big excitement came from a small package - KTM's Duke 125. You have to hand it to KTM, they know how to make a 125 look sexy and the Duke promises to be a huge sales success, especially as KTM keep stating the bike offers fun at a reasonable price. So expect it to be competitively priced with the Japanese alternatives.

In probably the bravest move of the whole show, Triumph unveiled an updated Speed Triple with, wait for it, non-round headlights, a move that is certain to cause purists to have seizures. It's a Speed Triple for the future say Triumph, (hence the new lights), and has had significant chassis alterations to sharpen its handling as well as slight engine tweaks. It may look the same, but like the GSX-Rs it will perform far better than the old model in comparative tests. Also new from Hinckley is a performance cruiser, the Thunderbird Storm, which is a 1700cc version, (up 100cc), of the current Thunderbird with styling changes.

Clearly Ducati saved the unveiling of most of its new models for the Milan show. However the company did announce that it will be fitting traction control and quick shifters to all of its 1198 models, as well as unveiling a 1198SP, which is basically a 1198S with a few performance parts bolted on. Fresh from its WSB success, Aprilia unveiled an RSV4 Special Edition with an impressive electronics package including traction control and launch control, (at a hefty premium), that will almost certainly filter down onto future models as well as a new Dorsoduro 1200. Think of it as a Dorsoduro 750 on steroids and you get the idea, fun seems to have taken precedence over practicality on this big supermoto. The new 1200 V-twin motor is certain to feature on future Aprilia models, so expect a naked bike and tourer very soon.

BMW's inline six cylinder touring bikes, the K1600GT and K1600GTL made their predicted appearance and should prove popular with BMW riders who want extreme comfort combined with the huge amounts of torque the six offers. BMW claim that 70% of the maximum 175Nm of torque is produced at just 1,500rpm, which is perfect for lazy cruising two-up. And on a final note, talking of BMW, has anyone spotted that the company seems to be rather quiet about its G 450X Enduro bike of late? BMW owns Husqvarna and the off-road specialist unveiled two new crossers at Cologne, the 449 and 511, both using the BMW 450X engine...