Piaggio more than a scooter company
The Piaggio Group went on the attack at the recent Milan Motorcycle Show, with three of its most recognised brands - Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, and Vespa - releasing key new products that are likely to comprise a substantial chunk of their sales during 2013.
The trio were the 1200cc Aprilia Caponord adventure tourer, Europe's largest-ever V-twin, the Moto Guzzi California 1400, and the Vespa 946, a stylish new 125cc scooter that draws its design inspiration from the original prototype Vespa, the MP6 of 1946.
The show represented the start of a renaissance for the group, which has retained its place as Europe's most prolific bike-maker despite the efforts of BMW, and recently added the 2012 World Superbike Championship to its war-chest of 101 world road-racing titles.
APRILIA CAPONORD 1200
The new Caponord 1200 is perhaps the bike Aprilia should have built first with its big-block 90-degree V-twin engine, which was allocated to a supermoto-style streetbike two years ago, the Dorsoduro 1200.
For while the market for big-block supermotos is comparatively limited, placing this 128bhp liquid-cooled V-twin in an adventure tourer gives Aprilia the opportunity to poach sales from the world's most popular motorcycle, the BMW R1200GS.
Not only does the Caponord promise more power and lighter mass than the heavily-revised 2013 GS, it also comes with a similar emphasis on electronic sophistication.
There's semi-active suspension, which adapts to the riding conditions in accordance with the selection of several rider settings, three maps to select from for the ride-by-wire throttle, two-channel ABS brakes complete with an off-switch, cruise control, and a traction control system with three intervention settings.
According to Piaggio's press office, lessons learned while winning the two back-to-back World Superbike titles helped hone Aprilia's calibration of the electronic systems fitted to the Caponord.
The adjustable screen and optional hard luggage system should attract the interest of touring riders in Aprilia's first adventure bike.
However, the 17-inch front wheel will define it as a bike that likes to stay on the road, and become more of a rival for Ducati's racy Multistrada than the evergreen BMW.
MOTO GUZZI CALIFORNIA 1400
While much crowing was made in Milan about the 50 per cent increase in Moto Guzzi sales during the past two years, the annual production of the Lake Como-based bike-maker for 2012 will still be measured in four figures rather than five.
Such a low volume makes it difficult to implement huge changes to something like the California cruiser, which forms the mainstay of sales in Guzzi's biggest export market, the US.
So Europe's largest-displacement V-twin at 1400cc isn't entirely new, as it is built on the crankcases and bottom end of Guzzi's existing 1200cc unit. However, the top half is all-new, including larger pistons and new cylinder heads which are stoked by a single throttle body. Delivering 114Nm of torque at just 2750rpm, and 95bhp at 6500rpm, the biggest Guzzi engine should supply the California with the loping, yet potent, power delivery that every cruiser needs.
The 322kg California is also lighter than its American-branded rivals, despite breaking away from the Guzzi norm by no longer using the engine as a stressed chassis member. Instead, the new donk is rubber mounted into a robust cradle frame, Harley-style, as any incorporation of a balance shaft to control the vibration of the heavier pistons would have resulted in the need for an expensive redesign of the crankcases.
Early reports from the world press launch of the Cali 14 have confirmed that it still handles better than the American bikes that it is targeted at, offering more cornering clearance and suspension performance.
Piaggio call the intriguing looks of the 946 "retro-futurist" and it's an apt description. While the design may be vaguely retrospective, there is nothing old-hat about the technology lurking beneath the surface of the 946. It is the first scooter to offer ABS brakes and traction control as standard equipment, and the new monocoque body is fashioned from both steel and aluminium to reduce mass.
The new 3-valve 125cc four-stroke single is also harbinger of a new generation of Vespa powerplants, and will soon be offered in 150cc form.
As a 125, it develops 11.7bhp (8.7kW), and consumes fuel at a rate of 1.8litres/100km (155mpg). It all adds up to a combo of style, practicality and reduced environmental impact that should help keep Vespa on a roll.
Vespa sales have tripled since 2003 when 50,000 were sold, and more than 150,000 are expected to be sold during 2012, which is shaping up as a record-setting year.