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The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

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February 7, 2013

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

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The Bangkok Motorbike Festival is quite unlike any other motorcycle show on Earth. Held within the vast public spaces, promenades and forecourt of the upmarket CentralWorld shopping center, the festival locates the stands of motorcycle manufacturers, distributors, customizers and accessory distributors between the upmarket boutiques, restaurants and cafes of the third largest shopping complex in the world.

CentralWorld is larger than any Shopping Center in the United States or Europe, and unlike those countries where motorcycles are regarded as recreational rather than legitimate transport, the Festival is given pride of place in Bangkok's largest public space in a country where motorcycles are the predominant form of transport.

CentralWorld played host to the Festival

CentralWorld's forecourt covers a massive 8,000 square meters (86,111 sq ft) – so large it is the venue of Bangkok's New Year's Eve celebrations, when several hundred thousand people gather there to watch the countdown. To grasp the magnitude of the environment, think of holding a motorcycle show in Times Square, and next door throughout the largest shopping center in the United States.

There seems little doubt the 21st century will be the Asian Century. Whereas Western civilization has dominated the 20th, Asia will be the focal point of development in the coming century.

Asia accounts for two-thirds of the world's population, and the next decade will see almost all of its constituent nations developing at warp speed, all at the same time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita

Above is a map of the world with per capita car ownership data – darker means more cars, lighter means less cars.

The world's two most populous nations, China with 1.35 billion people and India with 1.21 billion, head the list, but there many other Asian countries undergoing economic transformation – Indonesia (240 million), Vietnam (90 million), Philippines (95 million), Malaysia (30 million), Cambodia (15 million), Laos (seven million), Myanmar (50 million), Bangladesh (155 million), plus a number of nations such as Japan (125 million), South Korea (50 million), Taiwan (25 million), Thailand (70 million) and Singapore (six million) already significantly progressed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bar_of_cars_motorcycles_population.png

The implications for the personal transportation market are immense. For decades in Europe, America and other advanced regions, the marketplace for automobiles has been a replacement market – everyone who wants a car already has one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Motorcycles_vs_cars_by_population_millions_2002.png

The Asian countries however, have very low vehicle ownership levels – these are the people in the world who don't have a car already, but have embraced the concept of personal transportation via the scooter.

These are the countries with the lowest per capita vehicle ownership and who will make up the majority of new car and motorcycle sales over the next decade.

The Bangkok Motorbike Festival has no entrance fee, parking is free, and the general public flocks to the event in a country where two million motorcycles are sold each year, roughly double the number of cars sold. To put that in perspective, Thailand's 70 million people buy roughly four times as many motorcycles each year as America's 313 million people do.

The third largest shopping center in the wold provided a spectacular backdrop (Photo: Husn...

As the Asian Tiger (Thailand) is regaining its strength after a period of political unrest and a flood of Biblical proportions that besieged Bangkok's eight million residents just two years ago, its automotive manufacturing capacity has since rebounded to pass that of the United Kingdom.

Thailand's auto making output also recently exceeded the annual output of the Czech Republic and Spain, where auto manufacturing had moved in Europe to take advantage of the cheaper labor forces of those countries, and is about to pass the output of France – the original automotive industry which contains the likes of Renault, Peugeot and Citroen.

As a producer of two-wheelers, the Thai Kingdom is one of the foremost manufacturers in the world, producing motorcycles for many of motorcycling's best known brand names.

The parking lot at the festival was almost as worthwhile as the show (Photo: Husna Namirem...

It is a sign of the increasingly global times that Thailand is not yet well known as a manufacturer of motorcycles because many of the brand names that produce motorcycles there are strongly associated with countries other than Thailand.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

All of Japan's "Big Four" manufacture motorcycles in Thailand – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki now produce a considerable share of their export market enthusiast motorcycles as well as a plethora of scooters.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Idea Challenge at the Bangkok Motorbike Festival (Photo: Husna Nam...

Indeed, several enthusiast brands one might reasonably expect to be manufactured elsewhere, such as Great Britain's beloved Triumph marque and the the pride and joy of Italian motorcycling know how, Ducati, also both produce world-class enthusiast motorcycles in Thailand.

Honda accounts for more than two-thirds of annual two-wheeler sales in the Kingdom, and produces a large number of its enthusiast motorcycles for export markets around the world there. Honda's R&D Center for Asia is also located on the outskirts of Bangkok in a facility where new models are conceived, built, and evaluated.

Hence, it was no coincidence that with the country celebrating its largest motorcycle-only exhibition in the capital city's largest public space and biggest shopping center, Honda's finely-tuned intelligence-gathering regime should be out in full force.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Unlike established motorcycle markets in rich European countries, the United States, Canada, and Australia, where large capacity motorcycles are the norm, small capacity motorcycles and scooters make up the majority of road traffic in all Asian countries.

Many major new models from the smaller categories are regularly shown for the first time at the Bangkok Motorcycle Festival each January and the Thai Motor Show each March.

Honda's Zoomer-X

One such motorcycle was the Honda Zoomer-X which made its world debut at the Thai Motor Show in 2012. Like most objects emanating from the thriving design community in Thailand (which is now officially nurtured from the Thailand Creative Design Center – TCDC is a national treasure and should be replicated in EVERY country – a well educated and informed design community is a catalyst for economic growth), the Zoomer-X is edgy and striking and VERY practical.

The most interesting aspect of the Zoomer-X is that it was specifically designed as a blank canvas for individualization – a base-model two-wheeler designed to be easily customized.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Honda and most of the more sophisticated motorcycle manufacturers around the world already have a range of accessories designed to individualize their machinery offerings for many of their more popular motorcycles – that trend is accelerating, and from some strong indications at the Festival, Honda appears to be raising the customization game to a new level.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Idea Challenge

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Honda was a pioneer of computer-aided manufacturing systems that enable a highly flexible mix of machinery running down the same production line to produce custom output. When I saw Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Idea Challenge at the Bangkok Motorbike Festival it immediately crossed my mind that it might be researching a new level of mass customization.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Prior to the Festival, Honda Thailand embarked on a bold and ambitious exercise when it seeded all of its major dealerships and some 30 design houses and motorcycle customization shops each with a Zoomer-X. It then asked them to let their imagination run wild – "go and build something interesting" was the fundamental message. The only rule was that it had to be based on the Zoomer-X, it had to be registerable, and it had to be a fully functioning machine – no mock-ups like the manufacturers often field at motor shows.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Soichiro Honda may now have passed away, but his spirit lives on. He mandated during his leadership of the company that a minimum percentage of its turnover each year should be spent on Reseach & Development, long before this was fashionable – a recent study showed Honda still spends more than 5 percent of its income on research and development.

Honda's R&D capacity has always been remarkable. In 1978 I traveled to Tochigi in Japan to sample Honda's turbo 500 road bike.

What completely blew me away was not the motorcycle, but the depth and breadth of Honda's development resources.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Apart from the Tochigi test track where they let me ride the turbo at top speed for as long as I wanted (two kilometer long straights connected by two banked corners where a motorcycle or car will simply go around the corner without any steering input at speeds of up to 230 kmh) there were dozens of other facilities, plus more than a thousand engineers working solely on conceiving the next generation of personal transport - people whose sole job was finding how to do things a better way.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

That very same platoon of engineers has since given us an array of personal transport options I could not have conceived of at the time - in the last decade alone, Gizmag has reported on Honda developments more than any other company in the transportation space.

Zoomer-X custom from Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizm...

The costs of this seeding of the Zoomer-Xs may well find itself listed under R&D expenditure in the balance sheet, because apart from creating a massive spectacular display of innovative thought, Honda staff could be seen seeking comments and filling out forms to evaluate what the public thought of the different customs on display.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge saw the presentation of over 40 customized  Zoome...

The added advantage of the CentralWorld shopping public being part of this massive show had not been lost on the world's most prolific two-wheel maker – this was equally an opportunity to divine broader public opinion on two-wheeled fashion, not just that of the enthusiast market.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

There were some quite spectacular highlights amongst the highly-modified Zoomer-Xs, though for me, the tilting-three-wheeled Zoomer-X built by Ride-On was the stand-out amongst a field containing dozens of extraordinary examples of fresh thought.

The image library for this article contains dozens of examples from the Mo'cye Design Challenge of innovative rethinks of what can be done with a Zoomer-X scooter.

Honda Thailand's Mo'cye Design Challenge 2013 (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Yet another indication at the Festival of how seriously Honda is tackling mass customization was the appearance of quite a few Honda-produced customs based on other motorcycles in the range.

Mugen's interpretation of the Honda CB500R (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Three months ago, Honda announced a range of new 500 twin-cylinder machines powered by an all-new 500cc engine. The CB500F is the naked offering whilst the CB500X provides adventure styling and enhanced weather protection for longer journeys. The CB500R is the more sports focused of the trio, with sharp, dynamic styling that echoes racing heritage. As can be seen above, the Honda stand at the Bangkok Motorbike Festival saw custom versions of each of the new machines. That's Mugen's take on the CB500R above.

Moriwaki's interpretation of the Honda CB500F (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Next to the Mugen CB500R was a CB500F crafted by Moriwaki. Moriwaki and Mugen are long-term Japanese-based collaborators with blood ties to Honda Japan.

Honda's customized adventure CB500X (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

There was even an adventure version of the CB500X decked out for motorcycle touring off the beaten track. Who made the third version? Honda Thailand, presumably using parts borrowed from the Honda Crosstourer SE V4.

Honda MSX Custom (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Even the tiny fuel-injected MSX125 (“Mini Street X-treme 125”) which hit the market only a month ago had several custom versions on display. The MSX125 carries on the tradition of the original 1963 Honda Monkey bike – a small-wheeled leisure motorcycle which Honda has since continued with the Dax and Ape.

Manufactured in Thailand, the MSX125 is small but has a big-bike feel thanks to many standard sized motorcycle parts. It is part mini-bike, part motorcycle, with a 125cc fuel-injected 4-stroke engine and four-speed gearbox.

Complementing the power train is a compact chassis that features a sturdy steel frame, inverted front forks, monoshock rear suspension, hydraulic disc brakes (front and rear) and lightweight 12-inch wheels sporting wide, low profile tires.

The recently released Honda MSX125 already had a display of accessory and customization op...

Quite clearly, Honda set out to make a statement with the magnitude of its multiple display areas across the massive shopping complex. It would not surprise me though, if Honda Thailand was busy researching public taste for a far more diverse range of accessories than we have previously seen, or at very least, mapping the future of products for the diverse and complex Asian market.

The parking lot at the festival. You don't ride motorcycles, you wear them (Photo: Husna N...

I have often written on the pages of Gizmag that IMHO, you don't drive a car or ride a motorcycle – you WEAR IT. Your choice of wheels is a very public statement about who you are. In purchasing a personal vehicle, you are first enrolling in the brand values of that marque, and increasingly frequently, then modifying that vehicle to reflect your own uniqueness.

My overwhelming take-out from this year's festival is that Honda appears to be devoting considerable resources to solving the personalization equation.

The global cult of Harley-Davidson

Harley's mega-valuable logo (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

While Honda always puts on a show in Thailand, the most intriguing of my experiences at the Bangkok Motorbike Festival surrounded Harley-Davidson.

I have been writing about motorcycles (amongst other things) for more than a third of a century, and one of the most enlightening experiences of that entire period of thinking about two wheels was the opportunity to watch Harley-Davidson's stand at CentralWorld from above.

The multi-level shopping center environment offered the opportunity to watch the movement of the masses past each of the stands at the exhibition from one or two levels above, and the additional perspective offered some interesting insights.

People love to have their pic taken on a Harley (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

While the public was rabidly keen to take photos of all the pretty girls on the bikes at all the other stands, Harley did not need to field a bevy of beauties with its motorcycles because people wanted a picture of themselves with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

From my birds'-eye viewing platform, it quickly became obvious that Harley-Davidson's motorcycles themselves were the stars of the stand.

The MV Agusta stand at the Festival (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

As an aside, it was also interesting to realize that seemingly everyone now carries a camera (inside a smartphone or tablet or as a stand-alone device) with them at all times, and the Harleys were just as much a focal point as the dozens of stunningly beautiful girls in various stages of undress on other stands.

Whereas mom and pop walked straight past the stands of MV Agusta, KTM, Yamaha, Suzuki and seemingly every other motorcycle brand, the name Harley-Davidson was a huge magnet for the NON-enthusiast, and much moreso than any other marque.

Harley obviously understands that it is sexy enough without a battalion of supermodels getting in the way of the brand's values, and might not have been visited by mom and pop and everybody else if it had overplayed the sex appeal angle.

Harley's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Whatsmore, I'd be willing to wager that the H-D stand sold more clothing than any other store in the entire shopping precinct during the four days of the festival. Watching from above, I could see the vast number of people who were clearly non-enthusiasts who were forking out THB1500 (USD$50) or more for genuine Harley t-shirts, jackets, gloves, vests, caps ad infinitum, and it really got me thinking about brands in general, and Harley-Davidson in particular.

Harley-Davidson might only appear to sell motorcycles, but from one floor up, it looked a lot like a clothing company.

Last year Harley-Davidson sold less than 250,000 units globally and it has never sold more than 350,000 units in a single year, despite a history that stretches back more than a century.

It is not in the top 20 motorcycle marques in the world by the number of motorcycles it sells, yet ask anyone to name the world's most famous motorcycle and it will almost certainly be Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson has built itself a solid gold, global brand name producing a relative handful of machines annually. During the 1920s, when it was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer, it produced in the vicinity of 30,000 bikes a year.

During WWII when it was the motorcycle of choice for the all-conquering United States military forces, not once did production exceed 100,000 in a year.

Harley's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Check out Interbrand's Top 100 Brand Names report each year and you'll notice that diminutive Harley-Davidson fights way above of its weight division.

It is the only motorcycle-only brand in the top 100 global brands (Honda is there, but it is a top 10 car maker, and also makes robots, power equipment and airplanes), with Interbrand valuing the H-D moniker at more than that of Ferrari. So let's put this in perspective. Ferrari cars are demonstrably superior to 99.99% of cars that get sold. Ferrari technology is not just leading edge, but bleeding edge. Ferrari wins races in the most technologically-advanced race series in the world – Formula One – and it does so in front of the largest sports TV audience in the world, usually winning at least three or four times in each annual 18 race series, watched by around 5% of the world's population.

Tasty Vance & Hines Harley (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Harley-Davidson technology is NOT any of those things, hasn't won a race of any consequence for decades and there's no logical reason why the marque should carry the gravitas it does.

Indeed, until the Global Financial Crisis hit, Harley was consistently ranked in the top 50 worldwide brands, ahead of Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Ferrari in the personal transport game, and Fedex, Shell, Amazon, Panasonic, Nestle, KFC, Kraft, Adidas, Xerox, eBay and Yahoo and hundreds of other household names in any game.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

In 2008, Interbrand valued the Harley-Davidson name as close to equal to that of FORD! Though Harley is now valued at US$3.857 billion, it is well below its 2008 peak of US$7.609 billion.

Honda's brand as a transportation company is ranked as the 21st most valuable brand in the world and valued at US$17.28 billion, behind only Toyota (US$30.28 billion), Mercedes Benz (US$30.097 billion) and BMW (US$29.052 billion) - respectively ranked by Interbrand as the tenth, eleventh and twelfth most valuable personal transportation brands in the world.

Brands are symbols of the values of that brand - reliability, consistency of experience, where it fits into your lifestyle, and most importantly, what it says about you, as an individual amongst seven billion.

The only other transport brands in the Top 100 are Volkswagen (39th - US$9.252 billion), ford (45th - US$7.958 billion), Audi (55th - US$7.196 billion), Hyundai (53rd - US$7.473 billion), Porsche (72nd - US$5.149 billion), Nissan (73rd - US$4.969 billion) and Kia (87th - US$4.089 billion).

Another Harley custom (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Exactly what it is about the Harley Davidson brand that resonates with the global public is hard to pin down.

The lumpy 45 degree V-twin engines and exhaust note that once distinguished it from the others have been copied by more than a dozen other major brands to little avail. Indeed, all of the Japanese big four have attempted to build motorcycles that look, sound and feel exactly like a Harley but people have not begun naming their children Kawasaki or Vulcan (Kawasaki's H-D clone pictured below).

Kawasaki Vulcan custom (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Interbrand ranks the world's top 10 most valuable brands as Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Google, GE, McDonalds, Intel, Apple, Disney and HP. I have never seen anyone with any of these brands permanently emblazoned on their body. If it was possible to survey the world's seven billion people to see how many had tattooed a proprietary brand name on their body, Harley would account for, in my opinion, a majority share.

Harley-Davidson is undoubtedly the machinery of choice for outlaw style bike clubs across the world, and that obviously adds a hint of the rebel we'd all like to be to the H-D brand values, but if its product is almost indistinguishable from half a dozen other marques with the badge covered up, what is it about the name that has such an effect?

Harley merchandise was everywhere (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

After watching the Harley-Davidson stand from above three times for lengthy periods during the show, I was surprised to find in researching this article that official statistics credit the licensing of the Harley-Davidson name as being responsible for just 5% of the company's net revenue.

License Magazine ranks Harley-Davidson as the 54th largest licensor in the world, though it must be pointed out that the companies in front of it such as Disney, Mattel, Warner and Nickelodeon have multiple channels and products with constantly updated movie and television promotion, and the sporting franchises such as NFL, NBA and WWE have weekly television audiences of passionate followers in the millions - Harley only sells a quarter million motorcycles a year, and to be honest, they vary only ever-so-slightly from the previous year's models.

One Harley-Davidson with the lot (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

It's little wonder that the Japanese have failed to copy the essence of the Harley-Davidson brand, because I'm not sure that anyone actually understands what it is. One of the most telling clues might well be that Harley-Davidson has had its motorcycles blatantly copied for more than 100 years.

The word brand is derived from the Old Norse brandr meaning "to burn" and refers to the practice of producers burning their mark (or brand) onto their products.

Today, a brand is the most valuable fixed asset of a Corporation, and Harley-Davidson's mark might well be the most plagiarized of all time.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and whereas Harley-Davidson may have failed to secure the rights to be the only motorcycle to feature the distinctive V-twin configuration, or the exhaust note which accompanies it, it does own the Harley-Davidson brand.

For huge tracts of Asia, where the Americans liberated countries en masse at the end of WWII, the enduring symbol of America's military strength was not the big guns, ships and planes which did the liberating, but the military transport of the soldiers on the ground.

As the chariot was once the personal transport of the conqueror, Harley-Davidson inherited some of those brand values in the Asia Pacific region during WWII. It was during that period that the Harley-Davidson WLA military motorcycle gave the marque a military-strength brand value that endures to this day.

Harley's star might well rise once more as Asia's economic transformation unfolds.

The absence of Ducati

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Ducati was not directly represented as a marque at the Bangkok Motorcycle Festival, despite having a manufacturing presence in Thailand.

Almost certainly, that will change in 2014 as the Italian motorcycle brand regains its feet after plummeting in value and almost ceasing to exist thanks to the ravages of the Global Financial Crisis.

Thailand's premier motorcycle magazine had an array of activities (Photo: Husna Namirembe/...

The end result was that Ducati was sold for €747 million (US$980,000,000 on the day) to boutique Italian sports car maker Lamborghini and it offers a contrast to how valuable Harley-Davidson's brand is, and what a judicious buy Ducati was for the parent company of Lamborghini, the Volkswagen Group.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

It might be easy to round off the price to one billion U.S. dollars, but the whole picture shows that the sticker price was made up of less than US$100 million cash, plus Lamborghini assuming Ducati debts which made up the remainder.

For that, Lamborghini bought a two-wheeled brand with very similar values to its own. It also bought all the designs, tooling, R&D, spare parts, factory and existing motorcycles and order book, so the brand only makes up part of what it purchased for a billion.

Accessories for everything (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Those motorcycles included the Monster, Multistrada, Diavel, Hypermotard, Evo, Streetfighter and Panigale - all motorcycles at the cutting edge of motorcycle design.

Oh, and the billion also landed Lamborghini the famed Ducati Corse, the company's racing division which competes in both World Superbike and MotoGP, (motorcycling's equivalent of Formula One).

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

The World Superbike Championship is based on production machinery, and since the inception of the series in 1988, Ducati dominated producing 13 world riders titles in 23 years. Ducati withdrew its official team from the championship at the end of 2010, and will return to the series this year with a new machine based on the 1199 Panigale.

Though the title was won again in 2011 by a non-factory Ducati 1198, Ducati Corse's record as a team is astonishing in a race series where all the major marques compete, and the all-conquering Honda Team has given its all - in 23 seasons the World Champion rode a Ducati in 13 of them, and Ducati Corse won the constructors' championship in 16 of them.

There was no shartage of choice of pimping gear for your Ducati, regardless of the model (...

The team also won a World MotoGP Championship in 2007 in the hands of now retired Casey Stoner. Though it lured Italian Valentino Rossi into the team for two seasons, the dream team of an Italian rider and an Italian marque winning the title proved out of reach.

For 2013 though, Ducati has replaced Rossi with Italian Andreas Dovizioso and American Ben Spies - both capable of winning races, on top of existing Ducati works rider and former world MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden. While no-one has come close to riding the Desmosedici as well as Casey Stoner, all three riders are capable of going an extra level and returning the L-4 Ducati to the winners circle.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Ducati might have a long history, but it's fair to say that it really hadn't done much worth writing about until 1972 when it launched its desmodromic L-twin 750 and pulled off perhaps the most famous 1-2 debut victoriy in the annals of motorsport at Imola in a Formula 750 race for motorcycles based on production machinery (above).

A little later in proceedings, Mike Hailwood came out of retirement to pilot a Ducati to victory at the Isle of Man (below), and after that, the victories just kept coming.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari effectively launched the brand on a global stage with victory that day in 1972, drawing the global focus to the genius of a man whose designs would go down in history - Fabio Taglioni.

At its peak, Ducati sold 42,800 bikes in 2008, before the Global Financial Crisis torched the value of the marque just as it did with Harley Davidson. Just what the Ducati marque might now become in the hands of a cashed-up, highly complementary, four-wheeled brand like Lamborghini is yet to be seen, but the combined expertise of Volkswagen Group (the parent of the parent) and Lamborghini in steering the future of the Ducati name augurs well for the future.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

It should be said that in joining the third largest automotive transportation company in the world (Volkswagen Group), Ducati is now in the same stable as not just Lamborghini and Volkswagen, but Bugatti, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, SEAT, Škoda, MAN and Scania.

Prior to the fire-sale to Lamborghini, Ducati had been involved in a marketing partnership with Mercedes Benz AMG and merchandising partnerships with Nike and Diesel, had its own range of clothing, its own perfume, luggage range and the Ducatisti, an army of fans which love the marque and everything it stands for. Just as Harley-Davidson regularly mobilizes its army of fans, Ducati does likewise with Ducati Week in Italy - a mecca for all motorcyclists, though you might feel a little less than part of the family riding anything else.

The rather unique Bangkok Motorbike Festival

Now there's some deep pockets and wise heads and highly complementary brands surrounding the name, the future for the Ducati brand looks incredibly bright, moreso given the obvious affection held for the name in Asia - though there was no official Ducati presence, the number of Ducatis spread throughout the Festival indicates that as Asia rises, so will the fortunes of this much loved marque.

Triumph shows 2013 range

Triumph's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

In terms of genuine global first-time debuts of production machinery, Triumph provided the only one of the Festival when it ripped the covers off the 2013 Triumph Tiger Sport.

Triumph's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The famous British marque (founded by a German, made famous by Americans such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Steve McQueen and now with a goodly proportion of its wares manufactured in Thailand) showed a completely new model based around the 1050cc triple engine.

Triumph's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The new 2013 Triumph Tiger Sport gets a single-sided swing-arm, fully revised suspension, new Triumph Dynamic Luggage System option and 10 extra horsepower for a total of 125.

Triumph's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Also shown for the first time in Asia were the Triumph Daytona 675R, Street Triple R, Triumph Trophy, Explorer XC and the biggest fanfare of the show. Thailand is obviously extremely important to the future of the marque and it spared no expense with rock concert effects, free drinks, movie stars and a chorus of tastefully primped pretties.

Triumph's stand (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The Rikuo – a Japanese Harley-Davidson

The Rikuo was built entirely with Japanese componentry from Harley blueprints (Photo: Husn...

One of the surprises of the Festival was the appearance of a very rare motorcycle built three quarters of a century ago – the Rikuo RQ750 was the first mass-produced Japanese motorcycle, and was built under license from no less than Harley-Davidson itself.

The official Japanese Harley - the Rikuo RQ750 (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The RQ 750 is a very rare beast, being an exact copy of a 45 cubic inch 1934 Harley Davidson – in today's terms, the bike is no speed demon, with a top speed of just 60 mph, but given the roads of the time, that was entirely appropriate.

The official Japanese Harley - the Rikuo RQ750 (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The 22 bhp 747cc sidevalve engine has ample enough torque to pull a sidecar away from idle, and was used by Japanese forces in WWII.

The official Japanese Harley - the Rikuo RQ750 (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The Rikuo was built entirely with Japanese componentry from Harley blueprints.

Ironically, the Rikuo RQ750 is now the pride and joy of Erik Svensson, the Chairman of the Board of Harley Davidson Bangkok.

The Pinto Boy Board Track Racer

If the Rikuo delighted me (I didn't know if I'd ever see one in the flesh), the Pinto left me slack-jawed.

I've already contemplated the international marketplace for building copies of rare machinery in a lengthy article about the better-than-new Brough Superior replicas currently fetching US$150,000 and more.

The Pinto Boy Board Track Racer (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

If they are built to closer tolerances with better metallurgy and run perfectly and are, for all intents and purposes, identical in shape and function, surely a marketplace exists for the creation of such replica machinery, perhaps even at much less than US$150,000, with a still healthy margin to be had for all the links in the value chain.

The Pinto Boy Board Track Racer (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Hence when I stumbled across a small stand tucked away in the backblocks of the exhibition on the eighth floor of CentralWorld, I was stopped in my tracks.

Thai craftsman Mana Wongprakornkam had created these Pinto Board Racers, loose replicas of some of the most famous motorcycles of a century ago. Indeed, one of the two most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction was a 1915 Cyclone Board Racer which sold for US$551,200 in 2008.

The Pinto Boy Board Track Racer (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Though the bikes are pictured here with Chinese engines, Mana's Pinto Board Racers can be obtained from his company Siamese Chopper without the engine for US$650 each. Mana only wholesales the bikes, and if you wish to order ten at a time, the price drops to US$550.

This was yet another highlight of the show as it illustrated the potential to have quality fabrication work done in a country where the minimum wage was recently raised to 300 Thai Baht per day (approx. US$10).

Kawasaki custom with long-travel suspension (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

The magnitude of the high-quality Honda exhibit which spread across the forecourt and also filled a large area of an additional exhibition space on the eighth floor of the Central World complex left me in no doubt that superb metal, motorcycle and automotive fabrication craftsmen (craftspeople) are plentiful in Thailand and that significant opportunities exist for the export/import of this craftsmanship to countries where such exacting and time-consuming work would be prohibitively expensive.

Custom Yamaha SR500 (Photo: Husna Namirembe/Gizmag)

Globalization is changing the world rapidly. The enthusiast Italian, British or Japanese machinery you are riding might actually have been built in a country you didn't know even made motorcycles. Indeed, the potential exists for your next custom to be built in Thailand at a fraction of the cost of the chop shop down the street.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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9 Comments

not one electric motorcycle (examples are brammo empulse r, zero motorcycles, lightning motorcycles).

Just how thailand considers motorcycles: means for population control. these idiots here just go crazy on a daily basis killing themselves with these machines, while modding them to be extremely loud mosquito-sounding things with no stability after 100km/h. everyday i see a person dead on the street and they still promote these things. they should be promoting electric motorcycles. its not like they can zoom through traffic at 60km/h. and its not like they ride these things for more than 100km per day!...

Tony Kalniev
8th February, 2013 @ 12:25 am PST

Very interesting article. As a Brit living in Thailand it was especially relevant. One small error I would point out. Minimum wage was recently set at 300 baht ($10.00) per day not 100 baht. Still vastly less than any country in the west.

(Eds's note: thanks Bill. The article has been amended to show the correct figure.)

Gooner Thai
8th February, 2013 @ 01:14 am PST

The most impressive aspect of Thai motorcycling is the number of people they can fit on one bike. It's not unusual to see four, and the best I've seen is 7 people on a 200cc, with the ladies riding sidesaddle.

I don't know how many motorcyclists are killed daily in the city of Angels but the practice of using the horn instead of the brakes and the total lack of road discipline suggests the number is significant.

The size of the market in Bangkok should guarantee a cracker of a show.

(Ed's note: see http://www.gizmag.com/distracted-driving-the-insanity-of-public-roads/19520/ for a discussion on this issue)

nutcase
8th February, 2013 @ 05:51 am PST

Fascinating article and photos! Thanks for sharing your insights. Very interesting idea to locate a major motorcycle show inside a shopping center where the bikes will be seen by non-enthusiasts and enthusiasts alike. I can't help but wonder if doing that in the "developed" countries would increase the awareness and appeal of bikes among the general public there.

Suman M Subramanian
8th February, 2013 @ 03:04 pm PST

HD is indeed an interesting company. IMHO they are kind of like a designer clothing brand for people who who want to show they can afford designer clothing but refuse to be seen wearing traditional designer labels.

The downside is no guy with a bunch of HD clothing has a right to pick on his wife's expensive purse :)

Diachi
10th February, 2013 @ 12:02 am PST

On a trip to Shanghai I was struck by how quiet the motor scooter were until I realized that 99% of them were electric. Far easier to find an electrical outlet to recharge the battery of such a scooter than to find a gas station and these have far fewer parts so are cheaper to manufacturer, cheaper to buy, and far cheaper to maintain.

With their 200mph bullet trains and separate roadways for scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians, Shanghai puts every US city to shame with our antiquated 1920's level transportation system. It takes as long to go from Boston to Washington DC toay as it did in the 1930's. How's that for progress. Our transportation systems are designed to maximize profits for real estate, construction, auto, and oil companies and their owners, and not to promote efficiently and cost effectively moving people around the country. Looking at Asian and European governments it is clear that private enterprise fails when it comes to this task.

Calson
11th February, 2013 @ 09:41 am PST

Thx for a well written article..

Einar Gregorios
11th February, 2013 @ 10:09 am PST

In 1988 I was required to use a mobile phone (A large brick in a box thing) in traffic, the experience aggravated me so much that even then I could see the dangers inherent with phone use while driving, the situation is even worse today with so many more vehicles on the road. Personally I have always felt that it should be outlawed, here in Australia it is but you can always tell when someone is doing it....they're the ones driving erratically.

@Diachi, I don't pick on my wife's handbag.....when we go out she carries my stuff in it, and if I did pick on it she'd just hit me with it anyway...

Anthony N Di Wood
11th February, 2013 @ 12:25 pm PST

What an excellent article - so solidly documented that it's as exciting to read as a history of motorcycle famous brands or an essay on socio-economics of the day !

Thanks a lot Mike.

tvtchen
11th February, 2013 @ 08:49 pm PST
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