Dispatches from Intermot 2008

We're here on the floor at Koelnmesse convention center in Cologne, Germany, site of the 2008 Intermot Motorcycle Fair-the world's largest exhibition of new motorcycles and motorcycle technology. Intermot is massive (more than 1100 exhibitors filling seven separate halls) and the distractions, including stunt shows, supermoto racing and, of course, hundreds of booth babes, are many. Still, we're ferreting out plenty of new motorcycle developments. Here are three of the bigger stories coming out of this year's event:

1.BMW S1000RR Superbike
Topping our list is BMW's all-new and extra-serious S1000RR Superbike, which debuted in race-ready form at Intermot. This is the first time the press and public have seen the machine in person, and it looks especially impressive in red, white and blue BMW race livery. Featuring a 1000cc inline-four housed in a twin-spar aluminum frame, with a telescopic fork and conventional rear end (no Duolever, Telelever or Paralever in sight), the tiny, light, traction control-equipped machine looked ready to grid up-especially with Spanish Superbike star Reuben Xaus, who will team with Australian Troy Corser in next year's World Superbike Championship, in the saddle. We had the opportunity to interview bike designer David Robb, as well as BMW Motorrad President Hendrik von Kuenheim, who told us the street-legal version-complete with traction control and optional ABS-would be revealed by spring of 2009. The Superbike wasn't the only big news from BMW-the company's other four-cylinder platform, the K-series, received a big upgrade for 2009 in the form of a larger-displacement, 1300cc engine. All three K models-the K1300R roadster, K1300S supersport and K1300GT sport-tourer-also received minor facelifts and-gasp!-conventional turn-signal controls!

2. Honda New V4 Concept
We know we weren't the only ones underwhelmed by Honda's 2009 new-bike lineup, led by two ABS-optional (but otherwise unchanged) CBRs and the Lost In Space-looking DN-01 mega-scooter. So we were somewhat surprised to enter Honda's display area and come face-to-face with this dramatic, CBR-influenced, V4 "powered" styling exercise. We can't even rightfully call it a concept bike, since it doesn't exactly have wheels, or even tires-just two body-colored wrap-around composite pods where the tires should be. It's undeniably striking, though, and shows that Honda is still dedicated to its signature V4 engine configuration that celebrates a 30-year anniversary in 2009. An extra bonus was the stunning collection of historic V4 racebikes that ringed the display, including Freddie Spencer's FWS1000, Carl Fogarty's RC30, John Kocinski's RC45 and Nicky Hayden's World Championship-winning RC211V. Does this mean there's (finally) a new VFR on the horizon? And what about the ever-rumored V5? Honda reps manning the display, of course, had no comment.

3. Electric Vehicles
The number-one topic of conversation at Intermot (like everywhere else) has been the present economic challenges. Every press conference we attended, from BMW to Husqvarna to Triumph, began with an acknowledgement of the current economic slowdown, and changes coming to the motorcycle industry. And you didn't need to look any farther than the show floor to find examples of these coming changes, in the form of efficient, alternative-powered commuter vehicles. Yamaha showed a quartet of electric, gas/electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell concept scooters. Hyosung highlighted a methanol fuel cell/electric mini-moto too, and the "Design Cafe" concept bike area was littered with electric and other-powered dream machines. On the real-world side of things, American electric scooter maker Vectrix (whose machines we've reviewed favorably in the magazine) had a strong presence, with an outdoor demo area where show attendees could ride Vectrix's highway-capable Maxi-Scooter. We also snuck a ride on a stylish (and completely silent) machine from German company E-Max, whose all-electric urban scooter offers the performance of a 50cc gas-powered machine in a zero-emissions package. With machines this good, and so many manufacturers working this hard, look for two-wheeled vehicles to become an even more important part of our transportation future.