At the AMA Supermoto Season-Opener in Bakersfield

It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.

The WorldSBK Season So Far: Yamaha & Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

Norton Gets £3 Million to Increase V4 Production

If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.

Is The 2018 BMW HP4 Race About to Debut in China?

After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.

Vyrus 986 M2 Street Bike Now Priced at €38,000

It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.

You Didn’t Know You Missed It, But the Honda NM4 Is Back

You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.

US Senate Establishes Motorcycle Caucus

The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.

Husqvarna Two-Strokes Get Fuel-Injection Too

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

Preview of the German GP: Honda, Seven Times Lucky?

07/14/2016 @ 9:37 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the German GP: Honda, Seven Times Lucky?

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If there is such a thing as a Honda track, then the Sachsenring is surely it. Of the nineteen premier class races held at the tight, tortuous circuit, Honda have won twelve.

That includes the last six races in a row: From 2010 through 2012, nobody could touch Dani Pedrosa around the circuit. From 2013 onwards, Marc Márquez has been unbeatable at the track.

What makes the Sachsenring such a Honda track? Maybe it’s the two key braking points at the circuit, going into Turn 1, and at the bottom of the hill for Turn 12.

Maybe it’s the ability to use the Honda horsepower going up the hill out of the final corner, across the line and into Turn 1. Or maybe it’s the tight corners, the Honda always a strong bike in turning.

The Sachsenring circuit is invariably described in disparaging terms – “Mickey Mouse”, “a go-kart track” – but that does not do the track justice. It may not challenge the bikes in terms of horsepower, but it demands an awful lot of the riders.

From the moment they arrive at the end of the short, uphill front straight, brake hard for the sharp right-hander of Turn 1, and pitch it into the corner, the bike barely leaves the edge of the tire until the plunge down the Waterfall after Turn 11.

There is a brief moment of respite between Turns 7 and 8, before heeling the bike over again for another series of lefts going up the hill to the circuit’s crowning glory.

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MotoGP: Aleix Espargaro Signs Two-Year Deal with Aprilia

06/27/2016 @ 1:18 am, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP: Aleix Espargaro Signs Two-Year Deal with Aprilia

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The last of the factory seats has been officially filled. Today, the Gresini Aprilia team announced that Aleix Espargaro will be joining Sam Lowes at Aprilia for the next two seasons.

The announcement did not come as a surprise. Rumors had emerged at Barcelona that Espargaro would be going to Aprilia, Espargaro telling the media on Friday that he had already signed a contract, but that he was unable to announce who with.

Espargaro’s signing leaves both Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista out of a job.

Bautista is expected to sign with the Aspar Ducati team for 2017, where he is likely to partner with Eugene Laverty, while Stefan Bradl is being linked to several rides in the World Superbike paddock.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Assen: On Weather, Deceptive Race Pace, And Rules & Regulations

06/25/2016 @ 12:06 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The disadvantage of reporting on your home race is that during the media debriefs, the period when riders speak to the press, they turn to you and ask, “So what’s the weather going to do?”

Living in The Netherlands, Assen is my home race, and so this weekend, it is me they are asking about the weather. There is only one honest answer I can give them. “This is Assen. Anything can happen.”

The weather has been a constant topic of discussion. Weather apps and weather websites have been compared, and each of them says something different. Some say it will only rain heavily on Sunday. Others say Sunday will be dry, and the rain will fall on Saturday.

Check another site, and it says rain overnight, but only heavy clouds during the day, with the risk of rain at a minimum. Which site to believe? This is Assen. Anything can happen.

There was a sense of nervousness in both FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Riders pushed late to chase a lap good enough to put them into the top ten, and automatic entry into Q2.

Some, like Bradley Smith, got their strategy wrong, went out on a hard rear tire instead of a medium, and ended up languishing down the order. Others, like Dani Pedrosa, were just having a dismal time. “No improvement from FP1 to FP2, no improvement on different tires, and no feeling with the bike.”

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Preview of the Dutch TT: Weird Weather, Tricky Tires, and Saving Italian Racing

06/23/2016 @ 8:04 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the Dutch TT: Weird Weather, Tricky Tires, and Saving Italian Racing

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So how does the first Dutch TT at Assen to be run following the normal Friday-to-Sunday schedule feel for the riders? It feels normal, is the consensus.

“I don’t think it makes a difference regarding the feeling,” Dani Pedrosa explained on Thursday. “Because when we were here on Wednesday, it felt like a Thursday, because the procedure is the same.”

The only downside about the switch from Saturday to Sunday? “The only good thing before was that when you finish the race, you still have the Sunday off! So when you return home, you had a good time with family on Sunday,” said Pedrosa. “I’m going to miss my Sunday roast!” added Bradley Smith.

Perhaps a more complex and sensitive loss was the fact that the Assen round of MotoGP now clashes directly with the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Bradley Smith bemoaned the fact that he would not be able to attend the festivities on Sunday, nor the traditional dinner on Saturday night.

The damage this clash does could be small but significant in the long run. Though motorcycles are given a lot of attention at Goodwood, it is primarily an event focused on four wheels.

Having top MotoGP riders attend the event was good exposure for motorcycle racing, and MotoGP in particular. With Assen likely to clash frequently with Goodwood, the number of riders at the event is certain to diminish.

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MotoGP: Suzuki Signs Alex Rins to a Two-Year Deal

06/20/2016 @ 8:07 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The next piece in the puzzle which is the 2017 MotoGP grid has fallen into place. As had been widely expected, Alex Rins has signed a two-year deal to race with the factory Ecstar Suzuki team from next year. Rins will line up alongside Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki GSX-RR next season.

Rins had long been favorite to take the second seat at Suzuki, as his profile best suited the Ecstar Suzuki team’s strategy of having young rider with potential alongside a fast, more experienced rider to help lead development.

When Maverick Viñales left for the Movistar Yamaha team, Rins was the name most touted to take his place.

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MotoGP Silly Season Update: Zarco, Rins, & Espargaro

06/16/2016 @ 12:18 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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While Johann Zarco is out in Japan, testing the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, the 2017 MotoGP rider line up is starting to solidify further. Ironically, it is looking like Johann Zarco will not be the rider that Suzuki selects to pilot its factory MotoGP bike alongside Andrea Iannone.

Team boss Davide Brivio is in Japan, along with the test team, to finalize their plans for 2017. At Barcelona, Brivio admitted to us that he would be going to discuss Suzuki’s choice of rider for next year.

The Italian acknowledged that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins were under discussion, and though he declined to state a preference, he did say “It’s clear what our choice is.”

The announcement that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins will be in the pre-event press conference in Assen is a further sign that an announcement is imminent.

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Monday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: New Tires, New Chassis, Some Equivocation

06/07/2016 @ 1:36 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Monday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: New Tires, New Chassis, Some Equivocation

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On the day after the Barcelona MotoGP race, the entire grid bar the Aspar Ducatis were back at the track for a full day of testing. Conditions were ideal; so ideal that they perhaps a little confusing.

Though it was hot and dry, the fact that only MotoGP bikes are circulating and laying down Michelin rubber meant the track felt different to race day, when the MotoGP bikes have to follow Moto2, and cope with the Dunlop rubber the fat rear tires smear on the track.

The grip was also helped by the fact that Michelin had three new rear tires to test. They were three slightly different versions of construction of the current rear tire, using one of the compounds available for the race weekend.

The tires were well-received, everyone praising the added traction the tire offered. The only criticism offered was that they had a very short life, dropping off after two or three laps.

Michelin were pleased with the results of testing. The main aim of the new tires had been to proved extra traction, and that is what they had delivered. Michelin chief Nicolas Goubert was very satisfied.

“All three tires were better than the reference tires, so we just have to choose which one to make.” The tires were very much test items, used to gather data, and were to be taken away and examined back at the factory.

There, a decision would be taken on when and where the tires will be used. “Technically it’s possible to produce them for the next races, but we will analyze whether they are needed for the tracks we will be going to before the summer.”

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Preview of the Catalan GP: Great Tracks, Great Cities, And Teammates Reunited

06/03/2016 @ 4:11 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the Catalan GP: Great Tracks, Great Cities, And Teammates Reunited

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If there is an axis around which every MotoGP season revolves, it has to be the sparkling jewels in the crown at Mugello and Barcelona.

From the glory of the Tuscan circuit, all high-speed and rolling hills set just an hour down the road from the heart of Italian sports motorcycles, the circuits heads to the magnificent track at Montmeló, just outside Barcelona.

A stone’s throw away from the cradle of Spanish motorcycling, and with a third or so of the grid (and the paddock regulars) having been born within an hour’s drive, Barcelona is MotoGP’s true home race.

Like Mugello, it is a track worthy of MotoGP, where the big bikes can properly stretch their legs. A massive front straight, exhaust noise booming between the great wall of a grandstand, with a tricky right-left chicane at the end of it.

Lots of long fast corners, allowing differing lines and offering up chances to try to pass. A couple of hard braking sections with more opportunities to pass.

After the chicane at Turn 1 and 2, the next favorite passing spot is into Turn 5, a tight left hander. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can have a sniff at Turn 7, though that can leave you open at Turn 9.

Turn 10 is prime passing territory, a fast approach with a long downhill braking section, before you flick it left round a long, wide corner. Care is needed, though, as it is easy to lose the front on the greasy off-camber corner, or run wide when passing.

That allows the rider you just passed to come back underneath. If the pass does not stick there, all is not quite lost, but it will require every gram of skill and bravery you can muster. Passes are possible at the final corner, as Valentino Rossi so stunningly demonstrated in 2009, but they are far from easy.

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MotoGP Silly Season Update: Filling the Leftover Factory Seats & Satellite Speculation

06/01/2016 @ 11:37 am, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Silly Season Update: Filling the Leftover Factory Seats & Satellite Speculation

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In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP’s Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year.

Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away.

Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.

So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha.

Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would “definitely continue with this bike.” He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a “perfect” contract.

Suzuki, KTM, and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes’ seat at Aprilia was settled already two years ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018.

Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Mugello: Of Improbably Alliances, & Saving Italian Racing

05/21/2016 @ 8:12 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

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Every year at Mugello, Valentino Rossi and Italian designer Aldo Drudi come up with a special helmet design for Rossi’s helmet.

They vary in originality and ingenuity: my own personal favorite by far was the helmet from 2008, which featured Rossi’s face on the top, wide-eyed with the terror he felt braking for the first corner at San Donato, one of the highest speed approaches on the calendar.

Others have varied from the obscure and personal, to the entertaining or passionate. Most people have their own personal favorite, a few curmudgeons find the whole idea rather pointless.

Rossi’s helmet for this year, features a simple design, based on a pun in Italian. His AGV Pista GP helmet is yellow, featuring an outline of the Mugello circuit, and the word “MUGIALLO” around the front.

“Mugiallo” is a play on the words Mugello, the name of the circuit, and “giallo”, the Italian word for yellow. Rossi’s tribal color is yellow, his fans call themselves “Il popolo giallo”, or The Yellow People. The press release from Dainese described it as a tribute to the circuit, and to Rossi’s fans.

Is that what it means to Rossi himself, though? On Saturday, Rossi made his helmet look more like an act of appropriation than a tribute. Rossi’s searing qualifying lap laid bare his intentions: Valentino Rossi laid claim to the Mugello circuit. He came here to win.

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