Ride Review: 2016 MV Agusta Brutale 800

It seemed when MV Agusta debuted only a solitary machine at the 2015 EICMA show, the MV Agusta Brutale 800, with less power, more weight, and subtle design revision, that the Varese-based company had taken a step backwards from its forward progress. Now that we have had the opportunity to ride the machine in Málaga, Spain – we can see that is not the case. The new Brutale 800 signals an elevation of MV Agusta, from a brand with a shiny veneer and little beneath the surface, to a motorcycle company that can not only tug on the heartstrings of our moto-lust, but can also pique our more reasonable senses into seeing the substance beyond the glossy paint and subtle lines. Quite simply put, the 2016 MV Agusta Brutale 800 is the best machine to come from Varese.

Opinion: Why the Rossi vs. Marquez Controversy Isn’t Going Away in MotoGP, Any Time Soon

If the Movistar Yamaha launch at Barcelona made one thing clear, it is that the feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez will be just as bitter in 2016 as it was in 2015. In Barcelona, Rossi once again repeated the litany of charges he leveled against Marc Márquez at the end of last season. Márquez had decided early in the season he would try to stop Rossi from winning the title, had played with Rossi at Phillip Island, done far worse at Sepang, then stayed behind Lorenzo at Valencia to hand him the title. For Valentino Rossi, nothing has changed since Valencia 2015.

Ducati draXter Concept Debuts in Verona

Ducati is at this year’s Motor Bike Expo in Verona, and it has a bevy of concepts and customs it wants to show the world. The Italian brand’s trio of Sixty2 Scrambler concepts didn’t really spark our engine, but the Ducati draXter Concept is certainly of note and worthy of further scrutiny. The Ducati XDiavel was Bologna’s big reveal at EICMA this year, and while the cruiser model wasn’t our cup of tea, we might have to change our tune with this decked-out version of the machine. Ducati says that the draXter model interprets the XDiavel from a “sports” point-of-view, and the modifications made to the machine certainly do a good job of connoting a bike that leaps from the line.

KTM Made Over €1 Billion in Revenue in 2015

To put it succinctly, KTM is crushing it. In 2015, the Austrian company posted another banner year, which is nothing terribly new from a European motorcycle brand; but in just a few five short years, KTM has addd over 100,000 motorcycles to its volume of production. As such, the Austrian sold 180,801 KTM and Husqvarna motorcycles in 2015, making €1.02 billion in the process. This is a 14% increase over KTM’s sales in 2014, a 18% increase in revenue, and a 26% in income (€95 million, EBIT). This also makes 2015 the first time that KTM has exceeded a billion euros in revenue, and the fifth year in a row that KTM sales have increased. According to KTM, this makes them the fastest growing motorcycle company in the world.

The 2016 Yamaha YZF-R1 Is Ready for WSBK Duty

Yamaha is headed back to the World Superbike paddock, and it is not taking any half-measures in doing so. As such, the Japanese manufacturer has retained the talents of Sylvain Guintoli (World Superbike Champion, 2014) and Alex Lowes (British Superbike Champion, 2013), with the highly regarded Crescent Racing running the factory-backed team. Officially debuting the team today in Spain, along with Yamaha’s other racing programs, the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team should be a potent package for the pinnacle of production motorcycle racing, and we expect strong results from them, right off the bat. This is because the new Yamaha YZF-R1 had an entire year of honing at the national level.

Super Hi-Res Photos of the 2016 Yamaha YZR-M1

Debuting today in Spain, the Yamaha Racing factory MotoGP team took the wraps up the 2016 Yamaha YZR-M1 race bike, and debuted its team, which features riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Seemingly, not much has changed to the Yamaha YZR-M1, though the bike now features 17″ wheels and Michelin tires. Yamaha’s spec-sheet (full listing, after the jump) is sparse on specifics as usual, and thus is vague on its details – horsepower is listed simply as “over 240hp” for instance. Indeed, most of the changes to the Yamaha YZR-M1 reside beneath the fairings, with perhaps the most important changes coming to the M1’s ECU, which is now a spec Magneti Marelli unit that runs the unified team software.

Is Honda Preparing a Major Engine Upgrade for 2016?

It is no secret that Honda are struggling with the engine for the RC213V MotoGP. HRC have been making the engine ever more aggressive for the past three years, but in 2015, they finally went too far. The power delivery of the RC213V was too difficult to contain, even with Honda’s electronics, and HRC suffered their worst season in MotoGP since 2010. Things had not been looking much better for 2016 either. The engine Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez tested at Valencia and Jerez last November was at best a marginal improvement, with a bit more power at the bottom end, but still delivered in a very aggressive manner. Added to this, HRC have had problems with the new unified software which is compulsory for 2016.

Ducati Sold 54,800 Bikes in 2015 – Another Record

As expected from earlier sales reports, Ducati Motor Holding is posting a banner year for 2015. The Italian motorcycle maker says that it sold 54,800 bikes last year, a 9,683 unit (+22%) increase over the number of bikes sold in 2014. Helping break the 50,000 units barrier, the Ducati Scrambler line accounted for virtually all of Ducati’s sales growth in 2015, with over 16,000 Scrambler models sold worldwide. As we have reported before, this paints an interesting picture of what is going on behind Borgo Panigale’s walls. At a national level, we already saw the report that Ducati was on track for strong growth in the USA last year. Ducati now reports that Ducati grew by 14% in the USA for 2015. In Europe though, sales were even stronger, with the Italian market up 53%, the UK up 37%, Germany up 24%, and France up 22%.

Erik Buell Racing Sold at Third Auction, Will Live On Again

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet today. Much like the spirit of its riders, Erik Buell Racing refuses to go quietly into that good night. After two failed receivership auctions, the brand has now been acquired for $2.05 million via a third auction held Wednesday, and seems set for another revival. The winning party of this latest auction is the same winner from the second auction, Liquid Asset Partners – the same company that liquidated Buell Motorcycles when it was shutdown by Harley-Davidson, which makes for some interesting trivia. Walworth County Circuit Judge Phillip Koss approved the winning bid today, despite a similar bid from Bruce Belfer, the first auction winner.

A Turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa Really Should Happen

I have been trying to avoid this story, mostly because I think it is a pipe dream concocted from a dubious source, but the word circulating through the interwebs is that Suzuki is working on a turbocharged Hayabusa motorcycle, in the 1,500cc territory, for the 2017 model year. While we are not confident about this exact rumor, we know two things for certain: 1) that Suzuki is finally ready to breathe some life into the GSX-R line; and 2) that the Suzuki GSX-1300R Hayabusa is in desperate need of an update. The first of the new GSX-R sport bikes is the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike, though we can expect to see all-new iterations of the GSX-R600 and GSX-R750. There is even word of a GSX-R250/300 in the works.

Video: Indian Motorcycle – The Spirit of Munro

07/09/2013 @ 5:15 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

Indian Spirit of Munro, Daytona, FL, March 2013

Indian’s war machine continues to gain momentum, and the challenger to Harley-Davidson’s throne continues to impress. A new video comes our way, this time building on the heritage of the American brand through Burt Munro. One of just many stories around the historic marques, it probably helps that Burt Munro’s name was vaulted into the public consciousness by Hollywood’s The World’s Fastest Indian.

Building an all-metal tribute to Munro’s streamliner, we can find a few flaws that gnaw away at us as we watch this otherwise perfect video campaign (salt veterans know what we’re talking about). Still, Indian is bringing a good fight to Harley-Davidson’s doorstop with marketing promos like these. If you are in the legacy cruiser market, you might have a tougher decisions to make than usual when picking a favorite ride.

Up For Grabs: Half of the American Motorcycle Industry

06/27/2013 @ 7:06 pm, by Jensen Beeler37 COMMENTS

It is a fact that isn’t often discussed in the motorcycle industry, but roughly 50% of all on-road motorcycles sold in the United States come from a little company called Harley-Davidson. In 2012 for instance, the Bar & Shield brand sold 161,678 units here in the US, while for the same year the MIC reports 318,105 on-road units were sold nationwide, across all manufacturers.

In a way, the statistic is unfair. A cynical observer would say that Harley-Davidison is in the t-shirts, beanies, and trinkets business…and also happens to sell motorcycles as well. The more accurate critique is that Harley-Davidson sells a carefully curated lifestyle to its owners. A turnkey admittance to Club Cool and a subculture that breaks out of the doldrums of the suburban lifestyle.

You can hate the twenty-something flavors of the same machine that Harley-Davidson panders to dentists and accountants, and you can call the company’s products a number of nasty names, but the simple truth is that they sell, and even when sales aren’t that good, they still sell well. In 2011, the low-point in Harley-Davidson’s five-year sales tailspin, the Milwaukee company still accounted for 48% of on-road motorcycles sold in the US. Chewy.

It is easy to be critical of Harley-Davidson, and there are plenty of things to be critical about (I have had no problem in the past talking about the company’s greatest challenges), but one cannot deny the fact that if Harley-Davidson is responsible for the lion’s share of what we call in passing the motorcycle industry. For Polaris Industries CEO Scott Wine though, Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle dynasty is seen as a market opportunity, though a risky one.

Q&A: Claudio Domenicali Talks Frameless Chassis, Sacred Cows, & The Future for Ducati

05/06/2013 @ 11:04 am, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

claudio-domenicali

When I sat down with Claudio Domenicali at the Ducati 1199 Panigale R launch, the now-CEO of Ducati Motor Holding was still just the General Manager of the Italian motorcycle company. Four weeks after our interview though, Gabriele del Torchio would leave Ducati for Alitalia; and Domenicali, a 21-year veteran of both the racing and production departments of Ducati, would take his place at the top of Italy’s most prestigious motorcycle brand.

An engineer by education, I found Domenicali just as astute about the nuances of Ducati’s brand as he was skilled on the race track earlier in the day. Our conversation was brief compared to other interviews we have done here at Asphalt & Rubber, but we had time to talk about why the frameless chassis of the Panigale still works while the MotoGP program struggles, the links between Ducati and Ducati Corse, sacred cows for the Italian brand, and the company’s future direction.

Concise, yet insightful, the more I think about Domenicali’s unexpected succession of Del Torchio, the more I think he is the right man for the job. With all the worried talk about the possible “Germanification” of Ducati by its new owners Audi, the German automaker has picked someone who is keenly aware of the importance of the company’s racing operations and heritage, and how that ties into the Ducati brand and what it means to Ducatisti around the world.

With all the internal and external changes that are occurring in the company, Ducati is currently in a state of flux with its new owners, new product lines, and new world-growth plans, and could easily lose its way as a brand, but I see Domenicali as an anchor for Ducati going forward. Greeted to his new job by the revving engines of his employees outside his office window, Domenicali to me now seems like the logical pick for Ducati’s new CEO. After reading our interview from Austin, Texas after the jump, I think you will agree too.

Consumer Reports: BMW & Harley-Davidson Motorcycles Are Less Reliable than Japanese OEMs

03/26/2013 @ 4:17 pm, by Jensen Beeler48 COMMENTS

motorcycle-repair-price-list

In its May issue, Consumer Reports dives into the topic of motorcycle reliability, and confirms what many of us already knew: bikes from BMW and Harley-Davidson were reported to be less reliable than those from the Japanese OEMs.

Interestingly enough however, BMW and Harley-Davidson owners were also far more likely to make a repeat-purchase with their chosen brand than were owners of Japanese motorcycles, sans those of Hondas, which scored just slightly lower than BMW and Harley-Davidson on customer retention.

Looking at customer complaints of “major” mechanical problems from the last four years, the report from over 4,000 motorcycle owners confirms the high-water mark set by the Japanese OEMs on motorcycle reliability, but also shows the power of good branding as it translates into brand loyalty and customer retention.

While Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha may be winning the minds of riders with their production prowess, they are losing the hearts of consumers, which is interesting since any salesman will tell you it is easier to keep a current customer, than to make a new one.

Harley-Davidson Gains 10% on the Interbrand 100

03/18/2013 @ 3:40 pm, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

harley-davidson-interbrand-100

Something we missed when it was published, Harley-Davidson has remained on the 2012 Interbrand 100, and even made a 10% gain in value according to Interbrand’s brand valuation. The 76th most valuable brand worldwide in 2009, Harley-Davidson fell to 98th on the list in 2010, and threatened to fall off this list in 2011 when it was ranked as the 100th most valuable brand.

For 2012 however, Harley-Davidson’s brand value seems to mimic its unit sales, finding its rock-bottom value and then making some gains with the slowly recovering economy. After getting a 10% boost in brand value over its 2011 figure, Harley-Davidson ranks 96th amongst the world’s most valuable brands — a far cry from its position several years ago, but a step in the right direction for the venerable motorcycle brand.

Matchless Brand Sold & Set for Comeback

12/04/2012 @ 10:17 am, by Jensen Beeler14 COMMENTS

One of the oldest motorcycle brands in the world has changed hands, yet again, as the British marque Matchless has reportedly been sold. Changing hands from Greek to Italian ownership, the Matchless brand is now in the hands of Franco Malenotti, of Belstaff apparel fame.

Hoping to revitalize the motorcycle brand in a similar way as he did with Belstaff, Malenotti plans at first to build a limited production series of motorcycles, which will draw their inspiration from the G80, Silver Hawk, and Silver Arrow designs.

Vaporware: MV Agusta F3 USA Delivery Pushed Back…Again

06/07/2012 @ 12:02 pm, by Jensen Beeler23 COMMENTS

I will be honest about my ego, I like being right…but that doesn’t mean that sometimes I wish I was wrong, and such is the case with the delivery date of the beautiful MV Agusta F3 Serie Oro. It is hard to believe that we first saw the MV Agusta F3 break cover back in October 2010, with the Italian company’s three-cylindered supersport being spied and rumored well before even that date, as far back as 2009. Then breaking the hearts of many Italian motorcycle fans, MV Agusta announced that the F3 would not be a 2011 model year bike.

Having issues getting its parts suppliers to deal with a company with a horrible credit record, pricing of the MV Agusta F3 quickly rose from $9,000, to $10,000, and then finally to $13,495 MSRP (Note: All US bikes will comes with a quick-shifter, pushing the MSRP now to $13,995). This of course would not be the price for the limited edition MV Agusta F3 Serie Oro, which was set to sell ahead of the base model. At $27,900 MSRP, the “gold series” F3 has been operating on a similar sliding scale as the price tag of the base model, as the delivery date of the bike was first pushed back from March, to May, and now is set for early July. But wait, there’s more.

No Sub-800cc Motorcycle for India? Why Harley-Davidson Doesn’t Understand Emerging Markets

06/02/2012 @ 7:38 am, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Regular readers of Asphalt & Rubber will have noticed by now that I like to talk about what is going on with motorcycling in emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, etc. The fact of the matter is that it is these markets, not North America or Europe, that are going to serve as the future for the motorcycle industry, and the sooner us westerners get used to that idea, the better. For an industry built around and defined by the rebellious archetypes portrayed by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, the reality is that motorcyclists as a whole are conservative by nature, and resistant to change…especially in the United States.

We like our bikes loud, our helmets off, and bikes built by real blue-collar ‘mericans. Our skin prickles at the thought of manufacturing outside the borders of our blessed Union, and every time a company opens a factory in India, Southeast Asia, or South America, we talk about the outsourcing of American labor, the downfall of our economy, or something equally hyperbolic.

This has been the same broken record that has been played for the better part of the past 100 years, and has re-manifests itself each decade to address the next perceived threat to our domestic economy. While there is much to say about the shifting of America’s GDP from manufacturing to service industries, the real germane subject for discussion here centers around the idea that all too often Chicken Little rears his head when an American company opens a factory outside of the United States.

Such is the case with Harley-Davidson, which setup manufacturing in India back in 2011. Contrary to belief that the sky was falling, the Bar & Shield brand was not getting ready to massively outsource its production abroad (though it was heavily re-negotiating with its unionized labor force), but instead very deliberately and wisely chose to bypass India’s extraordinarily high tariffs by building and assembling its Indian market bikes locally. This move allowed Harley-Davidson to competitively and reasonably price its motorcycle in the Indian market, which in turn helped the brand expand its presence in one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world.

While this plan so far has proved to be fruitful for Harley-Davidson, the recent news that Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash has confirmed that H-D will not be making a sub-800cc bike specifically for the Indian market shows a misstep for Harley-Davidson with its international strategy, especially as it pertains to the major growth markets for motorcycling.

Willie G. Davidson Retires from Harley-Davidson

03/16/2012 @ 6:18 pm, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

Grandson to William A. Davidson, one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, and son to William H. Davidson, Harley-Davidson’s second President, Willie G. Davidson is the personification of the Harley-Davidson brand as we know it, and has been the personal link between Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners and the corporate entity.

Both literally and figuratively the brand’s goodwill ambassador, Willie G. has spent the past 49 years helping forge the iconic brand of Harley-Davidson, and has defined the Harley-Davidson aesthetic by serving as the company’s Chief Styling Officer.

Announcing his retirement today in a company press release, Willie G. will stay on as an ambassador of sorts, and also retain the title Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, though his day-to-day duties at the Bar & Shield brand will be over, effective April 30th, 2012.

Why Today is the Most Important Day for Ducati…Ever

01/24/2012 @ 4:13 pm, by Jensen Beeler33 COMMENTS

The first Ducati 1199 Panigale rolled off the assembly line at Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory today, officially starting production of the Italian company’s flagship model. While maybe the the production of the first Panigale is not the most newsworthy of subjects, make no mistake at how important this motorcycle is for both Ducati and sport bikes in general going into the future. Featuring a new step in production motorcycle chassis design, we’ve also already talked at length about the number of firsts that the 1199 Panigale is bringing to the production motorcycle market.

With a hybrid chain/gear-driven camshaft, titanium valves, a wet slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, rider-selectable “riding mode” system, and 15,000 mile major service intervals, the Superquadro v-twin motor alone is a major step for Ducati with its Superbike engine design. And, if you add in the first full-LED headlight on a produciton motorcycle, the first electronically-adjustable suspension on a sport bike, the first motorcycle engine braking control system, as well as the first GPS-assisted data acquisition system for a production motorcycle, the total package of the 1199 redefines the word “superbike” and takes the next logical technological step forward in this market segment.

However features aside, what will truly be the most important aspect of the Ducati 1199 Panigale is whether or not the flagship model can live up to the hype that has been generated around the machine. While most of the attention to-date regarding the Panigale has centered on whether Ducati’s monocoque chassis design can work on the production motorcycle, after it has failed so miserably in MotoGP, the real issue for the Italian brand has nothing at all to do with the 1199’s race track prowess.