Not-A-Review: 2015 MV Agusta Motorcycles

As promised, here is the second part of our trip down to Fontana, California to meet with MV Agusta USA, go over the company’s new business plan for not only America, but also worldwide, and to ride the current crop of their 2015 machinery. I should preface right out of the gate that this is not a review in regards as to what you’ve come to expect from Asphalt & Rubber. I am not-so-cleverly calling this a “not-a-review” assessment of MV Agusta’s 2015 models. I say this because we had a very limited amount of time on each bike, as there was roughly 10 machines to divide our attention amongst. Think of this article as not far from someone test riding a bunch of motorcycles at a dealership, with similar duration and limits put in place…except that this someone rides motorcycles for a living.

Analyzing The Ducati Desmosedici GP15

Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati’s 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: “Emozionante” and “tanto lavoro”. Both were extremely apt. Getting from where Ducati was to where it is now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed “tanto lavoro”, a lot of hard work, and they still have “tanto lavoro” ahead of them. The results were “emozionante”, a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday. For good reason, the GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before.

Some Thoughts on MV Agusta & A Story About Two Letters

MV Agusta USA recently invited a slew of journalists down to Fontana, California in order to talk about the company’s new business plan, and to ride its current lineup of motorcycles on the infield course. This article is “Part 1″ of that experience, as I wanted to separate my thoughts on MV Agusta, MV Agusta USA, and the general motorcycling climate into one story, and then have my “not-a-review” of the machines for another article. Got it? Ok, let’s go. It is probably easiest to start with where MV Agusta is as a company. MV Agusta has a started a new three-year business plan, which sees the company pushing into a full-range of motorcycles, pushing outside of its Italian boundaries, and pushing out of the “luxury” brand segment.

Photos: Ducati Desmosedici GP15

The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is a machine that has been long in the making. It represents Gigi Dall’Igna’s next step forward for the wayward Ducati Corse MotoGP team, and it is the dubious honor of holding the hopes of Ducati fans around the world, who see the machine as the silver bullet that will return Ducati to the forefront of racing prowess — no pressure. The most obvious change that can be seen on the GP15 is the re-routing of the exhaust, with the undertail pipes collecting on the right-hand side of the machine, rather than coming in from both sides and meeting in the middle. Can you spot any other changes in the high-resolution photos after the jump? Let us know in the comments.

Politics & Corruption: Why There Isn’t a Race in Indonesia

If anyone needed any further proof that Indonesia is important to the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the fact the Repsol Honda team chose Bali as the location to launch their 2015 MotoGP project should remove any doubt. But if Indonesia is so important to the manufacturers, and to MotoGP, why is there not a race there? Over the course of the MotoGP test at Sepang, I had a few conversations with people on the subject. On the record, the story was always the same: we need a suitable track, and as soon as one exists we will be happy to go there. Off the record, however, they were much less optimistic.

A Requiem for Kenji Ekuan & The Kando of GK Design

Industrial design is not a commonly known, much less well understood, profession. To some it suggests arranging equipment inside factories, to others it means some kind of product engineering. In reality it is the search for, and expression of, human satisfaction in inanimate objects that are mass produced. That’s quite a mouthful, and to the average person it may sound like jiberish written for some pretentious coffee table book, but it is the truth. At least, it is one version of the truth as seen by the GK Design Group of Tokyo, Japan. If you ride motorcycles, then you are intimately familiar with the work of this large and internationally respected studio. Since only its second production bike, the indigenously designed YA-1, every Yamaha motorcycle since 1958 has been crafted by GK.

Are You The MV Agusta F4 RC?

What look to be official photos of the MV Agusta F4 RC have leaked out onto the internet, along with a slide from MV Agusta’s media presentation on the machine. The photos give us our first glimpse into Varese’s homologation special, complete with a special two-can exhaust by Termignoni. The leaked slide confirms some of the numbers being thrown around about the F4 RC, namely that it will have 212hp, 81.86 lbs•ft of torque, weigh 175kg dry, and cost €36,900 (we already know that the MV Agusta F4 RC will cost $46,000 in the USA). Information from a leaked slide last year has already told us that MV Agusta has radically overhauled the F4 RC’s engine, designing a new cylinder heard, new crankshaft, new camshaft, as well as adding bigger fuel injectors, lighter pistons, and titanium connecting rods.

Kenji Ekuan, Designer of the Yamaha VMAX Has Died

Mainstream news is mourning the death of Kenji Ekuan today, as the 85-year-old Japanese industrial designer is one of the most influential artists in Japan’s modern era, and is most well-known for his designing of the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce bottle. Ekuan’s lesser-known works though include a number of motorcycle designs for Yamaha, including the now 30-year-old Yamaha VMAX motorcycle, which makes his passing even more meaningful to motorcyclists around the world. Kenji Ekuan founded GK Industrial Design after WWII, and his company helped shape the way Japan rebuilt itself after the world war.

Ride Review: KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Despite its huge dimensions, not to mention a 30 liter fuel tank, the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure never looks big or bulky. In fact, it is only when you mount the hard luggage that you can tell this bike can really cover long distances. Apart from a dorky little exposed wire from the heated grips near the throttle, the fit and finish is very high-end, especially the integrated curved lighting in the tank — it is quite a sight. At first glance the Super Adventure doesn’t have the massive personality and stance of its German rival, the BMW R1200GS Adventure, but that is in part due to the white color scheme and the absence of the typical beak as a front mudguard. KTM is going about things differently, and that is something that appeals to many riders…including us.

Yamaha VMAX Carbon – Celebrating 30 Years of VMAX

It is hard to believe that the venerable Yamaha VMAX has been around for 30 years (it is even harder to believe that the VMAX has only seen one design revision in that timeframe as well), and so Yamaha is bringing out a special edition model to celebrate this special motorcycle. The 2015 Yamaha VMAX Carbon is exactly as the name implies: a VMAX drag bike laden with lightweight carbon fiber. In total, the VMAX Carbon’s tank cover, front and rear fenders, and side covers are all made from carbon fiber. Yamaha has teamed up with Akrapovic as well, and as such the Slovenian company’s slip-on mufflers complete the exhaust system and the changes to this beastly drag bike.

Matt Levatich Named The New CEO of Harley-Davidson

02/04/2015 @ 9:25 pm, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

Matt-Levatich

In a surprise press release late-today, Harley-Davidson announced that Matt Levatich will be taking over as the company’s CEO, starting May 1, 2015. Levatich will replace current CEO Keith Wandell, who took on his role in the company on May 1, 2009 — in the middle of the great economic recession.

The news is perhaps less shocking to industry insiders and analysts, who are familiar with the reasons behind Wandell’s tenure as CEO, and where Harley-Davidson stands today.

For sometime now we have been wondering when Harley-Davidson would initiate the next phase of its business plan, and whether Wandell would be a part of the company going forward.

As the symmetry of the tenure shows, today’s news is also a tip by Harley-Davidson that the swap in CEOs is due more to a new company direction than a reflection on performance.

Tradition Is Not A Business Model: Mission Motors

10/27/2009 @ 7:10 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

When is a motorcycle more than a bike? When does the electric motorcycle become more than a powertrain? One of the largest hurdles that electric motorcycles face (along with electric vehicles as a whole) is the public notion that these vehicles are like their internal combustion counterparts, and therefore fit into the same preconceived anatomy of what a motorcycle should look and behave like.

However, with electric motorcycles comes the opportunity to start with a fresh slate on how we move about on two-wheels. If form follows function, then with this new function should come a new form. Yet, I still find it amusing when I see electric motorcycles with fabricated fairing fuel tanks. Granted there is a lot to be said about industrial design and its relation to psychology, but I think this fact illustrates the unfluctuating desire of motorcyclists to make every square bike fit through a round-hole.

Despite this allegory, the motorcycle industry sees electric motorcycle startups challenging a lot of norms that we still cling to desperately in the motorcycle industry. Our final stop in the “Tradition Is Not A Business Model” tour of motorcycle startups, takes us to San Francisco, California and the offices of Mission Motors. Fresh on the heels of Mission’s announcement of the Neimen Marcus Limited Edition Mission One, I got a chance to sit down with company CEO/Founder Forrest North and Product Manager Jeremy Cleland, to talk about how technology changes the way we understand and use motorcycles; and perhaps more important, how manufacturers can design and build better motorcycles better in the future.

Tradition Is Not A Business Model: MotoCzysz

10/20/2009 @ 11:09 pm, by Jensen Beeler21 COMMENTS

Today I want to broach the subject of what it means to be not only a motorcycle startup, but what it means to be an American motorcycle startup. For a majority of our readers, the concept of American motorcycling is something that we have understood since our days as children. No matter how you came to this industry/sport/lifestyle, as a reader of A&R you no doubt have a strong personal compass of what is means to be an American motorcyclist, and it is something that you touch and understand on a daily basis.

The business side of this understanding is less straight-forward though. It is one thing to identify personally with what makes an American motorcycle, but it is a very different exercise to build a product that evokes that same emotion to the mass consumer. This concept becomes even more relevant today, as the motorcycle industry is still recovering from the news of Buell’s closure and Harley-Davidson’s drastic measures to stay afloat. With no precognition of this impending news, I headed to Portland, Oregon to talk to Michael Czysz, CEO of auto-biographically named MotoCzsyz. Czysz’s journey presents a unique story about a company that has twice attempted to create an American-bred sportbike, and as such is the appropriate company in which to frame our topic about what it means to be an American motorcycle startup.

Tradition Is Not A Business Model: Brammo

10/11/2009 @ 2:25 pm, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

A problem derived using game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma was first put forth by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher. Adapted over time, the classical prisoner’s dilemma goes like this:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

Making the most rational decision, and acting solely for themselves, the best option for both prisoners is to defect. Under any circumstance, betraying their partner by ratting them out will generate the best possible aggregate result for the prisoner. However, because the choice to defect is both prisoners’s best move, it assures that the outcome will be a 5-year sentence for both of them.

Flood and Dresher’s problem illustrates the challenges involved in acting beyond one’s own personal gain, choosing instead to act for the good of the group. If everyone acted in this non-selfish manner, the group would thrive more richly than it would acting solely in their own individual best interest. But, because of the issue of free-riders, and as this game theory problem illustrates, there are significant hurdles that must be overcome in order to achieve these non-self-serving results.

One of the biggest challenges facing electric motorcycle manufacturers comes in the form of customer education. These companies must wrestle with not only how they convert current internal combustion engine (ICE) motorcyclists to electric motorcycles, but also how they will bring current non-motorcyclists into the industry. Not an easy task to begin with, the problem is compounded by the nearly non-existent marketing budgets these companies operate on. There is no question that there is a need to putt forth the argument for electric motorcycles in the industry, but with making that case comes a marketing decision that exemplifies our Prisoner’s Dilemma problem.

Who will take on the burden and challenge of educating an industry centered around the internal combustion engine, when doing so surely means a great investment in capital and resources, and also when the desired affect will bring no exclusive benefit to the company? That is to say, what company is going to take the time and money to begin changing the way motorcyclists think about motorcycles, and develop a market for electrics, when the return on that investment helps them just as much as it helps their competitor?

Tradition Is Not A Business Model: Zero Motorcycles

10/05/2009 @ 3:32 am, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

Walking into the office of a company is always an interesting experience. For a company, the work place is the first expression of the company’s culture. Similarly, workspaces are often a reflection of the people that work inside them, an occupational rorschach test if you will. Yet, despite its importance and revealing nature, a company headquarters is rarely experienced by the end-consumer. It is an interesting disparity that occurs in every industry, and the electric motorcycle scene is no different.

Tradition Is Not A Business Model

09/28/2009 @ 2:58 am, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

In my last year of business school I had to write a business plan in order to officially obtain a concentration in Corporate Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This was before the complete global economic meltdown, and entrepreneurship was still very much a dirty word in the hallowed walls of our MBA program. Many of my classmates were hoping for Wall Street jobs, and the class all-stars were all vying for jobs at the hottest hedge funds, so the idea of starting a company that would likely pay a negative paycheck in its first couple years was very much a foreign concept. It comes as no surprise then that only four or five business plans were submitted for consideration for the course concentration; one of which was mine, entitled Tradition is Not a Business Model – An American Sportbike Business Plan.

In this article, and its subsequent series of articles, I hope to re-examine what it means to start a motorcycle company in the United States. While my original business plan centered around the concept of a traditional motorcycle with an internal combustion engine, this series of articles will instead take the opportunity to look into corporate innovation in the motorcycle industry, through the lens of the newly formed electric motorcycle sector. In what I hope will become a weekly conversation on business in the motorcycle industry, we begin our discussion first with the perspectives of four entrepreneurs, which you’ll see in the coming Sunday Editions of Asphalt & Rubber.