Imagining the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 Supermoto

It is a tremendous shame that the options for a road legal supermoto for are so limited, with the venerable Suzuki DR-Z400SM being the only offering in the 450cc on-road class. For virtually a decade, Suzuki has left the DR-Z basically unchanged – as it has done with many of its sport models – so we would love to see Suzuki and other manufacturers give this space more attention (a hat tip to Husqvarna for bringing the track-only FS450 to market, long with the 701 Supermoto). Although you can wake-up the DR-Z400 with a few simple modification, and there are a bevy of aftermarket kits that can punch the 398cc machine out in size, what we really want from Suzuki is a proper 450cc street supermoto – one that doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s current strong motocross offering. So, when we saw this little bit of Photoshop work by the folks at the German Suzuki dealership of DSR-Suzuki, we got a little excited.

Honda & Hitachi Join Forces on Electric Vehicle Motors

News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.

US Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Close the EPA by 2018

A bill has been presented to the United States House of Representatives that would seek the closure of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) by 2018. Proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R – Florida), HB 861 will likely be a mixed bag for motorcycle enthusiasts, as it will deregulate environmental restrictions set at the federal level, leaving states to draft or adopt their own provisions, which will likely have a fracturing effect on the regulatory market for motorcycles. But, it will also mean the abolition of EPA regulations that many motorcyclists oppose, like the blending of ethanol in our fuel, and restrictions on noise, emissions, and vehicle modifications.

KTM Invests in Heads-Up Display Company NUVIZ

Heads-up display (HUD) company NUVIZ just took a strategic investment from Pierer Industrie AG, the company behind KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension, and others. Today’s news is quite a catch for the San Diego based technology startup, and it bodes well for NUVIZ to bring its heads-up display technology to market. As such, NUVIZ hopes to have a heads-up display unit and connected rider system available in the first half of 2017. NUVIZ has raised roughly $9 million to date, via equity and debt, and our sources tell us that KTM’s purchase into the company has contributed to the lions’s share of that amount – upwards of $5 million, along with a seat on NUVIZ’s board of directors.

Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team Debuts

In an airplane hangar in Austria, Honda’s World Superbike team unveiled its wings…that is to say, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team debuted in the energy drink’s Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg today. As the name implies, Red Bull will be the title sponsor for Nicky Hayden’s and Stefan Bradl’s World Superbike title bid this year, on the updated 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP2. This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the WorldSBK paddock, though the energy drink company’s livery can be seen on variety of bodywork throughout motorsport. “It’s a new year with a new bike, new title partner and new teammate, so there are definitely many changes ahead and a lot of things to look forward to,” said former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.

PJ Jacobsen Gives His First Impressions of MV Agusta

PJ Jacobsen will once again be the sole American representation in World Supersport this year. The New Yorker had his first taste of his MV Agusta F3 in the dry while at the Jerez test, and came away suitably impressed by the bike that has won eight races in the hands of Jules Cluzel in recent years. The 23-year-old tested the bike in Jerez last year in what was seen as a shootout for the ride, but on a damp track he didn’t get a real feel for the bike. “Today was my first day on the bike this year,” said Jacobsen. “I did half a day on the MV last November in Jerez, but it was half wet, half dry so today was good to get out there. It was fully dry so I learned a lot and I’m quite happy with it. The bike is totally different to what I’ve ridden in the past, but the team works really well and they’ve impressed me.”

Check Out the 2017 Honda RC213V

The MotoGP launch season is still upon us, and now that we have seen the teams and bikes from Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha – it is time for Honda to take the wraps off the team its campaigning for its title defense. Debuting the 2017 Honda RC213V at a press event in Indonesia, not much has changed outwardly for the 240+ horsepower GP bike, though there a subtle differences to be seen, if you look closely and compare it to last year’s bike. The Repsol Honda fairings cover the biggest change that we know of, as reports from the test tracks confirm that Honda is experimenting with a “big-bang like” firing order on its V4 engine, a change from the “screamer” configuration of last season, which was handful for Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to manage.

2016 Was A Very Good Year for Husqvarna

Last year proved to be a tough year for many brands, especially those with operations in the United States, but that wasn’t the case for Husqvarna. The rebooted Swedish brand is seeing good life while under its Austrian ownership. Making 2016 a very good year for Husqvarna, the brand is reporting a sales increase of a whopping 43% over 2015’s sales numbers. That is no small feat for Husqvarna, as 2015 was already a record year for the dirt-focuses brand, where it saw a 32% increase. Of course in many ways, up is the only direction Husqvarna can go, after its purchase by Pierer Industrie AG. Still, Husqvarna’s figure of 30,700 sold motorcycles in 2016 is a marked improvement from the near 10,000 units it was producing while part of BMW Motorrad.

2017 Suzuki GSX-RR Debuts in Malaysia

Debuting this weekend in Malaysia, the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has unveiled its team and livery for the 2017 season, which will see Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins riding the update Suzuki GSX-RR race bike. Suzuki has already shown that it has a bike capable of hunting for podiums; and on its best days, it can be a race-winner as well. For the 2017 season though, the Japanese brand hopes to build upon its success in 2016. As such, the ECSTAR Suzuki team has high hopes with the arrival Andrea Iannone, hoping that “Maniac Joe” can add some more wins to Suzuki’s tally. Looking long-term too, the addition of Alex Rins could be strong investment by Team Manager Davide Brivio, with Rins being one of Moto2’s top talents.

OEMs Are Trying to Block “Right to Repair” Laws

Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle. These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years. Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA.

Anthony Bucci Steps Aside as CEO of RevZilla

12/16/2016 @ 5:58 pm, by Jensen Beeler22 COMMENTS

You know him as “Hey it’s Anthony from RevZilla!” in the online motorcycle store’s popular videos on YouTube, but Anthony Bucci is also the CEO and Co-Founder of RevZilla, and is part of the reason why the nerds are taking over the motorcycle industry.

Today, RevZilla announced the departure of Bucci as its CEO, effective on January 13, 2017. After that point in time,  fellow RevZilla Co-Founder Matt Kull will take on the job as interim CEO, while RevZilla continues to look for a full-time replacement.

RevZillians shouldn’t worry too much about the leadership change though, as Bucci will continue his customer-facing activities with RevZilla, and he will also remain an integral part of RevZilla’s advisory team.

This announcement also doesn’t affect Bucci’s position on the Board of Directors for Comoto, the holding company that oversees both RevZilla and Cycle Gear.

The Great Motorcycle Buyer Divide

12/13/2016 @ 12:13 am, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

In my last A&R Pro article, I argued that the recently debuted and updated Honda Rebel was the most important new motorcycle that we have seen thus far for the 2017 model year.

That is a bold statement, as many pointed out, especially when you consider the bevy of intriguing new models that were unveiled at the various industry trade shows this year, and also considering the lack-luster product the outgoing Honda Rebel 250 proved to be for many.

In that story, the bulk of my argument was that motorcycling needs an affordable gateway for young and new riders to come into the industry, and with cruisers accounting for over half of the new motorcycles sold in the United States, having cruiser-styled entry models is a shrewd move by Honda.

There is more to that argument though, which I want to touch upon today. It concerns the growing divide of motorcycle buyers, and how their access to capital greatly affects the motorcycles they can, and do, purchase.

American motorcycles sales fall almost entirely under what is called consumer discretionary income, and when it comes to how we spend our hard-earned money, there are two ways we do so: with cash and with credit.

That is the fairly obvious part of this argument, but this is an important concept for us as enthusiasts and consumers to understand, as it allows us to make better sense of the strategies behind the new models we see from manufacturers. It also allows us to peer into the future of the motorcycle industry.

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An Argument for World Superbike’s New Grid

12/12/2016 @ 10:39 am, by Jensen Beeler52 COMMENTS

Did you hear the news? The World Superbike Championship has officially jumped the shark, with a new wacky formula for the Race 2 grid. At least, that is what the internet seems to think.

I understand the push-back from purists of the sport, as the new rules set forth by the Superbike Commission are nothing short of gerrymandering for the sake of the show.

My right and honorable colleague David Emmett described the changes as violating the “sporting ethos of a World Championship series,” and he’s right. The new rules for the Race 2 grid are not sporting. Not in the least.

But, the key thing here to understand is that motorcycle racing stopped being a sport the second fans showed up and TV contracts were signed. World Superbike competes for viewership, just like any other sport, which means money is made on passes and crashes.

When you look at the realities of the World Superbike Championship too, Dorna’s madness makes a bit more sense. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I at least get what they are trying to accomplish, and why they are doing it. Let me explain.

The New Grandstands at Assen, And the Economic Impact of a MotoGP Race

12/11/2016 @ 4:45 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

“If it wasn’t for the Dutch TT race, I would have to close my business.” Those were the words of the taxi driver who took me from the Assen train station to the circuit, for a presentation on the plans for major upgrades to their spectator facilities over the next three years and beyond.

It offered an insight into the importance of the MotoGP race at Assen, and by extension, the importance of circuits and MotoGP events around the world.

My taxi driver explained that over the week surrounding the Assen race, he was kept so busy that the money he made during that period was the difference between ending the year with a profit and the ability to invest in the future of the business, or just about breaking even.

Chatting to an official of the provincial government, who had grown up in the city and worked in bars there during his college years, he confirmed that experience.

The bars back then were so busy during the race weekend that it was the difference between survival and failure. The same is true for many businesses and hotels around the region, as anyone who has ever tried to book accommodation in the weeks before the race can attest.

KTM Announces A New President for North America

12/05/2016 @ 5:52 am, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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Big news from KTM, as the “Ready to Race” brand has appointed John Hinz as the new President of KTM North America, effective January 1st, 2017. This means that the buck will stop with Hinz, when it comes to KTM, Husqvarna, and WP Suspension brands in the United States and Canada. 

Hinz will take over from current President Jon-Erik Burleson, who will stay on through January 31st, in order to ensure a smooth transition. After that point in time, Burleson will shift to a brand ambassador role for Husqvarna.

How Polaris Can Mutate and Take Over the World

11/21/2016 @ 7:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler53 COMMENTS

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Considering how much growth they are achieving, how many brands they are acquiring, and how many new bikes they are developing, it really is a shame that we don’t talk about Polaris here more often. The American OEM is one of the true movers-and-shakers of the motorcycle industry right now.

It probably has something to do with the fact that Polaris’ two sub-brands, Indian and Victory, produce machines that are outside our usual fare at Asphalt & Rubber. That is a polite way of saying, they make cruisers, and we don’t really like those sort of motorcycles here.

There is nothing wrong with someone riding a cruiser, of course. In fact, roughly one of every two new motorcycles sold in the United States comes from our friends at Harley-Davidson. American motorcycling really looks more like a Harley-Davidson cult than we may think here in our sport-bike focused echo chamber.

In the pursuit to see how the other half lives, I have been riding around on a Victory Octane for the past few weeks, as part of an ongoing discussion with the folks at Victory about their products, and how sport bike riders perceive them.

My initial thoughts on the Octane, and Victory as a whole, lead me to some interesting notes about the bigger picture at Polaris, and how the American OEM can set itself as one of the top global brands in the motorcycle industry. Like with Rommel in the desert, it involves a two-pronged attack.

From Russia with Love, MV Agusta Finds New Money

11/20/2016 @ 1:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

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Last week, I was ready to start polishing the obituary for MV Agusta – the Italian company seemingly in an impossibly terminal state.

Italy’s Guardia di Finanza had found that the Italian company had been using the social security contributions of its workers to pay down the money owed to parts suppliers (something MV Agusta disputes is the case), and earlier this year MV Agusta CEO Giovanni Castiglioni was investigated for irregularities on his tax return.

All of this is on top of the ever precarious financial situation MV Agusta has been in for the past year, which has resulted in the company looking to restructure its €50 million debt in the Italian court system, furlough a good portion of its workforce, and reduce its production volume to roughly 9,000 units per year.

Now it seems MV Agusta’s fortunes are changing, with the Italian motorcycle maker signing an agreement with the Black Ocean investment group to recapitalize MV Agusta.

Details of the pending transaction haven’t been released, but we can assume that the increase in capital will help ease MV Agusta’s relationship with suppliers, get workers back on the assembly line, and continue the development of new models.

Police Find MV Agusta Misused Social Security Funds

11/17/2016 @ 11:39 am, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

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More bad news comes from Italy, as MV Agusta has come under investigation by the Guardia di Finanza for allegedly misusing its employees’ INPS contributions (Italy’s national pension system, similar to the USA’s Social Security system), which may have gone to paying bills from suppliers, to the tune of €6.8 million.

To put this into context for our American readers, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza is law enforcement agency that handles financial crimes – its duties and powers are analogous to the intersection on a Venn diagram that is composed of our IRS, FTC, and US Customs bureaus.

Italian businesses are required to pay into the INPS pensions of their employees, and here the Guardia di Finanza has been investigating whether MV Agusta used those funds instead to pay its supplier invoices. MV Agusta CEO Giovanni Castiglioni denies the allegations, though has some financial issues of his own to contend with.

It’s Legal To Hack Your Motorcycle for the Next Two Years

11/02/2016 @ 5:21 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

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Exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have finally gone into effect, which means that you can now legally hack the computer systems on your motorcycle and other motor vehicles.

The exceptions were put into place last year by the Librarian of Congress, despite pressure from vehicle manufacturers, who wanted to extend digital right management (DRM) practices to the computer systems that now permeate the two and four-wheeled spaces.

This is a win for security researchers and hobbyist mechanics, because it means that they can modify the software on their personal and research vehicles, without the fear of running afoul of the DMCA, which we should point out was written roughly 20 years ago.

Right Now Is the Best Time to Buy A New Motorcycle

10/26/2016 @ 12:18 pm, by Jensen Beeler50 COMMENTS

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With all the new motorcycles for the 2017 model year debuting right now, it might seem counter-intuitive that this would be the right time to make a trip down to your local motorcycle dealership, but it is. Let me explain.

After seeing a modest rebounding of sales and momentum from the recession, this year has been a stumbling block for the motorcycle industry, with sales at the beginning of the year building slowly, before tapering off later in the summer and early fall.

Economic indicators are up, unemployment is down, but the third quarter results from around the industry are pointing to the US motorcycle market taking a market contraction for 2016. The reason for this is uncertainty.