The Next, Next Big Thing in Motorcycles: Haptic Feedback

We are at an interesting point in time for motorcycles, namely because the technological landscape for the transportation sector is shifting radically. Long-time readers of Asphalt & Rubber will note some of the issues at play here, namely autonomous vehicles, rider aids, and vehicle interconnectivity. Over the next few weeks I want to revisit those items in more depth and detail, with a series that focuses on emerging technologies that are either already permeating into our two-wheeled lifestyle, or will be hitting the motorcycle industry over the next decade or so. But before I tackle the more obvious items on this list, I want to invest some words on a lesser-known technological innovation, which has the potential to be the next, “next big thing” in the motorcycle industry.

You Already Want This Honda Grom Race Bike from HRC

Understanding one’s lust for a Honda Grom is a lot like explaining good pornography: it is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it. That idea encapsulates everything you need to know about Honda’s monkey bike. We can’t tell you why you want one, we just know that you do. Honda’s sales on the Grom back that notion up, as well. Beyond being just an adorable grocery-getter, we are seeing a plethora of Groms at the race track – and not just as pit bikes. Grom racing is becoming a thing, with more than a few minimoto series making spec-classes for Honda Grom racers, or including them in their 150cc programs. To that end, Honda’s racing department, HRC, has the Grom that you want – nay – need. Behold, the Honda Grom race bike from HRC.

Honda CBR250RR Headlight Spotted in Patents

We are literally marking time until Big Red debuts the Honda CBR250RR, the sportier sibling to the Honda CBR250R, which should rev to the moon and make more power with its two-cylinder engine. We have seen the prototype of the Honda CBR250RR already at trade shows, and the new CBR250RR is definitely on the edgier side of things, which is surprising coming the ever-conservative minds at Honda. How much of the edgy design will remain in the production version has yet to be seen, but we do have our first glimpse of some of the machine. The headlight shape has been filed with European patent offices, which is sort of a weird thing to be reporting on, but it does show insight into where Honda is headed.

Could BMW Be Working on an XDiavel Killer?

Here’s some more BMW Motorrad speculation for your two-wheeled consumption, as Germany’s Motorrad Magazine says that BMW is looking to take on the Ducati XDiavel, with a power cruiser model of its own. This of course isn’t the first time that BMW has included a cruiser-styled motorcycle in its lineup, with the BMW R1200C being a unique, though slightly odd, offering to the cruiser demographic. Like Ducati, BMW seems to be learning from its mistakes in going after the cruiser crowd, and instead of offering a motorcycle that is BMW’s take on the cruiser concept, they are building a cruiser that has cues back to the BMW lineup. A subtle but potent distinction. Time will tell on how this rumor plays out, though there are number of interesting things to consider with a BMW power cruiser.

Yamaha Tracer 700 Sport-Tourer Debuts for Europe

There are two big things to note with the debut of the Yamaha Tracer 700 in Europe today. One, Yamaha firmly believes in the future of the sport-touring segment; and two, the Japanese brand is getting excellent mileage out of its three-cylinder and two-cylinder machines that comprise its new FZ/MT line of motorcycles. As such, the Yamaha Tracer 700 offers to be a fun and affordable machine for those riders who find themselves many miles down the road after a “spirited” ride. With bike sales in Europe finally on an upward trend, Yamaha hopes that the release of the Tracer 700 is well-timed, and of course the brand has more models in the works that are based on the same 689cc parallel-twin power plant.

Is BMW Working on 300cc GS Model?

When the BMW G310R arrived, the German brand indicated that the small-displacement street bike would be the first of many model based on the 313cc platform. Now it seems that the first iteration is ready to drop, with news that BMW Motorrad is working on a G310R-based adventure-touer model. According to Motorcycle Sport and Leisure, BMW Motorrad UK’s Director Phil Horton has confirmed that a BMW G310GS model will debut, perhaps in time for the 2017 model year, saying “new models aside, the line-up isn’t as comprehensive as it needs to be. But there are plenty more bikes to come, including, hopefully in 2017, a G310R GS-style derivative.” The idea of small-displacement ADV machine does mimic what we have been seeing from other brands.

EPA Withdraws Racing Emissions Proposal

If you have a modified track-only motorcycle, then we have some news to share that you will enjoy, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn proposed language that would have specifically given it the ability to regulate the emissions of production vehicles that were being used at track days or similar events. The proposed rule caused quite a storm in automotive enthusiast circles, as it would have affected racing and recreational uses of products that have been sold under “race use only” provisions for years. Of course, the larger issue at stake here was the continued selling of race parts to street enthusiasts. Still, since it is hard to find a motorcycle on the road these days that hasn’t seen its emissions equipment modified, it doesn’t surprise us to see the backlash coming from the motorcycling community.

Honda Halts Operations at Its Kumamoto Factory After Earthquakes Strike Japan

If you have been following mainstream news, you will know that the Pacific Rim has been active with earthquake activity these past few days. In addition to the devastating movements in Ecuador, Japan has been rocked by a series of earthquakes as well, two of which have centered on the Kumamoto prefecture of the country. If that names sounds familiar to motorcycle enthusiasts, it is because Kumamoto is Honda’s mothership for motorcycle production. As such, Honda is halting the operations of its Kumamoto factory, thru the rest of this week (ending April 22, 2016). Honda says that its subsequent production plans will be determined according to facility restorations and component supply.

Lorenzo To Ducati: Why It Happened & What Happens Next

In case you missed it, Jorge Lorenzo has signed with Ducati Corse for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP World Championship seasons. It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed. We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi’s return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.

It’s Official, Jorge Lorenzo Will Race with Ducati Corse

As expected, the announcement dropped today that Jorge Lorenzo will be leaving the Movistar Yamaha team at the end of this season, for a new racing opportunity with Ducati Corse. Details are light at this time, mostly because of Lorenzo’s ongoing contract with Yamaha Racing for the rest of the MotoGP season, but we do know that the Spaniard has inked a two-year with the Italian outfit. Lorenzo’s move to Ducati will mean a cascade of changes in the MotoGP paddock, with the next phase of the silly season process likely to focus on who will replace him as Valentino Rossi’s teammate. Good money is on Maverick Viñales, but as we pointed out in the latest Paddock Pass Podcast episode, Suzuki has redoubled its efforts to retain the young Spanish rider.

How 3D Printing Is Going To Change Motorcycling

10/05/2012 @ 2:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler31 COMMENTS

For the past few weeks or so, I have been conversing back-and-forth with my cousin-in-law about 3D printing. Apparently, some sort of hobbyist 3D printing shop has opened in his home town of Pasadena, and my geekier-than-me relative has been chomping at the bit to see what the consumer-level 3D printers can build.

Since my special brand of geekiness has already assured that the bloodline stops at my branch of the family tree, you can imagine the uber-nerd fest we both have been having, trading links on Facebook about the different things that rapid-prototype machines and 3D printers can achieve.

For those who are not familiar with the technology, the name really does give away about 90% of the special sauce. Using a plastic in lieu of ink, 3D printer can actually build three-dimensional objects in a process not that dissimilar to your home ink jet printer (Jay Leno has been using 3D printing to replace impossible-to-find parts for his classic car collection).

The more robust and industrial units use lasers to shape and heat the plastic ink, and are able to achieve a high-degree of object resolution. We can think of more than a few electric motorcycle startups that are currently using this rapid-prototyping process to develop their street and race bikes. It’s very fascinating, but also very expensive stuff.

This is where the consumer side of the equation comes in, as the post-industrial form of 3D printing has not only rapidly increased in its ability to flawlessly create a high-resolution object, but the cost of both the 3D printer and its “ink” have dramatically dropped. Hobbyist models are now in the $400-$2,000 range, and could soon be as ubiquitous as the printer sitting next to the computer you are using to read this article.

As the price-point drops and resolution increases further, the consumer end of this technology could rival the industrial side of 3D printing, and that is where things get real interesting for the motorcycle industry, and manufacturing in general.

India’s TVS is in Talks with BMW Motorrad

07/09/2012 @ 3:56 pm, by Jensen Beeler5 COMMENTS

The big news out of India today is that the country’s fourth-largest motorcycle manufacturer, TVS,  is in talks with Germany’s leading two-wheeled maker, BMW Motorrad. While there are few details on what is occurring between the two companies, it is being reported by the Wall Street Journal that TVS is hoping to get some technical know-how from BMW in making larger-displacement motorcycles.

Likely to end in some sort of strategic partnership, BMW is surely eyeing TVS’s distribution network in exchange for its 500cc+ help, as all the major OEMs are currently jockeying for position in the growing Indian market. Other rumors around the deal suggest that TVS could help BMW create smaller-displacement machines, specifically designed for India, which would presumably also be available in other emerging markets like South America and Southeast Asia.

Costco and Zero Motorcycles Partner in Canada

09/08/2011 @ 10:26 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

An article from our friends at CMG tipped us off to the fact that Zero Motorcycle has begun promoting its electric motorcycles through several Costco stores in Canada. Taking a page from Kawasaki’s playbook in working with Costco (which is itself a take on what automobile dealers have been doing with the warehouse brand for years), Zero currently has displays in six Canadian Costco warehouse stores, working as a part of the wholesaler’s Membership Benefits Program. Like the Kawasaki program, Costco isn’t actually selling Zero Motorcycles, but instead Costco members recieve a special value package if they purchase a Zero through the promotion.

If that raises your eyebrows, here is a quick primer on the Costco business model. Generally speaking, Costco keeps its company very efficient and lean by keeping very low inventories — I’ve heard it quoted that the company won’t carry more inventory than what it can sell in one to two weeks. Helping drive that turnover are the low prices that the company is known for, but instead of doing a high volume/low margin sales approach, Costco’s true bread & butter is its membership fees.

Brammo Building a Dealer Network – Hires Jim Marcolina from Harley-Davidson

06/08/2011 @ 9:23 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

It seems like only two months ago that I wrote that the “Great Distribution Experiment is Over“, and that electric motorcycle companies Brammo and Zero Motorcycles need to get on-board with established motorcycle distribution methods. As I mentioned in what I’m sure many found to be a snooze fest of an article, there are of course drawbacks and flaws to the dealership model, but for early-stage cash-strapped companies like the ones in the E2V market, this is a battle of the middleman is best to be fought another day.

I have to apologize to my regular readers, as I’m sure the relevancy of such an article to your daily “eat, sleep, ride” lifestyle was dubious at best, but from time-to-time the words on this site are meant for a select group, but better aired publicly (even if it does land me in a heap of trouble from time-to-time). As such, it’s refreshing to see then that Zero has recently announced its signing of several key dealerships, and now we get word that Brammo has hired Jim Marcolina away from Harley-Davidson, to build the Ashland, Oregon company’s dealer development team. So…umm…group hug?

The Great Distribution Experiment is Over

04/12/2011 @ 1:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

As we write the timeline on the evolution of the electric motorcycle, the bullet points for 2011 will note a few key events, and one of them surely will be the adoption of a traditional sales distribution scheme. It’s not a sexy event, but it’s an important one in the growth of this side of the industry. You see when resourced-backed electric motorcycle manufacturers entered the scene, the idea was that a new drivetrain meant a new set of rules, and from that a new playbook was drafted. The idea of selling electric motorcycles at traditional motorcycle dealerships was abandoned, and in its place these companies tried new approaches — some clever, and some not so much.

Direct-to-consumer sales approaches, online purchasing, ad hoc customer sales leads, and even Best Buy all entered into these new models of how to get a motorcycle into a purchaser’s hands…and they all failed. It is no small feat to start a motorcycle company, and it is an even taller order to make an electric one. Not only do you have to sell your would-be-buyer on the features of your motorcycle, but you then also have to sell them on why their purchase should be an electric motorcycle, and not its ICE equivalent.

The undertaking of proving out a new method of selling motorcycles is a burden in its own right for an established motorcycle manufacturer, let alone a startup, so its failure should come as little surprise to those in the industry with this experience. It is therefore not surprising that we get news that both Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have abandoned their previous sales distribution schemes, in favor of adopting a more traditional dealer network approach.

Officially Official: Neal Saiki out at Zero Motorcycles

03/08/2011 @ 9:52 am, by Jensen Beeler2 COMMENTS

You can file this one under “news we broke a month ago,” but Zero Motorcycles has finally officially announced the departure of company founder Neal Saiki, despite sending an email to its employees last week that Saiki had not been sacked from his position.

According to Zero Motorcycles, Saiki is leaving his position to enter into the Igor I. Sikorski Human Powered Helicopter Competition, which Saiki first competed in while attending Cal Poly as aeronautical engineering student in 1989. However, our sources have told us Saiki’s departure was prompted by a fundamental shift in the company, precipitated by the Zero’s financial backers.

Zero Motorcycles Habla Español

02/01/2011 @ 5:36 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Your favorite electric motorcycle company from the sunny beach town of Santa Cruz is about to get some more international appeal, as Zero Motorcycles has announced today that it will expand its dealer network south of the border and into Mexico. Signing local distributor Dofesa Aventura (the Mexican distributor for Polaris and its Victory motorcycle brand), Zero’s S and DS models are immediately available for demo rides, and the rest of Zero’s line-up is expected to be available in the coming weeks.

This move continues Zero’s agressive international presence, as the brand already entered the European market back in 2008, and completes Zero’s presence in North America as Zero Motorcycles are already available in the United States and Canada as well.

The World is Not Enough – Bajaj Wants to Create a Three-Way Alliance with KTM & Kawasaki

09/24/2010 @ 2:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

According to Indian publication Bike Advice, Bajaj is looking to cultivate its relationships with KTM & Kawasaki further, hoping to create a three-way alliance that would build off the strengths of each company. Since 1986 Bajaj has had technical ties to Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki, with Bajaj paying royalties to Kawasaki for basing its creations off Kawasaki designs. Bajaj and Kawasaki also share distribution channels, with Bajaj motorcycles being sold at Kawasaki dealerships, and vice versa.

In 2007 the Indian manufacturer bought a 17% stake in KTM (Bajaj has since increased its stake in the Austrian company to 35% in 2008, with further investment plans rumored), which allowed Bajaj access to Europe and KTM access to India. Bajaj has also gained some of KTM’s knowledge on two-stroke motors, while KTM has seen the small-bike specialist help them with its soon-to-be released KTM 125 Duke project.

With all these relationships being fostered, and obvious synergies existing, Bajaj wants to take its relationship with each company to the next level (in America we call that Third Base), and change the level of collaboration so it goes three-ways. The affect would be a merger, without the merger.

Jackie Chan’s JCAM To Distribute Brammo In Asia

01/26/2010 @ 11:28 am, by John Adamo8 COMMENTS

Jackie Chan On The Brammo Enertia

Just when you think Brammo has taken a breather on their marketing and game changing developments in powersports they decide team up with a master of motion picture martial arts. Jackie Chan apparently co-founded JCAM Advanced Mobility Company Ltd., the Hong Kong distributor of Segway for South Korea, China PRC, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia. Now JCAM are adding Brammo electric motorcycles to their distribution in Hong Kong and Singapore. More after the break…