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.

Iannone Pays Homage to Dead Seagull with Winter Helmet

02/04/2016 @ 5:56 pm, by Jensen Beeler13 COMMENTS

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You don’t have to be a raging Ducati Corse fan, or even a fan of Andrea Iannone, in order to appreciate the humor in the Italian rider’s winter test helmet this week at Sepang.

In case you missed it, the bright red AGV Pista GP helmet is adorned with a familiar face, Gavin the seagull. If you don’t remember Gavin, we are sure the mentioning of last year’s Phillip Island race will help jog your memory.

Coming down the hill, into Turn 10, Andrea Iannone found a spectator whose vantage point was a little too close to the action. The seagull, finally realizing the error of his ways, took flight, though not in time to avoid the outcome everyone feared.

The bird struck Iannone’s Ducati Desmosedici GP15, while it was in mid-flight, leaving a gaping whole in the front of the race bike and a puff of feathers in its wake.

Joking aside, Iannone was lucky not to be injured in the collision, and actually went on to take third in the race. Bird strikes are not uncommon at Phillip Island, and they can cause grave injuries when they occur at speed. Thankfully for Iannone, Turn 10 is one of the slowest corners on the Australian track.

While we mourn the loss of Gavin, as he has made his way to the big race track in the sky, it is good to see that he has not been forgotten. A few photos of Iannone’s helmet are after the jump.

Sepang MotoGP Test Wednesday Summary: What We Learned So Far

02/03/2016 @ 11:12 pm, by David Emmett11 COMMENTS

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What did we learn from the first proper MotoGP test of the new era of Michelin tires and spec-electronics? More than we hoped, yet less than we think. A quick run down on the state of play after Sepang, with more to come over the following days.

Michelin

The riders approached the Sepang test with some trepidation, fearing that Michelin had not fixed its wayward front that caused so many crashes at Valencia and Jerez.

Their fears were unfounded, the new front tires which Michelin brought – a total of five different types, of varying construction and compound – were all a massive step forward.

They were not as stable as the Bridgestones they replaced, but they had gained a lot of predictability and feedback. There were very few crashes that the riders said they had not seen coming.

That does not mean that all of the problems have been solved. A couple of people went down at Turn 5 on Tuesday, in crashes they described as strange. Casey Stoner (more on him later) had a typically concise and thoughtful analysis.

“There’s a little point after probably 45°, that [the tire profile] goes down just a little bit more, that it doesn’t seem to match with the rear with some of the profiles that we’ve tested,” Stoner explained.

“That gives everybody a little bit a nervous feeling, and essentially why people are struggling into Turn 5, a big fast open corner, going in, when the bike goes light, it doesn’t like that feeling. It makes the bike a little nervous, and I think that’s when the front wants to break away.”

Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Summary: Exploding Tires, Changing Compounds, & Stoner’s Return

02/02/2016 @ 1:15 pm, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so.

Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role that offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing.

It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend. It also sees your logo plastered all over just about every photo which appears in magazines and newspapers about MotoGP, as well as filling thousands of column inches on websites and in magazines.

If you had to pay for the same exposure – a concept known as equivalent advertising value – it would cost you many, many times the €25 million Bridgestone were rumored to have paid for the contract.

There is a downside, of course. It is extremely uncommon to hear riders heap praise upon your tires spontaneously. Bridgestone had to announce they were pulling out of the role as official supplier to receive the praise they deserved, riders immediately paying tribute to just how good their racing tires actually are.

Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Summary: Lorenzo Dominates, Ducati Impresses, & Honda Struggles

02/01/2016 @ 4:27 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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What did we learn from the first day of testing at Sepang? Exactly what we expected to learn. Some riders have adapted quickly, others less quickly. The Michelins have made a big step forward, and the teams have started to understand the Michelin tires better.

The spec-electronics still need plenty of work, but are pretty usable in their current form (and well liked by the riders). Yamaha and Ducati have adapted well, Honda not very well at all, with the possible exception of Dani Pedrosa.

Above all, we learned that it is too early to be making any judgment calls, and that everyone still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of room for improvement. Today’s outcome is interesting, but not definitive.

In other words, if your favorite rider is near the top of the timesheets, you can feel optimistic that they will do well in 2016. If your favorite rider is nearer the bottom, you can console yourself with the fact that there is hope, and that testing will solve the worst of the issues.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview: The Future Starts Here

01/31/2016 @ 10:23 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture.

Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables.

Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec-electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.

It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing.

There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.

Casey Stoner’s First Day Back at Ducati Was A Success

01/31/2016 @ 9:22 am, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily, doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon.

Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self.

He had every reason to be wary: the last time Stoner rode a race bike on the road was during the Suzuka 8 Hours, where a throttle cable malfunction saw him thrown from the bike, injuring his scapula and tibia in the process.

Furthermore, this was his first time on a MotoGP bike for a year, his first time riding the Ducati GP15 – a very different beast indeed to the GP10, the last Ducati Stoner raced – and his first time on the Michelins. Despite that, he told reporters he was very happy with how the test went.

Racing News Round-Up: No, Ezpeleta Hasn’t Been Fired, Nakamoto Talks About the RC213V, and More

01/06/2016 @ 12:06 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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The start of a new year, and though there is little going on in the world of motorcycle racing in the first week of January, there is still enough to fill our weekly news round up. Here’s what happened this week.

News Tidbits from MotoGP: Brno vs. Indy, Stoner at Ducati, Valencia Fallout, & Some Holiday Entertainment

12/23/2015 @ 11:08 am, by David EmmettComments Off on News Tidbits from MotoGP: Brno vs. Indy, Stoner at Ducati, Valencia Fallout, & Some Holiday Entertainment

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With Christmas nearly upon us, and very little happening in the world of motorcycle racing, time for a round up of recent news. Here’s what’s been going on in recent weeks, as well as some recommended reading and listening for over the holiday period.

Brno vs Indy – On or Off?

The news that the Indianapolis round of MotoGP had been dropped came as a huge disappointment to a lot of US fans.

Though few people were fans of the track layout – despite recent improvements which took the worst edges off the layout – the event as a whole was well liked, and, for a US MotoGP round, fairly well attended.

In recent weeks, rumors have been circulating that the event could make a return. Though just speculation at the moment, Indianapolis could be being groomed as a possible replacement for the Czech round of MotoGP at Brno.

Given the troubled recent history of the Brno round, and the excellent organization behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is a chance that behind the smoke, there is a fire powering the rumors.

MotoGP Tire Allocation Expanded & Open Class Killed Off

12/16/2015 @ 10:28 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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The Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, met last week to make a few minor updates to the rules for MotoGP in 2016. The two biggest changes to the rules relate to the two biggest changes to the series for next year: the change of tire suppliers and the switch to spec-electronics.

The change that will most please the fans will be the official end of the Open class. All references to both the Open and Factory classes are to be removed from the regulations, as the switch to spec electronics, all teams running both the standard Magneti Marelli hardware and official Dorna unified software, mean there is only one class in MotoGP again.

This does not mean that all factories are equal, however. Special concessions remain for factories that have not won a race and have not yet accrued six concession points (based on podium positions).

Manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to use twelve engines for a season instead of seven engines, they will be allowed unlimited testing with factory riders instead of test riders, and engine development will not be frozen.

Michelin Schedules Extra MotoGP Tires Tests for December

12/09/2015 @ 10:59 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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Michelin is stepping up preparations for 2016 by scheduling an extra tire test in December. The French tire maker has invited the MotoGP factories to spend two days at Jerez before Christmas, testing new front tires in cold conditions, according to GPOne.com.

Three manufacturers have accepted, Ducati, Honda, and Aprilia preparing to send their test riders to put in some laps on the latest iteration of tires at the Spanish circuit on 21st and 22nd of December.

As the test falls in the middle of the winter test ban period, contracted riders – that is, riders who will be permanent MotoGP entries for 2016 – are forbidden from riding, and only the official test riders can take part.