Newspeak: The Advent of the “Adventure-Sport”

In the past decade the ADV segment has been a confusing amalgamation of differing interests, and over that time-period, two distinct groups have boiled to the surface. First there are the “Long Way Round” hopefuls, who invariably own a BMW R1200GS/A, and seem to be on some sort of perpetual preparation for an African safari. More recently, a second group has appeared: those riders who look to these big ADV bikes as more versatile Sport-Touring machines. All these riders, and their bikes, have been wedged into a single “Adventure” category, and it has created a bit of confusion for the segment. So, I want to introduce the concept of the “Adventure-Sport” and how it differentiates from the previous “Adventure-Touring” category.

MotoGP: Ducati’s Desmosedici GP15 Officially Delayed

As had been widely expected, Ducati will not have the GP15 ready for the first test at Sepang, in early February. In an interview with the MotoGP.com website, due to be shown on 19th January, Ducati Corse boss confirmed that work was still underway on the all-new bike; and that instead, Ducati will be bringing an uprated version of last year’s bike, dubbed the GP14.3, to test aspects of the new design not requiring the new engine. The delays have been trailed by both Dall’Igna and Paolo Ciabatti, speaking to the media at the Valencia test and at the Superprestigio dirt track event in December. The GP15 is a completely new bike, designed from the ground up, with a completely redesigned engine.

1972 Honda CB500, 3D Printed to Life Size

We’ve talked a bit before about the virtues of 3D printing, and how this increasingly affordable technology could change the consumer landscape as far as how we buy basic parts in the motorcycle industry. For as practical as how 3D printing, or rapid prototyping, can be, it can also be beautiful and used for art. This story is sort of a merger of those two ideas. Jonathan Brand has hoped to buy a 1972 Honda CB500 motorcycle, but the birth of his son changed that plan. Where there is a will though, there is a way, and Brand came up with the next best thing — he built a life-size model of a CB500 with his 3D printer.

Mercedes CEO: No Further Acquisition of MV Agusta

Italians are rejoicing over the news that Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche has made it clear that the German car manufacturer is not interested in acquiring more of MV Agusta’s private stock. Loyal readers will remember that Mercedes-AMG purchased 25% of MV Agusta last October, for a rumored €30 million — echoing the move Audi made in Ducati. Talking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit though, Zetsche said “however, to avoid what happened with Ducati we point out that we have no intention to take over the business or produce motorcycles. MV Agusta can do it better than us.”

Triumph Has Its Best Sales Year Since Its Rebirth

Good news for Triumph Motorcycles fans, as the British motorcycle marque is reporting a banner year for 2014 — with 54,432 units sold worldwide. That figure is up 4% over 2013’s sales figure of 52,089 units, which was the first time that Triumph broke the 50,000 unit mark since the company’s rebirth in 1984. Helping Triumph reach this new high-water mark was the company’s home market, where Triumph accounted for one-in-five motorcycles sold in the UK (over 500cc). Overall, Triumph saw 8% growth in the UK, as modest growth considering the British market was up roughly 10% last year. The news is not all good, however. Triumph previously reported that financial figures for the first-half of 2014 were down, with revenue down £364 million from £369 million, and net income at a loss of £8 million.

Husqvarna 401 Concepts Will Be 2017 Production Models

One of the more intriguing things to come out of the 2014 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan were Husqvarna’s two “401” concepts, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen. The café-styled bikes are based off the KTM 390 Duke platform, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at them. Husqvarna said at EICMA that if there was sufficient interest, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen could go into production. With an overwhelming critical response from the press and fans, it should come no surprise then that our friends at Bike.se are reporting that Husqvarna intends to make the small-displacement machines a part of its 2017 model lineup.

Ducati Desmosedici Cucciolo Concept by Alex Garoli

Imagine if you will that the first Ducati, the Ducati Cucciolo, and the most modern Ducati, the Ducati Desmosedici, had a child — what would it look like? That far-fetched question nagged Mexican designer Alex Garoli, so he decided to build a concept of the machine. At the core of the Ducati Desmosedici Cucciolo is the V4 powerplant of Italy’s MotoGP race bike, and around it Garoli has imagined a modern steel trellis frame that mimics the bicycle frame look of the post-WWII motorized bicycles that pulled Italy out of deep recession. Of course the most interesting thing about Garoli’s concept is the fact that it’s a ~12:1 scale model. The work is pretty exquisite, even if you don’t agree with the concept’s ethos.

Is Suzuki Reviving the Katana and Gamma Names?

Signs of life are starting to trickle out of Hamamatsu, as Suzuki finally seems to be working on new models for our riding pleasure. First, it was the news that the turbocharged Suzuki Recursion concept is likely to go into production, and now it’s that the Japanese OEM is reviving iconic names from its past: Katana and Gamma. Suzuki has re-registered the Katana name & logo with both the European and American trademark offices, while the Gamma logo has been re-registered in the EU. What this means precisely in terms of future models is up for debate. As for the name Katana, the evidence might already be in front of us with the Recursion concept. The Suzuki Katana line started life as a performance-oriented machine, and slowly saw its name watered down into the sport-touring segment.

MV Agusta Gets €15 Million Loan for New Business Plan

Good turns for MV Agusta, as the Italian motorcycle manufacturer has secured a €15 million loan from SACE and Banca Popolare di Milano (BPM). The loan, which was issued by BPM and guaranteed by SACE, will go towards MV Agusta’s foreign growth plans, namely the company’s strengthening of its US business, and its push into Brazil and Southeast Asia. The more business-speak version of that statement is that MV Agusta will use the €15 million to implement the company’s 2014-2018 business plan, which has the company expanding its product range and penetrating into “high-potential” markets.

Turbocharged Suzuki Recursion Going into Production?

News from Japan seems to suggest that Suzuki is making a production version of its Recursion concept. For those that don’t remember, the Suzuki Recursion Concept was based around a turbocharged 588cc two-cylinder engine. The idea was to achieve liter-bike power from a middleweight-sized machine, thus offering enthusiasts high-power but nimble machines to ride. The news that Suzuki is putting the Recursion into production isn’t too far-fetching, though the original source does seem to be the not-always-accurate Japanese publication Young Machine. We will let you measure out how much faith to give that report, but make no mistake that a new era in motorcycle motor design is upon us.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

12/22/2011 @ 9:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler105 COMMENTS

Talking to a colleague the other day, we came to a frank discussion about how the European motorcycle brands weathered the recession better when compared to their Japanese counterparts. While there are many factors at play in this statement, there is at least a component of truth to the idea that strong brand integration helped spur the Europeans into setting record months, quarters, and years during a global economic downturn, while companies like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha saw their businesses virtually collapse.

It is not that the Japanese manufacturers don’t have strong brands, it is just that their brands stand for something fundamentally different from those being forged by the Europeans. While companies like Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are building entire communities and lifestyles around their motorcycles (hat tip to Harley-Davidson for showing them how), the Japanese continue to hang their hats on the attributes of their products. Well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap, Japanese motorcycles tick all the right boxes when one is objectively measuring a motorcycle, but they are sufficiently lacking when it comes to creating lasting ties to their owners.

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.

Michigan Eyes Dropping Helmet Law…Again

04/06/2011 @ 7:43 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Twice now Michigan has come close to repealing its helmet law for motorcycles, with both instances being vetoed by Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But now with Gov. Granholm no longer in office, and with Republicans also having control over the legislature, the stars have seemingly aligned for the state’s riders to make another bid on nixing the law.

I should preface that there are two separate proposals being lobbied in Michigan. First there is House Bill 2008, submitted by Rep. Richard LeBlanc, and the Michigan State Senate has its own bill to contend with, Senate Bill 291, which is co-sponsored by five Democrat and twelve Republican State Senators. The bill in the Senate is your typical approach to helmet laws, and holds that anyone who is over 21, and has either passed a motorcycle safety course, or had a motorcycle endorsement for two years, can ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

LCR Honda: This is How You Launch a MotoGP Team

02/01/2011 @ 9:59 am, by Jensen Beeler21 COMMENTS

Testing has already gotten underway and concluded at Sepang today, meaning the teams of MotoGP have released their livery for the next season with varying degrees of fanfare and showmanship. It’s no surprise then that we found a couple photos of the LCR Honda RC212V adorned with a seductive Playboy bunny affixed to it, in what surely has to be the best GP team launch in 2011.

If you read Asphalt & Rubber on a religious basis (we are your motorcycling zen temple, right?), you’ve likely divined by now that I’ll chastise just about any company that uses the premise that “sex sells” (nothing boils my blood more than this cleverly short, yet misguided maxim), and that I love a good scrappy startup that’s got more hustle than funding (case in point: A&R is a penniless motorcycle startup trying to make it in this crazy online world).

So how does a the multi-million dollar motorcycle racing team with half-naked women draped all over their machinery get such accolades from our humble motorcycle blog? Because LCR Honda is the epitome of innovation on the business side of MotoGP racing.

Let’s Hype This Bitch! – 60 Day Wait for the 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200

05/24/2010 @ 2:30 pm, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

Ducati has reported that the first 500 initial pre-orders for the 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 have been filled, and there is now a 60 day waiting period for the new sport-tourer. Citing a strong reception to the Multistrada’s “four-bikes-in-one” capability, Ducati sees an additional 500 units to be sold in the coming months. This last statement seems sort of like a no-brainer, after-all another 500 bikes will be sold eventually, right?

Actually, the entire statement is sort of strange when you consider what 500 pre-sold orders really entails in a markets like the United States & Canada. With a plethora of dealers in these countries, the reality is that this statement amounts to dealerships pre-selling their initial inventory, which consisted of one or two motorcycles. Yes, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 is sold-out for the next two month, but when you ship only 500 units to the entire North American market, you can almost guarantee being sold out on a bike during its release, right?

How to Save Harley-Davidson – Step 2: Shift Your Product Lineup into New Segments

04/07/2010 @ 5:54 am, by Jensen Beeler66 COMMENTS

35 motorcycles, 7 model lines, 4 chassis, 3 motor families, & 1 market segment, that’s Harley-Davidson’s product line by the numbers. Where many large production motorcycle companies might have 30 or so motorcycles that span the entire gamut of motorcycling’s different sub-markets, Harley-Davidson has put all of its eggs in the heavy cruiser market. This singular pursuit of one market segment has not only been the cause for Harley’s success, but also a significant contributing factor to the company’s recent downfall, which has led to a recently rumored leveraged buyout.

As the old idiom goes, one should not put all their eggs in one basket, which is exactly the faux pas being committed here by Harley-Davidson in its product offering. Businesses, especially public ones, should always have an eye on sustained long-term growth, and a key element to that goal is a well-diversified position in their appropriate industry. Taking this lens and applying it to Harley-Davidson, one can immediately see a portfolio that has been extensively mismanaged by focusing on only one segment of the total motorcycle industry: the heavy cruiser market.

What this has effectively created is a motorcycle company that looks like Alfred Hitchcock’s take on Baskin Robins: 31 flavors, but they’re all Rocky Road.

For The Sake of the Game [Updated]

12/09/2009 @ 2:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler27 COMMENTS

mavizen_08

UPDATE: You can find Azhar Hussain’s response to this article on Brammofan.

Last week when I wrote my op-ed, I was content to say my piece on the issue of TTXGP/Mavizen conflict of interest, and then move along with other things. But considering the response the piece got, not only by Azhar Hussain himself, but also by others in the industry, as well as the recent announcements of Zero Motorcycles and Mission Motors entering the TTXGP racing series, I thought I’d give the issue another pass. Ignoring the name-calling, accusations of professional misconduct, and general pettiness that followed, I wanted to address and few things that have developed in this space, and why I’m still thankful the FIM split from TTXGP.

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?