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.

More on Kawasaki’s Supercharged Motorcycle Engine

12/09/2013 @ 4:09 pm, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

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The tease of 2013 has to be Kawasaki and its supercharged four-cylinder engine, which the Japanese OEM debuted at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show. Showing the engine, and giving virtually no information about the intended uses of the supercharged power plant, we have been left to speculate over what Kawasaki’s intentions are in the two-wheeled forced-induction realm.

Diving through the Google’s database of patent applications though,  we see that over the years Kawasaki has published a number of patents that relate to adding a supercharger to a motorcycle. Not only has Kawasaki been thinking about how to fit a supercharger into a motorcycle for some time now, but the OEM has some clever tricks up its sleeve in order to optimize its designs.

Kawasaki Debuts Supercharged Four-Cylinder Engine

11/20/2013 @ 1:39 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

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The start of the Tokyo Motor Show is today, if you haven’t already noticed, and it looks like the Japanese OEMs have saved their best models for the home court advantage this year, with all four of the Big Four having something special for Tokyo.

Yamaha’s big announcement of course is the nearly-ready-for-production Yamaha R25 concept, a 250cc two-cylinder sport bike that Valentino Rossi says “packs quite a punch.” The tuning fork brand also has its more fanciful concepts to show-off, chiefly the Yamaha PES1 electric street bike and the Yamaha PED1 electric dirt bike.

Suzuki is in the mix as well, with its turbocharged Recursion concept, as well as its electric monkey bike, the Extrigger concept. Both of these motorcycles look like a hoot to ride, for very different reasons of course.

Not wanting to be left out on the forced-induction warpath, Kawasaki has its own blower for the two-wheeled world. Showcasing a supercharged four-cylinder engine at its booth, Kawasaki says it developed the turbine and motor in-house, and hints that we will see this in a motorcycle model in the near future.

WSBK: FIM Confirms Cost-Cutting Rules, Adds EVO Class

08/09/2013 @ 11:21 am, by Jensen Beeler15 COMMENTS

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The FIM has confirmed changes to the World Superbike Championship for the 2014 season and onward. Following in the footsteps of the MotoGP Championship, WSBK will go to an eight-engine allocation (per rider, per season), have a limited number of gear ratios, as well as price caps on brake and suspension pieces. Pretty standard fare.

More intriguing though is the announcement by the FIM that World Superbikes will have a sub-category: the EVO class. British motorbike race fans will find the term familiar but for the rest of us, the distinction is simple.

The WSBK EVO class will follow the same rules as the standard WSBK-spec machine in regards to chassis, suspension, and braking components, but will follow the FIM Superstock rules when it comes to engines and electronic systems. The press release is after the jump.

MotoGP Engine Usage at the Halfway Mark: Yamaha Struggling, Honda Dominating, & Ducati Managing

08/06/2013 @ 5:38 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders.

In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.

For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out.

2014 Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC ABS – Now with Bosch 9MP ABS, 167 Horsepower, & More Letters in Its Name

07/17/2013 @ 6:15 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS

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Now 167 hp strong, those crazy Italians in Noale are upgrading there already stout Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC for the 2014 model year, and for bonus points are adding an ABS package along with those extra ponies on the streetfighter’s peak horsepower figure.

Integrating the Bosch 9MP dual-channel ABS package, which is mated to Brembo M432 brake calipers up-front, Aprilia has made the 2014 Aprilia Tuono V4 R  a bit more stable while braking on questionable road conditions — keeping the bike inline with its competitors.

With a bevy of changes coming to the Tuono’s 999.6cc V4 power plant to boost power, we also see that Aprilia has included its second-generation APRC electronics package to the motorcycle, making it easily the most tech-savvy machine in its category.

Other changes include also a larger fuel tank (4.9 gallons), and a new seat for better street performance and ergonomics. It’s not clear if Aprilia USA will price the 2014 Aprilia Tuono V4 R at its previous $14,999 MSRP, or will continue its aggressive pricing at $13,999, like the company has done with the 2013 models.

Analysis: Ducati’s Non-MSMA Entry Machines for MotoGP – A Great Gamble with the New Regulations

07/01/2013 @ 4:15 pm, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

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At Assen, Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti revealed that they too will be offering bikes for non-MSMA teams in 2014. While Honda is selling a simplified production racer version of the RC213V, and Yamaha is to lease M1 engines, the package Ducati is offering could turn out to be very interesting indeed.

Instead of producing a separate machine, Ducati will be offering the 2013 version of the Desmosedici to private teams, to be entered as non-MSMA entries, and using the spec-electronics hardware and software package provided by Magneti Marelli.

Although the current 2013 machine is still far from competitive – at Assen, the two factory Ducatis finished 33 seconds behind the winner Valentino Rossi, and behind the Aprilia ART machine – the special conditions allowed for non-MSMA entries make the Desmosedici a much more interesting proposition.

MotoGP: When Will Yamaha’s Seamless Gearbox Arrive? Probably Not This Season

06/19/2013 @ 10:36 pm, by David Emmett15 COMMENTS

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Why did the factory Yamaha team head to the Motorland Aragon circuit to join Honda and Suzuki at a private test? Was it perhaps to give Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi their first taste of the seamless gearbox Yamaha have been developing, to counter Honda’s advantage?

That is the question which many fans have been asking, and in recent days – and weeks – I have been inundated with questions about the seamless gearbox. Well, question, singular, actually, as it all boils down to just the one: When will Yamaha finally start to race their seamless gearbox?

It is a question I have been trying to pursue since the start of the season, since rumors first emerged that they may have used the gearbox at the first race of the year. All inquiries I made, at all levels of the Yamaha organization, received the same answers: Yes, Yamaha is developing a seamless gearbox, and is testing it back in Japan. No, Yamaha has not yet raced it, and has no plans to race it. And no, it is not yet ready to be tested.

Engine Trouble Looming For Yamaha in MotoGP – Rossi & Lorenzo Burning Through Their Allocations

06/15/2013 @ 9:08 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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The defense of Jorge Lorenzo’s MotoGP championship faces a further obstacle. In addition to having to fend off an unleashed Dani Pedrosa, and the rookie sensation that is Marc Marquez, the Yamaha Factory Racing rider now has to deal with a looming engine shortage as well.

Just six race weekends into the 2013 MotoGP season, and the factory Yamaha riders are already using the fourth of the five engines that they have for the entire season. With two thirds of the season left to go, the Yamaha men will face a serious challenge in making their engines last until the end of the season.

The First Steps on Ducati’s Long Road to Redemption

04/15/2013 @ 3:54 pm, by David Emmett35 COMMENTS

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“This is the reality,” factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo.

While Dovizioso’s qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.

The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry, and to a lesser extent chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body.

How the Honda RC213V 90° V4 Engine Makes Us Rethink the Problems with the Ducati Desmosedici

02/19/2013 @ 3:59 pm, by David Emmett44 COMMENTS

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Just over 18 months ago, I wrote a long analysis of what I believed at the time was the main problem with Ducati’s Desmosedici MotoGP machine. In that analysis, I attributed most of the problems with the Desmosedici to the chosen angle of the V, the angle between the front and rear cylinder banks.

By sticking with the 90° V, I argued, Ducati were creating problems with packaging and mass centralization, which made it almost impossible to get the balance of the Desmosedici right. The engine was taking up too much space, and limiting their ability to adjust the weight balance by moving the engine around.

Though there was a certain logic to my analysis, it appears that the engine angle was not the problem. Yesterday, in their biweekly print edition, the Spanish magazine Solo Moto published an article by Neil Spalding, who had finally obtained photographic evidence that the Honda RC213V uses a 90° V, the same engine angle employed by the Ducati Desmosedici. Given the clear success of the Honda RC213V, there can no longer be any doubt that using a 90° V is no impediment to building a competitive MotoGP machine.

The photographic proof comes as confirmation of rumors which had been doing the rounds in the MotoGP paddock throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Several people suggested that the Honda may use a 90° angle, including Ducati team manager Vitto Guareschi, speaking to GPOne.com back in November.

I had personally been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a naked RC213V engine at one rain-soaked race track in September, but while the glimpse through the window may have been good enough to form the impression of an engine that looked like it may have been a 90°V, it was a very long way from being anything resembling conclusive, and nowhere near enough to base a news story on.

Spalding’s persistence has paid off, however. The British photographer and journalist is a common sight wandering among the garages, either first thing in the morning, as the bikes are being warmed up, or late at night, while the mechanics prepare the machines for the following day.

At some point, the Honda mechanics and engineers – protective to the point of prudishness of displaying any part of their machine to the outside world – would let their guard slip. When they did, Spalding pounced.

So why did Honda elect to use an engine layout which is blamed for causing Ducati so much trouble? And how does Honda make the layout work where Ducati have continued to fail? The first question is relatively simple to answer; the second is a good deal more tricky.