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.

In the Future, Will You Even Wear a Helmet?

01/07/2013 @ 5:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS

Human-Head-Motorcycle-Helmet

Here at Asphalt & Rubber, we spend some pixels talking about the finer points of helmet usage, especially when it comes to the debate regarding mandatory helmet laws. Looking at helmets from 50 years ago, and the basic concept hasn’t changed all that much in the time since.

A hard shell, some impact material, and a soft lining mated to a visor and chin-strap system, over the last half-century most of the improvements to the basic helmet design have been for added fit and comfort, or cheaper and lighter materials — even the more creative and innovative designs that are being hocked around the internet right now don’t stray far from the current concept.

Think 50 years ahead though, and it is hard to imagine the same shapes and designs staying constant. In fact, it becomes possible to imagine motorcyclists wearing no helmets at all. No, I am not talking about some sort of libertarian movement that will rush through our political system, freeing us from the shackles of big government.

Instead, I am talking about the true next-generation of safety devices for the gray matter that resides between your ears, which might put the mandatory helmet law debate to rest (well…probably not).

Talk Amongst Yourselves

02/10/2011 @ 1:50 pm, by Jensen Beeler32 COMMENTS

There’s something happening on the electric side of the motorcycle industry, but no one is talking publicly about it. It’s a fragile idea, and it feels like even mentioning it could jeopardize its very existence. Because of this, I’ve wrestled with putting words down to discuss the topic, not wanting to be the person to spoil the whole thing.

However, lately so many influential people involved with electric motorcycles have independently brought up the subject with me that this discussion is not only becoming unavoidable, but perhaps airing the idea out in public will facilitate some sort of greater dialogue between the different parties. The concept that I’m referring to is of course consolidation.

Mission Motors Raises $3.36 Million Round

06/15/2010 @ 6:06 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

Mission Motors has submitted an SEC Form D filing that shows that the San Francisco based company has raised $3.36 million in a $4.67 million investment round. While Mission Motors won’t comment on the SEC filing, the use of the funds is presumably to go towards bringing production of the Mission One and subsequent Mission motorcycles into reality, as the Mission Motors team gears up to bring its creations to market and establish a production facility.

Step Right Up and Get Your Authentic Erik Buell Racing Wheel – Slightly Used from MMP

06/09/2010 @ 8:22 pm, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

You gotta love Erik Buell. Say what you will about his motorcycles, but the guy and his team live outside of the box, and it’s awesome. When Geoff May had an off at Miller Motorsports Park, and launched his Erik Buell Racing 1125RR into the air, the result was this busted PVM forged magnesium rear-wheel.

While most teams would throw it into the scrap heap, EBR is instead auctioning it off on eBay to help raise the funds needed for a replacement wheel. That’s entrepreneurship at it’s finest folks. The only thing that makes this auction better, is the description that follows.

Mission Motors Changes Management Line-up – Appoints Jit Bhattacharya as Interim CEO

02/11/2010 @ 10:20 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

Mission Motors has announced today that they have replaced co-founder Forrest North in his role as company CEO. The move signals a change within Mission Motors that shows the company focusing on bringing products into production and putting them into consumers’ hands. In their announcement, Mission Motors’ Board of Directors have begun their search for a long-term CEO with experience in product development and automotive manufacturing, but in the interim the company will be headed by its current COO Jit Bhattacharya.

The transition, while seemingly drastic, is one that every startup must face as it moves from a visionary and industry challenging mindset to a functional and operational capacity. This movement in management is one that virtually all startups face at some point or another, and something we’ve talked about here in some detail in our “Tradition is not a Business Model” series, so it’s announcement at this point in time isn’t terribly surprising to this author, and storied lesson in entrepreneurship that transcends even into the motorcycle industry.

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?

Tradition Is Not A Business Model: Zero Motorcycles

10/05/2009 @ 3:32 am, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

Walking into the office of a company is always an interesting experience. For a company, the work place is the first expression of the company’s culture. Similarly, workspaces are often a reflection of the people that work inside them, an occupational rorschach test if you will. Yet, despite its importance and revealing nature, a company headquarters is rarely experienced by the end-consumer. It is an interesting disparity that occurs in every industry, and the electric motorcycle scene is no different.

Tradition Is Not A Business Model

09/28/2009 @ 2:58 am, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

In my last year of business school I had to write a business plan in order to officially obtain a concentration in Corporate Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This was before the complete global economic meltdown, and entrepreneurship was still very much a dirty word in the hallowed walls of our MBA program. Many of my classmates were hoping for Wall Street jobs, and the class all-stars were all vying for jobs at the hottest hedge funds, so the idea of starting a company that would likely pay a negative paycheck in its first couple years was very much a foreign concept. It comes as no surprise then that only four or five business plans were submitted for consideration for the course concentration; one of which was mine, entitled Tradition is Not a Business Model – An American Sportbike Business Plan.

In this article, and its subsequent series of articles, I hope to re-examine what it means to start a motorcycle company in the United States. While my original business plan centered around the concept of a traditional motorcycle with an internal combustion engine, this series of articles will instead take the opportunity to look into corporate innovation in the motorcycle industry, through the lens of the newly formed electric motorcycle sector. In what I hope will become a weekly conversation on business in the motorcycle industry, we begin our discussion first with the perspectives of four entrepreneurs, which you’ll see in the coming Sunday Editions of Asphalt & Rubber.