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.

Jerez MotoGP Test Summary: Funny Front Tires, Wings, & A Chance to Test Properly

04/27/2016 @ 11:19 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out.

There really was a lot to test: not just parts and setup, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the “safety” rear tire introduced after Argentina.

First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm.

Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday’s race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.

A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use.

There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding’s rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned.

Bradley Smith had described it as “a prototype”. The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.

Grand Prix Commission Bans Winglets in Moto2 & Moto3

03/22/2016 @ 8:47 am, by David Emmett34 COMMENTS

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The War on Wings continues. At Qatar, the Grand Prix Commission agreed to ban winglets in the Moto2 and Moto3.

The aerodynamic devices are banned immediately in Moto2, while they will be banned in Moto3 from 2017 onward, as Mahindra have already fitted small winglets to their Moto3 machine to be used at some races this season.

However, the ban on winglets for 2017 should stop development of them immediately.

The ban has no effect on MotoGP, however. There are powerful moves to try to ban the winglets in MotoGP, but they face resistance from the manufacturers.

This is because one of the conditions under which the factories accepted the switch to the common software was that the technical regulations would remain stable for the coming five years, the usual time period for technical regulations to last.

However, the appearance of winglets and strakes on the MotoGP bikes has triggered fears of a spending war on aerodynamics between the factories.

Opinion: More Knee-Jerk Rule Changes Come to MotoGP in Response to the Sepang Clash

03/03/2016 @ 5:49 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

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Farewell, MotoGP penalty point system, we barely knew you. In a press release issued today (and rather bizarrely, leaked to a Spanish journalist two days ago) the FIM announced that the Grand Prix Commission had decided to modify the penalty point system.

From now on, the only penalty to be imposed will happen once a rider accrues a total of ten points, at which point they will be disqualified for one race. The penalties for four (starting from the back of the grid) and seven points (starting from pit lane) have been dropped.

At a stroke, the penalty point system has been emasculated.

MotoGP Rules Update: Stewards Disciplinary Panel Confirmed, Tire Pressure Sensors Mandatory

02/06/2016 @ 5:22 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Rules Update: Stewards Disciplinary Panel Confirmed, Tire Pressure Sensors Mandatory

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As we reported on Tuesday, changes are to be made to Race Direction. At a meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the Grand Prix Commission decided to change the way disciplinary matters are handled by Race Direction.

For this season, a separate body is to be set up to handle all incidents on track requiring disciplinary action.

These issues have been handled by Race Direction until now, but the incident at Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez led to calls for such decisions to be taken away from Race Direction, to allow quicker decisions to be made.

From the start of the 2016 season, all disciplinary matters will be dealt with by a separate panel, consisting of three people. One of those will be Mike Webb, who as MotoGP Race Director is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the MotoGP race.

Mike Webb will be joined by two stewards appointed by the FIM. Those stewards have yet to be appointed, and the press release issued by the FIM does not make clear whether the stewards will be appointed permanently, for a full season, or for each race individually.

In the case of an incident which needs to be investigated by the panel of stewards, Mike Webb will hand over his duties as Race Director to a newly appointed deputy, Graham Webber.

MotoGP’s Race Direction To Be Altered in Wake of Sepang

02/02/2016 @ 8:34 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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Race Direction is to be altered in the wake of the clash in Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. A proposal to split the responsibilities of Race Direction is to be adopted at the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission to be held on Thursday.

The proposal will see the responsibility for disciplinary matters removed from the current four members of Race Direction, and placed in the hands of a separate panel of stewards.

Race Direction will continue to be in charge of all aspects of running the race, including marshalling and safety, but incidents between riders will be investigated by the new panel.

They will be charged with judging all incidents of unfair play, and especially of violations of rule 1.21.2, which mandates responsible behavior by the riders on track.

The Massive 2016 MotoGP Rule Update

01/08/2016 @ 2:14 am, by David Emmett11 COMMENTS

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With major changes to the technical regulations for MotoGP in 2016, it has taken some time for the FIM to produce a new and revised version of the rulebook.

The first provisional version was made available today, the new rules bringing together all of the new rules agreed over the past few years into a single set of regulations.

Most of the new rules have already been written about during the year, but putting them into a single rulebook helped clarify them greatly.

The biggest changes are to the technical regulations. The abolition of the Open class means everyone is back on a single set of rules. Or rather, nearly everyone.

There are still two types of manufacturers: manufacturers subject to the standard rules, and manufacturers who have not yet had sufficient success, and therefore have been granted a number of concessions.

Those concessions are more limited than the Open class, though, and relate now only to testing and to engine development. Everyone will have the same amount of fuel, the same tire allocation, and everyone will use the same electronics, the spec hardware and the unified software.

Though many fans are disappointed that there isn’t just a single set of rules, the concessions which remain are absolutely vital to the long-term health of the series.

With Honda, Yamaha, and since last year, Ducati, all subject to a freeze on engine development and limited testing, Suzuki and Aprilia (and KTM, when they join the series in 2017) stand a chance of cutting the gap to the more successful factories.

Without concessions, the smaller factories wouldn’t stand a chance of catching the others, especially not a factory with almost limitless resources like Honda. Indeed, without the concessions granted to Ducati, there is a very good chance the Italian factory would have left MotoGP in 2014, after three long years without results.

The previous era, when the factories all competed under a single set of rules, ended up with just 17 bikes on the grid, and manufacturers showing more interest in leaving MotoGP than in joining. That situation has been completely reversed.

A more intriguing change has been the introduction of clear rules on the safety equipment to be used by riders. Back protectors and chest protectors are now compulsory, and minimum standards have been imposed for helmets, leathers, boots and gloves.

Rider safety equipment will now be much more closely regulated and monitored.

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.

MotoGP: Ducati Loses Concessions for 2016

06/28/2015 @ 2:46 pm, by David Emmett13 COMMENTS

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Ducati are to lose their concessions for the 2016 MotoGP season. Meeting at Assen, the Grand Prix Commission decided to apply the system of concession points which was due to take effect from the 2016 season to the results of Ducati for this season.

This means that from next year, Ducati will race under the same rules as Honda and Yamaha, which means that they will have seven engines per season, with no development allowed during the season, and testing with factory riders restricted to official tests and a handful of private tests.

MotoGP: MSMA Proposes Introducing Concession Points Early, Removing Ducati Concessions for 2016

05/05/2015 @ 7:59 am, by David Emmett30 COMMENTS

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Ducati could have their concessions removed a year early. The manufacturers’ association, MSMA, are proposing to introduce the concession point system, which was due to start in 2016, to apply from this year.

That would mean that Ducati would be forced to race in 2016 against Honda and Yamaha under the same regulations, including frozen engines, seven engines a year instead of nine, and testing limited to official tests.

The success of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 has shown up a gap in the regulations. The system of concessions allowed to manufacturers without a recent win has universally been hailed as a success, allowing Ducati to catch up with Yamaha and Honda, and Suzuki to already close the gap.

However, as the rules are due to change in 2016, the system of concessions will also change. Under the system which applies this year, a factory which has not had a dry win in the last three years gets extra fuel, a soft year, 12 engines instead of 5, freedom from the engine freeze, and freedom to test with factory riders.

From 2016, all of the teams will have 22 liters of fuel and will be using the same tires, and so there will be fewer concessions. Factories will get 9 engines instead of 7, not be subject to an engine freeze, and be allowed to test with factory riders.

The system for calculating when a factory loses concessions will also change. A new system of concession points will be introduced for 2016, awarding 3 points to a win, 2 points for a second and 1 point for a third.

The 2015 MotoGP Rules Primer: Engines, Fuel, Tires, Testing, & More for the Five Factories

03/23/2015 @ 3:05 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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Once upon a time, Grand Prix racing rules were fairly simple: bikes had to have two wheels, weigh 130kg, have a maximum capacity of 500cc and a maximum of four cylinders. The switch to four strokes in 2002 added a lot of complexity to the rules, and things have been getting slowly worse since then.

MotoGP now has two different categories with three different rule sets covering a single class, depending on entry type and results in recent years.

With Suzuki and Aprilia entering the series in 2015, and another rule change on the horizon for 2016, it’s time to take a quick look at the rules for this season, and see what has changed since last year.