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.

Harley-Davidson Has Pope Bless Fuel Tanks – No, Seriously

10/03/2012 @ 2:59 pm, by Jensen Beeler23 COMMENTS

Harley-Davidson is in Italy this week, gearing up for the company’s 110th Anniversary event that’s being held in Rome in June 2013. Apparently part of the pre-party planning involved having Pope Benedict XVI bless two fuel tanks today, with brand ambassador Willie G. Davidson present. This is of course a practice run for the full-bike blessing that will take place next year in St. Peter’s square.

We were going to write a tongue-in-cheek article about how we have never seen a company get as excited about a 110th anniversary celebration (though, there should be some sort of record for making the same motorcycle for that long of a time period), and maybe lace it with some choice idealogical wordplay, but honestly the press release from Harley-Davidson provides ample fodder for the cynics without our help. And here we thought the Pope was more of a Ducati guy

No Sub-800cc Motorcycle for India? Why Harley-Davidson Doesn’t Understand Emerging Markets

06/02/2012 @ 7:38 am, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Regular readers of Asphalt & Rubber will have noticed by now that I like to talk about what is going on with motorcycling in emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, etc. The fact of the matter is that it is these markets, not North America or Europe, that are going to serve as the future for the motorcycle industry, and the sooner us westerners get used to that idea, the better. For an industry built around and defined by the rebellious archetypes portrayed by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, the reality is that motorcyclists as a whole are conservative by nature, and resistant to change…especially in the United States.

We like our bikes loud, our helmets off, and bikes built by real blue-collar ‘mericans. Our skin prickles at the thought of manufacturing outside the borders of our blessed Union, and every time a company opens a factory in India, Southeast Asia, or South America, we talk about the outsourcing of American labor, the downfall of our economy, or something equally hyperbolic.

This has been the same broken record that has been played for the better part of the past 100 years, and has re-manifests itself each decade to address the next perceived threat to our domestic economy. While there is much to say about the shifting of America’s GDP from manufacturing to service industries, the real germane subject for discussion here centers around the idea that all too often Chicken Little rears his head when an American company opens a factory outside of the United States.

Such is the case with Harley-Davidson, which setup manufacturing in India back in 2011. Contrary to belief that the sky was falling, the Bar & Shield brand was not getting ready to massively outsource its production abroad (though it was heavily re-negotiating with its unionized labor force), but instead very deliberately and wisely chose to bypass India’s extraordinarily high tariffs by building and assembling its Indian market bikes locally. This move allowed Harley-Davidson to competitively and reasonably price its motorcycle in the Indian market, which in turn helped the brand expand its presence in one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world.

While this plan so far has proved to be fruitful for Harley-Davidson, the recent news that Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash has confirmed that H-D will not be making a sub-800cc bike specifically for the Indian market shows a misstep for Harley-Davidson with its international strategy, especially as it pertains to the major growth markets for motorcycling.

Harley-Davidson Swept Away During Japanese Tsunami is Headed to H-D Museum After Owner Refuses Its Return

05/26/2012 @ 5:47 am, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

It has been a month since we first reported about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that washed up on Canadian soil, which was the first major piece of debris to hit North American soil from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Remarkable in its own right, the American-made motorcycle was being stored in the back of box truck before the earthquake, and during the tsunami, the box separated from the vehicle and ended up floating across the Pacific Ocean over the past year.

Landing on Graham Island of British Columbia, the Harley has been a reminder of the devastation and power of the Japanese disaster, and immediately a search was conducted to find the bike’s owner, if he was still alive. Using the VIN and license plate, which were still readable on the motorcycle, Ikuo Yokoyama was ultimately identified as the owner of the Harley-Davidson Softail Night Train, and efforts were put in place to put the motorcyclist back in possession of his Harley-Davidson, which is where this story gets interesting.

Motorcycle from Japanese Tsunami Washes Up in Canada

04/30/2012 @ 10:43 am, by Jensen Beeler14 COMMENTS

Just a little over a year later, debris from the Sendai earthquake and its subsequent tsunami is starting to make its way across the Pacific Ocean, with the first bit major piece of fallout to hit Canadian soil just now being reported. Though the effects to the motorcycle industry were only a small portion of the overall devastation, for our purposes it seems fitting that the first sizable item to wash ashore is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Landing in the Haida Gwaii islands of British Columbia, the Harley-Davidson Softail was discovered by Peter Mark, who was riding his ATV along the coast of the isolated beach.

MIC Leaks Harley-Davidson’s Q1 Sales Figures

04/24/2012 @ 5:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

For a while now I have been trying to figure out what exactly the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) does, because while the MIC “exists to preserve, protect and promote motorcycling through government relations, communications and media relations…” the industry group does a pretty poor job of doing much of anything along the lines of its mission statement, if it does anything really at all. Showing signs of life though, the MIC is making headlines today after it disclosed Harley-Davidson’s Q1 2012 earnings, ahead of the publicly-traded company’s shareholder meeting. Nice.

The move caused a bit of a shuffle over in Milwaukee, as the Bar & Shield brand had to make an emergency filing with the SEC that it had in fact found a 25.5% sales gain in the first three months of the year (bravo to Harley, by the way). For those that aren’t as a familiar with the MIC, the nonprofit group is essentially comprised of representatives from the various motorcycle OEMs, aftermarket, and other industry businesses, and is the corporatation-focused counterpart to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), which supposedly has the best interests of motorcyclist at its heart.

Beeler’s Law

04/01/2012 @ 9:49 am, by Jensen Beeler18 COMMENTS

“As an online discussion about motorcycles grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Erik Buell or Buell Motorcycles entering the conversation approaches a value of one.” – Beeler’s Law

Willie G. Davidson Retires from Harley-Davidson

03/16/2012 @ 6:18 pm, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

Grandson to William A. Davidson, one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, and son to William H. Davidson, Harley-Davidson’s second President, Willie G. Davidson is the personification of the Harley-Davidson brand as we know it, and has been the personal link between Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners and the corporate entity.

Both literally and figuratively the brand’s goodwill ambassador, Willie G. has spent the past 49 years helping forge the iconic brand of Harley-Davidson, and has defined the Harley-Davidson aesthetic by serving as the company’s Chief Styling Officer.

Announcing his retirement today in a company press release, Willie G. will stay on as an ambassador of sorts, and also retain the title Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, though his day-to-day duties at the Bar & Shield brand will be over, effective April 30th, 2012.

Update on the Bottpower BOTT XR-1

02/07/2012 @ 7:15 pm, by Jensen Beeler29 COMMENTS

It is sad to say, but the Harley-Davidson XR1200X is just about the only thing from the Milwaukee brand that intrigues me. And what kills me the most is that Harley-Davidson could really add something more to its product line up if it just explored the flat-tracker aesthetic in greater detail with its brand. Instead of bringing to market twenty or so variations on the same cruiser shape, Harley-Davidson could really bolster its brand with younger riders if it simply tapped into the street-tracker/scrambler movement that is percolating underneath the “looks like a Power Ranger” street scene.

Wake up Milwaukee, because the emo-teenger, full of high school angst, has matured into the “college is for pussies” hipster scene, which is comprised of an eclectic group of people that have been collectively displaced out of the 1940’s and into the new millennium + 10 years. Building a brand off the 1% rebel perception, I don’t know why its such a hard concept for Harley-Davidson to understand that it can latch onto these new-age bohemians, and create a similar bond with them as it did with the Baby Boomers so many years ago. After all, there is already great symmetry between the two cultures, as both Harley-Davidson and the hipster elite seem forever-fixated on a period in time that is far enough removed from our parents’ generation to be considered cool again.

What the hipsters wouldn’t like of course is the Bottpower BOTT XR-1. A racier and more custom version of the Harley-Davidson XR1200X (The BOTT XR-1 is actually based off a Buell motor), Bottpower has done such a good job making the Buell look Alana Blanchard hot that the Voltron generation will forget all about the reasons their didn’t like the Bar & Shield brand in the first place, and instantly liquidate their pre-IPO Facebook stock in order to make room for Bottpower’s work in their marina-view apartments. Needless to say, I like what’s going on here.

Harley-Davidson Sales Grew Almost 6% in 2011

01/26/2012 @ 2:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

A few years ago death was on the doorstop for Harley-Davidson. Posting yearly sales losses on a regular basis, when the recession hit the Milwaukee company, it sold off its holdings in MV Agusta, and shuttered the Buell Motorcycle brand in order to keep its core business unit intact.

In Q2 of 2011, Harley-Davidson posted its YTD of growth since 2006, and the Bar & Shield brand continued that trend throughout the rest of last year. Finishing Q4 2011 with sales up 10.9% worldwide (11.8% in the US) over Q4 2010, Harley-Davidson finished the year strong with sales up 5.9% worldwide when compared to 2010. Additionally, sales in the United States posted a similar 5.8% of growth for units sold.

Harley-Davidson Makes the Interbrand 100 for Another Year

01/17/2012 @ 11:03 am, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

Every year Interbrand releases a list of the Top 100 global brands — ranking each company on its brand value and then assigning a dollar amount to that value. As such over the years, the Interbrand 100 has become the de facto metric on the strength of a company’s brand. For some time Harley-Davidson has been a stalwart of the Interbrand 100, with the Bar & Shield brand regularly getting the nod from the consultancy’s specialists — after all, how many brands are responsible for enthusiasts tattooing its logo on their body? However the past few years have seen a worrisome trend, as slowly Harley-Davidson has fallen farther and farther down the Interbrand 100 rankings.