Honda & Hitachi Join Forces on Electric Vehicle Motors

News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.

US Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Close the EPA by 2018

A bill has been presented to the United States House of Representatives that would seek the closure of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) by 2018. Proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R – Florida), HB 861 will likely be a mixed bag for motorcycle enthusiasts, as it will deregulate environmental restrictions set at the federal level, leaving states to draft or adopt their own provisions, which will likely have a fracturing effect on the regulatory market for motorcycles. But, it will also mean the abolition of EPA regulations that many motorcyclists oppose, like the blending of ethanol in our fuel, and restrictions on noise, emissions, and vehicle modifications.

KTM Invests in Heads-Up Display Company NUVIZ

Heads-up display (HUD) company NUVIZ just took a strategic investment from Pierer Industrie AG, the company behind KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension, and others. Today’s news is quite a catch for the San Diego based technology startup, and it bodes well for NUVIZ to bring its heads-up display technology to market. As such, NUVIZ hopes to have a heads-up display unit and connected rider system available in the first half of 2017. NUVIZ has raised roughly $9 million to date, via equity and debt, and our sources tell us that KTM’s purchase into the company has contributed to the lions’s share of that amount – upwards of $5 million, along with a seat on NUVIZ’s board of directors.

Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team Debuts

In an airplane hangar in Austria, Honda’s World Superbike team unveiled its wings…that is to say, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team debuted in the energy drink’s Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg today. As the name implies, Red Bull will be the title sponsor for Nicky Hayden’s and Stefan Bradl’s World Superbike title bid this year, on the updated 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP2. This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the WorldSBK paddock, though the energy drink company’s livery can be seen on variety of bodywork throughout motorsport. “It’s a new year with a new bike, new title partner and new teammate, so there are definitely many changes ahead and a lot of things to look forward to,” said former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.

PJ Jacobsen Gives His First Impressions of MV Agusta

PJ Jacobsen will once again be the sole American representation in World Supersport this year. The New Yorker had his first taste of his MV Agusta F3 in the dry while at the Jerez test, and came away suitably impressed by the bike that has won eight races in the hands of Jules Cluzel in recent years. The 23-year-old tested the bike in Jerez last year in what was seen as a shootout for the ride, but on a damp track he didn’t get a real feel for the bike. “Today was my first day on the bike this year,” said Jacobsen. “I did half a day on the MV last November in Jerez, but it was half wet, half dry so today was good to get out there. It was fully dry so I learned a lot and I’m quite happy with it. The bike is totally different to what I’ve ridden in the past, but the team works really well and they’ve impressed me.”

Check Out the 2017 Honda RC213V

The MotoGP launch season is still upon us, and now that we have seen the teams and bikes from Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha – it is time for Honda to take the wraps off the team its campaigning for its title defense. Debuting the 2017 Honda RC213V at a press event in Indonesia, not much has changed outwardly for the 240+ horsepower GP bike, though there a subtle differences to be seen, if you look closely and compare it to last year’s bike. The Repsol Honda fairings cover the biggest change that we know of, as reports from the test tracks confirm that Honda is experimenting with a “big-bang like” firing order on its V4 engine, a change from the “screamer” configuration of last season, which was handful for Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to manage.

2016 Was A Very Good Year for Husqvarna

Last year proved to be a tough year for many brands, especially those with operations in the United States, but that wasn’t the case for Husqvarna. The rebooted Swedish brand is seeing good life while under its Austrian ownership. Making 2016 a very good year for Husqvarna, the brand is reporting a sales increase of a whopping 43% over 2015’s sales numbers. That is no small feat for Husqvarna, as 2015 was already a record year for the dirt-focuses brand, where it saw a 32% increase. Of course in many ways, up is the only direction Husqvarna can go, after its purchase by Pierer Industrie AG. Still, Husqvarna’s figure of 30,700 sold motorcycles in 2016 is a marked improvement from the near 10,000 units it was producing while part of BMW Motorrad.

2017 Suzuki GSX-RR Debuts in Malaysia

Debuting this weekend in Malaysia, the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has unveiled its team and livery for the 2017 season, which will see Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins riding the update Suzuki GSX-RR race bike. Suzuki has already shown that it has a bike capable of hunting for podiums; and on its best days, it can be a race-winner as well. For the 2017 season though, the Japanese brand hopes to build upon its success in 2016. As such, the ECSTAR Suzuki team has high hopes with the arrival Andrea Iannone, hoping that “Maniac Joe” can add some more wins to Suzuki’s tally. Looking long-term too, the addition of Alex Rins could be strong investment by Team Manager Davide Brivio, with Rins being one of Moto2’s top talents.

OEMs Are Trying to Block “Right to Repair” Laws

Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle. These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years. Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA.

EBR Motorcycles Shutting Down, Yet Again

EBR Motorcycles is closing its doors…again. Yes, you heard that right. America’s superbike brand will be winding down its production operations, starting next week, and is looking for a strategic investor to takeover the brand. Liquid Asset Partners (LAP) attributes its decision to shutdown EBR Motorcycles to the company’s difficulty to secure new dealerships, and thus increase sales. As a result, LAP says that its production volume for 2016 and 2017 was below expectations. The company then finishes its explanation for closing EBR Motorcycles with the following line: “the combination of slow sales and industry announcements of other major OEM brands closing or cutting production only magnified the challenges faced by EBR.”

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 5: Short, But Not So Sweet

01/06/2017 @ 11:53 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Stage 5 of the 2017 Dakar Rally was billed as another brutal challenge for the competitors still remaining. The high-altitude terrain of Bolivia certainly lived up to that expectation, but today’s special was cut in half, with severe weather interrupting the day’s gauntlet.

As such, only 219km of the planned 447km special were ridden, but that “short” distance was enough to once again upheave the overall standings, with several riders losing time from navigational errors and penalties.

Sam Sunderland took the top honors for the day, breathing hope back into KTM’s 2017 Dakar Rally. Sunderland’s victory may have only been by seven minutes, but the gaps were with the right people, as he now stands 20 minutes ahead of Pablo Quintanilla – the previous overall leader.

Quintanilla finished the stage in seventh, losing some time on a navigational error out of a river bed. The Chilean’s conservative approach perhaps did him well though, as his fellow Husqvarna teammate Pela Renet lost over 45 minutes looking for the waypoint around the 152km mark.

With less to lose, the Honda riders pushed hard in Stage 5, though it can’t be said that the results benefited from their gamble. Only Franco Caimi (Honda South America Rally Team) and Paulo Gonçalves (Monster Energy Honda Team), put a Honda in the Top 15 of the day’s rankings.

Gonçalves sits 10th overall for his efforts, one hour and eight minutes behind Sunderland, which could create some interesting “what if” thoughts for the HRC squad, after yesterday’s one-hour time penalties for fueling in a prohibited zone.

Not much has been said this year about the Yamaha Racing effort, but Stage 5 saw a strong performance from Adrien van Beveren, who finished third for the day and seized the same position overall. At just 16 minutes back in the overall standings, Van Beveren is very much in the hunt for this year’s Dakar.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait is also in the hunt, sitting 36 minutes back in sixth place. With two KTMs, two Yamahas, and a Husqvarna all with a reasonable hand on the winner’s trophy still, this is certainly shaping up to be an interesting Dakar Rally.

Tomorrow sees the circus traveling the capital city of La Paz. With 527km of special planned, we expect to see more shuffling of the leaderboard.

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 4: Chaos Ensues

01/06/2017 @ 3:31 am, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

Absolute chaos is the best way to explain Stage 4 of the 2017 Dakar Rally, as the day held surprises for more than a few of the event’s top names.

You may have already heard that KTM’s Toby Price broke his femur, crashing only a few kilometers from the end of the timed special stage. His Dakar is over, and KTM’s winning streak is certainly in danger.

It would be more so in danger though, if the Honda riders weren’t levied with a one-hour time penalty for fueling in a prohibited zone – a move that saw Joan Barreda bumped out of a comfortable lead, and relegated to seventh in the overall standings – 40 minutes back.

As such, Pablo Quintanilla and his Husqvarna technically lead the overall standings, followed by Walkner and three other KTM riders. With this time penalty, it seems very unlikely that the Honda riders will be able to regain their lost positions, though Honda is expected to appeal the ASO’s decision.

As if that entire scenario couldn’t get any weirder, there was still the 416km of timed course for the riders to contend with, including the first set of dunes so far in the 2017 Dakar Rally. With fesh-fesh and plenty of navigational challenges, all at high altitude (3,000 to 4,000 meters), Stage 4 was the mother of all stages.

The challenges only continue with Stage 5, which is set again to be full of navigational challenges, high altitude, and tough terrain.

We would like to give a special shout out to Ivan Jakeš, who was struck by lightning while racing today, and still managed to finish the stage.

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 3: Barreda Rises to the Top

01/04/2017 @ 11:54 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Stage 3 for the 2017 Dakar Rally was a beast – especially in the first 70 km- as temperatures ranged from scorching hot to freezing cold; the climate changed from dry desert to patches of mountain rain; and the day saw nearly 4,000 meters of elevation. So, it shouldn’t surprise to see a shake-up on the leaderboard.

As such, Joan Barreda and his Honda are now the combo to beat in this year’s Dakar Rally, the Spaniard pulling out a solid 10-minute gap on his nearest competitor, who is now KTM’s Sam Sunderland.

Navigation was crucial in today’s two-part 364km special, with the terrain offering a bevy of challenges, including the dreaded fesh-fesh.

Where is Toby Price you might be asking? After a mistake during the very difficult first waypoint of the timed section, Price finds himself down in fifth place, over 16 minutes back from Barreda overall.

Stage 3 was also tough on the factory Yamaha team, with Xaiver de Soultrait slipping out of the Top 5, all the way down to 13th overall, after making a series of costly mistakes early in the special.

Conversely, the day was slightly better for the factory Husqvarna riders, with Pablo Quintanilla making some mistakes, but still seeing his name rise in the rankings. He’s just over a minute outside of the Top 3 now.

Tomorrow sees the Dakar Rally entering Bolivia, with high-altitude sand dunes and plenty of over challenges awaiting them. Still, none of the top riders are out of contention for ultimate victory, but they have a tough road to redemption.

However, Joan Barreda must surely be enjoying the padding he’s just given himself. The test, of course, is to minimize mistakes, and more important nurture his machine all the way to the finish line in Buenos Aires in ten days’ time.

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 2: Toby Price Takes Over the Lead

01/03/2017 @ 6:31 pm, by Jensen Beeler5 COMMENTS

Today marks the real start of the 2017 Dakar Rally, with Stage 2 taking competitors on a 803km trip (275km on the timed special) through the Chaco region of Argentina. Navigation wasn’t too hard on the racers for this stage, though the heat and humidity persisted and road hazards abounded.

This allowed KTM’s Toby Price to pull out a small lead over the competition, which doesn’t mean much in the standings, but sets him up with clear road for tomorrow’s stage start, which could prove to be a strong advantage as the Dakar Rally gains in elevation.

Finishing behind Price was KTM teammate Matthias Walkner, who got caught speeding during the liaison section and suffered a five-minute penalty for it. This dropped Walkner to 15th for the day, and put Paulo Gonçalves into the day’s #2 spot – a good position for the Honda rider.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait has another strong day, as he rounded out the third-place position on Stage 2. KTM’s Sam Sunderland finished the day fourth, and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla finished fifth.

In the overall standings, there is less than five minutes covering the Top 7 riders, showing that there is still some sifting left to do, in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. Tomorrow’s 364km special stage should do just that.

KTM Announces A New President for North America

12/05/2016 @ 5:52 am, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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Big news from KTM, as the “Ready to Race” brand has appointed John Hinz as the new President of KTM North America, effective January 1st, 2017. This means that the buck will stop with Hinz, when it comes to KTM, Husqvarna, and WP Suspension brands in the United States and Canada. 

Hinz will take over from current President Jon-Erik Burleson, who will stay on through January 31st, in order to ensure a smooth transition. After that point in time, Burleson will shift to a brand ambassador role for Husqvarna.

Two Enthusiasts Podcast #38 – EICMA

11/21/2016 @ 1:10 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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Episode 38 of the Two Enthusiasts Podcast is aptly named, as it covers some of the new bikes that debuted at the 2016 EICMA show in Milan, Italy. There’s no need for a long summary of the show, as Quentin and I merely cover some of the standout machines that caught our eye in Milan this year.

We think you will enjoy this podcast, it’s pretty much classic Two Enthusiasts fodder (when we remember to hit the record button), and we give more than one shout-out to the departed Husqvarna Nuda 900, a bike we hardly knew.

As always, you can listen to the show via the embedded SoundCloud player, after the jump, or you can find the show on iTunes (please leave a review) or this RSS feed. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well. Enjoy the show!

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 “Black Arrow” Gets Green-Lit

11/08/2016 @ 9:33 am, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

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The Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is the yin, the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401’s yang, with the Swedish “black arrow” providing a unique twist on the typical scrambler motorcycle.

Another model that is based off the KTM 390 Duke platform, the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is a bike we have seen for quite some time, and now it has finally been given the nod to become a production bike for the 2017 model year.

Like its “white arrow” compatriot, the Svartpilen 401 takes a modern approach to an old aesthetic, and creates something entirely new in the process.

Though Husqvarna is a name with deep off-road roots, we imagine the Svartpilen 401 is about as dual-sport capable as the next “scrambler” you’d find, though we should mention that the small-displacement machine does have some qualities that would lend to its success on down a fire road or two.

The Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 Aero Concept Is F’ing Gorgeous

11/08/2016 @ 8:08 am, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

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Anyone that reads enough Asphalt & Rubber should know that I don’t particularly shine to the café racer aesthetic. So knowing that upfront should add some gravitas to the statement that the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 Aero is blowing my mind right now.

Based on the same unassuming 373cc single-cylinder platform as the Husavarna Vitpilen 401 and Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 motorcycles, the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 Aero concept completes the post-authentic holy trinity of retro standards, scramblers, and café racers.

The Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 Is Finally a Production Model

11/08/2016 @ 7:48 am, by Jensen Beeler16 COMMENTS

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We have known for quite some time that the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 would debut at the 2016 EICMA show, with the Swedish brand teasing us with the pre-production model at last year’s gathering in Milan.

Since that time, we have seen numerous confirmations that the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 would debut as a production model in 2017, and today we can finally tick off the box on that launch.

Based on the KTM 390 Duke platform, the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 (Swedish for white arrow) takes a drastically different tack from its orange-clad sibling, as you can readily see.

The Husqvarna 401 Vitpilen Readies Its EICMA Debut

11/03/2016 @ 11:25 am, by Jensen Beeler27 COMMENTS

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Husqvarna says that it will be debuting two new street bikes at the upcoming EICMA show, along with one new concept bike. We have known for some time that one of those machines would include the Husqvarna 401 Vitpilen, the Swedish brand’s neo-retro take on the KTM 390 Duke platform.

Teasing us now with a short video of this “white arrow”, we get our first obfuscated glimpses of the 2017 Husqvarna 401 Vitpilen, though we doubt the bike has changed much from its concept form.