The maxi-scooter scene in Japan borders on the lunatic fringe, as the two-wheeled segment is over-saturated with trendy young riders, as full-size motorcycles are too prohibitively expensive for 20-somethings in the island nation. This has created a vibrant tuner and modder community for scooters in Japan, which has spurred some of the most audacious builds we have ever seen. It doesn’t surprise us then to see the zecOO from Kota Nezu of Znug Design.
Perhaps some of the most amazing things I have witnessed on two wheels have been performed by trials riders. Splattering up obstacles, balancing across narrow beams, and generally having more bike control in their pinky than in my entire body, I am fairly sure trials riders are demigods with a serious motorcycling addiction…that is of course until I saw this video.
Part trials, part Spartan race, this Japanese G-Impact extreme enduro event doesn’t mess around when it comes to obstacles, nor does one competitor let a 25 foot dirt cliff stop him from completing his run (in awesome glory). We don’t have official confirmation, but rumors indicate the man behind the helmet is King Leonidas himself. Bad assery after the jump.
Well, 2011 as a year is finally over, and for the motorcycling community it was quite a year. As we begin 2012, we here at Asphalt & Rubber are of course not immune to the desire to summarize and highlight the passing of 2011. So we accordingly assembled 11 of the most important events that shaped motorcycling this past year and changed the way the sport, the industry, and the community will grow in the years to come.
Picking only eleven moments in a single year is no easy feat, though some of the events in our selection are obvious choices because of their magnitude. However, some of the less obvious picks (and we are sure there will be suggestions for alternatives in the comments), stem from the theory that 2011 saw moments whose importance has yet to be fully appreciated at this point in time. Enjoy and a Happy New Year to our loyal A&R readers.
A less well-known MotoGP factoid is that Honda owns the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, though to the casual observer HRC clearly had a dominate presence at Motegi this weekend, with eight bikes on the grid throughout the race weekend. As the Yamahas struggled throughout the week, and with Ducati still hunting for a setup that will allow them to compete near the front, Honda continued to make a point of national unity at the Japanese GP going into Sunday’s race, a fact that has been further underlined by the company’s continued dominance in the 2011 season.
After a dominant finish in Aragon, Casey Stoner had all but won the 2011 MotoGP Championship, though few expected the Australian to take things easy in Japan this weekend. No longer nipping on Stoner’s Championship heals, Lorenzo came to Japan with a tall order to defend his #1 plate, though mathematically the reigning-World Champion hasn’t been ruled out of the Championship. Expected to push hard for the rest of the season, Lorenzo’s fate this season rested on the hopes for a mistake from the seemingly unstoppable Stoner.
With MotoGP action finally coming to Japan this season, qualifying at the Twin Rings Motegi Circuit was underway this Saturday. Despite the posturing of the GP riders before the Japanese GP, all of MotoGP’s riders have been in attendance this weekend, with the only exception being Ben Spies who has been present more in body than in spirit, as the American has been battling a bout of food poisoning all week. Helping bulster the ranks further, was an increased showing by HRC, which added test riders Kousuke Akiyoshi and Shinichi Ito to mix on a second LRC Honda bike and HRC wild card bike, respectively.
With the rider’s boycott null and void, attention in the MotoGP paddock could finally focus on racing at Motegi, and the pace was scorching during the qualifying session. With the “best lap” record dropping in the final minutes of the QP, the last year of the 800cc class MotoGP race bikes is certainly not going gently into that good night. With riders pushing the envelope right until the end of the session, qualifying at Motegi was an exciting battle for the pole position. Click through the jump to see the qualifying results.
Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies is having a tough time in Japan so far, as the American has been battling food poisoning before his departure from the United States. Almost not allowed on the plane to Japan, Spies’ food poisoning made riding in Free Practice 1 difficult, and caused the former-WSBK Champion to call it quits for the day, mid-session into FP2. Working with the staff at Clinica Mobile to overcome his sickness and to replenish his strength, Spies is hopeful to be ready in time for Sunday’s race, though with his energy tapped and the Yamaha YZR-M1 struggling at Motegi, the American will have his work cut out for him. Spies finished Friday’s combined Free Practices 12th on the time sheet.
MotoGP action has finally hit Japanese shores, as riders and teams made their usual Thursday preparations and announcements at Motegi for the Japanese GP. With the near rider boycott of the event, many eyes have been on the teams that have imported food and water, let alone the sighting of the occasional Geiger counter at the Twin Ring Circuit. Perpetuating an air of concern over the stability of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake 60km (37 miles) SSE from the crippled nuclear power plant sent a reminder of the region’s seismic volatility. With no damage reportedly caused at Fukushima, and the Japanese GP unaffected by the event, the physical impact is of course non-existent for MotoGP, but the psychological factor certainly remains in the paddock.
Unrelated to the earthquake, Casey Stoner was absent from the Thursday pre-race press conference, as the Australian’s flight was late in arriving into Japan. As such, Jorge Lorenzo filled-in at the center seat, normally reserved for the MotoGP Championship points leader, and made light of the situation.”Where is Casey?” asked a playful Jorge Lorenzo. “Am I leading the Championship now?” he said with a smile. 44 points behind the Repsol Honda rider, Lorenzo acknowledged that his Championship bid was essentially over, though seemed still determined to carry the flag for Yamaha in the final four races of the 2011 season.
Make no doubts about it, Honda is set to make a statement at the rescheduled Japanese GP on October 2nd. After much hemming and hawing over whom would and would not race at Motegi, virtually every rider in the MotoGP paddock has been confirmed to be in attendance at Japan early next month, including Casey Stoner (according to Honda at least).
Whether it is because the riders have begun to believe the bevy of reports that Motegi and the Fukushima nuclear plant are safe, or the fact that the Twin Ring Circuit has already played host to several high-profile events, or even if it is the simple reality that Japanese companies like Honda and Yamaha have enormously long memories regarding issues of pride and honor, the fact of the matter is that not only will the MotoGP grid be as full as possible (there are question marks regarding Loris Capirossi’s shoulder), but Honda will field two more riders for the Japanese GP.
In a short statement, Yamaha Racing confirmed that factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies will compete in the Japanese GP in late-October. While both Yamaha riders have been reluctant about going to Motegi, they, like the rest of the MotoGP paddock, have been made uneasy by concerns over radiation reports, suspicions of the Japanese government candor on the issue, and safety considerations about the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
With MotoGP riders threatening a near mutiny over Dorna’s pressure to go on with the Japanese GP, at the center of the riders’ push-back were Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner. With both Stoner and Lorenzo continually softening their position on Motegi over the course of the past few months, Lorenzo now is the first of the ringleaders to let the shoe drop that he will compete in the Japanese round. With the Aragon GP this weekend, it will be interesting to hear what has brought around the young Spanish rider, though we have our guesses.
Sometimes when reading the posts made on other motorcycle sites, or the comments by readers across the web, I don’t think there is a full grasp as to how bad the recession was for the motorcycle industry. Granted company’s like Ducati, BMW, and Victory have shown remarkable growth in a down period, but their success, though due in-part to the failures of Harley-Davidson and the Japanese manufacturers, is limited on its bearing to the industry as a whole. This because, quite frankly, these companies comprise only a small portion of the industry’s sales, units, and revenue.
The fact that Harley-Davidson was so close to the brink that they dumped everything outside of its core business is but one sign that motorcycling was in trouble. Another sign would be that Suzuki reportedly didn’t import any new units for the 2010 model years, instead letting local inventories in the US handle the dwindling demand for the company’s motorcycles. The fact that the motorcycle industry as whole almost folded-up on itself like a tin can without anyone making a real fuss about it is perhaps a great signal as to how far various stakeholders heads are buried in the sand. So for our last attempt to put things into perspective, try this one on for size:
For the first time in nearly three years, Suzuki’s motorcycle division has posted a profit…or, the last time Suzuki made money selling motorcycles was Q2 2008 (the same timeframe that Bill Gates stepped down from his daily duties at Microsoft).