Indianapolis GP Named Best Grand Prix by MotoGP

At the conclusion of each GP season, an awards ceremony is held to celebrate the year’s champions, crowning the top riders in each category, the top manufacturers, and even the top venue for the season. This year, the honors of the latter went to familiar locale, as the Red Bull Indianapolis GP round was named the “Best Grand Prix” of the 2014 season, making it the first North American round to receive such an honor. Selection criteria for the award included consideration of the venue, promotion, and overall facility operations. For the 2014 race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again repaved its infield section, making alterations to several turns in order to facilitate passing and adding to the track’s overall consistency.

Up-Close with the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200

If there’s a motorcycle that launched at EICMA that I wish we had given more coverage to, it would be the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200. The new adventure-sport machine from Ducati is all-new for the next model year, though it would be hard to tell it from the photos. Even our modest collection of “up-close” photos here don’t do justice to the venerable Multistrada. The face of the Multistrada 1200 has been reworked, with the “beak” softened a bit from its falcon-like profile. The intake inlets are larger in appearance, and the headlight housing is noticeably different with its six LED projectors for the Ducati Corner Lights system (on the “S” model). This perhaps makes for an interesting “face” on the motorcycle, and like its predecessor, you will either love it or hate it.

Marco Melandri Returns to MotoGP, with Aprilia

After finishing fifth in the 2014 World Superbike Championship with Aprilia, Marco Melandri will continue with the Italian manufacturer, but switch to the MotoGP paddock for next season. Melandri will join Alvaro Bautista in the Aprilia Racing garage, where they will compete on an updated version of the ART machine, which was originally built to compete under the CRT bike rules. The team, now operated by Gresini Racing, will come up to speed during the 2015 season, and in 2016 they will race with a brand new race bike, which will use the compulsory “open” spec-electronics from Magneti Marelli. For Melandri, the move to MotoGP is a bit of gamble, with Aprilia’s program uncertain.

Up-Close with the Honda RC213V-S Prototype

I can’t decide whether to be elated or disappointed over the Honda RC213V-S prototype, which was debuted this week at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy. On the one hand, the RC213V-S lived up to the hype…literally a MotoGP race bike with lights, mirrors, turn signals, and a license plate. On the other hand, for all the waiting and consternation from Honda, what they brought to Milan was a fairly derivative and obvious design. Rumors of a true MotoGP-derived sport bike from Honda have been circling for several years now (closer to a decade, if you’re a reader of MCN), and the project borrows the ethos found in the Ducati Desmosedici RR project, another exclusive GP-bike-for-the-street motorcycle.

The Ducati Streetfighter 848 Is Spared the Axe for 2015

The Ducati Streetfighter lives for another year, as Ducat is showing off the Ducati Streetfighter 848 as a 2015 model year machine at the EICMA show in Milan. There had been doubts about the Streetfighter 848 continuing to be a part of the Ducati lineup going forth, especially as the Italian company has moved away from the 849cc v-twin platform, favoring the 821cc engine variations for the Hypermotard the Monster lines, and the 899cc Superquadro for the Panigale. The Streetfighter was never a big hit in the world market, becoming more of a cult classic machine amongst riders. Combined sales with the Hypermotard account for roughly 20% of Ducati’s annual sales, with the Hypermotard doing the majority of the heavy-lifting in that regard.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Prototype

Cruisers really aren’t our cup of tea here at Asphalt & Rubber, which might explain the lack of coverage for America’s gift to the two-wheeled world on our website. That being said, it’s hard to pass on the lurid Moto Guzzi MGX-21 prototype that is on display at this year’s EICMA show. A reworked Moto Guzzi California 1400, the MGX-21 is clad in carbon fiber, matte black paint, and red highlights. The carbon fiber disc wheels are a nice touch too (that’s a 21″ wheel up front, by the way), as are the sweeping lines from the front cowl and fenders. We’re finding ourselves a bit smitten with this Moto Guzzi, as true to the brand, it strays from the cruiser norm. We think you’ll like it too, check out the photos after the jump.

Up-Close with the Honda “True Adventure” Prototype

One of the more anticipated motorcycles at the 2014 EICMA show, off-roaders were expecting to see the new Honda Africa Twin in Milan this week. Instead, Honda trotted out what they’re calling the “True Adventure” prototype. Despite not being a production model, the True Adventure prototype looks ready for prime time, and we got a series of “up-close” photos of the machine. Most obvious is the bike’s parallel twin engine, which is rumored to be 1,000cc in displacement. That sizing/weight class seems to jive with the dual front brake discs, which also sports an ABS tone ring. We can expect Honda to have traction control operating off the front and rear wheel speeds as well, and other electronic packages as well.

Money: Motorcycle Racing’s Biggest Problem

What is the biggest problem in motorcycle racing today? Is it the predominant role electronics are playing, ruining the racing? Is it the ever more restrictive rules imposed, killing bike development and the spirit of Grand Prix racing? Is it the lack of competitive machinery, making it impossible for anyone but a factory rider to win a race? Or is it the dominance of the two top manufacturers, driving costs up and discouraging wider manufacturer participation? You can point to all of those and more as being an issue, but they pale in comparison to the real problem the sport of motorcycle racing faces at the moment: Money. Specifically, the lack of it, and the inability of almost everyone involved in the sport to find ways of raising any. All of the ills of both MotoGP and World Superbikes can be traced back to this single failure.

Investcorp Buys 80% of Dainese for €130 Million

A story we have been chasing for some time now, Lino Dainese has finally found a buyer for his namesake company, Dainese. The purchaser is the aptly named private equity firm Investcorp, which is headquartered in Bahrain, and has additional offices in New York, London, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. Buying 80% of the company’s stock for a reported €130 million, Investcorp’s valuation of Dainese would therefore be set at €162.5 million. The other 20% of the company is retained by Lino Dainese, himself. Dainese’s future goals rest heavily on its airbag technology, as Dainese plans on bringing D-Air to markets outside of motorsport and sport in general. The company also has an aggressive plan to grow outside of Italy, making a bigger push into North America and developing markets.

Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen Concept

The second of Husqvarna’s street concepts, the Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen is a scrambler styled machine that uses the same 373cc single-cylinder engine as the Vitpilen concept. Swedish for “Black Arrow”, the Svartpilen continues the idea that less is more, and applies the concept to a more off-road motif. Not all the dissimilar to the Moab and Baja concepts the Husqvarna showed before its acquisition by KTM, clearly the Swedish brand is keen to tap into its lost history of Steve McQueen and the scrambler motif. Perhaps Ducati’s foray into this space is added motivation, but the Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen concept is a bike unique to itself. That might be because the concept machine is based off the KTM 390 Duke, which is an unlikely though budget-friendly donor machine.

Destination Malaysia – Day Eight: Thanks for the Fish

11/03/2014 @ 1:20 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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It’s our last full day on the island of Langkawi, as tomorrow all of us will disperse back to our corners of the globe…making close to 24hrs of travel in the process. Today is perhaps the first day where we didn’t have much to do, a welcomed sight on our itinerary, and finally the adoption of the slower pace that comes with island living.

We took to the mangroves via a powerboat, where we explored the stalagmites and stalactites that have taken a millennium to grow. Ducking low, so as to avoid an unintended souvenir, we also had to contend with a side of bats hanging from the ceiling. Langkawi is teaming with wildlife at this natural preserve, and we can spot mudskippers below, as well as small crabs scurrying through the mud.

The nature tour continues with the monkeys that greet us along our path (looking for a handout, those cheap bastards), and later we would watch eagles feeding off the fish skins we left them in the estuary. Our trip is cut short though, as we’re having lunch at another resort on the island, The Datai (totally staying here, if I ever come back).

Our official schedule ends there, and the unofficial schedule finds us at the pool the rest of the day. The ample time under the sun gives us plenty of duration to chew on the trip as a whole, and take in everything we have experienced in the past seven days.

Destination Malaysia — Day Seven: Langkawi

10/31/2014 @ 6:58 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

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Today is perhaps the day I have been looking forward to the most. Not that I don’t like a good MotoGP race, especially at a venue I’ve never been to before, but come on…a couple days on a tropical island? That’s tough to beat.

Our itinerary before we left the USA originally had us flying to Borneo these few days, but the aftermath of tropical storms there meant we would visit island of Langkawi instead.

While I had heard much talk of Borneo, Langkawi was an unknown to me. My worry was for naught though, as the once “cursed” tropical locale was just as decadent as we had been told — of course, staying at the five-star Danna Langkai resort helped in that regard as well.

Destination Malaysia – Day Six: Race Day

10/28/2014 @ 11:32 pm, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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Time of day is no escape from the heat and humidity of Malaysia, and it’s no different here at Sepang on race day. I could wax-poetic about how the extreme temperatures here at the track change the smell of the four-stroke exhaust fumes.

Or, how the humidity, which leaves you with a constant layer of sweat on your skin, changes the thunderous sounds of the 1,000cc MotoGP engines, but it would be a lie. It’s just hot here, and your body braves its exposures to the outside world only if you make it the future promise of air conditioning.

I have no idea how the fans pack the stands here at Sepang International Raceway on race day, but they do. They come in droves, and many ride here. Large convoys of bikers make the trek from nearby countries even.

Southeast Asia is rampant for GP racing, and it shows. Attendance on Friday is non-existent, Saturday is modest, at best, but the come Sunday, 80,000+ Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Burmese, and countless other ethnicities line the track. It’s a spectactle, to be certain.

Destination Malaysia – Day Five: Palm Trees & Working Girls

10/26/2014 @ 12:56 am, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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Sepang International Circuit is a short car ride from downtown Kuala Lumpur — under an hour, if the traffic conditions are right. It’s near the airport, which means it’s near the palm tree farms I saw during our plane’s approach to KLIA. If you look closely while driving to SIC, you can see that there are two kinds of palm tree plants lining the roadside.

The old palm trees have very long branches and leaves, while the newer palms are shorter overall in radius. This change in plant design is so that more trees can be planted per acre. Other changes to the palm trees mean less water required (palms require a massive amount of water from the ground, something Malaysia has no shortage of, thankfully), more liters of oil per tree, and quicker growing times.

Sitting in the car ride, listening to the banter of my colleagues, I can’t help but think that the noble palm tree is a metaphor for this country. Eager to provide, and ready to adapt to the realities of the world around it. Malaysia reminds me, in part, of a younger America.

Thirsty for the ingress of foreigners, accepting of a mosaic of cultures and religions, and a budding epicenter of the reginoal economy. If one thing relevant came from our hours of talks about Malaysian tourism and government goals, it is that this tiny country wants more from itself.

No one can deny the growing importance of Asia, in particular Southeast Asia, especially when it comes to the motorcycle industry, but it is of note that Malaysians are eager for a bigger seat at the table. To that end, the construction of looming towers, the building of new offices and houses, the shifting the economy from labor to services, all signal what Malaysia is willing to purse for…more.

Destination Malaysia – Day Four: Dance Monkey, Dance

10/25/2014 @ 1:20 am, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

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It’s hard to tell if the jet lag is responsible for my almost hourly wake-ups at night, or if it’s the gallons of water we have been drinking, trying to stay hydrated in the oppressive heat of Kuala Lumpur. It’s also hard to fathom that Malaysia gets hotter than this, but it does — that’s the nature of an equatorial climate though.

It seems difficult to imagine, but this really is the most ideal time of the year to run the Malaysian GP. Sure there is the torrential rain that comes with the 90ºF temperature and its 50% humidity, but the summer months are even hotter. With track temperatures approaching 130ºF now already, we would have riders dropping like flies in June, July, and August.

It’s an attribute that comes with the track, just like how Qatar has its lights, Phillip Island has its mercurial weather patterns, and Laguna Seca has its Corkscrew turn. It is a part of what makes Sepang International Circuit a special venue, and part of what tests the mettle of the riders.

We wouldn’t know any of this first-hand though, as we have yet to be at the track so far in this trip. I have to remind myself that we are playing tourist for our Malaysian hosts, here more to experience the country than to report on the grand prix (thankfully, A&R has David and Tony for that job).

Instead Day Four sees us soaking up some more staples of KL culture, and of course us four American journalists singing for our supper…almost literally.

Destination Malaysia – Day Three: Where Is Day Two?

10/22/2014 @ 11:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler13 COMMENTS

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Where have the days gone? Well, the international dateline is partially to blame, as today’s installment of my trip to Malaysia officially comes to you from Thursday, local time. In that timespan, I’ve been on four airplanes, two monorails, and a handful of taxicabs — which really just means that not too much has really happened worth reporting.

The first 24 hours were spent sitting on a plane. First, Delta to get me from Florida to San Francisco (via Atlanta), and then Cathay Pacific to get me from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur (via Hong Kong). I endured 15hrs from America to Asia in the middle seat, between two lovely elderly Indian ladies, whose names I did not catch, so thus named them Fay and Doris, as it corresponded to their seat letters.

Fay enjoys Bollywood movies like it’s life’s greatest guilty pleasure, while Doris was a no-nonense kind of gal, who took a walk on the wild side this flight with her non-vegitarian meal choices. We became immediate friends during our journey, and promptly never spoke to each other once the landing gear deployed. Tyler Durden was right.

Destination Malaysia – Day One: Frequent Flier

10/21/2014 @ 6:13 am, by Jensen Beeler25 COMMENTS

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I’m off to Malaysia for the next week, to watch the Malaysian GP at Sepang International Circuit, and generally take in the touristy parts of Kuala Lumpur and the archipelago of Langkawi.

As close as I can get to paid vacation in this line of work, I will be the guest of the Malaysian government, which as far as I can gather, wants to make the Malaysian GP a sort of destination vacation for two-wheeled fans — a “come for the GP, stay for the beaches” kind of thing.

2011 Honda RC212V – Not All Bikes Are Created Equally

01/31/2011 @ 5:31 pm, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

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Repsol Honda made its 2011 MotoGP season debut today, showing off its three-man team of Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, and Andrea Dovizioso, along with the 2011 Honda RC212V, which will compete against the Yamaha YZR-M1 and Ducati Desmosedici GP11. An oddity in the GP paddock, HRC will field the three riders under one roof, having wooed Stoner away from Ducati after the Australian rider and Italian team had spilled bad blood in the 2009 season.

While Stoner was originally supposed to have his own team, presumably under the Red Bull banner, Repsol finally stepped up to the plate with its pocketbook when the Red Bull deal failed to materialize. Having three top riders in one team left some doubts as to how Honda was going to manage its talented rider pool, and a cursory look at the different machines that each rider will field sheds some light on the subject.