Imagining the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 Supermoto

It is a tremendous shame that the options for a road legal supermoto for are so limited, with the venerable Suzuki DR-Z400SM being the only offering in the 450cc on-road class. For virtually a decade, Suzuki has left the DR-Z basically unchanged – as it has done with many of its sport models – so we would love to see Suzuki and other manufacturers give this space more attention (a hat tip to Husqvarna for bringing the track-only FS450 to market, long with the 701 Supermoto). Although you can wake-up the DR-Z400 with a few simple modification, and there are a bevy of aftermarket kits that can punch the 398cc machine out in size, what we really want from Suzuki is a proper 450cc street supermoto – one that doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s current strong motocross offering. So, when we saw this little bit of Photoshop work by the folks at the German Suzuki dealership of DSR-Suzuki, we got a little excited.

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.

Analyzing Valentino Rossi’s Two-Year Deal with Yamaha

03/19/2016 @ 4:07 pm, by David Emmett24 COMMENTS

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So the first shoe has dropped. Valentino Rossi is to remain at Yamaha for two more seasons, signing on to compete for 2017 and 2018. The signing of Rossi will have major repercussions for the rest of the MotoGP rider market, and has made it all a little more unpredictable.

That Rossi would renew his contract with Yamaha is hardly a surprise. The Italian has a long and storied history with the Japanese manufacturer, from his triumphant and daring switch to Yamaha at the start of the 2004 season, in which he won both a memorable first race on the YZR-M1, going on to become champion, through a total of four world titles and a seemingly endless string of wins.

Rossi was welcomed back into the fold, suitably chastened, after his failed adventure with Ducati, and after a slow start, returned to being competitive in 2014, and especially in 2015.

Even the bitter aftermath of the 2015 season, when Rossi lost the title to his Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo could not sour the relationship.

When Yamaha awarded its MotoGP merchandise contract to Rossi’s VR46 Racing Apparel business, and then signed a long-term support deal with Rossi’s VR46 Riders Academy, it was obvious that Rossi would stay with Yamaha, though it was uncertain that he would still be racing.

Rossi repeated publicly that he wanted to take the first few races of 2016 before making a decision, but it was clear that the decision would be continuing with the Movistar Yamaha team and retirement.

No doubt Rossi could have ridden elsewhere if he had chosen to – though the doors at Honda were almost certainly closed to him, after his defection at the end of 2003 – but realistically, Rossi’s future was tied to Yamaha.

When he retires, Rossi will continue as a figurehead for Yamaha, in much the same mold as Giacomo Agostini. The press release from Yamaha states as much, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis saying “When Vale returned home in 2013 it was ‘a decision for life’.”

That is worth a lot more to both Yamaha and Rossi in the long run. Though financial details of the deal were not released – they never are, the world of MotoGP salaries being one which is shrouded in secrecy and myth – the money part of the equation was most certainly not an issue.

Rossi has been racing for glory and the chance to win another title for the past few years, rather than financial compensation. Ironically, the most financially valuable of the four MotoGP aliens is probably on the lowest salary.

What is a surprise is the timing of Rossi’s announcement. The general expectation was that Rossi would stay on at Yamaha for another two years, but that the announcement would come some time in May or June.

Instead, the deal has been announced ahead of the first race of the season. The question everyone is asking now is, why the hurry?

MotoGP: Qualifying Results from Qatar

03/19/2016 @ 3:03 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

MotoGP Photos from Friday at Qatar by CormacGP

03/19/2016 @ 1:00 am, by Cormac Ryan-MeenanComments Off on MotoGP Photos from Friday at Qatar by CormacGP

Friday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: The Only Thing We Know Is That the Ducatis Are Fast

03/19/2016 @ 12:48 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Friday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: The Only Thing We Know Is That the Ducatis Are Fast

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If the second day of practice for the 2016 MotoGP season taught us anything, it taught us that everything is still wide open.

Yesterday, the Movistar Yamahas were clearly a cut above the rest during FP1. During the two free practice sessions on Friday, the top of the timesheets looked a little different.

In FP2, it was a wild mixture of Ducatis, Hondas, and Maverick Viñales on the Suzuki GSX-RR. In FP3, when the stakes were raised with direct entry to Q2 on the table, Jorge Lorenzo put his Yamaha M1 back into contention, but his previous clear superiority from Thursday was gone.

The reason? There isn’t a single cause you can put your finger on. In FP2, the Movistar Yamaha riders spent their time working on tire choice, and especially the tricky task of figuring out which front tire to use in the race.

That differs depending on which bike you happen to be riding: the Hondas are trying to make the hard front work, with different success, the Yamahas have abandoned the hard for the medium, and may even race with the soft, while the Ducatis are caught in a similar dilemma.

The Hondas – at least, the factory bikes – made a big step forward with electronics, and that made the competitive. Or rather, it was a step backwards, reverting to the settings Marc Márquez had tried in the test.

“Yesterday, we changed a small thing that we expected normally would not be a big difference on the bike on riding, but this time was a big difference with these electronics,” Marc Márquez explained. Dropping that change made a massive difference, and Márquez was competitive in both sessions on Friday.

The one constant through all three sessions of free practice has been Andrea Iannone: third fastest on Thursday, fastest in both FP2 and FP3 on Friday. “A perfect day,” was how he described Friday. He was far from complacent, however. “Just because I am first, it doesn’t mean we are completely ready.”

MotoGP Photos from Thursday at Qatar by CormacGP

03/17/2016 @ 11:51 pm, by Cormac Ryan-Meenan6 COMMENTS

Thursday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: The Return of Racing, Tire Troubles, & Silly Season Starting Early

03/17/2016 @ 11:36 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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Bikes are on track, and the roar of racing four strokes is filling the desert skies in Qatar. We can check our moral compasses at the door, sit back and once again revel in the glory of Grand Prix racing.

The fog of testing is lifting, exposing the reality which lies beneath. We don’t need speculation any longer. We have actual timesheets.

Conclusions from Day One of 2016? We learned a lot.

Some of it confirmed what we already knew: the Yamahas are quick, especially Jorge Lorenzo; Maverick Viñales can be competitive; Hector Barbera is going to surprise a few people; the Hondas are still juggling the electronics in search of the right set up; there is a clear elite group in Moto2, which includes Sam Lowes and Alex Rins; the rookie group in Moto3 is exceptional this year.

Some of it surprised: MotoGP silly season is already in high gear, with reports that Johann Zarco has already signed for Suzuki, and talk about Tech 3 for next year; Zarco’s poor times in testing were anything but representative; Livio Loi is in deadly form at Qatar, opening up a gap which shouldn’t really be possible in Moto3; the rubber left on the track by the different tire brands is affecting Moto2 far more than MotoGP, instead of the other way round, as it was last year.

Wednesday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: Oppressive Regimes, Muzzled Speech, & Unknown Quantities

03/16/2016 @ 11:57 pm, by David Emmett24 COMMENTS

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There is good news and bad news for MotoGP fans. The good news is that the 2016 season is just a few hours away from kicking off, with the Moto3 bikes the first to go out at 6pm, shortly after the sun sets in Qatar.

The good news is that the season opener takes place at the Losail International Circuit, a first class facility featuring a fantastic track, with a good mixture of fast and slow curves, and a serious test of both rider and machine.

The good news is that with the switch to spec electronics and the unified software, the racing is set to get closer among the factories, and put more control in the hands of the rider.

The best news is that the MotoGP field has never been so strong, so deep in talent, and feature such a broad range of competitive machinery, that Moto2 looks like being much more of a contest this year than it was in previous seasons, and that Moto3 features some spectacularly talent rookies, up against fiercely competitive established riders.

The racing this year is set to be outstanding in all three Grand Prix classes.

The bad news, though, is really bad. Of immediate importance to MotoGP fans is that it has rained on and off in the Gulf region for the past couple of weeks, and rained all day on Wednesday.

The fact that Qatar is a night race means that if it rains at any time, the track will be immediately closed, the floodlights causing dazzling reflections from any water on the surface, making it impossible to ride.

The current forecast is for it to stay dry until Tuesday, but whether such forecasts can be trusted remains to be seen.

The worst news is that the opening race of the season is in Qatar. The first race of the year will be held in front of a tiny crowd (more fans will often turn up at a European track on a Thursday, when there is no on-track action, than on race day in Qatar), at a track surrounded by desert, where sand and dust tends to blow in and cover the track, causing severe tire wear and making the track treacherous if a rider gets off line.

Beside the track sits the Lusail Sports Arena, part of a massive expansion of sporting facilities which have cost the lives of over 1200 migrant workers already, and are set to cost the lives of more.

You see these migrant workers packed into buses as you drive to the track, on their way to work long hours for little pay, which all too often they do not receive. They cannot leave, as under the country’s Kafala system, the employers take away their passports, making travel or complaint impossible.

Paddock Pass Podcast – Episode 20 – Qatar MotoGP Test

03/15/2016 @ 4:13 am, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

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Episode 20 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is a prelude to the proper start of the MotoGP season, and it sees the guys discussing the recent MotoGP test in Qatar.

The work done by the teams at the Losail International Circuit provides valuable insight into how the first week of racing will play out in the GP paddock. As such, MotoGP fans will want to count this show as part of their 2016 season buildup.

We think you will enjoy the insights that David, Neil, Steve, and Tony share about the progress of the Michelin tires, Casey Stoner’s role in the Ducati garage, the development of the Aprilia RS-GP and its unique crankshaft, and of course the continued mind games between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. It’s all very intriguing.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

MotoGP: Confusion Over Rules Means Casey Stoner Will Not Test at Qatar for Ducati

03/04/2016 @ 11:55 am, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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Ducati’s MotoGP test plan has suffered a blow, after the Bologna factory wrongly interpreted the testing rules in booking the Losail Circuit in Qatar for a private test on Sunday and Monday.

The plan for the private test had been to have Casey Stoner test the Ducati Desmosedici GP (or GP16, as everyone else calls it) at Qatar on Sunday and Monday, after the official IRTA test had finished at the track.

The benefits for Ducati would have been that Stoner would have been testing on a relatively clean track under broadly similar conditions as the other MotoGP riders, allowing a good back-to-back comparison of the feedback between the factory riders and Stoner.

Qatar MotoGP Test Wednesday Summary: Lorenzo’s Strength, Viñales Confirmed, & Outrageous Aerodynamics

03/03/2016 @ 12:18 am, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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Qatar is a tough place to test. First, there’s the timing. The track is open between 4pm and 11pm, giving a full seven hours of track time. In theory, that is. In practice, the first two hours are pretty much unusable, as track temperatures are much higher during daylight than after the sun sets.

The final hour is a risky proposition, as the moisture in the air tends to settle at some point after 10pm, forming dew on the track. The dew is as good as invisible, yet it drastically reduces grip. Crashes start to happen without warning, and at high speed.

Then there’s the sand. The first day of testing is usually more about cleaning the track than setting times, as the dust blows in from the desert to the west. It is better than it was: much of the construction in the area has now been completed, making the sand on the track just a smattering, rather than a full four-ply coating.

Effectively, there are four hours of usable track time, and a little less on the first day of the test. For the first two hours of the Qatar test, only the official test riders present at the track were actually circulating, putting laps on bikes and creating a clean line.

The official MotoGP riders were left to act the vampire, only venturing out once the sun removed its deadly rays from Arabian skies.