At the AMA Supermoto Season-Opener in Bakersfield

It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.

The WorldSBK Season So Far: Yamaha & Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

Norton Gets £3 Million to Increase V4 Production

If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.

Is The 2018 BMW HP4 Race About to Debut in China?

After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.

Vyrus 986 M2 Street Bike Now Priced at €38,000

It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.

You Didn’t Know You Missed It, But the Honda NM4 Is Back

You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.

US Senate Establishes Motorcycle Caucus

The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.

Husqvarna Two-Strokes Get Fuel-Injection Too

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

Ducati Scrambler Begins Production in Italy

12/01/2014 @ 1:20 pm, by Jensen Beeler18 COMMENTS

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Production of the Ducati Scrambler began today in Borgo Panigale, marking the rebirth of the model in Ducati’s lineup and the start of Bologna’s new “Scrambler Ducati” brand and line.

As we reported earlier this year, the Scramblers produced at Borgo Panigale will not be arriving in the North American markets, which will instead receive models made by Ducati’s Thailand factory (no word on when that production will begin, if it hasn’t already).

Production strategies aside, the Ducati Scrambler marks many changes for the Italian company, which has been abashed in its pursuit of younger, let’s say more hip, motorcyclists with the Ducati Scrambler line.

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Money: Motorcycle Racing’s Biggest Problem

11/05/2014 @ 3:44 am, by David Emmett26 COMMENTS

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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.

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Ducati Scrambler Will Be “Made in Thailand”

10/20/2014 @ 2:16 pm, by Jensen Beeler28 COMMENTS

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Almost four years ago, we reported on Ducati opening a new assembly plant in Thailand. The move, which peeved Ducati’s factory workers, would see bikes destined for the Southeast Asian market assembled in the Thai plant, thus side-stepping many of the region’s aggressive tariffs on motorcycles.

Nearing the end of 2014 now, and our Bothan Spies report that the Ducati Scrambler models will be the first motorcycles assembled in Ducati’s Thai plant that will then be shipped to the world market (sans the European market, which will get bikes still from Bologna, according to Moto.it) — a move that comes right after Ducati reached a new contract with its workers and unions, which sees the factory employees working fewer hours at higher wages.

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BRD Motorcycles Is Now Alta Motors

10/16/2014 @ 9:39 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

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We generally try to avoid reprinting the press releases of companies. Call it spin control, call it journalistic integrity, call it an over-fascination in hearing ourselves type — it just isn’t something we’re keen to do.

Every now and then though, a company’s press release really is the most succinct and well-worded form of the information. As is the case with BRD Motorcycles, which is now known as Alta Motors.

We could wax on about the various branding strategies at work here, the importance of a company’s name, and how BRD’s recent $4.5 million Series A funding is surely to blame for all this…but instead, Alta Motors release just a basic honest answer to it all. Read it after the jump, and yes…the above image was included in the press release.

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The Most Ridiculous Thing I’ve Ever Seen in This Industry

09/18/2014 @ 1:58 pm, by Jensen Beeler59 COMMENTS

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I have seen a lot of things in the motorcycle industry since I started Asphalt & Rubber, but never before have I seen something like this. During the autumn months, it is not uncommon for A&R to receive tips about new motorcycle models that are about to debut, and today was seemingly no different.

This morning we got an enthusiastic email from a purported regular reader (make that two readers now), asking why we weren’t covering the leaked details on the supercharged Kawasaki H2, which were apparently “going viral” all over the internet, as the email told us. To give us proof of that assertion, they included in the emails links to a Facebook page for a new web forum for the H2, which is where the leak apparently occurred.

A quick check on our massive RSS feed (roughly 600 publications now) showed the viral story had only been picked up by one other publication, Motorcycle.com. MO ran the story with the headline “Inside Info About Kawasaki’s Radical H2 Sportbike?” — which had been written by the ever loveable “Motorcycle.com Staff” author, and qualified with the profession’s ubiquitous “?” phrasing.

Our friends at MO certainly do a bit of traffic (I say that with sincerity), though I normally wouldn’t use a single publication covering a story as an indication of that story going viral, but ok whatever…hyperbole is part of the game.

Like any good editor though, I dove into the story deeper. What I found has me supremely worried.

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Has Ducati Built a Bridge Too Far with the Scrambler?

09/16/2014 @ 7:48 pm, by Jensen Beeler29 COMMENTS

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Bologna is readying to debut the Ducati Scrambler ahead of the INTERMOT show, in case you missed the bevy of “spy” photos, the World Ducati Week unveil to attendees, the dedicated Tumblr website, the Instagram account, and the claymation animated video series…

A more modern riff on the Ducati models of the 1960’s, the 2015 Ducati Scrambler will unveil to the public in a couple weeks’ time, and the model is another motorcycle from Ducati that speaks to outside the core Ducatisti demographic. But, is the new Ducati Scrambler a bridge too far for the Italian brand?

I have talked before about Ducati’s process of brand extension as it related to the launch of the Ducati Diavel, as the iconic Italian brand moved past being a “sport bike brand” and into a robust full-feature motorcycle marque.

Since that writing, we have seen the breakdown of the Italian dream team that was Valentino Rossi and Ducati Corse in MotoGP, the floundering of Ducati’s World Superbike efforts with the Ducati 1199 Panigale superbike, a stagnation of the company’s yearly growth in terms of motorcycle sales volume, and the abandonment of Ducati’s iconic air-cooled motors (the Scrambler will likely be the last Desmo Due from Bologna).

Where Ducati Motor Holding crescendoed under the leadership of Gabriele del Torchio, growing constantly in unit sales, pushing into new market segments with ease, and debuting compelling new motorcycles year-after-year, this next stanza written by Claudio Domenicali has been more of a coda to Ducati’s symphony of progress.

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Honda Grom + Ducati Monster = Gromcati

07/30/2014 @ 1:46 pm, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali has made it pretty clear that he has no plans to take Ducati into the realm of small-displacement motorcycles, and he has flat-out squashed the chances Ducati making a scooter.

This could make thigns difficult for the Italian brand, especially as the hot regions for growth in the motorcycle industry are teeming with machines under 500cc in engine displacement — markets like Southeast Asia, India, China, and the countries of South America.

So what are Ducati fans in these countries to do? Well, where there is a will, there is a way…and for some Thai riders, that will manifests itself in a big way. Taking one perfectly good Honda Grom monkey bike, add in some impressively downsized Ducati Monster bodywork, and well…we introduce to you the Gromcati.

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HRC and Red Bull Expand MotoGP Partnership

07/30/2014 @ 1:53 am, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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Honda Racing and Red Bull have announced an enhancement to their collaboration in MotoGP through the Repsol Honda team, which sees the energy drink company’s logo featured on Honda’s factory team starting in the 2015 season, as it becomes the official energy drink for the team as well.

The two parties have collaborated over the last nine years, but the Red Bull logo has never before been featured on the Repsol Honda machinery, despite Red Bull supporting both Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa with personal sponsorships.

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Ducati Scrambler to Debut at World Ducati Week

06/18/2014 @ 3:31 pm, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on Ducati Scrambler to Debut at World Ducati Week

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The Ducati Scrambler seems set for a mid-summer debut, as Borgo Panigale has confirmed that the new Italian motorcycle will be shown to Ducatisti at the 2015 World Ducati Week event.

Like Ducati’s teaser event with its staff in Bologna, viewings of the Ducati Scrambler will be private and reserved (held on July 18-20th), as Ducati hopes to generate buzz around the new model, while limiting the Scrambler’s details from being revealed.

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How History Is Repeating with Energy Drinks, And Creating Another Tobacco Disaster in Motorcycle Racing

06/11/2014 @ 6:50 pm, by David Emmett21 COMMENTS

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At the Barcelona round of MotoGP – or to give it its full title, the ‘Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya’ – title sponsors Monster Energy are to unveil a new flavor of their product, called ‘The Doctor’, marketed around Valentino Rossi. This is not a particularly unusual event at a MotoGP weekend. Almost every race there is a presentation for one product or another, linking in with a team, or a race, or a factory.

If anything, the presentation of the Monster Energy drink is even more typical than most, featuring motorcycle racing’s marketing dynamite Valentino Rossi promoting an energy drink, the financial backbone of the sport. It is also a sign of the deep trouble in which motorcycle racing finds itself. Energy drinks are slowly taking over the role that tobacco once played, funding teams, riders, and races, and acting as the foundation on which much of the sport is built.

Red Bull funds three MotoGP rounds, a Moto3 team and backs a handful of riders in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Monster Energy sponsors two MotoGP rounds, is the title sponsor of the Tech 3 MotoGP squad, a major backer of the factory Yamaha squad, and has a squadron of other riders which it supports in both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks.

Then there’s the armada of other brands: Gresini’s Go & Fun (a peculiar name if ever there was one), Drive M7 backing Aspar, Rockstar backing Spanish riders, Relentless, Burn, and far too many more to mention.

Why is the massive interest in backing motorcycle racing a bad thing? Because energy drinks, like the tobacco sponsors they replace, are facing a relentless onslaught to reduce the sale and marketing of the products. A long-standing ban of the sale of Red Bull – though strangely, only Red Bull – was struck down in France in 2008.

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