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.

Why Today is the Most Important Day for Ducati…Ever

01/24/2012 @ 4:13 pm, by Jensen Beeler33 COMMENTS

Why Today is the Most Important Day for Ducati...Ever Ducati 1199 Panigale assembly line factory 02 635x418

The first Ducati 1199 Panigale rolled off the assembly line at Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory today, officially starting production of the Italian company’s flagship model. While maybe the the production of the first Panigale is not the most newsworthy of subjects, make no mistake at how important this motorcycle is for both Ducati and sport bikes in general going into the future. Featuring a new step in production motorcycle chassis design, we’ve also already talked at length about the number of firsts that the 1199 Panigale is bringing to the production motorcycle market.

With a hybrid chain/gear-driven camshaft, titanium valves, a wet slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, rider-selectable “riding mode” system, and 15,000 mile major service intervals, the Superquadro v-twin motor alone is a major step for Ducati with its Superbike engine design. And, if you add in the first full-LED headlight on a produciton motorcycle, the first electronically-adjustable suspension on a sport bike, the first motorcycle engine braking control system, as well as the first GPS-assisted data acquisition system for a production motorcycle, the total package of the 1199 redefines the word “superbike” and takes the next logical technological step forward in this market segment.

However features aside, what will truly be the most important aspect of the Ducati 1199 Panigale is whether or not the flagship model can live up to the hype that has been generated around the machine. While most of the attention to-date regarding the Panigale has centered on whether Ducati’s monocoque chassis design can work on the production motorcycle, after it has failed so miserably in MotoGP, the real issue for the Italian brand has nothing at all to do with the 1199’s race track prowess.

Harley-Davidson Makes the Interbrand 100 for Another Year

01/17/2012 @ 11:03 am, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

Harley Davidson Makes the Interbrand 100 for Another Year harley davidson interbrand 100

Every year Interbrand releases a list of the Top 100 global brands — ranking each company on its brand value and then assigning a dollar amount to that value. As such over the years, the Interbrand 100 has become the de facto metric on the strength of a company’s brand. For some time Harley-Davidson has been a stalwart of the Interbrand 100, with the Bar & Shield brand regularly getting the nod from the consultancy’s specialists — after all, how many brands are responsible for enthusiasts tattooing its logo on their body? However the past few years have seen a worrisome trend, as slowly Harley-Davidson has fallen farther and farther down the Interbrand 100 rankings.

S1000RR Still BMW’s Top-Selling Bike in the USA

01/13/2012 @ 3:33 pm, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

S1000RR Still BMWs Top Selling Bike in the USA 2012 bmw s1000rr 635x423

BMW Motorrad crushed it last year by posting its best sales year ever, and finishing in sales 6.4% over 2010. With the United States being one of BMW’s largest motorcycle markets, it comes as no surprise then that the German brand posted strong sales here in the US. Up 7.4% over last year, BMW Motorrad USA continues to weather the rough economy for the Bavarians, which is perhaps unsurprising considering how zie Germans have faired the past few years.

What is surprising though is which model topped BMW’s sales sheets, and in case you are blind and didn’t see this story’s headline, it was not the venerable GS. Taking the superbike fight straight to the Japan’s backyard, the BMW S1000RR again dominated sport bike sales again in 2011, and was BMW’s top-selling model across its whole motorcycle line-up (I’d love to see the profits per model on this though). Proof that when German engineering is coupled with Japanese pricing a consumer hit is born, the S1000RR should continue to be a potent bike in 2012, as BMW Motorrad has given the liter bike a mild update for its third year of production.

Do You Have 20/20 Vision?

01/11/2012 @ 12:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

Do You Have 20/20 Vision? motorcycle eye chart 635x1005

Because motorcycles can move from lane to lane with ease, and even vary their position in a single lane with regularity, motorcyclists are sadly hard to spot when automobile drivers are accustomed only to looking out for larger slow-to-move cars that take up an entire lane’s width. Yes, as motorcyclists we impose a special duty on automobile drivers, a duty which more often than not gets pushed back onto us. This then requires motorcyclists to ride defensively. It requires us to assume a cage doesn’t see us, and is gong to move into our lane.

MotoGP: Yamaha Loses Petronas Sponsorship

12/30/2011 @ 10:47 am, by Jensen Beeler14 COMMENTS

MotoGP: Yamaha Loses Petronas Sponsorship Yamaha YZR M1 Petronas 635x444

Calling it the “natural conclusion” of their partnership, Yamaha’s MotoGP team and Malaysian oil giant Petronas have split ways after three years of racing sponsorship. Concluding a deal that is reportedly worth $8 million a year to the factory MotoGP team, Yamaha’s loss of Petronas will surely be felt in the team’s pocketbook, assuming of course that the Japanese manufacturer cannot replace the company with another on its sponsor roster.

After losing title sponsor Fiat for the 2011 season (due almost entirely to Yamaha’s inability to retain Valentino Rossi), Petronas and Yamaha Motor Kenkana Indonesia (Yamaha’s Indonesian arm) were left as the team’s main backers and official sponsors. Now with the loss of Petronas, many of the names on the side of the Yamaha YZR-M1 are those belonging to the tuning fork brand, leaving the financial burden for Yamaha’s MotoGP racing effort to come squarely out of one Yamaha coffer or another.

Surely to be taken as a sign of the decreased value of racing in MotoGP to race sponsors, this news has to be especially troubling for Yamaha, as it continues to lose its biggest sponsorship accounts, one after another. While it would appear that the Japanese manufacturer will have to foot another $8 million a year out its internal budget, the only silver lining to the situation could be the hope that the loss of Petronas is making way for a more lucrative sponsor. We wouldn’t hold our breath on that one though.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

12/22/2011 @ 9:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler105 COMMENTS

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Nicolas Petit Honda VTR 1200 concept 02 635x368

Talking to a colleague the other day, we came to a frank discussion about how the European motorcycle brands weathered the recession better when compared to their Japanese counterparts. While there are many factors at play in this statement, there is at least a component of truth to the idea that strong brand integration helped spur the Europeans into setting record months, quarters, and years during a global economic downturn, while companies like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha saw their businesses virtually collapse.

It is not that the Japanese manufacturers don’t have strong brands, it is just that their brands stand for something fundamentally different from those being forged by the Europeans. While companies like Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are building entire communities and lifestyles around their motorcycles (hat tip to Harley-Davidson for showing them how), the Japanese continue to hang their hats on the attributes of their products. Well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap, Japanese motorcycles tick all the right boxes when one is objectively measuring a motorcycle, but they are sufficiently lacking when it comes to creating lasting ties to their owners.

KTM Videos – A Case Study on Promoting a New Motorcycle

11/14/2011 @ 2:34 pm, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

KTM Videos   A Case Study on Promoting a New Motorcycle KTM Freeride E 635x422

Loyal readers to Asphalt & Rubber should know by now that on semi-regular basis I like to lambast motorcycle companies, both individually and as a whole, for they’re dismal understanding of what often gets referred to as “new media” (the fact that such a title is applied to a medium that has been in commercial form for over two decades should shed some insight on the situation I’m dealing with here). Now often this tradition of mine revolves around pointing out some of the gems of imagination that emanate from our industry, which in turn leads to me saying things that result in A&R being uninvited to future events held by the company in question. C’est la vie.

Of course if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. So in the interest of trying to make the world a better place, I’ll offer these three videos by KTM as examples to the companies that have received my ire, and suggest that if you need some inspiration on how put together a rich and compelling video media campaign for a motorcycle you’ve recently launched, then compare and contrast the following with your own work-product in order to highlight your deficiencies.

Lastly, a couple points to ponder. If motorcycles are an aspirational purchase, then put some aspiration into your message. If motorcycles are an expression of individuality, then make sure your bike’s identity shines through. If motorcycles are supposed to be a form of recreation, then better damn well be grinning ear-to-ear after you are done. Videos after the jump.

BMW Adds QR Codes to Spy Photo Motorcycles

11/11/2011 @ 6:05 am, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

BMW Adds QR Codes to Spy Photo Motorcycles asphaltandrubberQR

If you ever wanted proof that alleged “spy photos” of motorcycles were complete bullshit, then we submit to you this latest news about BMW’s use of QR codes on camouflaged test mules. Embracing the process of teasing prototype as the marketing exercise that it is, BWM Motorrad has begun tagging its test bikes with large QR codes the passersby can capture, and thus find out more information about the under-wraps model they just witnessed.

In giving up the whole spy photo farce, BMW gains perhaps a little bit of credibility in the process (not really), but more importantly the German company has found a way to heist some free advertising out of unsuspecting motorcycle publications. After all, any publication running a photo of a bike with a QR code on it is also therefore also running an interactive ad that enables readers to go to an OEM-managed website. Clever.

Ducati: Ads That Make You Go Hmm…

10/12/2011 @ 9:14 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS

Ducati: Ads That Make You Go Hmm... Ducati Grey Group Ad Morph 635x850

UPDATE: Ducati North America sent me a note explaining that these ads were not a part of corporate-initiated ad campaign. Their best guess is that they are spec-creative, or something done by the company’s Ecuadorian distributor.

Talking in generalities, Ducati is one of the better companies in the motorcycle industry when it comes to handling its market communications, and in an industry that’s generally abysmal at making creative advertisements, you can make of that praise as you will. Of course every now and then Bologna produces a dud campaign, and well…through each others’ failures, we can hopefully make progress. It’s not that the concept being used here is a bad one, it’s just not readily apparent (it’s also averaging below a 2.5/10 rating on Ads of the World right now).

Trying to make a statement about how owning a Ducati motorcycle is as fantastic of an accomplishment as becoming invisible, turning into other objects, walking through walls, and levitating, we’re not sure that the comparison, though clever, is readily apparent when these photos stand on their own on a page. Better pitched in the idea room than executed on the paper, after the third advertisement or so it finally hits you (the walking through walls one was the “ahh-ha!” moment for us). But as for a clearly communicated message, there is a bit left wanting here from Ducati and its ad agency, The Grey Group…that and the teapot thing is just damn silly. More examples after the jump.

Valentino Rossi Finally Joins the 21st Century & Twitter

10/11/2011 @ 9:00 pm, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

Valentino Rossi Finally Joins the 21st Century & Twitter Wheres Valentino Rossi crowd Scott Jones

For being a motorcycle mega-brand in his own right, Valentino Rossi has been slow to adapt to this crazy new thing called the internet. A series of tubes, the internet has been a remarkable breakthrough on a variety of levels, changing the paradigm of how we eat, sleep, and waste our lunch breaks at work. Helping teenage girls gossip about their latest crushes, aiding in the massive distribution of pornography to middle-aged men who hide in their basements from their wives and children, and allowing no-talent journalistic hacks to masquerade around as proper motorcycle journalists, there is literally no telling how the internet will change our lives next, and what industries it will turn on their head.

Well get ready for another shockwave ladies and gentlemen, as the G.O.A.T. himself, Valentino Rossi, has hopped on this interweb bandwagon with full 0 & 1 force, first by finally creating his own official website, and now by signing up for a thing called Twitter. Tweeting, twatting, twittering so far in only Italian, Rossi was one of the last hold-outs of MotoGP riders to embrace the micro-blogging service (Randy de Puniet just got on Twitter this week too we might add. Thanks Lauren). Rossi’s move is sure to create a stir with the VR46 crowd, as his legion of fans can now take time out from their busy days of lathering neon yellow paint all of their bodies, and hang onto every one of Rossi’s 140 character messages.

So far, Rossi has tweeted about go-karting, his injured finger, and traveling to Melbourne. We wait with bated breath to see what photo the nine-time World Champion first tweets from his account. Bellissima.