The Next, Next Big Thing in Motorcycles: Haptic Feedback

We are at an interesting point in time for motorcycles, namely because the technological landscape for the transportation sector is shifting radically. Long-time readers of Asphalt & Rubber will note some of the issues at play here, namely autonomous vehicles, rider aids, and vehicle interconnectivity. Over the next few weeks I want to revisit those items in more depth and detail, with a series that focuses on emerging technologies that are either already permeating into our two-wheeled lifestyle, or will be hitting the motorcycle industry over the next decade or so. But before I tackle the more obvious items on this list, I want to invest some words on a lesser-known technological innovation, which has the potential to be the next, “next big thing” in the motorcycle industry.

You Already Want This Honda Grom Race Bike from HRC

Understanding one’s lust for a Honda Grom is a lot like explaining good pornography: it is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it. That idea encapsulates everything you need to know about Honda’s monkey bike. We can’t tell you why you want one, we just know that you do. Honda’s sales on the Grom back that notion up, as well. Beyond being just an adorable grocery-getter, we are seeing a plethora of Groms at the race track – and not just as pit bikes. Grom racing is becoming a thing, with more than a few minimoto series making spec-classes for Honda Grom racers, or including them in their 150cc programs. To that end, Honda’s racing department, HRC, has the Grom that you want – nay – need. Behold, the Honda Grom race bike from HRC.

Honda CBR250RR Headlight Spotted in Patents

We are literally marking time until Big Red debuts the Honda CBR250RR, the sportier sibling to the Honda CBR250R, which should rev to the moon and make more power with its two-cylinder engine. We have seen the prototype of the Honda CBR250RR already at trade shows, and the new CBR250RR is definitely on the edgier side of things, which is surprising coming the ever-conservative minds at Honda. How much of the edgy design will remain in the production version has yet to be seen, but we do have our first glimpse of some of the machine. The headlight shape has been filed with European patent offices, which is sort of a weird thing to be reporting on, but it does show insight into where Honda is headed.

Could BMW Be Working on an XDiavel Killer?

Here’s some more BMW Motorrad speculation for your two-wheeled consumption, as Germany’s Motorrad Magazine says that BMW is looking to take on the Ducati XDiavel, with a power cruiser model of its own. This of course isn’t the first time that BMW has included a cruiser-styled motorcycle in its lineup, with the BMW R1200C being a unique, though slightly odd, offering to the cruiser demographic. Like Ducati, BMW seems to be learning from its mistakes in going after the cruiser crowd, and instead of offering a motorcycle that is BMW’s take on the cruiser concept, they are building a cruiser that has cues back to the BMW lineup. A subtle but potent distinction. Time will tell on how this rumor plays out, though there are number of interesting things to consider with a BMW power cruiser.

Yamaha Tracer 700 Sport-Tourer Debuts for Europe

There are two big things to note with the debut of the Yamaha Tracer 700 in Europe today. One, Yamaha firmly believes in the future of the sport-touring segment; and two, the Japanese brand is getting excellent mileage out of its three-cylinder and two-cylinder machines that comprise its new FZ/MT line of motorcycles. As such, the Yamaha Tracer 700 offers to be a fun and affordable machine for those riders who find themselves many miles down the road after a “spirited” ride. With bike sales in Europe finally on an upward trend, Yamaha hopes that the release of the Tracer 700 is well-timed, and of course the brand has more models in the works that are based on the same 689cc parallel-twin power plant.

Is BMW Working on 300cc GS Model?

When the BMW G310R arrived, the German brand indicated that the small-displacement street bike would be the first of many model based on the 313cc platform. Now it seems that the first iteration is ready to drop, with news that BMW Motorrad is working on a G310R-based adventure-touer model. According to Motorcycle Sport and Leisure, BMW Motorrad UK’s Director Phil Horton has confirmed that a BMW G310GS model will debut, perhaps in time for the 2017 model year, saying “new models aside, the line-up isn’t as comprehensive as it needs to be. But there are plenty more bikes to come, including, hopefully in 2017, a G310R GS-style derivative.” The idea of small-displacement ADV machine does mimic what we have been seeing from other brands.

EPA Withdraws Racing Emissions Proposal

If you have a modified track-only motorcycle, then we have some news to share that you will enjoy, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn proposed language that would have specifically given it the ability to regulate the emissions of production vehicles that were being used at track days or similar events. The proposed rule caused quite a storm in automotive enthusiast circles, as it would have affected racing and recreational uses of products that have been sold under “race use only” provisions for years. Of course, the larger issue at stake here was the continued selling of race parts to street enthusiasts. Still, since it is hard to find a motorcycle on the road these days that hasn’t seen its emissions equipment modified, it doesn’t surprise us to see the backlash coming from the motorcycling community.

Honda Halts Operations at Its Kumamoto Factory After Earthquakes Strike Japan

If you have been following mainstream news, you will know that the Pacific Rim has been active with earthquake activity these past few days. In addition to the devastating movements in Ecuador, Japan has been rocked by a series of earthquakes as well, two of which have centered on the Kumamoto prefecture of the country. If that names sounds familiar to motorcycle enthusiasts, it is because Kumamoto is Honda’s mothership for motorcycle production. As such, Honda is halting the operations of its Kumamoto factory, thru the rest of this week (ending April 22, 2016). Honda says that its subsequent production plans will be determined according to facility restorations and component supply.

Lorenzo To Ducati: Why It Happened & What Happens Next

In case you missed it, Jorge Lorenzo has signed with Ducati Corse for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP World Championship seasons. It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed. We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi’s return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.

It’s Official, Jorge Lorenzo Will Race with Ducati Corse

As expected, the announcement dropped today that Jorge Lorenzo will be leaving the Movistar Yamaha team at the end of this season, for a new racing opportunity with Ducati Corse. Details are light at this time, mostly because of Lorenzo’s ongoing contract with Yamaha Racing for the rest of the MotoGP season, but we do know that the Spaniard has inked a two-year with the Italian outfit. Lorenzo’s move to Ducati will mean a cascade of changes in the MotoGP paddock, with the next phase of the silly season process likely to focus on who will replace him as Valentino Rossi’s teammate. Good money is on Maverick Viñales, but as we pointed out in the latest Paddock Pass Podcast episode, Suzuki has redoubled its efforts to retain the young Spanish rider.

AMA Pro Road Racing Signs TV Deal with CBS Sports

04/23/2013 @ 3:10 pm, by Jensen Beeler25 COMMENTS

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Good news for American road racing fans, as AMA Pro Road Racing has inked a TV deal with the CBS Sports Network. With live flag-to-flag coverage of the National Guard SuperBike and GoPro Daytona SportBike classes, as well as a 30-minute preview show before-hand, it looks like the USA is getting proper coverage of its national motorcycle racing series through the 2014 series.

The news is a huge sigh of relief for AMA Pro Road Racing, which has been without a proper tv contract up until this point, despite being already one round into the 2013 season. For the riders and teams, this also means that their ability to attract sponsors has just been greatly improved. Able now to properly show national TV coverage, support, and attention, sponsors will be less gun-shy in handing over their marketing dollars — though one has to wonder how much damage has already been done.

For AMA Pro Road Racing, the deal means a step-back from the edge of the cliff, which could have seen the motorcycle racing here in American fall into the abyss of obscurity had it not made it onto the television screen of fans and wouldbe followers. With the deal good through the end of the 2014 season, hopefully the series can build some much needed momentum as the economy recovers. The full press release is after the jump.

This is LCR Honda

04/15/2013 @ 3:18 pm, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on This is LCR Honda

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For the amount of media that LCR Honda generates, you would think that Lucio Cecchinello’s small satellite Honda MotoGP team is much larger than it is in actuality.

This is because Cecchinello and his crew take a different tack from the rest of the MotoGP paddock when it comes to marketing strategies — the most notable of which is the team’s revolving door livery, which lines up specific brands for races in specific markets.

A team of passionate enthusiasts, LCR Honda also has a knack for producing engaging media pieces, which can be as lurid as the Playboy sponsorship debut of LCR Honda in 2009 (NSFW), or as simple as the video shown after the jump.

For all the superlatives about MotoGP being the “premier class” of motorcycle racing, it is rare that the artwork that is performed on the track is of the same caliber as to what the teams show in their communications. This however is not the case with LCR Honda.

Video: Ask Me Something, with Dani Pedrosa

04/01/2013 @ 1:44 pm, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

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For just a simple three-day test at the Circuit of the Americas, it is astounding how much marketing material that has poured out from the camps that surround the Honda and Yamaha factory MotoGP race teams. A true testament to the notion that if Dorna loosened its tight grip on recording video at MotoGP events, it could greatly benefit the sponsors, and thus the teams, and thus the riders of the sport.

Take our latest example with an Alpinestars’s “Ask Me Something” video installment that features HRC rider Dani Pedrosa. A simple four-minute promotional clip shot atop the observation tower at the Circuit of the Americas, Pedrosa gets some much needed fan interaction (and humanization), and Alpinestars has a cool promotional video to help justify the millions of dollars its spends in MotoGP each season.

If this had been an “official” test, where Dorna’s media bosses could impose its draconian rules about video, this short segment for one of the paddock’s greatest sponsors would never have occurred (or worse, Alpinestars would have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get permission to film its sponsored rider).

But instead since the COTA test was a “private” test, we get a glimpse into how the MotoGP paddock would function if it was a well-oiled media machine. We have never seen so much marketing material made for the US market come from MotoGP before now. It makes you wonder about something, doesn’t it?

Lin Jarvis Explains Yamaha’s New Social Media Policy

03/29/2013 @ 5:12 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

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There was much consternation ahead of the Jerez MotoGP test, when it emerged that the Factory Yamaha MotoGP team had imposed a new social media policy. Given that Yamaha has perhaps the strongest presence on social media of all MotoGP teams, fans feared that the access they had been given would be restricted.

Apart from riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha also has Alex Briggs, mechanic to Valentino Rossi, Ramon Forcada, crew chief to Jorge Lorenzo, and Wilco Zeelenberg, team manager to Jorge Lorenzo on their payroll, all three popular figures on Twitter.

At the official launch of Yamaha’s 2013 MotoGP campaign, we spoke to Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis to ask about the policy, and try to clear up any confusion surrounding the situation. Our first question was naturally, did Yamaha indeed have a new social media policy?

Consumer Reports: BMW & Harley-Davidson Motorcycles Are Less Reliable than Japanese OEMs

03/26/2013 @ 4:17 pm, by Jensen Beeler48 COMMENTS

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In its May issue, Consumer Reports dives into the topic of motorcycle reliability, and confirms what many of us already knew: bikes from BMW and Harley-Davidson were reported to be less reliable than those from the Japanese OEMs.

Interestingly enough however, BMW and Harley-Davidson owners were also far more likely to make a repeat-purchase with their chosen brand than were owners of Japanese motorcycles, sans those of Hondas, which scored just slightly lower than BMW and Harley-Davidson on customer retention.

Looking at customer complaints of “major” mechanical problems from the last four years, the report from over 4,000 motorcycle owners confirms the high-water mark set by the Japanese OEMs on motorcycle reliability, but also shows the power of good branding as it translates into brand loyalty and customer retention.

While Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha may be winning the minds of riders with their production prowess, they are losing the hearts of consumers, which is interesting since any salesman will tell you it is easier to keep a current customer, than to make a new one.

Lin Jarvis: Sponsorship, Vision, & Races Outside of Europe

03/22/2013 @ 5:56 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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At the presentation of Yamaha’s 2013 MotoGP campaign, where the bike which Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will ride in the coming season was unveiled, it was clear that there was one thing missing from the bike: this season, as for the last two years, Yamaha’s MotoGP team will not have a title sponsor, but will campaign in corporate colors once again.

Though the news hardly came as a surprise – the colors being used throughout the winter testing period suggested that Yamaha would be racing without a title sponsor – we were interested to find out whether the current situation is sustainable.

To that end, we cornered Yamaha Racing’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis, and put a few questions to him. Firstly, we asked, could Yamaha’s MotoGP team manage without a title sponsor, or was the expanded support from non-title sponsors sufficient? The answer to those questions was “yes and yes” Jarvis quipped.

Harley-Davidson Gains 10% on the Interbrand 100

03/18/2013 @ 3:40 pm, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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Something we missed when it was published, Harley-Davidson has remained on the 2012 Interbrand 100, and even made a 10% gain in value according to Interbrand’s brand valuation. The 76th most valuable brand worldwide in 2009, Harley-Davidson fell to 98th on the list in 2010, and threatened to fall off this list in 2011 when it was ranked as the 100th most valuable brand.

For 2012 however, Harley-Davidson’s brand value seems to mimic its unit sales, finding its rock-bottom value and then making some gains with the slowly recovering economy. After getting a 10% boost in brand value over its 2011 figure, Harley-Davidson ranks 96th amongst the world’s most valuable brands — a far cry from its position several years ago, but a step in the right direction for the venerable motorcycle brand.

Motorcycle Racing vs. Social Media: How Dorna Could Turn Losing the Battle into Winning the War

03/11/2013 @ 10:23 am, by David Emmett12 COMMENTS

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When the news that Dorna would be taking over World Superbikes broke, there was a wave of outrage among fans, expressing the fear that the Spanish company would set about destroying the series they had grown to love.

So far, Dorna has been careful not to get involved in debates about the technical regulations which seem to be so close to fans’ hearts, its only criteria so far appearing to be a demand that bikes should cost 250,000 euros for an entire season.

Yet it has already make one move which has a serious negative impact on the series: it is clamping down on video footage from inside the paddock.

There was some consternation – and there is still some confusion – about the situation at the first round of WSBK at Phillip Island at the end of February. Where previously, teams and journalists had been free to shoot various videos inside the paddock, there were mixed signals coming from Dorna management, with some people told there was an outright and immediate ban, with threats of serious consequences should it be ignored, while others were saying that they had heard nothing on the subject.

That Dorna is determined to reduce the amount of free material on YouTube became immediately clear after the race weekend was over: in previous years, brief, two-minute race summaries would appear on the official World Superbike Youtube channel after every weekend. After the first race of 2013, only the post-race interviews were posted on the site. It is a long-standing Dorna policy to try to strictly control what ends up on YouTube and what doesn’t. It is its most serious mistake, and one which could end up badly damaging the sport unless it is changed very soon.

Newspeak: Oxford English Dictionary Redefines “Biker”

02/26/2013 @ 3:02 pm, by Jensen Beeler22 COMMENTS

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Before today, if you had looked up the word “biker” in the Oxford English Dictionary, you would have found the following definition: “a motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang: a long-haired biker in dirty denims.” With statical studies showing that only 9% of Britain’s bikers fit the long long-hair and “dirty denims” stereotype, 74% of all British motorcyclists felt the definition was inaccurate.

Bowing to pressure from Great Britain’s motorcycling community though, Oxford University Press (the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary) has redefined “biker” to fit with slightly more modern perceptions. Accordingly, the Oxford English Dictionary now defines a biker as, “a motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang or group: a biker was involved in a collision with a car.”

Video: Robbie Maddison + Airplane Graveyard = Air.Craft

02/15/2013 @ 3:07 pm, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

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Between Ken Block’s gymkhana escapades through the streets of San Francisco, and this stuntastic video of Robbie Maddison riding through an airplane graveyard, it is clear that DC Shoes gets this whole viral marketing video thang. There is a weird wild west vibe going on here with Maddison’s Air.Craft video shoot, and we kind of dig it…kiss goodbye to 10 minutes of your life, after the jump.