Mmm…Check This Suzuki GSX1100SD Katana Race Bike

I am young enough that most of what I can remember of the 1980s is skewed by the forming mind of a child, thankfully. New Coke, ponytails to the side, Cabbage Patch Kids…Alf – it is all a bad dream as far as I am concerned. The 1980s were a pretty good decade for motorcycles though. Two-strokes still reigned supreme in grand prix racing, and some of America’s best two-wheeled heroes were riding them. The only rider-aids that were available were things like handlebars and footpegs. Even then, racing a motorcycle was a pursuit full of perils. Mirroring this notion on the production side of things, the superbike was just starting to be born in earnest, with consumers able to buy fire-breathing monsters that tested the limits of chassis and tire design. A healthy dose of male bravado was involved in riding a motorcycle like a Katana.

Mega Gallery: 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans

Not only does the FIM EWC showcase several manufacturers, with strong race-winning potential each of the championship’s multiple iconic events, but it the series is the last great venue for a proper battle between the different tire brands. Add to that the fact that the Endurance World Championship is comprised not only of endurance specialists, but also with some of the top names from motorcycle racing, both in factory and satellite teams, and it’s easy to find a reason to cheer for a particular entry. The best part though might be the photography that comes from motorcycle racing, which often spans from daylight and into the darkness of night. This year’s 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans event was no different, and we have a bevy of photos to share with you from France.

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.

Rating the Rookies – Jack Miller vs. Maverick Viñales

03/04/2015 @ 10:25 am, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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One of the more intriguing match-ups of the 2015 MotoGP season is the battle between the two newcomers from the support classes. Maverick Viñales and Jack Miller are both close friends and fierce rivals, sharing a motorhome off the track, doing battle on it.

Viñales has come to MotoGP early, after just a single year in Moto2, where he was very competitive within a short space of time. Miller has made an even bigger jump, skipping Moto2 altogether and heading straight to MotoGP from Moto3. It is a huge leap for the Australian, switching from a narrow, 55hp, 80kg razor of a bike to a 158kg, 250hp monster.

So how have they adapted? Though the two are only a few days apart in age, comparing their progress is fraught with difficulty. Viñales, riding the Suzuki GSX-RR for Suzuki, is on a factory prototype inside a factory team.

Miller, on the other hand, is riding an Open class Honda RC213V-RS with the LCR team. Viñales has a large team surrounding him, with sufficient backing to act on his input.

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Has Ducati’s Success Flat-Lined?

02/27/2015 @ 4:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler47 COMMENTS

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The saying goes that one time is a fluke, two times is a coincidence, but three times…three times is a trend. Looking at Ducati’s last three years of sales (2012-2014), which spans only a 2% margin of growth, by definition one has to conclude that the Italian company is experiencing sales stagnation.

Granted each of the last three years have been record years for the Italian motorcycle company’s sales figures, but each year has been a nudging over the last, seemingly at the cost of Ducati dealers who have found more and more inventory on their showroom floors.

But it shouldn’t surprise Ducati followers to hear the recent departure of Cristiano Silei, Ducati’s now-former Vice President of Sales and Marketing. With Ducati seemingly hitting a wall on expansion and model diversity, Silei’s departure may have been expected in some circles, and certainly all eyes will be on his successor Andrea Buzzoni, to see what he can do with the role.

Is all of this a sign that Ducati has lost its magic, seemingly during the leadership transition from Gabriele del Torchio to Claudio Domenicali? Or is there growth to be had from the Italian brand, now that it is owned by Audi AG? We examine that thought in more detail, after the jump.

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A Requiem for Kenji Ekuan & The Kando of GK Design

02/12/2015 @ 1:51 pm, by Michael Uhlarik15 COMMENTS

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Industrial design is not a commonly known, much less well understood, profession. To some it suggests arranging equipment inside factories, to others it means some kind of product engineering. In reality it is the search for, and expression of, human satisfaction in inanimate objects that are mass produced.

That’s quite a mouthful, and to the average person it may sound like jiberish written for some pretentious coffee table book, but it is the truth. At least, it is one version of the truth as seen by the GK Design Group of Tokyo, Japan.

If you ride motorcycles, then you are intimately familiar with the work of this large and internationally respected studio. Since only its second production bike, the indigenously designed YA-1, every Yamaha motorcycle since 1958 has been crafted by GK.

At a time when made-in-Japan meant cheap and poorly manufactured imitation, Yamaha endeavoured to build motorcycles that could capture hearts as much as wallets by using a corporate philosophy they call Kando.

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By The Numbers: Is Physical Fitness a Factor in Moto3?

01/22/2015 @ 11:48 am, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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What is the difference between winning in Moto3 and finishing at the back? The glib answer is “about 50 seconds”, but there must be an explanation for that gap.

It is a question which many have pondered, and to which there are few easy answers. Clearly, there is a difference in equipment, level of ability, and the ability of the team to get the set up right. But is there anything we can identify directly?

The one factor which we might be able to see in the lap times is the effect of hard work. Motorcycle racing is (paradoxically) a physically demanding sport, and physical fitness is one factor which a rider has in their own hands. Training, and dedication to training, could be a factor which makes a difference.

It may not be the difference between first and last, but it could well be the difference between finishing in the points and finishing at the very tail end of the field.

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Newspeak: The Advent of the “Adventure-Sport”

01/14/2015 @ 4:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler22 COMMENTS

2015-Ducati-Multistrada-1200

In the past decade the ADV segment has been a confusing amalgamation of differing interests, and over that time-period, two distinct groups have boiled to the surface.

First there are the “Long Way Round” hopefuls, who invariably own a BMW R1200GS/A, and seem to be on some sort of perpetual preparation for an African safari, regardless of how much dual-sport experience they actually have.

And more recently, a second group has appeared: those riders who look to these big ADV bikes as more versatile Sport-Touring machines, that have at least some credibility in continuing the trip beyond where the sidewalk ends.

All these riders, and their bikes, have been wedged into a single “Adventure” category, and it has created a bit of confusion for the segment. So, I want to introduce the concept of the “Adventure-Sport” and how it differentiates from the previous “Adventure-Touring” category.

First, let us make some definitions. Adventure-Sport bikes are “middleweight” and “heavyweight” motorcycles, with longer off-road styled suspension. They have an on-road bias, with their 17″ front wheels, and they make sport bike horsepower from their lightweight engines.

Adventure-Sports usually have an abundance of rider aids, which are typically aimed at taming these bikes’ powerful and peaky engines for mixed road conditions.

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Editor’s Blog: A Last Lingering Thought for 2014

12/31/2014 @ 4:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler28 COMMENTS

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It will be a new year soon, and for some of Asphalt & Rubber‘s more international readers, New Year’s Eve may have already given way to New Year’s Day (Happy New Year, if that’s already the case).

Going through my various feeds, it seems obligatory that we make some sort of Happy New Year proclamation, summarize the stories the site has covered, and share some insight on the inner-workings of our operation here at A&R. The Dude abides, but bear with me first.

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Editor’s Blog: Just Say Yes

11/16/2014 @ 1:00 pm, by Jensen Beeler35 COMMENTS

motorcycle-awesome

It seems like we hardly talk anymore, you and I. Sure, every day I and the rest of the Asphalt & Rubber crew bring you stories to help fuel your motolust, but aside from the snarky messages I leave in the comments section, we haven’t really been getting enough “us time”, so to speak.

I want to change that, at least intermittently, on these doldrum Sundays, with a column that really has nothing to do with motorcycles…at least not directly.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now this year, but I just didn’t get around to starting because either I thought I was too busy, or I didn’t have a subject at-hand to explore, or I dunno…derringers.

Now as I begin planning what’s ahead for A&R in 2015, I see the same problem occurring: projects have long languished on my to-do list, and I keep saying “yeah, we should do that…” with no results in sight.

The issue is one of impulse, that moment of force that pulls you from the warm spot on the couch and back to the Bat Cave again. The issue is one of “saying yes”, ideally with reckless abandon.

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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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Team Orders: Is Motorcycle Racing a Team Sport?

11/01/2014 @ 4:26 am, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

maroc-melandri-sylvain-guintoli-aprilia-racing-wsbk

In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.

What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes.

Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can’t finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.

As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri’s to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time.

Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.

Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli.

If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli’s destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did.

Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli’s championship challenge? At the core of this is a much bigger question: Is motorcycle racing a team sport?

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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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