A Non-Hipster Review of the Ducati Scrambler

The Ducati Scrambler is perhaps the most lifestyle-focused motorcycle ever to come from Bologna — so much so, Ducati made the Scrambler its own brand even. This is an important element, as on its own merits the Ducati Scrambler is a great back-to-basics motorcycle for the Ducati line, and at $8,600 for the Icon model, it makes for a killer entry point model for any rider into the Ducati brand. Having enough thrust to appease your motolust, the Ducati Scrambler Icon, as we tested it, is true to the basic Ducati performance heritage, and it fills Ducati’s need for a budget commuter, off-road scrambler, and just “fun” second bike. But there is another component to the Scrambler that gets lost in translation, depending on what sub-genre of two-wheeled freedom you hail from.

KTM Plans New Smaller V-Twin Engines, Husqvarna Too

A quick look at KTM’s recent additions to its model lineup sees significant attention being given to the company’s large and small-displacement machines, yet the middleweight bikes have remained seemingly untouched. That seems set to change, according to an interview MCN had with KTM CEO Stefan Pierer. Saying that KTM would develop new v-twin engines in the 600cc to 800cc range over the next three years, the Austrian company seems set to its entire lineup revamped within the next few years. The new v-twin engines would compliment the small-displacement single-cylinder bikes in the sub-400cc category, as well as the two and four-cylidner bikes that KTM is pushing in the sport and adventure segments.

FIM Women’s European Cup Added to the EJC

Good news for females riders in the European Union, as we hear that the FIM Women’s European Cup has been folded into the European Junior Cup, which runs alongside the World Superbike Championship. Running alongside the EJC as its own class, young female riders won’t have to decide between the two series, as they will score points in both. This relieves young ladies from having to choose between racing with just the girls, or the boys on an equal playing field…as now they will be doing both.Much of our focus lately has been on MotoAmerica’s efforts and designs to rebuild an American presence in international motorcycle racing, but our European counterparts are hard at work as well.

Daytona 200 Lives on with ASRA Sanctioning

Now that the Daytona Motorsports Group is no longer in control of AMA Pro Road Racing, intrigue has surrounded DMG’s home race, the Daytona 200. An event that usually kicks off the motorcycle racing season in March, the Daytona 200 has been an outlier with its early schedule, endurance format, and technical challenges. The race always seemed forced upon the AMA schedule, and it required teams who wanted to be competitive to run different equipment and tires than what they were using for the rest of the season. The limitations on tires ultimately meant that the Superbikes, the premier road racing class, could not compete in 200 mile race, leaving the event for the aptly named Daytona SportBike category, which was a mix of middleweight machines.

Spy Shots: KTM 1290 SMT – Another Beast?

KTM fans should brace themselves for another model, as the Austrians have been caught teasing a successor to the KTM 990 SMT. Based of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R platform, the new SMT borrows the Super Duke’s core, and adds proper panniers, taller suspension, more cowling, and a windscreen. Visibly similar on the SMT are the chassis and motor of the Super Duke R, and as such the SMT highlights the same steel trellis design and single-sided swingarm. The LC8 engine can easily be seen as well, and the SMT-sucessor can be seen with even the same stock exhaust as found on the 1290 Super Duke R. In this machine, we can see KTM’s response to BMW and Ducati’s continued entrance into the sport/touring/adventure segment.

Honda Motor Co. Produces Its 300 Millionth Motorcycle

Hosting a ceremony today in Tokyo, Honda Motor Company announced that it has produced cumulatively 300 million motorcycles worldwide. The milestone, which was actually reach in September of this year, but just now celebrated by the Japanese company, comes in Honda’s 66th year of making motorcycles, when the brand entered the market with the Honda Dream Type-D in 1949. Despite having 33 production facilities in 22 countries around the world, Honda’s 300 millionth motorcycle was produced at the Kumamoto factory (Honda’s primary plant in Japan), and the bike in question was fittingly a Honda Gold Wing 40th Anniversary Edition machine.

Erik Buell Racing 1190AX Adventure-Tourer Due in 2016

Erik Buell Racing’s release of new models has been slow and steady, despite the American company teasing the names of its first three consumer-level machines from day one. EBR gave the world an early look at the 2015 Erik Buell Racing 1190SX, the streetfighter version of the company’s EBR 1190RX superbike, and now we await the company’s third model. It has long been rumored that the third model from Erik Buell Racing, the EBR 1190AX, would be an adventure-touring model, and Gary Pietruszewski, the Vice President of Global Sales at Erik Buell Racing, confirmed as much while talking to Autoevolution. Like the 1190SX, we don’t expect EBR to re-tune the 1190AX’s engine from its original superbike application.

No Polaris Slingshot in Texas, For Now

Bad news if you live in Texas and want to grab the hottest trike on the market right now, the Polaris Slingshot, as the Lone Star State has rescinded its approval for Slingshot sales in Texas. Despite initially approving the Polaris Slingshot for sales on November 4th, the State of Texas reversed its approval, leaving Polaris to notify dealerships on November 10th that they would be unable to sell the Slingshot, for the foreseeable future. The issue comes down to the application of the definition of what is a motorcycle in the State of Texas, which defines a motorcycle “as a motor vehicle, other than a tractor, that is equipped with a rider’s saddle and designed to have when propelled not more than three wheels on the ground.” (Texas Transportation Code §541.201 (9)).

Newspeak: BMW Removes “Enduro” from Its Lexicon

If you go in to your local BMW dealer and ask to look at their latest enduro models, you should brace yourself for a Laurel & Hardy routine, as the e-word is now persona no grata at US dealerships. Instead, BMW dealers have been instructed to use the word “adventure” instead, newspeaking would-be customers into a segment that BMW literally invented (with a little help from Ewan and Charley). BMW Motorrad USA has also struck the word from its online footprint (except for harder to change things like URLs), just as the German company has flooded the segment with multiple models (more on that later), namely the BMW S1000XR.

KTM 390 Duke Also Confirmed for the USA

In addition the KTM RC390, KTM USA has also seen fit to bring the KTM 390 Duke to American soil for the 2015 model year. The absence of the small-displacement street bike on KTM USA’s lineup for the past two year has been a curious one, as the 375cc naked bike has been selling quite well in other markets. Whatever reasons KTM USA might have for delaying the arrival of the KTM 390 Duke to the United States, the good news is that American riders will have it as an option starting next year. Pricing is set at $4,999, and includes Brembo brakes and WP suspension.

An Addendum to Valentino Rossi’s Options for the Future

04/30/2012 @ 4:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler42 COMMENTS

An Addendum to Valentino Rossis Options for the Future Valentino Rossi

If you haven’t already read David Emmett’s excellent analysis of Valentino Rossi’s options in MotoGP, you owe it to your MotoGP-loving self to sit down and digest David’s thorough game theory walk-through on the nine-time World Champion’s prospects in the premier class.

David’s analysis is spot-on, and approaches the impending 2012 mega silly season from a logical point-of-view (for those who aren’t keeping track, virtually every contract in MotoGP is up for renewal this year). I don’t disagree with any point David has penned, but I wanted to add one line-item to his analysis: some discussion about Rossi’s post-motorcycle racing career, and how it influences The Doctor’s choices this coming contract renewal period.

Never say never, but few are expecting Valentino Rossi to hang up his spurs at the end of the 2012 MotoGP Championship. Going out on a career low-point is certainly not the Italian’s style, especially as it casts a particularly dark shadow on a career that has enjoyed the bright-light superlative of “Greatest of All Time” from some of motorcycling’s most knowledgeable sources.

Hoping to cast that phrase with an underlined typeface, and not with an interrogatory question mark, there is sufficient evidence to believe that Rossi will want to end his career in a way that will leave no doubt about the nine-time World Champion’s abilities. The question of course is how those final seasons will play out, and who they will be with.

Will 2012 Finally Be Husqvarna’s Year?

03/08/2012 @ 2:08 pm, by Jensen Beeler15 COMMENTS

Will 2012 Finally Be Husqvarnas Year? Husqvarna sales figures 635x393

For the past day I have been plunking away at a spreadsheet, adding in values found in several years’ worth of press releases. You see, while most motorcycle manufacturers go out of their way to hide sales information in their media communications, they still leave enough clues that allow one to decipher these pieces of information in their entirety. A monthly figure here, a quarterly result there, a percent gain over last year mentioned, and you’ve got your self five or more months of sales data extrapolated.

That being said, there is no need to go through this much work to know that Husqvarna has been having a rough couple of years. Even by just taking a straw poll from any of the BMW Group’s many glowing sales reports, you’ll find a three to four sentence paragraph outlining the continued disappointment that the Italian-based Swedish brand has brought the German company. Often not even cracking four-digit monthly sales figures, Husqvarna has been on a sales decline that has spawned BMW Motorrad’s decision to push the once dirt-only brand into the street bike scene.

In its most recent media communication, the BMW Group has praised Husqvarna’s sales success over the past two months. With the subsidiary posting a 50% gain in January, and a 2% gain in February, Husqvarna has thus far this year posted a 15% gain over the first two months of 2011. All is well for Zie Germans, no? You know the setup, continue reading for the take-down.

This Isn’t a Motorcycle Commercial, But It Should Be

02/08/2012 @ 11:41 am, by Jensen Beeler52 COMMENTS

This Isnt a Motorcycle Commercial, But It Should Be joy ride nikon film 635x449

For the uninitiated readers of Asphalt & Rubber, I have an axe to grind with the way OEMs market our sport, lifestyle, and culture. For an industry that centers so heavily around the idea of personal freedoms and individuality, the way motorcycle brands engage motorcyclists is appalling.

Often creating cheap one-dimensional campaigns that feed into the most base stereotypes available, it is rare to find any sort of marketing campaign that touches on the nerves of why we ride motorcycles. We’ve seen the car. We know it exists. And yet, we choose to ride motorcycles. Think about it.

If what is after the jump costs 10x what a normal cheap YouTube flick from (insert OEM here), then I’ll take 10x less marketing material from any motorcycle manufacturer if what I do end up seeing looks this good, and actually has this much substance. Like the Escapism short we debuted by friend Barry Munsterteiger, this film Joy Ride by Sandro has the same level of quality and storytelling we need to publish in the industry.

For bonus points, it shows that motorcyclists are real people with depth and character; and for ultra-bonus points, the star of the film is some guy named Mark Miller.The only thing that I hate about this video? It was made to promote a new digital SLR camera, not a motorcycle. Wake up people.

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.

Lawless Jakarta & Some Thoughts About Southeast Asia

01/10/2012 @ 12:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler41 COMMENTS

Here’s a random factoid delivered in the form of a question for you: when looking at the metrics for the A&R website, A&R Twitter account, and A&R Facebook page, which city do you think is responsible for the most readers? We are an American-based website after all, so your top picks might be New York, Los Angeles, or maybe San Francisco, right? Nope. Half our traffic does come from abroad though, so maybe London? Paris? Rome? Barcelona? Wrong again dear readers, because when it comes to a single city consuming the moto-goodness that we publish on a daily basis, none of them have anything on Jakarta, Indonesia (yes, the title of article gave that one away, huh?).

I recently talked about this phenomenon with another online motojournalist, who was experiencing the same trend, and he concluded that it must be employees using proxy servers so they can read blog while at work. I disagreed however, and when looking at where the industry as a whole is currently headed, I think there is something much more basic at play here. Developing countries are the future of motorcycling, and right now Southeast Asia is a hot bed of growth for motorcycle sales. With a less developed infrastructure, and still a need to get from Point A to Point B, motorcycles provide a cheap and effective means of transportation in countries like Indonesia, and for many, motorcycles have become a way of life.

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.

Some Closing Thoughts About Marco Simoncelli

10/30/2011 @ 11:48 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

Some Closing Thoughts About Marco Simoncelli Marco Simoncelli MotoGP Scott Jones 5

It has taken me a week to collect my thoughts and process the passing of Marco Simoncelli, the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider that lost his life during the MotoGP race in Malaysia. I’m not one of those journalists that can belt out some poignant thoughts on an event immediately after it happens, nor did I personally know Simoncelli well enough to offer a comprehensive anecdote on the man’s short but distinguished life. Having only met and talked to Marco briefly a few times, I cannot shed some deeper insight regarding who he was as a man, stripped away of all the pomp, prestige, and PR spin of the premier class.

I’ve heard the MotoGP paddock described as a family or village, so as one of its most recent members, this tragedy both cuts me deeply, but yet also seems like a distant and surreal event. Perhaps it will affect me more as I travel to Valencia this week, or perhaps I will continue to feel as if I am on the outside looking in at cataclysm of grief that has befallen friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Time will tell in that regard, and I’ll leave it to those masters of the pen who are better suited to the task to account for the young Italian’s life and racing career.

Instead my closing thoughts about Marco Simoncelli are a mixed commentary of life, tragedy, and where we go from here.

The Indian Gambit – Polaris Puts Harley-Davidson on Notice

04/20/2011 @ 6:33 pm, by Jensen Beeler27 COMMENTS

The Indian Gambit   Polaris Puts Harley Davidson on Notice chess gambit 635x476

Before yesterday afternoon, I had a hard time getting excited about Polaris. I think they make snowmobiles…but I’m not sure. This is how engaged with their brands I was, but of course this has all changed with the news that Polaris Industries, Inc. has acquired Indian Motorcycle for still undisclosed terms. Covering the business strategy side of motorcycling for the past two and a half years, I can tell you that there are few moves or decisions that strike me as truly inspired, but that events of the past 24 hours are surly Mensa-worthy.

Before I can talk about Polaris and Indian, I have to talk about another motorcycle company: Harley-Davidson. Kingdoms are fated to topple, but looking at Harley-Davdion and its dominance in the American motorcycle scene, let alone in popular culture, the legacy of the Milwaukee company seems assured to endure the test of time. So many companies have tried to be the next Harley, and all of their failures reinforce that concept that no company does “Harley” better than Harley-Davidson. Virtually creating the the legacy cruiser segment, and Harley-Davidson’s success in this regard is also the double-edged sword that is slowly prostrating the Milwaukee brand.

If I had to give one piece of advice to a company wanting to compete with Harley-Davidson, it would be real simple: don’t. Seemingly at the risk of painting itself into a corner, Harley-Davidson has refined its marketing message so thoroughly that it has honed in on a particular type of rider, and exhibits such a distinct persona of motorcycling that the company’s identity has found itself heading full-speed down a one-way street of branding. Thus the low-hanging fruit of competing with Harley-Davidson is to go after the brand where it cannot go.

The Great Distribution Experiment is Over

04/12/2011 @ 1:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

The Great Distribution Experiment is Over the great experiment 635x423

As we write the timeline on the evolution of the electric motorcycle, the bullet points for 2011 will note a few key events, and one of them surely will be the adoption of a traditional sales distribution scheme. It’s not a sexy event, but it’s an important one in the growth of this side of the industry. You see when resourced-backed electric motorcycle manufacturers entered the scene, the idea was that a new drivetrain meant a new set of rules, and from that a new playbook was drafted. The idea of selling electric motorcycles at traditional motorcycle dealerships was abandoned, and in its place these companies tried new approaches — some clever, and some not so much.

Direct-to-consumer sales approaches, online purchasing, ad hoc customer sales leads, and even Best Buy all entered into these new models of how to get a motorcycle into a purchaser’s hands…and they all failed. It is no small feat to start a motorcycle company, and it is an even taller order to make an electric one. Not only do you have to sell your would-be-buyer on the features of your motorcycle, but you then also have to sell them on why their purchase should be an electric motorcycle, and not its ICE equivalent.

The undertaking of proving out a new method of selling motorcycles is a burden in its own right for an established motorcycle manufacturer, let alone a startup, so its failure should come as little surprise to those in the industry with this experience. It is therefore not surprising that we get news that both Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have abandoned their previous sales distribution schemes, in favor of adopting a more traditional dealer network approach.

Michigan Eyes Dropping Helmet Law…Again

04/06/2011 @ 7:43 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Michigan Eyes Dropping Helmet Law...Again  bug splat

Twice now Michigan has come close to repealing its helmet law for motorcycles, with both instances being vetoed by Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But now with Gov. Granholm no longer in office, and with Republicans also having control over the legislature, the stars have seemingly aligned for the state’s riders to make another bid on nixing the law.

I should preface that there are two separate proposals being lobbied in Michigan. First there is House Bill 2008, submitted by Rep. Richard LeBlanc, and the Michigan State Senate has its own bill to contend with, Senate Bill 291, which is co-sponsored by five Democrat and twelve Republican State Senators. The bill in the Senate is your typical approach to helmet laws, and holds that anyone who is over 21, and has either passed a motorcycle safety course, or had a motorcycle endorsement for two years, can ride a motorcycle without a helmet.