A Naked Yamaha YZF-R25 Is Coming Soon?

If you believe the reports coming out of India and Southeast Asia, Yamaha is working on a naked version of its YZF-R25 sport bike. Presumably to be call the Yamaha MT-25, the naked bike would continue Yamaha’s trend of making naked version of its fully faired sport bikes, similar to the recently released Yamaha MT-125 that is available for the European market. With images of the machine testing on public roads abounding, the MT-25 seems likely to see production, so the real intrigue will be in what markets Yamaha makes the machine available. With Honda already offering faired (Honda CBR300R) and unfaired versions (Honda CB300F) of its small-displacement motorcycle in the US, Yamaha could easily go head-to-head with Big Red with the YZF-R3 and an FZ-03 variant, based off the R3 design.

Kawasaki Applies for Electric Motorcycle Patent

Need further proof that the future of motorcycling will include electrics? Take this recently published patent application from Kawasaki, that the Japanese OEM filed for back in 2011. The claims are fairly rudimentary, though they do include a transmission, with Kawasaki’s lawyers mostly outlining the basics of a motorcycle powered by an electric motor, of course the news is less about the contents of the patent application, and more about the fact that it was applied for, in the first place. When will we see an electric motorcycle concept from Kawasaki is anyone’s guess, though there are two big motorcycle shows coming up in Japan in a couple weeks’ time. In reality, we doubt we’ll see something so soon from Kawasaki, but if the Kawasaki H2 has shown us anything, it is that anything is possible from Kawasaki right now.

Is KTM Planning a V4-Powered Sport Bike?

Why would KTM be riding around on a camouflaged Aprilia Tuono V4? That is the question of the day, after a spy photographer caught the Austrian company testing in Spain with such a machine. The answer of course points to KTM working on a V4 street bike platform, which shouldn’t be too surprising since KTM CEO Stefan Pierer already tipped the media off to the fact that it is working on a MotoGP entry that would be based around a beastly V4 engine called the RC16. While Pierer confirmed the MotoGP, as well as a track-only consumer version of the GP bike, zie Austrians have been mum about other motorcycles in KTM’s lineup sharing the new V4 powerplant.

Honda CRF250 Rally Concept Breaks Cover in Japan

Adventure riders, you prayers have been answered. Honda is set to debut a new off-road model at the Osaka Motorcycle Show, the Honda CRF250 Rally. Based off the Honda CRF250L platform, the Rally concept is basically the CRF250L with rally-styled bodywork. The Honda CRF250 Rally concept will get its worldwide debut alongside the Honda True Adventure concept, which we first saw at last year’s EICMA show. This makes for an interesting dichotomy, as the CRF250 Rally is set to look like the CRF450 Rally race bike, while the True Adventure (cough, Africa Twin, cough) borrows heavily from the race bike’s technology package. With Honda showing a 250cc ADV model and a 1,000cc model at the same show, one has to wonder when a consumer-level version of the CRF450 Rally race bike will be ready as well.

Honda SFA Concept Gets Japanese Debut

After it first debuted in Indonesia last October, the Honda SFA concept motorcycle seems to be getting serious, as Honda will be showing the up-market bike at this weekend’s Osaka Motorcycle Show and next weekend’s Tokyo Motorcycle Show. While Honda only mentions that the SFA concept is a “street-fighter style light-weight motorcycle with a single cylinder engine mounted on a trellis frame,” sources in Indonesia say the fetching small-displacement machine is built around the 150cc CB150R for that market. Whether this means that Honda will make more premium-focused 150cc machines, and bring them to markets outside of Asia remains to be seen, though it is clear that the Japanese firm is taking such an approach under serious consideration.

Bimota Racing at IOMTT with American Brandon Cretu

Italy’s favorite boutique brand will be back at the Isle of Man TT races this year, with a two rider team that includes American Brandon Cretu. Cretu and his teammate Ben Wylie will campaign for Bimota at the big four road races (North West 200, Isle of Man TT, Ulster Grand Prix, and Macau GP) on-board the Bimota BB3 superbike. This is not the first time that Cretu and Wylie have raced together, having shared a pit while at the Wylie Racing team during the 2011 and 2012 Isle of Man TT races. Though the Bimota BB3 was ruled ineligible for FIM events, the international road racing scene has no hang-ups letting the S1000RR-powered superbikes lineup on the starting grid.

MV Agusta F4 RC Leaks Again with More “AMG”

We are still waiting for the 2015 MV Agusta F4 RC to break cover officially, but the top-of-the-line superbike from Varese continues to make itself sneakily available to the public. First there were the leaked studio photos, which looked spot-on to the photos MV Agusta USA teased us with at its press launch earlier this year. Now, we have more photos of the F4 RC leaking, though with some changes to the design — namely more prominent “AMG” badging, for MV Agusta’s newest minority partner. The 2015 MV Agusta F4 RC isn’t supposed to arrive at dealerships until June 2015; and when it does, it will be in limited numbers. The F4 RC is MV Agusta’s homologation special for World Superbike and domestic superbike racing classes.

Q&A: Romano Albesiano – “We Know It Takes Three Years to Be Competitive in MotoGP”

Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano has big shoes to fill. Taking over from Gigi Dall’Igna, Albesiano must continue the legacy of success which his predecessor left for him. He got off to a good start, Sylvain Guintoli lifting the World Superbike title in Albesiano’s first year at the helm. Now comes the hard part, following up on that success and expanding into MotoGP. A small group of journalists spoke to Albesiano at the Aprilia launch in Milan. In a wide-ranging conversation, the Aprilia boss covered many topics, including explaining why the Noale firm came back to MotoGP a year ahead of schedule, touching on what the new bike Aprilia is working on for 2016 and beyond might look like, and the 2016 rules in MotoGP.

Ducati CEO Leaves the Door Open for a Scooter Model

In a recent interview by Moto.it with Claudio Domenicali, the Ducati CEO fielded a number of questions about the Italian company’s business and its relationship with its German owners (read it here in Google English), but one question was of particular interest: a Ducati Scooter. The often rumored, often debated, and often denied subject is perhaps the most feared topics for Ducatisti, and it ranks generally just below discussions on which oil to use, which tires are best, and how to break-in a motorcycle engine properly. That being said, it seems we are headed for another round of debate, as Domenicali is quoted as saying the following to Moto.it: “a scooter marked Ducati is not blasphemy.”

Interesting Entries for the 2015 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

The 93rd running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb may be over three months away, but the historic American road race released its official entry list this week, with some interesting participants for 2015’s Race to the Clouds. So far with 78 motorcycle entries confirmed, our attention was piqued with the entry of a 2015 Kawasaki H2 sport bike by Japan’s Takahiro Itami. Bringing things more locally, Colorado-based Ronin Motorcycles has an entry with one the company’s 47 heavily modified Buells, with Pikes Peak class-winner Travis Newbold at the helm. While Pikes Peak has several “To Be Determined” motorcycle entries still to disclose, noticeably absent from the entry list are many of the race’s recent top-finishers.

How 3D Printing Is Going To Change Motorcycling

10/05/2012 @ 2:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler31 COMMENTS

For the past few weeks or so, I have been conversing back-and-forth with my cousin-in-law about 3D printing. Apparently, some sort of hobbyist 3D printing shop has opened in his home town of Pasadena, and my geekier-than-me relative has been chomping at the bit to see what the consumer-level 3D printers can build.

Since my special brand of geekiness has already assured that the bloodline stops at my branch of the family tree, you can imagine the uber-nerd fest we both have been having, trading links on Facebook about the different things that rapid-prototype machines and 3D printers can achieve.

For those who are not familiar with the technology, the name really does give away about 90% of the special sauce. Using a plastic in lieu of ink, 3D printer can actually build three-dimensional objects in a process not that dissimilar to your home ink jet printer (Jay Leno has been using 3D printing to replace impossible-to-find parts for his classic car collection).

The more robust and industrial units use lasers to shape and heat the plastic ink, and are able to achieve a high-degree of object resolution. We can think of more than a few electric motorcycle startups that are currently using this rapid-prototyping process to develop their street and race bikes. It’s very fascinating, but also very expensive stuff.

This is where the consumer side of the equation comes in, as the post-industrial form of 3D printing has not only rapidly increased in its ability to flawlessly create a high-resolution object, but the cost of both the 3D printer and its “ink” have dramatically dropped. Hobbyist models are now in the $400-$2,000 range, and could soon be as ubiquitous as the printer sitting next to the computer you are using to read this article.

As the price-point drops and resolution increases further, the consumer end of this technology could rival the industrial side of 3D printing, and that is where things get real interesting for the motorcycle industry, and manufacturing in general.

As California Legalizes Self-Driving Cars, Are Motorcycling’s Days Numbered?

09/26/2012 @ 7:03 pm, by Jensen Beeler38 COMMENTS

The movement of transportation as a commodity continues, as California has become the second state to legalize the use of automated cars on its roadways (Nevada was first).

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today SB 1298, which specifically legalizes the use of autonomous vehicles, as long as a licensed and bonded operator is in the vehicle’s driver seat.

Essentially legitimizing what was a legal grey-area, what the bill does does explicitly is green-light more autonomous vehicle projects in the Golden State.

With applications from the trucking industry to the car-sharing, and everything in-between, the advent of autonomous four-wheelers signals an interesting, yet scary, future for motorcyclists.

According to former Ford/Chrysler/GM-man Bob Lutz, self-driving cars could be the norm in as few as 20 years — an idea the could materially change the driving landscape as we know it.

As autonomous vehicles become increasing the status quo on the road, user-guided vehicles like motorcycles will become greater outliers, and could face a tyranny of the majority.

Rossi, Ducati, & Yamaha: And The Winner is…

08/17/2012 @ 7:20 am, by David Emmett23 COMMENTS

So what are we to make of Valentino Rossi’s not-so-shocking decision to leave Ducati and go back to Yamaha? The initial reaction from fans and media was that the biggest losers from the move are Ducati as a manufacturer, and Rossi’s reputation as miracle worker when it comes to bike development. There is some merit in both those arguments, but perhaps it is not quite so clear cut as that. Rossi’s two years at Ducati have done a lot of damage to both parties – as well as to MotoGP’s popularity and TV income – but in the end, this move could have some very positive long-term repercussions.

The Four Killer Apps of the Electric Motorcycle

07/03/2012 @ 1:32 pm, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

Electric motorcycles: love them or hate them, our two-wheeled future is here my riding brethren. I can hear the collective groan of petrol-heads as this subject is broached though. Yes, it is hard to get excited about electric motorcycles in their current state, and why should you be excited about them? I may not blindly gush about electrics as much as the Kool-aid drinking EV crowd does, but I’m decisively on the pro-electric side of the debate. Yet, even I have a hard time looking at what is available on the market, and imagining a scenario where my hard-earned blogging dollars would grab an electric motorcycle over its internal combustion counterpart.

Part of the reason is that there is no real appealing reason to go electric at this point in time. Oh sure, you can do your part to save the environment, though the net-effect with our coal-dependent energy infrastructure will still play a tremendous detriment on the reality of one-less petrol-burning motorcycle on the road. That being said, electricity out of a home outlet is super-cheap, out of someone else’s outlet it is even cheaper, and the “where our power comes from” debate really should be looked at as separate from the green-vehicle debate. Of course, the break-even analysis on the total cost of owning a 250cc motorcycle compared to even the most robust electric motorcycle is still fairly dubious — and let’s be honest, grouping the current offering of electric motorcycles in with a 250cc commuter bike is probably a disservice to the Honda CBR250R and Kawasaki Ninja 250R’s of the world.

So with all the Negative Nancy about electrics, why am I still talking about them? Because there is tremendous potential with a fully digital powertrain, that’s why. Forget the CD vs. tape cassette analogy, this is a Pandora vs. LP shift in technology — but we just don’t have a killer app yet for electric motorcycles. Defined as “the concept that a singular feature is so prolific that its proves the core value of a larger technological system, often driving consumers to make a purchasing decision on the product or system that highlights the feature,” it is clear that electric motorcycles have yet to define the advantage they represent to motorcyclists — not because there is no value in the system, but because electric motorcycle manufacturers have failed to provide the killer app to their core technology.

As it stands now, electric motorcycles are basically conventional motorcycles with batteries and motors that replace fuel tanks and engines. It is the same basic offering that we have had since the turn of the century, except with three times the cost, forty times the refuel time, and a quarter of the range. While the big hold-up for electrics, battery technology, is still advancing rapidly, at the end of the day consumers are still be making apples-to-apples comparisons between internal combustion and electric motorcycles because only the most basic elements of this new technology is being offered by electric OEMs (i.e. getting you from Point A to Point B).

There is a tremendous amount at stake for electric motorcycle OEMs beyond just the basics of the market status quo, as the first electric motorcycle OEM that figures out how to deliver a killer app to the electric motorcycle space, is going to be the first electric motorcycle company to find real traction with the born-on-gasoline motorcycle riding masses. Progressing from immediate needs to long-term goals, I have compiled a roadmap of four killer apps that the electric motorcycle space needs to bring to market. Each killer app builds off the next, and the whole exercise concludes on what I believe is the most important idea in motorcycling. Now, who is going to be the first to make these ideas a reality?

Lies, Damned Lies, & The MIC’s Electric Range Estimates

06/13/2012 @ 5:58 am, by Jensen Beeler37 COMMENTS

Rewind a few years ago in the electric segment of the motorcycle industry, and you found a landscape where manufacturers published wildly inaccurate numbers relating to speed, range, and power. The situation of over-promising and under-delivering was so bad, virtually any figure quoted, whether it was made with the best or worst intentions, was immediately called into question. The issue of course stemmed from the fact that OEMs were unable to deliver motorcycles with specifications that were remotely acceptable to a savvy motorcycle market. 20 mile ranges? 15hp available continuously? 60 mph top speeds if you’re downhill, tucked in, have a tailwind, and add five to the speedo’s reading? Yup, those were the good old days.

As the industry matured, so did our expectations, and it looked like some sanity was going to come to fruition as the MIC began pooling interest on developing a standard to rate the various performance specifications of electric motorcycles. An industry group setup to look after the best interests of the OEMs and other business in the motorcycle industry, you only need to follow the cash to see whose best interests are really being served by this group.

So, it should not surprise us then that the latest “standard” from the MIC, which establishes criterion on how the highway mileage of an electric motorcycle should be rated, is doing a downright scandelous disservice to consumers and the industry itself, as the proposed standard massively overrates the highway range of electric motorcycles.

No Sub-800cc Motorcycle for India? Why Harley-Davidson Doesn’t Understand Emerging Markets

06/02/2012 @ 7:38 am, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Regular readers of Asphalt & Rubber will have noticed by now that I like to talk about what is going on with motorcycling in emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, etc. The fact of the matter is that it is these markets, not North America or Europe, that are going to serve as the future for the motorcycle industry, and the sooner us westerners get used to that idea, the better. For an industry built around and defined by the rebellious archetypes portrayed by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, the reality is that motorcyclists as a whole are conservative by nature, and resistant to change…especially in the United States.

We like our bikes loud, our helmets off, and bikes built by real blue-collar ‘mericans. Our skin prickles at the thought of manufacturing outside the borders of our blessed Union, and every time a company opens a factory in India, Southeast Asia, or South America, we talk about the outsourcing of American labor, the downfall of our economy, or something equally hyperbolic.

This has been the same broken record that has been played for the better part of the past 100 years, and has re-manifests itself each decade to address the next perceived threat to our domestic economy. While there is much to say about the shifting of America’s GDP from manufacturing to service industries, the real germane subject for discussion here centers around the idea that all too often Chicken Little rears his head when an American company opens a factory outside of the United States.

Such is the case with Harley-Davidson, which setup manufacturing in India back in 2011. Contrary to belief that the sky was falling, the Bar & Shield brand was not getting ready to massively outsource its production abroad (though it was heavily re-negotiating with its unionized labor force), but instead very deliberately and wisely chose to bypass India’s extraordinarily high tariffs by building and assembling its Indian market bikes locally. This move allowed Harley-Davidson to competitively and reasonably price its motorcycle in the Indian market, which in turn helped the brand expand its presence in one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world.

While this plan so far has proved to be fruitful for Harley-Davidson, the recent news that Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash has confirmed that H-D will not be making a sub-800cc bike specifically for the Indian market shows a misstep for Harley-Davidson with its international strategy, especially as it pertains to the major growth markets for motorcycling.

An Addendum to Valentino Rossi’s Options for the Future

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

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

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

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

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.