XXX: The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 World Endurance Race Bike is Pure Sex…with a Headlight

The long-winded “Yamaha France GMT 94 Michelin Racing” team is ready for FIM Endurance World Championship action this year, especially with the all-new 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle. The new R1 offers state-of-the-art electronics, as well as near-200hp from its crossplane four-cylinder engine, and the French team is looking to capitalize on those improvements in the EWC for 2015. Yamaha France took the 2014 title in a convincing fashion, so it will be interesting to see what riders David Checa, Kenny Foray, and Mathieu Gines can accomplish with their new toy. We’ve got a bevy of high-resolution photos for you, after the jump.

Not-A-Review: 2015 MV Agusta Motorcycles

As promised, here is the second part of our trip down to Fontana, California to meet with MV Agusta USA, go over the company’s new business plan for not only America, but also worldwide, and to ride the current crop of their 2015 machinery. I should preface right out of the gate that this is not a review in regards as to what you’ve come to expect from Asphalt & Rubber. I am not-so-cleverly calling this a “not-a-review” assessment of MV Agusta’s 2015 models. I say this because we had a very limited amount of time on each bike, as there was roughly 10 machines to divide our attention amongst. Think of this article as not far from someone test riding a bunch of motorcycles at a dealership, with similar duration and limits put in place…except that this someone rides motorcycles for a living.

Analyzing The Ducati Desmosedici GP15

Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati’s 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: “Emozionante” and “tanto lavoro”. Both were extremely apt. Getting from where Ducati was to where it is now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed “tanto lavoro”, a lot of hard work, and they still have “tanto lavoro” ahead of them. The results were “emozionante”, a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday. For good reason, the GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before.

Some Thoughts on MV Agusta & A Story About Two Letters

MV Agusta USA recently invited a slew of journalists down to Fontana, California in order to talk about the company’s new business plan, and to ride its current lineup of motorcycles on the infield course. This article is “Part 1″ of that experience, as I wanted to separate my thoughts on MV Agusta, MV Agusta USA, and the general motorcycling climate into one story, and then have my “not-a-review” of the machines for another article. Got it? Ok, let’s go. It is probably easiest to start with where MV Agusta is as a company. MV Agusta has a started a new three-year business plan, which sees the company pushing into a full-range of motorcycles, pushing outside of its Italian boundaries, and pushing out of the “luxury” brand segment.

Photos: Ducati Desmosedici GP15

The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is a machine that has been long in the making. It represents Gigi Dall’Igna’s next step forward for the wayward Ducati Corse MotoGP team, and it is the dubious honor of holding the hopes of Ducati fans around the world, who see the machine as the silver bullet that will return Ducati to the forefront of racing prowess — no pressure. The most obvious change that can be seen on the GP15 is the re-routing of the exhaust, with the undertail pipes collecting on the right-hand side of the machine, rather than coming in from both sides and meeting in the middle. Can you spot any other changes in the high-resolution photos after the jump? Let us know in the comments.

Politics & Corruption: Why There Isn’t a Race in Indonesia

If anyone needed any further proof that Indonesia is important to the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the fact the Repsol Honda team chose Bali as the location to launch their 2015 MotoGP project should remove any doubt. But if Indonesia is so important to the manufacturers, and to MotoGP, why is there not a race there? Over the course of the MotoGP test at Sepang, I had a few conversations with people on the subject. On the record, the story was always the same: we need a suitable track, and as soon as one exists we will be happy to go there. Off the record, however, they were much less optimistic.

A Requiem for Kenji Ekuan & The Kando of GK Design

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.

Are You The MV Agusta F4 RC?

What look to be official photos of the MV Agusta F4 RC have leaked out onto the internet, along with a slide from MV Agusta’s media presentation on the machine. The photos give us our first glimpse into Varese’s homologation special, complete with a special two-can exhaust by Termignoni. The leaked slide confirms some of the numbers being thrown around about the F4 RC, namely that it will have 212hp, 81.86 lbs•ft of torque, weigh 175kg dry, and cost €36,900 (we already know that the MV Agusta F4 RC will cost $46,000 in the USA). Information from a leaked slide last year has already told us that MV Agusta has radically overhauled the F4 RC’s engine, designing a new cylinder heard, new crankshaft, new camshaft, as well as adding bigger fuel injectors, lighter pistons, and titanium connecting rods.

Kenji Ekuan, Designer of the Yamaha VMAX Has Died

Mainstream news is mourning the death of Kenji Ekuan today, as the 85-year-old Japanese industrial designer is one of the most influential artists in Japan’s modern era, and is most well-known for his designing of the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce bottle. Ekuan’s lesser-known works though include a number of motorcycle designs for Yamaha, including the now 30-year-old Yamaha VMAX motorcycle, which makes his passing even more meaningful to motorcyclists around the world. Kenji Ekuan founded GK Industrial Design after WWII, and his company helped shape the way Japan rebuilt itself after the world war.

Ride Review: KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Despite its huge dimensions, not to mention a 30 liter fuel tank, the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure never looks big or bulky. In fact, it is only when you mount the hard luggage that you can tell this bike can really cover long distances. Apart from a dorky little exposed wire from the heated grips near the throttle, the fit and finish is very high-end, especially the integrated curved lighting in the tank — it is quite a sight. At first glance the Super Adventure doesn’t have the massive personality and stance of its German rival, the BMW R1200GS Adventure, but that is in part due to the white color scheme and the absence of the typical beak as a front mudguard. KTM is going about things differently, and that is something that appeals to many riders…including us.

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.

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.