Honda Bulldog Concept Lets the Dogs Out in Osaka

After first showing us the Honda SFA and Honda CRF250 Rally concepts, Big Red made good on its promise for another motorcycle concept premiere at the Osaka Motorcycle Show, debuting the Honda Bulldog concept. With the face of a Ruckus, and built to “leisurely” take-on the great outdoors in an unassuming manor, the Honda Bulldog is a stout off-roader that adds a new slant to the term adventure-bike. With wide 15″ knobby tires, a 28″ seat height, and 400cc parallel-twin engine mated to a six-speed gearbox, the Bulldog certainly isn’t what you expect to see bombing down the trails, yet it sorta makes sense.

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.”

Goodbye Husqvarna Nuda, We Hardly Knew Thee

05/07/2013 @ 1:58 pm, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

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Stefan Pierer’s acquisition of Husqvarna continues to baffle me. You will note I say Pierer, and not KTM, bought Husqvarna, since the Austrian CEO used Pierer Industrie AG in the transaction as a means to help side-step European antitrust issues. After all, we can’t have Europe’s largest dirt bike manufacturer, nay largest total motorcycle manufacturer, gobbling up even more brands in the two-wheeled world. But, I digress.

For as big of an issue as it might be that KTM, by proxy, has swallowed another dirt bike brand, I still do not understand the thinking behind this madness. Dropping to four-digit yearly sales, it wasn’t until BMW started taking the off-road brand into the on-road market did signs of growth appear again at Husky.

Developing three road bikes (Husqvarna Nuda 900, Husqvarna Strada 650, & Husqvarna Terra 650), with three more concepts waiting in the wings (Husqvarna Moab, Husqvarna Baja, & Husqvarna E-G0), it is with even more confusion that we learn that Pierer & Co. intend to kill the Husqvarna Nuda project and its other street siblings.

How the Ducati Superbike 999 Wasn’t a Sales Flop & Other Ducati Superbike Sales Statistics

03/29/2013 @ 3:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

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Sales figures are a closely guarded secret in the two-wheeled realm, especially when it comes to numbers for specific motorcycle models. It is a shame really, as these are the kind of numbers that we here at Asphalt & Rubber love to pour over for hours, looking for insights, trends, and meanings. So for us, the above graph is made of pure motorcycling gold.

Taken from the Ducati 1199 Panigale R international press launch, where Ducati Motor Holding’s General Manager Claudio Domenicali shared with the assembled journalists the first-year sales figures for each of the Italian company’s Superbike models, the above is a direct recreation of the presentation’s slide, which unsurprisingly Ducati didn’t include when it handed us a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.

In the age of computers and smartphones, not to mention a room full of moto-journalist, it is hard to imagine how Ducati didn’t foresee this information being disseminated to the public, but I digress. After the jump are some of my initial thoughts from looking at the data on each model. We’ll be playing more with this information in the coming days as well.

Lessons from Austin: Marquez’s Star Rises, Rossi’s Wanes

03/15/2013 @ 1:50 pm, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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So the three days of testing at Austin are over, and what did we learn? That Marc Marquez is something special? We knew that, though we didn’t perhaps realize just how special. That Yamaha really needs to find more acceleration? This, too, was known, but becoming clearer every time the M1 goes up against the Honda RC213V on track. That Valentino Rossi’s return does not equate to an automatic 8th MotoGP title? We suspected as much.

The first thing that became obvious is that the Austin circuit itself is pretty decent. Valentino Rossi described it as “a typical Tilke track, with corners that remind you of Shanghai and Turkey.” Unsurprising, given that Herman Tilke, who also designed Shanghai, Istanbul, and many other race tracks around the world, was responsible for designing the track.

The input from Kevin Schwantz was helpful, though, making the track more like Istanbul than Shanghai. The circuit has a couple of highly technical sections, where you go in blind and need to have memorized which way the track goes. It is wide, giving opportunities for overtaking and braking, and has a couple of the fast, fast sweepers which motorcycle racers love.

It also has a couple of tight corners, leaving the bike in a low gear with a lot of acceleration to do. This, it became apparent, favors the Hondas, the RC213V strongest off the bottom, and capable of pulling a gap. Acceleration issues will be a problem for Yamaha this year, unless Masahiko Nakajima and his fellow engineers can find some extra grunt out of the corners.

The situation was similar in 2012, but Yamaha was helped by the problems the Hondas had with chatter. So far, the Repsol Honda men have remained silent on the issue, meaning the worst of it is over. Yamaha have their work cut out, and Jorge Lorenzo’s second title defense could be a little too reminiscent of his previous one in 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Honda RC213V 90° V4 Engine Makes Us Rethink the Problems with the Ducati Desmosedici

02/19/2013 @ 3:59 pm, by David Emmett44 COMMENTS

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Just over 18 months ago, I wrote a long analysis of what I believed at the time was the main problem with Ducati’s Desmosedici MotoGP machine. In that analysis, I attributed most of the problems with the Desmosedici to the chosen angle of the V, the angle between the front and rear cylinder banks.

By sticking with the 90° V, I argued, Ducati were creating problems with packaging and mass centralization, which made it almost impossible to get the balance of the Desmosedici right. The engine was taking up too much space, and limiting their ability to adjust the weight balance by moving the engine around.

Though there was a certain logic to my analysis, it appears that the engine angle was not the problem. Yesterday, in their biweekly print edition, the Spanish magazine Solo Moto published an article by Neil Spalding, who had finally obtained photographic evidence that the Honda RC213V uses a 90° V, the same engine angle employed by the Ducati Desmosedici. Given the clear success of the Honda RC213V, there can no longer be any doubt that using a 90° V is no impediment to building a competitive MotoGP machine.

The photographic proof comes as confirmation of rumors which had been doing the rounds in the MotoGP paddock throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Several people suggested that the Honda may use a 90° angle, including Ducati team manager Vitto Guareschi, speaking to GPOne.com back in November.

I had personally been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a naked RC213V engine at one rain-soaked race track in September, but while the glimpse through the window may have been good enough to form the impression of an engine that looked like it may have been a 90°V, it was a very long way from being anything resembling conclusive, and nowhere near enough to base a news story on.

Spalding’s persistence has paid off, however. The British photographer and journalist is a common sight wandering among the garages, either first thing in the morning, as the bikes are being warmed up, or late at night, while the mechanics prepare the machines for the following day.

At some point, the Honda mechanics and engineers – protective to the point of prudishness of displaying any part of their machine to the outside world – would let their guard slip. When they did, Spalding pounced.

So why did Honda elect to use an engine layout which is blamed for causing Ducati so much trouble? And how does Honda make the layout work where Ducati have continued to fail? The first question is relatively simple to answer; the second is a good deal more tricky.

January 2013: The MotoGP & WSBK Story, So Far

02/02/2013 @ 3:06 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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With the first full test for the World Superbike class behind us, and the first test of the MotoGP grid about to get underway at Sepang at the end of this week, it is time to take a look at motorcycle racing’s pre-season, and evaluate where we stand so far. Just what is the state of play for both MotoGP and World Superbike in 2013?

The question is even more pertinent now that both series have been taken under the wing of Dorna, much to the consternation of World Superbike fans and, to some extent, the WSBK paddock as well. It was feared that Dorna would either kill off World Superbike entirely to strengthen the position of MotoGP, or impose such stringent technical regulations on the series as to dumb it down to Superstock spec.

Fortunately, neither of those options looks likely. World Superbikes will continue as a separate series, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was keen to explain when quizzed about the takeover at Ducati’s Wrooom launch event early in January. The aim is to build a strong WSBK series to stand alongside MotoGP, preserving the unique identity of the two series – WSBK as a place to race production bikes, MotoGP as the series for racing prototypes.

But exactly how should the phrase “production bikes” be interpreted? As a hotted up version of the road-going model, as is the intention of Superstock, or as a genuine racing machine built using the production bike as a basis, which is much closer to what some regard as the ethos of WSBK? The answer, it appears, will lie somewhere in the middle, and the factories will have a major say in how this all turns out.

In the Future, Will You Even Wear a Helmet?

01/07/2013 @ 5:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS

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Here at Asphalt & Rubber, we spend some pixels talking about the finer points of helmet usage, especially when it comes to the debate regarding mandatory helmet laws. Looking at helmets from 50 years ago, and the basic concept hasn’t changed all that much in the time since.

A hard shell, some impact material, and a soft lining mated to a visor and chin-strap system, over the last half-century most of the improvements to the basic helmet design have been for added fit and comfort, or cheaper and lighter materials — even the more creative and innovative designs that are being hocked around the internet right now don’t stray far from the current concept.

Think 50 years ahead though, and it is hard to imagine the same shapes and designs staying constant. In fact, it becomes possible to imagine motorcyclists wearing no helmets at all. No, I am not talking about some sort of libertarian movement that will rush through our political system, freeing us from the shackles of big government.

Instead, I am talking about the true next-generation of safety devices for the gray matter that resides between your ears, which might put the mandatory helmet law debate to rest (well…probably not).

Why Implementing Price Caps Is the Best Way of Cutting Costs for Teams in MotoGP and WSBK

01/04/2013 @ 2:04 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

With the announcement of the introduction of price caps for brakes and suspension in MotoGP from 2015, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, appears to have finally found an effective way of controlling costs in the series. Instead of trying to control costs indirectly and seeing their efforts kicked into touch by the law of unintended consequences, the rule-makers have decided to attempt to go straight to the heart of the problem.

Will capping prices unleash a whole set of unintended consequences of its own? Will, as some fear, the move to cap prices lead to a drop in quality and therefore a reduction in R&D in the areas which are price-capped? And will the price cap act as a barrier to new entrants, or stimulate them? These are hard questions with no easy answers, yet there are reasons to believe that price caps are the most effective way of controlling costs, while the risks normally associated with a price cap, such as a reduction in quality, are lower in a racing paddock than they are in other environments.

What MotoGP Can Learn From F1: The Business Symposium

11/25/2012 @ 3:52 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

Since the global financial crisis struck back in 2008, MotoGP’s primary focus has been on cutting costs. These efforts have met with varying success – sometimes reducing costs over the long-term, after a short-term increase, sometimes having no discernible impact whatsoever – and as a result, the grids in all three classes are filling up again.

Further changes are afoot – chiefly, the promise by Honda and Yamaha to supply cheaper machinery to private teams, either in the form of production racers, such as Honda’s RC213V clone, or Yamaha’s offer to lease engines to chassis builders – but there is a limit to how much can be achieved by cutting costs. What is really needed is for the series to raise its revenues, something which the series has signally failed to do.

In truth, the series has never really recovered from the loss of tobacco sponsorship, something for which it should have been prepared, given that it had had many years’ warning of the ruling finally being applied.

The underlying problem was that the raising of sponsorship had been outsourced and the marketing of the series had been outsourced to a large degree to the tobacco companies, and once they left – with the honorable, if confusing, exception of Philip Morris – those skills disappeared with them. There was nobody left to try to increase the amount of money coming into the sport.

Wanting, Hoping, Praying for Hayabusa

11/21/2012 @ 6:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler30 COMMENTS

Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with the Suzuki Hayabusa. A courtship that started well-ahead of my formal indoctrination to two-wheels, the Hayabusa was the capstone of motorcycle performance in my youthful eyes. I lusted after its sleek wind-tunnel tuned lines, and marveled at its outright speed, which at its debut, trumped everything else on the market. Approaching the 200 mph mark with their designs, Japan sold us on a “gentleman’s agreement” between the factories to govern their machines to 186 mph — I call it the pinnacle of technical collusion of the first degree.

It is so much easier to compete against another manufacturer when you don’t actually have to compete against them. The Suzuki Hayabusa could co-exist with the Honda CBR1100XX and Kawasaki ZX-12R in bubble that assured no one bike, on paper, could trump the other, after all…they all went 186 mph in the newly declared speed war. It is debatable whether this self-governing measure by the Japanese OEMs avoided a nanny state imposition of laws and regulations onto the motorcycle industry, but there can be no debate about the stagnation the gentleman’s agreement caused in the marketplace.

Once designated as being hyperbikes, a term that gave a nod to the performance specifications being beyond the superbikes found on the race track, we have watched the cessation of the Honda Super Blackbird (2003 in the USA, 2007 worldwide), and witnessed the Hayabusa and ZX-12R, later the Kawasaki ZX-14R, morph into capital “s” sport-tourers that are a far cry from their original intents.

Whether you caste the current Suzuki Hayabusa as the second-generation of the machine, or simply a massaged version of the first-generation GSX-1300R, it has stood motionless for far too long since its beginnings 15 years ago, and revision in 2008. It is time for the Hayabusa to return to its hyperbike roots, and once again captivate the imagination of little boys, and grown men, with what its possible on two wheels.