A BMW Scrambler Cometh?

It appears that BMW Motorrad wants in on the retro-styled scrambler game that Ducati and Triumph are playing, and is looking to use its R nineT platform to do the job. The scrambler model, which has already been previewed to BMW’s European dealers, would be just the first of several budget-oriented models to come from BMW, all of which would be based off the BMW R nineT. The scrambler is expected to debut later this year with its 100hp air-cooled engine, while the other models, namely a café racer model, will come in 2016. Fueled on by the sales success of its customization projects, Roland Sands is said to be attached to the BMW project, which is logical since the American designer was part of the initial BMW R nineT design team.

Erik Buell Speaks About EBR Ceasing Operations

Posting on the EBR Facebook page, Erik Buell has made the closest thing to a press statement about the company’s cesasation of operations and pending receivership. First thanking fans for their support, the EBR CEO goes on to explain that the company took on too many tasks for its limited resources, which in-turn has caused EBR to excede its abilities and acquire massive amounts of debt (reports put the figure at $20 million). Buell hopes to see EBR through the receivership process, and to “maximize the value from EBR to benefit all”. In typical Buell fashion, he leaves the possibilities for the future open. You can read the full statement after the jump.

Erik Buell Racing Ceases Operations

News being broke by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says that Erik Buell Racing has ceased its operations. The East Troy company plans to also file for protection from creditors under Chapter 128 of Wisconsin’s bankruptcy code. Under Wisconsin law, EBR will be placed into receivership (the company will be run by attorney Michael S. Polsky), and ultimately bids will be made on purchasing the bankrupt company. If no bids are made, the company’s assets will be auctioned off, with the profits going to EBR’s creditors. Though a shock to the whole industry, as well as EBR dealers, the news is perhaps unsurprising given EBR’s lack of success both on the race track and on the dealership floor, the latter being the more important metric.

The Handbuilt Show 2015 – Keeping Austin Weird

Just as it is easy to compare Austin to Portland, one can do the same with the One Show and the Handbuilt Show — in fact, you’ll even find some of the same machines at both events (and that’s not a bad thing). Despite the One Show being our home event, the subtle differences between the two motorbike exhibitions make the Handbuilt Show the superior night out, in our opinion…even if only by a thin margin. Nestled in the painfully hip downtown area of Austin, the Handbuilt Show is free to the public, and offers a little bit of something for every kind of motorcycle enthusiast: sport bikes to street-trackers, cruisers to café racers…there was even a slammed to the ground scooter this year.

Laia Sanz Drops HRC for KTM in Enduro and Rallies

A bit of shocking news in the rally raid world, as Laia Sanz has jumped ship from HRC to KTM for the Women’s Enduro World Championship. The move means Sanz will also compete as a factory KTM rider in the various FIM World Championship rallies, including the Dakar Rally, though only where the schedule permits, as the Women’s Enduro World Championship is her racing priority. Sanz has 13 women’s world titles to her name, and she has won Women’s Enduro World Championship for the past three years in a row. Sanz is one of the leading women in bringing females into motorcycle racing, and she she is also an accomplished rider when competing against the boys. She finished 9th in the 2015 Dakar Rally, where she also scored a Top 5 stage finish — the highest a woman has ever achieved in the event.

MotoAmerica Races Will Air on CBS Sports, A Week After

We’ve gotten more than a few emails (thanks!) from American road racing fans about how to watch the inaugural MotoAmerica race on TV. These eager beavers were quick to point-out that CBS Sports Network has no listings for the Austin round this weekend, with only a season preview listed next week, on April 15th. A quick email exchange with MotoAmerica confirms that the Austin round will be shown a week late, as will the rest of the 2015 rounds. The series hopes to change that for the 2016 season. Fans will also be disappointed to learn that the Austin round will not even be streamed live over the internet, though that option will added for future rounds this season, likely starting at Road Atlanta, MotoAmerica’s next stop.

Is Brammo Racing at the Isle of Man TT?

Our Bothans had been hinting at a secret entry in the TT Zero event at the 2015 Isle of Man TT, and it seems that entry could be Brammo. The tip-off comes courtesy of renowned road racer Lee Johnston, who tweeted that the weather in California was just fine…while sitting next to the Brammo track trailer, and with a Brammo Empulse RR beside him (pictured above). There is really only one reason why “General Lee” would be testing the American outfit’s electric race bike, and that’s if the now R&D company wanted to go head-to-head with Mugen, Saroléa, et al. Many will remember that Brammo participated in the 2009 Isle of Man TT, at the inaugural TTXGP event, and finished 3rd with a 75 mph lap.

Cristiano Silei Becomes Dainese’s New CEO

Our sources are reporting that Cristiano Silei, former Ducati VP of Sales and Marketing, has been tapped to become the new CEO at Dainese S.p.A. Silei will takeover the head position from Frederico Minoli, who many Italian motorcycle fans know as the former CEO of Ducati Motor Holding. Loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers will remember that the aptly named Investcorp recently purchased 80% of Dainese’s private stock, for €130 million, leaving Lino Dainese as the 20% minority shareholder. Frederico Minoli was instrumental in helping Lino Dainese sell his namesake company, and it is perhaps now unsurprising that the former Ducati CEO has pulled from the bench Italian marque for his replacement.

2015 Saroléa SP7 Electric Superbike Debuts

Belgian outfit Saroléa is back for the 2015 Isle of Man TT, after debuting the 2015 version of its SP7 electric superbike this past weekend. If you’re saying to yourself that the 2015 model looks very similar to the 2014 model, you are in fact correct, though the bikes are not actually identical. The 2015 Saroléa SP7 has improved aerodynamics (namely a slimmer body), a revised center of gravity (for better handling), a reduction in weight (more carbon fiber and titanium parts), and proprietary fiber optic network that connect the vehicle control unit to the battery management system. All of those changes are good for a 22 lbs overall reduction, but the biggest change though for 2015 is the new motor, which was built in-house and is rated at 150hp (down 25hp from last year’s machine).

HRC Confirms Stoner Was a Candidate to Replace Pedrosa

Casey Stoner was a candidate to replace the injured Dani Pedrosa. The Australian had discussions with HRC about stepping in to take Pedrosa’s place during his absence. In the end, it was decided that a return would not be possible at such short notice. It was decided that Hiroshi Aoyama would be a better choice of replacement in the circumstances. When we asked via email whether Honda had had discussions with Stoner over replacing Pedrosa, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo confirmed that they had. “We spoke about the possibility for Casey to replace Dani,” Suppo admitted. But Stoner would have faced major challenges replacing Pedrosa for the next two MotoGP rounds.

Up For Grabs: Half of the American Motorcycle Industry

06/27/2013 @ 7:06 pm, by Jensen Beeler37 COMMENTS

It is a fact that isn’t often discussed in the motorcycle industry, but roughly 50% of all on-road motorcycles sold in the United States come from a little company called Harley-Davidson. In 2012 for instance, the Bar & Shield brand sold 161,678 units here in the US, while for the same year the MIC reports 318,105 on-road units were sold nationwide, across all manufacturers.

In a way, the statistic is unfair. A cynical observer would say that Harley-Davidison is in the t-shirts, beanies, and trinkets business…and also happens to sell motorcycles as well. The more accurate critique is that Harley-Davidson sells a carefully curated lifestyle to its owners. A turnkey admittance to Club Cool and a subculture that breaks out of the doldrums of the suburban lifestyle.

You can hate the twenty-something flavors of the same machine that Harley-Davidson panders to dentists and accountants, and you can call the company’s products a number of nasty names, but the simple truth is that they sell, and even when sales aren’t that good, they still sell well. In 2011, the low-point in Harley-Davidson’s five-year sales tailspin, the Milwaukee company still accounted for 48% of on-road motorcycles sold in the US. Chewy.

It is easy to be critical of Harley-Davidson, and there are plenty of things to be critical about (I have had no problem in the past talking about the company’s greatest challenges), but one cannot deny the fact that if Harley-Davidson is responsible for the lion’s share of what we call in passing the motorcycle industry. For Polaris Industries CEO Scott Wine though, Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle dynasty is seen as a market opportunity, though a risky one.

Op-Ed: Truth, Lies, & Useful Idiots

06/23/2013 @ 9:27 pm, by David Emmett22 COMMENTS

useful-idiot-david-emmett

In 1952, Doris Lessing, a Nobel prize-winning author, was one of a group of writers and prominent intellectuals who visited the Soviet Union, then in the iron grip of Joseph Stalin, one of history’s greatest criminals and murderers. She was introduced to the political leaders of the country, and escorted around the nation by the Russian secret police. Lessing, along with the others on the trip, returned home to write gushing praise of the Soviet Union, describing it as ‘a land of hope.’

In her later years, Lessing wrote a damning condemnation of her own naiveté during the visit. “I was taken around and shown things as a ‘useful idiot’… that’s what my role was. I can’t understand why I was so gullible.” She had seen only what had been shown to her, believed what her guides – all of whom worked for the secret police – told her, and accepted the testimony of the workers she spoke to, workers who had been carefully selected, and briefed to project the right message, or sufficiently intimidated to not let any of the real truth slip.

A ‘useful idiot’ is exactly how I feel all too often working in the MotoGP paddock. With no formal training in journalism, and only my gut instinct to follow, it is hard to sift out the underlying facts from the fiction being projected all around me. Most of motorcycle racing journalism – in fact, most of sports journalism – relies almost entirely on the word of others.

A journalist will speak to a rider, or a team manager, or an engineer, or a press officer, and write a news story based on what they have just been told. If they are a good journalist, they will try and verify what they have been told by checking with other sources. If they want to sell newspapers, they will write what suits them, and let the checking be damned.

Barbera Speaks Out about Assault Charges – Eh, Not Really

05/13/2013 @ 6:33 am, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

the-pageantry

On Friday, reports came out of Jerez that MotoGP rider Hector Barbera had been arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. With the case handled by Spain’s special domestic violence courts, Barbera received a sentence of six months in jail, while his girlfriend also received five months in jail, as she was also found guilty of assaulting Barbera in the exchange. With details of the event seemingly under lock and key by the court’s proceedings, speculation has been rife about the incident.

Hoping to set the record straight, Barbera has released a clarifying statement via his Facebook page, though it does little to shed more light on the situation, and reinforces some very disturbing notions already held about misogyny in Spain, and by proxy MotoGP as well. Stressing that he himself was a victim, as was found by the court, Barbera adds that he would “never think on hurting or damaging any person, no matter woman or men, ” and is adamant that he is “firmly against any type of mistreatment or abuse to anyone.”

That is an interesting statement considering that Barbera’s presumably now ex-girlfriend, identified only by her initials D.P., was sent to the hospital with visible bruising because of Barbera’s own actions. To be fair, Barbera’s own injuries have not been a topic of much discussion, and he is presumed to have suffered some form of battery as well, which presumably makes what he did more justifiable — at least, that seems to be the point Barbera is trying to make in his statement.

Looking at the story from American eyes and predispositions, a man assaulting a woman, whether provoked or not, is automatically cast as the guilty party — it is perhaps the one ironic role-reversal in America’s own battle with sexism and misogyny in its socio-legal systems. As one of my legal colleagues said to me, “a speedy trial, and both parties getting punished? That would never happen here in the United States.” Quite right.

Goodbye Husqvarna Nuda, We Hardly Knew Thee

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

husqvarna-nuda-900r-black

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

first-year-ducati-superbike-model-sales-graph-3

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

marc-marquez-elbow-hrc

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

Mugello-Italian-GP-MotoGP-Sunday-Jules-Cisek-13

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

ducati-desmosedici-rr-naked

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

Human-Head-Motorcycle-Helmet

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).