At the AMA Supermoto Season-Opener in Bakersfield

It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.

The WorldSBK Season So Far: Yamaha & Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

Norton Gets £3 Million to Increase V4 Production

If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.

Is The 2018 BMW HP4 Race About to Debut in China?

After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.

Vyrus 986 M2 Street Bike Now Priced at €38,000

It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.

You Didn’t Know You Missed It, But the Honda NM4 Is Back

You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.

US Senate Establishes Motorcycle Caucus

The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.

Husqvarna Two-Strokes Get Fuel-Injection Too

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

Photo of the Week: Forging Ahead

08/30/2011 @ 4:33 pm, by Scott Jones13 COMMENTS

While conditions vary from race weekend to race weekend, it is rare that GP riders find themselves with a brand new track surface to deal with when they arrive at a venue. Looking to placate the complaints about the bumpy infield that have been heard at Indy during previous rounds, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completely resurfaced the interior section of the course, which is used only once a year when the MotoGP circus comes to Indiana.

This meant that Friday practice was held on a track free of any rubber from past sessions, causing all the GP riders to complain loudly about the slippery and dangerous conditions of the ‘green’ surface. Not only was there no old rubber to add grip to the MotoGP machines, but the aggregate used in the resurfacing was still sharp at the surface, which meant tires were shredded in record time by the abrasive macadam, leaving an amazing amount of slag at some corners.

As more sessions were completed, grip improved enough that Casey Stoner was able to set a new track record, and the racing line was defined clearly enough by the dark bits of line running between the fields of rubber marbles. The abrasive nature of the new surface still caused many problems during the race as several riders retired due to front end tire issues. Local hero Nicky Hayden gambled on a softer front tire, and found that while able he was able to chase down and pass the factory Hondas for the first time this season, the softer front tire’s rapid deterioration caused him to come into the pits to assess its condition, much to the dismay of fans attending the Indianapolis GP.

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Photo of the Week: Old Grudges Die Hard

08/22/2011 @ 12:42 pm, by Scott Jones18 COMMENTS

Two seasons after Dani Pedrosa knocked Nicky Hayden off the track at Estoril and seemingly derailed his teammate’s championship bid, emotions about the move still ran hot at The Kentucky Kid’s home race. There’s no telling for whom the pair in this photo might have shirts made next weekend, but the odds are on Filippo Preziosi.

Considering that these guys look like they’ve eaten meals that weighed more than Pedrosa, they seem unlikely to care that the father of the career-wrecking Ducati GP concept is in a wheelchair, but certainly the majority of Indy’s great fans will keep it classy. Best of luck to Nicky and Dani and all of those who compete at the highest level of motorcycle racing.

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Photo of the Week: Brush Your Shoulders Off

08/15/2011 @ 2:06 pm, by Scott Jones7 COMMENTS

On the grid at Mugello I watched as seven or eight visiting Japanese gentlemen in matching white Honda shirts smiled, bowed, and shook hands with Simoncelli, and I couldn’t help wondering if they were congratulating him in advance for having knocked out his latest fellow Honda rider. Rumors had been flying around the paddock about the discussions HRC had held with Sic concerning his inability to tame his raw speed, and add the crucial element of sound judgment while in the heat of battle.

While his pace this season was plain to see, the question continued to fascinate us: would Marco ever find a way to be fast and smart? He came in sixth that day, and looked nothing like the Super Sic we’d come to know and fear, in spite of having qualified third. In Germany he was sixth again, and at Laguna Seca he crashed out for the fifth time this season.

At Brno he seemed to have completed a metamorphosis from wild and dangerous to calm and calculating (possible spoiler alert ahead). After a poor start he worked his way through the field until finding himself behind two riders with whom he has a complex past: Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. Watching the laps tick off with Sic in fourth place, hungry for that first podium but dangerously close to Lorenzo, one couldn’t help but have the feeling of watching a train wreck about to happen. Given all that has occurred with Lorenzo, the sparring in press conferences, the latest rider elimination of JL at Assen, would Sic rush in again and further complicate his history with the reigning world champ?

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Photo of the Week: Paddock Etiquette

08/08/2011 @ 9:29 am, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Where do the MotoGP riders hang out when they aren’t on track, in the box, or in the team hospitality? Probably in their motor homes if the race is a European round. Most of the riders seem to own or lease their own vehicles, though some seem to rent per event. Like the hospitalities and other paddock amenities, RVs do not join the air freight for fly-away races. But for the rounds to which they can travel over land, they park together in a section of the paddock where the riders can escape the media and fans.

As I walked from the P1 parking area toward the media center I passed the paddock of riders’ RVs and saw this sign. I chose not to ask Cal about this as I did not want to get slammed for asking about a touchy subject, but I like the photo because it shows a seldom-seen side of the GP scene.

We tend to think of MotoGP riders as pampered, top-level athletes with entourages and handlers and so on. But it’s not impossible for one to be sitting in his RV, slowly going mad because people keep coming in and slamming the door. Neither is it impossible for someone to point out a misspelling in his warning, which is a nice reminder that in spite of their ungodly abilities on two wheels, they are still people, at least in some ways, just like the rest of us.

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Photo of the Week: The Long Goodbye

08/01/2011 @ 2:07 pm, by Scott Jones7 COMMENTS

It looks like 2011 will be Loris Capirossi’s final Grand Prix season, and the end of a remarkable career that has sadly fizzled in the past few years. Capirex’s last win was in 2007, his final season as a factory Ducati rider, and since switching to the Rizla Suzuki team in 2008 he has not had the equipment to show the kind of form that previously garnered both 125cc and 250cc world titles.

This season’s return to a Ducati seat with Pramac has not improved his competitiveness, and crashes have continued to add up to more aches and pains. Approaching 40, Capirossi carries many scars into each session, including hands so frail that he wears specially designed and heavily padded gloves to protect them from further impact.

In person he is friendly and polite, quick to return a smile, though lately he has seemed weary of the challenge of climbing on yet another uncompetitive bike and going out to fight for 10th place. He will always have a place in Ducati history, haven taken the team’s first win at Barcelona in 2003, and in GP history for his world titles.

It would be great to see him manage one more good result this year, but given the difficulties of the GP11, it seems more likely that he will have to be content ending his long GP career in one piece. Considering how many talented riders have come to the premier class for a season or two before disappearing for other grids, Capirossi’s decades-long GP career is quite an accomplishment.

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Photo of the Week: Winless

07/26/2011 @ 11:44 am, by Scott Jones10 COMMENTS

Valentino Rossi is the most photographed rider in the MotoGP paddock (and probably the most photographed motorcycle racer in the world), someone who almost always has a crowd of cameras around him. He has the most traffic when trying to ride from the box onto pit lane, the thickest crowd around him on the grid, and when he’s out on track he generates more images than any other rider. All the photographers, regardless of which clients they have and which teams they work with, photograph Rossi.

So it has become quite a challenge to create images of him that many people have not seen many times already. Photographers still do the ‘classic’ Rossi shot of putting a wide angle on the ground, pointed upward as Rossi does his foot peg ceremony before climbing aboard. We still see Rossi superstitiously picking at his butt as he exits pit lane, and so on. Because of his elaborate routine of following the same behaviors over and over, we tend to get the same images of him over and over.

At each race I try to get an image of him that I’ve not seen before. Portraits are usually the best bet, because even though he follows the same routine in the box of chest protector in, ear plugs licked then inserted and held in place with a pistol grip, helmet on with fists to the forehead, and so on, he is still a human being and his expressions are occasionally unguarded and revealing. When you catch one of those, you probably have an interesting portrait of a very interesting subject.

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Photo of the Week: Iron Man

07/18/2011 @ 9:53 pm, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Two operations on the same collarbone in two months, that collarbone being the second one broken this season, and a win in his second race back in action. Remarkable. Though tragically fragile for a motorbike racer, Dani is as tough as old boots and one of few individuals fast enough to challenge for the MotoGP title.

At the beginning of the year I prayed to the speed gods that Dani could finally have a season without injuries, but he didn’t get very far into the schedule in spite of my wishes. Can he now please have half a season with no injuries? If he manages that, he may not win the title, but the racing will certainly be better.

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Photo of the Week: Rolling Momentum

07/11/2011 @ 9:54 am, by Scott Jones2 COMMENTS

In 2009, I interviewed Marco Melandri after he’d done seven races on the Hayate Kawasaki, and was impressed by his earnest desperation to show he was still a viable GP rider in spite of the previous season’s debacle on the Ducati GP8. This was, after all, a rider who had finished second in the World Championship in 2005 and 4th & 5th in the following seasons. Since then I’ve always hoped for Melandri to find a good situation, one that allows his talents to shine.

That was not on the Gresini Honda last season, unfortunately, but it appears that he has finally found a position in WSBK where he can again fight for the title. After a win and a second place at Brno, Melandri is 53 points behind Carlos Checa and 30 behind MAx Biaggi, but with some serious momentum for the second half of the season. It’s great to see him at the front where he belongs.

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Photo of the Week: Turning Point

07/05/2011 @ 7:12 pm, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

As David Emmett and I spoke to Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis after Sunday’s GP at Mugello, Mr. Jarvis said “George earned his salary today.” The race at Mugello held several surprises. Rossi managed 6th place thanks to a substantial set up change Sunday morning; Casey Stoner tried to run away, but was caught and passed by two riders, including teammate Andrea Dovizioso; Dovi claimed the home town glory, and was the most impressive Honda rider; and Simoncelli not only finished a race but didn’t crash, and caused no broken bones.

To me, however, the stand out performance was Jorge Lorenzo’s, as JL showed precisely the mental qualities that Sic lacks at the moment. JL was patient, didn’t give up in spite of the early race plot indicating that Casey was as good as gone, and settled in to go the distance as fast as he could, eventually earning the win after several battles to reach the front. Because of the confidence this race must give Lorenzo, Mugello may prove to be a turning point in a season where most expect Casey Stoner to ride into the sunset.

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Photo of the Week: The First of Many

06/28/2011 @ 9:09 am, by Scott Jones9 COMMENTS

At the 2011 Dutch Grand Prix, American Ben Spies became the only rider other than Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa to win a dry 800cc GP race. Spies led every lap in a fashion reminiscent of his days as 3-time AMA champion, where he was known as a rider so mentally tough from his years of being Mat Mladin’s teammate that once a lead was achieved, he could manage it until the end of the race without mistakes.

Spies also had great timing for his first MotroGP win, as Yamaha was celebrating 50 years of Grand Prix racing with a retro red and white livery and honored guests such as Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read in attendance. Congratulations to Ben and his crew, and to Yamaha for reaching the top of the podium on this historic occasion in the company’s history.

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