The Next, Next Big Thing in Motorcycles: Haptic Feedback

We are at an interesting point in time for motorcycles, namely because the technological landscape for the transportation sector is shifting radically. Long-time readers of Asphalt & Rubber will note some of the issues at play here, namely autonomous vehicles, rider aids, and vehicle interconnectivity. Over the next few weeks I want to revisit those items in more depth and detail, with a series that focuses on emerging technologies that are either already permeating into our two-wheeled lifestyle, or will be hitting the motorcycle industry over the next decade or so. But before I tackle the more obvious items on this list, I want to invest some words on a lesser-known technological innovation, which has the potential to be the next, “next big thing” in the motorcycle industry.

You Already Want This Honda Grom Race Bike from HRC

Understanding one’s lust for a Honda Grom is a lot like explaining good pornography: it is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it. That idea encapsulates everything you need to know about Honda’s monkey bike. We can’t tell you why you want one, we just know that you do. Honda’s sales on the Grom back that notion up, as well. Beyond being just an adorable grocery-getter, we are seeing a plethora of Groms at the race track – and not just as pit bikes. Grom racing is becoming a thing, with more than a few minimoto series making spec-classes for Honda Grom racers, or including them in their 150cc programs. To that end, Honda’s racing department, HRC, has the Grom that you want – nay – need. Behold, the Honda Grom race bike from HRC.

Honda CBR250RR Headlight Spotted in Patents

We are literally marking time until Big Red debuts the Honda CBR250RR, the sportier sibling to the Honda CBR250R, which should rev to the moon and make more power with its two-cylinder engine. We have seen the prototype of the Honda CBR250RR already at trade shows, and the new CBR250RR is definitely on the edgier side of things, which is surprising coming the ever-conservative minds at Honda. How much of the edgy design will remain in the production version has yet to be seen, but we do have our first glimpse of some of the machine. The headlight shape has been filed with European patent offices, which is sort of a weird thing to be reporting on, but it does show insight into where Honda is headed.

Could BMW Be Working on an XDiavel Killer?

Here’s some more BMW Motorrad speculation for your two-wheeled consumption, as Germany’s Motorrad Magazine says that BMW is looking to take on the Ducati XDiavel, with a power cruiser model of its own. This of course isn’t the first time that BMW has included a cruiser-styled motorcycle in its lineup, with the BMW R1200C being a unique, though slightly odd, offering to the cruiser demographic. Like Ducati, BMW seems to be learning from its mistakes in going after the cruiser crowd, and instead of offering a motorcycle that is BMW’s take on the cruiser concept, they are building a cruiser that has cues back to the BMW lineup. A subtle but potent distinction. Time will tell on how this rumor plays out, though there are number of interesting things to consider with a BMW power cruiser.

Yamaha Tracer 700 Sport-Tourer Debuts for Europe

There are two big things to note with the debut of the Yamaha Tracer 700 in Europe today. One, Yamaha firmly believes in the future of the sport-touring segment; and two, the Japanese brand is getting excellent mileage out of its three-cylinder and two-cylinder machines that comprise its new FZ/MT line of motorcycles. As such, the Yamaha Tracer 700 offers to be a fun and affordable machine for those riders who find themselves many miles down the road after a “spirited” ride. With bike sales in Europe finally on an upward trend, Yamaha hopes that the release of the Tracer 700 is well-timed, and of course the brand has more models in the works that are based on the same 689cc parallel-twin power plant.

Is BMW Working on 300cc GS Model?

When the BMW G310R arrived, the German brand indicated that the small-displacement street bike would be the first of many model based on the 313cc platform. Now it seems that the first iteration is ready to drop, with news that BMW Motorrad is working on a G310R-based adventure-touer model. According to Motorcycle Sport and Leisure, BMW Motorrad UK’s Director Phil Horton has confirmed that a BMW G310GS model will debut, perhaps in time for the 2017 model year, saying “new models aside, the line-up isn’t as comprehensive as it needs to be. But there are plenty more bikes to come, including, hopefully in 2017, a G310R GS-style derivative.” The idea of small-displacement ADV machine does mimic what we have been seeing from other brands.

EPA Withdraws Racing Emissions Proposal

If you have a modified track-only motorcycle, then we have some news to share that you will enjoy, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn proposed language that would have specifically given it the ability to regulate the emissions of production vehicles that were being used at track days or similar events. The proposed rule caused quite a storm in automotive enthusiast circles, as it would have affected racing and recreational uses of products that have been sold under “race use only” provisions for years. Of course, the larger issue at stake here was the continued selling of race parts to street enthusiasts. Still, since it is hard to find a motorcycle on the road these days that hasn’t seen its emissions equipment modified, it doesn’t surprise us to see the backlash coming from the motorcycling community.

Honda Halts Operations at Its Kumamoto Factory After Earthquakes Strike Japan

If you have been following mainstream news, you will know that the Pacific Rim has been active with earthquake activity these past few days. In addition to the devastating movements in Ecuador, Japan has been rocked by a series of earthquakes as well, two of which have centered on the Kumamoto prefecture of the country. If that names sounds familiar to motorcycle enthusiasts, it is because Kumamoto is Honda’s mothership for motorcycle production. As such, Honda is halting the operations of its Kumamoto factory, thru the rest of this week (ending April 22, 2016). Honda says that its subsequent production plans will be determined according to facility restorations and component supply.

Lorenzo To Ducati: Why It Happened & What Happens Next

In case you missed it, Jorge Lorenzo has signed with Ducati Corse for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP World Championship seasons. It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed. We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi’s return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.

It’s Official, Jorge Lorenzo Will Race with Ducati Corse

As expected, the announcement dropped today that Jorge Lorenzo will be leaving the Movistar Yamaha team at the end of this season, for a new racing opportunity with Ducati Corse. Details are light at this time, mostly because of Lorenzo’s ongoing contract with Yamaha Racing for the rest of the MotoGP season, but we do know that the Spaniard has inked a two-year with the Italian outfit. Lorenzo’s move to Ducati will mean a cascade of changes in the MotoGP paddock, with the next phase of the silly season process likely to focus on who will replace him as Valentino Rossi’s teammate. Good money is on Maverick Viñales, but as we pointed out in the latest Paddock Pass Podcast episode, Suzuki has redoubled its efforts to retain the young Spanish rider.

Thursday Summary at Sachsenring: A Plethora of Tires, A Bullish Marquez, & The Dangers of Suzuka

07/09/2015 @ 11:34 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The Sachsenring treated us to its usual surprises on Thursday, with rain and squally winds blowing through the paddock in the morning, and the sun coming out as the day went on.

Fortunately, the only people out on track were the riders doing reconnaissance laps on the scooters, and safety officers cutting fast laps during their usual pre-weekend track inspection.

As an observer, it is hard to tell the difference between a circuit safety inspection and hooning round the track in one of the many high-end BMW sports cars that the German car-maker provides to Dorna, but I’m sure that as ex-racers, both Loris Capirossi and Franco Uncini know what they are doing.

Weird weather has already had its effect on the tire allocation. Originally, Bridgestone had brought three specifications of front tire, the soft to deal with the cold mornings, the medium to deal with the warmer afternoons, and the asymmetric tire with soft rubber on the right and a compound closer to the medium on the left, to handle the wind gusting to cool the right side of the tire.

Preview of the German GP: How Great Last Corners Create Epic Battles, & Silly Season Starting

07/09/2015 @ 7:01 am, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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What makes for great racing? Many things, but great last corners really help. A great last corner, or sequence of corners, allows riders to attack the bike ahead of them, and take one final shot at victory.

Even better is when the option to attack offered by the final corner comes with some risk attached: getting ahead is one thing, but staying ahead to the line is quite another.

MotoGP moves from one track with a last corner which guarantees spectacle to another. The final GT chicane at Assen produced fireworks with the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, and the last two corners at the Sachsenring offer similar opportunities.

At Assen, the hard-braking right corner is followed by a quick flick left, giving the defending rider the chance to counterattack if he is passed.

At the Sachsenring, the long drop down the steep, steep hill provides the ideal platform to launch an attack from, diving up the inside on the brakes on the way into the penultimate left hander.

That line comes at a price, though, as it forces the attacker to run wide on the exit. That opens allowing the defending rider to strike back up the inside on the approach to the final turn, the last left uphill towards the line.

Even entering that corner ahead is no guarantee of the win: like Turn 12, Turn 13 offers two lines, inside and outside, both of which can be used to pass.

Saturday Summary at Assen: Titles, Maturity, & Madness

07/01/2015 @ 1:45 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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You would think with the deluge of words that has washed over the incident between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi in the last corner (and to which I contributed more than my fair share, I must confess) that there were only two riders and one race at Assen on Saturday.

Beyond the clash at the GT chicane, there was much more to talk about after Holland.

Whatever the immediate aftermath of the clash between Márquez and Rossi, the longer term implications of the result have made the championship even more interesting.

Márquez’s decision to switch back to the 2014 chassis for his Repsol Honda RC213V has been proven to be the correct one. Though the engine is still as aggressive as ever, the old chassis in combination with the new swingarm and new forks tested at Le Mans has made the bike much more manageable.

Márquez can now slide the rear on corner entry in a much more controlled way than before, taking away the behavior the reigning champion has struggled with most. The Spaniard showed he could be competitive from the start of the race to the end, instead of crashing out as the tires started to go off.

The bike is still a long way from cured, however. Márquez switched to the medium front tire rather than the soft, the only rider to do so. The medium provides a bit more support under braking, compensating for the reduced braking from the rear wheel.

That support comes at the cost of extra grip provided by the softer front. Whether Márquez will be able to employ that same strategy for the rest of the season remains to be seen.

Preview of the Dutch TT: To the Great Natural Tracks

06/24/2015 @ 5:10 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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Assen is a funny old track. And when I say old, I mean old, the event has been on the calendar since 1925, though back then there was no such thing as world championship, and the race took place between Rolde, Borger and Schoonloo, some ten kilometers east of Assen.

From 1926, it moved to a route between the villages of De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen and Laaghalerveen. The roads, forced into short straights with fast sweeping kinks and bends by the complex drainage patterns of the creeks and ditches which keep the region from reverting back to peat bogs, gave shape to the track which was to follow.

They still leave their mark on the circuit today, despite being a closed-circuit since 1955, though the track has been much shortened since then.

What remains is a track with nary a straight piece of asphalt on it. The back straight meanders between the Strubben hairpin and the fast right and long left of the Ruskenhoek, living up to its name of Veenslang, or Peat Snake.

The short stretches between the fast combinations of corners weave and flow, and the only thing keeping the front straight straight is the pit wall. As a piece of geometric design, it is a disaster.

As a race track, it is glorious, proving that the best tracks are not designed on paper, but laid out in a landscape. Mugello, Phillip Island, Assen: all great riders track, each owing a debt of gratitude to the landscape which forms them.

Notes from the Catalunya Post-Race Test: Honda’s 2014/2015 Hybrid, & The Frustration of Weather

06/16/2015 @ 12:03 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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Frustration and resignation. Those were the two most prominent emotions at the post-race MotoGP test at Barcelona.

Two sides of the same coin, in reality, as the weather robbed teams in desperate need of track time of any chance of doing the hard work which will make them all a bit more competitive.

After an hour and a half of a dry track, a massive thunderstorm washed over the circuit, drenching the track and leaving it wet for the rest of the day.

Monday Summary at Catalunya: Rain Hits Post-Race Test

06/15/2015 @ 12:36 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Monday Summary at Catalunya: Rain Hits Post-Race Test

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Bradley Smith leaves Barcelona as the fastest of the MotoGP riders, after heavy rain disrupted testing shortly before midday, and left the track wet for the rest of the day.

The weather meant that some teams were forced to change their plans. Yamaha’s original plan to go riding in the afternoon was scrapped, the factory heading straight to Aragon for two more days of testing. There, they will be joined by Suzuki, as well as a number of Moto2 teams.

Preview of the Catalan GP: The Showdown in Catalunya

06/10/2015 @ 7:09 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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From Mugello to Barcelona, or from the heart of Italian motorcycle racing to the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Or rather, Catalan motorcycling, as any of the many Catalans which fill the paddock will happily point out. Then again, Catalunya is – ironically – at the heart of Spanish motorcycling itself.

If MotoGP had a home race, it would be here. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of Barcelona, and the working language of the organization is Catalan. Just east of the circuit lies the old factory of Derbi, once a mainstay of the 125cc class.

Check the birthplaces of any one of the riders racing on a Spanish license, and most of them hail from one of the towns and villages within an hour or two’s drive of the Montmeló circuit.

Most riders still have a house in the area, though many elect to live in the tiny mountainous tax haven of Andorra, because of the opportunities it affords for training, so they tell us.

With so much support, can the Spaniards – or Catalans, or Mallorcans – lock out the podium at home? It would be a crowd pleaser for sure, but getting three Spanish riders to fill out the MotoGP podium at Barcelona will be far from easy.

That there will be one, perhaps two Spaniards on the box is a given. But filling all three places? That is going to be tough.

Sunday Summary from Mugello: False Starts, Italian Pride, & Honda’s Predicament…Again

06/01/2015 @ 7:19 am, by David Emmett51 COMMENTS

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Mugello is always a little magical, but packed to the rafters with delirious fans, it becomes something greater than just a race track. Over 90,000 fans turned up in Tuscany on Sunday, up 20% from last year on the back of the renaissance of Valentino Rossi and of Ducati, complete with two Italian riders. Something special was always going to happen here.

It certainly did, but perhaps not in the way the fans had hoped. Valentino Rossi did not score the dream victory in front of the ecstatic yellow hordes that packed the hillsides, nor did Ducati finally get the elusive win they have been chasing since 2010.

But the MotoGP race was packed with excitement and incident, the Moto3 race was a typical Mugello classic, and even Moto2 had some tension down to the final lap. Those who came got their money’s worth.

Preview of the Italian GP: Italian Hearts Dare to Dream

05/28/2015 @ 1:00 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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I shall spare you the “rolling Tuscan hills” patter. That cliché will be trotted out in most of the press releases and previews you will read. Indeed, it is one I have done to death in many of my own previews of the race.

Like all clichés, it is based on an underlying truth: the Mugello circuit is a breathaking track, set in a stunning location, and scene of some of the greatest racing over the thirty Grand Prix which have been held here since 1976.

So good is the track that it has remained virtually unchanged, with only minor tweaks to improve safety. There are still a few spots which could use some improvement. The wall at the end of the main straight could use being moved further to the left, and the gravel trap on the exit of Poggio Secco is terrifyingly small, but fixing these would require moving some serious quantities of earth.

But this is Mugello, and so we look away and carry on. At least the astroturf has been removed, removing one possible source of danger.

The setting and the racetrack mean that this is always one of the highlights of the year, but 2015 could be even better than usual. It might even live up to the hype, of which there is justifiably plenty. But where to begin?

Bradley Smith & Pol Espargaro to Race at the Suzuka 8-Hour

05/25/2015 @ 11:25 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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The line up for the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race looks to be the strongest for years. Today, Yamaha confirmed that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider pairing of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro are to race for the factory entry at Suzuka, alongside Yamaha test rider and Japanese Superbike champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga.

Smith and Espargaro will face Casey Stoner and Michael van der Mark, who will be racing for the Honda factory team.

Rumors that Yamaha were taking their entry for the race very seriously first emerged at Jerez, where paddock gossip had Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo entering the race in the factory team.