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.

Yamaha VMAX Carbon – Celebrating 30 Years of VMAX

It is hard to believe that the venerable Yamaha VMAX has been around for 30 years (it is even harder to believe that the VMAX has only seen one design revision in that timeframe as well), and so Yamaha is bringing out a special edition model to celebrate this special motorcycle. The 2015 Yamaha VMAX Carbon is exactly as the name implies: a VMAX drag bike laden with lightweight carbon fiber. In total, the VMAX Carbon’s tank cover, front and rear fenders, and side covers are all made from carbon fiber. Yamaha has teamed up with Akrapovic as well, and as such the Slovenian company’s slip-on mufflers complete the exhaust system and the changes to this beastly drag bike.

LEAKED: Here is the 2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse

Cruisers aren’t really our forté, here at Asphalt & Rubber, but breaking stories is…so, without all the typical fanfare, we bring you the first full photos of the upcoming 2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse. The Stead is murdered out and visually appealing, with black engine covers, black fenders, black forks…hell, even the tires are black. Under the hood is Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 engine, which is an air-cooled 1,811cc v-twin good for 73hp and 100 lbs•ft.More technical features include ABS as standard, a keyless ignition system, cast wheels, and a solo seat. Our Bothan Spies suggest an MSRP of $17,000, and more accessories (all black, natch) than you can fit into the belly of a Tauntaun. Expect to see the Indian Chief Dark Horse launch officially on February 13th elsewhere.

Washington State Weighs Pro Lane-Splitting Law

The Washington State Legislature has a pro lane-splitting bill on its 2015-2016 docket, HB 1515. The law is moderately written, adopting a 10 mph speed differential between the motorcycle and traffic, with a 35 mph speed cap, as acceptable during lane-splitting activities. Loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers will recognize these provisions as being more restrictive than the California Highway Patrol’s now defunct guidelines. Lane-splitting is a near-and-dear topic to us here at A&R, as we believe a national effort to legalize the practice should be mission #1 for the American Motorcyclist Association.

Preview of Qatar: Looking Ahead to the Most Intriguing MotoGP Season in Years

03/19/2014 @ 7:58 pm, by David Emmett29 COMMENTS

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It has been a long and confusing wait for the 2014 MotoGP season to begin. An awful lot has happened since the MotoGP bikes were rolled into their packing crates after the Valencia test and shipped back to the factories and workshops from whence they came. There have been shock announcements, shock testing results, and shock training crashes.

There have been last-minute rule changes, made in an attempt to keep all of the different factions in the paddock from rebelling. The final rules for the premier class were only announced on Monday, and even then, they still contain sufficient ambiguity to confuse.

But this confusion and chaos cannot disguise the fact that 2014 looks set to be the most intriguing championship in years. Gone are the reviled CRT machines – unjustly reviled; though slow, they were still jewels of engineering prowess – and in their place is a new class of machinery, the Open entries.

A simpler demarcation has been made, between factories running their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, and the Open teams using the championship software supplied and controlled by Dorna.

The latest rule change adds a twist, allowing underperforming Ducati all the benefits of the Open class – 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, 12 engines per season instead of 5, unlimited testing and a softer tire – until they start winning races. But the 2014 grid looks much more like a single coherent class than the pack of racing motorcycles that lined up last year.

Sepang MotoGP Test (2) Preview – Intrigue Abounds Despite a Missing Marquez

02/25/2014 @ 11:34 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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MotoGP returns to the track at Sepang in just a few hours, and the second test at the Malaysian circuit offers just as much intrigue as the first did. Interest at Sepang 2 centers on notable absentees, Ducati’s plans, and progress made so far. There is much to watch in Malaysia.

One thing we know for sure. Marc Marquez will not be the fastest man at the second Sepang test. The reigning world champion dominated the first test at the beginning of the month, but a training crash saw him fracture his right fibula.

Even in adversity, Marquez’s luck held, the injury being relatively quick to heal, the bone not being displaced. He will definitely be back in action at the first race of the year in Qatar, and he could possible attend the Bridgestone test at Phillip Island early next week, but he will be forced to miss Sepang 2.

With Marquez out, others will have a chance to shine, though the question of how any times set would hold up if the Repsol Honda man had been present will remain. Nobody had an answer to Marquez’s pace at the first test – especially when you compare his race pace on long runs – and his rivals will have to drop well under the two-minute mark to make an impression.

Marquez’s absence leaves the burden of testing in the Repsol Honda team to Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard had a relatively anonymous first Sepang test, working quietly while never stamping his authority on the test.

Work will continue on seeking more corner speed for the Honda RC213V, retesting the new chassis tried at the start of the month, and giving the latest rear Bridgestone tire another workout.

Sepang MotoGP Test Preview – Honda vs. Yamaha, Open vs. Factory, & What Will Ducati Do?

02/03/2014 @ 11:28 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.

The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance are relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement.

All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle.

That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.

It’s not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU.

The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year’s CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia’s ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.

What effect will the new rules have on the racing? Less fuel is rarely a positive factor in any form of racing. Of the various ways of limiting performance – engine capacity, rev limits, and fuel flow – fuel limits are invariably the most expensive, both in terms of engine development and in terms of the price riders pay to keep their weight down.

Preview of Valencia: In the Pressure Cooker at Cheste

11/07/2013 @ 4:20 am, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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Mixed emotions greet the final race of most MotoGP seasons. There is sadness at the prospect of four months or more without racing. There is interest and expectation, as fans look past the race weekend to the test which immediately follows, when the bikes for next year appear and the riders switching teams get their first shot at a new ride.

And there is excitement of course, at the prospect of a race to wrap up the season. But with the title usually already decided in advance, there is only pride at stake, and not much more to play for.

This year, it’s different. Yes, the test on Monday is a big deal, with Cal Crutchlow’s debut on the Ducati, the Honda production racer making its first appearance, with Nicky Hayden on board, and the Aleix Espargaro giving the Yamaha production racer its first run out. But for the first time since 2006, the Valencia race really matters, and will decide who gets to crown themselves champion.

Preview of Motegi: Three Championships on the Line & The Weather Ready to Play a Role

10/24/2013 @ 5:09 pm, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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After the farcical yet compelling Australian Grand Prix, the Grand Prix paddock heads north to Japan for the last of the three overseas races. The contrast could not be greater: from unusually warm weather at the magnificent, sweeping Phillip Island circuit, it is cold and very wet conditions which greet the riders at Motegi, a circuit dominated by stop-and-go corners with little rhythm to it.

While almost every rider on the grid adores Phillip Island, you would be hard pressed to find a rider not holding a Japanese passport with any affection for Motegi. The challenges the riders face are mainly of physical endurance, with very few spots testing their mettle and skill.

Adding the test of endurance will be the weather this weekend. Though Typhoon Francisco has now weakened to a tropical storm and is forecast to pass much further south than was feared, large amounts of rain are still expected at Motegi, especially on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

While all of practice looks set to be wet, at least the riders will get some practice, as early forecasts had suggested that several, if not all, sessions could be a complete washout. For now, it just looks like the riders will be cold and rather wet. That could add to some real excitement at the Japanese circuit. The championship is still far from decided in all three classes, after the surprises at Phillip Island stirred up the title fight.

Preview of Phillip Island: Of Spectacular Circuits, History in the Making, & A Legend’s Last Chance

10/17/2013 @ 5:50 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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Ask any Grand Prix rider for his top three circuits, and you can bet that two names will figure on almost everybody’s list: one will be Mugello, and the other will be Phillip Island.

The order which the rider in question will put them in may vary, but the two appear so often because they share something special. Three factors make the two tracks such magical places to ride: they are both fast, they are both naturally flowing, and they are both set in spectacular locations.

Though their settings may be equally stunning, there is one major difference between the two. While Mugello sits amid the Mediterranean warmth of a Tuscan hillside, the Bass Strait, which provides the backdrop to the Phillip Island circuit, is the gateway to the cold Southern Ocean, with little or nothing between the track and Antarctica.

The icy blast that comes off the sea will chill riders, fans, and team members to the bone in minutes, gale force winds often buffet the bikes and trying to blow them off course, when it isn’t throwing seagulls and larger birds into their paths. The fact that the the track has a corner named Siberia tells you all you need to know about conditions at the Australian circuit.

Preview of Aragon: Honda vs. Yamaha, Fuel Consumption, Ducati’s Failings, & The Benefits of Dirt Track

09/26/2013 @ 5:17 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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One question has been raised ahead of nearly every race this season: Is this a Honda track, or is this a Yamaha track? Winners have been predicted based on the perceived characteristics of each circuit. Fast and flowing? Yamaha track. Stop and go? Honda track.

The track record – if you’ll excuse the pun – of such predictions has been little better than flipping a coin, however. Brno was supposed to favor Yamaha, yet Marc Marquez won on a Honda. Misano was clearly a Honda track, yet Jorge Lorenzo dominated on the Yamaha M1. More than Honda vs. Yamaha, the 2013 MotoGP season has been a tale of rider vs. rider, of Jorge Lorenzo vs. Marc Marquez vs. Dani Pedrosa.

So when the paddock rolls up at Aragon, track analysis says this is a Honda track, something underlined by the fact that the last two editions were won by Hondas. With Marc Marquez growing increasingly confident and Dani Pedrosa looking for a return to the winning ways he showed last year, it seems foolish to bet against a Honda rider standing on the top step on Sunday. Yet there are reasons to suspect Pedrosa and Marquez will not have it all their own way this weekend.

Preview of Misano: On Yamaha’s Seamless Gearbox, Marquez’s Misdemeanors & The Veto That Wasn’t

09/13/2013 @ 12:08 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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Will they or won’t they? The “they”, of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time.

That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications – including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro – predicted that Yamaha’s seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.

They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. “It will be here for the weekend,” he said, going on to clarify: “tomorrow.” Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.

Preview of Silverstone: Of Home Winners, Historic Domination, & Stopping a Rookie

08/28/2013 @ 11:16 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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MotoGP bikes have a tendency to make a race track feel very, very small. Where Jerez on a road bike can feel spacious and unhurried, ride it on a MotoGP bike and it’s like everything happens at warp speed. No sooner have you finished changing up a couple of gears than it’s time to get back hard on the brakes and start tipping the bike into the next corner. But then, 260 horsepower, 160 kg and carbon brakes will do that to a track.

Silverstone is different. The fast, flowing circuit around the former World War II airbase – one of the unintended legacies of that vast and bloody war was to leave a string of deserted military installations which were perfect for racing, and which formed the basis for the British domination of motor sport for three decades after the war – is so wide on a road bike it feels like a motorway. Doing a track day there, it feels like you have time to sit up and have a look around between corners.

That scale of circuit really does justice to a MotoGP machine. The breathtaking acceleration and speeds of a MotoGP bike bring the corners close enough to feel natural, while having enough space to feel like the bike can be really opened up. It is not quite the death-defying speeds of Phillip Island or Mugello, but Silverstone at least gives you a chance to put some wear on the cogs of fifth and sixth gear.

It is not just the speed that makes it popular among the riders. Though almost completely flat, Silverstone is notoriously difficult to master because of the number of blind corners. Being situated on top of a flat, windy plain means there are no trees, no hills, no buildings, no visual references to use when turning into some of the corners.

The complex of turns through Maggots and Becketts is almost entirely blind, and the consequences of getting it wrong mildly disastrous. As at Assen – a track just as flat, and just as fast – the lack of elevation proves to be just as challenging for a rider as massive drops or steep climbs.

While the speed and intrigue of the Silverstone circuit makes for a great experience as a rider, it is less rewarding for spectators. The sheer spacious scale of the place leaves spectators with a lot of walking to do to get from place to place.

Its flatness makes viewing difficult; lacking the earth banks of Assen or the natural hillsides of Mugello, spectators are left with windswept grandstands, with a limited view of the circuit. It is a bitter irony that Silverstone should offer such a diametrically opposed MotoGP experience to riders and fans. If the fans could get a taste of the track the riders see, their passion for the place might be greater.

At least the British fans will have something to cheer for on Sunday. The days of British domination – once far, far greater than the Spanish supremacy of the present day – may be long gone, consigned to history once Barry Sheene hung up his helmet, but MotoGP finds itself in the midst of a UK resurgence.

Preview of Brno: Looking Forward & Looking Back

08/22/2013 @ 7:13 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

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One race down, two more to go in the first of MotoGP’s two triple-headers in 2013, and this is the most brutal transition. After a draining race in the humidity of the Midwest, the teams and riders pack up, head east and face a wall of jet lag before getting ready to race at Brno, one of the most physically demanding circuits on the calendar.

After that, they get to pack up again and head back west, just a short hop this time to the UK, its one-hour time difference from Brno small enough not to cause jet lag, but just enough to throw your body clock just out of kilter.

Whether Brno will produce the same flashes of excitement, which Indianapolis did, remains to be seen. At Indy, the riders encountered what they described as the best surface they’d ever seen at the track – relative, of course, to previous visits – and that helped in some small way to spice the racing up a little.