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.

Living the Dream – A Photographer’s Story: Qatar

03/29/2014 @ 4:47 pm, by Tony Goldsmith20 COMMENTS

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Our friend Tony Goldsmith, you have enjoyed his work from last year’s Isle of Man TT, is back with a new column for Asphalt & Rubber.

Finding himself made redundant at his regular job, Tony is currently on an adventure of a lifetime: picking up a camera and becoming a full-time photographer in the MotoGP Championship. 

Tony will be sharing with us his journeys, thoughts, and of course his pictures from the 2014 MotoGP season, which we hope will serve to be an inspiration for others hoping to achieve a lifetime goal, as well as providing some insight into what goes on behind the lens in the premier class of motorcycle racing. Enjoy! – Jensen

Imagine if just for once you didn’t have to stick to your usual nine-to-five job. Instead you were able to do the one job you’ve always wanted to do, but any number of things (it’s usually money) have stood in the way.

This is exactly the situation I found myself in six months ago when the company I had worked at, for the last 14 years, decided to close, making everyone redundant.

This decision did not come as a surprise; in fact, I had been hanging around for the last few years hoping that it would happen, as I had a plan. Fast-forward six months and I have just finished photographing the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar. The plan is starting to unfold.

Fuel or Electronics? Where Are Nicky Hayden & Scott Redding Losing Out on the Honda RCV1000R?

03/28/2014 @ 12:25 pm, by David Emmett21 COMMENTS

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The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.

Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider.

Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. “Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,” he said cryptically.

Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same.

Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike.

They had been set by one of Honda’s test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.

In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden – of whom much had been expected, not least by himself – had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry.

Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American’s time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.

By the time the race rolled around, the Hondas had cut the deficit again. Comparing fastest laps of the race, Scott Redding set the quickest lap for production Honda rider, lapping just 0.841 slower than his teammate Alvaro Bautista, who set the quickest lap of the race.

But consistency proved to be the undoing of the Hondas, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden crossing the line just 0.035 seconds apart, but over 32 seconds down on the winner, Marc Marquez. Where the difference between the fastest and slowest flying laps of Redding and Hayden was nearly 2.4 seconds, for the front runners, that difference was just over a second.

The difference in performance and the big gap to the front has been cause for much speculation. Where are the Honda production racers losing out to the Factory Option bikes? Is it purely top speed, or is it a combination of speed and acceleration? And where does that lack of speed and acceleration come from?

Sunday at Qatar with Scott Jones

03/23/2014 @ 11:41 pm, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Sunday Summary at Qatar: Of Deserving Winners, Old Champions, & The Correct Way to Celebrate Victory

03/23/2014 @ 11:20 pm, by David Emmett22 COMMENTS

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There’s an old racing adage: when the flag drops, the talking stops, though the word ‘talking’ is rarely used. It’s a cliche, but like all cliches, it is a cliche because it reflects such a basic truth.

Without bikes circulating on track in anger, fans and press have nothing to do but engage in idle speculation, and pick over the minutiae of rules, rumors and races long past. As soon as the racing starts again, all is forgotten, and we all lose ourselves in the now. It is the zen which all racing fans aspire to.

So after spending months going round in circles over the 2014 regulations, speculating about who they favor, and expressing outrage at either the perceived injustice of the rules, or the supposed incompetence of those involved in drawing them up at the last minute, the talk stopped at Qatar on Sunday night.

The fans filled their bellies on three outstanding races, all of which went down to the wire. With something once again at stake, all talk of rules was forgotten.

And to be honest, the 2014 rules had none of the negative effects which so many people had feared. The best riders on the day still ended up on the podium, while the gap between the winner and the rest of the pack was much reduced. The gap from the winner to the first Ducati was cut from 22 seconds in 2013 to 12 seconds this year.

The gap from the winner to Aleix Espargaro – first CRT in 2013, first Open class rider in 2014 – was cut from 49 seconds to just 11 seconds. And even ignoring Espargaro’s Yamaha M1, the gap to the first Honda production racer – an outstanding performance by Scott Redding on the Gresini RCV1000R – was slashed to 32 seconds.

Even the cut in fuel did not affect the races as badly as many feared. It appeared that there had been some dissembling going on in both the Yamaha and Honda garages. HRC had been brushing off any suggestions that fuel may be an issue for them, while at Yamaha, there were a number of worried faces.

There was a clue that things were not as serious as feared when Jorge Lorenzo stopped worrying about fuel and focused his ire on the new Bridgestone rubber, but Valentino Rossi kept banging the fuel drum.

On race day, there was no sign of fuel issues for the Italian, Rossi telling the press conference that his engineers had done a great job to fix the fuel issues, and had given him a properly fast bike. “I think Yamaha worked well on the fuel consumption,” he said.

MotoGP: Race Results from Qatar

03/23/2014 @ 1:15 pm, by Jensen Beeler36 COMMENTS

Saturday at Qatar with Scott Jones

03/23/2014 @ 2:48 am, by Scott Jones2 COMMENTS

Saturday Summary at Qatar: Marquez’s Miracle, Espargaro Under Pressure, & Honda Back in Moto3 Business

03/23/2014 @ 2:34 am, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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On Thursday night, it looked like a revolution had been unleashed in MotoGP. After qualifying on Saturday, that revolution has been postponed. Three Spaniards on pole, two Spaniards on the front row for both MotoGP and Moto3. No prizes for guessing the names of any of the polesitters, all three were hotly tipped favorites at the beginning of the year.

So what has changed to restore order to the proceedings? In a word, track time. When the riders took to the track on Thursday, the factory riders had a lot of catching up to do. They had been down at Phillip Island, a track which has lots of grip and puts plenty of load into the tires.

The heat resistant layer added to the 2013 tires really comes into its own, the track imbuing the riders with confidence. Qatar is a low grip track, thanks in part to the cooler temperatures at night, but the sand which continuously blows onto the track also makes it extremely abrasive, posing a double challenge to tire makers.

Use rubber which is too soft, and the tire is gone in a couple of laps. Make it hard enough to withstand the abrasion, and it’s hard to get the tire up to temperature.

Coming to Qatar is always tricky, riders needing time to build confidence and learn to trust the tires. Coming to Qatar from Phillip Island is a culture shock, and takes a while to get your head around. Riders need to throw away everything they have just learned, and start again.

Photos of Valentino Rossi’s LED Helmet from Qatar

03/22/2014 @ 5:07 pm, by Jensen Beeler13 COMMENTS

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If you have been watching the practice and qualifying sessions from the Qatar GP, you may have noticed that Valentino Rossi is once again wearing one of his special helmet designs. This one is a bit different though — instead of a crazy or clever paint scheme, Rossi and his crew have subtle lit the AGV Pista helmet’s clear rear spoiler.

Under the night lights of the Losail International Circuit, the effect is pretty astounding. Usually a spectacle of glowing brake discs and flaming exhausts, the night time atmosphere of the Qatar proves itself once again to be an interesting canvas for the light, which Rossi has masterfully tapped into.

A favorite event for our main man Scott Jones, we’ve got a few shots of Rossi and his LED light show. It’s interesting how the LEDs change some of the more classic Rossi photos, and of course it makes Rossi really pop on the TV feed. Enjoy!

Friday at Qatar with Scott Jones

03/21/2014 @ 11:49 pm, by Scott Jones8 COMMENTS

Friday Summary at Qatar: The Myth of Fairness & Aleix Espargaro’s One-Man Revolution

03/21/2014 @ 11:08 pm, by David Emmett11 COMMENTS

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When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias.

Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr. misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because “Toni ride like the devil” – but none they can be sure of.

There is a less well-known explanation for Elias’ performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders.

In this case, Elias was handed a set of ‘Saturday night specials’ destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire that Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.

What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function.

Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle.

And that’s just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.