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.

The Honda Africa Twin Gets Rally Raid Ready

03/10/2017 @ 10:34 am, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

When it comes to adventure-tourers that can actually go off-road, the Honda Africa Twin easily rises to the top of the list. Couple that to Honda’s pursuits in the Dakar Rally and other rally raid events, and its easy to see where the Honda Africa Twin Rally could be born.

A special model being built by Italy’s Honda importer that was unveiled at this year’s Motodays show, the Africa Twin Rally won’t be hitting other markets any time soon (read: never), though it shows a machine that many ADV riders have been clamoring for, since the first shots of the Honda CRF450 Rally hit the internet.

Continue Reading

Some Notes on the 2017 Dakar Rally

01/16/2017 @ 6:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler13 COMMENTS

The 2017 Dakar Rally is done and dusted. The competitors are either already on their way home, or now spending a well-deserved vacation in South America, after tackling what is easily the most difficult motorcycle race on the planet.

The Dakar is of course iconic and well-known for its difficulty, where it is not uncommon to see riders perish on its course, but this year’s rally raid was billed as one of the most challenging editions of the Dakar Rally ever.

When a man like Marc Coma – a man who has won the race five times – tells you that, your default mode is to believe him.

Tackling that challenge were 143 riders, of which only on 96 made it all the way to Buenos Aires. And while KTM has been the dominant manufacturer for the past 15 years, the 2017 edition saw early on that any of the major four brands could have a hand on the trophy in Argentina.

Of course we know that KTM made it to a sweet 16th victory, sweeping the podium no less, but the results sheet betrays what happened on the course. As such, I wanted to share some notes I have from the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 12: Victory Goes to Sunderland

01/14/2017 @ 8:25 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

That’s it. The 2017 Dakar Rally is finally over, with Stage 12 concluding today in the capitol city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a short 64km timed special, the results were unlikely to change much, barring some sort of unexpected catastrophe.

Anything can happen in the Dakar Rally, and in what was billed as the toughest edition of this iconic race, we bet there were still some nervous hands during today’s session.

Two stages of the 2017 Dakar Rally had already been cancelled, and we had already seen top riders withdraw from this competition, namely KTM’s Toby Price, who dropped out while leading the Dakar, and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, who withdrew while in second place.

As such, there was much delight when KTM’s Sam Sunderland not only finally finished his first full Dakar Rally, but did so by standing on the top step. Finally bucking his bad luck, Sunderland does so by also being the first British Dakar Rally winner, in any category.

The victory is also KTM’s 16th-straight Dakar Rally win, marking the occasion with an all-orange podium, as Matthias Walkner and Gerard Farres finished second and third behind Sunderland overall, respectively.

In fourth place is surely a frustrated Adrien van Beveren, the Yamaha rider finished just 48 seconds behind Farres, which is extra disappointing considering the one-minute penalty he received during Stage 11.

That is a tough break for the factory Yamaha team, though it shows that the Japanese manufacturer is a true contender now in the Dakar Rally.

The same can be said of Honda Racing, with the Monster Energy Honda Rally team showing tremendous potential as well, throughout the 2017 Dakar Rally.

If it had not been for a one-hour time penalty for a refueling mistake during Stage 4, Honda would have had two riders, Joan Barreda and Pablo Gonçalves, in winner’s contention. They finished fifth (+43 minutes) and sixth (+52 minutes) behind Sunderland, respectively. 

We can expect Honda to be a strong contender in future editions of the Dakar Rally, and despite this year’s result, the racing through the rally raid showed that KTM’s dominance is no longer assured.

There are four manufacturers now capable of winning this iconic race, which bodes well for the future.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 11: Another One for Honda

01/14/2017 @ 1:23 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

The penultimate stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Stage 11 was the last true opportunity for riders to make a run at the leaderboard, as Saturday’s stage involved only a 64km timed special.

With 286km of sand and dunes to navigate, it was once again the Honda riders that headed the pack. Leading from start to finish, Joan Barreda took his fourth stage victory (don’t let the Dakar video fool you with its lies), followed by his teammate Paulo Gonçalves, for another Honda one-two stage victory.

The result moved both Honda riders to well under their one-hour time penalty from early in the race, showing the strong pace and program that HRC has put together for the Dakar Rally.

Yamaha Racing too showed it promise, with Adrien van Beveren taking the third spot in the day’s honors. That result moves him, and Yamaha, closer to a podium in Buenos Aires (though not into third place yet, as the Dakar Rally video says).

Meanwhile at the top of the overall leaderboard, we saw the KTM riders doing a more conservative race, managing the half-hour gap to their would-be usurpers.

Sam Sunderland extended his lead by several minutes, finishing fourth for the day. With teammate Matthias Walkner finishing the day 10th, Sunderland extended his overall lead by several minutes.

Going into Buenos Aires, we don’t expect the overall order to change much. Though, we should warn, the Dakar is notorious for its sudden challenges.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 10: Barreda, Barreda, Barreda

01/13/2017 @ 1:43 am, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

Racing returns to the 2017 Dakar Rally, with Stage 10 taking the competitors from Chilecito to San Juan. The day had two timed special stages, with 449km of terrain to cover while under the stopwatch.

One of the last days to make time on the leaders, we saw some heroic rides from farther down the time sheet, while the top riders kept it conservative.

Of course, the big news of the day was the retirement of Pablo Quintanilla, who fainted during the stage, and gave up his #2 spot in the overall standings. This was a huge blow to Husqvarna’s Dakar hopes for 2017, as Pierre-Alexandre Renet is now the team’s top rider – 6th overall after today.

Fortunes were mixed for the Honda boys as well, as Joan Barreda took another stage win, and climbed to fifth overall. Barreda is now less than hour back from overall leader Sam Sunderland, which should be a topic of conversation after Honda’s one-hour time penalty for an illegal fueling.

The day would have been a one-two for Honda, but Michael Metge missed allegedly missed a waypoint, and was handed another one-hour time penalty for it.

Metge’s ride still was important for HRC though, as the French rider helped Barreda, after the Spaniard made a navigation error – like any good water-carrier does.

Stage 10 was billed as the most difficult stage of this year’s rally, and for Yamaha’s Adrien van Beveren it certainly was. Making mistakes on the course, Van Beveren finished 17th on the stage, which dropped him to 4th overall. He will need to make up over three minutes to get back into podium position.

For KTM, it was solid day of time management for Sam Sunderland, who finished in 12th, over 17 minutes behind Barreda. But, because his nearest rivals didn’t fare the day as well, Sunderland actually extended his overall lead by almost 10 minutes.

Sunderland now commands a 30-minute lead over teammate Matthias Walkner, and a 38-minute lead over fellow KTM rider Gerard Farres. For as much contention as there has been for the 2017 Dakar Rally leaderboard, it is looking very possible that we could see KTM sweep the podium when we get to Buenos Aires.

Tomorrow sees the Dakar Rally heading closer to the finish line, with 288km planned for the penultimate timed special. Riders will have to contend with their last set of sand dunes, which will come early in the stage, before hitting more “rally” styled roads.

This will likely be the last chance to see movement in the leaderboard, though never say never.

Continue Reading

Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla Withdraws from Dakar Rally

01/12/2017 @ 5:31 pm, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

Stage 10 proved to be the end of Pablo Quintanilla’s Dakar Rally, as the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory had to withdraw from the race, after suffering from a dizzy spell during the grueling 751km day.

For those who haven’t been following our coverage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Quintanilla was sitting second overall in the standings, and within striking distance of giving the Swedish brand its first Dakar victory.

Today’s stage, as well as tomorrow’s Stage 11, are the last real opportunities for movement in the overall standings, as the final round on Saturday is more of a 64km parade lap.

At just under 21 minutes behind race leader Sam Sunderland, a simple mistake by the KTM racer could easily have seen Quintanilla take the lead in the overall standings. Making the days certainly bittersweet for the factory Husqvarna squad.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 9: Cancelled

01/11/2017 @ 2:11 am, by Jensen Beeler5 COMMENTS

The ninth stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally has been cancelled by the ASO (the second cancellation thus far in the rally raid), on the account of massive landslides in the region.

Coupled with thunderstorms in the region, there has been considerable damage to the area, and many support staff to the Dakar Rally have been cutoff from the bivouac, and will have to travel an extra 200km to region the traveling circus.

In order to provide assistance to affected locals, and to allow race teams to regroup, Wednesday will not be spent racing. Instead, teams will regroup in Chilecito, where they will start Stage 10, which will end in San Juan.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 8: Barreda Strikes Again

01/11/2017 @ 1:47 am, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Stage 8 of the 2017 Dakar Rally continued to the marathon stage of the iconic race, where only racers can work on their machines, without the help of their mechanics. 

Thus, Stage 8 tests the durability of one’s machinery, as well as one’s ability to ride conservatively -it is worth mentioning then that there are only 110 remaining motorcycle competitors remaining in The Dakar.

Don’t tell that to Honda’s Joan Barreda though, who once again blitzed the stage leaderboard. The Spaniard is surely unable to overcome his one-hour time penalty, but one has to wonder where Honda would be without it, as Bam Bam has impressed this edition of the Dakar Rally.

Stage 8 was originally planned to be 492km of two timed special stages, but flooding saw the course shortened by 72 km. With the day starting in Bolivia, the riders finished Stage 8 in Argentina, the final country of this Dakar Rally.

Despite Barreda’s result, KTM’s Sam Sunderland retains his overall lead, after finishing the day in third – just under four minutes back from Barreda. Matthias Walkner managed to squeeze his KTM between Barreda and Sunderland though, which moves him into fourth overall.

Wednesday’s Stage 9 was set to be a long day, with two timed specials totaling 406km. There have been some question marks though, as many of the team’s support crews have been stuck en route to the bivouac – roughly 200km away – because of landslides.

With the traveling circus quite spread out, there is some talk of safety concerns. As such, Stage 9 has been cancelled by the ASO.

This means that there are only really two more stages where the leaderboard can be affected, which is not a lot for the five riders who remain in reasonable contention. As such, expect to see some hard racing on Thursday and Friday.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 7: Victory for USA’s Ricky Brabec

01/10/2017 @ 2:03 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

After seeing Saturday’s stage cancelled, and with Sunday set on the schedule as a rest day, the 2017 Dakar Rally returned to racing-proper on Monday, with Stage 7.

Today’s special was originally conceived to be 322km long, but again the weather played a factor, and the timed section was cut down to just 160km. Sand dunes were the order of the day, which posed a challenge to some of the riders, both in navigation and time management.

For Honda, the day was very good, with American Ricky Brabec taking the day, followed closely his teammate Paulo Gonçalves. Sam Sunderland finished the day third, allowing him to maintain his overall lead in the standings. With three Hondas in the Top 5 though, the day truly goes to HRC.

Brabec’s win also continues the trend of a different rider winning each stage thus far of the 2017 Dakar Rally, an unusual circumstance in a race that usually sees a rider or two consistently rising above the rest of the field.

On that note, Xavier de Soultrait continues to impress on his Yamaha, fifth for the day, sixth overall, and still in the hunt for the overall win. Yamaha also can rely on Adrien van Beveren, who sits third overall, just behind Husqvarna’s Pablo Qunitanilla.

With three manufacturers in the Top 3, there will be a great deal of intrigue for the Dakar trophy, as we head into Argentina.

Monday night starts the marathon stage, meaning that only competitors can work on their machines in order to prep for Tuesday’s Stage 8. Without the help of their mechanics, we can expect some shake-up in Tuesday’s results from bike failures.

Continue Reading

2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 6: Cancelled

01/08/2017 @ 1:23 am, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Weather has been pounding drought-stricken Bolivia recently, adding a further difficulty to the 2017 Dakar Rally. After seeing Stage 5 shortened because of the weather, Stage 6 was cancelled outright.

The ASO issued the following statement about the cancellation: “Considering the extreme climatic conditions and that some drivers are still on the stage course, considering that is impossible to bring the vehicles of all participants back to the bivouac and prepare the next stage in the best conditions, and considering that people of the organisation in charge of the reco of tomorrow’s stage course informed that the road is unpracticable, the 6th stage (ORURO-LA PAZ) has been cancelled.”

Stage 6 was supposed to be the longest day for Dakar competitors, with a planned 527km timed special section. That’s obviously no longer the case, with teams instead traveling by road via the liaison route – effectively giving Dakar racers the weekend off, with Sunday already scheduled to be a break from competition.

Continue Reading