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.

Analyzing Valentino Rossi’s Two-Year Deal with Yamaha

03/19/2016 @ 4:07 pm, by David Emmett24 COMMENTS

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So the first shoe has dropped. Valentino Rossi is to remain at Yamaha for two more seasons, signing on to compete for 2017 and 2018. The signing of Rossi will have major repercussions for the rest of the MotoGP rider market, and has made it all a little more unpredictable.

That Rossi would renew his contract with Yamaha is hardly a surprise. The Italian has a long and storied history with the Japanese manufacturer, from his triumphant and daring switch to Yamaha at the start of the 2004 season, in which he won both a memorable first race on the YZR-M1, going on to become champion, through a total of four world titles and a seemingly endless string of wins.

Rossi was welcomed back into the fold, suitably chastened, after his failed adventure with Ducati, and after a slow start, returned to being competitive in 2014, and especially in 2015.

Even the bitter aftermath of the 2015 season, when Rossi lost the title to his Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo could not sour the relationship.

When Yamaha awarded its MotoGP merchandise contract to Rossi’s VR46 Racing Apparel business, and then signed a long-term support deal with Rossi’s VR46 Riders Academy, it was obvious that Rossi would stay with Yamaha, though it was uncertain that he would still be racing.

Rossi repeated publicly that he wanted to take the first few races of 2016 before making a decision, but it was clear that the decision would be continuing with the Movistar Yamaha team and retirement.

No doubt Rossi could have ridden elsewhere if he had chosen to – though the doors at Honda were almost certainly closed to him, after his defection at the end of 2003 – but realistically, Rossi’s future was tied to Yamaha.

When he retires, Rossi will continue as a figurehead for Yamaha, in much the same mold as Giacomo Agostini. The press release from Yamaha states as much, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis saying “When Vale returned home in 2013 it was ‘a decision for life’.”

That is worth a lot more to both Yamaha and Rossi in the long run. Though financial details of the deal were not released – they never are, the world of MotoGP salaries being one which is shrouded in secrecy and myth – the money part of the equation was most certainly not an issue.

Rossi has been racing for glory and the chance to win another title for the past few years, rather than financial compensation. Ironically, the most financially valuable of the four MotoGP aliens is probably on the lowest salary.

What is a surprise is the timing of Rossi’s announcement. The general expectation was that Rossi would stay on at Yamaha for another two years, but that the announcement would come some time in May or June.

Instead, the deal has been announced ahead of the first race of the season. The question everyone is asking now is, why the hurry?

Friday Summary at Mugello: More on the Problem with the Honda RC213V, & Ducati vs. Yamaha

05/29/2015 @ 6:34 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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What did we learn from the first day of practice at Mugello? We learned that Jorge Lorenzo is still at the same steamroller pace he was at Jerez and Le Mans. That Valentino Rossi is following a plan, rather than chasing a lap time.

That the Ducatis are fast, almost obscenely so, and that’s before they put their special Mugello engine in. That Aleix Espargaro is one tough son of a gun. That the Hondas are still fast, when the conditions are right. And that Mugello might just be one of the places the conditions are likely to be right.

Why would the Honda be good at Mugello when it was so bad at Le Mans? Marc Márquez explained in a little more detail after practice on Friday. The biggest problem of the Honda RC213V is the aggressive nature of its engine, both in acceleration and braking.

In braking, the bike is sliding more than the riders want it to, and in acceleration, the riders are having to fight the bike’s willingness to wheelie and spin out of the corner.

Because Mugello is such a fast track (more of that later), the teams have to gear the bikes longer, both for the main straight and for the more flowing corners. Longer gearing means that the engine has to work harder to try to lift the front wheel, taming the power a little.

“It looks like here the character of the engine is smoother, also because the final sprocket is longer and then the gearbox is longer,” Márquez told us. “The bike is pushing less, the corners are faster and don’t have that big acceleration and that helps us.”

Rating the Riders of MotoGP 2014: Jorge Lorenzo – 3rd

12/31/2014 @ 12:56 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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The third part of our review of the 2014 season, in which we take a look at the top 10 finishers in MotoGP, sees us turn to Jorge Lorenzo, the man who took the final spot on the 2014 MotoGP podium:

3rd – 263 points –  Jorge Lorenzo

If Marc Márquez’s season was one of two halves, then Jorge Lorenzo’s 2014 was doubly so. The 2010 and 2012 world champion ended the first half of the season in fifth place overall, 128 points down on the leader Marc Márquez. By season’s end, Lorenzo was third, having outscored Márquez by 29 points.

If Lorenzo hadn’t gambled on a tire change at the last race at Valencia, the difference would have been even greater: in the eight races before Valencia, Lorenzo had outscored Márquez by 54 points in total.

It all went wrong for Jorge Lorenzo during the winter. The Movistar Yamaha rider was under the surgeon’s knife three times during the winter break to fix some minor problems and remove old metalwork, most notably from the collarbone he broke in 2013.

That made putting together a training schedule more difficult than usual, and Lorenzo’s fitness, usually his strong point, took a nosedive.

Sunday Summary at Brno: Breaking The Streak

08/17/2014 @ 8:35 pm, by David Emmett22 COMMENTS

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The hot-hand fallacy finally caught up with Marc Marquez. His amazing streak of consecutive wins stays at ten, the Spaniard being beaten for the first time this year.

In his twenty-ninth race in the MotoGP class, Marquez and his crew finally failed to find a good enough set up to win, or even make it onto the podium.

The Repsol Honda man has only missed out on the podium twice before, once at Mugello last year, when he crashed, and once at Phillip Island, when he was disqualified from the tire fiasco race.

Defeat had been waiting in the wings for Marquez for a while now. Look solely at the points table, and his dominance looks complete. But go back and look at his winning margin, and his advantage has not looked quite so large.

Of his ten wins, only two were by a considerable margin: one at Austin, where he has always been better than the rest; one at Assen, where rain created large gaps. His advantage at Argentina and Indianapolis was 1.8 seconds, at Jerez, Le Mans and the Sachsenring under a second and a half.

Marquez could only eke out victory at Qatar, Mugello and Barcelona, races he won by a half a second or less. At most races, Marquez was winning by a slender margin indeed, lapping on average just five or six hundredths of a second quicker than his rivals. It was enough, but it was really not very much at all.

Marquez’s slender advantage over his rivals was a sign of just how close they really were. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had all come close to beating Marquez, and in the case of Pedrosa at Barcelona, Marquez had been forced to delve deep into his bag of tricks to beat his teammate.

Marquez’s talent may have loaded the dice he was rolling, but eventually they would fall another way. “People said winning was easy for me,” Marquez told the Spanish media, “but I know how hard it was.”

A Prelude to MotoGP’s Silly Season, Part 1

04/07/2014 @ 10:23 am, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

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It is going to be a busy – and lucrative – year for the managers of MotoGP riders. With almost everyone out of contract at the end of 2014, and with Suzuki coming back in 2015, top riders will be in high demand. The signs that competition will be intense for both riders and teams are already there, with the first shots already being fired.

Silly season for the 2015 championship kicked off very early. At the end of last year, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto made a few casual remarks expressing an interesting in persuading Jorge Lorenzo to come to Honda. He repeated those comments at the Sepang tests, making no secret of his desire to see Lorenzo signed to an HRC contract.

Lorenzo has so far been cautious, ruling nothing out while reiterating his commitment to Yamaha. He is aware of the role Yamaha have played in his career, signing the Spaniard up while he was still in 250’s, and bringing him straight into the factory team alongside Valentino Rossi in 2008, against some very vigorous protests from the multiple world champion.

Yamaha have stuck with Lorenzo since then, refusing to bow to pressure to the extent of letting Rossi leave for Ducati, and in turn, Lorenzo has repaid their support by bringing them two world titles, 31 victories, and 43 other podium finishes.

Interview: Jorge Lorenzo & Crew Chief Ramon Forcada

05/10/2012 @ 3:07 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

One of the most fascinating areas of MotoGP is the relationship between rider and crew chief. The way that those two individuals communcate and interact can be the difference between winning championships and riding around mid-pack. Riders need a massive amount of talent to go fast, but they also need to understand what the bike is doing underneath them and be able to communicate that to their chief engineer. Likewise, crew chiefs have to have a solid grounding in race bike physics and an understanding of how to make a machine that is capable of lapping very fast, but they also need to be able to listen to what their rider is really saying, and understand what he needs to allow him to go faster.

It is a subject that has fascinated me for a long time. At Estoril, I had the chance to interview Jorge Lorenzo together with his crew chief Ramon Forcada. 2010 World Champion Lorenzo came into MotoGP off the back of two 250cc World Championships in 2006 and 2007, and was joined by Forcada, a 20-year veteran of the Grand Prix paddock, in the factory Yamaha team. Both men were known for their ability, but they had to find a way to work together to get the best out of the relationship, and out of the Yamaha M1. Here is what they had to say about how that relationship works: