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.

Preview of the French GP: Viñales’ Indecision, Michelin Rubber, & Yamaha vs. Ducati

05/05/2016 @ 9:59 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

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MotoGP at Le Mans is a weekend filled with anticipation. Anticipation of much-vaunted moves, with fans and media eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future.

Anticipation of further negotiations, with the rest of the MotoGP and Moto2 grids eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future, so that they know which seats might be open for them.

Anticipation – and for riders such as Scott Redding, trepidation – at the tires, front and rear, which Michelin have brought to Le Mans, and how different (and hopefully better) they will be from the tires which appeared at Austin and Jerez, which caused problems for so many riders.

And anticipation of what the notoriously fickle weather will do at Le Mans.

Jerez MotoGP Test Summary: Funny Front Tires, Wings, & A Chance to Test Properly

04/27/2016 @ 11:19 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out.

There really was a lot to test: not just parts and setup, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the “safety” rear tire introduced after Argentina.

First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm.

Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday’s race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.

A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use.

There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding’s rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned.

Bradley Smith had described it as “a prototype”. The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.

Assen World Superbike Debrief: Rainy Days

04/26/2016 @ 2:37 pm, by Kent Brockman2 COMMENTS

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Four rounds into the WorldSBK season we have seen three different race winners, two manufacturers vie for the title, but unfortunately one man proving the dominant force.

After eight races it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Rea’s title defence having gotten off to a better start, but it’s happened, despite his lack of comfort with the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. The Northern Irishman has not been comfortable with his new mount.

The much discussed “low inertia” engine has clearly taken some of the edge off Rea’s confidence in the bike. With a different engine braking characteristic, it has forced him to adjust his riding style to get the most from the machine.

Rea has a very natural style while on a race bike, it is something that has been similar on everything he has ever ridden. Whether it’s a Supersport, Superbike, or even a MotoGP machine, Rea has been able to ride in the same way. He’ll continue to adapt to the new bike and mould it to allow his style to flourish.

Sunday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Of Genius Young & Old…and Tire Trouble

04/24/2016 @ 8:59 pm, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

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Jerez is an important punctuation mark in almost every Grand Prix season. Whether it kicks off the year, as it did ten or more years ago, or whether it marks the return to Europe after the opening overseas rounds, the racing at Jerez is always memorable and remarkable.

Not always necessarily exciting, but always portentous, marking a turning point in the championship.

So it was this year. The MotoGP race saw a shift in momentum, and Valentino Rossi win in a way we haven’t seen since 2009. The Moto2 race solidified the positions of the three best riders in the class, and edged winner Sam Lowes towards a role as title favorite.

And in Moto3, Brad Binder broke his victory cherry with one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen in any class, let alone Moto3.

Put to the back of the grid for an infraction of the software homologation rules, Binder worked his way forward to the leading group by half distance, then left them for dead. It is a race they will be talking about for a long time.

Saturday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: A Country for Old Men

04/23/2016 @ 7:27 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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2005. That is the last time Valentino Rossi was on pole at Jerez. Eleven years ago. If you wanted an illustration of just how remarkable Rossi’s career is, then the dramatic way he snatched pole position on Saturday afternoon is surely it.

At the age of 37, after the incredible emotional blow of 2015, Rossi reinvents himself for the umpteenth time, learns how to qualify better, makes it three front row starts in a row – for the first time since 2009 – and takes his fourth pole position since the start of the 2010 season. Motivation, thy name is Valentino Rossi.

We shall talk about how this happened later, but first, back to 2005. There are so many parallels with that weekend, it is impossible to resist the temptation to explore them.

In 2005, there was this fast Spanish rider who dominated almost every session. It was only during qualifying that Rossi seized the initiative, putting nearly half a second into Sete Gibernau.

Race day was even more dramatic. Rossi on the Yamaha, and Gibernau and Nicky Hayden, on two different factory Hondas, broke away from the pack. Hayden could not match the pace of the two others, and had to let them go.

A tense battle unfolded in the laps that followed, Rossi stalking Gibernau for most of the race, taking over the lead with a few laps to go, then handing it back after making a mistake into the Dry Sack hairpin on the last lap.

The pair swapped positions with audacious passes through the fast right handers leading on towards the final corner.

Friday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Nothing Without Wings

04/23/2016 @ 6:12 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

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The infection of the MotoGP paddock is almost complete. At Jerez the last of MotoGP’s factories fell to the winglet virus. Aprilia debuted some massive double decker items on the nose of the fairing.

Suzuki brought a more modest pair, sitting below the bike’s nose. And Honda’s case of winglets grew more severe, the tiny side-mounted winglets replaced with much larger versions, akin to the early Yamaha ones.

The only holdouts are most of the satellite teams, and even they are starting to look longingly at the mustachioed factory bikes.

Why is this happening? Because the winglets provide a tangible benefit. Not huge, but big enough to make a difference. As Valentino Rossi put it, after also succumbing to the winglet infection, “small wings, small help.”

That had been the tenor of rider comments on winglets from the moment they first started to appear at the start of last season.

But at Jerez, we finally heard from a rider who was unashamedly enthusiastic about the wings. Aleix Espargaro had spent Thursday night pleading with Suzuki engineers to be given a chance to try the winglets during the weekend, instead of waiting until the Monday test, following the original plan.

Thursday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha, & Ducati Speak at Last

04/22/2016 @ 12:27 am, by David Emmett27 COMMENTS

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It has been three years in the making. Ducati have been chasing Jorge Lorenzo for a very long time, almost since the moment Gigi Dall’Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse.

Dall’Igna came to Ducati with a master plan. “Ducati had a plan when we started with Gigi at the end of 2013, which was to develop a competitive bike and – once the bike was competitive – to attract one of the top riders,” Ducati MotoGP boss Paolo Ciabatti told a specially convened press conference on Thursday.

The candidates who qualified as “top riders” (for the linguists, this is the English phrase the Italians use where English speakers would use the term “alien”) are few and far between. Ciabatti made it perfectly clear what he meant.

“With all due to respect to all the other riders, including the two Andreas, there are a few riders who have been showing their potential. They are able to win championships. Obviously if you look at history in the last six years three times Lorenzo, twice Marquez and once Stoner. So obviously to be sure to be in a position to fight for a world title we needed to aim for one of the two riders which are Lorenzo and Marquez.”

Sunday MotoGP Summary at Austin: Imperious Marquez, Complex Crashes, & Intrigue in the Support Classes

04/11/2016 @ 9:15 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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If the big question at the Circuit of the Americas was “Who can beat Marc Márquez?” then we found out the answer on Sunday: Nobody. There were only two brief moments during, where Márquez was not leading the MotoGP race.

Off the line, Jorge Lorenzo was a fraction quicker going into Turn 1, but Márquez turned earlier and already had the lead on the exit. Lorenzo tried once more into the hairpin of Turn 11, but overshot and ran wide, Márquez taking back the lead immediately.

After that, Márquez was gone. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest for a couple of laps, but the Repsol Honda rider’s relentless pace forced them to concede.

Márquez went on to win his fourth straight Grand Prix of the Americas, and his tenth straight win in the United States of America. Since ascending to MotoGP, he has never been beaten on American soil.

There are plenty of adjectives you could throw at Márquez’ performance – imperious, dominant, superlative – but perhaps the best word to sum up Marc Márquez at the Circuit of the Americas is “Unbeatable.” His rivals will have to wait another year to try to find a way of stopping him.

Saturday MotoGP Summary at Austin: On Beating Marquez

04/10/2016 @ 8:50 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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Does Marc Márquez still own the Circuit of the Americas? So far, there has been just one session of practice which the Repsol Honda rider did not head. But as that was Q1, a session he had managed to bypass by heading up every other session of practice, it seems fair to say he does still own the place.

How does he do it? By the simple procedure of being faster than everyone else everywhere: braking later, carrying more speed, changing direction faster through the switchback section, losing out only slightly in acceleration and top speed.

Every rider you ask about him says the same: Márquez has some special magic around COTA, using lines that only he can manage. He is just about unstoppable here.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be beaten. “Nobody is unbeatable,” Jorge Lorenzo said in the press conference. “You have to make a race, and finish a race. Anything can happen with these new tires. You can have some engine failure, or crash, or make a mistake.” If there were a year where Márquez could be beaten, Lorenzo intimated, this is it.

Friday MotoGP Summary at Austin: Marquez’s New Style, Viñales’ Bright Future, & Smith’s Personal Revolution

04/09/2016 @ 7:04 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

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After the drama of Argentina, the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas was pleasingly normal. The track was not perfect, but it was the normal kind of not perfect, Friday-green-track-not-perfect.

A week ago, a filthy unused track left everyone struggling for grip and worried faces. On Friday, there were a few concerns over tire wear, especially on the right-hand side, but they were minor compared to Argentina. It was just another Friday in Texas.

And just like any other Friday in Texas, Marc Márquez was slaying the field. The Repsol Honda rider was fastest both in the morning and in the afternoon, and though Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest in FP1, FP2 saw him go seven tenths of a second quicker than anyone else.

His gap over the rest made the gaps look massive, just six riders within a second. Take Márquez out of the equation, and a second separates places two and fourteen. The field is actually quite close, as long as you disregard the man out in front.