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.

Thursday at the Ulster Grand Prix with Tony Goldsmith

08/15/2014 @ 12:53 pm, by Tony Goldsmith2 COMMENTS

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Having travelled to Indianapolis through Dublin, it seamed only right upon my return to make the short trip over the border into Northern Ireland for the Ulster Grand Prix.

Having only visited The Ulster once as a spectator back in 2007, I’m pretty much a novice to the circuit. The corner names are not familiar, so I didn’t have much of a clue of were to shoot Thursday’s action from. One place I did know from my previous visit was the Deers Leap section, so I based myself there for the day.

The riders come onto the Deers Leap through a quick right-hand bend before wheeling over the crest at Deers Leap itself, and down under the trees into Cochranstown. There is a huge elevation change trough the section. Standing at the top looking down to Cochranstown it looks like the riders are dropping off the face of the earth as they the crest Deers Leap.

The racing on Thursday is actually the Dundrod 150, the traditional warm up to Saturday’s Ulster Grand Prix. After long delays due to two incidents in the early races, Guy Martin won the feature race of the day, after a race long battle with Bruce Anstey. Martin crossed the line only 0.244 seconds ahead of Anstey with Michael Dunlop 2.5 seconds further back in third.

All of  the results of the days racing can be found on the Ulster Grand Prix’s official website.

Thursday Summary at Sachsenring: On Breaking the Streak, Fighting for Contracts, & Keeping The Waterfall

07/10/2014 @ 5:07 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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After winning the first five races of the season, Marc Marquez said he feared the trio of Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen, which were to follow. He would surely be beaten at one of those tracks, given they favored the Yamaha M1, and were strong tracks for both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

Three races and three wins later, and Marquez is looking increasingly invincible. The Repsol Honda man keeps inventing new ways to win, and keeping his opponents at bay.

So if Marquez is impossible to beat at a Yamaha circuit, perhaps he can be beaten at a Honda track. So far, Dani Pedrosa has been the only rider to get close to beating his teammate, after pushing him all the way at Barcelona.

The Sachsenring is a track where Pedrosa has reigned supreme in recent years, having won four times in the last eight years. Impressive as it is, that does not do his record at the track justice. In his rookie year, he finished fourth in Germany, missing out by just three tenths of a second in one of the closest and most thrilling races to be held at the circuit.

In 2008 he crashed out of the lead in the wet, a result that would lead him to concentrate on improving his riding in the rain. In 2009 he finished third, close behind the battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and in 2013, Pedrosa was absent after breaking a collarbone during practice.

There is just one minor problem. If you think Dani Pedrosa’s record at the Sachsenring is strong – and numbers don’t lie, Pedrosa is the man to beat in Germany – just wait until you see what Marc Marquez has done at the circuit. For the past four years, in three different classes, Marquez has won the race after starting from pole.

The Spaniard won here in his last year in 125s, won both Moto2 races he contested here, then took victory in his first MotoGP race at the circuit. It was his second win in the class, after becoming the youngest ever winner at Austin earlier in 2013.

Marquez did not have to beat either Pedrosa or Lorenzo, of course, both men having withdrawn with broken collarbones. So this race is a straight fight for Sachsenring supremacy. The winner in 2014 may rightly call himself King of the ‘Ring.

Thursday Summary at Assen: The Weather Gods Smile, The Weather Gods Threaten

06/26/2014 @ 11:32 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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If there was one factor that surprised everyone on the first day of practice at Assen, it was the weather. Everyone had been prepared for rain, and had contingency plans for when the rain would eventually come. But it didn’t.

It rained all around the circuit, severe weather warnings were issued for several surrounding towns, heavy rain fell in nearby Groningen, and local beaches were evacuated because of thunderstorms, but the TT Circuit at Assen stayed dry all day.

The wind blew the morning clouds away, and the sun shone down gloriously on the circuit, catching out the unwary, and giving all three Grand Prix classes, plus the many support series a full day of excellent weather.

The riders made good use of the conditions, and the unexpected track time threw up a couple of serious surprises. In the morning, Pol Espargaro set the fastest time, finishing ahead of his brother Aleix. In the afternoon session, it was Aleix who was quickest, though this time Pol could not match the pace of his elder brother.

Thursday at Assen with Tony Goldsmith

06/26/2014 @ 11:18 am, by Tony Goldsmith2 COMMENTS

Thursday Summary at Catalunya: How To Beat Marquez & Silly Season Steps Up a Gear

06/12/2014 @ 10:25 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said.

“It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.” The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. “We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.”

Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, “struggling” means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong.

Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything.

A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two “horns” of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight.

Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.

Thursday Summary at Mugello: Rossi’s Revival in Race 300, And How Marquez & Moto2 Are Changing MotoGP

05/30/2014 @ 3:39 am, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

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The paradox of the motorcycle racer is that every race is a big race, yet no race is more important than any other. The pressure on the MotoGP elite is so great that they have to perform at their maximum at every circuit, every weekend.

Every race is like a championship decider, not just the race which decides the championship. There may be extra pressure at a home race, or on a special occasion, or when a title is at stake, but the riders cannot let it get to them. There is too much at stake to be overawed by the occasion.

Still, Mugello 2014 is a very big race indeed. It is Valentino Rossi’s 300th Grand Prix, and a chance for him to return to the podium on merit again, and not just because the crowds were calling his name.

It is the best hope of a Jorge Lorenzo revival, the Yamaha man having won the last three races in a row at the spectacular Tuscan track. It is the best hope for Ducati, the Italian factory having run well here in the past.

And it is the first realistic chance for Marc Marquez to fail, the Spaniard has never found the track an easy one, though it did not stop him winning there.

Thursday Summary at Le Mans: Can Anyone Stop Marc Marquez from Making It Five in a Row?

05/15/2014 @ 10:16 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

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As the MotoGP circus descends upon the charming French town of Le Mans this weekend, there is one question at the front of everybody’s minds: can he do it? Can Marc Marquez continue his incredible string of poles and victories by winning at Le Mans?

On the evidence of the 2014 season so far, you would have to say he can. But Le Mans is a different circuit, and one where a gaggle of Yamaha riders have gone well in the past. This could possibly be the first race since Qatar where Marquez is made to work for it.

Marquez has a lot going for him in France. Leaving aside his form – a perfect record of poles and wins this year, as well as being fastest in over half the sessions of free practice so far – the track looks to play to the Honda’s strengths, on paper at least.

The stop-and-go nature of the Le Mans track sees the bikes spend a lot of time under hard acceleration, with slower corners needing hard braking. The Honda’s ‘V’ approach to the corners – brake late, turn hard, stand the bike up quickly and get on the gas – seems to be a much better fit to the Le Mans circuit than Yamaha’s ‘U’ style – brake early, enter faster, carry more corner speed and smoothly wind on the throttle.

And yet Yamaha riders have won four of the last six races at the circuit. Jorge Lorenzo has won the French Grand Prix at Le Mans three times, and each time with a very comfortable margin over his competitors. Valentino Rossi has won here twice on a Yamaha, in 2005 and 2008, and finished second behind Lorenzo in 2010.

It’s even a track where Colin Edwards has shone in the past on a Yamaha – and where perhaps he can do well once again, despite hating the current Yamaha chassis he is riding at Forward Yamaha. This is the first in a series of circuits where Yamaha riders have dominated in the past.

If Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi want to start fighting back against the might of Marquez, Le Mans is as good a place to start as any.

Thursday Summary at Jerez: On Bridgestone’s Withdrawal, Slower Lap Times, & Stopping Marquez

05/01/2014 @ 7:07 pm, by David Emmett13 COMMENTS

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There’s a race on Sunday, but all the talk is of 2016. Why the seemingly absurd preoccupation with a date that is so ridiculously distant in the future? Because from 2016, MotoGP will have a new tire supplier, after Bridgestone announced they will be pulling out of MotoGP at the end of 2015. Why does this matter?

Because tires are the single most important component of a motorcycle, and determine the performance of a machine to a massive extent. No matter how much power your engine produces, if you can’t get it to the ground, it becomes irrelevant. No matter how powerful your brakes, if the front tire collapses when you squeeze the front lever, you won’t be doing much slowing down.

Even if you can brake and accelerate as much as you like, if the bike wanders around like drunken poodle on a skateboard when you tip it into the corner, your laptimes won’t be up to much.

It is hard to overstate just exactly how important tires are to motorcycle performance. Why is Aleix Espargaro so consistently fast during qualifying, on a bike that is two years old and with an engine under strict control by Yamaha? Because the Open class entries have a softer rear tire available, and that tire itself is worth half a second or more.

Thursday Summary at Argentina: A Long Awaited Visit to the Middle of Nowhere

04/24/2014 @ 6:07 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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Why on earth would you organize a MotoGP race in what is effectively the middle of nowhere? The answer is as simple as it is obvious: money. Dorna are being well paid by the circuit to bring the three Grand Prix classes to the little town of Termas de Rio Hondo in the heart of the Argentinian pampas.

And in case you should start to rail against Dorna’s greed, it is fair to point out that a significant part of that money will also go to the teams, to pay transport costs and to cover at least part of their annual budget. Some of that money, but not all.

A more relevant question might be why would a circuit in the middle of nowhere pay Dorna a massive amount of money to come race there? If it’s in the middle of nowhere, then surely they are unlikely to make back at the gate what they paid to Dorna to organize the race? They won’t, but that is not necessarily the point.

The circuit, after all, is not paying most of the fee. The vast majority of the cash (indeed, probably all of it) is being paid by the regional authorities, with help from the central government. The regional tourism promotion council is counting on the increased profile of the Santiago del Estero province attracting more visitors to the region, and to Argentina in general.

In essence, the Argentinian government and the Santiago del Estero province are making the same gamble as the province of Aragon did for the circuit at Alcañiz. They hope that by raising the visibility of the area to the outside world, more people will choose to visit, and that will being more revenue to the region and boost the local economy.

Thursday Summary at Austin: Edwards Retires, Blandspeak Returns, & The Dearth of US Racers

04/11/2014 @ 7:58 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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It was fitting – some might say inevitable – that Colin Edwards chose the Grand Prix of the Americas in his home state of Texas to announce his retirement. He had just spent the last couple of weeks at home, with his growing kids, doing dad stuff like taking them to gymnastics and baseball and motocross, then hosted a group, including current GP riders and a couple of journos, at his Bootcamp dirt track school.

He had had time to mull over his future, then talk it over with his wife Ally, and come to a decision. There wasn’t really a much better setting for the double World Superbike champion to announce he was calling it quits than sitting next to former teammate Valentino Rossi, the American he fought so memorably with in 2006, Nicky Hayden, the latest US addition to the Grand Prix paddock Josh Herrin, and with Marc Marquez, prodigy and 2013 MotoGP champion. It felt right. Sad, but right.

You can read the full story of Edwards’ retirement here, but his announcement highlighted two different problems for motorcycle racing. One local, one global, and neither particularly easy to fix.

The loss of Colin Edwards sees the MotoGP paddock, indeed all of international motorcycle racing, robbed of its most outspoken and colorful character. Edwards was a straight talker, with a colorful turn of phrase and uninhibited manner of speech.

His interviews were five parts home truths, five parts witticisms and a handful of obscenities thrown in for good measure. He livened up press conferences, racing dinners, and casual conversations alike.

With Edwards gone, motorcycle racing is a much blander, less appealing place. Though Edwards was always careful not to upset sponsors too much, he refused to toe the line and just spout the politically acceptable line handed down by his corporate paymasters. He spoke his mind, complained when he was annoyed, gave praise where it was due, and always, always entertained.