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.

Paddock Pass Podcast – Episode 18 – Sepang MotoGP Test

02/16/2016 @ 1:07 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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Episode 18 of the Paddock Pass Podcast returns to the world of the GP paddock, and covers the latest MotoGP test in Sepang.

In this edition, David, Neil, and Steve cover everything that happened in Malaysia, including the return of Casey Stoner to the Ducati Corse garage, Loris Baz’s horrific crash on the Michelin tires, Suzuki’s progress with the GSX-RR, and much, much, more.

The boys are currently on their way to Phillip Island now, for yet another MotoGP test, as well as the start of the World Superbike season. Expect another show from that outing in the coming weeks.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Summary: Exploding Tires, Changing Compounds, & Stoner’s Return

02/02/2016 @ 1:15 pm, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so.

Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role that offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing.

It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend. It also sees your logo plastered all over just about every photo which appears in magazines and newspapers about MotoGP, as well as filling thousands of column inches on websites and in magazines.

If you had to pay for the same exposure – a concept known as equivalent advertising value – it would cost you many, many times the €25 million Bridgestone were rumored to have paid for the contract.

There is a downside, of course. It is extremely uncommon to hear riders heap praise upon your tires spontaneously. Bridgestone had to announce they were pulling out of the role as official supplier to receive the praise they deserved, riders immediately paying tribute to just how good their racing tires actually are.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview: The Future Starts Here

01/31/2016 @ 10:23 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture.

Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables.

Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec-electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.

It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing.

There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.

Thoughts from the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team Launch

01/21/2016 @ 1:08 am, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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If anyone thought that the start of the 2016 season would mean an end to the bitter divisions of 2015, they will be bitterly disappointed. The launch of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, at title sponsor Movistar’s regional headquarters in Barcelona, brought the whole affair back to the surface.

It was the first time since Valencia that the racing press had the chance to put questions to Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and both the questions asked and answers given helped reignite the flames of controversy.

Rossi restated his belief that Marc Márquez conspired against him to hand the title to Lorenzo. Lorenzo expressed his frustration at being drawn into something he had no part of. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis called for respect from all sides, and expressed Yamaha’s concerns about the way situations such as Sepang are handled.

Above all, the Italian press showed a dogged pursuit of the post-Sepang fallout, bombarding Rossi with questions about the affair, and probing Lorenzo about his thoughts. The soap opera is set to run and run.

The Massive 2016 MotoGP Rule Update

01/08/2016 @ 2:14 am, by David Emmett11 COMMENTS

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With major changes to the technical regulations for MotoGP in 2016, it has taken some time for the FIM to produce a new and revised version of the rulebook.

The first provisional version was made available today, the new rules bringing together all of the new rules agreed over the past few years into a single set of regulations.

Most of the new rules have already been written about during the year, but putting them into a single rulebook helped clarify them greatly.

The biggest changes are to the technical regulations. The abolition of the Open class means everyone is back on a single set of rules. Or rather, nearly everyone.

There are still two types of manufacturers: manufacturers subject to the standard rules, and manufacturers who have not yet had sufficient success, and therefore have been granted a number of concessions.

Those concessions are more limited than the Open class, though, and relate now only to testing and to engine development. Everyone will have the same amount of fuel, the same tire allocation, and everyone will use the same electronics, the spec hardware and the unified software.

Though many fans are disappointed that there isn’t just a single set of rules, the concessions which remain are absolutely vital to the long-term health of the series.

With Honda, Yamaha, and since last year, Ducati, all subject to a freeze on engine development and limited testing, Suzuki and Aprilia (and KTM, when they join the series in 2017) stand a chance of cutting the gap to the more successful factories.

Without concessions, the smaller factories wouldn’t stand a chance of catching the others, especially not a factory with almost limitless resources like Honda. Indeed, without the concessions granted to Ducati, there is a very good chance the Italian factory would have left MotoGP in 2014, after three long years without results.

The previous era, when the factories all competed under a single set of rules, ended up with just 17 bikes on the grid, and manufacturers showing more interest in leaving MotoGP than in joining. That situation has been completely reversed.

A more intriguing change has been the introduction of clear rules on the safety equipment to be used by riders. Back protectors and chest protectors are now compulsory, and minimum standards have been imposed for helmets, leathers, boots and gloves.

Rider safety equipment will now be much more closely regulated and monitored.

Kicking Off 2016: Six Ridiculously Premature Predictions for the Racing Year to Come

01/04/2016 @ 11:32 am, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

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A new year is upon us, and with it, a new season of motorcycle racing, full of hope, opportunity and optimism. What will 2016 hold for motorcycle racing fans?

With testing still weeks away for World Superbikes, and a month away for MotoGP, it is far, far too early to be making any predictions. But why let that stop us?

Here are some predictions for 2016 that we are making.

Q&A: Mika Kallio – On The KTM MotoGP RC16

12/17/2015 @ 1:37 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

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There is a lot to look forward to in MotoGP during the next couple of seasons. New tires and new-spec electronics for 2016; and for 2017, the arrival of a new manufacturer, with KTM due to join the show.

The arrival of KTM has generated much excitement, the Austrian factory having succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations in every racing class they have entered, with the exception of MotoGP.

This time, they have taken the development of the bike completely in-house, a powerful V4 engine being housed in a trellis frame, the company’s trademark in racing.

The bike has already made its debut on track, with Alex Hofmann having given the bike a shakedown test at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in October. A few weeks later, the bike got its first proper test in the hands of newly signed test rider Mika Kallio, the man who was Moto2 runner up in 2014.

Kallio was present in Barcelona for the Superprestigio event, where he had been scheduled to race. However, a crash on Friday morning saw the Finnish rider break his leg, which meant he could not actually participate in the event.

Kallio was present, however, and we got the chance to talk to him about the state of the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike, his first impressions of the machine, and his hopes and expectations for testing in 2016 and racing in 2017.

MotoGP Tire Allocation Expanded & Open Class Killed Off

12/16/2015 @ 10:28 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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The Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, met last week to make a few minor updates to the rules for MotoGP in 2016. The two biggest changes to the rules relate to the two biggest changes to the series for next year: the change of tire suppliers and the switch to spec-electronics.

The change that will most please the fans will be the official end of the Open class. All references to both the Open and Factory classes are to be removed from the regulations, as the switch to spec electronics, all teams running both the standard Magneti Marelli hardware and official Dorna unified software, mean there is only one class in MotoGP again.

This does not mean that all factories are equal, however. Special concessions remain for factories that have not won a race and have not yet accrued six concession points (based on podium positions).

Manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to use twelve engines for a season instead of seven engines, they will be allowed unlimited testing with factory riders instead of test riders, and engine development will not be frozen.

Michelin Schedules Extra MotoGP Tires Tests for December

12/09/2015 @ 10:59 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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Michelin is stepping up preparations for 2016 by scheduling an extra tire test in December. The French tire maker has invited the MotoGP factories to spend two days at Jerez before Christmas, testing new front tires in cold conditions, according to GPOne.com.

Three manufacturers have accepted, Ducati, Honda, and Aprilia preparing to send their test riders to put in some laps on the latest iteration of tires at the Spanish circuit on 21st and 22nd of December.

As the test falls in the middle of the winter test ban period, contracted riders – that is, riders who will be permanent MotoGP entries for 2016 – are forbidden from riding, and only the official test riders can take part.

Why Michelin Returned to MotoGP & The Challenges Ahead

12/07/2015 @ 10:56 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin as the official tire supplier for MotoGP promises to be perhaps the most important change to the class for 2016, though the change to spec-ECU software runs it a close second.

Up until the Valencia tests, held after the final race of the year, the performance of the Michelins was still shrouded in mystery, the official riders contractually obliged to keep quiet about the French tires while Bridgestone was still the official tire supplier.

That all changed on the Tuesday after Valencia. With the handover to Michelin, the riders were free to speak, as were the principal players inside the French tire manufacturer.

The teams had a lot of work to do, their job not made any easier by the fact that so many riders crashed at Valencia. Riding styles needed to change, as did the weight distribution of the bikes.

But question marks remained over the performance of the Michelin front tire, especially, with so many riders lowsiding over the two days of the test.

On the Tuesday at Valencia, we got a chance to speak with Nicolas Goubert, the head of Michelin’s motorsports program, alongside Israeli TV5 commentator Tammy Gorali.

Goubert gave an update on the progress of their MotoGP program so far, and addressed several of the issues they had faced during testing. Of course, Michelin was delighted to be back in the premier class again.