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.

Recall: 2011 & 2012 Zero Motorcycles

07/11/2012 @ 2:42 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Zero Motorcycles has submitted a recall with the NHTSA that includes units from its entire line-up, built for the 2011 & 2012 model years. The issue stems from a faulty brake light switch, which may not illuminate the rear brake light when the front brake lever is pressed without strong force.

The recall affects 450 units of Zero Motorcycles’ on-road units, which includes the following machines: 2011-2012 Zero DS, 2011 Zero MXD, 2011-2012 Zero S, 2012 Zero X, 2011 Zero XD, 2011-2012 Zero XU. Because the brake light may not illuminate while the motorcycles are under braking, Zero Motorcycles will recall the affected units starting around July 16th.

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Lies, Damned Lies, & The MIC’s Electric Range Estimates

06/13/2012 @ 5:58 am, by Jensen Beeler37 COMMENTS

Rewind a few years ago in the electric segment of the motorcycle industry, and you found a landscape where manufacturers published wildly inaccurate numbers relating to speed, range, and power. The situation of over-promising and under-delivering was so bad, virtually any figure quoted, whether it was made with the best or worst intentions, was immediately called into question. The issue of course stemmed from the fact that OEMs were unable to deliver motorcycles with specifications that were remotely acceptable to a savvy motorcycle market. 20 mile ranges? 15hp available continuously? 60 mph top speeds if you’re downhill, tucked in, have a tailwind, and add five to the speedo’s reading? Yup, those were the good old days.

As the industry matured, so did our expectations, and it looked like some sanity was going to come to fruition as the MIC began pooling interest on developing a standard to rate the various performance specifications of electric motorcycles. An industry group setup to look after the best interests of the OEMs and other business in the motorcycle industry, you only need to follow the cash to see whose best interests are really being served by this group.

So, it should not surprise us then that the latest “standard” from the MIC, which establishes criterion on how the highway mileage of an electric motorcycle should be rated, is doing a downright scandelous disservice to consumers and the industry itself, as the proposed standard massively overrates the highway range of electric motorcycles.

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Zero Is Working on a Brammo-Killer for 2013

04/20/2012 @ 2:54 pm, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

The nearly two-year wait for the Brammo Empulse is nearly over, as the Ashland-based company is set to debut the Brammo Empulse and Brammo Empulse R in Los Angeles (and online) May 8th. It should come as no surprise then that the A&R Bothan spy network is picking up on murmurings from Zero Motorcycles, and that the Californian company is working on an Empulse-killer for the 2013 model year.

Said to be building a proper electric sport bike, as well as suitable electric dirt bike package, Zero is seemingly finally on the verge of sunsetting its current motorcycle designs for more mature motorcycle offerings, and is putting companies like Brammo and BRD squarely in its sights.

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Up-Close with the 2012 Zero S ZF9

03/27/2012 @ 11:48 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

While still maintaining the product line’s general aesthetic from its previous generations, Zero Motorcycles has refined and polished its electric motorcycles for 2012. This is primarily due to the Zero’s limited amount of time to further develop its 2011 models for the 2012 model year (roughly nine months says the Californian company), but still Zero has been able to revise most of the Zero S’s components to warrant this year’s models to be visually and functionally set apart from its predecessors.

This bodes well for Zero Motorcycles, because bluntly, the startup has had extremely unrefined and unpolished motorcycles from its inception to the 2011 model year (if you heard otherwise from somewhere else, they were trying to sell you something). Walking up to the 2012 Zero S, it is immediately clear that the electric motorcycle has been touched by people who understand motorcycles. Gone are the on/off switches marked in Sharpie (I wish I was making this up), though you’d be hard-pressed to find top-shelf components on the Zero line. This makes for a mixed response regarding the bike, from a visual perspective.

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Living Electric: A Series on Living with Electric Motorcycles

02/22/2012 @ 12:52 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

I wanted to give our readers a heads-up that we have been working on a new article series that will feature electric motorcycles. A space has been maturing at a rapid pace, we have already seen several manufacturers come out with electric motorcycles available for consumers, with several more companies coming closer to market as well.

While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of electrics for some time now, the infancy of this market has many riders remaining on the fence about the gas vs. electric debate. While we here at Asphalt & Rubber believe the future of motorcycling is through electric motorcycles, we wanted to take an in-depth look at this budding sector, and ground some of the debate that has been going on in the industry with some actual experience.

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Zero Motorcycles Commences 2012 Model Line Production

01/27/2012 @ 4:38 pm, by Jensen Beeler27 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles has announced the full-commencement of production for its 2012 model line, which is expected to hit dealers in February & March of this year. First off the line was the 2012 Zero DS back in December, though the electric motorcycle company has recently started building the Zero S, Zero XU, Zero X, and Zero MX at its Scotts Valley facility as well. A story we broke back in November, Zero Motorcycles debuted its important 2012 electric motorcycle line up at the 2011 EICMA show in Milan, with the 2012 range being a substantial improvement upon the company’s previous offerings.

Boasting 6kWh & 9kWh battery packs, the 2012 Zeros have nearly double the available energy on board, with the styling and performance aspects of the bikes have been improved upon as well. Zero claims that the street-focused Zero S can hit up to 114 miles on that 9kWh pack (and also does a top speed of 88 mph on its new motor), making it more practical for the urban commuter. For 2012, all of Zero’s street models feature new brushless motors, and include regenerative braking, which charges the motorcycle’s batteries during deceleration.

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Leaked: 2012 Zero Motorcycles Model Range Is Set to Debut Brammo Empulse Killer

11/06/2011 @ 12:53 pm, by Jensen Beeler33 COMMENTS

Our first proper leak ahead of the upcoming EICMA show in Milan is now officially in the bag, as Asphalt & Rubber has gotten word on Zero Motorcycles’ 2012 electric motorcycles. Completely revamping its model range, our sources tell us that the 2012 Zero Motorcycles will have all-new motors, battery packs, and bodywork. Talking in numbers, the battery pack options will be 6kWh & 9kWh, with prices expected to be $11,000 and $13,000 respectively. Perhaps the most compelling news (and there’s plenty to be compelled about with this news) is that Zero Motorcycles plans to have the new models under production in December, and on dealer floors by January.

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Costco and Zero Motorcycles Partner in Canada

09/08/2011 @ 10:26 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

An article from our friends at CMG tipped us off to the fact that Zero Motorcycle has begun promoting its electric motorcycles through several Costco stores in Canada. Taking a page from Kawasaki’s playbook in working with Costco (which is itself a take on what automobile dealers have been doing with the warehouse brand for years), Zero currently has displays in six Canadian Costco warehouse stores, working as a part of the wholesaler’s Membership Benefits Program. Like the Kawasaki program, Costco isn’t actually selling Zero Motorcycles, but instead Costco members recieve a special value package if they purchase a Zero through the promotion.

If that raises your eyebrows, here is a quick primer on the Costco business model. Generally speaking, Costco keeps its company very efficient and lean by keeping very low inventories — I’ve heard it quoted that the company won’t carry more inventory than what it can sell in one to two weeks. Helping drive that turnover are the low prices that the company is known for, but instead of doing a high volume/low margin sales approach, Costco’s true bread & butter is its membership fees.

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Recall: 2009-2010 Zero DS & Zero S

05/19/2011 @ 10:13 am, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles is recalling 160 of its electric DS & S motorcycles for an issue with the front brake caliper. Because of the defect, owners may experience permanent deformation of their brake discs when subjected to high braking loads, which induce misalignment of the front brake pads with respect to the front brake rotor. Accordingly, misalignment of the brake pads in relation to the rotor may cause reduced front braking performance, which could lead to a possible crash and potential injury or death of the rider.

The pertinent models and build dates are as follows:

  • 2009 Zero S – September 2, 2009 through December 22, 2009
  • 2009 Zero DS – July 27, 2009 through December 28, 2009
  • 2010 Zero S – February 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011
  • 2010 Zero DS – January 20, 2010 through March 31, 2011

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Zero Motorcycles Adds Polaris Executive to Board of Directors – But What Does It Mean?

05/17/2011 @ 10:03 am, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles has quietly announced some interesting news: that Mark Blackwell, V.P. of Motorcycles at Polaris Industries, will be joining the electric motorcycle company’s Board of Directors. With a plethora of reasons as to why an industry veteran like Blackwell would join Zero’s board, it’s been no secret that the Scotts Valley company has been collecting seasoned industry professionals like pokemon characters, seemingly building a brain trust of people who actually know how to run a motorcycle company.

Blackwell’s addition to Zero is interesting because it could signal a relationship with the Polaris V.P. that goes beyond merely an advisory/visionary position, which is the core responsibility of a companies board. The timing is interesting as well, as Polaris has been on a buying spree, first acquiring the original American motorcycle company brand: Indian Motorcycles, and a few days later electric car manufacturer GEM. With a Polaris executive sitting on Zero’s board almost immediately after these aquisitions, one has to wonder if this isn’t a precursor to some sort of larger arrangement between the two companies.

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