WorldSBK Approves the Use of Winglets*

The World Superbike Championship released the latest decision from the SBK Commission today, which clarified a few rules for the 2018 season, most notably the new rev-limiter and parts cost rules, which have been discussed already at great length here on Asphalt & Rubber (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3). There was another interesting rule change of note though, which is likely to get over-looked by the racing community, and that is the World Superbike Championship permitting the use of winglets, although there is a catch. In its rules update, the SBK Commission decreed that teams and manufacturers may fit aerodynamic components (e.g. winglets) to their superbikes so long as the winglets are fitted to the homologated motorcycle.

Crunching the Numbers: Rea vs. MotoGP vs. WorldSBK

The start of December marks the beginning of what is rapidly becoming a tradition in the world of motorcycle racing. After the Jerez test in late November, it is now “Why Is Jonathan Rea Faster Than A MotoGP Bike” season. At Jerez, Rea pushed his Kawasaki ZX-10R WorldSBK machine – down 35+ bhp and up 10+ kg – to the fourth fastest overall time of the week, ahead of eleven MotoGP regulars (including two rookies), three MotoGP test riders and Alex Márquez, who the Marc VDS team were using to train up the new crew recruited to look after Tom Luthi’s side of the garage while the Swiss rider is still injured. How is this possible? And what does this mean? Are WorldSBK machines too close to MotoGP bikes?

Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX Priced at $19,000 for the USA

Kawasaki’s newest supercharged motorcycle is also its most affordable supercharged motorcycle, with the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX coming to the USA with an MSRP of $19,000. Even the better-equipped 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE is an “affordable” $22,000, when compared to the more sport-focused H2 models. Featuring a 200hp version of Kawasaki’s supercharged, four-cylinder, 998cc engine, the Ninja H2 SX is a fully faired sport-tourer, with an emphasis on the sport side of the equation. The base model comes in any color you want, so long as it’s black, while the Ninja H2 SX SE comes in the traditional Team Green color scheme of Kawasaki.

Oh Yes, The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Is USA Bound

Good news sport bike fans, Kawasaki USA in its infinite wisdom has decided to bring the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE to the United States for the 2018 model year. Debuted at this year’s EICMA show, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE takes the potent superbike and most notably adds Showa’s new semi-active suspension to the package. Other perks include the seven-spoke forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, found already on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR, as well as an up/down quickshifter. Like what you hear? Well brace yourself…If you want a 2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE in your garage, you are going to need to shell out $21,899 MSRP for it. That sticker price represents quite the premium over Team Green’s race homologation machine, the ZX-10RR, which goes for $18,899.

PJ Jacobsen Racing in WorldSBK for 2018

Patrick ‘PJ’ Jacobsen will be stepping up to the big show for the 2018 season, with today’s announcement that the American will be riding with the TripleM Honda WSBK Team. Moving off of the World Supersport grid and into the World Superbike Championship, Jacobsen will be riding the Honda CBR1000RR SP2 with the satellite Honda team effort that TripleM has put together. “I’m very excited to be making my World Superbike debut with TripleM Honda WSBK Team,” said PJ. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be finally racing in this class and I want to thank the team and Honda for making this possible. Both the team and I will be rookies in the WorldSBK championship so there’ll surely be a lot to learn, but it’s a challenge that stimulates me and I can’t wait to get started.”

Yamaha Selling Shares in Yamaha Motor to Raise Money

The Yamaha Corporation announced today that it will be selling 8 million shares of its holdings in Yamaha Motor Co., a movement of shares that will see roughly 2.3% of the voting power in the powersports company changing hands. This deal is expected to close on December 4th, and the Yamaha Corporation says that it will be selling its position to various unnamed securities companies, presumably to then be sold on the open market. At the current market price for Yamaha Motor stock, this deal should be worth close to ¥26 billion, and ¥18 billion after tax expenses have been factored. The news means that while the Yamaha Corporation will remain the single largest shareholder in Yamaha Motor Co., its ownership position as a shareholder will drop from 12.22% to 9.93%, as a result of the divestiture.

Valentino Rossi’s Winter Test Helmet Gets Mexican Flair

It is another winter testing period for the MotoGP riders, and that means that Valentino Rossi has another special “Winter Test” AGV helmet design for us. This year, The Doctor takes his inspiration from Huichol bead art, after he visited the region on a recent vacation to Mexico. As such, Rossi’s winter test AGV Pista GP R helmet features a hand-painted bead design that plays on the winter motif, with the Italian’s usual affinity for symbols. “Huichol art immediately intrigued me, because it uses many of my symbols, like the sun and moon or the turtle,” explained Valentino Rossi. “We have tried to recreate the effect of the beads that the Mexicans use to bring color and shape to these objects, but to do so with a Valentino Rossi twist.”

Jonathan Rea Talks About New WorldSBK Rules

Three years of unparalleled success has seen Jonathan Rea notch up 39 victories, 70 podiums, and 3 WorldSBK titles. To put those numbers into context, only Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, and Noriyuki Haga have won more races in their WorldSBK careers. It truly has been a historic run of form for Rea and Kawasaki. For WorldSBK though the achievements have been outweighed by the reaction of fans to these results. Feeling that significant changes were needed to ensure a more competitive balance for the field, WorldSBK has introduced a wide range of new regulations to curtail the Kawasaki dominance. The goal isn’t to stop Rea and Kawasaki winning but simply to allow other manufacturers to get on an even keel.

The “Smart” Approach to Writing the WorldSBK Rulebook

Scott Smart has been tasked with writing and rewriting the rule book for Superbikes around the planet. The FIM Superbike Technical Director has been instrumental in bringing about the recent regulation changes for WorldSBK, and speaking at the season ending Qatar round he explained the philosophy behind the changes. “There’s a lot of benefits to these changes, but the biggest factor is that we want to find a way to have more exciting racing in WorldSBK,” explained Smart. “With the new regulations each team on the grid has the chance to run the same specification as the factory teams or to develop their own parts. This gives a private team the chance to have a bike with development work already having been completed by simply buying the relevant parts for their bike.”

Ben Spies Returns to Motorcycle Racing…On Dirt Bikes

Ben Spies fans will be happy to hear that the Texan is returning to racing motorcycles, announcing the news while talking to Matthew Miles at Cycle World. However, the news might not be as expected, as Spies isn’t returning to the superbike paddock, but instead will compete in the AMA National Enduro series next season. As such, Spies will take part in several rounds on the Full Gas Sprint Enduro calendar, in the mid-level “Pro2” class; as well as an ISDE qualifier, with an eye on making the squad for Team USA. Certainly not the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship bid that was reported earlier, though Spies confirmed that he had been in talks with Ducati about racing a Panigale, and had also spun some laps on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R at a track day in Texas.

KTM E-Speed – An Electric Scooter from Austria

03/31/2013 @ 11:46 pm, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

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Not soon after KTM CEO Stefan Pierer dismissed the viability of electric motorcycles, and told Italian journalists that the Austrian company was scrapping its plans to build an electric dirt bike, the KTM Freeride E, KTM has announced the KTM E-Speed electric scooter study, with Pierer even making the bold statement that “we at KTM are completely convinced of electric mobility as a perfect complement to conventional powertrains.”

Debuting the machine at the Tokyo Motor Show, KTM has appropriately recycled the same battery and motor technologies from the Freeride E concept, and put them in the unimaginatively named E-Speed scooter. Using a liquid cooled 14.75 hp / 26.5 lbs•ft motor, KTM has opted for a larger 4.36 kWh battery pack for its metro-targeting scoot.

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There was much consternation ahead of the Jerez MotoGP test, when it emerged that the Factory Yamaha MotoGP team had imposed a new social media policy. Given that Yamaha has perhaps the strongest presence on social media of all MotoGP teams, fans feared that the access they had been given would be restricted.

Apart from riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha also has Alex Briggs, mechanic to Valentino Rossi, Ramon Forcada, crew chief to Jorge Lorenzo, and Wilco Zeelenberg, team manager to Jorge Lorenzo on their payroll, all three popular figures on Twitter.

At the official launch of Yamaha’s 2013 MotoGP campaign, we spoke to Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis to ask about the policy, and try to clear up any confusion surrounding the situation. Our first question was naturally, did Yamaha indeed have a new social media policy?

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Sales figures are a closely guarded secret in the two-wheeled realm, especially when it comes to numbers for specific motorcycle models. It is a shame really, as these are the kind of numbers that we here at Asphalt & Rubber love to pour over for hours, looking for insights, trends, and meanings. So for us, the above graph is made of pure motorcycling gold.

Taken from the Ducati 1199 Panigale R international press launch, where Ducati Motor Holding’s General Manager Claudio Domenicali shared with the assembled journalists the first-year sales figures for each of the Italian company’s Superbike models, the above is a direct recreation of the presentation’s slide, which unsurprisingly Ducati didn’t include when it handed us a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.

In the age of computers and smartphones, not to mention a room full of moto-journalist, it is hard to imagine how Ducati didn’t foresee this information being disseminated to the public, but I digress. After the jump are some of my initial thoughts from looking at the data on each model. We’ll be playing more with this information in the coming days as well.

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Marc Marquez entered MotoGP surrounded by hype and with high expectations. After a wet test at Valencia, where he showed he was fast, but not quite how fast, the Spaniard went to Sepang, where he posted very good times in a private test. At the full Sepang MotoGP tests, Marquez was genuinely impressive, never finishing outside the Top 4.

At Austin, Marquez stunned observers. The young Spaniard, still only a rookie in the MotoGP class, with only a few days on a MotoGP bike under his belt, dominated at the Austin test, topping the timesheets on all three days of the private test. It was not as if he didn’t have any competition at the circuit: both the factory Yamaha and Honda teams were at the Austin test, and Marquez beat Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to set the fastest time.

So it was something of a surprise when Marquez failed to duplicate his impressive pace in Malaysia and Texas when MotoGP rolled up at Jerez for the final test of the season.

Though Marquez was 3rd fastest in the wet, once conditions improved – though they were never perfect – the Repsol Honda rookie got left behind a little, finishing the second day in 7th spot, nearly 1.2 seconds behind fastest man Valentino Rossi, and 5th spot on day three, 0.6 behind Cal Crutchlow.

Marquez left the three day test as 6th overall, six tenths behind the fastest man of the test Cal Crutchlow, and over a tenth behind Stefan Bradl, his main rival during the 2011 Moto2 season.

So what happened? Where did Marc Marquez’ speed suddenly disappear to? When asked by reporters on Sunday, the Spaniard had a few explanations. “Today was difficult,” Marquez acknowledged, “but I think it’s normal. It was the first time in dry conditions on this track.”

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Water-Cooled 2014 BMW R1200RT Spotted

03/27/2013 @ 11:07 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

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With the water-cooled BMW R1200GS official debuted and soon to be released for the 2013 model year, it was only a matter of time before we saw the same “precision liquid-cooled” version of the BMW R1200RT make its spy shot debut.

Coming to us in a very blurry form, a blogger at the french publication MotoMag caught the 2014 BMW R1200RT out for a spring time jaunt in the South of France.

Heavily disguised in camouflage, it is hard to understand how far zie Germans have strayed from the old model’s lines, though we hope that the touring machine gets as much of an overhaul as the Gelände Straße.

To our eyes, the fairings look physically much larger, and it looks like the headlights could be borrowed from the KT1600GT platform. More photos after the jump, call out any other changes you might see.

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I don’t know who sold HRC and the Repsol Honda on their aggressive social media strategy, but it is winning over our hearts and minds. It seems it was only last year that we bemoaning the un-dynamic duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, two riders through either their shyness (Pedrosa) or PR whitewashing (Marquez) were about as lovable to the global MotoGP audience as metal flakes in an oil change.

At that same time of course, we were being entertained by the online banter between Yamaha’s mechanics and riders, who were adding to the on-track spectacle with their off-the-track banter, insights, and analysis. What a difference a year makes though, because Yamaha Racing has reportedly clamped down on its members taking to social media, and HRC is looking more and more like a social media genius.

Latest from Repsol’s media pool is a video that pits young-gun Marquez against old-hat Pedrosa. The two Spaniards give their thoughts on each other, and…gasp…come across as the human beings that paddock insiders knew existed all along. Between Pedrosa’s late-season surge last year, and his smiling and laughing personality here, you can’t help but root for the Honda rider. The rapture is near my motorcycling brethren.

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Suzuki Will Drop 98 Under-Performing Dealers

03/27/2013 @ 1:02 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

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Last week we reported to you that Suzuki Motor of America was set to cut 10% to 20% of its powersports dealerships, as a part of its corporate restructuring and bankruptcy of the now defunct American Suzuki Motor Corporation. Clarifying that news, Suzuki has given a clearer figure, saying that 98 of the company’s 930 dealers will be getting the axe.

According to Suzuki, the roughly 10% of dealerships that did not see their contract assumed by Suzuki Motor of America accounted for only 2.5% of the company’s retail sales in the past 12 months (2.8% of retails sales in the past three years), making Suzuki’s actions more of a culling of the herd than anything else.

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In its May issue, Consumer Reports dives into the topic of motorcycle reliability, and confirms what many of us already knew: bikes from BMW and Harley-Davidson were reported to be less reliable than those from the Japanese OEMs.

Interestingly enough however, BMW and Harley-Davidson owners were also far more likely to make a repeat-purchase with their chosen brand than were owners of Japanese motorcycles, sans those of Hondas, which scored just slightly lower than BMW and Harley-Davidson on customer retention.

Looking at customer complaints of “major” mechanical problems from the last four years, the report from over 4,000 motorcycle owners confirms the high-water mark set by the Japanese OEMs on motorcycle reliability, but also shows the power of good branding as it translates into brand loyalty and customer retention.

While Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha may be winning the minds of riders with their production prowess, they are losing the hearts of consumers, which is interesting since any salesman will tell you it is easier to keep a current customer, than to make a new one.

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Watch Jake Gagne Do a Pitstop at the Daytona 200

03/26/2013 @ 2:58 pm, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

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Both the premiere and premier event of the AMA Pro Road Racing season, the Daytona 200 is a unique beginning to the American road racing season as it coincides with the Daytona Bike Week, and features the 32° banked turns on the NASCAR oval course.

Morphing in recent years from Superbikes, to Formula Xtreme, and now to Daytona SportBikes, the machinery may have changed for the race teams, but the endurance-factor of the race remains the same for the riders.

A crucial component to winning a race like the Daytona 200 are the pit stops. The only race of the year that sees AMA riders enter pit lane for fresh tires and fuel, valuable seconds and place-positions can be won or lost here, and racing truly takes on a team aspect.

After the jump we see the RoadRace Factory team help rider Jake Gagné take a fourth place finish at the Daytona 200 with a very quick pit time. Looking tidy boys, looking tidy. Thanks for the tip Rory!

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Remember when the Ducati 1199 Panigale hit the shores of Japan, and the Bologna Bullet got an ugly mid-pipe and exhaust can welded into place, whiled the underslung exhaust cans welded shut? It was such an affront to the senses of some of our loyal Ducatisti readers, our comments section was flooded with the word “hoax” and the cry to burn it with fire.

Unlike Santa Claus, the Japanese-spec Ducati 1199 Panigale is very real Virginia, and it features other changes beyond its monstrous exhaust to help quiet the beast that resides within its fairings.

Ducati is not alone in the list of brands that have seen the gorgeous lines of their machines ruined by the strict noise and emission standards of Nippon. Committing yet another crime against motorcycling, we have for your viewing terror official photos of the Japanese edition of the MV Agusta F3 675 — yes, the exhaust can of doom makes a return appearance.

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