The Eleven of 2011 – A Year in Review

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Well, 2011 as a year is finally over, and for the motorcycling community it was quite a year. As we begin 2012, we here at Asphalt & Rubber are of course not immune to the desire to summarize and highlight the passing of 2011. So we accordingly assembled 11 of the most important events that shaped motorcycling this past year and changed the way the sport, the industry, and the community will grow in the years to come.

Picking only eleven moments in a single year is no easy feat, though some of the events in our selection are obvious choices because of their magnitude. However, some of the less obvious picks (and we are sure there will be suggestions for alternatives in the comments), stem from the theory that 2011 saw moments whose importance has yet to be fully appreciated at this point in time. Enjoy and a Happy New Year to our loyal A&R readers.

1. The Japanese T?hoku Earthquake & Its Aftermath

Perhaps one of the most defining events globally in 2011, the Japanese T?hoku earthquake, its ensuing tsunami, and the nuclear disaster it created at the Fukushima nuclear power plants devastated Japan, and had rippling effects on the motorcycle industry worldwide. An island in geography only, support for Japan was spurred at every level of the industry, as the lives of countless motorcycle industry employees were forever changed, production lines were temporarily suspended causing delays on parts and a loss ons ales, and infrastructure vital to motorcycling was damaged or destroyed.

Coming at time when the Japanese motorcycle industry was already struggling with the global recession, the T?hoku earthquake and its aftermath dealt a crushing blow to the OEMs and their supporting contractors. Perhaps during a period when Japan needed something positive to focus on, the riders of MotoGP staged a near-mutiny over racing at the Motegi Twin Ring Circuit.

Armed with concerns over the fitness of the track to host GP racing, the logistics on bringing the traveling circus that is MotoGP to Japan, and the fear of radiation exposure and poisoning, no stone was left unturned as riders, teams, and paddock members offered various reasons for their planned attendance or absence at the Japanese GP. One-by-one however, the voice of theGP riders’ solidarity succumbed to external pressure, and each rider recanted his support for the round’s boycott, with ringleaders Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner the last to capitulate to the will of the Japanese OEMs.

Further Reading:

2. SuperSic – Controversy and Death

The story of Marco Simoncelli in 2011 has to be told in two parts. The first portion revolves around the controversy of his aggressive riding style, which Simoncelli displayed throughout his career, thouhg more dramatically during the 2011 MotoGP season. The second portion of the story of course is about the loved Italian rider’s untimely death.

Showing his talent on the “other” factory Honda RC212V, the question regarding Simoncelli’s winning a race was properly framed with a “when” not an “if” regardless of where a journalist resided. Consistently pushing the front-runners at each GP, SuperSic earned his nickname with his moments of brilliance on the track.

However with three races left in the season, the talk of SuperSic’s riding style and potential future came to a crashing halt. A memory etched with the image of his helmet flying loose, the MotoGP community was shocked when Marco died in the first laps at Sepang, after colliding with Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. With the small condolence that he died virtually instantly, the news of the fatality caused the cancellation of the Malaysian GP, the penultimate round of the season.

A healing process that hasn’t fully concluded, the loss of Marco Simoncelli has lingered in the air well past the MotoGP season’s conclusion in Valencia, where the loved Italian rider was given a minute of noise to mark his passing. Friends, family, and critics have since chimed in their final thoughts about the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider, with some of the most poignant words coming from on-track rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso.

Further Reading:

3. Rossi & Ducati: A Match Not Made in Heaven

If we had to make the yearly re-cap for 2010, the top moment of the year surely would have been the signing of Valention Rossi to the Ducati Corse MotoGP team. As such, it is no big surprise to see The Doctor make our list for 2011 as well. Rossi has been called the Greatest of all Time (G.O.A.T.), while Ducati remains the ever iconic Italian motorcycle company. The pairing of these two brands was a joygasm for many Rossi and Ducati fans throughout the world, and surely was a wet dream come true for Dorna, the MotoGP media rights holder.

However as we saw over the course of the 2011 MotoGP Championship, the dream team of Rossi and Ducati failed to produce anything remotely worthy of all the hype. With the only headlines about Rossi centering around his weekend failures, this meant a new spotlight could be cast on the rising stars of MotoGP — an interesting perspective on what the landscape of MotoGP will look like in a post-Rossi era.

And from the lack of results, questions swirled throughout the season that maybe Rossi was past his prime, or maybe that the Ducati Desmosedici was more of a basket case than was previously thought. Whatever the reasoning, MotoGP fans watched as the factory Ducati MotoGP spun its wheels in the mud looking for solutions. Constantly looking for the magic bullet to the GP11’s woes, Ducati Corse went through several iterations of the Desmosedici’s chassis without seemingly making any ground on the bike’s problems.

While it was perhaps unfair to think that Rossi and Burgess would instantly solve the problems with the Ducati machine (though Burgess himself boasted of being able to sort the Desmosedici out in 20 minutes), there was a perception that this group of individuals were the most adept team in the MotoGP. That theory will be put to further test in 2012, as the upcoming season will highlight the input and work Rossi et al have put into developing and testing the Ducati Desmosedici GP12 – the machine Rossi built, as opposed to the GP11, the machine that Rossi was stuck with riding.

Further Reading:

4. 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Launch:

Teased and talked about all year long, Ducati finally dropped the sheet on the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale at the Milan show this year. Touting a number of production motorcycle firsts, the biggest feature of Ducati’s new flagship machine is its MotoGP-inspired “frameless” chassis. A monocoque design that is built off the 195hp Superquadro v-twin motor, the architecture is poised to revolutionize the way production superbikes are designed. There’s one caveat though, Ducati hasn’t quite gotten the carbon fiber version of the chassis to work for Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden in MotoGP.

Expected to be a big seller in 2012, the talk of the hour remains centered around whether the Ducati 1199 Paniagle will perform once its in the hands of the public. Has the Bologna Brand covered a pig in lipstick, or have the Italians built a truly revolutionary machine? Only time will tell, and judging from the fanfare the Panigale built this year, many, many people are eager to find out.

Further Reading:

5. Polaris Goes on a Buying Spree with Indian, GEM, & Brammo:

If I had to give a sole gold star to a single company this year, it would have to be Polaris. The American company went on a huge spending spree this year, buying the famous Indian brand, GEM, among others. Polaris also made a rumored $10 million investment into Brammo, which undoubtedly will help the Ashland company in its bid to bring its model line-up into fruition, in exchange for access to Polaris’ vast arrary of resources.

Perhaps more important than the money being spent, is the clear plan that Polaris has shown with its acquisitions. Quickly becoming a house of brands, the purchases by Polaris dovetail into each other well, and better yet, the company is resisting external pressure to be sentimental about its dollars. In an industry where amateurs masquerade around as professionals, Polaris is playing a very smart chess game with the pieces it has on the board. It’s not clear if 2012 will show more acquisitions by the Minnesota company, but the new year will bring some interesting developments from the deals made throughout 2011, that much is certain.

Further Reading:

6. Mission Motors and Steve Rapp Set Supersport Times on the Mission R Electric Superbike:

After a long hiatus from its 2009 Isle of Man TT debut, Mission Motors returned to electric motorcycle racing again this year, showing up for the e-Power/TTXGP race at Laguna Seca. Already gaining recognition for the gorgeous Mission R electric superbike, Mission made more waves, as Steve Rapp took the Mission R around Laguna Seca at an AMA Supersport pace. Dominating a field marked with the best electric race bikes from around the world, Rapp and Mission won with a convincing victory at the American track, and showed that performance parity between gas and electric motorcycles had been achieved.

Just as important as parity with ICE bikes, what makes this event truly pivotal is that it convinced a very skeptical American and International racing paddock of the viability of electric motorcycles. With Team Aspar and Hector Barbera diligently watching the e-Power/TTXGP qualifying sessions from the pit lane wall, and Tech 3’s Guy Coulon inspecting the three podium finishers after the race in park fermé, you can imagine there were some interesting conversations that night at the dinner tables of various MotoGP teams.

Further Reading:

7. Erik Buell Racing Debuts the EBR 1190RS Street Bike:

There is too much to be said about Erik Buell and his rag-tag crew of misfits. Starting Erik Buell Racing, the small crew in East Troy finally debuted its first production street motorcycle: the Erik Buell Racing 1190RS. A race bike with lights, the EBR 1190RS boasts some impressive perfomrance figures, and keeps the American superbike dream alive for the Buellistas in the industry.

Coming with a $40,000 price tag, the EBR 1190RS is more than a bit pricier then its Buell predecessors. With Erik Buell Racing founded during the worst economy since WWII, the EBR 1190RS is tangible proof of Erik Buell & Co’s determination to continue building motorcycles. Despite that sheer will to continue, the company has a tough road ahead of it still, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see it end in failure. However, if it does fail, it won’t be due to a lack of trying – now that is a tag line worthy for an American motorcycle.

Further Reading:

8. Husqvarna Undergoes Street Bike Shift:

The BMW Group has a serious problem when it comes to Husqvarna, as the Italian-based & Swedish-born brand continues to flounder with its dirt-centered lineup. Taking a no-holds-barred approach to addressing the problem, zie Germans have decided that one component to Husky’s resurrection resides in having the brand build both dirt and street machines. Debuting the Husqvarna Nuda 900, Husqvarna Strada concept, and Husqvarna Moab concept in 2011, Husqvarna, for better or worse, is entering the on-road segment with a bevy of models. Leaving no stone unturned, Husky has even teased an electric motorcycle, the horrible named Husqvarna E-go.

We can’t disagree too much with BMW’s choice to push the Husqvarna name further into the on-road segments, however the execution of that plan leaves us wanting for more from the Bavarian group. While the Nuda and Strada feel like something completely out of frame for the Husqvarna name, the Moab concept resonates better with my senses. In a relationship that is starting to feel as overbearing as the one between Harley-Davidson and Buell, BMW seems to be meddling too much with Husqvarna lately. Does the public want an edgier BMW, or an entirely different brand all-together? Does BMW even know the answer to that question? Does Husqvarna?

We will continue to ride those thoughts out through 2012, and it should be an interesting journey. Win, lose, or draw, this year has been a massive change in direction for Husqvarna, one of the more storied brands in the motorcycle industry.

Further Reading:

9. Honda’s Domination in MotoGP, Courtesy of Casey Stoner:

It’s hard to talk about MotoGP in 2011 without at least devoting some of the discussion to talk about Honda and Casey Stoner. Dominating the field, Honda put four factory bikes and two satellite machines on the grid each weekend, representing one third of the field. Winning 14 of the 17 races, the Honda RC212V was an uncompromising machine that rarely had an equal come race day. A big part of that domination is owed to the engineering produced by HRC, an advantage which occupied headlines heavily in the early portion of the season, especially when it concerned Honda’s new seamless transmission.

One cannot talk only about Honda’s machinery, though the Japanese company has built a reputation of valuing the bike over the rider in the past. Out of Honda’s 14 victories, 10 are owed to one very special Casey Stoner. Underrated while at Ducati, Stoner’s talent can no longer be denied after the virtuoso performance he put forth during the 2011 season. No only winning, but running away with many a race victory, Stoner was a new man this season. Noticeably happier around the paddock, everything gelled this year for the young Australian as he rode to his second World Championship, clinching the MotoGP title at his home track of Phillip Island and on his birthday no less.

Further Reading:

10. KTM Freeride E Debuts – OEMs Enter the Electric Motorcycle Market Segment on the Defensive:

Marking the entry of OEMs into the electric dirt bike scene, the release of the KTM Freeride E at EICMA this year shows a maturing of the electric motorcycle segment in the industry. With off-the-shelf parts and a limited battery pack, the KTM Freeride E certainly does not stand as the grand entry we expected from institutional players into this genre, though it does show that the motorcycle industry’s established players are taking a long hard look at electric motorcycles.

Being initially released in limited quantities and in test markets, one could rightfully wonder what is so important about the release of the KTM Freeride E this year. Perhaps more important than the machine itself, was KTM’s reason for building it. Already a leader in the off-road segment, KTM could not afford to let another company lead in this budding industry trend. OEMs don’t have to sign on to the viability for electric motorcycles, but they cannot afford to leave this market unchecked, and the KTM Freeride E is the proof of that mantra. Expect to see other OEMs to follow suit.

Further Reading:

11. Kawasaki ZX-10R Gets Neutered by EPA Noise Restrictions:

With astounding spec sheet figures, the 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R was supposed to be the superbike of 2011 in the United States. However, all that changed when it was reported that the new liter-class Ninja would come to US soil de-tuned in order to meet EPA noise requirements. Losing 750 rpm on the maximum rev limit, and an alleged resulting 20hp off its peak horsepower figure, Team Green’s newest superbike got off to more than a rocky start.

An issue that spreads beyond just the 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R, American sport bike enthusiasts can expect to see more bikes come to the United States with significantly re-tuned motors. With the EPA cracking down on noise and exhaust emissions standards, manufacturers will have to come up with new ways to make powerful machines for enthusiasts, or as one insider hinted at to me: simply fail to comply at all. While the issue was muted over the course of 2011, expect to see increasing talk of EPA regulations come into the fold over the next three to five years.

Further Reading: