The Eleven of 2011 – A Year in Review

01/02/2012 @ 5:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler18 COMMENTS

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 Tōhoku Earthquake & Its Aftermath

Perhaps one of the most defining events globally in 2011, the Japanese Tōhoku 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 Tōhoku 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:

  • Stoner and Rossi walked into two differently-maturing situations: Stoner walked in to HRC right when they were hitting redline to NOT get beat by Yamaha again. Add his talent to that, and the results are not surprising (and it’s delicious that Pedrosa suddenly had NOTHING to complain about his RCV . . . ). And Rossi and Burgess and Co. could not pull a rabbit out of the hat, nor could Valentino grab his GP11, 11 1/2, 11 7/8, 12, whatever, by the neck like . . . . . Stoner. You can’t make stuff like this up !

    But for me, it was utterly shameful about these guys threatening to boycott the Japanese round. Not months later, when the situation had settled out, and after any number of studies confirmed that it was safe.

    How could these guys look their Japanese bosses and crews in the face (who surely had family and friends in danger at some point, if not worse, and whose commercial side took millions of dollars in trashed factories, missing employees, and lost production), take their considerable piles of cash, and then act like spoiled little boys? I often say that the old racers were Real Men, and so often this generation proves me right.

  • Just to bad Marco is gone forever we’ll never really know how good he would have been!! :/ Rest in Peace Sic!! Always a pleasure on and off the racetrack…..

  • Lanny

    Joey Wilson, you said it very well.

  • SBPilot

    @ Joey Wilson, I think the precautions the riders were taking towards Japan were right. It has nothing to do with “back then the racers were real men” Racing has nothing to do with going to a disaster stricken zone. And it’s smart on their part not to just trust every bit of “reports” that get fed to them, obviously any Jap report will say it’s ok, they infamously have extremely covered up fake media for their country’s beneficial gains, they will put their country’s “face” first before their own peoples livelihoods, let alone a rider or two. People keep thinking Japan as a country has done so much for the motorcycle world and that everyone who rides or races motorcycles owes so much to that country, including MotoGP riders, when really it’s down to a few companies and a few men which made great bikes, which doesn’t translate into representing their government. If MotoGP wasn’t so Jap bike biased it wouldn’t look this way. Maybe if the grid was full of Aprilia, BMW, MV, Ducati, KTMs, maybe going to Japan wouldn’t even be a big deal, they simply wouldn’t have went because there are more euro big bosses around. Riders in MotoGP do what they do for a living, they dont’ care where the damn bike was built, it’s a PR thing for them to carry the flag on their leathers and act like they gave a real damn about Japan, one day they don’t want to go and the next day they are all sympathetic?

    In the end they raced in Japan, full stop.

    I agree with the Stoner/Rossi bit.

  • Archer

    “any Jap report will say it’s ok”
    “If MotoGP wasn’t so Jap bike biased ”

    SBPilot, leave your hateful baggage home please. To some of us what you wrote is the equivalent to the N-word. (and no I am not Japanese).

  • 76

    The whole japan saga really isnt a reflection of human sympathy or lack there of, it is a reaction to a country and culture that will never tell you the truth if its a bad one.

    I mean come on, to this day they refer to it as a partial meltdown (which is impossible btw). Remember the the first thing the Japanese PM said in his first press conference, all nuclear facilities are online and secure. So before you guys start beating the war drum, calling these riders out, I for one understand because when its ok for the entire government/corporation to put the public in harms way just to “save face” I would question everything coming my way in regards to it. Remember in that first week the government/corporation was much more concerned with the costs & covering their ass before they even knew what they were dealing with, this in the wake of a natural and human disaster of this scale involving the public? You want to place blame, the entire corporate & political culture of the country is where you might want to start

  • SBPilot

    @Archer, you must have never read any UK based auto/bike magazines, and you better not or you and your “some of us” might start a riot, it’s used all the time and it falls no where near the N word.

  • 76

    “To some of us what you wrote is the equivalent to the N-word.”

    Kidding right? You do realize the difference between an abbreviation/slang and a racial slur? Here’s a hint, the racial slur tends to be a entirely different word. SBPiolt I think your safe as long as your not running for president, cause if you were this would be a weeks worth of pointless drivel.

  • Just so we can move on topically:

  • 76

    I stand corrected, I missed the day that it evolved into an “Ethnic Slur” from a simple abbreviation.

  • I would not even think that the money spent by Honda and Yamaha certainly don’t make them more equal among equals: It would be naive to assume otherwise. On the other hand, the FIM-financed study was funded by the Euro-based sanctioning body, who over the years has certainly had no hesitation to be as obtusely obstinate to the Japanese manufacturers, or anyone else who that ruffled their feathers. And why would Honda risk its considerable reputation and financial future by packing thousands of fans, the race series, and the attending press into a track complex that was not yet safe?

    To also think that all of the monster-money insurers who insure the series, the venue, and all the personnel involved would have turned a blind eye in the face of certain, quantifiable over the line risk to their policy holders to let this race proceed is just wrong. Indemnity lawyers would have been 12-deep at the airports, waving stacks of releases if they felt this was a situation that posed real risk to their already-risky clients.

    Personally, I get really tired of this ‘ . . . . they’re really not telling us everything’ conspiracy-theory-behind-everything mindset. Gee, I wonder if there were chemtrails over the racetrack that day . . . . . .

    And sure, these guys are hired guns, professional racers who are loyal to their paycheck, with no warm & fuzzies about tradition or history of their employers. I get that. But it still strikes me as WAY disingenuous to roll around with ‘We’re With You Japan’ stickers on their leathers and their bikes, work with crews and executives who have family and friends in danger or worse, take paychecks the size of a king’s ransom from these same people, and say they’re not going to Japan because of ‘the danger’. I think it’s wrong to threaten that when you may be working with people who’ve lost loved ones, a home , a friend.

    An old Western had John Wayne telling a client he wasn’t going to work for, “Yeah, I get paid to risk my neck, but I say where and when”. Ultimately, it’s the same with the Stoners and Rossis and Lorenzos. They are in considerable danger on a GOOD day. I get it. But I don’t have to like it.

    And also, God Rest Marco, and help Colin and Valentino.

  • mark

    Personally I think a bigger story than many of these is the sales success in this down economy of many of the European brands, while the Japanese brands are floundering badly. It goes back to the excellent “Chrysanthemum & Sword” article posted on this site recently, and points to a possible reversal of the ’70s situation in which the Japanese motorcycle industry almost completely destroyed the European one. Suddenly we’re in the position of the Europeans building bikes that excite people enough to get them to buy despite the current financial conditions; it’s really pretty remarkable, and frankly seems to me to be more important than about half of the stories listed here.

  • Steven

    I don’t know which one I’d replace it with, but I think the announcements made by Carmelo Ezpeleta regarding CRT bikes, and how he’ll stop subsidizing any team that leases factory bikes, were very important in MotoGP. I doubt 2011 will be kind to CRTs, but I think (read:hope) by 2013 they might come into their own. They’re not what everyone wants, but it seems they might be what is needed.

  • SBPilot

    I understand your stand point Joey and well written. Fact of the matter is the riders simply don’t care if the families of their bosses boss or data acquisition guy’s sister or tire guy’s grandmother is in danger, or the bike they are riding-manufacture of origin. I don’t think that stuff really crosses their mind and I personally think that’s fine. They are not heartless because they don’t.

    The media twists the words of riders to create drama as well. They use strong words like “boycott” and “ban” and “refuse to go” etc. When really most of the riders were waiting on perhaps their own research to decide, or perhaps maybe they had to consult with their own families what to do, they are adults, they are inclined to make their own independent decisions.

    It is true riders have King like salaries, I actually didn’t know how much Stoner made until recently and was shocked, but their pay cheque amount doesn’t dictate how obedient they must be to their payee.

    To get tired of the “conspiracy” can be a bit of a double edges sword. I think there really isn’t enough knowledge of Japan in the west except for JDM this and drifting that, Anime this and PS3 that, people love it and glorify what’s over there..It really isn’t that great there, how many PM’s in the last 6 or so years? That’s not normal. In a government run like that, corruption, conspiracy and fact is more of the same thing. You’d be naive not to question reports/news that comes out of there.

    Would riders give up a championship hope or top 10/5 or a fat year end bonus to miss a round of racing? They are so married to the pay cheque, missing a round may take a big chunk of it off. Would they risk that or think about that? Clearly they did contemplate those things because they genuinely wanted to see the situation clearer on their own end. The media made it seem like they were taking forever to make up their minds. Again, not have to do with how brave they are.

    @76, heh, unless Wiki is the be all end all of a debate, if that day comes well god help us. Even so, according to Wiki it’s only apparently offensive in the USA and what is right or wrong in the USA does not prevail in the world.

    @Mark totally agree, it should replace at the very least the Kawasaki news. The Euro-brand bike sales is a total phenomenon in this economy.

    @Steven, also agree, the CRT rule is a huge shift in MotoGP, should definitely be in that list. Probably in place of number 1.

  • Butch

    So is “Euro” an ethnic slur too? PC run amok when abbreviations can’t be used.

  • john

    is it floundered or foundered?

  • @Joey Wilson: It’s a pretty significant overstatement to say that all sorts of studies have proven Japan to be safe in the post-earthquake/tsunami era. I live in Japan and it’s my heartfelt belief (born out of no small amount of my own independent study) that TEPCO and the Japanese government lied for months and months about the state of affairs here. Moreover, they continue to do so. Safety is relative to a wide variety of variables, and Motegi was, I think, a pretty risky proposition.

    I’m glad they held the event, just as I was glad to see the F1 crew come over. It meant a lot to those of us here, as it symbolized at least a marginal return to normalcy. That said, we’re not out of the woods yet. Fukushima has got some significant trouble with the #1 reactor having eaten through no less than 2.0 of the 2.6-metre cement containment structure. The designer of the #3 reactor went on record as stating that a full breach was a matter of when, not if, and that the result of the fuel load hitting the water table would be massive hydrovolcanic eruptions. So, yeah, we’re not exactly out of the woods yet. I’m likely to move my family to Canada. Mid-December had ARCO measuring significant cesium levels in vacuum cleaner bags just 30 km east of Tokyo in Chiba prefecture. *sigh*

    Anyway, that was long-winded. Bottom line is I respect the MotoGP riders’ decision processes regarding the race here. It was not a simple matter to just come here. I’m glad that they did and that they didn’t come to any harm while they were here.

    Cheers from Tokyo. :)

  • Ian Miles


    Stacey Coner brought Ducati to the carbon frame from the steel trellis he criticised (not consistent 07 and too much flex 08). His results on the carbon frame introduced in 09 were 4th and 4th not 1st and 2nd. He then left, would not admit his mistake, cannot explain why the GP11 is not competitive and took the easiest option possible to go to the traditional absolute favourite on the grid, Honda. The only ones with the money to continue to develop the 800 whilst developing the 1000. Easy and obvious result. That I think is why there is lingering distain for Stacey. Every round in 2011 Honda had 3 in the top 5. Rossi started injured and Burgess missed three rounds. Simoncelli killed (v sad), no race, Lorenzo loses a finger three races before the end, out of contention. However Rossi and Burgess comments were disingenuous and sarcastic.
    Great to see Buell still going. Hope they continue. About the only innovative engined product from the US at the moment.