Valentino Rossi’s Special Yamaha XJR1300 Flat Tracker

It is good to be Valentino Rossi. Not only do you have nine world championships to your name, legions of yellow-crazy fans, but you also get pretty nice gifts from your friends. Take “Mya” for example – a special Yamaha XJR1300 custom flat tracker that the folks at VR|46 built for their fearless leader. Now, when you think about bikes that should be the basis for a custom project, the Yamaha XJR1300 doesn’t exactly come to mind. It probably doesn’t help that this decades-old model is only Euro3 compliant, and set to sunset at the end of this year. The XJ1300 certainly doesn’t strike us as the appropriate starting point for a flat track bike either, especially with its 530 lbs weight figure. That all being said, the VR|46 crew have done a pretty good job of spiffing up the old girl.

That Suzuki Katana 3.0 Concept Though…

One of the less-publicized motorcycles on display at this year’s EICMA show was this Suzuki Katana concept, which has since been making the rounds on social media. Rightfully so, we would say, as the “Katana 3.0” is a very intriguing idea into how Suzuki can revitalize one of its most iconic names. A creation by the folks at Motociclismo, with the help of designer Rodolfo Frascoli and Engines Engineering, the Katana 3.0 concept isn’t the “official” concept that many had hoped for from Suzuki. However, the fact that Suzuki hosted the concept inside its EICMA display is a sign that the Japanese manufacturer is certainly listening to the feeback the bike generates.

The KTM 790 Duke’s Killer Feature? Its Price Tag

The KTM 790 Duke launches a new platform for the Austrian brand, based around an 800cc parallel-twin engine. As such, we already know that we can expect the twin-cylinder platform to spawn an adventure version of the bike, with the KTM 790 Adventure R prototype debuting at EICMA as well. We can also expect other “790” models in the coming years, both from KTM and likely from Husqvarna as well. That is a good thing, because the KTM 790 Duke is a potent bike, rich with features. The real kicker though – if early indications about the pricing can be believed – is the KTM 790 Duke’s price tag, as KTM has been quoted as pricing the 790 Duke at below €10,000. This would put US pricing around the $11,000 mark, if not cheaper.

The Three Big Trends That We Saw at EICMA

The 2017 EICMA show has come and gone, and with it our glimpse at the new motorcycles that will arrive for the next model year, and beyond. EICMA week has always been my Super Bowl, as it culminates the year’s work, and also sets the tone for the upcoming riding season. Beyond just my limited world though, EICMA sets the trends and the expectations of the motorcycle industry. There is no trade show in our two-wheeled microcosm that has a larger influence than EICMA. So, while all the new models that we just saw are the week’s big headlines, it is really the trends and movements that will dictate the future of the motorcycle industry. For this round of the EICMA show, three major trends presented themselves in Milan, along with a few more notable occurrences.

ARCH Motorcycle’s Next Bike Won’t Be a Cruiser

ARCH Motorcycle is in Italy right now, and they just took the wraps off three bikes, one of which isn’t so much a cruiser, as it is a naked roadster model. Built using carbon fiber MonoCell chassis technology, a building technique usually reserved for ultra high-end sport cars and Formula 1 racing chassis, the ARCH Method143 features a potent 143ci (2,343) v-twin engine. Though, instead of the performance cruiser layout the company is better known for, the ARCH Method143 will have mid-body rearsets for the feet, and clip-on handlebars for the hands, making for a very sporty riding position. Backing up that notion is the use of Öhlins suspension, which includes a proprietary Öhlins FGRT series front fork with carbon fiber airfoil covers.

No One Seemed to Notice that the MV Agusta Dragster 800 RR Is New for the 2018 Model Year

We had to search high and low for information about the 2018 MV Agusta Dragster 800 RR – it doesn’t help that MV Agusta’s press site is offline right now – but it seems just about every news publication missed the fact that this attractive roadster got some serious changes for the 2018 model year. These unnoticed changes certainly are partially due to the fact that MV Agusta went without a press introduction at this year’s EICMA show, but it is also due to the company’s never-ending line of “bold new graphics” changes, one-off customs, and special livery designs, which only muddy the waters for when actual changes occur.

Kawasaki Ninja Z900RS Cafe Brings Modern to Retro

Kawasaki made an impression at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, debuting the new Z900RS standard. The premise was simple there: take the potent Kawasaki Z900 street bike, and dress it in retro clothing. The effect was something that looked incredibly like the Kawasaki Zephyr of old, but with modern brakes, suspension, traction control, and even a slipper-assist clutch. Now we see that Team Green plans on already expanding the line, debuting today the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja Z900RS Cafe. Basically the Z900RS with a bikini fairing, this modern café racer should be a perfect fit for those riders that want an older looking motorcycle that doesn’t run like an older looking motorcycle. Mostly a visual exercise, the basic stats of the Z900RS Cafe don’t stray too far from the donor bike from whence it came.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Debuts with Track Goodies

For the 2018 model year, Kawasaki continues to develop its superbike package. As such, the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE brings some special new features, to earn those extra letters after its name. The big addition is the new Showa electronic suspension, which is the only semi-active suspension system on motorcycles that includes built-in stroke sensors. These stroke sensors are able to measure the movement of the fork and shock internals, allowing Showa’s suspension to measure and change its damping settings on the fly, as you ride. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE also gets the forged aluminum wheels found on Kawasaki’s homologation-spec superbike, the Ninja ZX-10RR, which should help the Ninja ZX-10R SE feel more nimble on the race track, despite its 459 lbs wet weight.

So Many Photos of the New KTM 790 Duke to Drool Over

We are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the new KTM 790 Duke is the bike of this year’s EICMA show. Making a potent 105hp from its 799cc parallel-twin engine, packed into a 418 lbs (wet)steel trellis body, the 2018 KTM 790 Duke brings a host of features to the middleweight sport bike category. In typical KTM fashion, the 790 Duke left no angle behind in its high school honors geometry course, and the LED headlight builds upon the common design features that KTM has been putting together on its street-going machines. Not quite the vision that was the KTM 790 Duke prototype, the production model still evokes the same emotions, and is handsome in its own right – allaying our fears when seeing spy shots of the machine.

Mega Gallery: Husqvarna Vitpilen 701

We have had to wait two years to see it come into production, but the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 will finally be available to motorcyclists in March 2018. As an added bonus, the street-going machine stays true to its concept design, which wowed the crowd at last year’s EICMA show. This year in Milan, the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 is all the talk of EICMA, and while “Best in Show” at EICMA almost exclusively goes to an Italian marque, the real winners are surely coming from Austria, as both the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 and KTM 790 Duke look like winners. A duality from Mattighofen, KTM and Husqvarna approach motorcycles from two opposite spectrums. KTM lives in the extreme, with an edgy focus on its “Ready to Race” mentality. Conversely, Husqvarna is subtle and sophisticated…maybe even understated.

Sunday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: An Imperious Pedrosa

05/07/2017 @ 11:59 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Sunday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: An Imperious Pedrosa

Jerez, the Spanish round of MotoGP, and the first event back on European soil, would in the end come down to a trial of grip. The riders and teams who understood the circumstances best, exploited their strengths, and disguised their weaknesses would come out on top.

In all three races on Sunday, the cream rose to the top. Despite rising temperatures and falling grip levels, the smart riders and teams triumphed in all three classes.

Grip was already poor for Moto3, but the lighter bikes and their smaller tires are the least affected of the three classes. Things got a lot worse for Moto2, riders struggling for grip, and the race decided by one of the two men battling for victory crashed out a third of the way into the race.

The burning Andalusian sun raised track temperatures even higher for MotoGP, and that would prove decisive in the race. Those capable of handling the poor grip triumphed, those who had counted on their good form from the morning warm up transferring to the race came away bitterly disappointed.

In Moto3, KTM made a welcome return to the front, with the Austrian bikes back to challenge the hegemony of Honda in the smallest of the three classes. That race would be won in a brilliant last-corner move when the two riders battling for the lead opened the door for the bike in third.

In Moto2, a tense duel would be settled by a mistake, leaving the last man standing to deal with staying concentrated for the second half of the race. And in MotoGP, a thoroughly imperious display saw one rider conquer Jerez, leaving a bloodbath in his wake. Jerez saw three deserving winners emerge.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Fast Hondas, Deceptive Yamahas, Losing Winglets, & Orange Elation

05/07/2017 @ 11:09 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Saturday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Fast Hondas, Deceptive Yamahas, Losing Winglets, & Orange Elation

Coming into the weekend of Jerez, we knew several things to be absolute certainties. 1. Jerez is a Yamaha track. 2. Ducati always does terribly at Jerez. And 3.

The Hondas will struggle against the might of the Yamaha. After qualifying, a swift dose of reality has flushed those preconceptions out of our systems, showing them up for the fallacies that they are.

After qualifying at Jerez, we have an all Honda front row. Two Yamahas start from the second row, but their performance during both qualifying and free practice was far from convincing.

The first Ducati sits on the third row, but during practice, Jorge Lorenzo made the Desmosedici GP17 fly, finishing second in FP3 and fourth in FP4.

Where did this shake up come from? The issue is mainly one of grip. After the rain on Friday, there is very little rubber on the track, and the warmer track temperatures have made Jerez its normal, greasy self.

The Yamahas perform well when grip is high, whether that be in warmer or cooler temperatures. Extra grip merely helps the RC213V want to wheelie, something for which it needs little encouragement anyway.

Robbed of its winglets, the Ducati needs extra rear grip to get good drive out of corners, and exploit its strongest point.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Quick Hondas, Back Brake Bonanza, And Off-Track Rumors

05/06/2017 @ 12:43 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Friday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Quick Hondas, Back Brake Bonanza, And Off-Track Rumors

There was plenty to talk about after the first day of practice in Jerez, though none of the real talking points came from the action on the track. Rain in the morning proved that the track has great grip in the wet.

On the other hand, a drying track in the afternoon proved that you don’t really learn anything at all in sketchy conditions. Some riders pushed with a soft tire, some didn’t. Some riders took risks to set a time, some didn’t.

The session was pretty meaningless, most riders agreed. Nobody had fun out there, with the possible exception of Pol Espargaro on the KTM. But more of that later.

Off track we learned a lot more. It looks like next year, LCR Honda will expand to a two-bike team, with Takaaki Nakagami moving up to ride alongside Cal Crutchlow, with backing from Moto2 sponsor Idemitsu.

Rumors persist that the Sky VR46 team is to move up to MotoGP with two Yamahas, though Valentino Rossi denies it. The contract to supply Moto2 engines has been signed, though a few details remain to be wrapped up, meaning the actual engine manufacturer will not be announced until Le Mans.

And all of these have various knock-on effects, which will effect the entire series in one way or another.

First, to the on-track action. For a circuit which is not supposed to suit the Honda, there sure were an awful lot of RC213Vs crowding the top of the time sheets, both in the wet and in the dry.

The reason the Honda is good in the wet is simple, according to Marc Márquez: a wet track takes Honda’s biggest weakness out of the equation, leaving its strongest points intact.

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Thursday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Aprilia’s New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, & KTM’s Big Bang

05/04/2017 @ 7:46 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Thursday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Aprilia’s New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, & KTM’s Big Bang

A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus.

This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the “real” start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds.

At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.

The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages.

“Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain,” Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.

Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. “We have many days of tests,” the Spaniard told us. “Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn’t sleep, I was super tired.”

Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. “I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona… We have many tests.”

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MotoGP Preview of the Spanish GP

05/03/2017 @ 10:41 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers.

MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.

That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location.

Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.

Think of it like Texas hold ’em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together.

Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.

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MotoGP Preview of the Americas GP

04/20/2017 @ 2:13 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

The most remarkable statistic about the Grand Prix of The Americas is surely this: Since his ascent to the MotoGP class, Marc Márquez has won every single race he has competed in, at a circuit in the United States of America.

He won both US races during his two years in Moto2 as well. In fact, you have to go back to 2010, and Márquez’s final year in 125s to find the reigning world champion’s last defeat on US soil. America agrees with Marc Márquez, though that does not automatically include all Americans as well.

So after a decidedly mediocre start to his defense of the 2016 MotoGP title, the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas is the right place to get his season back on track. He comes to COTA knowing he can win, and knowing he can win on an uncompetitive machine.

That knowledge alone will be worth a tenth or two in Austin, perhaps enough to give him the edge over the all-conquering hero of the hour Maverick Viñales.

Why does COTA suit Márquez so well? It is really hard to say. Perhaps because it offers so many opportunities to make up time on the brakes. First, there’s the uphill monster of Turn 1, perhaps the weirdest first corner of the season (fittingly keeping Austin weird).

Then there’s Turn 11, the hard, sharp hairpin before the long back straight, at the end of which there is Turn 12, another spot requiring hard braking. And at the end of the lap, the two final corners, Turn 19 and Turn 20, which are shorter, but just as fierce.

Perhaps it’s not so much the braking, but more the strange section of combination corners stretching between Turn 2 and Turn 10. They are the kind of corners that reward the ability to turn on a dime, and the all-front-end, all-the-time Honda deals well with those.

Or perhaps the corners through the Stadium Section, and around the Grand Plaza.

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Weird is still the new normal in MotoGP, though after Qatar, we appear to be entering the second half of the acid trip, the part where the hallucinations stop being overwhelming and start to take on a strange kind of internal logic once you learn to embrace the weirdness.

You can sort of understand why motorcycling’s premier class is throwing up the kind of bizarre surprises that it does, and the truths you held to be self-evident still have some roots in reality, though they are much, much shallower than before.

The Termas De Rio Hondo track remains one of the jewels in the crown of motorcycle racing, albeit one which could use a bit of a polish. The track is little used, which often leaves it dirty, while also becoming rather bumpy.

Yet the layout is still glorious, and perfectly suited to the cut-and-thrust of two-wheeled racing, each overtaking point lovingly crafted to allow the chance to counter if passed.

Layouts like that help create great racing, which is what we got in part. But the blemishes threw up anomalies, causing riders to crash out and the racing to falter.

There was still a spectacle to admire, in all three races. The day started well, with Moto3, though a break in the field cut the battle for the lead down to a group of five, with a deserving winner at the end.

The Moto2 race threatened to turn into a snoozer, but the field tightened as the laps ticked off, creating last-lap drama that rendered the race memorable. And the final act was worth the wait, packed with drama and surprise.

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MotoGP’s weird and wonderful Argentina trip continues to confuse, with qualifying turning out as topsy turvy as ever. Or perhaps not quite as topsy turvy as yesterday: though the front of the MotoGP grid still contains more than a couple of surprise names (more on that later), there are the first signs that some semblance of normality is starting to creep back. 

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be 2009 again any time soon, when the grid basically predicted the finishing order, bar accidents, but bookies everywhere are worrying less about the chance of a rank outsider staging an upset. On Friday, all bets were off. On Saturday, they were hedging their bets again.

Oddly enough, part of that was down to the weather. It was a peculiar day in terms of weather, the morning starting cool and dry, but rain starting to fall at the end of MotoGP FP3. 

It dried out again after that, allowing Moto3 to start their qualifying session on a dry track, before the rain returned with a few minutes to go. MotoGP FP4 took place on a wet track, but the rain lifted and the track started to dry during qualifying. Q1 was wetter than Q2, and tire choice became crucial. Vacillating between the soft and the hard tires cost more than one rider passage through to Q2.

By the time Moto2 took to the track, a dry line was starting to form. Andrea Iannone had gambled on going out on slicks during Q2 but came straight back into the pits when it turned out to be impossible. 

The Moto2 riders went out on wet tires at first, but were quickly able to switch to slicks. With the track improving with every lap the riders put in, pole position was changing hands just about every time a rider crossed the line. In the last 22 minutes of qualifying, the pole time was slashed by eight and a half seconds.

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Scanning through reactions on social media and forums during the first day of practice in Argentina, and there is one phrase that seems to be popping up everywhere. “What is going on?” cry fans everywhere.

Or a variation of that phrase, with an Anglo Saxon word or two thrown in for good measure, along with capital letters and a handful of exclamation marks.

Why the fans’ confusion? A quick glance at the results answers that question. That Maverick Viñales should be at the top of the timesheets is hardly a surprise, in fact it feels like it is on the verge of becoming an iron law.

Nor is Marc Márquez in second anything which would normally raise an eyebrow. But Karel Abraham in third? Sure, the Ducatis are quick, and the Czech rider got a tow behind his Pull&Bear teammate Alvaro Bautista, who has proven to be quick throughout testing.

Look further, and you see Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger. The next factory rider is Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia in ninth, followed by Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone in tenth.

Of the twelve factory riders in MotoGP, only six of them are in the top fifteen. Dani Pedrosa (29 MotoGP victories) is in thirteenth. Valentino Rossi (7 MotoGP titles, 88 MotoGP wins)? Sixteenth. Jorge Lorenzo (3 titles, 44 wins)? Eighteenth. The world has gone mad.

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MotoGP Preview of the Argentina GP

04/07/2017 @ 12:17 pm, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

After the first MotoGP race held at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit had finished, Jarno Zafelli, the brilliant track designer behind the transformation from humdrum car track to fast, flowing, challenging circuit layout, was both deeply satisfied and mildly disappointed.

Satisfied, because the riders had to a man raved about the layout of the new track. Disappointed, because the average speed around the track had maxed out at 177.1 km/h, just a few kilometers per hour short of Phillip Island, at that point in time the fastest circuit on the calendar.

But it was only a minor let down: having so many riders enthusiastic about what he had done to the track was a far greater triumph.

Since then, both Termas and Phillip Island have been surpassed in terms of average speed by the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, round which Andrea Iannone was clocked at 186.9 km/h.

But Spielberg is a collection of long straights joined together by a few tight corners. It may be fast, but it is anything but flowing. It cannot hold a candle to either Argentina or Australia.

It’s not just the corners that slow riders down in Argentina, however. There is also the track surface. Not so much with asphalt – not much wrong with that – but rather the lack of use the circuit gets. For some unfathomable reason, the circuit owners don’t like the track to be used much.

The last event at the circuit was three weeks ago, when a track day was held for bikes. There are a dozen or so other events at the circuit through the year. Assen, by contrast, sees the track being used for 200 days of the year, and activity at circuits in Spain and Italy is even higher.

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