There were high fives heard all over Milwaukee last week. Reading the headlines and stories that came from Harley-Davidson’s Mega Monday announcement, one could only conclude that the American icon was back. They did it. They were showing signs of life again. Boomshackalacka. No one saw an adventure-touring bike with knobby tires coming from the Bar & Shield brand, and the idea of a sport bike from Harley-Davidson seemed inconceivable just over a week ago as well. Milwaukee even impressed with its more “core” offerings, with the Harley-Davidson Custom being perhaps the first cruiser we would want sitting in our garage. It looks gorgeous, and is just sporty and modern enough to be “a real motorcycle” in our eyes…we think.
Amongst the top riders at the Isle of Man TT, victory or defeat can come in pit lane, as crucial time is either won or lost in front of the TT Grandstand on Glencrutchery Road.
But, a pit stop at the Isle of Man TT is not a straight-forward affair, and as such the top teams have choreographed a precise dance in order to extract the maximum performance under tight circumstances.
For TT riders, the biggest rate-limiter during a pit stop is fuel, and a good pit stop will see teams waiting for their fuel tanks to fill, rather than losing time on changing a rear tire, attending to the rider, or some other mechanical issue.
In the video attached to this post, we see Peter Hickman come into the pits, on his way to winning this year’s Senior TT – setting a course record of 135.452 mph along the way as well. It is an interesting insight into this often over-looked aspect of TT road racing.
Here is a common joke that you will often hear: “How do you make a small fortune in the motorcycle industry? Start with a large one.” Well, the next time you hear the lead-up, here is a new punchline for you: “Sell a limited edition model.” Motorcycle manufacturers have been onto this gag for a while now, offering limited edition, numbered for collectors, pure unobtanium motorcycle models to the well-heeled masses. There may not be that many people that can afford a motorcycle that costs as much as a modest house, but there enough of these people in the world that selling a couple hundred expensive superbikes a year is a pretty trivial feat – it helps too that many of these enthusiasts are return-customers too.
Within the motorcycle industry, Asphalt & Rubber has earned itself a reputation for breaking stories from our so-called “Bothan spies”, as insiders often tip us off to intriguing stories and happenings in the two-wheeled realm. Just a few weeks ago, we got one of those interesting tips, one that said that Dainese was being put up for sale. So, we called the bossman himself, Dainese CEO Cristiano Silei (an announcement too that A&R was able to break because of our Bothan spies), to see what the story was all about, and indeed if the rumors were true. The call resulted in a terse answer, and perhaps an expected response, but Silei also provided an interesting explanation of Dainese’s current investment position, and what results the company has seen since its purchase three years ago.
Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not. How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.
Strangely enough, we have talked about trade wars several times before, here on Asphalt & Rubber, as the Trump administration has been keen to use this tool in its toolbox, often with effects that reach into the motorcycle industry. The first time around, we talked about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) affected the motorcycle industry, namely Harley-Davidson, and how the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement would likely be a negative effect for US motorcyclists. We have also had to talk about how fighting over beef imports could lead to possible tariffs on small-displacement European motorcycles in the United States, a tariff that would seriously hurt Piaggio/Vespa scooter sales and KTM dirt bike sales.
Normally, when comparing times from a test, it makes the most sense to stick to a single year. But sometimes, there are good reasons to look back at past years, in search of a larger and more universal pattern.
Comparing the best laps of riders who were in the championship last year and this year proves to be a highly instructive exercise.
Doing that, there is one thing that immediately leaps out at you. The two riders who improved the most between the two seasons are the two who switched between a Honda and a Ducati.
I was a bit surprised when Ducati announced pricing on the new Panigale V4 model. I knew the Italian brand would command a premium for the latest edition of its flagship model, but what took me aback was how high the price had climbed ($21,195) in one swoop, even though prices on the Ducati 1299 Panigale have steadily been creeping upward over the past few years. Part of the blame is surely comes down to simple currency conversion between the euro and dollar, which has also been climbing steadily in the past year (after a sudden and sustained drop for the past three) and is now nearly at its year-long high. When it comes to the US market though, currency fluctuations are only part of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the pricing programs put together by motorcycle manufacturers.
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?
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.”
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.