Introducing the MOTR Podcast

Today we are announcing the third podcast that Asphalt & Rubber is involved with, the Motorcycles on the Record Podcast…or as we like to call it: the MOTR Podcast. The concept is pretty simple, as the MOTR Podcast is designed to compliment our popular Two Enthusiasts Podcast production. For those who don’t listen to it aleady, on the Two Enthusiasts Podcast, myself and co-host Quentin Wilson take an outside perspective on what is happening in the motorcycle industry. So, to contrast that with the MOTR Podcast, this new show will provide an insider’s view of what’s going on in motorcycles, with a focus on interviews and discussions with the industry’s leading figures.

Say Hello to the New Triumph Speed Triple RS

Back in 1994, Triumph created the streetfighter segment with the Speed Triple. But, the bike of 20 years ago is very different from the one debuting today, however the basic ethos remains: an aggressive sport bike for the city streets. In this time span though, the streetfighter segment has changed. Brands like KTM and Aprilia rule the roost, with high-horsepower bikes that come competently packed with high-tech electronics. Hoping to stay relevant with the same basic 1050cc platform, the British marque shows us now the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS – which boasts over 100 “new” parts just in the engine alone. The changes are subtle to the outgoing model though, but the highlights do stand out.

2018 Alta Motors Redshift MXR Officially Debuts – More Power, More Torque, Less Weight, and “Overclocking”

Here it is. After we broke the story that Alta Motors would be debuting an R-spec machine for its motocross line, we get our first glimpse of the 2018 Alta Motor Redshift MXR. A souped-up version of the 2018 model, which already gets some upgrades over last year’s bike, the Redshift MXR boasts some impressive features, in the pursuit of a no-compromises MX race bike. As such, Alta is quoting a stout 50hp and 42 lbs•ft of torque for the Redshift MXR, while the “wet” weight of the machine has been reduced by 8 lbs, to 259 lbs ready-to-ride. Recharge times have also been reduced, to just 1.5hrs on a 220v system – a savings of 30 minutes over the standard model.

Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle Coming in 18 Months

Harley-Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich dropped more than a few bombs during today’s earnings report, first saying that the Bar & Shield brand would close its Kansas City factory and consolidate production around its York, Pennsylvania plant. The American brand isn’t stopping the news there though. Offering a carrot of good tidings, Harley-Davidson reports that it will make its first production electric motorcycle within the next 18 months, effectively bringing its Livewire concept into production. The Livewire was a purpose-built concept done by Harley-Davidson in order to gauge the market reaction to the Bar & Shield brand going electric. Offering limited test rides, Harley-Davidson got positive responses to the Livewire experience, and the project has been internally green-lit ever since.

Harley-Davidson Will Close Its Kansas City Plant

The economic outlook for Harley-Davidson right now is not looking good. Just last year, the Bar & Shield brand cut 118 jobs from its plant in York, citing the need to cut production costs, and to reduce factory capacity so that it was more inline with consumer demand. That demand has seemingly dropped even further though, as Harley-Davidson will cut 260 jobs from its production ranks, losing roughly 800 positions in Kansas City, but adding 450 positions back to its York facility, where it is consolidating. The news comes as part of Harley-Davidson’s recounting of its rough go at 2017. The American brand saw its sales in the United States down 8.5% (down 6.7% worldwide), with the fourth quarter of the year taking a particular beating: down 11.1% in the USA (9.6% worldwide).

Hervé Poncharal Talks About Replacing Jonas Folger

It is hard to envision a worse time to lose a rider for the season. Jonas Folger’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the 2018 MotoGP season to focus on his health was a hammer blow for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. Just weeks before the start of testing for the new season, and long after riders good enough to race in MotoGP have signed contracts, Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal is left looking for a replacement. It is a massive task, especially as Poncharal is refusing to break any contracts to take a rider. “You would be amazed to hear how many phone calls I have had, and who from,” he told us. “There were some interesting names, honestly, but priority for me, the basis for me is that I will never take or enter into any kind of discussion with someone who has a contract.”

Honda and Forever 21 Create Clothing Line for Millennials

An interesting news item for you today, as Honda has teamed up with Forever 21 to bring young adults a unique motorcycle-branded line of clothing. The apparel line is inspired by Honda liveries from the 1980’s and 1990’s, though with a healthy dose of on-trend fashion, for both men and women. “Honda’s motorcycle racing success in the ’80s and ’90s was legendary, with our riders earning many championships in domestic and international series,” said Mike Snyder, Senior Manager of Honda Powersports Marketing. “While we’re focused on winning with our current teams, it’s fun to see our racing heritage honored by Forever 21 with a completely new audience.”

What You Need to Know About the Ducati Panigale V4 S

Is the Ducati Panigale V4 S the most anticipated motorcycle of 2018? If you are a diehard sport biker, the answer is probably yes, though a number of significant models are debuting this year, from several manufacturers. Still, in terms of ground-changing machines, the Panigale V4 has to rank high up on the list, as it is Ducati’s first proper four-cylinder motorcycle to go into mainstream production. I am writing to you today from Valencia, Spain – where we just finished a day of riding at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, which is better known as the final stop on the MotoGP Championship calendar. So, let me tell you what you need to know about Ducati’s new flagship motorcycle, the Panigale V4 S. 

What You Need to Know About the 2018 Honda Gold Wing

We just finished riding the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour in Austin, Texas – a day early I might add…because it’s snowing…in Texas. Still, clocking close to 200 miles on Honda’s sixth generation of this venerable touring machine has provided us with some interesting insights into the next Wing. A bike designed for long-distance riding, we have gathered our thoughts on the new Honda Gold Wing Tour, in a short and sweet format, so you can sound informed at your next bike night or internet forum. Overall, the all-new Honda Gold Wing Tour is a smart update to an iconic motorcycle, and it brings the Gold Wing name inline with the current state of technology. As we found on the road,  the new Gold Wing is an improvement over its predecessor, but that comes with a caveat or two.

Brembo Issues Statement on Its Master Cylinder Recall

Just over a week ago, we broke the news that a massive recall was coming to motorcycles equipped with a particular Brembo master cylinder. Since then, we have seen recall notices from Aprilia and Ducati (affecting roughly 10,000 motorcycles in the USA) with more recalls expected from other brands. Because recalls in the United States typically come from the motorcycle manufacturer and not the part supplier, mum was the word from the folks at Brembo, though there were a number of questions regarding these recalls that weren’t answered in the NHTSA documents. Today, Brembo has finally decided to speak about the recalls that are underway in the United States, and presumably will be occurring in other markets as well.

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.

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About The Rising Cost of Ducati Superbikes

12/08/2017 @ 12:14 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

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.

Motorcycle manufacturers subsidize (and inflate) their prices for the US market, based on the goals of the company, and Ducati is no different.

For European manufacturers too, it is important to understand a fundamental difference in economics: that pricing in Europe reflects a value-added tax (VAT), which is typically close to 20% for motorcycles - an inflation of consumer cost that doesn't occur in the United States.

That being said, in the same breath I should mention that sometimes tariffs come into play for the US market...but that's a whole different story. For now, let's stick to how Ducati superbike prices have climbed over $6,000 in just over 10 years' time.

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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? Why are MotoGP manufacturers spending ten times as much to be shown up at a test by Jonathan Rea? And why, for the sake of all that is holy, does Jonathan Rea not have a MotoGP ride?

The answer to all but the last of those questions is buried away in the bigger picture of the laps posted throughout the week. When you examine the numbers, the picture is a lot more complex than the headline times seem to suggest.

Tires, temperature, and track all play a part. But all of that can’t disguise a rather outsize dose of talent.

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Our second installment (be sure to read the first and third installments as well) in a three-part look at the rule changes made to the World Superbike Championship for the 2018 season, today we get the perspective of Scott Smart, the FIM Superbike Technical Director, who rewrote 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.”

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The Three Big Trends That We Saw at EICMA

11/14/2017 @ 12:04 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

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. Don't worry, I'll break them down for you, though it might take a while.

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In early 2016, I was fortunate enough to ride the revamped and Euro4 version of the MV Agusta Brutale 800. On paper, the Brutale 800 lost power and gained weight, but the reality is that MV Agusta improved upon already one of its best-selling machines, in subtle and clever ways.

Now a year-and-a-half later, the 2017 MV Agusta Brutale 800 is finally available in the United States, and I have been reunited with one of the best street bikes on the market.

Spending almost all of last month with this motorcycle again, it is clear that not much has changed from a rider’s perspective, though internally improvements have been made to some of the weaker elements of the design, like the sprag clutch and valve train.

While not much has changed with this year’s edition of the MV Agusta Brutale 800, I am mostly fine with that.

I say mostly, because the MV Agusta Brutale 800 could benefit from some changes, with those handful of refinements, the MV Agusta Brutale 800 could be the best street bike on the market…and I don’t say those words lightly.

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Ducati Panigale V4 – What’s More Than A Name?

09/05/2017 @ 6:34 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Over the long weekend, we got our first real glimpse of Ducati's new V4 superbike - just a few days ahead of the company's debut of its new V4 engine, which has been named the Desmosedici Stradale.

This is not the name of Ducati's new superbike, as some outlets have been reporting, instead we learned the name of the actual motorcycle, at the same time the spy photo dropped. It will be called the Ducati Panigale V4.

Though the letters are blurry, and the photo is disappointing of low-quality, just knowing this new superbike's name tells us a great deal about Ducati's new superbike program, and where the brand is headed for the future.

When spy photos of the Panigale V4 first debuted, it was obvious that the machine captured by photographers took a number of visual cues from its predecessor.

This wasn't a test mule in sheep's clothing however, with there being enough key differences in the bodywork shape for it to be obvious that Ducati was keeping the general look and feel of the Panigale for its V4 successor.

Now with Ducati recycling the Panigale name, it is clear that the Bologna factory isn't quite ready to do away with its namesake. This is an interesting development for the Italian brand.

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When Valentino Rossi crashed his motocross bike while training last Thursday, he triggered a wave of speculation on just how serious his injuries were.

It was clear that there was reason for concern, as the Italian had been taken straight from the motocross track at Cavallara to the emergency room at Rimini hospital. The fact that he was kept in overnight made it even more worrying.

Initial reports from local newspapers and websites validated such concerns. There were reports that Rossi had fractured one or more ribs, that he had injured his shoulder, even that he had taken a blow to the head, and had picked up a concussion as a result.

That presented the Movistar Yamaha team with a serious problem. One which they have handled with considerable subtlety and expertise, it has to be said. Their first and major priority was to control the narrative around Rossi’s injury, giving the media the information they wanted, while keeping their options open.

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The motorcycle industry is still deep in the throes of trying to prevent the United States Trade Representative (USTR) from taxing small-displacement motorcycles from Europe with a 100% tariff.

The proposed tariff would double the cost of any two-wheeled vehicle manufactured in Europe, with displacements between 51cc and 500cc , but the real kicker is that the proposed tariff isn’t really about motorcycles…it’s about beef.

For roughly 30 years now, the United States (one of the largest producers of beef) has been trying to gain access to the European market, but the EU bans beef that has been grown with hormones, because of health concerns (the ban also has the nice side-effect of protecting European beef growers).

To put pressure on the European Union, the beef industry (through lobbying the USTR) has proposed a number of retaliatory tariffs on European imports in the USA, motorcycles being one of them. Welcome to International Trade 101.

However, a major breakthrough happened last week, one that could affect this bovine standoff, and it has to with Chinese chicken.

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Lost in a story about testing for this year's TT Zero, the all electric motorcycle race on the Isle of Man, was an image that portends great things for the future of long-range, high-speed battery-powered biking.

A trick learned from two giants: the Boeing 787 and the Humpback whale.

2009 was a watershed year for motorcycling. Globally sales of new bikes vaporized, forcing the giants to shut plants and kill brands.

The major brands, like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki all pared down to the bare minimum, while European brands clung to life by their fingernails. In America, Harley-Davidson quietly asked for a loan.

But 2009 was also a touch-point for the modern electric vehicle. Tesla unveiled its first car; governments invested billions to support EV development; and the TTXGP, the world's first all-electric motorsport event was held at the historic Isle of Man TT.

Within five years, street-legal electric motorcycles were commercially available and the annual TT Zero race (as it was called after 2010) became the place to watch the amazing potential of battery-powered vehicle technology.

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