What If Harley-Davidson and Alta Motors Had a Baby?

With the news that Harley-Davidson has invested an undisclosed sum in electric motorcycle manufacturer Alta Motors, the following concept might seem like a no-brainer. That is because the folks at Carbon Projects invisions the partnership between the two American brands as lending itself to the creation of an electric street-tracker model. Taking the heritage-focused roots of Harley-Davidson, and applying them to Alta’s Redshift platform, the resulting model is quite a looker, if we do say so. Of course, we should remember that Alta has already shown a street tracker concept of its own, displaying the Alta Motors Redshift ST concept at last year’s One Moto Show, in Portland, Oregon.

This Week’s Suzuki Hayabusa Rumor, Redux

In this installment of “This Week’s Suzuki Hayabusa Rumor,” we again take a look at the motor of this venerable sport bike. The rumor going around the interwebs right now is that the 2019 Suzuki Hayabusa will feature a “semi-automatic” gearbox. Side-stepping the part where saying a gearbox is semi-automatic is  a lot like saying someone is “semi-pregnant” (you either are, or aren’t), the rumor stems from a patent filed by Suzuki that shows a gear-shifting mechanism with the foot-shifter that doesn’t require a clutch. If this sounds a lot like an up/down quickshifter system, then you score extra bonus points today for being a rational human being, but you would be very wrong about what this whole rumor should actually be about.

Harley-Davidson Invests in Alta Motors

Harley-Davidson has announced its strategic investment in Alta Motors, which will see the two American companies co-developing two new electric motorcycle models. As one can imagine, the news has big ramifications for both brands. For Harley-Davidson, it means having access to cutting-edge electric vehicle technology, and a technical partner that can help them navigate the coming shift to electric drivetrains. And for Alta Motors the news is perhaps even more impactful, as Harley-Davidson brings not only a key monetary investment into the San Francisco startup, but the deal likely provides access to a variety of assets for Alta, namely purchasing power with parts supplier, access to a worldwide dealer network, and instant credibility with other future investors.

Here Comes a New Complaint About Californian Drivers…

If you are riding in California anytime soon, you might want to think twice before blaming the state’s fleet of drivers, as The Golden State just made it legal for self-driving cars to operate without a human behind the wheel. While similar actions have stalled in the US Congress (the SELF DRIVE ACT is stuck in a Senate committee), states have begun to take matters into their own hands, like they did in Arizona. That is right, the dawn of truly autonomous vehicles has just arrived, and it is primed to change the driving landscape as we know it, which by correlation means changes for the motorcycle community as well. Announced on Monday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved rules that would make it legal for automated vehicles to operate without a human behind the wheel. 

BMW S675RR Concept by Nicolas Petit

I really like the idea of BMW making a supersport model, to compliment the already potent BMW S1000RR. The category is a tough one though, and it is dominated by the Japanese brands. Maybe, this is why BMW Motorrad is the perfect brand to disrupt the supersport segment. The S1000RR made a killing in the liter-bike space, because it brought European features and performance, at a Japanese price-point. Because of the success that resulted from that formula, maybe the Germans can do the same in the 600cc segment. Putting some pen and paper to this thought, Nicolas Petit has inked together a render of a proposed BMW supersport machine, which he dubs the BMW S675RR.

Say What??! – Tech3 and Yamaha Will Part Ways in 2019

If you thought the 2019 MotoGP Silly Season was already in high gear, a bombshell announcement has just put it into overdrive. Today, the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team announced that from 2019, they will be parting ways. Tech3 will no longer be a satellite Yamaha team. The split brings to an end an association of nearly 20 years with Yamaha. They first started in 1999 with Shinya Nakano and Olivier Jacque in 250cc, before switching to the premier class with the same pair in 2001. Tech3 has been a loyal partner for many years, giving up one seat to a factory-backed rider on a number of occasions, as occurred with Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, and Pol Espargaro. However, there had been a few signs of tension over the past few months.

Trademark Hints at Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle

Has Harley-Davidson just tipped its hand regarding its upcoming electric motorcycle? It would seem so, according to the latest trademark application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Registering the name “Revelation” with the USPTO, Harley-Davidson has set aside the trademark for two uses: 1) batteries for vehicles, and 2) drivetrains for electric motorcycles and vehicles. Other publications are running this story as the “Revelation” name being the moniker for Harley-Davidson’s production version of the Livewire electric motorcycle concept, but the actual trademark makes a very clear alternative to that narrative.

What You Need to Know About the Triumph Speed Triple RS

The original factory streetfighter, the Triumph Speed Triple latched motorcycling’s punk movement in 1994, and never looked back. Riding the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS in Almería, Spain, Asphalt & Rubber got to see first-hand how these updates build upon Triumph’s street-hooligan reputation, and whether the Triumph Speed Triple RS is a worthy alternative to the bevy of robust machines already in this category. The result? The 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS is a smart update to the British brand’s streetfighter, and though it falls short of the high-water mark in the space, it offers some strong bang-for-the-buck hooning, which makes it very appealing. Let me explain.

First Look at the Triumph-Powered Kalex Moto2 Race Bike

The 2018 season will be the last year that Honda powers the Moto2 World Championship, with the intermediate grand prix series set to use Triumph’s 765cc three-cylinder engine from 2019 onward. This should be cause for quite a shakeup in Moto2, with the British brand making a stronger effort in recent time to be part of the racing scene. That effort will be ancillary though, because the real magic in the Moto2 class comes from the various chassis-builders. As such today, we get to see the first completed Moto2 machine for 2019, and it shouldn’t surprise us to see that it is a Kalex. The German company has dominated the Moto2 Championship with its machines, save for one special year where an unstoppable Marc Marquez blew away the competition on his Suter race bike.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Lineup Recalled Because Gears Might Break from High Impact

Attention owners of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R and Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR motorcycles from the 2016 thru 2018 model yeas, as news has come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that roughly 4,000 of these machines might have issues with their gearboxes. According to the recall, a high impact force can cause the transmission gears to break during shifting – specifically the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears in the gearbox. First discovered in the Thai market, Kawasaki found upon further investigation that the strength of these gears was not sufficient, and could break under excessive force. As such, two warranty claims in the US have already been made for this issue.

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 (another story that our Bothans were first to get the word on).

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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.

Through the last 1990s, the popularity of Grand Prix racing was waning, while the World Superbike series went from strength to strength. The manufacturers were losing interest in the 500cc class, as two strokes were gradually disappearing from the road.

Big-bore four-strokes were the flavor of the month among motorcycle buyers, and the factories were investing less and less in their two-stroke racers.

The manufacturers expressed an interest in racing four-strokes in the premier class, and Dorna sketched out a contract with the MSMA, the organization representing the manufacturers, and MotoGP was born.

From 2002, 990cc four-stroke machines would enter the class, and go up against the 500cc two-strokes. (The 990cc capacity was chosen to avoid any perceived encroachment onto the territory claimed by World Superbikes, then owned by rival promoters the Flammini brothers, which had bikes with a maximum capacity of 1000cc at the time).

From 2003, MotoGP would be completely four-stroke, the two-strokes banished forever. The agreement was made for five years, Dorna promising stability in the technical rules to allow the factories to get a return on their investment.

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What A Trade War Means for Motorcycles

03/06/2018 @ 3:39 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

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.

This week a new specter is on the horizon, as the Trump administration is eyeing tariffs on both steel and aluminum, at 25% and 10% a pop - respectively.

Naturally, the increase in the cost on importing raw metals into the USA is going to have an adverse effect on manufacturing-based businesses, but not all of these companies are affected equally when tariffs are imposed.

So, let's take a look at what this really means for the American motorcycle industry.

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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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