Ben Spies Making a Return to Motorcycle Racing?

Could we see the return of Ben Spies to motorcycle racing? That’s the talk of the paddock right now, and the former MotoGP racer is helping fuel the fires with his social media posts. Our sources point to Spies gearing up for a return to domestic racing, as he looks to ride in the MotoAmerica Championship (presumably on a superbike), and possibly also as a team owner as well, fielding his own entry. This should come as a surprising but welcomed bit of news to motorcycle racing fans, as the 33-year-old seemingly retired from motorcycle racing after the 2013 MotoGP Championship season, after extensive damage to his shoulders seemed to rule him out of a future of racing motorcycles.

Ducati Will Stay as a Part of Volkswagen

Reports out of Italy are confirming the news that Ducati will remain as a part of the Volkswagen Group, with the German company ceasing its pursuits of divesting the Italian motorcycle company from its ranks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following Ducati’s business situation, as reports of the divestiture stalling out were circulating this time last month. The news seems to come with a bonus, with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali reportedly confirming the news internally (other reports quote Audi CEO Rupert Stadler doing the same as well). With that, Evercore Partners – the investment bank that was hired to solicit bids on Ducati Motor Holding – will stop pursuing brands that may want to see Ducati within their corporate holdings.

Rumor: Street-Touring Version of the Kawasaki H2 Coming?

I like this rumor. I like what this rumor says. And, I like that this rumor doesn’t seem to go away. The scuttlebutt of the motorcycle industry right now is suggesting that the street-shredding Kawasaki Ninja H2 might be joined by a sport-touring variant. This Kawasaki Ninja H2 GT – as some are calling it – takes the potent supercharged liter-bike, and makes it a little bit better suited for long-distance riding…well, as better suited to touring that a 200hp+ fire-breathing motorcycle can be. It remains to be seen how Kawasaki plans to expand its supercharger lineup of motorcycles: whether these rumored new machines will vary slightly in form-factor to accommodate different kinds of riding (using the current H2 as a platform for new models), or if Kawasaki will debut an all-new chassis design for these rumored motorcycles.

Solid-State Batteries, A Game-Changer for EVs?

This week’s big news is that California is looking at how it can join China, France, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in the banning of internal combustion engines in the coming decade(s), a move that will surely be a shot in the arm for electric vehicles. While the social and political pressures are coming into alignment for electric cars, trucks, and motorcycles, the technology for these next-generation vehicles is still not fully baked, and the biggest rate-limiter for EVs are their batteries. That is about to change, however, with solid-state batteries (a battery that has both solid electrodes and solid electrolytes) looking like the silver bullet that could make electric vehicles comparable in performance and price to their internal combustion counterparts.

Investigator Releases Report on Nicky Hayden Crash

On May 17th, 2017, Nicky Hayden was out training on his bicycle, near the Adriatic Coast, when he was struck by car in an intersection very close to the Misano World Circuit. The incident would prove to be a fateful one, and send ripples through the motorcycle industry, as Hayden died five days later in a hospital outside of Rimini, Italy. Since then, the accident has been under investigation by the local prosecutor, and the results of that forensic investigation have now been released to the public. Reconstructing the incident through statements made by the driver, eyewitnesses, and CCTV video footage, the investigation has found fault on both sides of the crash – assigning 30% of the blame to Nicky Hayden, for running the stop sign, and 70% of the blame to the driver, for excessive speed.

California Considers Killing Internal Combustion

Bloomberg is reporting that California Governor Jerry Brown is considering ways to ban the sale of vehicles that use internal combustion engines – a move that could have massive implications not only for vehicle sales, the environment, but potentially the motorcycle industry as well. Still in the early days of consideration, the news comes from remarks made by Mary Nichols, who is the Chairman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and her remarks and relaying of thought from Gov. Brown don’t make it clear if the ban would apply only to passenger vehicles, or if it would include modes of transportation like trucks, commercial vehicles, and motorcycles. However, the move mimics similar bans that we have already seen in places like China, and follows a trend that is catching on in European countries as well.

MV Agusta F4 LH44 Limited Edition Debuts

Italian motorcycle maker MV Agusta, and Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton have re-upped their contract for collaboration, and one of the first fruits of that labor is a limited edition MV Agusta F4 superbike. Confirming our story from earlier today, the MV Agusta F4 LH44 picks up where the MV Agusta Dragster RR LH44 left off, adding Hamilton’s “unique” tastes and stylings to MV Agusta’s tapestry of motorcycles. Like with the MV Agusta F4 RC, the exercise is primarily visual, though like on the RC edition, MV Agusta adds its race kit to the package, which is good for a claimed 212hp. The big technical change of note is the titanium race exhaust from SC Project, which does away with the beautiful four-pipe undertail exhaust that Massimo Tamburini made famous.

Eugene Laverty Explains His 2017 WorldSBK Season

A return to World Superbike, with the bike that he came so close to winning the championship on – it all appeared like a dream opportunity for Eugene Laverty, to put himself into a position to win the title. The dream quickly turned to a nightmare, and from the start of winter testing it was clear that major work needed to be done to return the RSV4 to the front. Moving to the Milwaukee Aprilia squad understandably led to heightened expectations. In their second year in WorldSBK, the former British Superbike champions were expected to make a leap forward. Teething problems were expected with the switch from BMW to Aprilia, but not the struggles that lay ahead. “During the winter you can go in the wrong direction with the bike,” commented Laverty. “Unfortunately, that was the case for us.”

Superbike Deathmatch Round #1: Aprilia vs. Ducati

Hello and welcome to the first installment of Asphalt & Rubber’s 2017 Superbike Deathmatch – our take on the motorcycle media’s superbike shootout review format, and the solitary path for a motorcycle to become the A&R Superbike of 2017. For those just tuning into the Superbike Deathmatch, the rules are easy. In each round, two bikes enter the race track, but only one bike leaves. We have six motorcycles from the eight superbike manufacturers on the market. For our first round, we have started things off with a special treat, and a battle for the right to call a bike the “Best Italian Superbike” on the market. That’s right, we are going to pit the Ducati 1299 Panigale S against the Aprilia RSV4 RF.

Photos of the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Leak Online

What you see here are early leaked photos of the 2018 Honda Gold Wing – one of the most successful and important motorcycles for the Western markets. Honda is expected to debut this new model at a media event in October, but our friends at MaxxMoto and Oliepeil managed to get their dirty Dutch-speaking mits on these low-res gems, ahead of time. Beyond the styling refresh, the most obvious change that we can see for the Honda Goldwing is the new front-end, which appears to be a Hossack-styled design – similar to what BMW uses on its K-series motorcycles. The engine continues to be a flat-six, from the view in the photos, though we can expect some changes to the massive block – likely with fewer emissions, maybe with more torque/power.

The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes that don’t, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.

The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. “Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble,” Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.

“We don’t understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange.”

The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. “We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip,” Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate.

“We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive.”

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I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi’s first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident.

It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.

Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.

The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall.

They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.

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Silverstone was its glorious best on Friday. The sun shone, fans wandered round in t-shirts and shorts, and bikes bellowed their way around a magnificent circuit. It was a good day for motorcycle racing.

“First of all, riding the MotoGP at Silverstone with this incredible weather is great,” Valentino Rossi summed up his day. “I enjoy it a lot, because this track is fantastic and this weather is a big surprise for everybody.”

So good has the weather been that it has given the small contingent of British journalists in the MotoGP paddock a new hobby.

A conversation overheard on Friday afternoon: “I’ve just been over to taunt some Italians about the sunny weather.” “Ah yes, I was just doing the same to an Australian.”

Two weeks ago, we English speakers were getting stick about having to pack winter coats and rain gear for Silverstone. Revenge is all the sweeter when served up under blue skies and radiant sunshine.

The good weather complicated tire selection for the MotoGP teams. Many a rider was out trying the hard rear much earlier than expected, trying to judge how it would hold up over race distance.

The warm weather has pushed the temperatures to the upper range of the Michelins’ operating window. The tires are still working, but everyone is having to go a step harder than expected.

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We were promised a storm on Friday, and we got one. But it was a media storm, rather than a thunderstorm, with riders finally free to speak about the situation at Aprilia.

That’s not to say the weather wasn’t an issue: rain fell during Moto2, wreaking havoc on the field. That would have as many repercussions as the fallout from Aprilia’s decision to dump Sam Lowes. It was an eventful day indeed.

First, to get the Aprilia story out of the way. Last night, it emerged that Aprilia had finally made a decision on Sam Lowes. The Italian factory had decided to drop the Englishman after just a single season, rather than keeping him for the full two years of his contract.

It was a move that had been telegraphed at the Barcelona test, when Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano admitted that dropping Lowes was a possibility they were considering. So for it to be announced in Austria was hardly a surprise.

In part because Lowes’ contract stated that Aprilia had until August 15th to make up their minds.

There was little surprise at Aprilia’s move. Sam Lowes and Alex Rins have been vastly outclassed in their rookie years by Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger. Rins has had an excuse, having spent so much of his first year in MotoGP being injured.

But viewed from the outside, Lowes has no such excuses. He is on a factory team, and his teammate is showing him up badly. Aleix Espargaro is regularly in Q2, and has shown pace to challenge for the top 5 on occasion. Lowes has been in Q2 only once, and has just two points to his name.

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MotoGP is back, and so naturally, so is the rain. The weather continues to plague Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the weekend starting off in the pouring rain making for a wet FP1.

Despite the heat, Brno is slow to dry, and so the MotoGP bikes started FP2 on a damp track with a dry line, the track ending the session almost completely dry. Hardly an ideal start to the weekend, if you are focused on finding the best setup possible for the race on Sunday.

Not everyone sees it that way, however. For Johann Zarco, it was nice to ease himself gently back up to speed. “Restarting the season in wet conditions was good for me,” the Frenchman said.

“This way we start the season slowly, and that’s good for the feeling.” It also reduced the advantage of the big teams who can eke out an advantage in stable conditions.

“Also because we didn’t do a test here, maybe it was better, because if we have a dry track for all the weekend, there are many teams which can work, work, work and be so strong at the end of the weekend. And for our situation as a rookie, it’s good to have this tough weather.”

The wet weather also made it a little easier on bodies which had not ridden a MotoGP bike for four weeks. “Especially it’s difficult about physical condition,” Valentino Rossi said on Friday.

“Because it’s one month without the bike, in the beginning you have some pain in the hands, in the legs. But it was not so hard to arrive to a good level, especially in the wet.”

The training he had been doing for the past couple of weeks – including running a VR46 Master Camp for Yamaha’s riders in the WorldSSP 300 class – had helped him prepare.

“It’s a long break, but in the last weeks I train a lot on the bike, and sincerely, in the last ten days you always think about FP1. So you watch video, try to understand, try to remember the way to ride.”

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Laguna Seca WSBK Photos – Friday by Jensen Beeler

07/09/2017 @ 1:51 am, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on Laguna Seca WSBK Photos – Friday by Jensen Beeler

I should call this the “going left” gallery, as there isn’t much diversity in perspective, as all of the photos attached here were taken from the same vantage point: the inside portion The Corkscrew (Turn 8) at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

A popular feature to this coastal Californian track, The Corkscrew provides plenty of spectacle for fans, but it finds its true zenith when World Superbike riders are in circulation.

The approach to Turn 8 is a fast uphill stretch, about as much of a “back straight” as Laguna Seca has to offer, and the crest of the hill sees the faster rider’s lofting the rear wheel ever so slightly, as they begin to get on the brakes.

As they get closer to the entrance of the iconic turn – a mostly blind approach I should point out – the late-brakers will again bring the rear wheel off the ground, as they threshold brake into first apex, which only reveals itself at the very last moment.

Hitting the left-hander at the top of the hill, and the right-hander on the way down, there really isn’t a chance for the suspension pieces on these bikes to react, add in a quick downshift during the left-right transition, along with some trail-braking at the top of hill, and it is easy to see why this corner is so highly regarded.

Seemingly proving the point, in just the single session I shot here, we had two red flag moments, as both Red Bull Honda riders threw their bikes down The Corkscrew’s drop in elevation. For newer riders, the challenge is even greater.

Apologies in advance for the late posting, as I spent the better part of Saturday battling an uncooperative Adobe Lightroom. I hope you enjoy these high-resolution shots from Friday at Laguna Seca.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Sachsenring: More Grip, Treacherous Turn 11, & Not Just a Honda Track

07/01/2017 @ 1:50 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Friday MotoGP Summary at Sachsenring: More Grip, Treacherous Turn 11, & Not Just a Honda Track

Well, we knew the weather was going to be a factor at the Sachsenring, and we weren’t disappointed. (Or perhaps we were, depending on your point of view.)

The MotoGP riders started off on a bone dry track in the morning, spent an extended 55 minutes on slick tires, then suffered through a couple of full on rain showers in the afternoon. They had time on a dry track, and time on a wet track, and time on a track with a dry line forming.

It was the perfect preparation for what promises to be a weekend of mixed weather. The chances of making it all the way to the race on Sunday without another wet session are very small. But they are also not zero.

Riding in both weather conditions gave the riders a chance to assess the grip of the new surface. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Aleix Espargaro summed up the general impressions, and entirely in character, he also summed it up with the most enthusiasm.

“It’s unbelievable,” the Aprilia rider said. “They did a super job, a fantastic job. The tarmac has zero bumps, nowhere. The grip is super high. Actually, I think we finished five seconds from the dry times, which is very very very fast. So, German style, they did a great job!”

The grip was generally judged to be good in the dry, but absolutely phenomenal in the wet. “Honestly, in the wet you can’t believe it,” Cal Crutchlow told us.

“I left the pit lane. I was late because we were messing around in the garage. Marc had done three laps. I saw the blue flags, sit up and I looked down and Marc’s got his elbow on the floor! When I see someone’s got their elbow on the floor it means you’ve got to push.”

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Why Crutchlow’s Aero Fairing Is Not a New Fairing

06/24/2017 @ 1:43 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Why Crutchlow’s Aero Fairing Is Not a New Fairing

Just how clever has Honda been with its fairings? At Assen, Cal Crutchlow spent Friday going back and forth between bikes with and without the addition of aerodynamic side pods on the outside of the fairing.

That led to some confusion among the media. Had Honda homologated the aerodynamic fairing already? Or was this something new?

I went to see Danny Aldridge to ask what the situation was, and the MotoGP technical director explained the situation.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Assen: Fast Yamahas, Unstable Bikes, & Aerodynamic Loopholes

06/24/2017 @ 1:21 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Friday MotoGP Summary at Assen: Fast Yamahas, Unstable Bikes, & Aerodynamic Loopholes

MotoGP got off to an inauspicious start at Assen. Just a couple of minutes into FP1 on Friday morning, the red flags were already out.

The cause? Andrea Dovizioso’s Ducati Desmosedici GP17 had started spewing oil all over the track on his out lap, causing first Jonas Folger to take a massive tumble through the gravel at Duikersloot. It also took down Dovizioso’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

“I felt some movement a few corners before,” Folger said of his crash. “I had a highside, and then the bike hit me as well.” After a brief check up at the Medical Center, Folger was sent on his way again.

Fortunately for the Tech 3 rider, it took the best part of half an hour to clean up the oil left on the track by Dovizioso, so he had plenty of time to get back to the garage and get ready again.

Surprisingly, the crash left him with few ill consequences. Folger was able to get back out, and build up his confidence again. So much so, in fact, that he ended the day as second fastest, with only a masterful Maverick Viñales ahead of him.

Where had his speed come from? Confidence mainly. He had gained confidence from the past couple of rounds, and especially at Barcelona. Being fastest during warm up in Barcelona, and seeing Marc Márquez struggle to match his pace had given Folger a boost.

This, and working out that he needed to brake later, had made a world of difference.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: The Last Waltz?

06/10/2017 @ 2:25 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Friday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: The Last Waltz?

There are a lot of reasons to visit Barcelona. It is one of the greatest cities in the world, a triumph of the architectural movement known as Modernisme, a vibrant center of culture, a place where you can eat, drink, and sleep well, after a day spent gazing mouth agape at some of the most remarkable buildings created by human hands, and human minds.

Once upon a time, the Montmelo circuit was also a good reason to visit the city. A track full of fast, sweeping corners challenging riders and bikes in equal measure.

That was before the aging asphalt turned the track greasy in the summer heat, and the repeated abuse from fat F1 tires left the surface rippled and bumpy, cracked and patched.

Tragedy struck with the death of Luis Salom – probably the victim of a wayward bump sending him flying towards a patch of gravel-free run off – and the Safety Commission (consisting of MotoGP riders, Dorna, and the FIM) decided to neuter the second half of the track, removing one of the fastest and most furious final sections on the calendar. There is little left to love about Montmelo.

I asked several riders whether it would be possible to race in Montmelo next year if the track had not been resurfaced. The response was unanimous. “No.”

Worse than that, Bradley Smith explained how the Safety Commission had grown impatient with the circuit, which has been singularly unresponsive to their requests to adapt the track to make it safer. Hopefully, MotoGP would not return, Smith told us bluntly.

“That’s finally what it comes down to. This is the only track on the calendar that’s not actually reacting to Safety Commission / rider / organizer’s requests. So at some point, you have to give them an ultimatum, and I think that this is the last year that they’ll be in that situation. We have enough people that want us to go race there, we don’t have to come here.”

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