The High Fives Heard in Milwaukee

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.

Ducati’s Project 1309 Reveals a New Diavel Coming

We didn’t hear too much about “Project 1309” from World Ducati Week 2018, which is surprising considering what the past has shown us about Ducati’s secret reveals, but the Bologna brand was once again giving a teaser to fans in Misano. In the past, World Ducati Week has been the place where Ducati showed us the first Scrambler model, and last year the event debuted the return of the Ducati SuperSport. This year, it is another new bike. A new Diavel, to be precise. Set to compliment the current XDiavel model, the new Diavel features the same 1,262cc DVT engine with variable valve timing, but puts it into the more sport Diavel riding platform. This means tucked in feet on rearsets, rather than the XDiavel’s foot-forward controls.

VW CEO Outlines Two Possible Futures for Ducati

The Clash’s hit song “Should I Stay, Or Should I Go” might perhaps perfectly fit the business situation for Ducati, within its parent company, Volkswagen AG. The Italian motorcycle brand’s status in the German conglomerate has for the past few years been held on a tenuous string. Rumor about its divestiture, its selling to another company, are constantly dogging the iconic brand. Talking to Bloomberg TV after Volkswagen’s quarterly earnings report, VW CEO Herbert Diess explained that there are two paths forward for Ducati, and one of them includes selling Ducati to the highest bidder. “We have to look which is the best ownership for Ducati,” said Diess to Bloomberg.

KTM’s Counter-Rotating MotoGP Engine Debuts at Brno

Ever since Jerez, when the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team debuted a new engine with a counter-rotating crankshaft, fans and journalists have been asking when factory riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith would be able to use the new engine on a race weekend. KTM test rider Mika Kallio had been very positive about the engine during the Jerez weekend, and Smith and Espargaro had spoken in glowing terms about it after the Jerez test. KTM’s response was always that it would not be ready until at least after the summer break. Reversing the direction of crankshaft rotation is not as simple as sticking an intermediate gear between the crank and the clutch, to allow the crank to spin in the opposite direction while maintaining forward thrust.

Retro Livery Pops on the Suzuki GSX-R1000R Superbike

We are big fans of the creations that Team Classic Suzuki has been churning out. Stop what you’re doing right now, look at this Katana race bike, and try to disagree with our enthusiasm. It cannot be done. Taking their touch to the current Suzuki GSX-R1000R superbike, we see what this tire-shredder would look like in a retro-mod livery that is inspired by the bodywork found on the original GSX-R750. So far it sounds like the bike is a one-off, done by our friends across the pond, but we think Suzuki should seriously consider some throwback paint schemes in its lineup. Until then, items of note include a number of tasty Giles-made bits, straight from the Suzuki performance catalog, otherwise the bike shown here is pretty much stock.

BMW Plans To Launch Nine New Motorcycles

It might be still be summer, but our eyes are looking ahead to the new bike season in the fall and winter, where the major motorcycle manufacturers will debut their new motorcycles for the future. The big trade shows to watch are INTERMOT and EICMA, as these have traditionally been the venues of choice for new model unveils, prototype teasers, and concept debuts. One brand that is certainly going to be showing us some new motorcycles is BMW Motorrad, with the German company saying that it plans to launch nine new models in 2018. What those nine models will be is up for conjecture, though we have some good ideas, and some bad ideas, on what they could be. Let’s take a look.

Up-Close with the 2018 Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000R Suzuka 8-Hours Race Bike

In all our coverage of the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race, the name Suzuki has woefully not been in much of the conversation. This isn’t to say that the brand from Hamamatsu wasn’t present at this prestigious event, but its level of involvement and readiness certainly wasn’t on par with the other three Japanese brands. Fielding the Yoshimura Suzuki factory-backed team yet again, this year saw a big milestone take place, as Suzuki’s endurance efforts are now being conducted on the current-generation superbike. This has caused some issues in the paddock, most notably in the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), which is Suzuki’s factory-backed team in the FIM World Endurance Championship.

Up-Close with the Kawasaki Team Green Suzuka Bike

The race-winner that could have been. Kawasaki Team Green was the Suzuka 8-Hours favorite coming out of Saturday’s Top 10 qualifying session, and the factory-backed Kawasaki team traded corners with Yamaha during the opening laps of Sunday’s endurance race. What looked like an upset in the making, turned out to be a fizzle, largely because of a poor fueling and pit stop strategy, which saw Jonathan Rea first run out of gas, and then stay out on slicks during a rain storm. As he tumbled down the asphalt, you have to wonder if the World Superbike champion saw his Suzuka fortunes tumbling with him.

Up-Close with the Suzuka-Winning Yamaha YZF-R1

This is it. This is the biggest, baddest, meanest superbike on the Suzuka 8-Hours grid. Setting the high-water mark in Japan FOUR YEARS IN A ROW now, the Yamaha YZF-R1 from the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is the pinnacle of the sport. And while the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a motorcycle that you can pick up at any dealership in the United States (so long as it isn’t for a Superbike Deathmatch), the machine on the Suzuka Circuit this past weekend is anything but ordinary. I sent our man Steve English down to the pits to get some shots of this mysterious machine, and the Japanese team was being “very Japanese” about letting us taking photos, as Steve puts it. That didn’t stop us from getting some photos though. Go ahead, go get a towel before you continue further. We’ll wait.

Harley-Davidson Outlines Its Future Electric Lineup

The biggest announcement from Harley-Davidson today wasn’t its adventure-touring motorcycle (though it looks interesting), and it wasn’t its new Streetfighter or Custom models either (one of these I like, the other not so much). The big news wasn’t the Livewire getting closer to production, though that is close to the mark, and where this story is ultimately headed. All of these announcement would have been worthy of their own day in the press cycle, but the real news from the Bar & Shield brand is a look at Harley-Davidson’s upcoming electric lineup, which is coming across as very robust, and shows a decisive plan for the future. I never thought I would see the day, but here it is. Harley-Davidson is going electric, in a big way.

MotoGP, Moto2, & Moto3 Silly Season Loose Ends

10/01/2015 @ 10:37 am, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.

Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon.

The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening.

Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.

The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams that have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight.

To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics.

That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. “This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox,” Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. “You can’t get the best out of it without one.”

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Under normal circumstances, Scott Redding would already know exactly where he will be racing in 2015. He has a contract with HRC and Gresini to race with the Go&Fun Gresini team, which puts him aboard the factory option Honda RC213V next year, replacing Alvaro Bautista.

Up until a few races ago, the only question mark was whether Redding would continue to run Showa suspension and Nissin brakes, which come as part of a lucrative sponsorship deal for Gresini, or whether the team would switch to Ohlins and Brembo, like the factory Honda team.

In the past couple of weeks, that situation appears to have changed. Ahead of the Brno round of MotoGP, rumors emerged that Gresini was struggling to raise the funds for 2015.

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Stefan Bradl’s LCR Honda is sporting a new livery at Assen, after the team secured a major new sponsorship deal. The tie up will see the bike in CWM’s colors for three races in 2014, and will continue as a major backer in 2015.

The new sponsorship deal is so significant that it offers LCR Honda new possibilities. Lucio Cecchinello has made no secret of his desire to expand from a single bike to a two-bike team, but so far, the financial backing necessary has been missing.

The deal with CWM World has the potential to be the key support which would allow Cecchinello to add a second, Open bike to his satellite Honda RC213V currently being ridden by Bradl.

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The 2015 MotoGP grid is shaping up to look even stronger than this season. There are increasing signs that the weaker teams on the grid are set to disappear, with the strongest teams in Moto2 moving up to take their place. In addition, there is a chance that some of the stronger existing MotoGP teams could expand their participation as well.

It is an open secret that the Marc VDS Racing team is weighing up a switch to MotoGP. Team boss Michael Bartholemy has had initial talks with the team owner Marc van der Straten about adding a MotoGP entry to their line up, but they are still a long way from making a decision.

Bartholemy told us that a decision on their participation would come at Assen at the earliest, but admitted that it was still a very serious option.

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Honda’s RCV1000R production racer is due to get some upgrades after all, but those upgrades are not set to come until 2015, according to reports on GPOne.com.

The performance of the RCV1000R has been a source of some disappointment for the teams who stumped up the roughly 1 million euros a season in bike costs, as well as for the riders who have been hired to race the bike. After reports that a Honda test rider had lapped with 0.3 seconds of the factory RC213V machine, expectations of the bike were very high indeed.

On the track, the RCV1000R has not got anywhere near the times expected of it. Comparing the fastest race lap of the fastest RCV1000R rider against the slowest RC213V rider shows an average difference of 0.730 seconds over the first five races of the season, four tenths more than Honda had managed with a test rider.

Teams have complained, riders have been open in criticizing the lack of power, and the current teams have been eyeing the Open class Yamahas fielded by the NGM Forward team with some interest.

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The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.

Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider.

Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. “Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,” he said cryptically.

Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same.

Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike.

They had been set by one of Honda’s test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.

In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden – of whom much had been expected, not least by himself – had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry.

Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American’s time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.

By the time the race rolled around, the Hondas had cut the deficit again. Comparing fastest laps of the race, Scott Redding set the quickest lap for production Honda rider, lapping just 0.841 slower than his teammate Alvaro Bautista, who set the quickest lap of the race.

But consistency proved to be the undoing of the Hondas, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden crossing the line just 0.035 seconds apart, but over 32 seconds down on the winner, Marc Marquez. Where the difference between the fastest and slowest flying laps of Redding and Hayden was nearly 2.4 seconds, for the front runners, that difference was just over a second.

The difference in performance and the big gap to the front has been cause for much speculation. Where are the Honda production racers losing out to the Factory Option bikes? Is it purely top speed, or is it a combination of speed and acceleration? And where does that lack of speed and acceleration come from?

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One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.

There is more to be learned from watching at trackside than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible.

Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.

At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.

That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable.

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The Lineage of Honda’s Grand Prix Motorcycles

11/18/2013 @ 6:37 am, by Jensen Beeler28 COMMENTS

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For the past twenty years or so, there is one manufacturer who has been above all others in the premier class of grand prix motorcycle racing, and that manufacturer is Honda.

Winning 12 of the last 20 World Championship titles, Honda’s recent domination in 500GP and MotoGP has been a sea change for the series, and the company’s winning total in this modern era of four-stroke and two-stroke machines is double the next nearest OEM, Yamaha (MV Agusta still holds the outright record, with 18 championships from the 1956-1974 period of four-stroke racing).

Part of Honda’s success has been the fact that the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has been able to attract some of the best riders ever to come to a Grand Prix race’s starting line, champions like Mick Doohan (1994-1998), Àlex Crivillé (1999), Valentino Rossi (2001-2003), Nicky Hayden (2006), Casey Stoner (2011), and now Marc Marquez (2013).

But also part of the equation has been the superb equipment that HRC, Honda’s racing department, produces for its riders, bike likes the Honda NSR500, RC211v, RC212V, and RC213V, which have widely been regarded as the best machines on the grid in each of their respective eras.

Looking down the pipe, as MotoGP adopts new rules and regulations, the RC213V and RCV1000R appear set to dominate their respective classes as the factory machines will be reduced to 20 liters of fuel for next year, and the open class machines are forced to use both the Dorna-supplied ECU hardware and software.

It would appear that Honda has a firm grasp on the next few years of MotoGP racing, and as a bit of an homage to this company’s fantastic two-wheeled craftsmanship, along with the racers who rode them, we give you wallpaper-sized photos of Honda’s Grand Prix motorcycles, from the 1995 to 2013 seasons.

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The track was a lot busier on Tuesday at Valencia, after the halfhearted beginning to MotoGP testing on Monday afternoon. A group of well-rested riders took to the track to get prepared for the 2014 onslaught, and take the first steps on the road to a new season.

Some familiar faces, some new faces, but also a couple of new bikes, with the Yamaha FTR machines run by Forward Racing making their debut on the track, and Nicky Hayden getting his first taste of the Honda RCV1000R.

The times set by the brand new Open class bikes hardly set the world on fire, but that was to be expected given the fact that this was the first time either of them had seen serious use in the hands of Grand Prix riders. “Don’t forget that Casey [Stoner] did just five laps in Motegi with that bike,” Honda principal Livio Suppo told me. “It’s really just a first shakedown with the riders.”

That point was illustrated by Scott Redding, who has a problem with the wiring loom on Gresini’s Honda RCV1000R, and had to wait while they fixed that problem.

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Having a test on the Monday after the last race of the season is a rather cruel punishment for the MotoGP riders. The Sunday night after Valencia is usually a rather festive affair, with teams holding parties to mark either the departure of one rider, the arrival of a new one, celebrating success or drowning their sorrows.

For those ‘lucky’ enough to go to the FIM Gala awards, a stately and formal affair, there is also the need to blow off some steam afterwards, riders are never very good at sitting still for a couple of hours while official presentations are made. Most people in the paddock are usually a little worse for wear on Monday morning.

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