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.

Yamaha have been at the center of the MotoGP news for a good part of this season. For good reasons and for bad reasons: the new Petronas SIC satellite team has been at the center of speculation over who would run the team, who would manage the team, and more importantly, who would ride for the team, with some top riders linked to the seats.

But Yamaha have also now gone for 19 races without a win, their longest streak without a victory since 1998. At the same time, Valentino Rossi is second in the championship, and Movistar Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales is third, and both riders have been podium regulars throughout the first part of 2018.

After the Sachsenring, Yamaha announced that Monster Energy would be taking over as title sponsor from the 2019 season, replacing the departing Movistar, who are expected to lose the MotoGP broadcasting contract for Spain and are stepping back from the series.

On Thursday at Brno, Yamaha held a press conference with Monster Energy, giving the media their first chance to question Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis and Monster Energy Vice President Mitch Covington about the deal.

Once the press conference was over, a small group of journalists got a chance to question Jarvis about the challenges the factory Yamaha team has faced over the course of this year.

He spoke about dealing with the pressure of going for such a long time without a win, of handling rumors about dissatisfaction within the team, and some of the more fanciful rumors of discord between Valentino Rossi and himself, and about needing to expand their testing strategy.

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Q&A: Michele Pirro, On the Life of a Test Rider

06/10/2018 @ 10:28 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

In the final part of our series on test riders, (see also Part 1, with Mike Leitner, Part 2, with Davide Brivio, and Part 3, with Davide Tardozzi) an interview with Michele Pirro, Ducati’s workhorse and arguably the rider responsible for taking the concept of a test rider to a higher level.

Pirro’s path to Ducati ran through the CRT bikes, spending a year on a Honda-powered FTR bike with the San Carlo Gresini team in 2012, after graduating from Moto2.

In 2013, he was hired by Ducati to work as a test rider under Bernhard Gobmeier, who was brought in as head of Ducati Corse, after the Italian factory had been bought by Audi.

A year later, when Gigi Dall’Igna took over as Ducati Corse boss, Pirro was given even more responsibility in helping to turn the program around, which had lost its way in the years after Casey Stoner left Borgo Panigale.

Since then, Pirro has been charged with pushing forward the development of the bike. Pirro’s speed has been key to helping the Desmosedici improve, the Italian consistently capable of running in or around the top ten.

His best finish last year came at Misano, where he crossed the line in fifth, equaling his best result in MotoGP. Wildcards are just one way in which Pirro remains fast, he also races in the Italian CIV championship, which he wins with relative ease.

But his dream remains to return to MotoGP, and to have a shot at proving he is not just a great test rider, but a great MotoGP racer.

Andrea Dovizioso, who came to Ducati at the same time as Pirro, is clear about his importance as a test rider. “His work about test the rider is amazing, because he’s able to make a similar lap time, so we are very lucky to be in this condition. He is testing a lot.”

I spoke to Pirro at the 2018 Sepang test, on a day he was not testing the GP18. Pirro was very open about his aims and goals, and also about the process that had brought him to where he is today, and about the development he has engaged in for Ducati.

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Hitting Your Mark

06/01/2018 @ 2:37 pm, by Steve EnglishADD COMMENTS

Last weekend's racing at Donington Park was exactly the shot in the arm that WorldSBK needed.

A new rider on the top step of the podium, a new bike as the center of attention in Parc Ferme, and most importantly: Jonathan Rea being beaten in a straight up fight by Michael van der Mark.

Rea and Kawasaki have dominated the championship over the last three years, and even for Yamaha's Van der Mark, it was a surprise to finally break his duck in such style with a double.

“I was surprised by this weekend! Kawasaki and Johnny have been so dominant over the last few seasons and to beat them is very special."

"It shows that we're getting closer, and most importantly, it shows that we can beat them. It's easy to accept that Kawasaki will be in front and winning, and that's why it's important to prove to yourself that you can win races.”

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Kenan Sofuoğlu, A Rider’s Measure

05/24/2018 @ 12:47 pm, by Steve EnglishADD COMMENTS

To be the best, you've got to beat the best. Going up against Kenan Sofuoğlu was no easy matter for the top riders in World Supersport, but it was necessary if you were going to move on from the feeder class.

Kenan Sofuoğlu was the benchmark upon which every WorldSSP rider was judged. If you wanted to move from the class to race a superbike or a grand prix machine, you needed to prove you could beat Sofuoğlu.

As the dominant force of the class his rivals never underestimated the challenge they faced. To mark Kenan's retirement from motorcycle racing, we reached out to his fiercest competitors to see what they had to say about competing against the Turkish rider.

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Jonathan Rea, Building A Legacy

05/17/2018 @ 11:54 am, by Steve EnglishADD COMMENTS

Having equalled Carl Fogarty's WorldSBK win-record at Imola, Jonathan Rea's legacy is now firmly in his own hands. The Northern Irishman said afterwards that while he is the equal of Foggy in terms of victories, he still has some way to go before being his equal; it will take winning a fourth title to do so.

The Kawasaki rider sat down in Italy to talk about his place in racing history, and about the luck of the draw in Irish racing.

“My dad raced, and I always respected what he did,” said Rea. “I really understand that now because Jake looks up to me so much, and I was the same when I was his age."

"My dad was my hero, he always made me feel a part of it, and I could see how winning made him feel. I was too young to remember his racing, but recently Duke sent me footage of his 1989 250 TT win, and he flat-out beat Hizzy and Foggy in that race."

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A Red Tide Rising in the WorldSBK Paddock

05/01/2018 @ 11:52 am, by Steve EnglishADD COMMENTS

They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Chaz Davies will certainly be hoping that this isn't the case.

The Welshman has had a turbulent start to the 2018 World Superbike season, but after four rounds he finds himself closer to Jonathan Rea in the standings than any recent season.

Davies has been able to win twice already this season, in Buriram and Aragon, and sits 30 points behind Rea. After four rounds he'll have every reason to feel that this year he could finally be in a position to mount a season long title assault.

A tire issue at Assen robbed him of pace in Race 2, but he has proven again that he, and Ducati, are the only realistic opposition to Rea's quest for a fourth title.

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The Clock Keeps Ticking for Bradley Smith

04/19/2018 @ 4:37 pm, by Steve EnglishADD COMMENTS

That the world keeps spinning and the clock never stops is one of the few constants in life. For a MotoGP rider, that is even more true. For one in a contract year, it always seems to speed the process up throughout a campaign.

Bradley Smith had to deal with the pressures of expectation last year, and he knows that teething issues will be no excuse in 2018.

The British rider also knows that the KTM will be a sought after seat throughout the silly season, and with Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa having been heavily linked with a move to the Austrian manufacturer, it is clear that Smith needs to exceed expectations.

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“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” wrote the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Little minds or no, consistency is the one complaint that many riders still level at Michelin, the official tire supplier of MotoGP.

When it comes to grip, feedback, and chatter, complaints are few and far between. But consistency of feel between one tire and another remains a problem, at least in the minds of the riders.

The 2018 season opener at Qatar threw up several more examples of this lack of consistency. Ahead of the weekend, Cal Crutchlow had expressed concerns about the variation between what are supposed to be identical tires.

“You can show them the data, and if you have 20% throttle here, and this tire’s got this much more spin than the tire that you’ve got 50% throttle, and that’s got less spin. It doesn’t work. Apparently, they’ve come off the same batch.”

During the race, both Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa believed that a lack of consistency had hampered their performance. Zarco had led for the first 17 laps, before fading with what he believed was a faulty front tire.

“I got the best I could, I did what I could do, I did the job, and when I have a technician from Michelin and also on my team saying that something has been wrong, it means that OK, the rider’s job is done, then when you are doing this kind of sport, this can happen.”

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In Episode 3 of the MOTR Podcast, I sit down with MV Agusta CEO Giovanni Castiglioni, for a one-on-one talk about his iconic motorcycle company.

As you can imagine from the events over the past few years, our conversation focused on where MV Agusta has been, where it sits now, and where it is heading for the future.

During the interview, Castiglioni explains the issues MV Agusta has faced, and outlines the firms new, new business plan going forward. The conversation is an interesting insight into MV Agusta’s business workings, and the young CEO is more than candid.

You may have already seen the news regarding MV Agusta’s superbike future, the firm’s plans for Cagiva and electric motorcycles, and that we will see that start of the new four-cylinder lineup late this year.

We broke the news on those stories, and now you can hear in full detail the audio behind those headlines. We think you will find it a very interesting conversation.

You can find the latest episodes of the MOTR Podcast on iTunes, Google PlaySoundCloud, or via your RSS feed, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

If you’re not already, you should also listen to our sister podcasts, the Two Enthusiasts Podcast and The Paddock Pass Podcast.

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It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed to a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi.

There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn’t be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team.

More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards.

So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him. In a session with the media on Thursday night, Jarvis answered questions on all these subjects and more, offering an insight into the way Yamaha are thinking.

The departure of Tech3 could see Yamaha rethink the way they have been working in the past.

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