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.

MotoGP Mid-Season Review – A Wild Ride So Far

08/01/2017 @ 10:09 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Can part two of the (melo)drama that is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started.

Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between, a point behind Viñales.

If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture.

At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers.

In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016.

But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next.

Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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Recall: 2016-2017 KTM 690 Duke

07/06/2017 @ 10:12 am, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on Recall: 2016-2017 KTM 690 Duke

Owners for 2016 and 2017 model year KTM 690 Duke motorcycles should take note, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a recall on the popular hooligan machine because it may leak fuel from its filler cap on the fuel tank.

The recall affects 718 units in the United States, but in documents to NHTSA, KTM says at this time it does not have a remedy for the problem, and that such a remedy could take up to 120 days to create.

Presumably, this would then bar KTM from selling any 690 Duke models in the United States until a fix can be made.

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Some Leftover MotoGP Notes from the German GP

07/05/2017 @ 10:23 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Some Leftover MotoGP Notes from the German GP

Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don’t have time to write about. Here’s what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:

About Those Chassis

Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the “new” chassis and one of the “old” chassis.

The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year’s chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The “old” chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.

Valentino Rossi was constantly clear about which chassis he favored, and which chassis he used. Yet Viñales consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, claiming he had been banned from doing so by Yamaha. So how can one rider answer and the other refuse?

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At the 4th Annual Kurt Caselli Foundation Fundraiser

06/27/2017 @ 4:17 pm, by Andrew KohnComments Off on At the 4th Annual Kurt Caselli Foundation Fundraiser

Conventional wisdom says that mixing wine with motorcycles is a bad idea, but in the case of last week’s 4th annual Kurt Caselli Foundation fundraiser at Doffo Winery in Temecula, California, it was a perfect pairing.

Kurt Caselli was an accomplished off-road racer with multiple AMA District 37 championships, Hare and Hound titles, and was the overall class champion in the International Six Day Enduro in 2007 and 2011.

Additionally, he was a competitor in the Dakar Rally and the Baja 1000. The Baja 1000 was where he met his untimely death in 2013, and after his death, the Kurt Caselli Foundation was formed.

The foundation was established to promote safety for off-road riders and racers, and strives to support these riders before, during, and after a racing career.

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MotoGP Preview of the Dutch TT

06/22/2017 @ 11:46 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Preview of the Dutch TT

For the first ten years I spent writing previews for the Dutch TT at Assen, I would start have to start of on a tangent, with a brief summary of the schisms and splits of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Without the background to the religious topology of The Netherlands, it is hard to explain why the race was held on Saturday. Last year, when the MotoGP race was held on a Sunday for the first time, I had to recap that, to explain why it was a big deal for the race to be held on Sunday, and to be moved from Saturday.

This year, 2017, I can leave aside the history of Dutch Protestantism and its aversion to any activity on the Sabbath. This will be the second time the race will be held on Sunday, and so the novelty of the change has worn off.

It has fallen in line with the rest of the calendar, and so it is just another race weekend, same as any other. Although of course, being Assen, it is still something a bit special.

If anything, the switch from having a Saturday race to a Sunday race has been a positive boon. Though some feared the traditionalists would stay away, offended by change, visitor numbers were up last year, especially on Friday and Saturday.

More people came for the race as well, despite taking place in an absolute downpour. Over 105,000 fans packed a flooded Assen, because being Assen, it is still something a bit special.

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KTM Going After Southeast Asia with Philippines Plant

06/15/2017 @ 4:57 pm, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on KTM Going After Southeast Asia with Philippines Plant

The ASEAN market is a huge concern right now in motorcycling, with Southeast Asia proving itself to be a growth center for the motorcycle industry. This year we have already seen Harley-Davidson opening a plant in Thailand, following a move Ducati made a couple years back.

Those moves come not only because of the large riding populations that these countries hold, but also because of the burdensome tariffs that these countries impose on motorcycles.

Following suit now is KTM, as the Austrian company has announced a new production plant in the Philippines, which will service that local market, and the ASEAN region.

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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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Thursday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: First Shots Sounded in Satellite Silly Season

06/08/2017 @ 11:21 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Thursday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: First Shots Sounded in Satellite Silly Season

Last year, at Jerez or thereabouts, I had a chat with Livio Suppo about the insanely early start to MotoGP’s Silly Season that year.

Suppo bemoaned the fact that so many riders were switching factories so early, with contracts signed as early as Qatar (in the case of Bradley Smith and Valentino Rossi), and the ensuing hullabaloo surrounding Jorge Lorenzo, and whence he was bound.

“Normally, we start talking after a few races, in Mugello or so,” Suppo said. “You want a few races to see how strong a rider is.”

While last year’s Silly Season was nearing its close at Mugello last year, it seems that 2017 is taking a slightly more normal trajectory. This year, Mugello may have seen the early conversations, which kick off the period where riders discuss their future options.

And Barcelona was the first race where they started to discuss – or more accurately, hint at – those options publicly.

Why is this year’s Silly Season so much later (or so much more normal) than last year’s? Put simply, it’s because last year, every single factory rider was out of contract, and every factory seat was up for grabs.

This year, all the factory seats are still taken for 2018 (or at least, unless a factory boss decides that one of their riders is grossly underperforming), and there are only the satellite bikes at stake.

Fewer seats are available, and those which are available have less money attached, and less chance of competing for podiums and victories. All that combined leads to a lower sense of urgency when it comes to negotiations.

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MotoGP Preview of the Catalan GP

06/08/2017 @ 12:40 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Preview of the Catalan GP

From Mugello to Barcelona, with, in most cases, nary a chance in between to head home and wash your smalls. It used to be that the trip from Mugello to Barcelona was a chance to see MotoGP race back-to-back at two of the great motorcycle racing circuits.

Now, it’s one and a half great circuits, with a nadgery little section tagged on at the end to slow everything down. Or as Marc Márquez described it in Mugello, “You arrive [at Montmelo] and you know that it’s kind of two different tracks: the first part is really fast and wide, the last part tight and slow.”

What was a temporary fix to solve the immediate issues exposed by the tragic death of Luis Salom last year – one year on, the paddock will doubtless be full of memorials to the bright young Spaniard – has been turned into a rather horrible bodge job.

The fast sweeper of Turn 12, where Salom fell and found himself on an unexpected trajectory across asphalt, and not gravel which would have slowed him down, is replaced by an even tighter and shorter chicane than last year, made so because of the proximity of the walls on the inside of the F1 chicane used last year.

It is a tragedy – I use that word advisedly, as it cannot compare with the loss of a young man’s life – to sacrifice one of the great sections of a motorcycling track.

But it is also an inevitable consequence of Grand Prix motorcycles getting ever faster, being able to brake later, carry more corner speed. The progress in motorcycle development is pushing their performance beyond the capacity of race tracks to safely host that performance.

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MotoGP Preview of the Italian GP

06/01/2017 @ 2:05 am, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Preview of the Italian GP

There are a lot of reasons to love Mugello. First, there is the setting: a dramatic backdrop of Tuscan peaks and dales. A place so fecund you need only stretch out your arm to grasp the riches of the earth: nuts, fruit, wild mushrooms, stag and boar.

To the south, Florence, one of the marvels of the Renaissance and a city so beautiful it breaks your heart to look upon it alone. At every bend in the road on the way to the circuit, the view takes your breath away. And there are a lot of bends. Hypoxia is a real concern.

Then there’s the track itself. It snakes across the landscape like a discarded shoelace, a thin filament of tarmac hugging the hillsides of the valley into which the track is wedged.

It has everything a motorcycle track needs to make it truly majestic: long, fast corners like the Arrabbiatas; fast combinations like Casanova/Savelli or Scarperia/Palagio; a terrifyingly fast front straight where the braking point is blind; and a corner where front brakes and front tires are tortured, as riders dump their speed into San Donato.

No pass at Mugello is ever a done deal, there is always an opportunity to counterattack. No bike has outright superiority at the track, for the nature of motorcycle dynamics is compromise, and each manufacturer chooses to make their compromises in different areas.

Mugello rewards only perfection, and perfection is almost impossible to sustain for 23 laps at such blistering speeds.

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