Ride in Peace, Nicky Hayden

It is with a heavy heart that we report the passing of Nicky Hayden today, the American motorcycle racer finally succumbing to the injuries he sustained on Wednesday, at 7:09 PM CEST. The former-MotoGP Champion was struck by a car, while he was training on his bicycle near the Rimini coast. After the incident, Hayden was ultimately treated at the trauma center at the Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, where he later passed away. While motorcycle fans around the world have been hoping for good news throughout this past weekend, and looking for signs that Nicky’s condition would improve, today Nicky’s race ended, with his family and friends at his side.

Americas Top Öhlins Dealer Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud

Daniel Laine Kyle of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California – known best for his speed shop, Kyle Racing – pleaded guilty to defrauding the US government earlier this week, after it was found that Kyle had been hiding cash-based purchases made at this business. Dan Kyle Racing is known best for being the largest Öhlins suspension dealership in the United States (if not the world), as the company offered aggressive pricing on the Swedish-born suspension, and was one of the first Öhlins dealers with an online presence in the early days of the internet. According to the plea agreement made between Kyle and the US Attorney’s Office, Kyle pleaded guilty to tax fraud and structuring currency transactions in order to avoid the reporting requirements in the US Tax Code.

The 2017 Saroléa SP7 Is Ready for the Isle of Man TT

The focus for electric motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT may center around Team Mugen’s dual entry with John McGuinness and Guy Martin, but one should not overlook this very attractive entry from Belgium. Saroléa is back for the 2017 Isle of Man TT, continuing with its state-of-the-art carbon fiber chassis goodness and retro fairing design. On board will once again be Dean Harrison, who will be gunning for a podium-finish on the 2017 Saroléa SP7. If looks alone could get you across the finish line, then Saroléa would have our vote. The Belgians have always been in the running for a strong result though, finishing 4th in 2014 and 5th in 2015. Maybe this year will be “their year” at the TT.

India Is Now the World’s Biggest Motorcycle Market

Did you just feel that? That movement was a tectonic shift in the motorcycle landscape, as India just surpassed China as the world’s largest market for two-wheel vehicles. Just how big is the Indian motorcycle market? Last year, over 17.7 million motorcycles were sold in India. That is over 48,000 motorcycles sold…each day. Compared to China, that is a margin of roughly one million motorcycles per year (16.8 million units sold last year). India has seen a sharp rise in the sales of two-wheelers within its borders over the seven years, growing over 32% during that timeframe. Transportation in general has been growing in India, but that growth has been fueled by the country’s two-wheeler market.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Motorcycle Patents

I am really excited about the Suzuki brand right now. Out of the four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the recession affected Suzuki the most, probably more than many people realize, but the Hamamatsu brand is poised to bring out some exciting machines in the coming few years. Could we finally see a turbocharged Suzuki this year though? The rumor mill is pointing to yes…but just pointing, and the reason is because of patents. Much of this internet rumors stems from a flood of patents that have been found, where Suzuki is patenting technology related to turbo-powered engines in motorcycles, or because of other patents that make reference or inference to being part of a turbocharged motorcycle.

No, Royal Enfield Isn’t Buying Ducati

I woke up this morning to a message from a colleague, with a link to a story that linked Royal Enfield to buying Ducati Motor Holding. The story was from a fairly reliable news publication, but the headline read “Royal Enfield Might Consider Buying Ducati Pretty Soon” – the grammarist in me cringed.* “Might consider” is the most nebulous phrase in the English language. Let’s think about that phrase for a moment, as it literally means that you are considering the possibility of considering something. Don’t get me started on the timeliness of “Pretty Soon” in the news realm, as well. Metaphysics and meaningless headlines aside, for our purposes this narrative devolves further in that this story offers nothing new, beyond the story that Reuters published two weeks ago, which set off alarms in the motorcycle industry around the world.

KTM Caught Testing an Electric Street Bike

Spy photos from Austria have caught KTM testing a rather interesting motorcycle – one that does not run on a petroleum-based fuel, but rather it has an electric drivetrain at its core. This isn’t the first time that KTM has experimented with an electric motorcycle, of course, with the KTM Freeride E being available in select markets. However, the machine seen here is a pretty big step forward for the Austrian brand, from its modest electric dirt bike. Using the chassis of a KTM 390 Duke to house the battery, inverter, and motor, KTM’s electric street bike (we’ll call it the KTM E-Duke for now) looks like a rolling mess, but is what you would expect from a project in its early stages of development.

For the Geeks, Your Luke Skywalker HJC Helmet Is Here

I am a solid Star Wars geek, but not in the dress-up and go to a convention sort of way – if you know what I mean. But, this new lid from HJC might have me singing a different tune, as it mimics Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing “Red 5” fighter helmet, in a DOT legal ¾ helmet format. That’s just cool…in a really un-cool sort of way. Based off the budget-friendly HJC IS-5 helmet, this Luke Skywalker replica will cost roughly $180 when it comes out (at a date still to be determined). Additionally, 10 versions of the lid will be signed by Mark Hamill, and auctioned for charity (UNICEF and the Starlight Children’s Foundation), if your geekdom takes you in such a direction (and you have a four-figure wallet).

Hayden: “It’s Clear That There Is A Problem”

Assen had been earmarked as a key round for Honda in its search for competitiveness in WorldSBK. It passed with more confirmation that the team’s struggles will continue. Nine points were all that Nicky Hayden had to show for himself at the end of a trying weekend at the TT Circuit of Assen. The Honda rider was able to show some signs of improved competitiveness at times during the weekend, but overall the same flaws of the Honda Fireblade have been exposed once again. Reliability and inability to bring competitive upgrades to the table cost Hayden dearly at Assen. The week before the Dutch round, the team tested a new engine specification in Portimao and the American came away disappointed with a lack of progress.

The Rise and Fall of Danny Kent

“Danny is probably the most talented rider I have ever worked with,” Peter Bom, Danny Kent’s former crew chief at Kiefer told me several times last year. Bom has seen plenty of talent in his time: he also worked with Stefan Bradl at Kiefer, Chris Vermeulen in World Supersport and World Superbikes, Cal Crutchlow in World Supersport. World champions all, and to this tally he added Danny Kent. Less than a year after helping him win the Moto3 world championship, Danny Kent asked the Kiefer team for a new crew chief, abandoning his collaboration with Peter Bom. Kent felt that Bom had been slow to pick up on the changes in the Moto2 class during Bom’s three years in Moto3. Stefan Kiefer obliged, and Kent started the season with a new crew chief and a Suter Moto2 chassis.

MotoGP Preview of the French GP

05/19/2017 @ 1:01 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

There are few circuits on the calendar whose names ring so loudly through the annals of history as that of Le Mans. Only Assen, the Isle of Man, and Indianapolis are as inextricably associated with motor sports as Le Mans is.

Like Indy, though, Le Mans is more associated with four wheels than with two. The 24h Du Mans endurance race is truly one of the landmark events of the motor sports year.

The glamor of that event rubs off on the 24-hour motorcycle race as well. That race is arguably the biggest race on the FIM EWC endurance calendar, and victory there adds extra shine to any rider’s record.

It is a highlight not just of the endurance racing year, but on the motorcycle racing calendar, marking the rhythm of the racing season as loudly as Jerez, Assen, the Isle of Man TT, Mugello, Phillip Island. It sets a high bar for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans to live up to.

Despite the deep and entrenched love of endurance racing in France, and especially at Le Mans (they have a 24-hour event for everything there, a taxi driver once told me: 24-hour car, bike, truck, and mountain bike race, 24-hour literary festival, even a 24-hour tiddlywinks competition), more spectators flock to the Le Mans circuit for MotoGP than for the 24-hour race. Last year, over 99,000 attended.

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MotoGP Preview of the Spanish GP

05/03/2017 @ 10:41 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers.

MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.

That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location.

Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.

Think of it like Texas hold ’em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together.

Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.

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MotoGP Preview of the Americas GP

04/20/2017 @ 2:13 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

The most remarkable statistic about the Grand Prix of The Americas is surely this: Since his ascent to the MotoGP class, Marc Márquez has won every single race he has competed in, at a circuit in the United States of America.

He won both US races during his two years in Moto2 as well. In fact, you have to go back to 2010, and Márquez’s final year in 125s to find the reigning world champion’s last defeat on US soil. America agrees with Marc Márquez, though that does not automatically include all Americans as well.

So after a decidedly mediocre start to his defense of the 2016 MotoGP title, the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas is the right place to get his season back on track. He comes to COTA knowing he can win, and knowing he can win on an uncompetitive machine.

That knowledge alone will be worth a tenth or two in Austin, perhaps enough to give him the edge over the all-conquering hero of the hour Maverick Viñales.

Why does COTA suit Márquez so well? It is really hard to say. Perhaps because it offers so many opportunities to make up time on the brakes. First, there’s the uphill monster of Turn 1, perhaps the weirdest first corner of the season (fittingly keeping Austin weird).

Then there’s Turn 11, the hard, sharp hairpin before the long back straight, at the end of which there is Turn 12, another spot requiring hard braking. And at the end of the lap, the two final corners, Turn 19 and Turn 20, which are shorter, but just as fierce.

Perhaps it’s not so much the braking, but more the strange section of combination corners stretching between Turn 2 and Turn 10. They are the kind of corners that reward the ability to turn on a dime, and the all-front-end, all-the-time Honda deals well with those.

Or perhaps the corners through the Stadium Section, and around the Grand Plaza.

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MotoGP Preview of the Argentina GP

04/07/2017 @ 12:17 pm, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

After the first MotoGP race held at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit had finished, Jarno Zafelli, the brilliant track designer behind the transformation from humdrum car track to fast, flowing, challenging circuit layout, was both deeply satisfied and mildly disappointed.

Satisfied, because the riders had to a man raved about the layout of the new track. Disappointed, because the average speed around the track had maxed out at 177.1 km/h, just a few kilometers per hour short of Phillip Island, at that point in time the fastest circuit on the calendar.

But it was only a minor let down: having so many riders enthusiastic about what he had done to the track was a far greater triumph.

Since then, both Termas and Phillip Island have been surpassed in terms of average speed by the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, round which Andrea Iannone was clocked at 186.9 km/h.

But Spielberg is a collection of long straights joined together by a few tight corners. It may be fast, but it is anything but flowing. It cannot hold a candle to either Argentina or Australia.

It’s not just the corners that slow riders down in Argentina, however. There is also the track surface. Not so much with asphalt – not much wrong with that – but rather the lack of use the circuit gets. For some unfathomable reason, the circuit owners don’t like the track to be used much.

The last event at the circuit was three weeks ago, when a track day was held for bikes. There are a dozen or so other events at the circuit through the year. Assen, by contrast, sees the track being used for 200 days of the year, and activity at circuits in Spain and Italy is even higher.

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 4 – The Rookies

03/24/2017 @ 2:42 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on 2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 4 – The Rookies

2017 sees arguably the strongest group of rookies to enter the MotoGP class in a very long time. Perhaps only 2006 was stronger, when Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa moved up to MotoGP, along with Randy De Puniet and Chris Vermeulen.

There have been plenty of promising riders (some of whom have lived up to that promise) moved up in the past, but it has been a while since so many of them, all equally strong, entered MotoGP at the same time.

Will Alex Rins, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, or Sam Lowes match the achievements of Stoner or Pedrosa, Márquez or Lorenzo? It is far too early to tell. But testing has only confirmed the pedigree of the four newcomers.

They were all fast in Moto2, racking up a total of 25 wins between them, and they have been quick during the preseason. There is no doubt these four are an exciting addition to the MotoGP grid.

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 3 – Unknown Unknowns

03/24/2017 @ 11:05 am, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

When former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his comments about “known knowns and unknown unknowns” in 2002, he was widely ridiculed for producing what seemed like incomprehensible gibberish.

Yet since his appearance at a press conference on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, the phrases he coined that day have demonstrated their usefulness, being employed in an ever greater array of contexts.

Rumsfeld’s phrase fits remarkably well with the 2017 MotoGP grid as well. The three categories apply just as well to different groups of riders on the grid. We have the “known knowns” of the Aliens, riders who are guaranteed to win races.

We have the “known unknowns”, the wildcards such as Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso who could easily stage a surprise.

Then you have the “unknown unknowns”, a group of riders for whom any result would be imaginable. Given the events of last year, any one of them could end up on the podium, or even winning a race.

But they are just as likely to finish outside the points, or anywhere in between. There is no way of knowing on Thursday night where any of these riders might finish on Sunday.

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 2 – Nearly Alien

03/22/2017 @ 6:27 pm, by David Emmett13 COMMENTS

There is some resistance to talk of there being “Aliens” in MotoGP. Why, fans ask, should we regard these riders as so very different from the other riders on the grid? In previous years, the answer to that objection was simple.

Of the 143 MotoGP races held between 2008 and 2015, only two had been won by someone other other than the riders regarded as MotoGP Aliens.

In 2009, Andrea Dovizioso won the British Grand Prix at Donington Park. And in 2011, Ben Spies won the Dutch TT at Assen. At both races, the weather conditions were a factor.

2016 put an end to that objection. Last season, there were a record-breaking nine winners in eighteen races. Andrea Dovizioso won his second race (and nearly won a third). Cal Crutchlow won two in the same season, one in the wet, one in the dry. Does that mean there are now more Aliens? Or does it invalidate the term altogether?

2017 is going to muddy the waters on the term Alien even further. Yes, there are five riders who can be expected to win a race every time they turn up at a track. But there are three or four others who are just as likely to spring a surprise and win a race this season.

Nobody would expect them to win six or seven races, but neither would anyone be surprised if they were to win one race each. If they are not quite Aliens, what then shall we call them? MotoGP’s astronauts?

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 1 – The Five Aliens

03/21/2017 @ 6:29 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

And then there were five. Should that statement have a question mark after it? On the evidence of pre-season testing, definitely not. Maverick Viñales earned the right to add his name to last year’s list, dominating testing and finishing fastest in all four.

Marc Márquez demonstrated why he is reigning world champion, and why his rivals have reason to fear him even more this year. Dani Pedrosa finished fifth at Valencia and Sepang, then third at Phillip Island and Qatar.

Jorge Lorenzo found the process of adapting to the Ducati tougher than expected, but was third quickest on his first day on the bike, and fourth fastest at Qatar.

And the man with the worst pre-season results of the lot, Valentino Rossi is, well, Valentino Rossi. You only ever write off Valentino Rossi after the final race at Valencia is done and dusted. And not a millisecond before.

So we head into the first race in Qatar with five Aliens, all of whom are likely to win at least one race this year. Some, like Viñales, will win a lot more this year than they have in the past. Others, like Lorenzo, will win far fewer, but will surely end up on the top step at one race, at the very least.

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2017 MotoGP Qatar Test Preview

03/09/2017 @ 8:24 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

The testing season is nearly done. The MotoGP grid assembles in Qatar for three final days of testing, in preparation for the season ahead. Much has already been done, but there is still a lot of work to get through.

Every factory, every team, every rider has things they want to try, in the hope of improving their chances in 2017. In most cases, those are just minor details, the nuances and finesses that will give hundredths of a second, not tenths. But not always.

There are always a couple of last-minute gambles to take, big ticket items that need one last decision. At Qatar this year, it is Honda’s turn to make a big decision, on which spec of engine to use for the season.

They tested one spec at Valencia, then another one at Sepang and Phillip Island, and at a one-day private test at Jerez.

It looks like they have made their decision, to go with the revised big bang engine tested for the first time at Sepang. But the cool air and hard acceleration of Qatar will be the deciding factor.

To double check, they will be bringing an extra engine to give to Jack Miller, the Marc VDS Honda rider, who has so far only used the Valencia engine.

If the Repsol riders, LCR’s Cal Crutchlow, and Jack Miller all agree, then HRC will pull the trigger on their latest engine, and race with it in 2017.

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World Superbike Season Preview – Part 2

02/23/2017 @ 1:11 pm, by Kent Brockman4 COMMENTS

Our trained World Superbike reporter, Kent Brockman, has his eye on the World Superbike Paddock, and is ever vigil for the next big braking breaking story.

Submitting a lengthy preview of what to expect from the 2017 WorldSBK season, we have broken it up into two parts in order to make more money whet your appetite ahead of this weekend’s season-opener at Phillip Island.  

If you missed it, you can read Part 1 of his WorldSBK season preview here, other continue on for Part 2 of this opus. -JB

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