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.

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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At its core, motorcycle racing is a war of diminishing returns, where manufacturers, teams, and riders dive ever deeper into the details in search of an advantage.

The latest battleground is in rider coaching, with riders and now teams using rider coaches / spotters / observers / analysts to help riders identify where they are strongest and weakest.

Spotters and rider coaches have been around for a while. Wilco Zeelenberg started working with Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha in 2010, and now has a similar role for Maverick Viñales. Jonathan Rea has worked with Keith Amor in WorldSBK, Amor also filming Rea to help him perfect his technique.

More recently, Valentino Rossi started working with former 250cc world champion Luca Cadalora, and has employed a rider coach for the VR46 Riders Academy, the talent pool of young Italian racers Rossi has taken under his wing.

Current Red Bull KTM MotoGP rider Bradley Smith was also a relatively early adopter. The Englishman has worked with former 500cc legend Randy Mamola since his entry into MotoGP, and is fulsome in his praise of the idea.

“I had Randy and I see that as a massive help just in terms of having eyes outside of the track,” Smith said. The Red Bull KTM spoke about rider coaches, their role and benefits, to a small group of journalists at the Sepang test.

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In many ways, the appointment of Alberto Puig as Repsol Honda team manager is both surprising, and a logical choice. Puig was both the obvious person to run the Repsol Honda team, as an experienced team manager with a long association with Honda.

But, also someone with a complicated history with the team’s existing riders, having previously managed Dani Pedrosa, and crossed swords with Marc Márquez’s manager Emilio Alzamora.

The Sepang test was the first time the Spaniard had a chance to talk to the racing press since his appointment. In a press conference with some of the assembled media who had turned up early, Puig addressed a broad range of topics.

He talked about the challenges he sees in the Repsol Honda team, and his new role as its manager. He gave his perspective on managing relationships with the riders.

But Puig also shared his vision on racing, and the key ingredients in racing success. He spoke about how he sees the rider contract situation developing.

And he also talked about Honda’s main focus at this particular MotoGP test, telling us that the main objective will be to choose an engine for the rest of the season.

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Talking to MotoGP’s Rookies: Franco Morbidelli

12/11/2017 @ 10:29 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The Jerez MotoGP test provided three of the four MotoGP rookies with a chance to get familiar with their new bikes and their new teams.

The second test is often more important than the first one, as the rookies have had a chance to think about and absorb the data from the first test directly after Valencia, and approach the test with less pressure.

Expectations are mixed for Franco Morbidelli joining the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The last Moto2 champion to move up to MotoGP with Marc VDS was Tito Rabat, and Rabat endured two long and difficult years with the squad.

Morbidelli will be hoping that the Honda RC213V will be a little easier to adapt to than it was for Rabat, and that he will be able to pick up the pace more quickly.

So far, Morbidelli’s progress has been promising. The reigning Moto2 champion ended the Jerez test as eleventh overall among MotoGP riders, 1.260 behind the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.

Best of all for Morbidelli, he was just a few hundredths behind MotoGP regulars Jack Miller and Scott Redding. There is still much room for improvement, but things are looking positive.

We spoke to Morbidelli on Thursday, his second day on the bike. Here’s what he had to say about the test.

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Q&A: Kenny Noyes – Two Years of Recovery

07/07/2017 @ 8:53 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Today marks the second anniversary of Kenny Noyes’ crash at the Motorland Aragon circuit for the Spanish CEV Superbike championship. The crash left him in a coma, but through extraordinary perseverance and the support of his family, he has made a remarkable recovery.

I knew Kenny fairly well, both directly from his time racing in the Moto2 championship, and indirectly through his father, Dennis, who has been immeasurably kind and helpful to me throughout my own career as a journalist.

I was shocked and saddened when I heard of his accident, but I have been left with unbounded admiration for Kenny for the energy and determination he has put into his recovery. 

To mark two years since Kenny’s crash, his press office issued the following interview with the former CEV Superbike champion. It is an insightful and honest discussion of the crash, the recovery, the importance of motorcycle racing in his life, but above all, the importance of his family and friends.

Kenny has set up a GoFundMe account to help continue his rehabilitation process. I hope you will consider making a contribution.

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Being a replacement rider is never easy. Being asked to replace a factory MotoGP rider is always an honor, and one which nobody wants to turn down, but it also means being thrown in at the deep end, with a new bike, new tires, and sometimes even new tracks to learn with little or no testing.

Bearing all that in mind, experience can make the world of difference. So when Suzuki were forced to replace Alex Rins, after he broke his left arm in Austin, they turned to one of the most experienced riders around.

Sylvain Guintoli spent five seasons in 250s and two full seasons in MotoGP, before heading off to World Superbikes, where he won the title in 2014. He is currently racing the brand new Suzuki GSX-R1000 for Bennetts Suzuki in the BSB championship.

In Barcelona, I found myself alone at Guintoli’s debrief, and had a chance to spend fifteen minutes talking to the Frenchman.

We had a wide-ranging conversation, covering topics as diverse as the changes to the bikes and tires since 2008, the character of the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, and how it compares to Suzuki’s production GSX-R1000.

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It is not often that journalists get to speak to team managers at length, but test days provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So it was that a small group of journalists attending the tests sat down with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio to discuss progress so far.

There was a lot to talk about. There have been rumors that Andrea Iannone is not fitting in well with the ECSTAR Suzuki team, and is currently engaged in talks with Aprilia about moving there for the 2018 season. Some of Iannone’s issues are down to his problem adapting to the bike, and trying to fix his feeling with the front end.

Brivio spoke to us about Iannone’s situation, and the development of the GSX-RR. He also talked about the benefits of a satellite team, what Suzuki is doing to improve the spec electronics package, the test program at Barcelona, and the return of Alex Rins for the test.

It was a long discussion, but there was plenty to go over. We think you will enjoy it.

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Q&A: Jorge Lorenzo on Developing the Ducati

04/22/2017 @ 9:25 pm, by Andrew Kohn10 COMMENTS

This has been a challenging year for Ducati Corse, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Dovizioso. The Desmosedici GP17 is a new platform with a new aerodynamic package, sans winglets, and there have been development challenges along the way.

With a double DNF at Argentina, Ducati was definitely looking for some good news in Austin.

As it turns out, qualifying went better than expected. Lorenzo seemed quite pleased at the end of qualifying, pumping his fist in the air as he entered his garage.

This afternoon, Asphalt & Rubber had a chance to sit down with Lorenzo for a few minutes to discuss the challenges of switching from Yamaha to Ducati, and the difficulty of developing a new MotoGP machine.

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Miguel Oliveira is one of the brightest minds in the Grand Prix paddock. A quiet, calm presence, the Portuguese rider is widely admired throughout the paddock. His modesty and his down-to-earth attitude mean that he does not garner a great deal of attention off track, nor does he seek it. 

His performance on track does, though. Oliveira came very close to winning the 2015 Moto3 championship, staging a remarkable comeback that saw him recover from a 110-point deficit with six races to go to close to within 6 points of Danny Kent at Valencia.

At the Jerez Moto2 tests, Oliveira was similarly impressive, finishing regularly in the top three. 

That success is in no small part due to his return to Aki Ajo’s Red Bull KTM Ajo Motorsport team. At Jerez, the Finnish team manager spoke glowingly of his return to the fold, and Oliveira returned the compliments.

We spoke to Oliveira at some length at Jerez, covering a vast range of subjects. Oliveira spoke of the KTM Moto2 bike, and of its development. He told us why he went endurance racing last year, and what he is doing to help develop young Portuguese talent.

And he talks about his other career, studying to be a dentist. That study, and his approach to it and to racing, gives a fascinating insight into a very intelligent and grounded young man.

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The Aki Ajo Monster Interview, Part 2: On Moto2

12/15/2016 @ 11:20 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success.

Ajo explained how he goes about identifying talent in the first part of this two-part interview. In the second part, he gives more insight into the process of building a winning team.

Ajo talks about how he nearly ended up working with Romano Fenati in 2017, and some of the factors which prevented it. Ajo also explains why he believes Moto2 is the toughest category in motorcycle racing, and the daunting challenge stepping up to the intermediate category can be.

The Finnish team manager also dives more deeply into the importance of a team, and surrounding a rider with the right pieces to help him get the best out of himself. 

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