Valentino Rossi’s Special Yamaha XJR1300 Flat Tracker

It is good to be Valentino Rossi. Not only do you have nine world championships to your name, legions of yellow-crazy fans, but you also get pretty nice gifts from your friends. Take “Mya” for example – a special Yamaha XJR1300 custom flat tracker that the folks at VR|46 built for their fearless leader. Now, when you think about bikes that should be the basis for a custom project, the Yamaha XJR1300 doesn’t exactly come to mind. It probably doesn’t help that this decades-old model is only Euro3 compliant, and set to sunset at the end of this year. The XJ1300 certainly doesn’t strike us as the appropriate starting point for a flat track bike either, especially with its 530 lbs weight figure. That all being said, the VR|46 crew have done a pretty good job of spiffing up the old girl.

That Suzuki Katana 3.0 Concept Though…

One of the less-publicized motorcycles on display at this year’s EICMA show was this Suzuki Katana concept, which has since been making the rounds on social media. Rightfully so, we would say, as the “Katana 3.0” is a very intriguing idea into how Suzuki can revitalize one of its most iconic names. A creation by the folks at Motociclismo, with the help of designer Rodolfo Frascoli and Engines Engineering, the Katana 3.0 concept isn’t the “official” concept that many had hoped for from Suzuki. However, the fact that Suzuki hosted the concept inside its EICMA display is a sign that the Japanese manufacturer is certainly listening to the feeback the bike generates.

The KTM 790 Duke’s Killer Feature? Its Price Tag

The KTM 790 Duke launches a new platform for the Austrian brand, based around an 800cc parallel-twin engine. As such, we already know that we can expect the twin-cylinder platform to spawn an adventure version of the bike, with the KTM 790 Adventure R prototype debuting at EICMA as well. We can also expect other “790” models in the coming years, both from KTM and likely from Husqvarna as well. That is a good thing, because the KTM 790 Duke is a potent bike, rich with features. The real kicker though – if early indications about the pricing can be believed – is the KTM 790 Duke’s price tag, as KTM has been quoted as pricing the 790 Duke at below €10,000. This would put US pricing around the $11,000 mark, if not cheaper.

The Three Big Trends That We Saw at EICMA

The 2017 EICMA show has come and gone, and with it our glimpse at the new motorcycles that will arrive for the next model year, and beyond. EICMA week has always been my Super Bowl, as it culminates the year’s work, and also sets the tone for the upcoming riding season. Beyond just my limited world though, EICMA sets the trends and the expectations of the motorcycle industry. There is no trade show in our two-wheeled microcosm that has a larger influence than EICMA. So, while all the new models that we just saw are the week’s big headlines, it is really the trends and movements that will dictate the future of the motorcycle industry. For this round of the EICMA show, three major trends presented themselves in Milan, along with a few more notable occurrences.

ARCH Motorcycle’s Next Bike Won’t Be a Cruiser

ARCH Motorcycle is in Italy right now, and they just took the wraps off three bikes, one of which isn’t so much a cruiser, as it is a naked roadster model. Built using carbon fiber MonoCell chassis technology, a building technique usually reserved for ultra high-end sport cars and Formula 1 racing chassis, the ARCH Method143 features a potent 143ci (2,343) v-twin engine. Though, instead of the performance cruiser layout the company is better known for, the ARCH Method143 will have mid-body rearsets for the feet, and clip-on handlebars for the hands, making for a very sporty riding position. Backing up that notion is the use of Öhlins suspension, which includes a proprietary Öhlins FGRT series front fork with carbon fiber airfoil covers.

No One Seemed to Notice that the MV Agusta Dragster 800 RR Is New for the 2018 Model Year

We had to search high and low for information about the 2018 MV Agusta Dragster 800 RR – it doesn’t help that MV Agusta’s press site is offline right now – but it seems just about every news publication missed the fact that this attractive roadster got some serious changes for the 2018 model year. These unnoticed changes certainly are partially due to the fact that MV Agusta went without a press introduction at this year’s EICMA show, but it is also due to the company’s never-ending line of “bold new graphics” changes, one-off customs, and special livery designs, which only muddy the waters for when actual changes occur.

Kawasaki Ninja Z900RS Cafe Brings Modern to Retro

Kawasaki made an impression at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, debuting the new Z900RS standard. The premise was simple there: take the potent Kawasaki Z900 street bike, and dress it in retro clothing. The effect was something that looked incredibly like the Kawasaki Zephyr of old, but with modern brakes, suspension, traction control, and even a slipper-assist clutch. Now we see that Team Green plans on already expanding the line, debuting today the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja Z900RS Cafe. Basically the Z900RS with a bikini fairing, this modern café racer should be a perfect fit for those riders that want an older looking motorcycle that doesn’t run like an older looking motorcycle. Mostly a visual exercise, the basic stats of the Z900RS Cafe don’t stray too far from the donor bike from whence it came.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Debuts with Track Goodies

For the 2018 model year, Kawasaki continues to develop its superbike package. As such, the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE brings some special new features, to earn those extra letters after its name. The big addition is the new Showa electronic suspension, which is the only semi-active suspension system on motorcycles that includes built-in stroke sensors. These stroke sensors are able to measure the movement of the fork and shock internals, allowing Showa’s suspension to measure and change its damping settings on the fly, as you ride. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE also gets the forged aluminum wheels found on Kawasaki’s homologation-spec superbike, the Ninja ZX-10RR, which should help the Ninja ZX-10R SE feel more nimble on the race track, despite its 459 lbs wet weight.

So Many Photos of the New KTM 790 Duke to Drool Over

We are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the new KTM 790 Duke is the bike of this year’s EICMA show. Making a potent 105hp from its 799cc parallel-twin engine, packed into a 418 lbs (wet)steel trellis body, the 2018 KTM 790 Duke brings a host of features to the middleweight sport bike category. In typical KTM fashion, the 790 Duke left no angle behind in its high school honors geometry course, and the LED headlight builds upon the common design features that KTM has been putting together on its street-going machines. Not quite the vision that was the KTM 790 Duke prototype, the production model still evokes the same emotions, and is handsome in its own right – allaying our fears when seeing spy shots of the machine.

Mega Gallery: Husqvarna Vitpilen 701

We have had to wait two years to see it come into production, but the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 will finally be available to motorcyclists in March 2018. As an added bonus, the street-going machine stays true to its concept design, which wowed the crowd at last year’s EICMA show. This year in Milan, the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 is all the talk of EICMA, and while “Best in Show” at EICMA almost exclusively goes to an Italian marque, the real winners are surely coming from Austria, as both the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 and KTM 790 Duke look like winners. A duality from Mattighofen, KTM and Husqvarna approach motorcycles from two opposite spectrums. KTM lives in the extreme, with an edgy focus on its “Ready to Race” mentality. Conversely, Husqvarna is subtle and sophisticated…maybe even understated.

MotoGP Dashboard Messages Approved, Starting in 2018

06/28/2017 @ 11:54 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Dashboard Messages Approved, Starting in 2018

On the eve of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule making body has allowed a system which was first mooted at the same race last year.

In Assen, the GPC gathered to discuss various minor tweaks to the MotoGP rules, but among them was a major upgrade: permitting the use of dashboard messages by the teams from 2018.

The ability to send messages is piggybacking off the system put in place to aid Race Direction. With spec ECUs and spec dashboards in Moto3 and MotoGP, Race Direction had long wanted the ability to send messages to the bikes on track.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Mugello: Rossi’s Recovery

06/03/2017 @ 11:12 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Saturday MotoGP Summary at Mugello: Rossi’s Recovery

Imagine you find yourself at the start of a 40-minute session of track time, at one of the greatest racing circuits in the world, sat astride one of the most sophisticated racing motorcycles in the world, with the Tuscan sun beating down from clear skies, and the hillsides echoing to the roar of tens of thousands of delirious fans. What would you do?

If you’re a Moto3 rider competing at the Italian Grand Prix, then the answer is simple: you sit in your pit box for five minutes, then pootle out into pit lane, spending all your time looking backwards.

You are finally persuaded to head out of pit lane over the crest and down towards one of the most challenging corners of the season, so you potter around at a miserable 30 km/h, constantly looking behind you in the hope of finding a faster rider coming up behind you at speed. You repeat this for the full session, interspersed with the odd hot lap.

The situation got so bad that in one of the hospitality units after the day was over, one person came over to us and asked if the Moto3 qualifying session had been red-flagged. They had been working through the session, and had noticed that the track had gone completely quiet.

But it was not red flags that stopped the action, it was the desperate search for exactly the right tow. The trouble is, when all 31 Moto3 riders are waiting for a tow, there is no one left to be giving them.

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MotoGP’s Penalty Point System Is No More

03/30/2017 @ 2:06 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

The MotoGP penalty point system is no more. The system, introduced for the 2013 season, whereby Race Direction could punish rider infringements with penalty points, which would accumulate throughout the year and could result in a race ban, has been scrapped at the latest meeting of the Grand Prix Commission.

The penalty points system had been introduced in response (at least in part) to a number of incidents involving Marc Marquez through the 2012 season. There were complaints from the fans, but also from teams and other riders, that Race Direction was not being even-handed in applying existing penalties to riders.

It was sometimes hard for Race Direction to explain why one rider had been given a particular punishment, but another rider who had done something apparently similar had not.

In an attempt to make the situation simpler for all to understand, a penalty point system was introduced, similar to that used in several countries for driving licenses.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: The Blame Game

03/26/2017 @ 4:15 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

Saturday was the kind of day that makes you question the wisdom of allowing Qatar to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and to hold the race at night.

Doing one or the other – either being the first race of the season but holding it during the day, or taking place later in the year and racing at night – is feasible, but doing both is a risk.

If it wasn’t for the fact that the sanctioning fee the Losail International Circuit at Qatar pays to Dorna for the privilege basically covering the overseas travel budget for the teams for the entire season, the MotoGP season opener would be very different.

It was an entirely wasted day. Or perhaps not entirely wasted: we learned that the Qatar circuit badly needs the drainage fixed. Whatever the decision on racing in the rain, when it does rain, the track and the run off areas just don’t drain fast enough.

That led to Loris Capirossi, Dorna’s representative in Race Direction, trying to explain in increasingly exasperated tones that there was no point trying to test during the day or at night, because there was simply too much standing water in the gravel traps and in certain sections of the track to allow it to be used safely.

Capirossi was speaking at an impromptu press conference organized directly after the qualifying press conference, to explain why all on-track action had been cancelled on Saturday.

It had started with the cancellation of the Asia Talent Cup, and a revised schedule was issued containing a track inspection, then a twenty-minute session for the riders to go out and see whether it would be possible to ridein the wet under the floodlights.

But as each schedule approached, events were delayed. In the end, the entire day was cancelled. The track was unusable after such intense rainfall.

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MotoGP Qualifying Cancelled for Qatar GP

03/25/2017 @ 10:22 am, by Jensen Beeler5 COMMENTS

We knew the weather would be a factor in Qatar, and today the rain, and the standing water it created, has lead to the cancellation of the qualifying session at the Qatar GP for the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 classes.

As such, Sunday’s grid (assuming the weather doesn’t change the schedule further) will be based off the combined free practice (FP1, FP2, & FP3) times from earlier in the week.

This means that Maverick Viñales will start from pole for the Qatar GP, joined on the front row by Andrea Iannone and Marc Marquez, in that order.

As we said yesterday, the Qatar GP schedule is in serious flux with the weather at Losail. Be sure to keep an eye on Asphalt & Rubber for updates to starting times, as everything is subject to change.

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Rain Puts Question Marks on MotoGP Opener in Qatar

03/24/2017 @ 12:22 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

Dorna is working on several different scenarios to ensure the MotoGP race at Qatar goes ahead this weekend. All options are still open: the race could be held at night, on a wet track, on Sunday during the day, and even, if the worst comes to the worst, moved to Monday.

The main priority is that the race should take place, as long at it can be done so safely. “The basis is that the worse thing we can do from everyone’s point of view is to cancel the race,” Race Director Mike Webb told us. “So from there, we are sorting out what the best options are to be able to have a safe race.”

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It is hard to overstate just how important pole position is at Misano. It is a tight and tortuous track, with few opportunities to pass. Small differences in practice and qualifying become magnified during the race: the holeshot is worth its weight in gold here.

Get a gap, and you can be gone. The smallest winning margin at Misano was 1.578 seconds, which was the deficit of Jorge Lorenzo to Valentino Rossi in 2014. A second of that was lost on the final straight, however, as the Italian celebrated a significant victory with a monster wheelie.

It doesn’t mean that races can’t be exciting. The 2014 race saw an epic battle between Rossi and Marc Márquez, which lasted half the race until the Spaniard asked too much of his front tire and crashed out.

Races can be hard-fought, but eventually, one rider will wear the rest down and open an unbridgeable gap. That is easier when the rider starts in front.

The first corner is another reason that pole matters at Misano. The hard right then left combination is notorious for pile ups, and the further back you are, the more likely you are to get caught up in the melee.

A front row start is your best hope of making it through unmolested, though a second row start will do at a pinch. Any further back and unless you can secrete a small bottle of nitrous somewhere on the bike in search of a rocket-assisted start, carnage awaits.

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Every day that sees MotoGP motorcycles circulating in earnest is an interesting day, but some are more interesting than others. Friday at Misano was one of those days which last, throwing up surprises and shattering preconceptions.

We found out that we need to throw overboard a lot of the things we thought about the current state of the MotoGP championship.

First, to the things that were not a surprise. That Yamahas should top both sessions of free practice, and establish themselves as favorites for the race was entirely to be expected.

That Valentino Rossi should impress is no surprise either: Misano is his home race, and a win here is his best chance of getting back into the championship. Jorge Lorenzo finding his feet again, and laying down a withering pace raised one or two eyebrows among those who had written him off.

But the real shocker was Pol Espargaro topping the second session of free practice, and ending the day faster.

Has Yamaha smuggled a few go-faster bits into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha garage? The answer to that question is quite simply no. Espargaro’s pace has a very simple explanation: the Spaniard has been strong throughout this season, the switch to the Michelins playing to his strengths.

“This is a track where I am fast,” Espargaro told us. “If we add here the new tires which are really grippy on the rear and quite good performance on the front, I feel like I can ride in my style, aggressive and opening the throttle really early with full lean angle. I feel really comfortable riding the bike.”

Plus, of course, the small matter of time gained by using another fast rider as a target. “For sure, I was behind Márquez, and it helped me two tenths more or less.” Taking away two tenths of a second would put him third rather than first, but as he was second fastest in the morning, Espargaro’s time in FP2 was no fluke.

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On Friday, a young man died in a freak crash at the Circuit de Catalunya, and we mourned him. On Saturday, we went through the motions, picking up the rhythm of a normal race weekend, but in a state of mild shock.

On Sunday morning, we remembered Luis Salom, the whole paddock and a circuit full of fans standing in silence, united both in the memory of a bright young talent who take took from us, and in the knowledge that it can happen again.

On Sunday afternoon, we raced, and reminded ourselves of why young men and women risk their lives with the frankly rather futile objective of demonstrating that they can ride in circles on a motorbike faster than anyone else.

“It was difficult to not cry when we were in the minute of silence,” Maverick Viñales reflected on Sunday afternoon. “It was a really difficult race, but I think the best way to remember Luis is racing, and trying to make the best result. I know he will be always with us.”

Marc Márquez felt much the same. “In the end also this Sunday, I liked it was again the atmosphere of the family, the MotoGP family. Because when we were there together on the grid, when we were racing, everybody was racing for Luis. Everybody dedicated the race to Luis.” And what races to dedicate to Luis Salom.

The Moto3 race saw a tense battle go down to the line, and a thrilling finale and a win that had been a long time coming. The Moto2 race became a brawl between two of Salom’s recent rivals, with a masterful display to take victory. And MotoGP produced one of the fiercest duels we have seen in a while, a popular victory, and a shake up in the championship.

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What does the MotoGP paddock do the day after a rider dies? Carry on as normal. Or nearly normal: bikes circulate, riders compete, but conversations are more hushed, the mood muted. The whole paddock is a quieter place, bar the bellowing of racing four-stroke engines.

Heartless? That is putting it a little strongly. It is in part a coping mechanism, immersing yourself in your work to avoid dwelling on tragedy, and thinking too much about danger.

But it is also a response to the request of Luis Salom’s family and team. When Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta asked them what they wanted to do, they said they wanted the race to go ahead.

Their wishes would be respected, but it was not the first choice of everyone in the paddock. Danilo Petrucci told the Italian press he would have preferred to have packed up and gone home, and he was not alone.

“Yesterday I was crying together with my brother because [Luis Salom] was really young,” Aleix Espargaro told us. “This is a disaster. With Pol we were thinking that the best thing was to not race because actually now I feel empty inside.” We all felt empty inside, and still do.

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