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.

Harley-Davidson Livewire Gets Closer to Production Form

Harley-Davidson made a big push today, showing a number of bikes and concepts that it plans to bring to market by 2022. All of them were a big surprise, but one of them we already knew about: the Harley-Davidson Livewire. While not as big of a shock as the adventure-touring Pan America concept, or the Harley-Davidson Streetfighter or Custom models (to say the least about its upcoming electric lineup), Harley-Davidson has given us something to talk about with this electric power cruiser. Namely, the Harley-Davidson Livewire looks ready in production and in form, even though its official debut is still a year away. Since we first saw the Livewire concept (below), a number of things have changed for the production model.

MV Agusta’s Moto2 Race Bike Predictably Looks Awesome

After a 42-year hiatus, MV Agusta is returning to the Grand Prix Championship. This iconic Italian motorcycle brand will not be competing in MotoGP however, and instead MV Agusta will make its return in the Moto2 category. Partnering with the Forward Racing team, MV Agusta aims to take advantage of the rule changes for the 2019 season, which will see a 765cc Triumph three-cylinder engine replacing the 600cc Honda four-cylinder engine that is currently in use. This change in the spec-engine rule will likely upheave the Moto2 Championship, and MV Agusta wants to be part of that sea change. As such, the bike you see in the photos here will be the machine that launches MV Agusta’s assault on the GP paddock.

The Harley-Davidson “Custom” Is the First Cruiser We Like

In case you missed the new, Harley-Davidson dropped a number of new model concepts on us today, all which are to go into production by the 2022 model year. We have already shown you the ADV concept, as well as the Streetfighter concept. There are a bevy of electric bikes to see as well, along with an e-bike program, but right now we want to focus your attention on the Harley-Davidson Custom, a modern take on the Sportster platform. It might be the first cruiser that we have actually lusted over. For the loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers on this page, that statement should certainly say something about how much we are digging this potent v-twin concept. Using the 1,250cc version of Harley-Davidson’s new modular engine, the Custom takes a number of cues from Harley-Davidsons of the past and future.

Weekly Racing News Digest #1

02/12/2015 @ 11:04 am, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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This is the first in a series of weekly round ups of motorcycle racing news from around the world. Every Wednesday, we will bring a brief summary of stories that did not warrant a full article of their own. So here are some stories you may have missed, for the week preceding February 11th, 2015.

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Analyzing Yamaha’s 2015 MotoGP Launch

01/29/2015 @ 3:04 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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2014 did not go to plan for Yamaha. After the first four races of last year, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo trailed the Repsol Hondas by 76 points in the team championship, and Yamaha was 33 points behind Honda in the manufacturers standings. Marc Márquez was in the middle of an unbeaten run, Dani Pedrosa backing him up strongly.

There were a lot of good reasons for Yamaha’s troubled start. Yamaha was struggling to get a smooth throttle response from a liter less fuel, the new Bridgestone tires were less suited to the YZR-M1’s need for high corner speeds, and Jorge Lorenzo arrived at the start of the season out of shape, after neglecting his training after surgery during the winter.

2015 looks like being the polar opposite. At the launch of their 2015 campaign, the Movistar Yamaha team looked forward with some optimism. Building on the progress made in the second half of 2014, the bike is much more competitive, Valentino Rossi arrives motivated by his strong season, and Jorge Lorenzo is lean and fit, having spent all off-season preparing. They are ready for big things.

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Honda’s RCV1000R production racer is due to get some upgrades after all, but those upgrades are not set to come until 2015, according to reports on GPOne.com.

The performance of the RCV1000R has been a source of some disappointment for the teams who stumped up the roughly 1 million euros a season in bike costs, as well as for the riders who have been hired to race the bike. After reports that a Honda test rider had lapped with 0.3 seconds of the factory RC213V machine, expectations of the bike were very high indeed.

On the track, the RCV1000R has not got anywhere near the times expected of it. Comparing the fastest race lap of the fastest RCV1000R rider against the slowest RC213V rider shows an average difference of 0.730 seconds over the first five races of the season, four tenths more than Honda had managed with a test rider.

Teams have complained, riders have been open in criticizing the lack of power, and the current teams have been eyeing the Open class Yamahas fielded by the NGM Forward team with some interest.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise after the first day of testing at Sepang was the sheer, unadulterated speed of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha, racing in the Open category.

Seventh fastest, half a second off the fastest factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, and ahead of the two Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. By lunchtime on the second day, Aleix was closer still, just two tenths off the best Yamaha.

Naturally, all eyes turned to the Tech 3 garage, and the response of team boss Herve Poncharal. How would the otherwise charming Frenchman react to being beaten by a bike which Yamaha was supplying to a rival team for a third of the price he is paying to lease the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 machines, entered under the Factory Option rules in MotoGP?

A long line of journalists beat a path to his door, including us, to put those questions to him.

Poncharal spoke at length about the Open class, the issue of fuel consumption, and the performance of Aleix Espargaro. First of all, though, he emphasized the strength of his relationship with Yamaha.

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One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.

There is more to be learned from watching at trackside than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible.

Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.

At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.

That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable.

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So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears.

Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition.

The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.

You didn’t even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.

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Will they or won’t they? The “they”, of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time.

That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications – including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro – predicted that Yamaha’s seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.

They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. “It will be here for the weekend,” he said, going on to clarify: “tomorrow.” Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.

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It had been widely rumored that Yamaha would have some important updates to test at its private test being held yesterday and today at Brno.

The biggest expected update to be tested was a seamless gearbox, but though Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis had hinted they might be testing the new gearbox, it was far from certain.

As the test at Brno was a private one, no media were invited who would be able to verify whether the seamless gearbox was being tested or not.

Fortunately, however, the Brno circuit was allowing visitors in to watch the test. And among those was Pavel, who runs the Czech Valentino Rossi fansite http://www.rossi-yamaha.cz/.

Pavel shot some video footage of the private test – thankfully not covered by the blanket ban Dorna has on all coverage of the official tests – and was kind enough to send us the audio from the recordings.

Armed with that audio, we were able to analyze the sound, as we have done previously (on both the Honda and the Yamaha), to try to judge whether Yamaha was indeed testing a seamless gearbox, and if it was, what advantage it was giving the riders.

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With MotoGP’s summer break halfway done, testing resumes later this week for some of the top names in the sport. Current and former champions take to the track at Brno and Motegi, with Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki all testing a range of material.

The most relevant test for this year’s championship will be held at Brno, where Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will be testing the factory M1s. Lorenzo’s aim will be to test his collarbone, while Rossi continues to work on set up, chasing minor improvements to the major step forward made during the Aragon test.

The Yamaha pair will also hope to be testing Yamaha’s seamless gearbox at the two-day test, the first time that the factory riders will get to try out the new seamless transmission. So far, it has only been tested by Yamaha’s test riders in Japan, working on reliability. Whether the Brno test means that the seamless gearbox will be ready for use later this season remains to be seen.

Over in Japan, Yamaha’s test team, consisting Wataru Yoshikawa and Katsuaki Nakasuga, will be at Motegi, where they will be joined for a private test by Honda’s test team and Suzuki. Motegi sees the temporary return of Casey Stoner to the MotoGP fold, where he will be replacing the injured Kousuke Akiyoshi.

Stoner will be testing Honda’s 2014 RC213V to be used by the factory team, and also continuing work on the production racer Honda is building as a replacement for the CRT bikes. Joining Stoner will be his former crew chief Cristian Gabarrini, an indication of just how seriously HRC are taking this test.

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Why did the factory Yamaha team head to the Motorland Aragon circuit to join Honda and Suzuki at a private test? Was it perhaps to give Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi their first taste of the seamless gearbox Yamaha have been developing, to counter Honda’s advantage?

That is the question which many fans have been asking, and in recent days – and weeks – I have been inundated with questions about the seamless gearbox. Well, question, singular, actually, as it all boils down to just the one: When will Yamaha finally start to race their seamless gearbox?

It is a question I have been trying to pursue since the start of the season, since rumors first emerged that they may have used the gearbox at the first race of the year. All inquiries I made, at all levels of the Yamaha organization, received the same answers: Yes, Yamaha is developing a seamless gearbox, and is testing it back in Japan. No, Yamaha has not yet raced it, and has no plans to race it. And no, it is not yet ready to be tested.

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