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.

Riders, teams, journalists, fans, almost everyone likes to complain about the layout of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg. Three fast straights connected by hairpins, with a long left hand corner thrown in for the sake of variety.

The facilities and setting may be magnificent, but the track layout is pretty dire. Coming from the spectacular, flowing layout of Brno, the contrast could hardly be greater.

And yet the Red Bull Ring consistently manages to produce fantastic racing. The combined gap between first and second place across all three classes on Sunday was 0.867 seconds, and nearly half a second of that was down to Moto3.

The MotoGP race was decided on the last lap again, just as it had been in 2017, though the race was decided at Turn 3, rather than the final corner. Spielberg once again served up a breathtaking battle for MotoGP fans, with a deserved winner, and the rest of the podium riders losing with valor and honor.

If we were to be picky about it, it would be to complain that the protagonists of the MotoGP race were rather predictable.

It is no surprise that the factory Ducatis would play a role at the front of the race: a Ducati had won in Austria in the previous two races, and the long straights from slow corners are almost made to measure for the Desmosedici’s balance of power, mechanical grip, acceleration, and braking stability.

Nor was it a surprise that Marc Márquez should be involved, the gains made by Honda in acceleration giving the RC213V the tools to tackle the Ducatis.

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A third of the way into Sunday’s race at Brno, and there was a group of eleven riders fighting for the lead. That’s the MotoGP race, not the Moto3 race. In the Moto3 race at the same stage, there was still a group of twenty riders at the front.

In Moto2, ten riders were in the group at the front. If you wanted to see close racing, Brno delivered the goods, in all three classes. The MotoGP race saw the eighth closest podium finish of all time, and the closest top ten in history.

Moto2 was decided by seven hundredths of a second. The podium finishers in all three classes were separated by half a second or less. And the combined winning margin, adding up the gap between first and second in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3, was 0.360. Are you not entertained?

“A good battle,” is how Cal Crutchlow described Sunday’s MotoGP race at Brno. “I think again, MotoGP has proved to be the best motor sport entertainment there is. Week in, week out we keep on having these battles.”

The race may not have seen the hectic swapping of places which we saw at Assen. The lead may not have changed hands multiple times a lap on multiple laps. Yet the race was as tense and exciting as you could wish, with plenty of passing and the result going down to the wire.

Is it any surprise that Brno should produce such great racing? Sunday’s race reiterated just how crucial circuit layout is in racing. The track is one of the widest on the calendar, with sweeping corners which run into each other.

A defensive line going into a corner leaves you open to attack on corner exit. What’s more, even if you ride defensively, or pass a rider and get passed again, you still end up with the same lap time. Brno, Assen, Mugello, Phillip Island: these tracks are made for motorcycle racing.

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Sunday at the Czech GP with Tony Goldsmith

08/05/2018 @ 10:23 pm, by Tony GoldsmithADD COMMENTS

It is a truism in MotoGP that though they hand out the trophies on Sunday, the race is often won on Friday and Saturday. Practice is when riders and teams can find the setup tweaks they need to go faster, evaluate tire choices, and plan a strategy.

Which tires offer the most potential? Which area of the track can we gain most while sacrificing the least in other points? Is there more to be gained by pushing hard early and trying to manage, or by being patient in the first half of the race, hoping to have an advantage in the second half?

The wide range of tires offered by Michelin make practice even more important. Michelin’s remit from Dorna is to produce three front tires and three rear tires that can all be used during the race.

That requires a certain amount of compromise: labeling tires soft, medium, and hard does not mean that Michelin make three tires with an equal step in between the three different tires. It is more like an indicator of how well the French tire make expects each tire to cope with the heat and stress of a race, and the trade off in terms of grip.

So a soft and a medium tire may use the same rubber on one side of the tire, or on opposite sides of the tire. Or they may use the same compounds with a stiffer carcass, to reduce flex and therefore the amount of heat being generated.

Understanding how all these factors work together, and what that will mean for the race, is what the teams spend their time doing in practice. The team and rider that does this best on Friday and Saturday gets to spend Sunday evening celebrating their victory during the race. If all goes to plan, of course.

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When it comes down to it, it is always individual races which define an era. Silverstone 1979 defined the late 1970s, with Barry Sheene coming up just short of Kenny Roberts, a milestone in the American takeover of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

In 1983, at Anderstorp in Sweden, Freddie Spencer brought the Roberts era to an end, by beating the triple world champion with an outrageously late braking maneuver on the final lap.

In the 1990s, what we might now refer to as the First Golden Age, Hockenheim 1991 typifies the battles between Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, where quarter was neither asked nor given.

The wild scenes at Eastern Creek and Jerez in 1996 marked the rivalry between Mick Doohan and the man came closest to stopping him, Alex Crivillé.

Valentino Rossi’s arrival in MotoGP may have been spectacular, but his win at Welkom in South Africa in 2004, his first race on the Yamaha since leaving Honda beating arch enemy Max Biaggi, was a watershed in his career. That was the point at which Rossi truly transcended the sport.

When we look back at this period, which will surely be called the Second Golden Age, then Assen 2018, along with the 2015 and 2017 races at Phillip Island, will be the races that fans and pundits point to as the ones which defined the era.

Mass battles between multiple riders, hard and close passing in which contact is frequent and accepted, a healthy mix of riders and bikes, of factory and satellite. Battles which rage almost from start to finish, with frequent lead changes, and an almost uncountable number of passes.

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How do you win a championship? There are two schools of thought. Casey Stoner believed that the way you won world titles was by focusing on winning races. “If you win races, the championships will look after themselves,” he said when he was still racing.

Others argue that consistency is key, that you win titles by getting the best result available on the day, and hope that you don’t make mistakes. After all, Emilio Alzamora became 125cc World Champion in 1999 through sheer consistency, without winning a single race that season.

The riders in contention for the 2018 MotoGP title have mixed opinions about the best way to win a championship. Marc Márquez wanted to win every race he started in, until the 2015 Honda RC213V got the better of him, and he had to push too hard to try to be competitive, crashing himself out of contention.

Since then, he has tamed his approach, winning whenever possible, but understanding that sometimes, he has to grit his teeth and settle for whatever is available on the day.

Valentino Rossi, wily veteran that he is, follows the same approach, take what you can, where you can, and wait to see where it takes you. That’s how he came close to racking up title number ten in 2015, and that’s how he has remained in contention every season since he came back to Yamaha in 2013.

On Sunday night, Andrea Dovizioso affirmed that he was thinking about the championship in every race as well. “My approach to the race is always thinking about the championship,” the Ducati rider said. “If I fight for the championship or for another position, I always race for the championship.”

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From time to time, the media gets hoist by its own petard. A story comes along which everyone picks up and runs with, pushed to ever more dizzying heights of breathless commentary; what ifs, maybes, and wild speculation.

Professional sports are soap opera for men, as the great darts promoter Barry Hearn once said, and the logical corollary of that is that sports media extrapolate throwaway comments and a handful of facts into vast sweeping narratives.

Thus it was that what looked like the entire MotoGP media contingent packed into Honda’s hospitality unit to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say during his media debrief. It was both genuinely impressive and actually quite frightening.

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Sunday at Donington Park with Tony Goldsmith

05/28/2018 @ 9:41 am, by Tony GoldsmithADD COMMENTS

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking.

In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways.

In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa’s brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden’s championship challenge was over.

Valentino Rossi’s heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time.

Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia.

The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship.

And Sunday’s drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn’t finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

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Racing produces drama. When you put 24 riders on an equal number of 270hp MotoGP machines, you can never be certain of the outcome.

The tired and obvious story lines you had written in your head before the race have a tendency to go up in smoke once the flag drops. Racing produces a new reality, often surprising, rarely predictable.

But that doesn’t stop us from drawing up a picture after practice of how the race is going to play out. At a tight track like Jerez, passing is difficult, and so the rider who can get the holeshot can try to open a gap and run away at the front.

After qualifying, it was clear that the three factory-backed Hondas were strongest, the Repsols of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, together with the LCR Honda of Cal Crutchlow were all a cut above the rest.

It would be an all-RC213V podium, with the other manufacturers left to fight over the scraps. The Ducatis would do battle with the Suzukis, and the Yamahas would find some pace at last, and get in among it at the front. It didn’t pan out that way, of course.

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