Introducing the MOTR Podcast

Today we are announcing the third podcast that Asphalt & Rubber is involved with, the Motorcycles on the Record Podcast…or as we like to call it: the MOTR Podcast. The concept is pretty simple, as the MOTR Podcast is designed to compliment our popular Two Enthusiasts Podcast production. For those who don’t listen to it aleady, on the Two Enthusiasts Podcast, myself and co-host Quentin Wilson take an outside perspective on what is happening in the motorcycle industry. So, to contrast that with the MOTR Podcast, this new show will provide an insider’s view of what’s going on in motorcycles, with a focus on interviews and discussions with the industry’s leading figures.

Say Hello to the New Triumph Speed Triple RS

Back in 1994, Triumph created the streetfighter segment with the Speed Triple. But, the bike of 20 years ago is very different from the one debuting today, however the basic ethos remains: an aggressive sport bike for the city streets. In this time span though, the streetfighter segment has changed. Brands like KTM and Aprilia rule the roost, with high-horsepower bikes that come competently packed with high-tech electronics. Hoping to stay relevant with the same basic 1050cc platform, the British marque shows us now the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS – which boasts over 100 “new” parts just in the engine alone. The changes are subtle to the outgoing model though, but the highlights do stand out.

2018 Alta Motors Redshift MXR Officially Debuts – More Power, More Torque, Less Weight, and “Overclocking”

Here it is. After we broke the story that Alta Motors would be debuting an R-spec machine for its motocross line, we get our first glimpse of the 2018 Alta Motor Redshift MXR. A souped-up version of the 2018 model, which already gets some upgrades over last year’s bike, the Redshift MXR boasts some impressive features, in the pursuit of a no-compromises MX race bike. As such, Alta is quoting a stout 50hp and 42 lbs•ft of torque for the Redshift MXR, while the “wet” weight of the machine has been reduced by 8 lbs, to 259 lbs ready-to-ride. Recharge times have also been reduced, to just 1.5hrs on a 220v system – a savings of 30 minutes over the standard model.

Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle Coming in 18 Months

Harley-Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich dropped more than a few bombs during today’s earnings report, first saying that the Bar & Shield brand would close its Kansas City factory and consolidate production around its York, Pennsylvania plant. The American brand isn’t stopping the news there though. Offering a carrot of good tidings, Harley-Davidson reports that it will make its first production electric motorcycle within the next 18 months, effectively bringing its Livewire concept into production. The Livewire was a purpose-built concept done by Harley-Davidson in order to gauge the market reaction to the Bar & Shield brand going electric. Offering limited test rides, Harley-Davidson got positive responses to the Livewire experience, and the project has been internally green-lit ever since.

Harley-Davidson Will Close Its Kansas City Plant

The economic outlook for Harley-Davidson right now is not looking good. Just last year, the Bar & Shield brand cut 118 jobs from its plant in York, citing the need to cut production costs, and to reduce factory capacity so that it was more inline with consumer demand. That demand has seemingly dropped even further though, as Harley-Davidson will cut 260 jobs from its production ranks, losing roughly 800 positions in Kansas City, but adding 450 positions back to its York facility, where it is consolidating. The news comes as part of Harley-Davidson’s recounting of its rough go at 2017. The American brand saw its sales in the United States down 8.5% (down 6.7% worldwide), with the fourth quarter of the year taking a particular beating: down 11.1% in the USA (9.6% worldwide).

Hervé Poncharal Talks About Replacing Jonas Folger

It is hard to envision a worse time to lose a rider for the season. Jonas Folger’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the 2018 MotoGP season to focus on his health was a hammer blow for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. Just weeks before the start of testing for the new season, and long after riders good enough to race in MotoGP have signed contracts, Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal is left looking for a replacement. It is a massive task, especially as Poncharal is refusing to break any contracts to take a rider. “You would be amazed to hear how many phone calls I have had, and who from,” he told us. “There were some interesting names, honestly, but priority for me, the basis for me is that I will never take or enter into any kind of discussion with someone who has a contract.”

Honda and Forever 21 Create Clothing Line for Millennials

An interesting news item for you today, as Honda has teamed up with Forever 21 to bring young adults a unique motorcycle-branded line of clothing. The apparel line is inspired by Honda liveries from the 1980’s and 1990’s, though with a healthy dose of on-trend fashion, for both men and women. “Honda’s motorcycle racing success in the ’80s and ’90s was legendary, with our riders earning many championships in domestic and international series,” said Mike Snyder, Senior Manager of Honda Powersports Marketing. “While we’re focused on winning with our current teams, it’s fun to see our racing heritage honored by Forever 21 with a completely new audience.”

What You Need to Know About the Ducati Panigale V4 S

Is the Ducati Panigale V4 S the most anticipated motorcycle of 2018? If you are a diehard sport biker, the answer is probably yes, though a number of significant models are debuting this year, from several manufacturers. Still, in terms of ground-changing machines, the Panigale V4 has to rank high up on the list, as it is Ducati’s first proper four-cylinder motorcycle to go into mainstream production. I am writing to you today from Valencia, Spain – where we just finished a day of riding at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, which is better known as the final stop on the MotoGP Championship calendar. So, let me tell you what you need to know about Ducati’s new flagship motorcycle, the Panigale V4 S. 

What You Need to Know About the 2018 Honda Gold Wing

We just finished riding the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour in Austin, Texas – a day early I might add…because it’s snowing…in Texas. Still, clocking close to 200 miles on Honda’s sixth generation of this venerable touring machine has provided us with some interesting insights into the next Wing. A bike designed for long-distance riding, we have gathered our thoughts on the new Honda Gold Wing Tour, in a short and sweet format, so you can sound informed at your next bike night or internet forum. Overall, the all-new Honda Gold Wing Tour is a smart update to an iconic motorcycle, and it brings the Gold Wing name inline with the current state of technology. As we found on the road,  the new Gold Wing is an improvement over its predecessor, but that comes with a caveat or two.

Brembo Issues Statement on Its Master Cylinder Recall

Just over a week ago, we broke the news that a massive recall was coming to motorcycles equipped with a particular Brembo master cylinder. Since then, we have seen recall notices from Aprilia and Ducati (affecting roughly 10,000 motorcycles in the USA) with more recalls expected from other brands. Because recalls in the United States typically come from the motorcycle manufacturer and not the part supplier, mum was the word from the folks at Brembo, though there were a number of questions regarding these recalls that weren’t answered in the NHTSA documents. Today, Brembo has finally decided to speak about the recalls that are underway in the United States, and presumably will be occurring in other markets as well.

Have we emerged any the wiser after three days of testing at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand by the MotoGP field? That is hard to say.

The test was more for the benefit of Michelin than for the teams, and the French tire maker brought some 2000 tires for the 24 riders who took part in the test.

The track itself was not particularly challenging or instructive in terms of understanding how well bike development was going. “This track is also not so easy or so difficult, it’s intermediate,” is how Monster Tech 3 Yamaha replacement Hafizh Syahrin summed it up.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about how the 2018 championship might play out on the basis of the Buriram test? “No, impossible,” Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso said, before proceeding to do just that in some detail.

“I can see Marc in a better shape than at the beginning of last year,” Dovizioso said. “I can see Dani in a good shape, I can see Zarco with a little bit more experience, so a little bit better for the championship than last year.”

It was harder to judge the Movistar Yamahas, Dovizioso said. “It’s very difficult to understand the two factory Yamahas, because they will be fast in the race, on race weekends, for sure.”

“But when you look at the riders and the teams from outside, it’s impossible to know the details, so I don’t know. I can see the Pramac riders are fast, they are happy with the bike, so I think they will be quite fast during the season.”

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It is always easy to get carried away by testing. Seeing a particular rider at the top of the timesheets, it is tempting to start constructing a narrative which sees that rider dominate the season, while writing off the rest.

That, of course, is nearly always a mistake. And in the case of the second day at Buriram, Thailand, it is definitely a mistake.

That doesn’t mean Marc Márquez won’t be fast for the rest of the year, as well as Saturday in Thailand. He has won the MotoGP title in four of his five seasons in the class, so topping the timesheets was not, as one journo joked, because Michelin gave him special tires for his birthday.

Márquez had been fast, and consistently so, through both the Sepang and Buriram tests so far. But the order behind Márquez probably doesn’t reflect the true relative strength of the field.

The reason? Tires, of course. On Saturday, Michelin brought a new rear tire for the riders to test, after the rears used on Friday had shown some signs of degradation. The original allocation of rear tires were the same as used at Brno, Argentina, Sachsenring, and Sepang.

The new tire was the rear used at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. That is relatively unsurprising, given that the place everyone compared Buriram to the first time they saw it was Austria.

The different compounds in the Austria rear were better placed to withstand the stresses of Buriram, especially along the three successive straights in the tropical heat.

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The MotoGP riders have had their first laps of the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, and the reviews are in. Simple to learn, but more fun than it looks on paper, is the short version.

“The layout, I remembered it was more similar to Austria, so I was very worried,” Valentino Rossi said, summing up the general feeling. “But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It’s good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it’s fun.”

It was a change from what he had said at Sepang, when the Italian dismissed the Buriram circuit as “boring”. “I rode the track in 2015 with a Yamaha 300 together with [Jorge] Lorenzo and [Pol] Espargaro,” Rossi explained. “I remember that the track was similar to Austria. But in reality it’s better, have good corners. Technically it’s quite easy, but it’s not boring.”

On a side note, Rossi ended the day in eighth, less than four tenths behind the fastest man Cal Crutchlow. He finished three place and a tenth of a second ahead of his young teammate Maverick Viñales, the rider who was prematurely anointed world champion after preseason testing in 2017.

Friday was Rossi’s thirty-ninth birthday, and the start of his twenty-third season in Grand Prix racing, and nineteenth season in the premier class.

To still be racing at his age and after so many years is a remarkable enough achievement. To start the season as a legitimate championship contender – or perhaps, to still have the desire, the discipline, the ambition to do what it takes to start the season as a legitimate championship contender – is truly the mark of his greatness.

When Valentino Rossi retires (not yet, he looks certain to sign on for two more years) he will be remembered for his titles.

But to my mind, what marks him out above all other riders is the fact he is still competitive even now, when so many others have (understandably) given up on the hard physical and mental slog that racing at the very highest level demands.

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Now that the riders have seen the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, (though so far, only on foot, bicycle, or scooter) they can at last express an opinion on it.

The consensus so far is entirely unsurprising. “It’s quite similar to Austria, the layout, but it’s very flat,” Danilo Petrucci summed up the feeling of most. Petrucci did not mourn the lack of elevation, however.

“I don’t know if this is maybe a good point for me, because in Austria I always struggle a bit, even though I have a Ducati.”

Johann Zarco agreed with Petrucci. “I was watching many videos of the World Superbikes, and the first feeling is that it looks like the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg, but flat.”

But the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was broadly positive. “Finally I did many laps with the scooter, and I also ran on the track. I like it. I think it’s going to be easy to learn, but easy to learn means that all riders will be so close, and the gap between maybe the first ten or fifteen positions will be very small. So that can make the game complicated.”

When a track has fewer secrets to unlock, Zarco explained, it meant that everyone got the knack of the track quickly, leaving little to differentiate between them. No Casey Stoner at Phillip Island, no Marc Márquez at Austin.

“I think it’s easy to learn, you quickly know which line to use. I think Texas is more complicated to learn, with 20 corners. But easy means that many riders are able to be fast, but there is only one winner. That’s the difficult point,” Zarco said, before pausing and joking, “Well, in Superbike they have two winners, but in MotoGP, we have one!”

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Preview of the MotoGP Test at Buriram, Thailand

02/15/2018 @ 8:08 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The Sepang MotoGP test proved to be most instructive, both for the fans, who got a first taste of what the 2018 season could look like, and for the factories, who put the first imaginings of this year’s bikes – and especially engines – through their paces.

We learned that Ducati has taken another step forward, that Honda has improved, that Yamaha has solved one problem but possibly created another, that Suzuki is showing promise, that Aprilia is still waiting on a new engine to match their new chassis, and that KTM is starting to realize that closing in on the top ten was much easier than getting into the top five will be.

From Sepang, MotoGP moves to Thailand, some 1300km almost due north. The Chang International Circuit – mostly referred to as Buriram among the MotoGP faithful, as the circuit is owned by (and named after) the main Thai rival to Official MotoGP Beer Supplier Singha – may prove a good deal less instructive than Sepang, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it offers more of the same, especially from a climate point of view. And secondly, it offers less, in terms of variety of corners and bike maneuverability.

The layout of the Buriram circuit is relatively simple. There are no real elevation changes, though the track has one or two crests and dips.

The track consists of three straights strung together with tight corners, and then an ornery section of tightish corners taking the riders back to the final first-gear corner, and back onto the relatively short start and finish straight.

It is, unsurprisingly, a Hermann Tilke track, and exactly what you would expect as a result.

That doesn’t mean the track is completely without entertainment value. Turn 4 is fast left hander with a lot of run off behind it, giving riders the confidence to attack it. The long Turn 9 is relatively slow, but it leads onto a complex left-right section taken at speed which demands a lot of effort from the rider.

The final corner is a favorite overtaking point, but it tends to bring out the worst in riders. The only pass available is one of the kamikaze variety, offering glory or the gravel trap. To see a lap of the Buriram circuit, watch this video on the WorldSBK website.

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Red Bull KTM MotoGP rider Pol Espargaro is to miss the upcoming MotoGP test at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, KTM has announced.

The 26-year-old Spaniard is suffering with a hernia in his L4 vertebra, for which he underwent surgery on Monday night in Barcelona.

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Normally, when comparing times from a test, it makes the most sense to stick to a single year. But sometimes, there are good reasons to look back at past years, in search of a larger and more universal pattern.

Comparing the best laps of riders who were in the championship last year and this year proves to be a highly instructive exercise.

Doing that, there is one thing that immediately leaps out at you. The two riders who improved the most between the two seasons are the two who switched between a Honda and a Ducati.

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The second day of MotoGP testing at Sepang turned out to be Motor Monday. Four of MotoGP’s six manufacturers dedicated their day to gathering the data to make a decision on their 2018 engine.

All of them have the lessons of 2017 in mind, when the rule on sealed engines caught Suzuki out completely, and Honda to a lesser extent. Make the wrong choice in testing, and you have nineteen races to spend regretting it, much as Suzuki did last year.

The difficulty factories face is that the testing tracks early in the year are ideally suited to camouflage potential problems. Sepang is fast and wide, with relatively few very slow corners to test just how aggressive an engine might be. It is also almost as hot as the surface of Venus, which saps power and tames the engine.

Buriram replaces Phillip Island as a test track this year, but neither is conducive to teaching anything. Phillip Island is fast and flowing, and easy to go fast on. Buriram is stop and go in a heat even fiercer than Sepang, making a nonsense of engine assessment.

There’s the Qatar test, of course, but if you finally figure out what is wrong with your engine at Qatar, you have two weeks to fix it before the start of the season. That is not something that is ever going to happen, even in an ideal world.

So Monday was designated as engine day for the MotoGP teams, factory riders making a concerted effort to discern whether the engineers had found the correct direction for development.

It looks very much like that is the case for Ducati, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha. Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha confirmed that the new engine is better than their old ones, and have laid their worries to rest.

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The first day of testing after the winter break is always tough, and often deceptive. Riders spend the day trying to get their heads around mind-warping speed, which simply can’t be replicated by time on an MX or Supermoto bike.

They have to deal with cramp in muscles they had forgotten existed, and which are only taxed by the very specific task of wrangling a 157kg MotoGP around Sepang’s serpentine tarmac at speeds of over 320 km/h.

They have to do all this in tropical heat, temperatures in the mid 30s °C and humidity of over 70% or more. The fresh-faced youngsters who spoke to us the day before are looking about 20 years older at their debriefs.

So sure, we have a timesheet, with names ranked in order of fastest lap. But that ranking should be regarded with a certain amount of caution.

The first day of the test is a day of acclimatizing to riding the fastest racing motorcycles in the world again, and preparing for what is to come before the season starts.

“The target today is just ride,” Andrea Iannone said on Sunday night. “Ride, recover the feeling and arrive ready for tomorrow to start the plan we have.”

Some recover that feeling faster than others, of course, and some aim to put in a fast lap and establish themselves, while others prefer to focus on getting back into a race rhythm, and working on all that entails.

But in the end, the results should be taken with a grain or two of salt, at the very least.

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Testing for WorldSBK & MotoGP Starts This Week

01/23/2018 @ 4:31 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.

Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.

The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.

The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.  

All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.

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