Ride in Peace, Nicky Hayden

It is with a heavy heart that we report the passing of Nicky Hayden today, the American motorcycle racer finally succumbing to the injuries he sustained on Wednesday, at 7:09 PM CEST. The former-MotoGP Champion was struck by a car, while he was training on his bicycle near the Rimini coast. After the incident, Hayden was ultimately treated at the trauma center at the Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, where he later passed away. While motorcycle fans around the world have been hoping for good news throughout this past weekend, and looking for signs that Nicky’s condition would improve, today Nicky’s race ended, with his family and friends at his side.

Americas Top Öhlins Dealer Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud

Daniel Laine Kyle of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California – known best for his speed shop, Kyle Racing – pleaded guilty to defrauding the US government earlier this week, after it was found that Kyle had been hiding cash-based purchases made at this business. Dan Kyle Racing is known best for being the largest Öhlins suspension dealership in the United States (if not the world), as the company offered aggressive pricing on the Swedish-born suspension, and was one of the first Öhlins dealers with an online presence in the early days of the internet. According to the plea agreement made between Kyle and the US Attorney’s Office, Kyle pleaded guilty to tax fraud and structuring currency transactions in order to avoid the reporting requirements in the US Tax Code.

The 2017 Saroléa SP7 Is Ready for the Isle of Man TT

The focus for electric motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT may center around Team Mugen’s dual entry with John McGuinness and Guy Martin, but one should not overlook this very attractive entry from Belgium. Saroléa is back for the 2017 Isle of Man TT, continuing with its state-of-the-art carbon fiber chassis goodness and retro fairing design. On board will once again be Dean Harrison, who will be gunning for a podium-finish on the 2017 Saroléa SP7. If looks alone could get you across the finish line, then Saroléa would have our vote. The Belgians have always been in the running for a strong result though, finishing 4th in 2014 and 5th in 2015. Maybe this year will be “their year” at the TT.

India Is Now the World’s Biggest Motorcycle Market

Did you just feel that? That movement was a tectonic shift in the motorcycle landscape, as India just surpassed China as the world’s largest market for two-wheel vehicles. Just how big is the Indian motorcycle market? Last year, over 17.7 million motorcycles were sold in India. That is over 48,000 motorcycles sold…each day. Compared to China, that is a margin of roughly one million motorcycles per year (16.8 million units sold last year). India has seen a sharp rise in the sales of two-wheelers within its borders over the seven years, growing over 32% during that timeframe. Transportation in general has been growing in India, but that growth has been fueled by the country’s two-wheeler market.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Motorcycle Patents

I am really excited about the Suzuki brand right now. Out of the four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the recession affected Suzuki the most, probably more than many people realize, but the Hamamatsu brand is poised to bring out some exciting machines in the coming few years. Could we finally see a turbocharged Suzuki this year though? The rumor mill is pointing to yes…but just pointing, and the reason is because of patents. Much of this internet rumors stems from a flood of patents that have been found, where Suzuki is patenting technology related to turbo-powered engines in motorcycles, or because of other patents that make reference or inference to being part of a turbocharged motorcycle.

No, Royal Enfield Isn’t Buying Ducati

I woke up this morning to a message from a colleague, with a link to a story that linked Royal Enfield to buying Ducati Motor Holding. The story was from a fairly reliable news publication, but the headline read “Royal Enfield Might Consider Buying Ducati Pretty Soon” – the grammarist in me cringed.* “Might consider” is the most nebulous phrase in the English language. Let’s think about that phrase for a moment, as it literally means that you are considering the possibility of considering something. Don’t get me started on the timeliness of “Pretty Soon” in the news realm, as well. Metaphysics and meaningless headlines aside, for our purposes this narrative devolves further in that this story offers nothing new, beyond the story that Reuters published two weeks ago, which set off alarms in the motorcycle industry around the world.

KTM Caught Testing an Electric Street Bike

Spy photos from Austria have caught KTM testing a rather interesting motorcycle – one that does not run on a petroleum-based fuel, but rather it has an electric drivetrain at its core. This isn’t the first time that KTM has experimented with an electric motorcycle, of course, with the KTM Freeride E being available in select markets. However, the machine seen here is a pretty big step forward for the Austrian brand, from its modest electric dirt bike. Using the chassis of a KTM 390 Duke to house the battery, inverter, and motor, KTM’s electric street bike (we’ll call it the KTM E-Duke for now) looks like a rolling mess, but is what you would expect from a project in its early stages of development.

For the Geeks, Your Luke Skywalker HJC Helmet Is Here

I am a solid Star Wars geek, but not in the dress-up and go to a convention sort of way – if you know what I mean. But, this new lid from HJC might have me singing a different tune, as it mimics Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing “Red 5” fighter helmet, in a DOT legal ¾ helmet format. That’s just cool…in a really un-cool sort of way. Based off the budget-friendly HJC IS-5 helmet, this Luke Skywalker replica will cost roughly $180 when it comes out (at a date still to be determined). Additionally, 10 versions of the lid will be signed by Mark Hamill, and auctioned for charity (UNICEF and the Starlight Children’s Foundation), if your geekdom takes you in such a direction (and you have a four-figure wallet).

Hayden: “It’s Clear That There Is A Problem”

Assen had been earmarked as a key round for Honda in its search for competitiveness in WorldSBK. It passed with more confirmation that the team’s struggles will continue. Nine points were all that Nicky Hayden had to show for himself at the end of a trying weekend at the TT Circuit of Assen. The Honda rider was able to show some signs of improved competitiveness at times during the weekend, but overall the same flaws of the Honda Fireblade have been exposed once again. Reliability and inability to bring competitive upgrades to the table cost Hayden dearly at Assen. The week before the Dutch round, the team tested a new engine specification in Portimao and the American came away disappointed with a lack of progress.

The Rise and Fall of Danny Kent

“Danny is probably the most talented rider I have ever worked with,” Peter Bom, Danny Kent’s former crew chief at Kiefer told me several times last year. Bom has seen plenty of talent in his time: he also worked with Stefan Bradl at Kiefer, Chris Vermeulen in World Supersport and World Superbikes, Cal Crutchlow in World Supersport. World champions all, and to this tally he added Danny Kent. Less than a year after helping him win the Moto3 world championship, Danny Kent asked the Kiefer team for a new crew chief, abandoning his collaboration with Peter Bom. Kent felt that Bom had been slow to pick up on the changes in the Moto2 class during Bom’s three years in Moto3. Stefan Kiefer obliged, and Kent started the season with a new crew chief and a Suter Moto2 chassis.

Saturday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Fast Hondas, Deceptive Yamahas, Losing Winglets, & Orange Elation

05/07/2017 @ 11:09 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Coming into the weekend of Jerez, we knew several things to be absolute certainties. 1. Jerez is a Yamaha track. 2. Ducati always does terribly at Jerez. And 3.

The Hondas will struggle against the might of the Yamaha. After qualifying, a swift dose of reality has flushed those preconceptions out of our systems, showing them up for the fallacies that they are.

After qualifying at Jerez, we have an all Honda front row. Two Yamahas start from the second row, but their performance during both qualifying and free practice was far from convincing.

The first Ducati sits on the third row, but during practice, Jorge Lorenzo made the Desmosedici GP17 fly, finishing second in FP3 and fourth in FP4.

Where did this shake up come from? The issue is mainly one of grip. After the rain on Friday, there is very little rubber on the track, and the warmer track temperatures have made Jerez its normal, greasy self.

The Yamahas perform well when grip is high, whether that be in warmer or cooler temperatures. Extra grip merely helps the RC213V want to wheelie, something for which it needs little encouragement anyway.

Robbed of its winglets, the Ducati needs extra rear grip to get good drive out of corners, and exploit its strongest point.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Quick Hondas, Back Brake Bonanza, And Off-Track Rumors

05/06/2017 @ 12:43 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

There was plenty to talk about after the first day of practice in Jerez, though none of the real talking points came from the action on the track. Rain in the morning proved that the track has great grip in the wet.

On the other hand, a drying track in the afternoon proved that you don’t really learn anything at all in sketchy conditions. Some riders pushed with a soft tire, some didn’t. Some riders took risks to set a time, some didn’t.

The session was pretty meaningless, most riders agreed. Nobody had fun out there, with the possible exception of Pol Espargaro on the KTM. But more of that later.

Off track we learned a lot more. It looks like next year, LCR Honda will expand to a two-bike team, with Takaaki Nakagami moving up to ride alongside Cal Crutchlow, with backing from Moto2 sponsor Idemitsu.

Rumors persist that the Sky VR46 team is to move up to MotoGP with two Yamahas, though Valentino Rossi denies it. The contract to supply Moto2 engines has been signed, though a few details remain to be wrapped up, meaning the actual engine manufacturer will not be announced until Le Mans.

And all of these have various knock-on effects, which will effect the entire series in one way or another.

First, to the on-track action. For a circuit which is not supposed to suit the Honda, there sure were an awful lot of RC213Vs crowding the top of the time sheets, both in the wet and in the dry.

The reason the Honda is good in the wet is simple, according to Marc Márquez: a wet track takes Honda’s biggest weakness out of the equation, leaving its strongest points intact.

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Thursday MotoGP Summary at Jerez: Aprilia’s New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, & KTM’s Big Bang

05/04/2017 @ 7:46 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus.

This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the “real” start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds.

At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.

The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages.

“Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain,” Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.

Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. “We have many days of tests,” the Spaniard told us. “Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn’t sleep, I was super tired.”

Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. “I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona… We have many tests.”

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MotoGP Preview of the Spanish GP

05/03/2017 @ 10:41 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers.

MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.

That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location.

Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.

Think of it like Texas hold ’em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together.

Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Austin: Honda’s Real Weakness

04/22/2017 @ 10:03 am, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

It looks like we have been wrong all along. As usual. All this time, we thought it was the engine which was the problem for Honda.

This would be a major issue, as engine designs are sealed and fixed for an entire season in MotoGP, at least for factories which have gathered sufficient podium credits to qualify as competitive under the rules. With nine wins last year, and a MotoGP title, Honda definitely does that.

Maybe the problem isn’t the engine after all, however.

Honda riders are starting to express the apparently unpopular opinion inside HRC that maybe the solution isn’t to rejig the engine again by playing around with firing orders, crankshaft counterweights, and other internal moving parts now set in aspic until the season ends at Valencia.

Perhaps, they suggest, Honda could take a look at its chassis, and try finding solutions there.

Cal Crutchlow was the most vociferous, though that is an extremely relative term when speaking of rider statements about the Japanese manufacturer they ride for. “I think we need to start working with the chassis a bit more,” Crutchlow told us after another hard day at a very physical track.

“That’s not a comment against my manufacturer, against my team, it’s just a comment that we’ve looked at the engine for the last two years, and I believe that a lot will come from the chassis. Sure, some electronics, but I think it’s chassis. I’ve ridden other bikes, so I know what the chassis is doing. And I believe that’s where we could improve a lot. Because the engine is sealed, that’s done, it’s done and dusted.”

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 2 – Nearly Alien

03/22/2017 @ 6:27 pm, by David Emmett13 COMMENTS

There is some resistance to talk of there being “Aliens” in MotoGP. Why, fans ask, should we regard these riders as so very different from the other riders on the grid? In previous years, the answer to that objection was simple.

Of the 143 MotoGP races held between 2008 and 2015, only two had been won by someone other other than the riders regarded as MotoGP Aliens.

In 2009, Andrea Dovizioso won the British Grand Prix at Donington Park. And in 2011, Ben Spies won the Dutch TT at Assen. At both races, the weather conditions were a factor.

2016 put an end to that objection. Last season, there were a record-breaking nine winners in eighteen races. Andrea Dovizioso won his second race (and nearly won a third). Cal Crutchlow won two in the same season, one in the wet, one in the dry. Does that mean there are now more Aliens? Or does it invalidate the term altogether?

2017 is going to muddy the waters on the term Alien even further. Yes, there are five riders who can be expected to win a race every time they turn up at a track. But there are three or four others who are just as likely to spring a surprise and win a race this season.

Nobody would expect them to win six or seven races, but neither would anyone be surprised if they were to win one race each. If they are not quite Aliens, what then shall we call them? MotoGP’s astronauts?

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More Photos of Suzuki’s MotoGP Aerodynamics

02/16/2017 @ 5:53 pm, by Jensen Beeler39 COMMENTS

The ECSTAR Suzuki squad rolled on the track day with its new aerodynamics package on full display, showing how the Japanese manufacturer was going to cope with the ban on winglets on its GSX-RR race bike.

Like the solutions we have seen thus far from other manufacturers, Suzuki is using vanes that are covered by an external fairing to channel the airflow and create downforce.

The solution is a clever adaptation to the MotoGP rulebook, and solutions like Suzuki’s should allow for teams to to tune their aerodynamics package during the season, without running a foul of the homologated fairing rule.

As my colleague David Emmett pointed out, the design should carryover to future street bikes, where we would expect the 2018 Ducati V4 superbike to be the first model to show such advances.

Ducati isn’t expected to debut its MotoGP aero solution until Qatar, as is Honda. Until then though, we will have to drool over these hi-res photos of Suzuki’s handiwork (after the jump).

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The Winglet Loophole in MotoGP

02/16/2017 @ 12:54 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

Winglets may have been banned for 2017, but the drive for aerodynamics development continues. This time, however, winglet development will continue on the inside of the fairing, rather than the outside. The development ban applies solely to the exterior surface of the fairing, and not the interior. 

What this means in practice is that while the shape of the fairing must be homologated at Qatar, with one update allowed during the season, that only applies to the outer surface of the ducts, and not to the vanes (the small struts or winglets inside the ducts which control the airflow and can be used to alter downforce) inside those ducts.

Development of aerodynamic control surfaces will still be allowed, as long as the changes remain on the inside of the fairing.

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What We Learned from the Ducati MotoGP Launch

01/23/2017 @ 10:19 am, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

From one presentation to another. Having the Movistar Yamaha and Ducati Factory team launches on consecutive days made it a little too easy to make comparisons between the two.

There was much complaining on social media about the fact that large parts of the Yamaha presentation were in Spanish only, causing the international audience watching the live streaming to lose interest.

Ducati’s approach was better: while everything in the presentation was in Italian, there was simultaneous translation available on the live stream, so those following could hear it in English.

That was no good to us in the hall, of course, though we would find out later that there had been headsets available with the live translation available. But nobody had thought to tell us about that, of course.

Still, we got to practice our racing Italian, a necessity (along with racing Spanish) for those who work in MotoGP.

There was not much to complain about the location. Just as last year, the launch took place at the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale, just west of Bologna.

The auditorium is not much to write home about – a dark room with a stage – but journalists and guests were welcomed in the Ducati museum, a glorious place filled with Ducati history and a lot of racing past. If you are heading to Mugello or Misano, a visit to the museum is highly recommended.

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MotoGP Rules Updated Again – More Restrictions on Aerodynamics, Airbags Suits Now Compulsory, & More

10/18/2016 @ 10:46 pm, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

twin-ring-motegi-2016-ducati-andrea-dovizioso

The FIM is taking further steps to contain the cost of aerodynamics. The banning of winglets decided earlier this year was made on two grounds: removing the danger of being struck by a protruding wing, and reducing the potentially astronomical cost of an aerodynamic war beginning.

Banning winglets would prevent the first issue from being a problem, but would do nothing to address the second point. Indeed, with the aerodynamics cat well and truly out of the bag, the factories have already hinted that their focus would switch to fairing design.

The Grand Prix Commission have moved to stop that war starting before it begins. From 2017, factories will have to homologate fairing and front mudgard designs, with only one upgrade to each allowed per season.

The idea behind it is to allow factories to continue to develop aerodynamics, but to limit the amount of time and money spent in search of wheelie prevention.

The rules do leave one loophole open, however. The aerodynamic homologation rules apply to each rider separately. In theory, each rider on a Yamaha, Honda, or Ducati could start with a different fairing, the results of which could be assessed by the factory to help develop the next homologated version of the fairing for use in mid-season.

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