Dealers Fined

Here in California, there are a few state agencies you really don’t want to cross if you’re a business.  One of them is the State Board of Equalization, the agency that handles sales taxation.  But perhaps even more dreadful is the California Air Resources Board.  Two motorcycle dealerships here in San Diego are learning that the hard way.

GP Motorcycles of San Diego and Moto Forza will each pay $90,000 in fines, according to CARB.

ARB investigators following up on a tip received in 2006 confirmed that GP Motorcycles and Moto Forza were selling Husqvarna off-road motorcycles illegally converted to street-legal models.

According to the ARB, many of the bikes were outfitted with so-called “street legal” kits, which are illegal in California.

California has its own, special environmental requirements that are different from the other 49 states.  That’s the reason why the Versys was initially unavailable in California, and it took an extra year or two get it certified here.  In any event, the penalties don’t just extend to the dealers.  The purchasers have to toe the line as well.

The CARB revoked the registrations for the motorcycles. The owners were told to turn in their license plates and get off-road stickers and plates.

So, they bought what they thought were street legal dual-sports, and now they have to license them for off-road use only.  I suspect that they will be asking for some recompense from GP and Moto Forza.

Interestingly, the dealers are the two local dealers for Italian bikes.

More V-4 Goodness?

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New Honda V-4 Adventure Bike
XLV1200: New Honda V-4 Adventure Bike

Honda seems to have more in mind from its new V-4 V-Tec engine than just a new version of the VFR/Interceptor, or ST1300 replacement.  Word from BMW Motorrad is that Honda is also working on a new motorcycle, using that engine to power an adventure bike aimed squarely as a competitor to the R1200GS.

The current model name for the bike is the XLV1200.  Like the GS, it will be a shaft-drive bike, capable of both on- and off-road operation, with a lot of suspension travel.

Honda is apparently still looking at fuel capacity, trying to ensure that they can put a fairly large fuel supply onboard to increase the range.

The new Honda engine is capable of 200 horsepower, so it should be capable of eating up miles like nobody’s business, whether the road is paved or unpaved.  One presumes that Honda will tune this bike more towards torque than speed, however.

The target date for this bike is said to be for the 2011 model year.

New Yamaha Hybrid

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It was only a matter of time before motorcycling got a hybrid vehicle, and apparently that time has arrived.  Yamaha and Toyota are working on a motorcycle that reports indicate will bear the imaginative name “Prius”.

Yamaha Prius Hybrid Motorcycle
Yamaha Prius Hybrid Motorcycle

The “Prius” will be powered by a 250cc single-cylinder gas motor, as well as an electric power plant.  The gas engine will either power the drivetrain, or recharge the batteries, as needed.

From the pictures, it also looks like more of a scooter than a motorcycle, but this is the first low-emissions vehicle that doesn’t appear to be crippled with an electric-only engine with a short range.

Also, judging from the photo, it appears to have a shaft drive and an automatic transmission. So, I guess the final verdict on this is that it’s a hybrid scooter, rather than a hybrid motorcycle.

But, it’s probably only a matter of time until we see more of these.

No Smog Testing in California

A bill was wending its way through the California legislature that would mandate regular emissions testing for motorcycles in the state.  Senate Bill 435 proposed to make emissions testing mandatory for motorcycles, on the same basis as cars.

But, the legislature has dropped hearings on it for the 2009 session.  it’s a two-year bill, which means it’s still not dead, and can be resurrected in the 2010 session.  But for now, motorcycle smog checks have been tabled in California.

It’s Official: Harley’s Going to India

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There’s been lot’s of buzz about this, but Harley-Davidson has made it official:  The Motor Compnay will expand into india in 2010.  Clearly, they’re hoping to recoup some of their losses from the disastrous decline of sales in the the US Motorcycle market.  According to HD’s press release:

“India is important to our long-term vision of being a truly global company,” said Harley-Davidson Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Wandell. “We are committed to India for the long term, and we are focused right now on establishing a strong foundation.”

India is the second-largest motorcycle market in the world, with sales dominated by small, inexpensive bikes used as basic transportation. However, India’s rapidly growing economy, rising middle class and significant investment in construction of new highways have opened the door to leisure motorcycle riding.

Whether it will have opened the door wide enough for Harley to make some sales there is still an open question, since the move is not without risk.

First, despite its recent economic growth, India is a desperately poor country.  To the extent that more people can afford to ride motorcycles there, they are riding inexpensive, sub 650cc bikes, not large, expensive Harley-Davidsons.  As I’ve mentioned before, Harley simply doesn’t have a motorcycle that can fit the bill for a developing country, namely a small, inexpensive motorcycle.

On top of that, India is a severely protectionist country, with a 105% import duty on motorcycles.  That means a $10,000 Sportster becomes a $20,000 Sportster in India.  I’m not sure how many units they’re going to sell in a country where the annual average income is $1,100.

Third, India, being a desperately poor country, has an infrastructure to match, i.e., roads in horrifically bad repair, which are not the best placed to be ploughing along on a 600-pound+ motorcycle.

Harley’s main competitor there will also be homegrown firms like India’s Royal Enfield motorcycles, who make little 125cc and 250cc thumpers.  Royal Enfield has, in fact, done very well, and has seen huge sales growth in India.

But, then again, they aren’t asking people to give them 20 years worth of income for a motorcycle.

One also notes that Suzuki and honda are already in India.  The difference being that they are both manufacturing motorcycles there, and thus avoiding import duties.  They are also concentrating on entry level (sub 125cc) motorcycles, and standard 125cc-250cc motorcycles.  Suzuki recently announced that their entry-level motorcycle operations are expected to break even this year.

Mongols Beat the Government

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I don’t hold any particular brief for Motorcycle “Clubs” like the Angels or the Mongols, but it’s nice to see the government slapped down when it goes a little too far.

Mongols Patch
Mongols Patch

The U.S. Government has been going after the Mongols for a while–and the Mongols do have some unsavory characters in their membership.  But the government didn’t just go after individuals, they went after the club’s logo.  Under RICO, they tried to strip the Mongols of their logo, and make it the property of the government. After getting a preliminary ruling allowing them to do so, the Feds have being going into private property of American citizens to confiscate patches, breaking into cars and homes to do so.

But, they got that slapped down in Federal Court.  Judge Florence-Marie Cooper has ruled that a) the government can’t take the trademark, and b) even if they could, they have no right to go around confiscating patches or other items containing the mark from private citizens who are not under indictment.

…even if the Court were to assume that the collective membership mark is subject to forfeiture, the Court finds no statutory authority to seize property bearing the mark from third parties…. only defendants’ interests in the RICO enterprise and the proceeds from their racketeering activity are subject to forfeiture.

So, the Mongols get to keep their patch, and the Feds have to stop making searches and seizures on the basis of merely possessing it.

Snell Updates Helmet Standards

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When you buy a motorcycle helmet, you usually look for the big DOT sticker on the back, since most states with helmet laws require the helmet to be certified by the US Department of Transportation.  But of you’re really serious about trying to keep your noggin in one piece, you look for the sticker from Snell, or as its formal name is, the Snell Memorial Safety Foundation.

But, for a while now, there’s been a conflict between Snell and the DOT–and the international ECE 22-05–safety standards.  Both DOT and ECE use a variety of different dummy head sizes and weights for different helmets in promulgating their approval.  Snell on the other hand, uses the same 11-pound dummy head weight, irrespective of the size, and they’ve repeatedly said that there’s no indication that different head sizes have significantly different weights.  So, they’ve said graduated head weight standards don’t provide adequate protection to an 11-pound head.

Now, this is kind of an important argument.  You see, if you have an 8-pound head, and your helmet is designed to cushion an 11-pound head, then the helmet may be too rigid to properly protect your head.  Sure, it’s great for the melon-heads, but the pinheads might get their skull scrambled, because the lower weight of your pinhead is too small to make the cushioning give enough.  The reverse is also true.  If you’re a melon-head, then a pinhead’s helmet will be too soft to protect you, and the helmet will come apart like an old shoe, and you’ll bump your skull on the pavement.

Either way, the end result is a Bad Thing if the helmet size and your head’s weight don’t match.

Well, now, after years of argument against the DOT and ECE standard, Snell is saying, “Never mind.”  In the brand new M2010 standard, Snell has looked at actual studies of the head weights of actual dead people, and decided that DOT was right after all.  Different sized heads do have significant weight differences.

So, as of the M2010 standard, Snell has adopted pretty much the same head profiles as ECE.  In addition, Snell has also lowered the number of gravities the helmet is allowed to transmit to your skull from 300 g’s to 275 g’s.  Both moves offer greater head protection, although, unfortunately, that also means that if you’re a pinhead with a Snell M2005 sticker, you’re helmet fails the M2010 standard.  You might as well just whack your skull with a hammer right now for all the good that helmet will do you.

So, important helmet buying tip:  The new M2010-standard helmets will be hitting store shelves on October 1st, 2009. But, manufacturers can make M2005-standard helmets for another couple of years, and sell them for…ever.  So, you have to be sure that you look for the Snell M2010 sticker on the helmet if that’s what you really want.

On the bright side, this now means that a Snell-certified helmet will also meet DOT and ECE standards right across the board, no matter what size of melon you’re sporting.

Unless, of course, you’re buying a modular helmet, which, as far as I know, don’t exist in Snell-certified form.

Norton Goes For a Record

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Norton Motorcycles, the iconic British motorcycle brand recently resurrected by Stuart Garner, packed up their rotary-engined NRV588 racing motorcycle and left Britain today.  Their destination: The Bonneville Salt Flats, right here in the US of A, where Garner himself will attempt to pilot the bike to a land speed record.

If Garner is successful, the NRV588 will set the world land speed record for a rotary motorcycle.

And, speaking of the NRV, Norton has a road-going edition of this racer in the works.  It’s no where near as pretty as a 1991 Commander F1, but, it’ll probably be a whole lot faster.  They are being hand-built in Norton’s Donington Park factory, even as I write this.

The Norton NRV588, ready to be packed off to the Salt Flats earlier today.
The Norton NRV588, ready to be packed off to the Salt Flats earlier today.

Oh, and since I mentioned it…

1991 Norton Commander F1 John Player Special
1991 Norton Commander F1 John Player Special

I think there’s 55 of these left in the whole world.

The Great California Garage Sale

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If you’d like to add another motorcycle–or two–to your garage, and you don’t have the scratch for a new one, then you might be interested in the Great California Garage Sale going on in Sacramento this week.  As you may have heard, the state of California is…ummm…a bit short of cash.  So the state is going all out and selling cars, motorcycles, computers, and just about everything else they can think of in a big state garage sale.  The sale and auction will take place in Sacramento on Friday and Saturday, 28-29 Aug 09.

They’ve got at least 5 BMW R1150RTP’s from the highway patrol, which you could probably pick up for a decent price. I’ve seen some other bikes listed there, too, probably confiscated from drug dealers and whatnot.

You’ll probably get a better price there than you would from a regular dealer, anyway.

Touring Comparo: Electra Glide vs. Voyager

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Motorcyclist Online has the results of their big-tourer comparison between the Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager.  I’ve long wanted to see a head-to-head match-up between the king tourer from Harley and Kawi’s new flagship tourer, and here it is.

Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager

The Electra Glide sports Harley’s now touring frame, which is supposed to noticeably increase stability and handling, while the Voyager is a brand new version of the Vulcan, with a brand new frame, too.

The Harley costs significantly more than the Voyager, and reading the write up, that extra money pays off in a better, more refined handling, greater rider and pillion comfort, and better brakes and luggage.  The Kawasaki, on the other hand, seems to have the Harley beat in wind protection, engine power (slightly), and lighting (a lot).

Overall, the Harley has better fit and finish–which is unsurprising to me, since I’ve always thought Kawasakis are a little rough around the edges.  They aren’t bad bikes, but, I’ve just never been a big Kawasaki fan.  But, it’s nice to see that it’s not just an unreasoning opinion on my part, and others seem to think Kawi could use a little improvement in the finishing touches.

Still, for $3,000 less, the Voyager’s no doubt put together adequately.

Both bikes, of course, are massively underpowered from my point of view.  But then, I’m riding an FJR with 200 pounds less weight, and twice the horsepower, so take that into consideration.

I will tell you where I would throw my lot in with the kawi on this one, though, and that’s the fixed fairing.  I’ve never liked the batwing fairing on the Harley’s.  They look great, but having 40 or 50 pounds of plastic hanging off the front fork never appealed to me.  And I’ve ridden the Electra Glide, and confirmed that opinion.

That’s why my next Harley will be a Road Glide.

Japan Outsources Motorcycle Production

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According to Bloomberg, Kawasaki will be switching motorcycle production out of Japan, to Thailand.  The first production shift will be medium and large motorcycles as early as this year..  It seems that Kawasaki may also be joined there by Honda, which is also considering shifting production of medium-sized motorcycles to that country.

This will mark the first time a Japanese manufacturer has begun production for export in a developing country.  The company cites lower labor costs for the move.

2010 Roehr 1250sc First Ride

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Motorcycle USA has posted the results of Executive Editor Steve Atlas’ first ride of the new Roehr 1250sc sportbike.  I’ve written about the Roehr’s technical specs and general background before, but this is the first time I’ve seen an independent write-up of it.

MCUSA has a lot to say about the bike, some of it good:

[I]n the world of B-roads and canyon passes the Roehr is right at home. It works reasonably well at the track but without a doubt, the power and the unorthodox way in which it’s produced, is more suited for street riding…

This type of power delivery is exactly what is needed to make it a fun and entertaining sportbike on the street. And while Walter [Roehr] himself can tell me how great that engine is and the potential it has until he’s blue in the face, it’s hard to get your head around it until you actually ride the thing. And after riding it on the roads, there’s no question the supercharged V-Twin philosophy works very well.

Some of it bad:

It handles very similar to the 1198 though it simply doesn’t have the gearing to keep pace with its Italian counterpart. Initial power is on par but it runs-out quickly as we were often hitting the rev-limiter while finding that happy medium between getting a good drive and battling to keep traction from the stock Diablo Corsa tires…The problem is that the engine hits redline before ten-grand so there’s not much margin for error when connecting corners on the track because it builds quickly.

Although it seems like a handful on the track, the ergos seem built for track days.

Seating position and ergonomics feel very much like a Tamburini-era Ducati. The reach to the bars is a bit stretched out, the tank is long and skinny, the riding position is aggressive and the cockpit itself is reminiscent of the Italian Twins.

To be fair, this isn’t a bike designed for the track.  So, despite the sportbike looks and ergonomics, it’s really a street bike, and from what the write-up indicates, it’s not really designed for the track.  Obviously it can be done, as the reviewer did here, but the Roehr apparently isn’t really at home there, as the reviewer repeatedly assures us.

So, if it wasn’t designed for the track, why the tortuous Italian ergonomics?  Who wants to ride on the street stretched out over the gas tank?  And if it’s not designed for the track, then why have the fully-adjustable–and expensive–Öhlins setup?

Reading over the review, it seems like this bike is neither fish nor fowl.  It’s got all this race-spec stuff jammed on a bike that has a power-cruiser engine with a redline at 9500 RPM.  It has massive–nearly 100lb-ft–street-usable torque, but you’re forced to tuck like Valentino Rossi just to take a spin to the corner store.

Then there’s the price.  At $42,000, it’s not going to be a high volume selling item.  For about half the price, you could get a Ducati that will smoke it like a cheap cigar.

So who’s going to buy it?  And why?  I mean, it has a great engine for a sport-tourer, but not a sportbike.  It’s got great sport-bike/track ergonomics, but not a very suitable powerplant.  From what I can tell, riding it on the street will quickly get tiring and uncomfortable, and when it hits the track, a 193HP CBR will eat it for lunch.  It may be exactly the bike Mr. Roehr wants to ride, but I don’t see it as a good competitor with either street or sport bikes at it’s price, so I have to wonder, who else besides him wants to ride it?

It seems like an interesting bike, but, at the end of the day, it also seems like the answer to a question that no one asked.

i, n the world of B-roads and canyon passes the Roehr is right at home. It works reasonably well at the track but without a doubt, the power and the unorthodox way in which it’s produced, is more suited for street riding. Very few production motorcycles utilize forced-induction so this wasn’t something I was used to. In fact, it was the first sportbike of this kind I’ve ever ridden.

Thankfully, it’s well engineered and the ‘scary hit of power’ commonly associated with other forced-induction-powered bikes just doesn’t exist on the Roehr. But, that’s not to say it isn’t fast. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Power comes on from low rpm smoothly and gets the American-made 1250 moving with some serious steam. As one can see from the dyno chart it makes 167.5-hp at the rear wheel, which is nothing to scoff at on any level.