MCN: S1000RR Kicks the Fireblade’s Butt


MCN's Aug 19th Cover Story. Click to enlarge.
MCN's Aug 19th Cover Story. Click to enlarge.

Motorcycle News, in the UK, has just released their 19 August  print issue, in which the BMW S1000RR goes head to head against Honda’s venerable CBR1000RR, and smacks it down like a red-headed stepchild.  Indeed, they say that their tester could do a 3-second faster lap in the test at the track in Brno.  They breathlessly report:

In this week’s issue of MCN, on sale August 19, we have a world exclusive track test of the BMW S1000RR. According to our tester, it feels more powerful than a Yamaha R1 and makes the Honda Fireblade’s suspension feel rubbish in comparison…

World exclusive riding impressions of the new BMW sports bike shows it can lap Brno 3 secs faster than a Fireblade.

Man, that sounds like a super hot bike, doesn’t it?  Three seconds per lap faster than the CBR1000RR!  Wow!

The thing is, that in World Superbike, where actual, professional racers do actual, professional racing, the S1000RR’s best result to date has been Troy Corser’s 5th place finish at Brno in Race 1.  He was 10th place in Race 2.  He was beaten by two Fireblades in race 1 and three in race 2.

And, of the top 10 riders in WSB after 10 of 14 rounds, four of them ride Fireblades.  None of them ride BMWs.

I’m just saying.

Harley Davidson’s Marketing Failure: Round 2


Several days ago, I wrote a post on Harley-Davidson’s ongoing strategic marketing failure.  That post has garnered quite a lot of attention in certain quarters.  Today I had an email exchange about it with motorcycle industry analyst and guru Don Brown.

My previous post addressed how the MoCo was failing in its marketing, but not why.  Mr. Brown provided me with some historical context that may illuminate the roots of this problem.

The trouble with Harley, in my opinion, is that they can’t shake loose from their memory of the terrible reaction of many of their customer base – mainly the older baby boomers who hated anything that smacked of being of modern technology.

Since their near-death experience and the resistance of their core customers to technological innovation in the 80s, it seems like the company’s version of “protecting the brand” has become never to do anything different, or innovative.Well, that does bring back some memories, such as the Nova 800 project, a concept for a water-cooled V-4 bike.  It went nowhere, of course, although the company spent a pile of money on it, and actually produced three of them.

But it puts the company’s current fear of tarnishing the brand in historical perspective.  They are rabid about doing whatever is necessary to protect the brand, as they see it.   A few weeks ago, I was reading one of the industry media web sites–unfortunately, I forget which one–and they asked a HD representative about a rumor concerning the possibility of a water-cooled V-4 powerplant.  The rep said bluntly, “Harley-Davidson makes V-Twin motorcycles”.

Since their near-death experience and the resistance of their core customers to technological innovation in the 80s, it seems like the company’s version of “protecting the brand” has become never to do anything different, or innovative.  They play to the same customer base. They refuse to change their styling beyond shifting what bit of chrome goes where from year to year. And then they do make a change, it consists of occasionally adding non-threating bits of technology like vibration absorbing engine-mounts, incrementally larger engines, or hidden changes to the frame or suspension.

And, of course, to cut motorcycle production any time it appears an inventory may build up, in order to keep supply artificially low, and the prices high.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of conservatism in the short run.  At times–and the 80s seem to have been one of those times for HD–it may even be necessary.  But the danger of doing that sort of thing, if it goes on too long, is that it begins to fix itself in the corporate culture.  Once an excessive conservatism embeds itself in a firm’s culture, the brand ceases to be an powerful asset to be used in leveraging innovative new products.  Instead, it turns into a treasure to be hoarded.

Once an excessive conservatism embeds itself in a firm’s culture, the brand ceases to be an powerful asset to be used in leveraging innovative new products.  Instead, it turns into a treasure to be hoarded.But that is never a long-term strategy for success for any brand.  Markets change.  Customers change. Tastes change. Competitive landscapes change.

Eventually, the brand suffers, because as the market changes, the brand gradually becomes associated with old, outmoded tastes.  The brand loses its power to attract new customers, because they think, “That was the stuff my dad liked, back in the day.”  That almost automatically means, “I like different stuff,” to the newer customers in the market.

This is precisely what has happened to Harley-Davidson.  A corporate mania for brand conservatism has led to a situation in which amazing technologies are available for nearly every motorcycle…except Harley-Davidson.  Most GenX or GenY customers won’t even look at a Harley-Davidson.  They see the brand they same way they see their parents: old and slow.

That’s true literally as well as figuratively.  The Harley-Davidson Sportster, about as light and as fast a motorcycle as Harley makes in stock form, runs a 13-second quarter mile.  A 900 pound Gold Wing does it in 12 seconds. A Shadow Spirit 750 does it even faster.

The end result is a brand whose products cost more and perform worse than the competition’s.

A Harley Davidson customer transplanted from 1970 could walk into a Harley-Davidson dealer today, and literally see nothing that would frighten or confuse him.It’s not just the consumer market that’s changed either.  The competitive landscape is radically different, too.  Harley-Davidson today makes essentially the same motorcycles it’s been making for 50 years.  Except for, perhaps, the V-Rod, a Harley Davidson customer transplanted from 1970 could walk into a Harley-Davidson dealer today, and literally see nothing different that would frighten or confuse him.

But what’s even worse, from a competitive point of view, is that he would also see no bike that a young, beginning rider would feel comfortable purchasing.  The Sportster has an engine of the same displacement that and FLH had in 1970.  It weighs nearly 600 pounds.  Even if the average 20 year-old could afford it, it is still an intimidating beast to young new–or female–rider. My wife can’t even pick up any Harley except the Nighster. And she finds it frighteningly heavy even then.  She almost can’t even touch the floor with her toes on any other model. That’s not a good thing, when 14% of motorcyclists are now women.

That’s emphatically not true, however, if you walk into any dealer of Big Four motorcycles. A first time rider has an amazing range of choices there, from a sporty Ninja 250, to a Boulevard S40.  Yamaha dealers will happily sit a young rider on a V-Star 250, and, for less than $4,000, send him off riding happily into motorcycling world on an easy to ride, light, little cruiser.

And when they do so, they have an excellent chance of sitting him on a V-Star 650 a couple of years later.  Or if he or she decides that a need for speed has to be satisfied, why, there’s a pretty little R6, sitting right over there.  The Big Four grab beginning riders right out of the box, putting the youngsters astride a little Rebel, and they keep them right up until they take that last ride into the sunset on their Gold Wing.

Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, still acts as if it’s 1968, and, once you’ve exhausted the possibilities available on a BSA 500 or Triumph Bonneville, you have to buy a Harley if you want a big bike, because no one else makes one.  But in 2009, you can get the full motorcycling experience–commuting, touring, naked street-fighters, or race bred literbikes–without ever having to change brand loyalty even once.

The Big Four grab beginning riders right out of the box, putting the youngsters astride a little Rebel, and they keep them right up until they take that last ride into the sunset on their Gold Wing.Harley-Davidson has no entry-level motorcycles, so they can’t grab the young 20 year-old looking for a good first bike.  Instead, their task is to try and convince a seasoned rider, who has a pre-existing brand loyalty, to change that loyalty to Harley-Davidson.  And that rider not only has experience with his preferred brand, but knows that his preferred brand makes similar motorcycles, at a lower cost.

That’s a tall order.  Based on HD’s aging demographic, it doesn’t seem like the MoCo is capable of fulfilling it at present. They’ve abandoned the young rider demographic, and in so doing, they’ve let their competitors grab the younger riders and begin building brand loyalty from the very start of their customers’ riding careers.

Unless Harley-Davidson is willing to expand its horizons, it  is in danger of becoming a much smaller maker of what are essentially high-priced boutique bikes…much like the brand they recently acquired, MV Agusta.  I would hate to see that happen, but absent some serious changes in their corporate mindset, that appears to be the road on which they are traveling.

Those BMW Guys Get All the Nice Stuff


BMW and Garmin have released a new motorcycle navigation device for BMW motorcycles, the BMW Navigator IV. It sounds very nice.

With a new slim design and custom BMW four-button mount cradle, the BMW Navigator IV includes a bright widescreen 4.3 inch display and waterproof design, configurable fields and display, stereo Bluetooth for hands-free calling, turn-by-turn directions and lane assist features with lane guidance and junction view.

 BMW Motorrad Navigator IV
BMW Motorrad Navigator IV

Of course, it’s specifically designed to be used while wearing gloves, too. It’s also got a lane assist feature that guides you through multiple lanes, and even displays road signs on the screen that look like the actual signs you see over the highway.

And, since it’s a BMW device, plan on shelling out about $1,000 for it, too.

BMWs are really the Swiss Army Knives of motorcycles.  BMW riders get spoken, turn by turn navigation through their Bluetooth-linked helmets.  Meanwhile, a gentleman such as myself, who rides an FJR, has to carry around paper maps like an animal.

Ducati Execs Do the Right Thing


It’s no secret that the recent worldwide economic downturn has seriously affected motorcycle sales, sending them plunging by a third.  Now here in the United States, it’s become a common thing to see executives at big firms take huge bonuses, even when the company isn’t doing so hot.  The most egregious example of this was when failed insurer AIG took billions of dollars in Federal money for a bailout of the company, then promptly paid off millions and millions in executive bonuses with it.

Apparently, things are different in Italy, where senior executives at Ducati, faced with slumping sales, did the right thing.

Senior executives at Ducati have taken a 10 per cent cut in their pay and will not receive any bonuses because of the decline, while [Ducati CEO] Mr [Gabriele] Del Torchio said he had taken a 20 per cent pay cut.

Let’s leave aside any legalistic or other arguments about whether the executives should be compensated or not.  At the end of the day, when you’re cutting production, and laying off staff, it seems only right that the pain should be shared by everyone else in the company, all the way to the top.

Kudos to Ducati for setting an example of shared sacrifice.

Don’t Screw With Bears


If you live in bear country, you probably already know not to keep food in a car, because bears will tear a car apart to get at a box of donuts, or whatever.  Now, it appears that even transporting food may be a problem.  Especially in a motorcycle.

Wells and his wife had taken his 2004 Harley-Davidson motorcycle out to get a pizza for dinner. They put the leftovers in the tour pack on the back of the motorcycle for the ride home.

“We got home around six, took the pizza out of it right away and put it in the refrigerator,” said Wells.

Three hours later they heard something outside, near where his motorcycle was parked. Wells went outside to investigate.

“I came around and shined the flashlight and my bike was on its side and a bear cub was on top and another bear cub was behind it and the momma was right there too,” remembers Wells.

The bears ripped the tour pack apart trying to get to where the pizza at one time had been. In the process they did around $3,000 damage to the bike.

So, three hours later, just the 3 hour-old smell of pizza in this guy’s tour trunk was enough to get it seriously molested.

And you thought deer were a problem…

More Greenery


This weekend, the news and technology media outlets have been writing  about the really cool custom electric chopper that OCC built for Siemens.  And they all have the same picture of Paul Sr. riding the bike.  The same one, actually, that I have, come to think of it.

Anyway, everyone seems giddy with delight about the whole deal.

Yes, it’s a chopper that can keep up with a Harley-Davidson “hog” at 100 miles per hour without even waking up a baby. And, because the machine is electric, it has zero emissions compared with most cycles, which pollute the air at about the same level as a car built in the 1980s.

As Paul Teutul Sr., the driving force behind the bike shop, steered it around New York’s Columbus Circle on Wednesday, the only noise was the sound of truck drivers honking their horns in admiration of the sleek futuristic bike. Mr. Teutul, wearing his trademark red sleeveless T-shirt, says that driving the machine is “awesome.”

Known as “Senior” on the show, Teutul built the machine over the past month for Siemens, the German engineering company. It wanted an “ecobike” that looked “real cool,” in the words of a Siemens company official.

Wow.  Sounds cool huh?  But, as with most things, the devil’s in the details.

Both Siemens and OCC were reluctant to reveal how much the bike cost. Jim Quinn, an engineer at OCC, says a “normal” chopper built by the company costs between $70,000 and $150,000, depending on the amount of work.

OK.  So, let’s say north of 150,000, then.  What a bargain.  Oh, and did you read the bit above where it said the bike “can keep up with a Harley-Davidson “hog” at 100 miles per hour”?  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I mean the top speed is an indicated 100 miles an hour.  Unfortunately, the actual speed in real world use averages out to slightly above 10 MPH.

Siemens claims the bike has a 60-mile range and a 100 mph top speed. An onboard charging unit can be plugged into any 110-volt socket to charge the bike in five hours…

OCC Custom Electric Chopper for Siemens
OCC Custom Electric Chopper for Siemens

Ah, so being generous, that means you can go 100 miles an hour for about 40 minutes, until you hit the 60-miles range limit.  Then, you sit around for five hours recharging.  So, 60 miles in 5 hours and 40 minutes is an actual travel speed of 10.6 MPH. Heck, I work 26 miles away from my home.  And considering that a good part of my drive is mountainous, twisty roads, I’m not sure it would get me to work and back with a 60-mile range, which I assume is under optimal conditions.

And that’s the kind of performance that $150k+ buys you with “Green Technology”.  A bike you can out-walk.

Look, whatever urgency you may feel about saving the planet or whatever, “Green Technology” is, at the current time, almost completely useless in terms of building a usable vehicle.  We keep seeing these zero-emissions bikes, and when you look at the details, it’s always a sub-100-mile range, and then hours of recharge time.  No matter what hoopla surrounds the announcement, at the end of the day, its hoopla about a useless vehicle, that no one can afford to buy anyway, and if they can afford it, they can’t even leave town on it.

Someday, I’m sure we’ll all have vehicles with reactionless drives. And flying cars. And personal jet packs powered with dilithium crystals.  But today isn’t that day.

Get back to me when you’ve got a clean motorcycle technology that gets me 200 miles on a charge, with a 5-minute recharge time.

Motorcycle.Com’s Best of 2009


The annual march of media bike choices continues, with weighing in with thir top picks of the year.  Their choices are interesting, and a bit different than I would have expected.

Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.
Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.

For the overall bike of the year, they picked the Triumph Street Triple R.

Best Sportbike honors go to the Kawasaki ZX-6R, with the runner-up being the Honda CBR1000RR.

The Ducati Monster 1100 gets the nod for best standard motorcycle, with second place going to the Harley-Davidson XR1200.

The best cruiser pick is the all new Triumph Thunderbird 1600, with the Suzuki Boulevard M90 taking an honorable mention.

The award for best touring bike goes to the BMW R1200RT, closely followed by the Honda Gold Wing.

BMW also take both first and second place spots for sport-touring, with the K1300GT winning, and the F800ST getting the honorable mention.

BMW stays in the winner’s circle for best off-road bike, with the top honors going to the F800GS, and the second spot going to the Aprilia SXV/RXV 5.5.

They also have picks for best eccentrics, scooters, technology, and more, so why not go there and read them?

Fit to Ride?


Harley-Davidson has come up with a good idea, and it’s one that really should be implemented as widely as possible.  The MoCo will be implementing the Harley-Davidson Fit Shops at dealers all over the country.

Dealership Fit Shop specialists work with current and prospective Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners to help customize the suspension, seat, handlebars and/or foot controls to meet their riding preferences. New riders may not realize all the customizations that can be made to a bike to make it a one-of-a-kind ride based on build and preference, while long-time riders may not know about the latest customization options. Any Harley-Davidson model can be customized to fit most riders.

Most motorcycles can be fit precisely to a rider, but most riders don’t do so.  Most modern motorcycles have fully adjustable suspensions, and the idea is to dial in the suspension to match the rider’s weight, riding style, etc.  Dialing in the suspension to fit the rider makes the motorcycle handle and ride better.  But, all too many riders accept the factory stock settings, and ride off into the sunset, occasionally issuing complaints about how their bike wallows in the corners or whatever.

By taking stock of all the customization options, and having a trained specialist help each purchaser to dial in the bike’s settings to fit the individual rider, you end up with a more satisfied customer, who’s happier with his motorcycle’s comfort, ride, and handling.

And who knows, you may end up with a rider who is a little better educated about his bike.

Kudo’s to Harley for taking a step forward that dealers of other motorcycles would be wise to copy. Not only does it help make for a more satisfied customer, it also has positive implications for motorcycle safety.  Big Four dealers should take a look at doing something similar.  It would be a big help to their customers.

‘Busa Killer?


The September issue of Sport Rider has a head to head comparison of the BMW K1300S and the Suzuki Hayabusa.  You can read it when the mag hits the newsstands, or you can read it in PDF Format here: BMW K1300s vs. Suzuki Hayabusa.

You might expect that the venerable ‘Busa would be the hands-down winner in a head to head comparo with a BMW.  You’d be wrong.  They rated the K13S higher in every category except transmission, where both bikes tied.  They especially liked the more comfortable ergonomics, the anti-spin control, and the on-the-fly adjustable suspension.

More on the New Honda VFR


Our cousins in the UK at Motorcycle news report that the new Honda V-4 bike has a lot more to it that previously thought.  There’s apparently a lot of innovation in this new bike.

First up is the variable cylinder use.  Instead of running in a V-4 and V-Twin profiles, the engine can also run as a triple.  The ECU will select the use of two, three or four cylinders based on engine demand, and throttle input. So, the rider will get smoother transitions between the different cylinder use profiles, which should translate out to a broader range of usable power for the rider.

When in two or three-cylinder mode, instead of the non-working pistons being air springs, they will actually be running in vacuum. So, instead of losing power on the upstroke of the dead cylinder, the empty cylinder will actually serve as a vacuum assist for expanding the active cylinder during its power stroke. So, on net, you get a power increase for the working cylinders.

In addition, the engine, being a V-4, will inherently have the same crossplane effect that Yamaha has used to such rave reviews in its R1 sportbike.

Moving from the engine to the gearbox, the new bike will utilize a double clutch system, similar to the ones used by Porsche.  The rider will be able to select three modes: Drive, Manual and Sport.

Drive mode will put the bike in charge of all the shifting.  It’s essentially an automatic transmission for the motorcycle, and the emphasis will be on economy, with the ECU doing short-shifting to keep the bike in two- or three-cylinder mode.

Manual mode will put the rider in charge of shifting, but the twin-clutch set up will be used to anticipate the next gear change, so the rider can shift as smoothly and quickly as a race bike with a quickshifter.

Sport mode will once again put the ECU in charge of shifting.  But this mode is designed to run to the redline in every gear, giving you peak HP–which is rumored to approach 200HP–and torque as much as possible, and allowing you to concentrate on steering the bike, cranking the throttle, and moving your butt cheeks back and forth to hang off as necessary.

And this new bike is just the beginning.  Apparently, Honda has plans to build a whole new series of bikes based on this technology.  This first bike will replace the VFR and, apparently, the ST1300/Pan-European.  But beyond that, Honda is going to give us lots of biking goodness based on the new V-4 platform.

The only remaining question is whether or not we will see this bike in the 2010 model year or not.  If we are, we’ll probably learn about it in the next 60 days.  If it performs as Honda expects, then something like like this has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of what a rider should expect from a motorcycle.

I am really interested in taking a look at this bike.

Internal Combustion Tech Marches On


The two-stroke motorcycle has long been replaced by the four-stroke.  Now, Ilmore Engineering appears to have come up with a five-stroke engine.  Ilmore does a lot of stuff in Indy Car, Formula 1, and MotoGP, so they aren’t some fly-by-night firm with a wild idea.

Although, it is a wild idea.

With dual camshafts and an asymetrical three-cylinder configuration, the Ilmor is more than intriguing with its design, and promises to bring real benefits both to the race track, and to road-use. Most notably is a 10% increased fuel efficiency, and 20% weight reduction in power-plant weight.

With its 700cc, turbocharged, prototype motor, Ilmor is able to extract 130hp and 122 lbs•ft of torque. To achieve this, the motor employs two overhead camshafts. One is a “high pressure” camshaft, which turns at half the crank speed, while the other shaft is a “low pressure” camshaft, which turns at the same speed as the crankshaft.

Yes, you read that right.  A 700cc motor with 130HP and 122lb-ft of torque.  Those are…interesting numbers.  That’s what I call a real “Speed Triple”.  You’d need to put a second mortgage on your house to pay off your tire bill, assuming you don’t just wheelie right over and turn turtle, killing yourself.

But, assuming those difficulties can be overcome, it sounds like a neat idea.