Buell’s Future No Longer Uncertain

Last month, I wrote an article claiming that Buell’s future was uncertain, as a signifigant number of Harley-Davidson execs were leading a charge to eliminate the brand from the MoCo’s line-up.

Writing that story made me very unpopular in the Buell world for a few days.

Today, it became public knowledge that Buell is, indeed, on the chopping block.  Harley Davidson is discontinuing the brand and shutting down Buell’s operations.

It’s a sad day, I think, to see a company that had so much promise destroyed by the squandering of the opportunities it presented.

New Motorcycle Traffic Study Initiated

For the first time since 1981’s Hurt Report, the  Federal Highway Administration is beginning a comprehensive study of traffic safety as it relates to motorcycles.

A significant new motorcycle crash causation study will soon get under way at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Formally announced by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Oct. 5, the study will give motorcyclists and others concerned with highway safety a fuller picture of how motorcycles fit into today’s traffic mix, a better understanding of what causes motorcycle crashes, and insights into the best strategies to prevent these crashes.

“The announcement that the full study will now begin is great news,” said Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. “While the study will take years to complete, it promises to offer up information that will allow for the creation of effective countermeasures to make the roads safer for all of us.”

The last major motorcycle crash study, called “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures,” commonly known as the Hurt Report (named after lead researcher Harry Hurt), was published in 1981. It provided a wealth of data that has been used to develop training and strategies to help keep riders safer on the road. In the decades since, the traffic environment has changed enormously, prompting the AMA to begin campaigning for a new study several years ago.

“There is certainly a lot more traffic now than when Harry Hurt and his team did their research,” Moreland said. “SUVs didn’t exist back then, and motorcycles have advanced light years in technology. On top of that, distracted driving poses a significant safety challenge. We will certainly learn a lot from this new study.”

The FHWA is overseeing the OSU project, which will be administered at the Oklahoma Transportation Center, an independent and well-respected research facility in Stillwater.

It will be interesting to see how the changes of the past 28 years will affect the conclusions of the study.

2010 Honda VFR1200F

After months of anticipation, Honda released the images, specifications, and availability details of the new VFR replacement, the VFR1200F.

Let’s start with the pictures.  Shown below is the only version that will appear in the US,with its red livery.  Why the euros get multiple color choices, and we have to be satisfied with a single color is beyond me, but here it is.  Click the thumbnails to enlarge.

I have to say right up front that the looks don’t grab me.  The blunt nose with the odd-shaped headlight just don’t do it for me.  Maybe the look will grow on me, but the first impression doesn’t…impress.

The specs for the bike are more to my liking, and pretty interesting.

First up, it’s a serious step up in power from the current generation VFR.  Honda claims an output of 170HP at 10,000RPM and 95lb-ft of torque at 8,750RPM from the 1237cc V-4 power plant.  However you slice it, those are very respectable numbers, and a big leap from the current VFR.  The engine also sports variable cylinder technology that uses two, three, or four cylinders, depending on throttle input.  The four cylinders are set at different angles, with the rear two cylinders located innermost on the crankshaft and the front cylinders located outboard in order to narrow the rider’s seating position.

The buyer will have a choice of transmissions.   You can choose a standard 6-speed transmission, or spring for the dual-clutch 6-speed transmission, with  a manual mode that shifts via a finger paddle on the handlebars, a la the FJR1300AE, and two automatic options: one for sport, which takes each gear to the redline before shifting, or a short-shifting economy mode. Power gets from the tranny to the rear wheel via a brand new shaft drive system that sports an offset pivot point and sliding constant-velocity joint to eliminate driveline lash.

Rear suspension for the VFR is a Honda Pro Arm® single-sided swingarm with single gas-charged shock with a remote spring preload adjuster, adjustable rebound damping and 5.1 inches of travel.  Front suspension is provided by a 43mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable spring preload and 4.7 inches of travel.  But not, apparently, rebound damping.  The latter may be a consideration for some.

You may have already noticed the two-tone fairing.  That’s part of Honda’s new air management system. Honda calls this “layered fairing technology”, and explains it as follows:

By effectively increasing the speed of the air by channelling it through smaller apertures before it reaches the radiators, engine cooling is optimized and the hot, exhausted air is channelled away from the rider and passenger for a cooler, more comfortable ride. The heat generated by the powerful, enclosed V4 engine is also channelled away to keep hot air away from the rider.

Apparently, Honda gave some thought to heat management in precisely the way that Yamaha and Kawasaki did not when creating the first gen FJR and Concours14.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear they gave as much thought to travel range, with the VFR1200F having only a 4.9 gal tank.  This is a serious deficiency if the VFR is supposed to do any serious touring.  Even worse is the claimed 36.5 MPG fuel efficiency.  Taking Honda’s claims at face value give the VFR1200F a maximum fuel range of 179 miles.  Both the efficiency and range seem a bit low for a bike that uses variable cylinder technology for economy.  In fact, that’s just plain low, no matter what.  This is the biggest disappointment I can see from the claimed specs.  It’s a gas hog with a small tank.  Great.

It’s also a pretty big bike–though significantly smaller than the ST1300–with a curb weight (full of gas and ready to ride) of 591lbs for the standard transmission model and 613 lbs for the super-tranny version.  It’s still lighter than an FJR or Connie, but significantly heavier than most sport bikes.

Bringing all that weight to a stop comes from dual full-floating 320mm discs with CBS six-piston calipers with ABS in front, and a single 276mm disc with CBS two-piston caliper with ABS out back.  Supporting it all is a vacuum-molded, cast aluminum chassis.

And if you want to add a little more weight, there are several accessories for the VFR.  There are fairing extenders to get your hands out of the wind.  Windshield extenders to do the same for your head.  There’s full luggage–albeit somewhat smaller than the usual run of touring bike luggage–for long trips.  There’s even a navigator, so you wont get lost.  For a brand new bike, Honda seems to have really gone all out to provide lots of farkles for it.

So, now we’ve seen the pics, and we’ve read the specs.  And I have just one question about the VFR1200F.

What is it?

Is it a sport bike?  if so it seems awfully big for it. Hustling a 600 lb bike through the twisties can be done, of course, but all that extra weight has inertia to match, which limits its canyon-carving ability.

Is it a touring bike?  Then why is the tank so small, fuel range so compromised, and the luggage so downsized?

Is it a ‘Busa-style superbike?  Then why only 170 horses?  Ultimately, a ‘Busa or ZX-14 will be admiring it in their rear-views.

The more I look at it, the more it seems like a niche bike without a…niche.

I really wanted to be impressed with this bike.  I thought that with all the new technology we’d be getting…I dunno…more.  What it is, though, seems like a bastardized compromise between a sportbike and a sport-tourer that does neither of those things very well.  For a sportbike, I’d want it lighter, with a shorter wheelbase.  For a tourer, I’d want better mileage and range.

Of course, if you want a compromise bike, it seems like the VFR1200F will deliver that in spades.

y effectively increasing the speed of the air by channelling it through smaller apertures before it reaches the radiators, engine cooling is optimized and the hot, exhausted air is channelled away from the rider and passenger for a cooler, more comfortable ride. The heat generated by the powerful, enclosed V4 engine is also channelled away to keep hot air away from the rider.

2010 MV Agusta F4 Sneak Peak

It won’t be officially unveiled until November, but MV Agusta has released a sneak peak photo of the 2010 F4.  It’s not much of a photo, and it doesn’t show much except the headlight, and the general shape of the fairing, front-on.

2010 MV Agusta F4 Teaser
2010 MV Agusta F4 Teaser

It looks a bit different, but it still has the essential Tamburini styling.  What is more important than the fairing is what’s under it.  An what’s under it may be nice.  We’ve already seen the 2010 Brutale, and that bike is essentially the naked version of the F4.  Since already know that the 2010 Brutale 1090R is pretty much brand new, with 85% new components, we can probably assume that the F4 is similarly new.

Still no word on anything like a specification for the new F4, of course.

I guess we’ll still have to wait ’til November for that.

Kawasaki’s 2010 Motorcyles

Big Green has released the details of the 2010 model line today, and some of the changes are pretty nice.  Some of them are simply…meh.

2010 ZX10R
2010 ZX10R

First up is the 2010 ZX-10R Ninja.  This is one of the “Meh” entries in the lineup.  Not much new to talk about here.    They’ve modified the bodywork a little bit.  They’ve changed the steering damper to a new–and presumably better–one.  And they’ve painted the muffler black.  Other than that, next year’s ZX-10R is pretty much status quo ante.

My best advice is to wait for a year if you want a big Ninja. Supposedly, Kawasaki is gonna put the bike through a complete redesign for the 2011 model year.  Until then, the new Ninja is pretty much what the old Ninja was.

2010 Versys
2010 Versys

Another “meh” is the 2010 Versys.  It has new headlights, that kind of have a BMW R1200R kind of feel.  But it’s is, again, pretty much the same bike as this year’s.

I think we’re done with the “Meh” bikes in the line-up, though.

2010 Concours14
2010 Concours14

There are some nice changes to Kawasaki’s premier sports tourer.  Not, unfortunately, some of the changes rumored earlier this year, like the night vision and HUD I wrote about a while ago.  Instead, the Connie gets something called KTRC, Kawasaki’s first-ever traction control system.  Also new is the the K-ACT II anti-lock braking system to control those panic stops, a larger windscreen to solve the complaints about the effectiveness of wind management, bodywork redesigned for better heat management, heated grips, upgraded suspension, and new Bridgestone tires.

Oh, and it’s blue.  Blue is nice.

2010 Z1000
2010 Z1000

The Z1000 is the bike where major changes have occurred.  The current incarnation of the Z1000 is OK…but just OK.  Nice, but the power is kind of soft and squishy.  The new Z1000 looks like a big step forward.  It’s pretty much a completely new motorcycle, in fact.

First, the engine is completely new.  It’s a 1043cc I-4 power plant adapted from the ZX10R, and it provides 136HP and 91lb-ft of torque.  That’s a serious improvement over the current incarnation’s 953cc mill from the ZX-9.  That means noticeably better acceleration, and improved top-end speed.

Next, the steel backbone frame is gone, replaced by an all-aluminum frame with a monocoque main spar.  Fuel storage is now beneath the seat, so the narrower frame and changed fuel tank offers a narrower profile for better knee gripping.  That’s helped by the narrow bottom and flared top of the…uh, whatever the thing on top now is, instead of a fuel tank.

There are lots of suspension changes, too, with the rear suspension being an all-new “horizontal” design, and more aggressive front-end geometry.

The styling has been updated, too, giving it a noticeable B-King vibe, but whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.

Aerostich Branches Out

Aerostich has long been known as a purveyor of fine riding apparel.  But now it appears they’ve moved into other areas.  Areas that don’t seem closely related to their core competencies.

Aerostich Flip
Aerostich Flip

This new product is something called the “Flip”.  It’s a replacement for a regular license plate holder, and at the touch of a button, it flips the license plate down to display a custom message.

One of those messages is the “Lane Share Test” sign shown here.  I guess, if you live outside of California, and you want to split lanes at a traffic light, you could order this plate, and display it as you sneak between the lanes.  It looks all official and stuff.

I suspect it won’t look official enough for the local mounties to pull you over and ask you what the hell you think you’re doing, however.  And asking you exactly what you think you’re doing with a device that’s designed to hide your license plate at will.

I mean, if you have big, brass ones, and you’re willing to risk the ire of the local peaceforcers, go ahead.

But it seems like a high-risk thing to install on your bike.

Still, they have other messages you can buy which are a bit less…controversial.  Or, you can create your own custom message.

You’ve still got to get over the problem of a license-plate hiding device, but, if you’re willing to risk it…

Something New From MV Agusta

There was a time when MV Agusta was one of the world’s premier motorcycle brands.  Not only did they make fantastic and beautiful motorcycles for street use, but Agusta was also a potent force–and for a time, perhaps the potent force– in motorsports all across the world.  Sadly, in recent years, Agusta has suffered a steep decline from those glory days.  Not only has MV Agusta essentially disappeared from the racing world, the company has essentially produced only two models for the past decade: the F4 sportbike, and the Brutale naked streetfighter.

This appears to be changing.

Earlier this month, the first spy pictures of a brand newMV Agusta 675cc triple sportbike appeared on the UK motorcycle web site Visordown.  Now, Visordown is reporting that they will be revealing a new MV Agusta superbike model in the next few weeks.  This bike will not be an F4 model, but a completely new Superbike-class machine, that is also expected to lead MV Agusta back to participation in WSS or WSBK racing.  Other than that, no one seems to have any idea about what this new superbike model will be.  We don’t even know if it will be a new model that slots in above the F4 in Agusta’s line-up, or if it replaces the F4 as an entirely new model.  All we know is that it’s on the way.

I’m not exactly sure what value MV Agusta brought to Harley-Davidson when the MoCo purchased agusta several months ago.  But it appears that Harley brought MV Agusta the opportunity to expand their decade-old line-up.

Honda VFR1200F Interview

Honda UK’s test rider Dave Hancock has done some extensive riding of the new VFR1200F.  He seems to like the new bike a lot.  He’s positively glowing about it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M61ylXHrHME

It sounds like a wonderful machine, doesn’t it?  The thing is, while he’s talking about the bike in such glowing terms, I can’t help noticing that he’s wearing a red shirt.  And it has a big ol’ white wing on the left breast.  That says “Honda” right beneath it.  So, I gotta wonder if he’s, you know, the most objective source of information.

I’m just saying.