Luckiest. Pope. Ever.

It was a big day for His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, as Ducati Holdings CEO Gabriele Del Torchio popped by the Pope’s residence at Castel Gandolfo to drop off two brand new Multistrada 1200s. Both bikes are nicely custom painted with the gold and white papal color scheme.

Pope Benedict XVI and his new Ducati Multistradas
Pope Benedict XVI and his new Ducati Multistradas

Il Papa himself won’t be riding the bikes, however, as they are slated for use by the Papal Gendarmerie.  I just hope that they can manage to keep their speed down low enough not to leave the papal motorcade shrinking on the horizon behind them.

2011 Triumph Sprint GT Review

2011 Triumph Sprint GT
2011 Triumph Sprint GT

The Triumph Sprint ST has been replaced by–or, rather, evolved into–the Sprint GT.  But looking at the specs in the Motorcycle.Com review, I’m not sure it’s an evolution to something better.  It may be, but the tale of the tape in comparison to the previous model doesn’t excite me.

First, the wheelbase has been lengthened significantly, from 57.3″ to 60.5″, which seems to threaten to reduce maneuverability (about which, more below).  But, I guess they had to lengthen the wheelbase, in order to stuff in the extra 60lbs of weight, with the GT model now coming in at a hefty 591lbs, fueled up and ready to ride.

In return for that 10% increase in weight the engine output has been slightly increased, from 123HP to 128HP, while torque jumps slightly to 79.7 ft-lbs–about 4 ft-pounds more than last year’s ST model.

The maneuverability reduction from the longer wheelbase seems to be offset by a narrower tires and more aggressive chassis geometry.  Power-to-weight ratio is much lower on the GT than the previous model, but it apparently still retains fine cornering and handling, despite the extra weight. And, of course, for the “touring” side of the sport-touring equation, the extra heft and longer wheelbase make for a steadier highway ride.

The looks have been updated a bit, although, to my eye, it looks very much like an FJR1300 with BMW saddlebags attached. In other words, the updated design is still about three or four years behind the times.

It also still has a chain drive, and whether you prefer that to a shaft is always a personal call.  Me, I want a shaft in a tourer.  It’s 2010.  Am I supposed to spend my Saturdays lubing a chain like some kind of animal?  Having said that, I’d trade my shaft-driven FJR for a chain-driven Ducati Multistrada without blinking an eye. (Actually, I’m begging for someone to let me make that deal.) But the Multistrada is not, first and foremost, a tourer.  It’s very much in the sport category, so the chain is appropriate.  At 600 pounds, however, the Sprint is definitely out of the sporting and into the touring category.

Still, for $13,199, you get a lot of bike for your money, so the drawbacks of the GT are not, at that price, by any means deal-breakers.

Harley stays in Wisconsin

I guess the tough talk about scouting for new production locations worked.

Unions at Harley-Davidson Wisconsin factories have agreed to seven-year labor agreements that will keep the company’s production operations in The Motor Company’s home state. The new labor contracts, which call for a reduced workforce, will take effect in in April 2012.

The unions’ workforce will be trimmed by 325 full-time jobs, with those positions now being filled only on an as-needed basis.

In the stead of lost full-time union positions, H-D will source a part-time workforce as needed. In its press release announcing the new labor agreement Harley-Davidson described the new part-time status: “The production system includes the addition of a “casual” workforce component – unionized employees who work as required, depending on seasonal needs and to provide coverage for vacations and other absences.”

I’m sure the workers aren’t particularly happy about the new contract, but I suspect they’d have been less happy if Harley had decided to move production to some other state–probably one with right-to-work laws.

Buell’s Plans

I’ve communicated with the people at Erik Buell Racing to see if they could give up any more information about the 1190RS street bike, their schecule for producing it and making it available, etc.  Their response is essentially as follows:

Currently there is no information available from us on the 1190RS, other than that it is in development. What surprises us is how many people are already publishing specifications, business plans and limitations, and more. Even though the information they have is incorrect. Not sure what to do about that other than to let time take its course and as the facts are released then people will know them. There is much information that simply cannot be released yet.

In other words…nothing.

As far as the speculation goes about EBR’s “specifications, business plans and limitations, and more”, well, all you can really say is that this sort of thing inevitable happens when you’re unwilling–or unable–to provide any solid information.  Under the press of deadlines, reporters will often publish something that they hear from someone who they trust, who has been reliable in the past with inside info…and it’s still wrong.

About all you can do is ignore it, and release information as you’re able.

Yesterday I got an official press release from EBR that specifically mentioned the 1190RS again, saying once more that it is “under development”. Other than that, it looks like we’ll have to wait until February for hard and fast–and reliable–news about Buell’s plans.

There is this, however:

Erik Buell Racing 1190RS
Erik Buell Racing 1190RS

Click for the hi-res version.  I’m hoping that won’t be the production exhaust.

Erik Buell readies for a comeback

His non-compete agreement with Harley-Davidson is still active, but Erik Buell Racing is already looking ahead to February, 2011, when he can once again begin making street bikes.  The marketing for the EBR 1190RS has already begun, however, with a cool new EBR logo on all the standard clothing.

EBR 1190RS Promo
EBR 1190RS Promo

The 1190RS is supposed to deliver 180HP at the rear wheel, putting it smack dab into competition with the Ducati 1198, BMW S1000RR, and other superbikes. That’s about all we know about the bike so far, though EBR is promising more info next week.

What we don’t know yet, is how EBR is actually going to manufacture it.  EBR has the bike in pre-production/prototype form, but so far EBR doesn’t have a manufacturing facility that is capable of producing anything like an acceptable number of bikes. Especially bikes that can be built with enough economy of scale to make them affordable to anything other than the extremely well-heeled rider.  Nor do they yet have investors who are willing to pony up the money to build one in these tough economic times.

The marketing for the bike is also being done not through the EBR web site, but rather through Erik Buell’s Rat Pak Records web site.  That’s an interesting strategy, i.e., an apparent attempt to market a bike that Buell isn’t legally allowed to produce.  If Harley-Davidson really wants to push it, they would have an excellent chance to get an injunction against EBR/Rat Pak to cease and desist marketing the 1190RS immediately, especially since there’s not any appreciable degree of real separation between Eric Buell, EBR, and Rat Pak.

I have to say, though, it would be sweet to finally see an American street bike that has the same power specs as the S1000RR hitting the road.  I’ve dropped a line to EBR see if we can set up a brief discussion about the company, the 1190RS, and other possible subjects of interest.

ATK Unveils a New Cruiser

Previously, I’ve reported on the American dirt bike manufacturer ATK getting into the street bike business. Previously, ATK had a deal to assemble and badge 250cc and 650cc Hyosung (S&T Motors)  sport bikes and cruisers here in the US. Well, last week, during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, ATK unveiled an entirely new cruiser, a 700cc bike for the US market.

ATK 700cc Cruiser
ATK 700cc Cruiser

Not only that, but S&T’s chief operating officer, Jimmy Park, piloted the new cruiser to a speed in excess of 100MPH on the salt flats.

Details and specs on the new cruiser are lacking, but presumably will be released in due course.  The full press release from ATK is here (PDF).

Back to the Old Grind…

Vacation is over, so it’s back to our regularly scheduled motoblogging.

This vacation was a cruise to Mexico. I mention this because it was interesting to see the differences in the motorcycling communities in other countries.

Mexico is definitely NOT a sportbike or cruiser environment.  I saw exactly one sportbike, a CBR1000RR that was on sale in Mazatlan.  I saw a couple of cruisers, including one Harley-Davidson, in Mazatlan as well. The remainder were scooters or 125-250cc dual sports.  In Puerto Vallarta, it’s almost entirely dual sports.

That city is a special case, though, because it sits at the foot of the jungle, with huge amounts of water runoff from the rain forest. As such, many of the streets consist not of asphalt pavement, but fist-sized stones set in concrete.  City driving there is much like a well-maintained fire road here.  You need a Dual Sport just to drive around downtown, as the even the best-maintained stone roads are suspension-punishing monsters.

Motorcyclists in Mexico also ride with a mix of elan and courage that is…well…frightening. But then, automobile drivers do, too.

They have mandatory helmet laws in Mexico, but they certainly aren’t fanatics about it. That is to say, most motorcyclists obey it…at least with some kind of helmet, anyway. Whether it’s a motorcycle helmet is a different story.

Anyway, it’s good to be back.