2011 KTM RC8R

Austria’s big motorcycle company, KTM, has been trying to break into the literbike class for a couple of years now with the RC8, a bike that’s a bit of a departure for a company mainly known for its off-road products. Sadly, though, the KTM, with its unusually geometric styling, has been a hard sell.  Not for the styling so much–although it takes a bit of getting used to–but for the rather iffy performance of the bike itself.

2011 KTM RC8R
2011 KTM RC8R

On paper, it looks like an equal contender to the V-Twin Aprilias and Ducatis. On the track, though, it’s been a bit disappointing.  Iffy and snatchy throttling, and overly stiff suspension have amounted to a bike that one wants to love as a top-flight literbike…but can’t. Especially for the rather premium price that comes with the KTM logo.

For 2011, KTM says they’ve made a host of minor changes that completely transform the character of the bike.  Is that true? Well, Motorcycle-USA’s Adam Waheed and Steve Atlas took one of the new RC8s to the track to see.

Their judgement is that a new crankshaft and flywheel, remapped throttling, dual spark plugs, new slipper clutch, and a suspension overhaul have radically improved the RC8.

What remains to be seen–and hopefully we’ll see it soon–is a head-to-head comparo of the RC8 with its superbike brethren.

One thing to note about the RC* is the placement of the exhaust, which is slung directly under the bike at the centerline, the same as the BMW S1000RR. Or as practically every Buell motorcycle, where that configuration appeared first.

I’m just saying.

Big Bagger Showdown II

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom

Once again, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide shows up in a 2011 bagger showdown, this time being pitted against the Kawasaki Vaquero by Motorcycle.Com.  They compared the two bikes head to head and found out a couple of interesting things.

First up, is the issue of power.  If you shell out a cool two grand extra for the 103ci Harley PowerPak mill, then  the power and torque curves of the two bukes are practically identical. That tells us two things: That the PowerPak package from Harley-Davidson gives you competitive engine performance, while the standard 96ci engine is underpowered relative to other bikes in the class. Of course, we’re talking about heavy touring cruisers here, so power may not be your priority when it comes to purchasing.  And if it is, that $1995 premium for the PwerPak seems a bit…steep.

The other thing we learned is that Harley-Davidson’s new chassis and geometry for the baggers has really improved their handling quite a bit. The Road Glide has always been the best handling of the big Harleys anyway, so this improvement must be particularly noticeable. Having said that, the Road Glide’s suspension seems to still be a bit “meh”.

The big difference between these two bike is the price.  With equivalent engines and accessories, the Vaquero comes in at a miserly $16,499 compared to the lofty $22,149 sticker price of the Road Glide. That means for almost the price of the Road Glide, you could by a Vaquero for touring…and a Versys for commuting.

Big Bagger Showdown

2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra
2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide UltraPhoto Credit: Motorcycle USA, Ray Gauger

Motorcycle USA has published their head-to-head comparison of the Victory Vision and the Harley Davidson Road Glide Ultra.

Visually, these could not–except for size–be two more different-looking motorcycles. The Road Glide is a blast from the past, showing of the signature Harley-Davidson style that has been little changed since the 1960’s. Some say that’s a bad thing, demonstrating a lack of willingness to push their designs forward from Peter Fonda’s Captain America hippie-era. The Victory Vision, on the other hands, looks as if it comes to us from 40 years in the future, rather than 40 years in the past. Some say that’s a bad thing, too, making the Victory an exceptionally execrable example of Arlen Ness-iness gone wild.

Underneath the looks, however, both of these bikes are designed to do one thing and do it well: eat up the day by effortlessly cruising the highway.

Both bikes have their admirers and detractors, of course, but what’s surprising in the MotoUSA test is that they both do it equally well.  It seems that which bike to prefer really comes down to a matter of taste.  their that closely matched.

Personally, if the day ever comes when I want to dip my toes in the cruiser well, the Road Glide will be my bike of choice.

Sadly, though, if I got rid of my FJR, my inner hooligan would incline me to look for something a little…faster. For instance, I certainly intend to personally test the new BMW K1600GT when it becomes available.

The “Other American Motorcycle Company” is doing well

Polaris has released their 4th quarter numbers, and It looks like it’s champagne time at their headquarters. Unlike Harley-Davidson, which reported yet another loss in the 4th quarter, Polaris has moved firmly into the black.

Net income for the fourth quarter 2010 was a record $54.5 million, an increase of 24 percent over the same period in 2009. Record sales of $618.4 million for the fourth quarter 2010 increased 31 percent over 2009 fourth quarter sales of $471.8 million.

For the full year ended December 31, 2010, Polaris reported record net income of $147.1 million, or a record $4.28 per diluted share, compared to $101.0 million, or $3.05 per diluted share for the year ended December 31, 2009. This represents a 40 percent increase on a per diluted share basis and a 46 percent increase in net income.

Polaris, of course, makes much more than motorcycles, but Victory certainly did its part in 2010, moving 81,624 motorcycles compared to 52,811 in 2009. That’s a 55% increase in sales, and was the largest sales increase of any of Polaris’ product lines.

Congratulations to Victory, and Polaris, who are showing real strength when most other manufacturers are still scrambling to cut losses.

Steampunk Style

Motorcycle Daily asks if Steampunk might be the next customization craze in motorcycles. Steampunk, for those who don’t know, is the melding of very high-tech devices with a very 19th-century Victorian sense of design. Here’s a good example:

Steampunk PC
Steampunk PC

Yep, it’s a Steampunk PC.  And, here’s another one:

Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer
Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer

It looks Old Skool with all the bare metal, and the nice bronze bits showing off some golden accents, but that engine is the Rotax powerplant from the Aprilia RSV Mille.

Now I don’t know if Steampunk is the direction that customizing is going–it’s as good a direction as any, and better than most–but it certainly needs to go somewhere other than where it is.

The trouble is that the manufacturers are now making “custom” motorcycles.  Harley-Davidson has an entire line of “Dark Custom” motorcycles, and even the Japanese are getting into the act, with bikes like the Honda Fury. They are going by the oxymoronic name of factory custom motorcycles, which ignores the elemental fact that if it’s a factory motorcycle, it can’t possibly be a custom one. What the manufacturers are doing is taking their styling cues from the custom builders, and making factory copies.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it does devalue the currency of a customized motorcycle, in that you can now get the same styling…for a lot less money. And, of course, the whole point of a custom motorcycle is that it doesn’t look like a factory motorcycle.

Well, that’s not always true.  For instance, the Honda Fury is put together too well.

Honda Fury Detail
Honda Fury Detail

Look at how nicely integrated the chrome engine covers and frame are.  That obviously came from a factory, not a custom shop. It’s designed well, but it has no…soul.

So, the custom shops–who should be all about soul–need to find a different direction to travel.  If the makers are going to co-op the current custom style, then the customizers need to head in a new direction.

And, quite frankly, they should probably do that anyway.  At the end of the day, we’ve probably completely drained the well of creative design based on the 1950s, with springer front ends, coil-wrapped rear shocks, and the like.After all, we’ve been drawing from that well for fifty years.  How much more expression can we get out of it?

To my mind, the Steampunk movement opens up new, untapped design vistas for customizers. Almost no one has really worked creatively in this area yet, and the ornate beauty of Victorian design, mated with modern frames and engines offers the possibility of some outstandingly beautiful–and unique custom bikes. As Motorcycle Daily’s Gabe Ets-Hokin writes:

Taking the best from our favorite eras can only be a good thing. The power of a BMW S1000RR with the looks of a Ducati 750 Sport? How about the durability of a Honda CBR600F2 with the handling and looks of an MV Agusta? Or the shriek of a Honda RC166 with the fuel economy of a BMW R1200R? There’s no reason why it won’t all be possible.

No reason, indeed.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline
2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Harley-Davidson has introduced another cruiser to their Dark Custom line at the NY Motorcycle Show. This time, it’s a Softail model called the Blackline.

Unlike most of Harley’s Dark Custom line, the Blackline sports a fair bit of chrome, including the redesigned, round air intake cover. Also redesigned is the shaved down fuel tank.

Like most Harley’s, the Blackline is powered by the standard 96ci V-Twin, which outputs 89 ft-lbs of peak torque at 3,250 RPM.

The H-D web site doesn’t have any information about the bike, but a motorcycle journalist from the Milwaukee Sentinel who was there, offers this info he received from H-D:

Key features of the 2011 Blackline include:

New Powertrain styling

Powertrain is finished in gloss black powdercoat on the rocker box covers, the crankcase, the outer primary cover, and the transmission side cover. The cylinders are silver powdercoat with machined highlights. The derby cover and timing covers are chromed.

Rigid-mounted, counter-balanced Twin Cam 96B™ V-Twin engine with Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI), rated at 89 ft. lbs. peak torque at 3250 rpm.

6-Speed Cruise Drive® Transmission.

New round air cleaner cover in brilliant chrome.

New Black Denim powdercoat frame and swingarm.

New Profile Laced Aluminum wheels with black anodized rims. Front wheel is 21 x 2.15 inches; rear wheel is 16 x 3 inches. Dunlop®  D402 tires are MH90-21 front and MU85B16 rear.

New FX front end with black powdercoat triple clamps and black painted fork lowers.

New Split Drag™ internally-wired handlebars mount directly to the top triple clamp.

New Asymmetric five-gallon Softail fuel tank is clean on the left side, with a low-profile fuel fill on the right. Die cast “Blackline” trim panel flowing down the center of the tank is just high enough to cover the fuel pump hardware.

New Analog speedometer on a triple-clamp mount that also holds indicator lights. LCD screen on the speedometer includes low-fuel warning and “miles to empty” display function.

New Bobbed rear fender with combination stop/tail/turn lights in black housings, and a new composite license plate holder and light module that mounts on the lower edge of the fender.

New Raw forged rear fender supports are finished in Black Denim powdercoat.

New One-piece, two-up seat and passenger pillion. Laden rider seat height is 24 inches, the lowest two-up seat offered by Harley-Davidson. Gap between the nose of seat and fuel tank exposes the top of the frame.

New headlamp in gloss black shell.

2011 Ducati Monster 1100 EVO

2011 Ducati Monster 1100 EVO
2011 Ducati Monster 1100 EVO

Ducati announced the updated Monster today, known as the Ducati Monster 1100 EVO.

For the first time, the Monster breaks the 3-digit horsepower wall, with the Desmodue engine putting out 100HP at 7,500RPM, and 76 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM. It puts that upgraded power to the rear wheel through a 6-speed transmission hooked up to a chain drive. That’s a pretty decent power output for a bike that only weighs 373 lbs (dry).

With the extra power comes some extra safety, too, with the Monster coming equipped with Ducati Traction control and a Brembo/Bosch ABS braking system.

Ducati has also redesigned the seat and moved the handlebars up, in order to increase rider comfort.

At least, as comfortable as a naked standard can be, anyway.

More info is available at Ducati’s web site.

Triumph Rocket III loses the top spot

The 2300cc triple in the Triumph Rocket III will no longer be the largest-displacement production motorcycle in the world after this year.  Motorcycle Daily is reporting that a company in the Czech Republic (which they refer to as both FGR and MGR) will be producing a  V-6 motorcycle, the Midalu 2500.

2011 FGR Midalu 2500 V6
2011 FGR Midalu 2500 V6

The reported specs of the 2442cc V-6 powerplant in the Midalu 2500 are reported as 240HP and 160 ft/lbs of torque, while the overall weight should be in the neighborhood of 600 lbs. The steel trellis-framed Midalu 2500 is also supposed to use top-of-the-line components.  The price isn’t yet known, but whatever it is, you probably shouldn’t get too excited.  Production is expected to be quite low, and sales will probably be  restricted to the EU.

It looks kind of like a Ducati Diavel…for real men.

BMW: They don’t exist yet, but you can buy them

2011 BMW K1600GT
2011 BMW K1600GT

Since BMW announced the new straight-6 K1600GT and K1600GTL models, they’ve become one of the most hotly-anticipated motorcycles of 2011.  So much so, that BMW has announced that they will take pre-sale orders for them, starting today.  All you have to do is go to the BMW web site and fill out this pre-sale form. Just so we’re clear, you’re entering the pre-sales program for a motorcycle that isn’t actually in production yet. They also have another form to fill out if you just want to receive updates about the bikes from BMW.

It takes quite a lot of confidence to start taking pre-sale orders for a bike you haven’t actually built yet, but it seems that BMW’s confidence is warranted. BMW Motorrad USA announced their 2010 sales results today.  Somehow, in a year of economic recession, plunging motorcycle sales, and despite making about the highest-priced motorcycles one can buy, BMW did…good.

BMW Motorrad reported a 12.3% increase in motorcycle sales in 2010.

The German manufacturer shipped 98,047 units in 2010 compared to 87,306 motorcycles in 2009. BMW reported growth in almost every market including a 4% increase in the U.S. despite a double-digit downturn for the industry.

Leading the sales charge for BMW was the S1000RR, their new–and conventional–literbike, which sold 10209 units to become BMW’s highest-selling model.

Pierre Terblanche moves to Norton

Ducati’s Pierre Terblanche, designer of the beautiful Ducati Supermoto, is moving to Norton Motorcycles in the UK to design bikes.  Since Norton currently produces only the 961 Commando, I think we can assume that the reborn British maker has some other models in the works.  If I was guessing, I would say the Norton rotary-powered NRV588 is the prime candidate for Terblanche’s design magic.

If so, he could do a lot worse than to come up with an update of the classic John Player Special version of the Norton Commander F1.

1991 Norton Commander F1 John Player Special

One of the most beautiful bikes ever made.

Speaking of Honda…

…A&R reports that:

Honda Motor Co. is all set to unload a choice piece of property in Kern County this year (Southern California residents should find this statement funny), as the company has put up for sale the Honda Proving Center of California (HPCC). Consisting of a total of 4,255 acres (give or take a few), the proving ground facility consists of a 7.5 mile oval, a 4.5 mile track of winding city roadway, skid pad, MX/SX track, support facilities, offices, warehouses, and plenty of desert terrain just to name a few of the highlights.

So, if you’ve got the money, and are looking for your own private race track, here’s your chance.

This is getting a little ridiculous

Honda asked some bike designers to go all out with their visions of the Honda Fury, the factory chopper Honda’s been touting for several months now, as well as the new Stateline and Saber.  They got these:

Honda Concept Furious
Honda Concept Furious, by Nick Renner. Based on the Fury.
Honda Concept Slammer
Honda Concept Slammer, by Erik Dunshee. Based on the Stateline.
Honda Concept Switchblade
Honda Concept Switchblade, by Edward Birtulescu. Based on the Saber.

There’s nothing wrong with these concepts visually, if you don’t mind a bit of motorcycle with your Arlen-Nessiness.  But, at the end of they day, they’re all 65HP VTX1300s.  No machine based on the VTX1300 can possibly be “Furious”.  Of course, I’m a grown-up, so I realize that there’s not much marketing magic in calling a bike the “Mildly Annoyed”.

On the plus side, you would at least look good tooling along at 45MPH on one of these babys.  Just don’t expect things to turn out well if someone offers to race you for “pinks”. Not that anyone would, because, you know, who’d want to take one of these away from you? Their best-case scenario is that they’d win a VTX 1300.

Yes, yes, it’s a Honda, so I’m sure it’d be finely crafted, smooth, and reliable as all hell. But the VTX1300 platform is, in a word, boring. It’s as dependable a platform as you could ask for…but who would.  Honda’s a fine company, and they make some great bikes (see CBR1000RR or Gold Wing), but the VTX1300 is far closer to “workmanlike” than “great”.