Scooter + Ducati Monster = Scootster?

Italian motorcycle designer Oberdan Bezzi is convinced that Ducati will be revealing a new scooter at the Milan EICMA Motorcycle show in November.

Oberdan thinks the motor will be an 850 and offer a multi-mode transmission like the Aprilia Mana. That’s not a bad assumption; I just had a conversation with a source at Piaggio, who told me Piaggio loves to sell powertrain units to anyone who’ll buy them. “Would they sell one without heads so Ducati could install Desmo heads,” I asked? “Sure” was the answer. Oberdan’s drawing shows the Testastretta motor’s deep sump, so maybe that’s not what he had in mind, but it’d make sense, no? He also envisioned an “S” version, with Öhlins suspension and maybe some lightweight 16-inch wheels as well.

Bezzi also has a concept drawing of this supposed cross between a scooter and a Ducati Monster.

Ducati Scooster
Ducati Scooster

Huh. We’ll see.

Motorcycle Sales Cratering in 2009

As I mentioned before, the economy isn’t good.  And since motorcycles are a luxury good for most people, they are being hit especially hard.  The MoCo had a 91% drop in profits last quarter, Suzuki’s sales numbers have collapsed…it’s bad all over.  And I can prove it now.

The Motorcycle Industry Council is reporting their collected sales data for the first six months of 2009, and I can’t find any good news in it.

Scooters took the brunt of the fall in sales, decreasing over 67% year to date compared to the same period last year and an incredible 77.5% in June 2009 over the same month in 2008…

Dual-purpose motorcycles fell nearly 47% in year to date sales compared to 2008 while the month of June saw 58%, or 4,431 fewer motorcycle sold than the year before…

But not all of the drop can be attributed to motorcycles falling out of favor with the would-be riding public. Many buyers complain about trouble finding financing for their new motorcycle purchases.

Regardless, looking at the year to date number, a staggering 177,650 fewer motorcycles were sold in the first six month of 2009 compared to the year before.

So, the good news is that a lot of motorcycles are just sitting on showroom floors, waiting for someone to buy them.  The bad news is that it’s getting hard to get motorcycle financing.

And I don’t think it’s gonna get any prettier any time soon.

Bad Farkles

Some motorcycles are inherently uncomfortable.  Some of them get uncomfortable as you age.  Sometimes, if you really like a bike, you try to modify it to make it fit you better.   The thing is, there is a right way to do this, and a wrong way.  Case in point:

Well, at least it has good lumbar support.
Well, at least it has good lumbar support.

I’m sure that getting this thing up to 80MPH + on the freeway is an…interesting experience.

Motorcycle Sales

In case you haven’t been keeping up with current events, things are slow in the economy.  We went to the local mall Friday night to see about getting a part for our dishwasher, and the place was a ghost town.  After finishing up at the mall, we also went to a popular local eatery.  We were one of three parties in the place.  All the rest of the tables were empty.

This afternoon, I went to Escondido Cycle Center, and North County Yamaha.  I was the only customer in NCY–another customer was leaving as I arrived–and one of two customers as ECC.  Dead, dead, dead.

Interestingly, the sales guy at NCC couldn’t have been less interested in trying to sell me a bike.  Since I have an insurance settlement coming from my accident last December, I am looking at possibilities for a second bike.  Something small and hooligan-like, but without the cramped riding position of the Gixxer or CBR.  I went to NCY because they have Triumphs there, and wanted to look into a Speed Triple 1050.  I told the sales guy what I was after, and he said, “I don’t know mcuh about it.  It has a good torque range.  Broad. why not go sit on it and see if you like it.”  He then turned on his heel and left me to my own devices.  Apparently, trying to sell a motorcycle didn’t fit into his schedule this afternoon.

And, keep in mind that this is their chief sales guy, and as far as I could tell, the only sales rep there.  I’ve seen him there before, and his whole vibe was that I was being a pain in the ass for trying to engage him.

Wierd.

The sales guy at ECC, on the other hand, was knowledgeable, and showed me not only the sportbikes, but an array of standard bikes that have same sportbike engines, but more comfy ergos.  Totally different sales experience.

Sometimes the guys at NCY are helpful, and sometimes they act like they’d rather you just didnt show up at their door at all.  When sales are as bad as they are currently, you’d think they would deep-six the latter attitude.

What is Erik Buell Thinking?

I‘ve spent some time going over the new 2010 Buell Motorcycles web site that was unveiled today. I can’t say as I like it much.  And I don’t think much of the marketing effort they put into one of the main features on the new site, the co-called “Book of Buell“.

Something about the tone of the thing just puts me off.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Buell is a fine motorcycle, and Erik Buell really is a fine engineer and racer, who has contributed some fascinating ideas to motorcycle design.  Many of Buell’s design concepts seem spot on.  But the tone of the thing gets right up my nose.

SITTING IS NOT A SPORT

There is no World Champion of sitting.  No governing body to ensure that when two people try to out sit each other, they do it by the rules. Because sitting is not a sport.  Unfortunately, most people who buy sportbikes do just that.  They hit the starter button, raise the kickstand, and sit their asses off…

Actually, most people raise the kickstand, and then hit the starter button, because they have modern bikes with a safety interlock that won’t let you start the bike with the kickstand down.  If the bike isn’t in Neutral, at any rate.

…There’s nothing wrong with these people.  They just bought the wrong bike. A sport bike is not designed to be sat on.  it’s designed to be hung off.  Moved around on.  Constantly manipulated beneath the rider. A self-propelled platform upon which a sport takes place.  Before you buy a Buell, take a moment to think about what you really want to do on it.  If the answer involves sitting, you may want to consider something different.  A porch swing, maybe, or one of those floating pool chairs.

Well.  Aren’t we just a little too cool for the room?  But hey, while we’re on the subject of whether or not we should consider a sportbike, maybe we should also take a moment to consider if the sportbike we want has an air-cooled V-twin engine that was pulled off of a Harley Sportster, and puts out 103 horsepower like the XB12R, or has a water-cooled, I-4 Engine that spits out 178 horses, and is smooth as silk, like a GSX-R1000.  Even the 1125R is only putting out 145 horses.

So, let’s be honest.  If you’re looking at a Buell, your prime consideration is probably something other than the raw power of the motorcycle, and the ability to push it past 135 MPH.

The BoB continues:

ERIK BUELL DIDN’T BECOME AN ENGINEER SO HE COULD MEET OTHER ENGINEERS

The truth is, he’s made a career our of alienating them.  But this has never been his aim.  It’s just what happens when someone discards accepted principles in search of a better way.  Put gas in the frame, turn the swingarm into an oil tank, sling the exhaust under the engine, and develop a perimeter-mounted front brake…

…use an engine that was originally designed for a cruiser…

…and all of a sudden your invitation to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers annual golf tournament gets lost in the mail and that one guy from Poltech stops sending a Christmas card.

Because Erik is so extreme, maaaaaan! The Establishment shuns him!

Yes. Erik Buell’s ideas were so disfavored, and he was made such a figure of ridicule that all the other engineers felt  awkward in his presence because of his shunning.  And in his hideous shame, the country’s largest motorcycle manufacturer acquired his company, provided him with capital, manufacturing capability, and parts in order to build his crazy machines.

The next section is entitled, “A Buell Won’t Make You Any Friends”.

Many people buy sportbikes as a way to connect with other people who ride sportbikes.  Equipped with their new sportbike, they gain instant admission to a fun, freewheeling group of like-minded riders…This will not happen to you if you purchase a Buell. No one will understand why you’ve done what you’ve done.  In fact, they may even be disturbed by it…

And often, this includes the sales and service departments of  the local Harley Davidson dealer where you purchase it.

Because we don’t engineer motorcycles for acceptance.  We engineer them for performance. And we engineer them without mercy.

And frankly, because they have to engineer them without mercy, considering that they–the 1125 excepted–use an antiquated motor design that every other manufacturer discarded years ago in order to replace them with engines that deliver 60-70% more power.

Let’s be frank, here.  The Buell Thunderstorm-powered bikes are excellent motorcycles, considering what they are.  But all of the engineering in the world will never deliver the horsepower or anything like the top speed out of an air-cooled V-Twin based on the Harley Evolution motor that a modern I-4 engine of similar displacement will.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad motor, or that the Buell is a bad bike.  It isn’t.

But let’s not pretend it’s a CBR100RR with a top-gear roll-on from 60-80MPH that’s half a second faster than the XB12R, with a similar gap in quarter mile times, with the Honda moving 15MPH+ faster at the marker.

Anyway, it goes on that way for a bit more.  Then we get to the real kick in the teeth for some Buell customers:  The elimination of the Buell Blast.  You have to see the way they handle that to believe it.

They show a picture of a Blast crushed into a cube, and the text goes:

The Buell Blast was a cute little motorcycle.  It just never made much of a sportbike…Hey, there’s no denying the Blast’s aforementioned cuteness.  But there’s nothing cute about racing or riding a sportbike the way it was meant to be ridden.  And while racing and sportbikes have always been important at Buell, they are now officially the only thing that matters.  So the Blast will not be moving forward.

In other words, we never cared about this bike.  We thought it was dumb, and we are happy to dump it.  And if you are one of the stupid, poser suckers we sold one of these suck-machines to, then you got screwed.  Enjoy your cute little thumper, loser.  Because we’re all about being extreme now. And racing. And flipping off The Man.  The Blast didn’t give off that moody loner vibe we’re cultivating.  We not only don’t care what our competitors think, we don’t even care about what our former Blast customers think.

OK.  It’s a given that they don’t care what I think, then.  But I think, “Nice PR, Ass,” anyway.

Yes, Buell’s have been racing since the very beginning of the company.  They’ve been very successful in Thunderbike.  But when Buell really wanted to compete at the superbike level, they had to design a new bike from scratch, using an outsourced Rotax water-cooled motor.

The Firebolt is great in it’s available range, and in initial acceleration, and it will keep up with most sportbikes stoplight to stoplight.  But at the end of the day, it can’t put out the top speed of almost anyone else’s liter sportbike.  And we won’t even try to compare it to the ‘Busa or ZX-14.

Still, it’s a very good motorcycle, and personally, I like Buells a lot. Overall, I think Erik Buell outs out a very good product, with competitive street performance at anything less than “Go ahead and take my license and impound my bike, officer” speeds.  And I really think Buell’s whole design philosphy has a lot going for it. And Buell does, in fact, put out an XB-RR race bike with 150 ponies.  I bet if Harley gave him the green light to produce a bike with a modern I-4 powerplant, it’d be an absolute monster.

But the arrogant, too-cool-for-the-room, “I’m a rebel, man!” marketing really turns me off.  And the way they wrote off the Blast like it was some worthless POS just has a total lack of class.

Harley Davidson 2010 Model Line-Up

The MoCo has released their 2010 model year line-up, and an expansive lineup it it is. For 2010, Harley-Davidson will carry 34 motorcycle models, including 9 new  bikes. Below is a little taste of Milwaukee Goodness.

Laura Vecchio at Harley-Davidson wrote to me, to provide some of the MoCo’s talking points for the new models:

The Electra Glide® Ultra Limited model delivers the performance upgrade of a Twin Cam 103™ engine, and features standard equipment items previously offered only as accessories on regular-production Harley-Davidson Touring models.

The new Road Glide® Custom model looks lean and mean, with a slammed suspension, 18-inch front wheel and a new 2-into-1 exhaust system.

The Wide Glide® returns as an all-new Dyna® model done in old-school chopper style, with black laced wheels, a chopped rear fender, black “wire” sissy bar, 2-1-2 Tommy Gun exhaust and an optional flame paint scheme.

The new Street Glide® Trike brings stripped-down, hot-rod styling to the three-wheel category, and joins the Tri Glide™ Ultra Classic® in an all new Trike family for 2010.

The new Fat Boy® Lo presents a darker and lower interpretation of the motorcycle that still defines the fat-custom segment.

Updates to the 2010 Street Glide® model include a larger front wheel, slimmed-down exhaust, and a new tail light assembly.

Harley-Davidson Custom Vehicle Operations™ (CVO™) will offer four new limited-production models for 2010: the CVO Softail® Convertible, CVO Street Glide, CVO Ultra Classic® Electra Glide® and CVO Fat Bob®.

I like what Harley is doing for some of their paint schemes by breaking away from solid colors, and going with factory flame paint jobs.  Very nice.  I’m also really liking what HD has done with the Road Glide, giving it a lowered, meaner look.

Hopefully, Ms. Vecchio will be sending me some more pics of the new models, and I’ll post them here as I get them.  In the meantime, HD’s 2010 model lineup page is here.

Unfortunately, no one at HD is talking about it, and no one at Buell has contacted me, but the new Buell line-up for 2010 is out, too.  They are all up at the Buell web site.  At first glance, I’m not seeing a lot of changes.

Other than the demise of the Buell Blast, of course.

Honda’s new V4 Web Site

Honda Europe has set up a new web site to set up the rollout of the new V-Tec bike I wrote about last week.  There’s not much to it but a tantalizing video that shows a few close-ups of pieces of the bike.  But it’s clear they’re getting set up.

If you’re interested, here’s the video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T8BFaXddCQ

Based on the images in the video, MCN’s artist conceptions were a bit off.

2010 Suzuki GSX-R1000RR

Suzuki’s Gixxer is arguably the top sportbike line available today.  And, as of today, it got just a little bit better.

Yoshimura Race Shop USA and Suzuki announced that a new limited-edition racer version of the Gixxer literbike will be available to the public.  And unlike the Buell 1125RR, this one will be available to the general public, and be totally street legal.

Dubbed the GSX-R1000RR, the new bike will have al sorts of Yoshimura racing goodies on it, including Type R Cams, Quick Shifter, and suspension.  And Galfer stainless steel brake lines and brake pads.

Suzuki GSX-R1000RR
Suzuki GSX-R1000RR

Suzuki didn’t however, mention what the price might be, or when you might be able to pick one up.   I can’t give you any help with the delivery date, but as far as the price goes, I can tell you that it will be…um…slightly north of a stock Gixxer.

Note to “Green” Motorcycle Designers

Trying to design and build “green”, zero-emissions motorcycles is becoming sort of a big deal.  There’s even an eGrandPrix going on at Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio this year.  I don’t particularly have anything against the idea of zero-emissions, environmentally friendly motorcycles.  Sooner or later, that’ll be the only type of vehicle–of any type–you can buy.

Luca Bar Electric Concept Racer
Luca Bar Electric Concept Racer

But, if you’re a motorcycle designer, do us all a favor.  when you hit the drawing board, try and come up with a design that at least looks like a real motorcycle, and not some odd concept creation that not only looks ugly, but as this Luca bar design shows, is actively dangerous.

Granted, this design is for a racing bike, so maybe having the rider drawn up into a fetal position isn’t a show-stopper.  But, I’m pretty sure that even professional motorcycle racers don’t want to have a foot ripped off by the rear wheel if they make a little mistake in their foot placement.

Oh, and, granted, nice Buell front wheel, but are mismatched wheel sizes really the direction you want to go in in terms of precise handling?  Or should we just ride directly into the hay bales now, and save everyone a lot of time?

Yes, you designers are no doubt a talented lot, and are just chock full of neat ideas for how cool stuff can look.  But it’d be nice if the final product was one that wouldn’t actively try to, you know, kill you.

Let’s concentrate on getting a few simple things right first, especially for motorcycles that people micht actually want to ride somewhere other than a race circuit.  A 250 mile range might be nice. Some sort of wind protection would be appreciated, too. Oh, and let’s just ditch the idea of rechargeable electrics as a valid platform for…well…anything.  If I have to go see my family in Albuquerque, it’d be nice not to have to stop and recharge for eight hours every 200 miles.

The eight day round trip would be kind of inconvenient.

2010 Victory Motorcycles (Updated)

“It’s the mo-o-o-0st wonderful ti-i-i-i-ime of the year!”  It’s not Christmas, though.  It’s the 90 days between now and October, when all of the bike manufacturers begin showing off the new year’s models.  Old friends get a little facelift, and we get introduced to new models that make us drool…or think, “Seriously, what were they thinking?!”

Honda jumped the gun last week with a few bikes that I didn’t really care enough to post about, but today, Victory comes to the table with their whole lineup. As part of that lineup, Victory introduced two new bikes to its touring line, both of which are aimed directly at Harley Davidson customers.

2010 Victory Cross Country
2010 Victory Cross Country

The 2010 Victory Cross Country is the Street Glide analog, with full bags and a fairing with a funky modernistic design that sets it apart from the plain-vanilla bat-wing.  The Cross Roads is a Road King analog, with full bags but no windshield on the stock model.

Both bikes sport the air-cooled Freedom 106 cubic-inch (1731cc) V-Twin engine, and both have the maintenance-free belt drive, and sport a 6-speed transmission.  In addition, both of them use the CORE concept components I wrote about here a little while back.  Also, both the $17,999 Cross Country and $15,999 Cross Roads have 18″ long floorboards, so your feet will be comfy.

The remainder of Victory’s 2010 lineup seems pretty close to what we’ve seen for the last two years, although they’ve switched the….uh…aggressively styled Vision product line around a bit.

2010 Victory Cross Roads
2010 Victory Cross Roads

The two new models, though, seem to aimed at riders who want a big, American V-Twin (even bigger than the MoCo’s), and the same styling features of two of Harley’s most popular bikes, but with a modern twist.  It’s as if Harley Davidson got Arlen Ness to design their new bike lineup.

Now, when it comes to styling, the signature Ness style of flowing lines and tapering points certainly has it’s detractors as well as its fans.  But it seems to be working for Victory.

Even if their engine cylinders do look like kitchen blenders.

UPDATE: Another nice pic of the Cross Roads.

OK, <em>now</em> it looks like a Road King
OK, now it looks like a Road King

And that fairing on the Cross Country isn’t just for show:

On the driver-facing side of the fairing is MFD (multi-function display) instrumentation and the bike’s audio system. The MFD includes an analog speedometer and tachometer, fuel gauge and a battery charge meter. The wealth of data in a digital display panel includes: gear indicator, clock, ride time, odometer, two trip meters and fuel economy information such as current range for the available fuel and current MPG data. A driver scrolls through the data using a trigger switch mounted by the left hand grip. This switch also resets functions such as the trip meters, ride time and clock.

An AM/FM radio is standard on the Cross Country, and the bike can be equipped with an iPod or satellite radio that plays through the bike’s audio system. The audio display screen presents detailed information about the radio station currently playing, or the iPod track name, artist, satellite station and more.

The fairing also accommodates installation of switches controlling accessories such as heated handgrips. These are available from Pure Victory Gear, as are accessories needed to store an iPod in the right saddlebag and play it through the bike’s audio system.

An accessory GPS unit can be mounted on the left handlebar using an accessory ball joint mount, and audio information from the GPS can be fed through the bike’s audio system.

Very nice.

This Can’t Be Good…

The National Highway Transportation Safety Board has just released a survey on drunk/drugged driving in the US.  Overall, the numbers look pretty good.  The number of people driving under the influence continues to decline.

A new roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirms a continuing decline in the percentage of legally intoxicated drivers

In 1973, 7.5 percent of drivers had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. In the latest survey, that figure had fallen to 2.2 percent. A BAC of .08 or higher is now above the legal limit in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

But, as it often is, the devil is in the details.  Motorcyclists are the most likely set of drivers to be operating their vehicles while under the influence.

Motorcycle riders were more than twice as likely as passenger vehicle drivers to be drunk (5.6 percent compared with 2.3 percent). Pickup truck drivers were the next most likely to have illegal BACs (3.3 percent).

I can’t even imagine the level of stupidity it takes to get on a motorcycle ofter knocking back a few. And the idea that more than 1 in 20 cyclists is tooling around with a buzz on is astounding.

Switch-Hitting at the Nurburgring

Today, two of BMW’s top racers traded vehicles at the Nurburgring, to see how the other half lives.  BMW’s Formula 1 race car driver Nick Heidfeld and Superbike rider Troy Corser switched vehicles for a day at the famous German track.

After riding the Superbike, Heifeld commented:

“I already had lots of fun practising on the street bike in the morning, and managed to score the first scrapes into the knee area of my racing suit. That was inevitable. Of course I wanted to touch the ground while cornering on the racing machine as well, and I came up trumps there too.

“I had expected the Superbike to be a huge leap over the production version, a bit like series cars and racers, but I was surprised in the end. The difference is huge. On the one hand the Superbike is more aggressive, builds up more grip and has the superior brakes, but on the other hand it is easier to ride because you can control it so well. The handling is very precise.

Corser had his own thoughts on the F1 racer:

“It was just awesome! The car feels so balanced and the brakes are fantastic, the tyres have unbelievable grip and the steering is very direct but still has a lot of feeling.

“I can’t believe how hard and late you can brake. I know I was braking too early and I really would like to have a day or two with the car to really see what I can do with it.

It sounds like everybody had lots of fun.

It’s interesting though to get Heidfeld’s take on the S1000RR.  I’m sure it’s a fantastic street bike.  But the real racing bike must be super-sweet to ride in comparison.