Honda Unveils the VFR Transmission

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Honda Motorcycles gave us a much more detailed look at the multi-function transmission that they’ll be putting into the the new VFR1200 today.  As mentioned previously, the new transmission will operate in three modes: a 6-speed manual mode, which works like a standard motorcyle transmission, and two automatic modes–one for regular and one for sport riding.

The tranmission is also a duel-clutch transmission, i.e., it has two independent clutches, one of which operates on the even gears, with the other operating on odd gears.  Honda says that the two clutches provide seamless gear changes, and, unlike previous dual-clutch transmissions, avoids the usual bulk penalties by using dual input shafts, an in-line clutch design, and concentrating the hydraulic circuitry under the engine cover.

And the VFR isn’t the only place you’ll be seeing it.  Honda states that it “intends to gradually expand the deployment of the new transmission to more and more of its large-displacement motorcycles, particularly sports models destined for use in developed countries.”

In addition to the technical details, Honda has released a number of crawings to go along with them, which I append below, and which you can click to enlarge.

Yamaha Announces 2010 Model Lineup

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2010 Yamaha YZF-R1 Special Edition
2010 Yamaha YZF-R1 Special Edition

Yamaha has announced the remainder of their 2010 motorcycle lineup, and all the models for 2010 are now up on their web site.  There are several changes for the new model year, of course, although few big ones.

One of the biggest changes appears to be the elimination of the clutchless FJR1300AE version of their flagship sports tourer.  Beyond that, both the R1 and R6 get bold new graphics packages.  The R1 also has a Special Edition graphics package that replicates the graphics on Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP R1.  Other than that, the R1 remains unchanged.

The R6, on the other hand, gets a host of changes to replace the power loss that environmental controls imposed on the 2009 models.  Included in the changes for the R6 are “optimized the intake funnels and airbox”, changing the diameter of the exhaust pipe, a 100mm longer muffler, and new ECU mapping to put back low and mid-range power.

2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe.
2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe.

Yamaha has also introduced a new flagship “casual full dress touring” bike, the Stratoliner Deluxe.  the new Deluxe sports a streamlined bat-wing fairing and matching bags.  The fairing also has speakers and iPod connectivity.  This new bike gives Yamaha a direct competitor to the Harley-Davidson Street Glide and Victory Cross Country.  The Deluxe uses the same 1854cc V-Twin engine and chassis as the base-model Stratoliner.

I’ve always felt the styling on the Star Cruisers–the Venture excepted–were attractive and the Stratoliner Deluxe adds yet another attractive cruiser to the Star line-up.

More information about the 2010 Line-up can be found at Motorcycle USA.

Buell’s Future Uncertain?

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Since Kieth Wandell took over from Jim Ziemer as the CEO of Harley-Davidson, analyst expectections have been that Wandell, an outsider bought in as CEO from Milwaukee-based automotive supplier Johnson Controls, would be a strong, take-charge leader who is well-suited to address the MoCo’s current challenges. One of those challenges may be Erik Buell, and Buell Motorcycles division.  A confidential source with high-level contacts inside Harley-Davidson informs me that a number of H-D executives will be pushing to have the company divest itself of Buell Motorcycles, and that a decision to sell or shut down Buell may come in the near future.

The word is that both Buell and Harley-Davidson have found the relationship unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including the company’s refusal to allow Buell to outsource anything but Evolution V-Twins for several years, and Erik Buell’s strained personal relations with a number of MoCo executives. With a company outsider who has no particular vested interest taking over the helm as CEO, and devastatingly bad sales results due to the current recession, some Harley executives believe that this would be the perfect time to kill the Buell division.  If so, it would be a sad close to an overall sad chapter at Harley-Davidson.

In my view, Harley’s stewardship of Buell Motorcycles has been a classic case of a missed opportunity. The acquisition of Buell was a great opportunity for the MoCo to develop a line of race-bred sportbikes that could have made Harley a serious contender in that market.  But, Harley-Davidson blew it.

The company’s refusal to allow Buell to use any engine but the air-cooled, V-Twin, Sportster-derived Evolution engine effectively throttled Buell from the very beginning.  Whatever advantages may have accrued from implementing the Buell “trilogy of tech” in a sporting motorcycle were largely negated by the use of the underpowered Evolution powerplant.  Harley seems not to have understood that creating a technically sophisticated sportbike that would get its lunch eaten by any 600cc sportbike produced by the Big Four was nothing but a recipe for failure.

Ironically, elements of the Buell “trilogy of tech”, especially mass centralization and low unsprung weight have shown up in competing sportbikes.  For instance, the 2010 BMW S1000RR utilizes an under-body muffler arrangement very similar to Buell’s.  So, clearly, the problem isn’t Buell’s technology, but rather the use to which it was put, prior to the release of the 1125R in 2008.

Harley also alienated its dealers by forcing them to accept consignments of Buell motorcycles that they didn’t want to sell, and, in many cases, knew they couldn’t sell.  Not only were they being required to sell a sportbike that almost no one wanted–as Buell’s 2% market share of sportbike sales indicates–the MoCo never adequately invested in dealer training, in either the sales or service departments.

This is not to say that Erik Buell has been blameless either.  He is reputed to be abrasive and difficult to work with by many H-D executives.  This has resulted in bad feelings among executives that has made them less likely to give Mr. Buell’s opinions about the direction of Buell Motorcycles any serious consideration.

Moreover, Buell’s  marketing and public relations have been marked by avoidable mistakes.  For instance, the press reveal of the 2008 1125R–the only bike with Buell makes with a non-Sportster powerplant–was a disaster.  Buell used pre-production bikes with faulty fuel management and suspension issues for the demonstrations given to the international motorcycling press.  As a result, the general impression given by the media was of a mediocre bike with poor fueling, wallowy suspension, and quality control issues.   Rather than waiting until the company had ironed out those issues satisfactorily, Buell went ahead with the reveal, which resulted in doing more harm than good to the bike’s image.  Most recently, Buell’s callous dismissal of the Blast model for the 2010 model year, replete with disparaging comments about the bike, alienated many observers–not only in the press, but among Buell’s customer base as well.

If the anti-Buell Harley execs get their way, this long litany of failure will come to an end by pushing Buell out the door.

Norton at Bonneville: Day 7

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He came close, but on the final day’s run, Norton CEO Stuart Garner wasn’t able to crack the 175MPH barrier on the salt flats.  On the final run, the NRV588 matched the 173MPH run of the previous day.  But, the Norton team feels fine about what they accomplished.

Stuart has been remarkably consistent, and let’s face it, 173 mph for a 566cc lightweight racer on the new and strange salt-flat surface is nothing to be ashamed of in any way.

We’ve succeeded in all we set out to do. Stuart has used the opportunity of coming to Bonneville to cement an agency arrangement for the new Norton 961 Commando with Sam Capri’s South Bay Motorcycles, and their assistance at Bonneville has been invaluable, not just in the logistics, but in building an excellent rapport with the team there.

The NRV588 has proved to be a potentially potent force, and not disgraced itself in the slightest – Tony has had almost sod-all to do all week. An occasional oil-change, a daily clean-down to get the salt off, a regular oiling of the chain that tightens as the salt works its way into the rollers, destroying the ‘O’ rings link-seals, fuel top-ups and one wheel change. Howzat for a trouble-free racer, then? There are many, many at Bonneville who would swap their reliability records for ours.

Well, that sounds good then.  So, when can we expect to have the NRV588 available for sale in the United States?

New 2010 Hondas

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Honda has announced four motorcycles–two of them completely new for the US market–for the 2010 model year.  The other two are the 2010 updates for the Fireblade and CBR600.  But it’s the new bikes that should grab some attention.

2010 Honda Shadow Phantom.
2010 Honda Shadow Phantom.

First up is the Shadow Phantom.  Just as the Fury gives Honda a factory chopper, the new Phantom is a factory “dark custom” bobber.  Powered by a 754cc V-Twin with Honda’s new sophisticated Programmed Fuel Injection under the hood, the exterior is all old-school, down to the black wire wheels, and fat front tire.

Most of the engine and body work is blacked out, leaving some chrome on the forks, pipes and rear brackets for a nice accent.  I’ve always thought the Honda air cleaner looked like a chrome tumor on their bikes, but this blacked out version is far more acceptable.

I’m not generally a big fan of Honda cruisers, but this new dark custom is not a bad-looking bike at all.  I guess with Harley-Davidson making a mint on the whole dark custom look, Honda decided to get in on the act, too.  They’ve done a great job with this bike in doing it.

Oh, I guess I’d quibble a bit about doing it on a 750cc bike instead of one of the big twins, but other than that, I give this one a thumbs up.

2010 Honda NT700V
2010 Honda NT700V

The next bike is another sub-1000cc bike aimed for the commuter and light-tourer.  The NT700V is the little brother of the big ST1300 touring bike.  Everything on the NT700V is cut down in size from it’s big brother..but it still has the tip-over wings that the ST guys love so much.

Unlike the ST, the NT has an interesting feature to its saddlebags:  There’s a pass-through space between them, which allows you to put some fairly large items inside the luggage area.  That’s kind of a neat idea.

This is not, by the way, actually a new motorcycle, it’s just new to the US market.  European riders have had access to the NT for a decade now, but Honda has decided to bring the bike to this side of the pond.

It’s powered by a 680cc V-Twin, so it might be a little anemic for two-up riding, but it would probably make a great light tourer for a single rider.  And, coming in at just under$ 10k for the base model, the price is pretty good, too.  ABS brakes are available for another grand.

2010 Honda CBR1000RR
2010 Honda CBR1000RR

The remaining two bikes are updates of Honda’s CBR-series sportbikes.  New for 2010 is a black and orange paint scheme for the Fireblade.  It’s also got the Honda Electronic Steering Damper that increases damping as speed and acceleration increases.  It’s also available with Honda’s racing ABS braking system as well.

The CBR100RR is a top-flight sport-bike, and Honda is carrying on the Fireblade’s venerable tradition in the 2010 model year.

2010 Honda CBR600RR
2010 Honda CBR600RR

The CBR600RR also gets a bit of a facelift for 2010, with some of the Fireblade’s color schemes also available for the 600cc model.

Like the CBR1000RR, the 600 also has an available option for Honda’s racing ABS system.

The pricing and availability for the two CBR models has not yet been announced by Honda.

2010 Ducati Multistrada 1098

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Over the past month or so, some spy shots of the 2010 Ducati Multistrada, equipped with a 140HP version of the 1098 engine, have been popping up.  The trouble is that all of the bike’s body panels have been covered with electrical tape and wrapped with padding or something, so you can’t really see what the bike looks like.  Since that’s the case, I’ve refrained from mentioning it.

Until now.

2010 Ducati Multistrada 1098 - Now with luggage!
2010 Ducati Multistrada 1098 - Now with luggage!

Because this spy shot, taken out of someone’s car window in Italy, shows a little something extra.  Ducati is apparently offering saddlebags and a touring trunk with the new Multistrada.  Yes, the rest of the bike is still covered up with tape and whatnot, but the luggage appears to be shown in all its glory.

The Multistrada isn’t truly an adventure bike competitor with the BMW R1200GS, but with this luggage, it’s just jumped into the  “very nice and versatile sport-tourer” category.

Norton NRV588 at Bonneville: Faster!

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It’s day 6 for Stuart Garner’s attempt to set a speed record for the Norton rotary engined NRV588 racing bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  And on day six, Garner broke through 170MPH on the salt.

The power is fed in crisply but not over-enthusiastically, no wheel-spin, no ‘rooster-tail’ of spun-up salt to dramatise the launch but at the risk of excessive tyre wear, just Stuart sailing sublimely into the distance, his progress marked by a series of sharp, snarling applications of power between cog-shifts – the Rotary really does sound superb, a curious mix of the banshee wail of the 500cc stroker Grand Prix bikes of yore, and the deeper, more gutteral snarls of modern MotoGP machinery.

We wait with bated breath for the marshal’s now-restored-to-life walkie-talkie to crackle with our news – “Bike 747, 173mph” – !!!!!!!

I’ve never been on anything–except an airplane–that went faster than 170MPH.  The fastest I’ve ever been on a motorcycle is an indicated 130MPH.  That was for about 5 seconds.  173 miles per hour must be quite a rush.  And that’s 173 MPH on salt, so, that means that on asphalt, the NRV588 would be even faster, because the loose salt surface scrubs speed.

All the local experts say the same; running on the slightly loose salt knocks at least 10% off the speed one could expect on asphalt, so our 173 translates into an equivalent 192mph. Then factor in the 7000 foot altitude, and the thin air we’re all, including the NRV588 Rotary Norton, breathing and one can clearly see well over 200mph from this, our ‘baby’ rotary.

Well, OK, but I think that’s a theoretical speed.  I’m not sure wind resistance at lower altitudes would allow that.  Even for a small motorcycle, at 190MPH, you really do have to push quite a lot of air our of the way.  200MPH+ at sea level?

I think I’m gonna need to actually see that happen before I sign onto that prediction.

R1300RT Rumors

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When people find this blog through web searches, the absolute number one search that brings traffic here is a search for the notional BMW R1300RT.  Now, this may be because I’m nearly the only-English-language web site to pull a story from the French Motosports web site MotoRevu about BMW releasing a bike of that very name in 2010. If so, it’s only natural that I get so much traffic from that search, because I have about the only content that matches it…in English, anyway.

The thing is, as near as I can tell, there is no hard information about a new generation of BMW boxer engines for 2010.  And, to the extent there is, the most likely move is to a 1250cc boxer, not a 1300cc one.  Oberdan Bezzi, the Italian motorcycle designer says that BMW’s next move is for the R1250GS, with and RT version coming a bit later.  And BMW’s changes since the 1990s to the R-bikes have been 50cc bumps in displacement.  That makes a 1250 more likely than a 1300 for the next-gen R-bikes.

But, of course, that’s just a rumor, too.

The bottom line is that, as of September 2009, there’s no firm indication of a change to the R1200-series bikes coming in 2010.  And if there is one, BMW will announce it in the next 60 days or so.  But, right now, all the rumors about a new R-bike are just that…rumors.

New 2010 Suzukis

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We’ve gotten the first look at two new Suzuki’s for 2010, both of which are new entry-level bikes that take their styling cues from the big boys.

2010 Suzuki GSX-R125
2010 Suzuki GSX-R125

First up is an entry-level Gixxer, the 15-horsepower GSX-R125. The chassis is steel, rather than aluminum, but it does have the LCD instruments of the big Gixxers.

2010 Suzuki GSR-250
2010 Suzuki GSR-250

Next is the baby B-King, the Suzuki GSR-250.  This 30-horsepower naked sports a water-cooled, DOHC-injected, parallel-twin engine.  Like the big B-King, it also has the big LCD gauges, and under-seat storage.

Expect Suzuki to show these bikes off at the motor shows this fall, with sales starting at the first part of 2010.

2010 Can-Am Spyder RT

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It was a test ride of the original, pre-production Can-Am Spyder that got me back into motorcycling a few years ago, after a long hiatus.  So, it’s nice to see Can-Am isn’t just standing still when it comes to updating the trike.  Indeed, for 2010, they’ve taken a big step forward.

2010 Can-Am Spyder RT
2010 Can-Am Spyder RT

In addition to the Roadster, and the semi-automatic-trannied SE5, Can-Am has an all-new RT touring model for 2010.  The Spyder RT has, in addition to the big trunk up front, a touring trunk with passenger backrest and full saddlebags in the rear, as well.  They’ve also completely revamped the lighting, making this tadpole trike almost impossible to miss, with 4 headlights, running lights, etc.

It also has an optional trailer package–color-matched–with 22 ft3 of storage.

That’s a lot of storage.

The RT will come in three versions: a silver base model with a manual transmission, And Audio & Convenience version in silver or blue, with your choice of transmissions, or the RT-S, shown here, which has all the goodies, and a special paint job and styling.

With all the extra gear, Can-Am has also re-tuned the engine to offer more torque and a bit less horsepower, with the Rotax 991cc V-twin putting out 80 lb-ft. @ 5500 RPM, and 100 hp @ 7500 RPM.

No price has been mentioned yet, but we’ll probably learn that at the formal rollout in Quebec on 9-10 September.

Motorcycle-USA has more details.

Norton NRV588 at Bonneville

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Norton NRV588 at Bonneville
Norton NRV588 at Bonneville

Norton motorcycles has finally gotten an update online about their attempt at a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Actually, it’s more than one update.  They did a data dump of the last four days, pretty much all at once.  So far, it appears that they are pleased with their progress towards a record.

As we suspect, with only a mile run-in, Stuart is still accelerating as he hits the front line – indeed, he’s still accelerating as he throttles back at the end of the measured mile!

Alan Cathcart brings yet more glad tidings back with him from the organiser’s trailer, where he’s picked up our print-out.

160.31mph for the flying kilometre!! We’ve actually cracked 160 on only the second run!!!

The maths suggest that we entered the mile at around 150, and exited at about 170, so there would seem to be a-ways to go yet!!

The bike is still running well, no problems of any sort need to be fixed, the tyres are still perfect, so we finish up the day with a photo-shoot to record the event, before washing off all the salt and returning the beast to the South Bay trailer.

So, Stuart Garner, Norton’s CEO, hit 160MPH on his second run.  But, now is time to get serious, since they need to hit 175MPH to qualify.  It seems they’re off to a good start, though.

By the way, Confederate is there, too, trying to set a record on their new P120 Fighter Combat.

More V-4 Goodness?

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New Honda V-4 Adventure Bike
XLV1200: New Honda V-4 Adventure Bike

Honda seems to have more in mind from its new V-4 V-Tec engine than just a new version of the VFR/Interceptor, or ST1300 replacement.  Word from BMW Motorrad is that Honda is also working on a new motorcycle, using that engine to power an adventure bike aimed squarely as a competitor to the R1200GS.

The current model name for the bike is the XLV1200.  Like the GS, it will be a shaft-drive bike, capable of both on- and off-road operation, with a lot of suspension travel.

Honda is apparently still looking at fuel capacity, trying to ensure that they can put a fairly large fuel supply onboard to increase the range.

The new Honda engine is capable of 200 horsepower, so it should be capable of eating up miles like nobody’s business, whether the road is paved or unpaved.  One presumes that Honda will tune this bike more towards torque than speed, however.

The target date for this bike is said to be for the 2011 model year.