Ducati Execs Do the Right Thing

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It’s no secret that the recent worldwide economic downturn has seriously affected motorcycle sales, sending them plunging by a third.  Now here in the United States, it’s become a common thing to see executives at big firms take huge bonuses, even when the company isn’t doing so hot.  The most egregious example of this was when failed insurer AIG took billions of dollars in Federal money for a bailout of the company, then promptly paid off millions and millions in executive bonuses with it.

Apparently, things are different in Italy, where senior executives at Ducati, faced with slumping sales, did the right thing.

Senior executives at Ducati have taken a 10 per cent cut in their pay and will not receive any bonuses because of the decline, while [Ducati CEO] Mr [Gabriele] Del Torchio said he had taken a 20 per cent pay cut.

Let’s leave aside any legalistic or other arguments about whether the executives should be compensated or not.  At the end of the day, when you’re cutting production, and laying off staff, it seems only right that the pain should be shared by everyone else in the company, all the way to the top.

Kudos to Ducati for setting an example of shared sacrifice.

Motorcycle.Com’s Best of 2009

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The annual march of media bike choices continues, with Motorcycle.com weighing in with thir top picks of the year.  Their choices are interesting, and a bit different than I would have expected.

Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.
Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.

For the overall bike of the year, they picked the Triumph Street Triple R.

Best Sportbike honors go to the Kawasaki ZX-6R, with the runner-up being the Honda CBR1000RR.

The Ducati Monster 1100 gets the nod for best standard motorcycle, with second place going to the Harley-Davidson XR1200.

The best cruiser pick is the all new Triumph Thunderbird 1600, with the Suzuki Boulevard M90 taking an honorable mention.

The award for best touring bike goes to the BMW R1200RT, closely followed by the Honda Gold Wing.

BMW also take both first and second place spots for sport-touring, with the K1300GT winning, and the F800ST getting the honorable mention.

BMW stays in the winner’s circle for best off-road bike, with the top honors going to the F800GS, and the second spot going to the Aprilia SXV/RXV 5.5.

They also have picks for best eccentrics, scooters, technology, and more, so why not go there and read them?

Internal Combustion Tech Marches On

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The two-stroke motorcycle has long been replaced by the four-stroke.  Now, Ilmore Engineering appears to have come up with a five-stroke engine.  Ilmore does a lot of stuff in Indy Car, Formula 1, and MotoGP, so they aren’t some fly-by-night firm with a wild idea.

Although, it is a wild idea.

With dual camshafts and an asymetrical three-cylinder configuration, the Ilmor is more than intriguing with its design, and promises to bring real benefits both to the race track, and to road-use. Most notably is a 10% increased fuel efficiency, and 20% weight reduction in power-plant weight.

With its 700cc, turbocharged, prototype motor, Ilmor is able to extract 130hp and 122 lbs•ft of torque. To achieve this, the motor employs two overhead camshafts. One is a “high pressure” camshaft, which turns at half the crank speed, while the other shaft is a “low pressure” camshaft, which turns at the same speed as the crankshaft.

Yes, you read that right.  A 700cc motor with 130HP and 122lb-ft of torque.  Those are…interesting numbers.  That’s what I call a real “Speed Triple”.  You’d need to put a second mortgage on your house to pay off your tire bill, assuming you don’t just wheelie right over and turn turtle, killing yourself.

But, assuming those difficulties can be overcome, it sounds like a neat idea.

Europe’s Top Bikes

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Our cousins in The Old Country love motorcycles as much as we do, but they don’t love the same motorcycles, apparently.  The French automotive magazine MotoRevue has released their list of top five motorcycles in Europe, and, as you might imagine, they’re quite different from the Motorcyclist picks of the year I wrote about a few days ago.

Three Italians–the Ducati Streetfighter and 1198, and the Aprilia RSV4–head the roster.  One Brit bike, the Triuph Speed Triple, makes the list. And the 2009 Yamaha Star V-Max rounds it off.

Apparently, our European cousins are speed freaks.  But then, they tend to have speed limits that are a bit less stodgy than those on this side of The Pond.

Zero-Emissions Dual Sport

Zero Motorcycles DS Electric Dual Sport
Zero Motorcycles DS Electric Dual Sport

Zero Motorcycle is just giddy with excitement, because they’ve released the DS, an all-electric, zero-emissions, dual-sport motorcycle.  They Claim that it’s not only emissions free, but almost completely recycleable as well.

Powered by the most advanced drive train in the industry, the Zero DS is a fully electric motorcycle that can handle any surface you can throw at it. Navigating obstacles and maintaining control is accomplished using a specially developed suspension system and a rugged wheel set. During technical maneuvers an optimized direct drive gear system delivers astonishing responsiveness with the twist of your wrist.

Well, that sounds like it’s just chock full of motorcycle goodness…except for one, tiny little thing.  When you look at the specifications, you see this:

Top Speed: 55 MPH
Range: Up to 50 Miles
Recharge Time: Less than 4 hours

So, let’s see, it’s too slow to actually commute on any freeway with.  The range is “up to 50 miles” depending on your riding style.  Then it takes about 4 hours to recharge.  So, essentially, you can ride it for less than an hour at speed, then you’re stuck at an electrical socket for “less than 4 hours”.  So, let’s say 3.75 hours.

Great.

And it’s a trail bike, too.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I can think of no better vehicle for riding trails in the middle of nowhere than one with an unpredictable range, because its power usage increases with hard riding.  and, of course, you can’t carry any extra fuel with you for emergencies.

On the upside, It won’t strand you more than 50 miles away from your last known location.  You can walk that in two or three days, depending on the terrain.  Five days, max.

So, take it out into the boonies.  You’ll be fine.

Doesn’t everybody want a motorcycle that can’t be ridden more than 25 miles away from an electrical socket without stranding you?

Motorcyclist’s 2009 Picks of the Year

The mavens at Motorcyclist magazine have announced the winner of the award for 2009 Motorcycle of the Year, as well as their other picks.

Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1
Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1

The bike picking up the top award this year is the Yamaha YZF-R1.

Modern sportbikes are engineered so close to the edge of the performance envelope that we’re conditioned to expect incremental changes: a shaved pound here, an added pony there. It’s almost unimaginable that any sportbike could surprise us with a novel riding experience that realigns our understanding of what a liter-class sportbike is, and what one can do. The 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is exactly that sort of bike-which is why it’s our Motorcycle of the Year.

Other notable picks include:

Ben Spies as the Motorcyclist of the year.

The Kawasaki ZX-6R as the best sportbike of the year, closely followed by the Ducati 1198.

The Ducati Streetfighter as the Best Naked Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson XR1200 Sportster.

The Kawasaki Concours14 as the year’s Best Touring Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

Best Adventure Bike honors go to two BMWs, with the F800GS in the top position, and the R1200GS Adventure in second place.

The Best Dreambike is the Aprilia RSV4, with the BMW S1000RR as the follow-on.

Best Bang For The Buck goes to Kawasaki, with the ER-6n as the winner, and KLX250SF as the second-place finisher.

For Best Cruiser, Motorcyclist goes strictly for muscle this year, with the Star (Yamaha) V-MAX ruling the roost, and the Harley Davidson V-Rod Muscle in the supporting position.

Best Dirtbike is the Husaberg FE450; second best is the Honda CRF450R.

Best New Technology is the Honda Combined ABS system, followed by the Ducati Traction Control.

And, finally, the Best New Product honors go to the Gopro Motorsports Hero Wide Camera, with the Bazzaz Performance Z-FI Traction Control taking the runner-up position.

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.

The English Invasion (Updated)

2010 Triumph Thunderbird
2010 Triumph Thunderbird

Other than Triumph’s web site, no one seems to be reporting this, but as of this week, the very first Triumph Thunderbirds have arrived in the United States.  The first bikes arrived on Tuesday, so that means that there is a very high likelihood that some of them will be on showroom floors at Triumph dealerships this weekend.

So, along with the Bonneville, and Thruxton, Triumph has now bought the venerable Thunderbird back to life, and back to the US.

The new Thunderbird is a 1600cc parallel twin, and, while I can’t find any actual specifications on it, the engine supposedly puts out “in excess of 80 HP”, and “in excess of 100 lb-ft of torque”.  Stack that up against, say, a Road King.  Harley doesn’t like publishing horsepower stats, but the RK has around 96 lb-ft of torque.

That makes the Thunderbird competitive in performance.  And, at $12,499 for the standard version and $13,299 for the ABS version, it’s very competitive in price.

UPDATE: The Motorcycle Daily web site has a write up on an initial-production Triumph Thunderbird. They note the following about the bikes powerplant:

[T]he new Thunderbird is powered by a new water-cooled, parallel-twin engine that displaces 1597cc, with a DOHC 8-valve head. The engine makes 85 horsepower and 14,90 Kgm (108 ft/lbs) at 2750 rpm. For those who want more power, Triumph offers a kit that adds 12 horsepower and more torque.

Sounds like a beefy ride.

$12,499 for the standard version and $13,299 for the ABS version

Germany Attacks Japan!

Ever since BMW announced it would begin producing a liter-class sportbike to compete with the Japanese, people have been waiting for the BMW S1000RR.  The one question was what the price would be, as BMWs tend to be a bit more…extravagantly priced than their competitors.  Those questions are now answered.  And the price is competitive.  So is everything else.

We’re very pleased to announce the pricing on the 2010 BMW S 1000 RR: MSRP*: $13,800.00

Options:

  • Race ABS (excluding DTC): $1,000.00
  • Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) Combined: $1,480.00
  • Gear Shift Assistant: $ 450.00
  • Anti Theft Alarm: $ 395.00
  • Motorsports Paint Scheme: $ 750.00

The options include either standalone new 4-stage Race ABS or Race ABS combined with multi-stage Dynamic Traction Control. Other must have options include the truly awesome Gear Shift Assistant that allows clutchless upshifts during acceleration, Anti Theft Alarm and the WSBK-inspired Motorsports Paint Scheme. This new Superbike from BMW weighing only 404 lbs, and putting out a massive 193 hp, is one of the most potent, sophisticated and lightest sport bikes ever unleashed on the planet. The new S 1000 RR is the most powerful production 1000cc sport bike in the world.

So, let me see if I for this right.  BMW is going to put out a 404 lb. bike with 193HP, and they are going to charge just $800 more than Honda’s 178-horsepower  CBR1000RR?  That’s pretty aggressive pricing.

The styling is pretty aggressive, too.  It’s not bad looking, either, if you don’t mind that the headlights look like a pirate with a squinty eye.

All in all, it looks like another German act of aggression.  And, at 193HP, I think that it needs a suitable nickname.  I propose the name “Kalmarmörder”.*

____________________

*Squid killer.

“Laaaaasers”

Frickin' Laser Beams!
Frickin' Laser Beams!

“Is it too much to ask for an frickin’ engine with frickin laser beams? Really, people. What do I pay you for?”

The technology behind the Internal Combustion Engine continues to move forward.  Brit scientists working for Ford Motor Company have found a way to eliminate the spark plug.

In a breakthrough that may make vehicle starting issues due to fouled plugs or inclement weather a thing of the past, engineers at Ford have reportedly teamed with scientists at Liverpool University to develop a laser beam ignition system to replace ye olde spark plug. The researchers claim their technology is more efficient, more reliable, and it will enable vehicles to start easier in extreme temperatures and damp climates.

Apparently, the lasers can also spark ignition at multiple points inside the cylinder simultaneously, resulting in a more efficient and complete ignition.  Ford plans to implement this technology in their car models in the next few years.

I wonder how this new technology would mate with the DART Motor.

VFR12000: It’s Official

According to the UK’s Motorcycle News web site, the 1200cc V-Tec Honda I mentioned previously looks like the replacement for the ST1300–or the Pan European as they call in The old Country–and maybe the current Interceptor (VFR) as well.  MCN has pics and some info, though the full lowdown will be in the print version of the Brit mag.

Honda’s V4-based Pan European replacement will be the world’s most technologically-advanced bike in the world when it’s released next year.

Full details are in the new issue of MCN, but what do you think of the looks?

Leaked Honda design drawings have shown the bike’s distinctive duck-billed styling, which we’ve made real using CGI.

The colours are our guess – but the look is the real deal. Less controversial than the sports-touring version spied testing recently, it’s still a distinctive-looking beast.

One notes that “the world’s most technologically-advanced bike in the world” (in the dictionary, see “redundant”) still has a manual turnscrew at the back of the bike to adjust the preload.  Or as one wag at the STN Forum put it, “That’s Honduh-Speek for ‘The most needlessly complicated valvetrain in the world.'”

Pics of the new bike are below.  My initial impressions:

1) Hmm.  No tip-over wings. We’ll never hear the end of that from the ST1300 guys.

2) Looks like Honda figured out a way to get rid of that backlogged inventory of GL1800 rear-view mirrors.

3) I have to say that if the bike actually ends up looking like that, then Honda did a fantastic job of ensuring that bags aren’t too closely integrated into the bodywork.  The tail looks great with the bags off.

Finally?

So, every year, you hear the rumors: “There’s a new VFR on the way.”  “It’ll have five cylinders.”  “It’ll be a 1,000cc V-4 superbike.”  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

There’s something about the venerable Honda VFR that provokes fanatical loyalty from it’s fan base.  And, for years, they’ve lived on rumors that the VFR will be upgraded in some fantastic way, and that the 782cc V-Tec equipped V-4 would get a new, massive power injection.  Or another cylinder.  Or something.  whatever it is, it would be wonderful.  Sadly, they’ve never gotten  it.

Until now.

Honda VFR1200 Development Bike
Honda VFR1200 Development Bike

It appears that Honda is lining up a 1200cc V-Tec bike,, not only as a replacement for the VFR, but perhaps, according to some high-ranking Honda officials, a new line of bikes.

There’s only a few spy shots of it so far, but it seems to have gotten the VFR fans into an absolute tizzy, despite the fact that the headlight looks like the head of some sort of South American jungle toad.

Anyway, it sounds impressive.

The new bike is said to be a sport-touring mount powered by a V4 engine with displacement around 1200cc. It is claimed to have variable cylinder technology, allowing it to “turn off” two cylinders (presumably the rear bank) while cruising in order to save fuel. European publications are claiming that the engine will have power “approaching 200 horsepower”, but considering Honda’s corporate philosophy and the intended market, we seriously doubt it.

Snarky asides about Honda aside–true or not–this is an interesting development.  Not only does it call into question just how powerful the new VFR will be, it also calls into question the future of the venerable ST1300, with its 125HP V-4 (but non V-Tec) powerplant.

The ST1300 could certainly use a more powerful engine to push its massive weight down the road, and for touring purposes, variable cylinder technology implies the possibility of 50MPG at 70MPH.  Combine that with the ST1300’s 7.8 gallon tank, and you have a highway cruising distance of 390 miles between fill-ups.  A lighter, more powerful ST1200 V-Tec would seem to be the perfect reply from Honda to Kawasaki’s Concours14 and Yamaha’s FJR1300.

And, it doesn’t need to have 200HP.  165 is enough to make all the C14 riders green with envy.

The new bike is said to be a sport-touring mount powered by a V4 engine with displacement around 1200cc. It is claimed to have variable cylinder technology, allowing it to “turn off” two cylinders (presumably the rear bank) while cruising in order to save fuel. European publications are claiming that the engine will have power “approaching 200 horsepower”, but considering Honda’s corporate philosophy and the intended market, we seriously doubt it.