Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, September 16, 2005

Twin riders…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

This weekend is the first of five consecutive “fly away” races which help close out the ‘05 MotoGP season, this one at Japan’s Motegi Twin Ring Circuit near Tokyo. From there they visit Malaysia, Qatar, Australia and Turkey before returning to Spain for the final race on November, 6th. These fly away races mean the teams are operating out of shipping containers and hotels, rather than their normal garages and RVs, so stress levels will be high. Add in that all four of the Japanese factories consider this “home turf” and figure the pressure on the riders and teams is getting turned up another notch. Then spice the whole thing up by putting the race firmly in the middle of silly season when the riders will most want to impress those very same factory bosses. Ditto that for the two Japanese wildcard riders, Ukawa and Matsudo, who want to do well at their home GP. Finish off the entire thing with the Japanese made Bridgestone tires who expect the best from their technicians and teams…this may be the most intense race of the season.

Motegi Twin Ring Circuit

The track itself, like the Lausitzring in Germany where the World Superbike guys raced last weekend, is not the best track for motorcycle racing. The oval was built in 1997 by Honda so they would have a place to test their Indy cars. They incorporated an infield road course into the design and started hosting GP races in 1999. The bad news: the 2,983 mile circuit crams 14 turns inside the banks of the oval meaning it is primarily a series of short straights linked by second gear corners. The good news: it has a perfectly smooth surface so suspension can be set up for acceleration and braking without worrying much about bump absorption. The other good news is that Honda has their museum at the track which is nearly as good a reason to visit the place as the actual racing. Pretty much everything else fails somewhere between those extremes…the track lacks character other than just being a lot of short drag races and the most memorable thing about it is the “tunnel” made where the track crosses under the Indy oval. Things made of hard walls aren’t usually appreciated on race tracks no matter how novel it may seem. While the tunnel isn’t particularly dangerous, the riders go through it in a straight line at around 90mph, it doesn’t add much either.

I suspect that the track will favor the Ducatis since they have, if nothing else, monster acceleration. The Ducs are often near the front at the start of a race when their horsepower can give them a definite advantage. Well, each of these little straights is a test of a bike’s power so the men in red should be looking good. This is was also Bridgestone’s test track for MotoGP racing for about three years so they have a huge amount of data about the place. Expect the Bridgestone teams (Ducati, Suzuki and Kawasaki) to have the perfect tires for the weekend. Finally, the track is owned by Honda and the company has an impressive string of wins at the track having won the last four back-to-back. There should be no excuse for the Honda teams not to have the perfect setup at Motegi.

As for the riders, its a mixed bag. There are a few people missing most notably Honda’s Troy Bayliss who recently broke his wrist while training on his motocross bike. Also MIA will again be Shane Byrne who is caught in the middle of the Team KR/KTM ugliness. Bayliss will be replaced by ex-Honda GP rider Tohru Ukawa who was previously scheduled to race as a wildcard on the Moriwaki bike. Ukawa is being replaced by ex-Yamaha 250GP racer Naoki Matsudo on the Honda powered Moriwaki framed bike. Japanese wild card riders have a long history of upsetting the apple cart when world motorcycle racing series visit their home. While I doubt either rider is capable of winning this weekend both may well give the mid-pack guys some trouble.

Speaking of Japanese riders, Honda’s Makoto Tamada and Kawasaki’s Shinya Nakano where both on the podium here last year and both riders are a threat to do so again. Tamada is been clawing himself out of an injury caused mid-season slump and Nakano has been waiting for more horsepower to show off his considerable talent. Tamada is healthy again and there should be a revised motor in the green team’s bike this weekend so keep an eye on both.

Rossi is always a threat, though his Yamaha will likely be down on power relative to the Hondas and Ducatis. Still, let me repeat, Rossi is always a threat. If he gets a top two finish, he will tie up GP championship number seven so expect him to race hard enough to be up front but perhaps not be as cut throat as usual when it comes to winning. Edwards needs to do something but no matter how much I want to support him I don’t think he’ll find it in Japan. He’ll be chasing faster bikes and won’t be able to exploit the excellent mid-corner handling of the M1. Likewise, no matter how bad the Texan struggles it won’t be anything compared to the second string Yamaha team of Elias and Xaus…they’ll be fighting with Ukawa and Matsudo.

Capirossi, if he can keep from causing another turn one pile-up, should be strong. He’s resigned with Ducati for ‘06, he’s on the rocket from Bologna and he’s wearing ’stones. Checa has struggled all year and since it is looking unlikely that he’ll be racing in MotoGP next year he will probably continue to struggle. Roberto Rolfo on the D’Antin Ducati just hopes that a decent ride will keep him in the minds of team bosses for a move up the team ladder in the future.

Next up is the army of Honda riders. The thing to watch there is the intra-team Repsol battle. One of the two factory riders will almost certainly get the boot at the end of this season so both Biaggi and Hayden desperately need to prove themselves in front of the Honda big wigs. Hayden is the only one of the two to have won a race this year but Biaggi has been more consistent. Both riders are locked in the six rider battle royale for second place overall in the championship along with Melandri, Barros, Gibernau, and Edwards. With only 17 points separating the first and last in this group Biaggi and Hayden both need a strong finish at Motegi and both should be getting some “special” parts from Honda to help their RC211Vs with the task.

Meanwhile, golden child Gibernau has been in the news lately because of a possible change to Ducati for 2006. Honda may well keep the “good stuff” away from the Spainard’s bike which may end up hurting both parties. Gibernau is probably the only rider really capable of pressuring Rossi over these last races and if he’s denied upgraded parts then Honda has no chance of slowing the Yamaha juggernaut. One person who may benefit is Gibernau’s teammate Marco Melandri as he may suddenly become the recipient of the third “factory” bike that was originally Sete’s. However, I don’t know if this will help because Marco’s problems lately seem to be mental rather than mechanical. His confidence needs to bounce back from his post-Assen tail spin before a faster bike will help. The final Honda rider who definitely needs to be mentioned is Alex Barros. The Brazilian was supposed to be washed up after last season but has been consistent enough this year to be involved in the scrap for second place as well as being the only rider other than Hayden to have been Rossi in ‘05. He is looking to prove that he deserves to be back again next year and he’s done well at Motegi in the past. Given that he is the hardest braking rider in the GP paddock and is riding a Honda he should be well positioned for a good result with the stop/start layout of the Twin Ring.

Over in the Suzuki garage, things couldn’t be a greater contrast. John Hopkins has resigned with Suzuki and has been riding really well over the last few races. His confidence is up and that will be boosted further because of the Bridgestone tire advantage. Meanwhile Kenny Roberts Jr is still without a 2006 contract and is fighting to impressive someone so he will have a ride next year. Both of the American riders were taken out in Capirossi’s first turn accident last year so both are hoping for better this year but their records for this season include a lot of finishes outside the top 10 so anything above that probably counts as success. The only chance they have of running up front is to do daily rain dances.

Like KRJr, Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman is also fighting for a job near year as it is unlikely that he will be greeted with a contract to ride the Ninja again next year. He hasn’t performed well this season and I don’t expect his breakthrough to come at Motegi. Expect the talented German to be mired in the mid-pack battle with the second string Yamahas, the Suzukis and the Japanese wild cards.

Lessee, that just leaves WCM. Well, they’re showing up which makes them one step better than Team KR who aren’t even making the trip.

Should be an interesting race weekend and by Monday there should be more news about what is happening with silly season. Oh and before I forget, I’m keeping a simple web page to track next year’s riders and will try to get it updated early next week.

[image from the Honda web site.]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

There and back again…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I’ve been late in getting this posted, mainly because there have been so many races and a bike trip that I wanted to write about. For those that read my blog primarily for the race coverage you will be happy to know this is the last of my Iron Butt Rally postings.

Friday, September 2, was the final checkpoint of the 2005 Iron Butt Rally. The checkpoint opened at 8am and closed two hours later. Any rider that arrived after that was disqualified, no matter what their prior accomplishments during the rally may have been. The riders had left Portland, Maine on Monday with a final list of bonuses and with four and a half days to get back to Denver. The bonus packet presented the horns of a bull. On one hand, drag your tired butt from Maine to a light house near Seattle, Washington for a single large bonus. Get the requisite photo and then sprint for the Colorado mountains. The other horn of this rider goring bull was to instead sweep down the east coast getting a lot of smaller bonuses hoping that time and the remnants of Hurricane Katrina don’t dash your plans. The light house in New Brunswick Canada, the same one offered as a bonus in the first leg, was again offered along with a length list of ferry crossings, ponds, lakes, dams and miscellaneous other points paying locations.

The star-traxx site showed the remaining GPS equipped riders were split about 80/20 between the east coast and the west. Within an hour of the bonus packets being handed out in Maine, some of the riders pointed the front tire of their bikes towards the Pacific Northwest and tried to get across the Great Lakes region before being completely engulfed by Katrina’s left overs. The rest headed either north to New Brunswick or the opposite direction through New England and then down into the south.

Based strictly on weather, the east coast guys made the right choice. Since the little bonuses also added up to more than the Washington light house, a thorough rider could also outscore those making the longer ride so from a strategic perspective it looked to be the better decision as well. But as with everything in the Iron Butt rally, there is no determining a winner until the fat Preparation H bottle sings.

Friday morning I headed down to the check point to watch the riders come in. While most of the riders looked tired it wasn’t the parade of walking zombies I was expecting. Clearly these guys know how to pace themselves and make at least some effort to be safe while still pushing themselves to their limit. The bikes, on the other hand, weren’t nearly to perky. Worn tires, duct taped bike parts and a wholesale slaughter of insects on windshields were in high attendance. Some bikes had leaking auxiliary fuel tanks. Some had obvious crash damage and a few were missing parts that had simply vibrated off during the eleven straight days of riding.

Jeff Earles at the '05 Iron Butt finish

I ran into my buddy Jeff Earls at the checkpoint and heard his tales. He left Maine in second place and had taken the east coast route. He opted not to head to New Brunswick, taking a slightly more conservative route. Jim Owens, who led in Maine, was reported to be out with a mechanical problem on his bike so Jeff felt good about his chances at the overall win but wouldn’t know for sure until the winner was announced at the banquet that night. In the meantime, he was too keyed up to actually sleep despite having clocked over 11,000 miles in the previous 11 days. Ah, the joys of adrenaline!

I stood around the parking lot talking with various friends while watching bike after bike pull into the parking lot and go through the check-in procedure. By 8:30am, I left to head to work and wait for the final report which would announce the winner. When the news finally broke, it turned out that Jeff didn’t win. Two other riders, Shane Smith on a Honda ST1300 and Chris Sakala on a BMW R1150GS had done the New Brunswick bonus and swept the east coast bonuses. They gained enough points to leap frog over Jeff to to get first (Smith) and second (Sakala). Jeff Earls came in third. All told, 90 riders shoved off for the rally on August 22 and 69 of those made it back to Denver within the window allowed to be considered a finisher. Most rode at least 11,000 miles during the eleven day rally, with the high mileage award winner being Mark Kiecker who rode 13,354. But the rally is not just about clocking miles but about efficiently balancing bonus points earned per mile ridden. Mark finished fourth, one place behind Jeff, despite having ridden 2,400 more miles.

My take on the overall rally is mixed. First, I’m again amazed at what endurance riders can accomplish. Riding a single 1000 mile day is challenging. Doing them back-to-back for eleven days is unfathomable. Doing so while also searching out bonus locations, keep track of paperwork and trying to avoid falling asleep while riding is just amazing.

Second, the route laid out this year by Lisa Landry was both interesting and novel. The water theme was entertaining and the minimum 60,000 point requirement meant that finishers couldn’t just get on the bike and ride. The bonus strategy aspect that has always made the Iron Butt Rally so unique was forced on everyone that participated not just those that were going for the overall win.

Finally, the hypocrisy that has long threatened the Iron Butt Association seems to have finally been made obvious. For years the IBA has tried to present an image that the Rally isn’t a race. If a rider bragged about riding fast or about riding dangerously impaired or of anything else which might give critics a foothold then the rider’s IBA awards were rescinded (For a very public example of this, research what happened to Motorcyclist magazine’s Aaron Frank after he published a story about doing 2200 miles in 44 hours on a Yamaha R1). This draconian action has been regularly taken despite the rather obvious nature of the rally which means illegal riding is basically required by the people trying to win and the equally obvious situation where riders doing eleven consecutive 1,000 mile days are going to become at least somewhat impaired. This year some of the riders carried GPS units which allowed people to track their progress in real time via the Internet. Watching FJR rider Doug Chapman go from Denver to Miami, a distance of 2000 miles, in 36 hours made it blatantly obvious that he was traveling above the speed limit and also indicated that he only made two short stops for naps. If he wasn’t exhausted when he arrived in southern Florida then he’s a robot and not a human. I understand the IBA’s attempts to present a polished image of the rally but its the old “information wants to be free” thing…you can tell people not to talk but anyone that scratches below the surface will learn the truth anyway. In this case, all of us that were watching knew that the ‘05 Iron Butt Rally riders were doing the very things that the IBA has reprimanded others for saying…riding fast and riding tired.

In ‘07 I think the IBA will either have to ban GPS units, blog updates and press releases or will have to swallow their pride and admit they have unfairly penalized riders that have talked about their experience in public forums when what they’ve done isn’t all that different from what is done by all IBA riders. Like the Isle of Man roadraces, the Erzberg Enduro rally, the Paris-Dakar off-road race and free-style motorcross the critics of the rally will *always* think its stupid whether they know the details or not. Grow up all ready…

That bitch aside, congratulations to the Iron Butt Association for putting on another fantastic Iron Butt Rally, I can’t wait to see what they come up with for ‘07, and congratulations to all the finishers for their incredible performance. I once again stand in awe.

[image from my photo collection.]l

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tired again…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

No new blog posting tonight since I had to catch up on some bike tasks.

Worn out rear tire on the GS

First off, I had to mount up a new rear tire to replace the one that I wore down to the chords on my recent Wyoming trip. I keep saying I’m going to try out a new model of tires but can’t seem to get both the front and rear to wear out at the same time. I again decided that I wasn’t going to do anything different this time around so I just got another Metzeler T66X.

The other bike related tasks for tonight were gear related. A few years ago I got a hand-me-down Widder Lectric-Vest from my buddy Todd Unprounceable. I used it on my Beemer until I replaced it with a Gerbing jacket liner last year. At that point the Widder passed on to my wife who used it all last winter. Well, during this past Saturday’s afternoon ride over a snowy Togwotee Pass the Lectric-Vest started shorting out. Tonight I got it boxed up to send back to Widder for repairs.

Finally, I also got my wife’s Roadcrafter suit boxed up to send back to Aerostich for a cleaning and re-sealing. The unfortunate reason for sending her suit in for a cleaning is because one of my cats decided to use it as replacement for the cat pan. Rather than have my wife spend the rest of her riding career smelling stale cat urine I decided to be proactive and get the suit in the mail ASAP. Hopefully, we’ll have it back in a few weeks so she can get in a little more riding before the end of the riding season.

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lord(s) of the Ring…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

This past weekend the World Superbike series had its most exciting race to date, which is saying alot considering how fantastic the racing has been so far this year. All this excitement is primarily because of four men, so I am dubbing them the Lords of the ‘Ring. Those four are: Troy Corser, Chris Vermuelen, Noriyuki Haga and Lorenzo Lanzi. What makes this particularly exciting is that these four all represent different manufacturers which shows that WSBK has not only overcome their “Ducati Cup” reputation but they have also become the most competitive motorcycle road racing series in the world. Impressive. As for the riders, their weekend adventure goes like this:

Troy Corser - The Suzuki rider’s job for the weekend was simple. Play it safe, gain some decent points and let the season wind down. So long as Corser finishes in the top five at every race for the remainder of the season, he will win the 2006 World Superbike title. An easy job, right? Well, for race #1 of the weekend it certainly looked that way. Troy got a good start, ran at the front and basically kept fellow Aussie Vermeulen and Japanese ace Haga honest. At the end of the day Troy had a respectable third place finish. His second race started out the same, with another phenomenal start, but went south quickly when he crashed in turn one on the second lap. He got the bike back on track but could only salvage a thirteenth place finish. While any points are useful, he must be disappointed that he crashed while leading when a more conservative approach may have netted him more points. The crash cost him valuable points, something he can’t afford to do against Vermeulen who is on a late season charge that has seen him cut Corser’s points lead in half. I think Corser is so enjoying being on a competitive bike again and being in a position to actually fight for the lead that he can’t restraint himself the amount necessary to just think championship.

Which brings me to Chris Vermeulen - What an amazing kid and what an amazing streak. (Were it not for Colin Edwards memorable 2002 late season charge, I would declare Vermeulen’s current trend to be miraculous.) Chris has won three times in a row, including an amazing race one victory over Haga, to take a big bite out of the points lead that Corser enjoyed before the mid-season break. While it is still a long shot that he will win the title, his impressive riding over the past month should really have the Honda bosses looking for a factory GP ride for the kid or at least build a full factory World Superbike team around him. He slides the bike as comfortably as Haga but doesn’t seem nearly has hard on this tires. He’s been able to deal with pressure from Corser and Haga in recent races without making mistakes and doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by aggressive riders. He is nearly guaranteed second place in the championship and still has a shot at winning the whole thing. Amazing.

Noriyuki Haga - Yamaha’s Nitro Nori also continues to impress after a first half the season that looked really disappointing. His team has publicly stated that getting a single win for the season was their goal for ‘05 while they developed the bike with only minimal support from the factory. Well, Haga has already won twice for them this year, once at Brno and then again at Brands Hatch, and has been on the podium seven of the last eight races. As I’ve mentioned in all my WSBK reviews so far this season, it is vitally important for the series that the Yamahas become competitive and that definitely appears to be the case. Haga still has some setup work to finish up so that they can get the R1 to run the pace without chewing up tires but he’s able to ride fast and loose, just like he likes it. His recent battles with Vermeulen, Corser and Toseland show that the Samurai of Slide is definitely back.

Lorenzo Lanzi on the factory Ducati

Lorenzo Lanzi - The Italian was the single biggest story of the weekend. He was called up by the factory Ducati team at the last minute to stand in for the injured Regis Laconi. He then surprised everyone by immediately putting the Xerox Ducati on the pole. In race one he got pushed wide in the first corner and came back in a questionable position. This was clearly against the spirit of the rules as he gained a few spots in the process and was thus called in for a ride-through penalty. Before making his mandatory visit to the pits, he proved a point by moving into the lead. Point made, he took his punishment and then charged back through the pack to an eventual eighth place finish…a performance that certainly raised some eyebrows. It bettered this in race two by staying on track through turn one and then moving forward to lead the race. He had a fight with Haga in the middle portion of the race that made it look like he was a seasoned pro rather than a first year superbike rookie. He then broke away for a convincing victory. Surely we will see the young Italian on a factory bike…probably a Ducati…in 2006.

The Lausitzing ring shows that the season is now at the point where the primary news is focused on the top three and then emerging new talent. There are some amazing riders that are mired outside this spotlight, including reigning world champ James Toseland, early season phenom Yukio Kagayama, elder statesman Frankie Chili, perennial top ten finisher Andrew Pitt and the consistently inconsistent Max Neukirchner. Don’t expect to hear much about these guys until the season wrap-up. The Lords of the Lausitzring were defiintely Corser, Vermeulen, Haga and Lanzi.

[image from the Ducati web site.]

Monday, September 12, 2005

  • I love my wife. I think everyone that reads this web site knows that I love motorcycles but I want to emphasize that I also love my wife. You see, this past weekend was our fifth wedding anniversary. Many wives in this big, wide world expect jewelry or clothes or other baubles for an anniversary gift. My wife? She asks if we can jump on the motorcycle and ride to northern Wyoming to go hiking in Grand Teton National Park. Did I mention that I love my wife? So this past Thursday Jonna met me at my office after work where we loaded up the GS and headed north. We stopped in Cheyenne for a quick bite of Chinese take-out then did a two hour night ride to a hotel in Casper. On Friday, we left the slab and spent the morning on little two lane roads going across the Wyoming prairie. By noon we were in the little town of Dubois where we checked into the Stone House B&B. After a quick lunch we headed over Togwotee Pass (a 55 mile long and 9650 ft high slice of curve nirvana) to Grand Teton National Park. !@(afimages/Blog/2005/9/Tetons05.jpg:R200 popimg: “Grand Teton National Park”) The park is a beautiful place. The Tetons are stunning mountains, even to someone who lives in the middle of some pretty incredible mountains. They tower about 5,000 ft over the surrounding landscape with the highest peak at 13,770. A series of lakes line the front of the range and the Snake River curls its’ way from Yellowstone in the north to the city of Jackson in the south. Throw in the odd assortment of elk, moose, bison, wolves, bear, eagles, osprey and smaller critters to have a wonderful place. Then go hike there for a weekend. Sweet! We did a short hike on Friday afternoon and then back over the Pass for dinner in Dubois. We woke up Saturday morning to cold, overcast skies but headed back over Togwotee again (as you can imagine, having to ride this pass twice a day was just killing me) so we could do a float trip on the Snake. It turned out to be too cold and too rainy to see any big animals and the weather just got colder and wetter as the day progressed. After the raft trip we decided to beat feet back over the pass…if it was cold and rainy at 7,000 ft the weather could be worse up high. That turned out to be the case as it dumped snow for 30 of the 55 miles over the pass on the return trip. A worn rear tire and heavy snow made for some nerve racking riding. We both spent the next tour hours huddled in front of the fire place in the B&B trying to warm back up! On Sunday, we turned south on some more two lane roads all the way to Rawlins. Then it was an Interstate blast on I-80 to Laramie, where we grabbed lunch. A few back roads to cut across to I-25 and then all the way south to my office. My normal commute up Boulder canyon to Nederland and home by 7pm. The mileage total for the weekend was 1379 miles and the only bike problem was a rear tire that was stretched about 500 miles more than was appropriate. Wore the rear Metzler all the way down to the cords…a stupid move on my part. A great way to celebrate our anniversary and another reminder of why I am so glad I married this woman. [image from my photo collection.] (0)

Friday, September 9, 2005

Old bikes and new bikes…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

This weekend offers up quite the contrast when it comes to racing motorcycles. At the ultra-modern EuroSpeedway track in Lausitz, Germany the World Superbike regulars will be racing their ultra-modern sport bikes. Meanwhile, at our local Pueblo Motorsports Park in Pueblo, CO the AHRMA guys will be racing their vintage bikes. Both are equally fascinating though they are such completely different experiences to watch.

First, the World Superbike event in Germany… This will be the third to the last race weekend of the series and probably the first chance for Troy Corser to lock up the title (assuming he gained the maximum 50 points by winning both races and Chris Vermeulen failed to gain a single point). This is an unlikely scenario so expect the title fight to continue into the penultimate weekend at Imola in three weeks. For this round, expect Chris Vermeulen to continue to ride hard and expect Corser to continue to balance conservative riding with opportunistic grabbing of points. Regardless of the championship’s status, the track is bound to throw a wrench into many of the riders’ plans. The 2.6 mile long track, placed inside a huge Indy car oval, is a series of fast straights which are tied together with 13 curves many of which are slow first and second gear corners. Things are further complicated by the fact that the relatively narrow track and the tightness of the turns means that passing in very, very difficult. Expect the race to turn into an hour long series of drag races as riders attempt to get their bikes upright exiting turns and try to pull up along side other riders before slamming back down through the gearbox for the next turn. I think that aggressive riders on bikes which accelerate hard from low speed will be the ones to watch. I think this will favor the Suzuki GSXRs, as they seem to have massive power *everywhere* along with riders like Vermeulen, Haga and Toseland who have proven themselves very aggressive over the past few races. Also interesting in that Lorenzo Lanzi will be stepping up from the Scuderia Caracchi privateer Duck to fill in for the injured Regis Laconi. Since Scuderia just fired their other rider, Fonsi Nieto, it will be interesting to see who they have on their bike this weekend.

Thruxton racing

At the other end of the spectrum are the old bikes, and often old riders, who will be joining the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) for their annual visit to the American south-west. In this case, they are visiting Pueblo Motorsports Park which, in my opinion, has the most interesting layout of any of our Colorado area tracks with its 2.2 mile long, 10 turn road race configuration. The track surface isn’t the greatest, something that will be particularly noticeable on the poorly suspended vintage bikes, but at least it has a mix of straight aways, fast turns and slow turns. I find all the AHRMA road racing classes interesting but the one I’d most like to see is the modern Triumph Thruxton Bonneville bikes being raced in the Thruxton Challenge. These nearly identically prepared bikes have all the right look for a race series tied to a vintage organization but have the added benefit of running more reliable engines in more modern chassis. Since this is a spec class, the racing should be close and the winner’s advantage should clearly be in skill rather than machinery. As a final incentive, some of our local MRA racers, including the guys at Foothills BMW/Triumph, where I have my Beemer serviced, will be there. Unfortunately, I’m out of town this weekend and won’t be able to catch the races…definitely my biggest motorcycle racing disappointment of the year.

Old bikes or new bikes, Multi-million dollar international race circuits or modest local tracks, world champs or aging enthusiasts…either way watching motorcycle racing is good stuff.

[image from the 2WF web site.]

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Box of Shame #9: When brakes break…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

It has been awhile since I posted a Box of Shame posting mainly because I have been running out of interesting parts to talk about. Well, I’m man of action. As someone who is always willing to do whatever is necessary to improve the blog, I decided to create a new item last week which I can add to the Box of Shame.

First, the background: Thursday night, a little over a week ago, I ended up being at work until late. I then got home late and was then up even later trying to get caught up on my back log of computer and blog duties. The bedside clock showed 2am when I finally staggered off to bed and that same clock wasn’t looked upon too warmly when it started blaring at me to get up at 7:30 the next morning. Even as I struggled out of bed on Friday, I told my wife that I was probably too tired to ride but since I needed to go into Denver that afternoon to watch the Iron Butt Rally checkpoint I decided to ride anyway. That faint sound you hear in the background is the ominous music portion of my life’s soundtrack starting to play.

Now I have a *great* commute into work each day. The first 17 miles are prime paved twisties which drop 3,000 ft of elevation from the town of Nederland to the town of Boulder. In addition to this route which I take nearly every day, there is an entire network of old dirt mining roads that criss-cross the area and offer alternative routes. This morning, despite feeling like I had a bag of cotton balls crammed between my ears, I decided to take an alternate route down one of these mining roads rather than the paved road that I know like the back of my hand. By the way, feel free to put in ear plugs right now if the ominous music is getting too loud.

Finally, I let the fresh morning air and the excitement of checking out the Iron Butt stuff get to me and I actually started having fun with the ride. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for fun, especially on motorcycles, its just that there is fun and there is FUN. FUN often involves doing stupid things like riding too fast or taking unnecessary risks. Things that initially seem FUN might start with the famous “Hey Bubba, watch this…” intro. In a relatively short amount of time I went from having fun to having FUN on the big Beemer…on deserted dirt roads…while sleepy. Uh-oh. The end result is that after sliding the bike around a few turns, the FUN knob got turned up to eleven which resulted in the bike getting way out of shape around a gravel coated left hander. Despite doing everything wrong (panic, cuss loudly in helmet and chop throttle) I managed not to get high-sided off the mountainside but did get enough off course that I couldn’t gather things back up. I ended up bouncing along right at the edge of the road where the big rocks and gnarly ruts are located.

It was then that a very inconveniently placed 5 ft deep nettle-filled ditch called a halt to the proceedings. Dumping a 700 lb bike into a yawning abyss is not a good idea at the best of times. It is certainly not a good idea at 8am during a work week on an empty road in the middle of nowhere. The good news is that the mix of nettles, wild raspberry bushes and assorted other weeds which filled this drainage area where so thick they acted as a sort of spring mattress for the bike. The really good news is that an Aerostich riding suit offers equally good protection against thorn bushes as it offers against pavement rash. I would probably still be pulling stickers out of my butt if I’d been wearing jeans.

BMW master cylinder

It took me nearly 45 minutes to disassemble the bike (remove the tank bag, remove the saddle bags, remove the tank) and drag it up the incline to road level. Since the bike landed upside down in the ditch I wasn’t sure I could muscle the thing back upright, even with the gas tank removed, when a somewhat baffled truck happened to drive along. The owner thankfully helped me make the “flip” and then I spent another 10 minutes reassembling the bike. I then had to tear into the right hand instrument pod since the throttle was sticking. What I found when I took the various covers off was that the mirror mounts to brackets built into the front brake master cylinder. When the bike landed on the right side mirror, it broke that bracket which jammed metal into the throttle housing. I pried the chunks of metal out and put it all back together. The only other noticeable issue was the ABS computer was reporting a fault. I had no fun (and certainly no FUN) continuing on into work but at least the bike was rideable…its the old “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing” theory.

Once I got to work I called the local BMW shop and ordered a new master cylinder. Its a little known fact but apparently the Germans have found that solid gold makes a better material for building bike parts than the traditional materials. I don’t know how they manage to make a precious metal look like common aluminum but based on the price of a BMW master cylinder it would certainly seem to be gold. I also downloaded the necessary instructions from the Internet BMW Riders web site on how to reset the ABS computer. This past weekend I replaced the broken master cylinder, reset the computer and tried to buff out the various scratches. Other than a few new beauty marks, the bike is remarkably unscathed.

No matter how much I complain about the cost of the GS, it is definitely a rugged bike. To get flipped upside down into a 5 ft deep ditch and come back out so lightly damaged is really amazing. The moral of this Box of Shame entry? Don’t have too much FUN, especially if your brain isn’t working at 100%. The second moral? No matter how clear your mental faculties, a 700 lb adventure touring bike is *not* a 200 lb dirt bike. I need to save the dirt track antics for the the DRZ.

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

It takes two hands now…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

This past weekend was a great one for Suzuki as the brand tied up three championships: AMA Motocross (Ricky Carmichael), AMA Superstock (Aaron Yates) and AMA Superbike (Mat Mladin). Way back in April I did a blog entry that forecast Suzuki would have a banner year in production racing and with the GSXR1000 winning both AMA classes for which it is eligible and likely to win World Superbike as well, the Hamamatsu, Japan based company have a lot to be proud of this year. However, even more proud has to be the Mat Mladin family. Not only did Mladin do what he needed to do at Road Atlanta in order to tie up the 2005 Superbike championship, his *sixth* AMA Superbike title, but he also earned pole position which finalized his sweep of pole positions for the season. He did everything in 2005, short of a Carmichael-esque series sweep, to stamp his authority on the Superbike grid. Marty Craggill, the rider sponsored by Mladin, finished out the AMA Superbike season in 7th as the top privateer which is another phenomenal achievement for Mat. Finally, he goes into pre-season testing with a new three year contract with Suzuki meaning he can enjoy his time off and then come back for winter testing focused on how to keep him championship steamroller going in 2006.

Number six of Mat Mladin

But I’m getting ahead of myself…Mladin came into the Road Atlanta round with a relatively small 21 point lead over teammate Ben Spies. Despite Mladin having been dominant all season his two DNFs, along with consistent riding by Superbike rookie Spies, meant his seemingly insurmountable mid-season points advantage had been eroded to what is paid for a single win. If Mladin had bad luck in either of the Road Atlanta races then Spies could still snatch away the 2005 championship. This meant Mladin had to walk a fine line between conservative rides that wouldn’t risk a crash or mechanical while still riding hard enough to gain valuable points. Spies, on the other hand, needed to run the table: Get the single point for pole position, get the two points available for leading the most laps in the two races and finally get the full 72 points available for two wins. From the first laps of practice, it looks like Spies hopes were evaporating fast. Mladin was fast straight out of the truck and then threw down a stunning lap in qualifying to get pole by 1.5 seconds over Spies. (As a side note, this was the 47 AMA Superbike pole position for Mat, the final needed to sweep the poles for this year and the 1:21.685 time bettered the Road Atlanta lap record by nearly 1/2 a second. Impressive!)

When the riders lined up on Saturday for race one, Spies did what he needed to do off the start by grabbing the hole shot. Unfortunately, for him, Mladin also got off to a good start and Spies lead didn’t even last one lap. Mladin went to the front and slowly pulled away. However, it appeared that Spies luck may yet improve because the race was red flagged on lap 18 because Heath Small crashed and knocked himself into another realm of (un)consciousness. The riders were re-gridded for an eight lap sprint race which appeared to favor Spies…Mladin is rougher on clutches that his Yoshimura teammate. When the race was restarted, Spies again got a great launch and held it longer, this time a full lap, before being passed by Mladin. Unlike the first stint, Mladin didn’t pull a gap and was pressured by Spies for the entire eight laps. Meanwhile the two inched away from their third teammate Aaron Yates. With two laps to go, Mladin gained a little breathing room and Yates threw his GSXR into the turn 10 gravel trap. Mladin carded his eleventh win of the season and gained another six points over Spies in the championship hunt. Yates crash was particularly painful because not only did it end another potential all-Suzuki podium but it also ruined any chance of him overtaking Eric Bostrom for third in the championship battle…ruling out a Suzuki 1-2-3 in the title race. Ouch! Yates misfortune gifted Miguel Duhamel with the final podium spot which was a nice reward for the slow but steady improvement the American Honda squad has been dealing with all season with their CBR.

On Sunday, the riders lined up for the last race of the season and all eyes were on Mladin and Spies. At the start, Mladin rocketed to the lead but an immediate red flag called everyone back for a complete restart. As was seen in race one at VIR, Mladin’s clutch didn’t hook up well on the restart and he ended up mid-pack. Spies, meanwhile, got yet another holeshot and started to pull away. It took Mladin most of the race to conservatively work his way from 20th to 4th…high enough in the points to lock up the 2006 championship. Meanwhile Yates, sensing a win was his only chance to catch back up to EBoz for third overall, was on a mission. He caught, then passed and then pulled away from Spies. Yates took the win by over 6 seconds from Spies. Neil Hodgson bookended his 2005 season by ending on the podium (this time in third, in contrast to his second place in the season opener at Daytona).

When all the points were tallied, the top five in the championship battle were:

1 - Mat Mladin (536)
2 - Ben Spies (514)
3 - Eric Bostrom (431)
4 - Aaron Yates (414)
5 - Miguel Duhamel (392)
6 - Neil Hodgson (384)
7 - Marty Craggill (331)
8 - Steve Rapp (305)
9 - Josh Hayes (302)
1o - Lee Acree (301)

Mladin now has six AMA Superbike championships, twice the number of any other racer. Additionally, his 11 race wins this season pulls him well clear of Duhamel when it comes to the total number of AMA superbike race wins. Mladin now has a total of 43. Whether you like Mladin or not, there is no denying his unbelievable talent and his unstoppable work ethic. The raw stats show that Mladin is the best superbike rider the AMA has ever seen.

If Mat’s fellow competitors have anything to look forward to in 2006, its that those same stats may provide a small glimmer of hope. His six US championships have been spread over seven years broken into two strings of three years each: Mladin topped the points table in 1999, 2000 and 2001, then winning again in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Nicky Hayden sits in the middle of that streak as he took the 2002 title. Anyone believing in numerology may having something to look forward to…for the rest, there is always the fight for second place…

[image from the web site.]

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Aussie Rules, Part 2

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

“Bip, bomp, bam alakazam
But only when you’re grooving
With the Double Dutch Man
Put on your skates don’t forget your rope
Cause I know I’m gonna see you
At my Double Dutch Show”
— Frankie Smith, Double Dutch Bus

Back in April, during the early rounds of the ‘05 World Superbike series, I did a blog entry about how Aussie rider Troy Corser ruled at Philip Island. Well, there is now another Australian rider ruling at his home track (even though its not down under). I mentioned on Friday that Chris’ Ten Kate Honda team is based in Holland but I didn’t point out that his grand parents are also from Holland. That makes two reasons for Vermeulen to do well at Assen and he backed it up with double wins at a track known as the “Cathedral of Speed”.

Chris Vermeulen

Not only did Chris win twice at Assen but he did it in two completely different ways. During both practice and qualifying, the Honda rider was incredible turning in laps nearly a second faster than anyone else. In the one lap dash that makes up Superpole he was able to turn a 2:04.179 to earn his first ever pole position. On Friday, I also commented that two riders needed strong rides at Assen, Chris Vermeulen and Regis Laconi. With pole position secured, Chris was doing his part but Regis went the opposite route. The Frenchman got pitched off his Ducati twice on Friday and the second off was a nasty highside which resulted in a damaged arm which ruled him out for the weekend and dashed any hopes he may have had for a top three finish for the season.

In the first race Chris got a good start and quickly moved to the front ahead of Corser, Haga and Toseland. One thing Assen is known for is close racing mainly because the track’s majority of high speed bends allows for a flowing riding style that isn’t interupted by a lot of stopping and accelerating. Apprently no one told Vermeulen that racing at Assen had to be tight because once he got to the front he proceeded to turn in lap after lap that was half a second faster than anyone else. With the Honda disappearing out front, the Yamaha of Haga, the Ducati of Toseland and the Suzuki of Corser started scrapping for the left overs. Corser eventually took an uncharacteristically conservative approach and appeared to concede the podium spots to the mix of bikes ahead of him. That meant the only battle to watch was the Haga-Toseland fight and fortunately it didn’t disappoint. Toseland and Haga traded places at least once a lap, usually with daring passes in the amazingly fast flip-flop bends. Toseland seemed to have the advantage, making the majority of his passes in the final turns before the finish line and this proved to be pivotal. With Vermeulen out front by 3.5 seconds, Toseland was able to make the definitive pass and hold on for second over Haga. Corser came home in forth.

With an easy win from the front under his belt the Ten Kate rider decided to shake things up the second race. He got off to a slower start, ending the first lap in sixth place, but was able to move forward after multi-lap dices with Kagayama, Corser, Pitt and Toseland. Around half-race he finally made the pass for the lead and then spent the majority of the remainder of the race in a titanic struggle with Toseland and Haga. Unlike race one, in the second event Vermeulen couldn’t check out and was hounded by Haga for the last three laps while Toseland slipped back by around a second from the two leaders. On the last lap either rider looked capable of winning but in the first few turns the Aussie made the final pass and then cranked up the speed to hold off his Japanese rival for the remainder of the lap. The margin of victory at the line was only 0.085 second. Toseland came home in third and Corser again rode to a steady forth.

Vermeulen did what he had to do in order to keep his championship hope alive. Chris took back 24 points this weekend, so with three rounds (six races) left to go in the season Corser holds a 86 point lead over his countryman in the title chase. With 25 points available per win, there are still 150 points left in the season, it is unlikely a champ will be crowned this coming weekend at Lausitzring but it also means that Troy would have to have finishes worse than forth (assuming Chris can sweep the rest of the races) before he would jeopardize his championship lead.

While Vermeulen was definitely the big news for the weekend, it wasn’t the only news. Also notable were some events that will impact the rest of the season: As I’ve already mentioned Laconi was out before the race even started with his highside. He will be having surgery this week to repair ligament damage but will likely miss some, if not all, of the remaining races. Then in race one, an accident sent Chris Walker to the hospital with a broken elbow probably taking him out for the year. Race two saw the other PSG-1 Kawasaki rider crash while still recovering from his own broken elbow. Time will tell if he can race in Germany this coming weekend. Finally, Fonsi Nieto won’t be riding his Scuderia Caracchi Ducati any more this season but not because of injury. Instead, he was sacked by the team during the first day of practice because of his poor results this year. Sadly, it appears that Fonsi’s career has continued to self destruct after he came so close to winning the 250GP title in 2002.

This weekend, like the season as a whole, seems to indicate that the Aussies do in fact rule in World Superbike.

[image from the Ten Kate Honda Team web site.]

Friday, September 2, 2005

Double superbikes in September…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MRA, WSBK

This weekend servers up a three course meal made up of double shots of production bike racing. First, the World Superbike series lines up for their ninth weekend of a twelve race season in Assen, Holland. Then the AMA boys take a visit down south for their final race of the season with a double header at Road Atlanta. As if four superbike races weren’t enough for one weekend, the local MRA club has their first ever double header weekend at PPIR. Regional, national or international, this Labor Day weekend has you covered.

First up, lets cast our eyes on the International stage. The World Superbike series is entering the final quarter of their season with this weekend’s race at the famous Assen TT Circuit. With Troy Corser on top by 110 points, it seems unlikely anyone will be able to win the title without the Aussie having some sort of problem but since they don’t give out the trophies until the final checkered flag it is still a bit early to declare him the champ. The riders that will have to step it up here at the end of the season to even keep their hopes alive are Honda’s Chris Vermeulen and Ducati’s Regis Laconi. Unfortunately, Laconi threw his Duc down the track in practice this morning and ripped a few holes in his body. At a time when he needs to be at his best, he may be at his worst. I think today’s highside has ended the Frenchman’s ‘05 championship run. So that leaves Australian Vermeulen as the great hope if the Superbike championship battle is to stay exciting for the last four races. Fortunately, his Dutch Ten Kate Honda team are on home ground this weekend which may be enough of an advantage to tip the balance in Chris’ favor. Chris has been consistent over the last three rounds with four podium appearances in six races (two 2nds, two 3rds) but hasn’t won since the second Monza race back in June. He needs to get back to his winning ways this weekend. Haga, on the other hand, has won two of the last four races but with him mired down in fifth in points he is just racing for pride at this point. Vermeulen doesn’t need to crash but he does need to maximize his points. Haga, if he continues with his current form, is going to hamper that goal as he may well take much needed points away from the Honda rider this weekend. As with the MotoGP guys earlier this summer the World Superbike guys are visiting this Assen track for the last time before a major construction project dramatically changes the layout and just like the GP riders the WSBK riders are already bemoaning the changes to the track. Lets hope this weekend’s race is a good one and that it doesn’t end up going down as the last of the great Assen motorcycle races.

Superbikes at Road Atlanta

Closer to home, the AMA Superbike series has their last race of the year this weekend. What isn’t unusual is that Mat Mladin comes in as the clear favorite to win the championship having won 10 races so far this year. What is unusual is that the now traditional Rd. Atlanta double header is closing out the season where normally it is held earlier in the year. Strangely enough, despite the event being the last on the calendar all four AMA classes come to the Georgia track without a champion in any of them having already been decided. Thus all the races this weekend will be closely watched to see who is crowned but none of them will be more highly anticipated that the two Superbike races. Mladin leads teammate Spies by a scant 21 points after his double wins at VIR last weekend. As with the World Superbike points race, Mladin has the upper hand and only a crash or a bike problem will keep him from earning his 6th AMA Superbike title. However, problems have often found Mat at this track including his spectacular rear tire failure in ‘03 and his nearly running into an ambulance in ‘99. Since Mladin opened his weekend at Road Atlanta by turning laps a second faster than anyone else, the odds are clearly in his favor even considering his infrequent bad luck on the back straight. With the other Yoshimura riders also riding well at Road A, another pair of Suzuki podium sweeps may be likely. This morning, Honda’s Miguel Duhamel and Ducati’s Neil Hodgson were also fast so expect them to be involved in the fight for the final podium spot.

Finally, the MRA is heading down to southern Colorado to knock out a double header weekend at Pikes Peak International Raceway. This will be the seventh and eighth of the ten round season and the points earned this weekend may well lock up the premier Race of the Rockies titles…in practice even if not in points. Shane Turpin has trounced the competition this season having won every RoR GTO race. The only reason he hasn’t already tied up the title is that second in points Dan Turner has been nearly as consistent only failing to finish second on one occasion (when he finished forth). Turpin currently holds a 28 point lead over Turner with Rich Demming a further 14 points behind. Turpin also leads the RoR GTU class with a 31 point lead over Marty Sims and a 45 point lead over Greg Greenwood. It seems nearly certain that Shane will be the double #1 plate holder for the MRA in ‘06. The MRA has 28 different classes so there will be lots of racing this weekend and plenty of excitement for those following the points battles. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of PPIR. However, I do hope people will turn out for the races this weekend, not only because I want to see people support the MRA but I think PPIR deserves a little as well after they supported the Racing 2 Save Lives event earlier this summer.

Alright, so I’ll admit that all the major title chases have lost the majority of their interest. Suzuki seems to be ruling the production bike roost and the points leaders have seemingly insurmountable leads. Still, the racing in all three series is fantastic and the competition seems to be working hard to close the gap on the GSXRs. There may yet be a surprise or two in store for us fans. I plan to spend at least a little of my Labor Day weekend watching racing and hopefully you will too.

[image from the Road Atlanta web site.]