Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Monday, October 31, 2005

October \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, Other Forms Of Racing

As the race seasons come to a close I find more time to delve into interesting stories and thus fewer items to put in the monthly “Odds and Ends” postings. This may be the last one until the road race season cranks back up next year. Nonetheless, there a are a few things that happened in October that didn’t get the time they deserved so here is this month’s catch up.

First, with the major race seasons all coming to a close, Fall represents a small window of opportunity for big name racers to get out and show their stuff in other forms of racing:

Troy Corser at the Trace Superbikers event

Newly crowned World Superbike champion Troy Corser, along with Ex-Harley roadracer and seven time dirt track champ Chris Carr, headed to Mettet, Belgium this month to participate in the Trace Superbikers super-motard race. This race is split between a “pro” class with supermoto regulars and a “stars” class with special guests like Corser and Carr. It shows just how popular Super Motard racing is in Europe that a star-studded event like this can exist.

Just across the channel that same weekend a bunch of stars like World Superbike regular Pierfrancesco Chili, British Supermoto champ Christian Iddon and British Supersport rookie Craig Jones all showed up at Mallory Park in the UK for the Moto 1 event. This is a very cool cross-genre motorcycle challenge that involved separate trials, multi-vehicle “pentathlon”, supermoto, motocross and roadrace events. Its a sign of just how popular motorcycle racing is in England that such an amazing event can get started. A further sign of that support is that it is sponsored by Dunlop and attended by many of the big national stars from the various national motorcycle racing series.

Even more exciting is that a “best of the best” event is coming to the US this year thanks to Red Bull. They are sponsoring the Last Man Standing competition which is a cross-discipline event to be held in Texas this November. This four stage event is set-up to run over a 40 mile enduro circuit. Nearly all the best National level Enduro, Trials, Cross-Country, Hare Scramble and Desert racers will be showing up. At the end of each stage, half the contestants are removed. The first two stages are run during the day, the second two at night (and in reverse). At the end of the final lap, a single rider will be crowned as the winner. This is a great idea and I hope that more events like it are spawned which may eventually bring in Motocross, Supercross, Roadrace and Supermoto riders. Kudos to Red Bull for again spending some of their corporate bankroll to promote motorcycle events.

Another end-of-the-season event which always draws an interesting list of participants is the annual Macau GP. This event challenges the Isle of Man’s reputation as the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world but has nonetheless been in existence for 52 years. The majority of the focus is on the car races but motorcycles also race around the 3.8 mile track that is laid out on city streets which are lined with armco. The names on the entry list read like a who’s who of real road racing: Michael Rutter, John McGuinness, Stuart Easton, Ian Lougher, Steve Plater and Adrian Archibald are all Isle of Man stars. Pere Riba is an ex-GP rider. Canadian (and ex-AMA Supersport champ) Steve Crevier is attending as are American roadracers Jeremy Toye and Mark Miller. The Macau GP has a long tradition and is an exciting event but a dangerous one as well. Best of luck to all those attending.

On rider who has had enough of danger is three time British Superbike champ (an ex-GP and ex-WSBK racer) John Reynolds. After enduring a season in the British Superbike series in which he suffered to horrible crashes with serious injuries he has decided to retire from the sport. The 2004 BSB champion started his title defense with a crash in the preseason that seriously damaged his leg. After healing up and re-joining the series at the halfway point he then had another crash which left him with multiple injuries including broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken collarbone. Those old bones don’t mend as fast as they used to and Reynolds has thrown in the towel. He is a fantastic rider and can rest comfortably on his many laurels. He will long be remembered at race tracks around the world.

One road race track that won’t be around to remember any racers is Pikes Peak International Raceway which has been bought by ISC and permanently closed. ISC, who own many of the NASCAR tracks around the country, are slowly purchasing race tracks simply to shut them down and remove competition. I am definitely no fan of PPIR, in fact, I’m not particularly sad to see it go, but I must say that the method of it’s demise does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Hopefully, the new Miller Motorsports Park in Utah will be so impressive that all us Coloradans will soon forget PPIR ever existed.

While the AMA’s road race program is taking a hit their Supercross program is getting a huge shot in the arm. Hot on the heals of last month’s announcement that SpeedTV has signed up to broadcast the entire Supercross series comes news that CBS is set to co-televise six of the rounds. Having a major broadcast network on board is a huge coup and should help boost the popularity of Supercross even more. With the season set to open in just a little over a month and with all the major players healthy (Carmichael, Reed, Windham and Stewart) the series should be ready to capitalize on all this TV exposure.

Another bit of TV related news which ties back to the first item is the rumor that ESPN is working on creating a new supermoto series in the US for 2006. With the pr0 AMA Supermoto series slowly growing and the new amateur NASMOTO series taking off it is hard to tell if adding another series is going to help or hurt. What will help is getting some TV coverage of Supermoto racing on a major sports network like ESPN. (Then again, given that ESPN dropped their AMA Supercross coverage it seems that their interest in motorcycle racing is fickle at best.)

Something which has already benefited from TV time is the Long Way Round series which aired on Bravo last year. Now the US version of the DVD is finally being released and should be on shelves this December.

Well, I think that about does it for the month. The other major news as consisted of new bike announcements and silly season news but I’m covering those topics in other posts. This will be the last “Odds and Ends” posting for awhile. I hope you have enjoyed them.

[image from the Roadracer X web site.]

Friday, October 28, 2005

  • Last month I posted a write-up about a trip I am planning with some friends to go dual sport riding in Costa Rica this coming February. Since there aren’t any motorcycle races this weekend, it seems like an opportune time to post a little update. !@(afimages/Blog/2005/10/costarica2.jpg:R200 popimg: “Riding in Costa Rica”) First, one detail has changed. In my first posting I mentioned that we would be riding Suzuki DRs. Well, Todd spent a couple of weeks talking to motorcycle rental companies in Costa Rica and eventually settled on Wilhelm von Breymann’s Costa Rica Motorcycle Rental Company. We will be renting KTM 640LC4s from Wilhelm though I’m sure Todd momentarily considered the additional entertainment he would get watching me try to wrestle a 950 Adventure through the jungle before settling on the smaller bike. The KTM LC4 should be a great bike for our Costa Rica trip since it has enough power to make time when the roads will support it while still being small enough to explore trails off the beaten track. With the books reserved, we booked the plane tickets through America West flying through Phoenix. This means that I’m only six hours from a hospital that will accept my medical insurance once we start the return trip. The focus our our ride in Costa Rica will focus on two main areas. Exploring the Nicoya Peninsula while staying at a hotel in the town of Montezuma on the southern coast. Then we’ll relocate to the town of Puerto Jimenez where we will explore the Osa Peninsula. My guess as to our itinerary is: - Saturday - Fly into Costa Rica, check into air port. Drink like fish to celebrate our arrival. - Sunday - Wake up hungover and grumpy. Pick up KTMs. Ride north out of San Jose, do a big loop around Arenal volcano involving little known trails, dangerous animals, flaming lava and unfriendly natives. Turn south after going around the north shore of Lake Arenal. Ride to the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula arriving in Montezuma late at night exhausted, battered and pissed off. Drink like fish. - Monday/Tuesday - either ride around the Nicoya Peninsula or sit in hammocks on the beach trying to recover from the broken bones earned during the first day of riding. Drink like fish. - Wednesday - Ride back up the Nicoya Peninsula and then down the Pacific coast to the town of Porto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula. Despite the seemingly easy day, I’m sure something will come up which will have us wading through chest deep water on a goat path that hasn’t been used this century and which will result in us arriving last at night exhausted, battered and pissed off. Drink like fish. - Thursday/Friday - either ride around the Osa Peninsula or sit in hammocks on the beach trying to recover from the snake bites earned on Wednesday. Drink like fish. - Saturday - Try to repair all the damage to the bikes so we don’t lose our damage deposit. Return to San Jose broke, exhausted, battered and pissed off. Drink like fish. - Sunday - Fly back to the US, bragging about how everything went perfectly according to plan and it was the greatest time ever. Make plans do it again soon. One thing I decided is that I need a good 3/4 length enduro jacket to bring on the trip. I need something with armor so that I can minimize the damage riders often get when riding with Todd but it also needs to flow air to deal with the tropical heat and have good rain protection in case the rainy season hits early next year. Based on the research I’ve done online I think the First Gear Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket is just the ticket. Now i need to find a local dealer that stocks the thing so that I can figure out which size works. If I can’t find one in the next few weeks, I’ll just wait till November 19th and see if any of the dealers at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show have the jacket for sale. As always, if anyone has any suggestions or opinions about gear or riding in Costa Rica please post a comment. I’ll post some more later once more of the plans for the trip have come together. [image from the Wild Rider Costa Rica web site.] (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A whiter shade of pale…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

A press release came out this week announcing that the Jordan Suzuki has signed rookie sensation Jake Holden to join 2005 riders Jason Pridmore and Steve Rapp. Holden will be riding a Superstock spec GSXR1000 in both the AMA Superstock and Superbike classes. This is a fantastic opportunity for the talented rider and another sign that Jordan is serious about winning championships in 2006.

Montez Stewart in Team Jordan 2005

However, one rider’s gain is always another rider’s loss and in this case it is Montez Stewart who will probably be short a chair when the music stops. Strictly looking at this from a results stand point, the folks at Jordan Suzuki undoubtedly made the right choice. Holden’s performance in 2005 was noteworthy as he finished sixth in Superstock and was nineteenth in Superbike. Jake ran some strong races that showed he has the talent and skill to run up front. Montez has continued to improve as a rider and put in respectable rides in Superstock but ultimately wasn’t able to generate the same results as his replacement.

Still, I’m sorry to see Tez lose this seat on the Jordan team. While having more skilled riders in the AMA series is always appreciated the other thing that is missing from the paddock is diversity. Whether its a case of gender or race, the one thing that is clearly obvious when walking through the Superbike pits is the fact that the sport is dominated by white males. Michael Jordan’s presence in the paddock has been a huge step forward in getting some exposure to a new audience and having Montez Stewart on his team has helped bring some much needed racial variation to the AMA ranks.

I’m sure that Stewart’s reason for racing is to improve as a rider, not necessarily to be a role model for minorities but I think he has been in the fortunate position of doing both. I think it is important for our sport to expand beyond its traditional audience and find new racers and new fans. Drag racing has successfully done this, in no small part because of the success of Ricky Gadsen. The same is becoming true of Supercross thanks to the performances to James “Bubba” Stewart. Finally, from what I’ve seen in the pits at the AMA races over the past two seasons there has been an explosion of new fans coming to the races primarily to see Michael Jordan and his rider Montez Stewart.

This past season saw a major shift with not only Tez on the grid but also the VeneMoto team which fielded two Venezuelan riders named Armando Ferrer and Victor Chirinos in the AMA series. Adding to the Latin influence in the pits, Hotbodies helped sponsor Mexican rider Dirk Sanchez. Finally, Kawasaki stepped up with support for Jessica Zalusky which added some much needed gender diversity to the field.

Thus it is a bit disappointing to see a little backsliding in this trend with Montez Stewart leaving the Jordan team. However, hope isn’t lost yet. There is still a chance that some other team will be the value in having Stewart…not just as a talented rider but also because of the message he can send that the AMA paddock is a place that welcomes racers no matter what their race.

[image from the Joe Rocket web site.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cool bikes in the land of warm beer…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Over the past month I’ve made announcements about both the Paris Motorcycle Show and the Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Well, this weekend it is time for the annual NEC Bike Show to open open its’ doors to the motorcycling public.

As I mentioned previously I thought the Paris expo was a bit of a disappointment. It was the public’s first chance to see the new bikes from the major manufacturers but because all of those bikes had been announced previously there really weren’t any surprises. I really expected the companies, particularly those in Europe, to use the biennial motorcycle spectacle in France as a showcase for unexpected new bike announcements and a parade of forward thinking concept vehicles. Instead, it was a rather mundane presentation of next year’s production bikes.

The Tokyo show, in dramatic contrast, was a panorama of Japanese imagination and innovation for the two largest Japanese motorcycle manufacturers: Honda and Yamaha. Because most of the two wheeled vehicles sold in Asia and Europe are scooters it was in that form that both companies showed their visions of tomorrow. Yamaha had a wide variety of new technology prototype step-throughs including hybrid gas/electric models, all-electric models and hydrogen fuel cell models. Honda also flexed their design muscle with a few cross-genre specials which were part traditional motorcycle and part next generation scooter. Even Suzuki joined the concept game with an in-line six cylinder motorcycle. Alright, now that was more like it.

New BMW GSA premiering at NEC

So, this brings us to the NEC show… The doors open tomorrow and from what I can tell it looks like it will be an exciting week both for the visitors and to those of us looking for our first look at new models. While the bikes “shown” at the Paris show had been known about for at least a month there is one new bike that will be premiered in Birmingham in which photos were only leaked to the world this week: The BMW R1200GS Adventure. As with its predecessor, the R1150GSA, the new R1200GSA is a tweaking of the stock R1200GS to match the modifications most commonly done on the base model. The bike comes with aftermarket hard bags, a set of crash bars, a larger gas tank, longer suspension, improved lighting and a larger capacity alternator. All definite improvements over the base bike and accessories which 90% of GSes have installed after purchase. I was tempted to upgrade my R1150 to an R1200 and the announcement of the new Adventure model makes that temptation much stronger. This is a seriously nice bike.

I also expect Triumph to do something special at the NEC show since it is their home event. I believe the company has already announced all of their new models for 2006 but one can always hope they have been holding something in reserve to unveil to the English public. If they can’t premier a new bike they can at least provide more information on the fantastic looking Scrambler model which was announced a couple of months ago. That bike represents a very bold design statement by Triumph and I hope it pays off enough that they continue to look in new directions to provide exciting bikes that blend their modern technology with their unique motorcycling heritage.

Of the shows that have happened so far the NEC show seems to be the best organized. While all of these expos are designed primarily around generating a buzz for new bikes and building up customer loyalty for the manufacturers the organizers of the show in England have also realized the importance of turning this into a motorcycle extravaganza for the attendees. In addition to the normal booths where companies show their wares the UK exhibition center will also be providing activities including: A track designed for mini-motos. A class room where seminars on suspension, tires and bike maintenance will be presented three times a day. The usual demo area where custom, classic and show bikes will be on display. A track where riders can take classes on Supermoto bikes. An enduro track where riders can sample new model dirt bikes in their intended environment. An entire reproduction of the British Superbike Paddock including race bikes, team transporters and motorcycle racing celebrities. Finally, on the last day of the show, the final MotoGP race of the season will be shown live on a big screen and after the race the Eurosport announcers will do a special uplink to the NEC show to give their behind-the-scenes view of the season.

That is what a motorcycle show should be like! As if that isn’t enough, the NEC show is popular enough in England that various activities during the show are scheduled to be shown on BBC television and some of the presentations are being streamed live on the Internet. Wow, these people really know how to put on a bike show. Even if the number of new bike announcements ends up being confined to just the BMW Adventure the rest of the activities at the NEC already make it the best show of the season.

[image from the Adventure Rider web site.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Your parka, Mr. Ba‘al Zebûb…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

It must be getting a tad chilly down under these days, and I don’t mean in Australia. Honda just did a press release confirming they they are in discussions about supplying engines to Kenny Roberts’ MotoGP team for the 2006 season, assuming that Team KR can find the sponsorship necessary to lease the motors from Big Red. This is surprising for a few reasons…

King Kenny on his Yamaha

First and foremost, is the fact that Honda and Kenny Roberts have never been on particularly friendly turns. Roberts made his reputation as a motorcycle racing demi-god by campaigning Yamahas. First against the might of Harley and Honda in American dirt track, then road racing against Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki in the AMA Formula One and finally winning three consecutive 500 GP titles against Honda and Suzuki. Did you notice the name that was consistent across all those years of racing rivals? Additionally, Roberts has stated publicly for the past eight years that his aim for creating his TeamKR GP bikes was to best the major manufacturers in general and Honda in particular.

On the other side of the coin, Honda is a very traditional Japanese company where loyalty is the highest virtue. When a rider, a manager or a vendor breaks that bond then they are rarely ever invited back into the hallowed halls of Honda. Given Honda’s long history of working against Roberts, not to mention his long history of bad mouthing the Japanese firm, it seems strange from both sides that the two would come to an agreement to partner up in MotoGP.

From Robert’s perspective he may not have a choice. With KTM dissolving their partnership midway through the ‘05 season and with sponsorship money become harder and harder to find, I’m sure Team KR knows they can’t rejuvenate on their old V5 development program in order to build a competitive motor. As I said in a blog write-up this past February, building motors is the downfall of most small motorcycle producers and I’m sure many of the same roadblocks lie before a small race shop as well. The current Honda motor is among the best in the class and I’m sure they have a head start over everyone else in developing their 800cc engine. Having a competitive motor would allow the Roberts gang to cut costs and focus on handling which is where the TeamKR bikes have always excelled.

From Honda’s perspective I think that working with TeamKR, like their partnership with Moriwaki, would accomplish a few things. First, it would keep another team in the MotoGP championship which I’m sure is vitally important to both Honda and the FIM since a world series with only two or three manufacturers involved loses all of its legitimacy. Second, Honda has always promoted the idea of having strong involvement in the GP series by factory supported satellite teams. In the 90s, Honda created a lower cost (but only marginally competitive) 500cc V-twin specifically to provide to satellite teams that couldn’t afford the astronomical leasing costs of the four cylinder bikes. They have done the same in the 250cc class by retiring their NSR GP racer and instead using a more mundane RSW250 which is available to other teams (but using factory kit parts to bump up its performance for star riders like Dani Pedrosa). To that end, having another bike on the grid powered by a Honda motor would help fulfill their dream of moving MotoGP more in the direction of Formula One where companies build engines and teams build chassis.

Okay, so all that makes sense. What’s the rub? Well, if there was ever someone that is not a company mouthpiece it has gotta be King Kenny. That Honda would align themselves with someone that has been so blatantly critical of them for the past three decades is amazing. Additionally, look at the risks involved. If the Honda powered Roberts bike could actually be competitive it would be taking prestige away from Honda. After all, if the TeamKR bike wins then it implies the Honda chassis is flawed. If the bike, like the current Moriwaki project, can’t hang with the big boys then KR is probably the first person who will be critical of the partnership and/or the engine’s capabilities which isn’t going to do Honda’s marketing department any favors. Either way, there is definitely a lose-lose situation brewing.

Another person that will likely be hurt by his is Yamaha. While the relationship between Roberts and his former employer has been tenuous at best over the past few decades there has nevertheless been a continual effort by Yamaha to use Roberts’ successes in their marketing. Lets face it, Yamaha built their entire 50th Anniversary celebration at this year’s USGP around Robert’s GP victories in the early 80s. If Honda starts supplying motors to Kenny’s race team the facade of him bleeding yellow will certainly be broken. I’m not sure who will faint first at the sight of a Honda ad with Roberts in it, the marketing department at Yamaha or the fans who grew up watching bumblebee bikes dominating the AMA series in the 70s.

Don’t get me wrong, as I said when KTM stepped in with motors earlier this year I think it is fantastic to have Kenny Roberts involved in the sport. Not only does his involvement represent the best of the David versus Goliath situation, his personality harks back to a time before riders were hired as mouthpieces for sponsors rather than to win championships. The very issues that make a potential partnership with Honda so unlikely are the same reasons I want to see him in the paddock in ‘06. Still, no matter what the personalities and corporate cultures that are involved, the real trick will be for TeamKR to find the cash required to go racing with *any* motor, Honda or otherwise. Once they’ve overcome that hurdle then we can see if a V5 Honda appears in their chassis.

Once before on this blog I mentioned that Hell must be freezing over and that was when Mick Doohan was let go by Honda. With this latest rumor of a partnership between Roberts and HRC I’m sure the demons are buying ski gear in hades tonight!

[image from the Saro di Bartolo web site.]

Monday, October 24, 2005

Coming of age…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The Internet rumor mill was churning for the past week with a series of reports about what HRC’s General Manager Tsutomu Ishii may or may not have said concerning Honda’s lead riders for 2006. The first report claimed that Ishii-san declared development of the final version of the RC211V would be put squarely upon the shoulders of Nicky Hayden and Marco Melandri. Then, a few days later, a story was released denying any such thing and saying development may yet fall to more experienced riders.

Well, after watching this weekend’s innaugural MotoGP race at the Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey, I’d have to say Honda should have stuck to the initial story. Both Melandri and Hayden have looked spectacular at the past few races and both put on strong performances at Turkey to prove they have Valentino Rossi in their sights for next year. Besides, who else could Honda depend on for bike development next year? The Repsol team, which has always carried the standard for HRC, will be Hayden teamed with 250 star Dani Pedrosa. HRC will be looking to Pedrosa for leadership on the smaller 800cc bike in 2007 but surely they wouldn’t make him their lead rider in his first season in MotoGP. Likewise, Melandri will be joined by Toni Elias on the Gresini team. Elias has improved steadily in 2005 but won’t be ready to upstage his new teammate, especially if Melandri ends the season runner-up to Rossi this year. The Sito Pons team will be Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa. Both riders bring a lot of experience (and sponsorship cash) but based on their results this year it would be suicide to bank on them next year. Finally, Makoto Tamada will likely be back and while Honda always likes to back Japanese riders it would be a political nightmare to give him the development role while passing over faithful Honda teams like Pons or Gresini. I think the first release was correct but probably leaked out too soon (IE: before the contracts with Tamada, Checa and Elias have been inked). Whatever the official line may be right now, expect the eyes and ears of HRC’s engineers to be focused on Hayden and Melandri next year.

But at the start of this weekend all eyes were again on Sete Gibernau. Both Gresini Movistar Honda riders were fast from the first time bikes turned a wheel on the Turkish track and both set the pace in qualifying as well. However, it was the Spaniard who threw down the fastest lap once the sticky tires came out and thus would be starting from the pole position. With Gibernau’s string of crashes and mistakes over the course season the entire motorcycle racing world had to be wondering if Istanbul would finally be where Sete would turn things around.

Marco Melandri in Turkey

Come race day though it was Melandri who was feeling his oats. From the time the lights went green he was on a mission. Melandri lead early but Gibernau made the pass for the lead within a few laps. However, on lap six Sete’s brain fade once again struck as the Spaniard took a tour of a Turkish gravel trap. This gifted the lead to Melandri with Hayden suddenly finding himself fighting for the lead after the Rossi curse struck Gibernau. Rossi, meanwhile, had a horrible start and was working his way past fellow Yamaha riders Colin Edwards and Toni Elias.

As few interesting things happened as the race progressed. First Shinichi Itoh, subbing for the injured Capirossi on the Ducati, was given the meatball flag for a jumped start but then failed to pull in for his penalty. He was eventually black flagged out of the race. Equally interesting, but for a more positive reason, was Chris Vermeulen who ran in the top 10 for most of the race ahead of both Makoto Tamada and Max Biaggi. He made a mistake late in the race which allowed the Japanese rider past but still stayed ahead of Biaggi till the end.

After Gibernau’s mistake on lap six the race turned into a bit of a procession. Rossi got around Hayden but seemed unable, or at least unwilling, to press the issue of the race win against his buddy Melandri. At one point Rossi turned in a record lap (later bested by Melandri on lap 17) and he repeatedly up’ed his pace whenever Hayden turned in a flier so it seemed the Italian was capable of running with Melandri. Nonetheless, all three riders ran for the final eight laps separated by a little over a second each with little change in the gap from lap to lap. Further back, Gibernau recovered from his side trip off the circuit to work back up through the field to a lonely fourth. Carlos Checa was equally alone in fifth, having gapped the chasing Yamahas but not really able to close the distance on the Honda ahead. Toni Elias turned in another impressive ride for a MotoGP rookie in this case nipping Colin Edwards at the line for sixth. Chris Vermeulen brought the Honda home in a credible 11th place.

Going into the last race of the season it looks like the battle for second place in the points has boiled down to Hayden chasing Melandri. The Kentucky Kid will have to pull 10 points on the Italian at the Valencia race in two weeks to claim the runner-up spot and that seems like a tall order given how well Marco is riding. Edwards still has a mathematical shot at second but in order for him to make up 25 points he would have to win the final race and have something bad happen to both Melandri and Hayden. Edwards could be overtaken for fouth by Biaggi since only eight points separate the two but given the Roman’s form of late that ’s not likely to happen. Gibernau needs to make up thirteen points on Mad Max to take fifth which is a distinct possibility if Biaggi has another round plagued by mysterious suspension problems and if Sete can stay out of the Spanish gravel traps.

Based on the races at Qater, Phillip Island and now at Istanbul, it seems clear that Honda does need to throw its development weight behind the youngsters. If anyone is going to beat Rossi in ‘06 it is most likely to be Melandri or Hayden. If not, and with Rossi looking likely to leave the sport in ‘07, then Melandri and Hayden will surely be the stars of the future. I have a lot of respect for the results that Biaggi has brought teams over the years (as well as respect for the sponsorship money Checa has brought those same teams) but these elder statesmen of the paddock should no longer be the leads for HRC’s R&D. Let them race for financial, political or even marketing reasons but its time for Honda to look to the future.

[image from the GPone web site.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

No more Thanksgiving jokes…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Yes, its true. I’m going to avoid the obvious Thanksgiving pun when describing this weekend’s inaugural MotoGP Istanbul event in Turkey. Since this is the first motorcycle event at the track it will be a new experience for crews, riders and fans. Other than some ideas about that track which riders may have gleaned while watching the F1 car races back in August all the racers will be starting with a clean slate.

Istanbul Park Circuit track map

The Istanbul Park Circuit is an interesting one having been designed by the same architect that sculpted the F1 tracks in Sepang and China. Best of all, he placed little odes to famous tracks around the world in his layout so riders will immediately have a little familiarity at certain places on the track. The builders weren’t stingy with the asphalt either as the track is 3.31 miles in length and 40 to 50 feet wide in places. It shows it’s non-European roots by bucking the continental trend and being run in the counter-clockwise direction. This means that left hand curves predominate (of the 14 turns 8 are left-handers). Since no one has yet ridden the track it is hard to predict how the track is going to work out but looking at the map and specs a few things seem to be likely.

First, like Sepang, the track should allow for plenty of passing. There are a wide variety of corners including some slow, tight turns that are proceeded by relatively straight fast sections. This is the norm for F1 tracks, since it is pretty much the only place the cars can make passes, but it makes for good bike racing as well. This is particularly true in three places: The 90 degree left hander after the start/finish straight, the tight left at teh bottom of a hill that is around the halfway point of the lap and, finally, the last corner on the track is a chicane with a downhill entrance and an exit leading onto the front straight. Like Phillip Island, these downhill braking zones will probably be a natural place for a rider to go for the inside line and pick up positions.

These corner descriptions bring up another interesting aspect of the track which is the elevation. The long track length, which includes four different “straights”, and the constant elevation changes mean that the teams better bring their horsepower this weekend. That usually means the Ducatis and Hondas need to be watched since they always show up with extra ponies. Finally, the track width means that multiple lines can be used going into corners and that should help encourage more passing. Since passing is what makes watching a race so exciting that is definitely a good thing.

As I mentioned above, the circuit has a little of everything. Most of the corners flow together but there is a mix of rhythm sections, slow turns, fast bends and straights. Bike setup will be tricky since the front forks have to be stiff to deal with the two hard downhill breaking areas but will then be too hard for the two ultra fast right hand kinks (one exiting the first turn and the second in the middle of the back straight). The bikes need to be stable for the long straights and to deal with the acceleration/deceleration areas but that then means they will be a handful when transitioning side to side in the “s” sections. Riders will have to decide where they want to make their compromises and that means certain people will be fast in some sections and others fast in different parts of the track.

The tire situation will again be one to watch. Since this is a new track neither Michelin nor Bridgestone have any bike set-up information. Both tire companies supply F1 teams so it will be interesting to see which company has the best transfer of information between their cage and bike divisions. It will also be interesting to see just how conservative the two companies are with their selection of tires for the weekend. Since the track has a very fast layout, expect tire wear to be a concern all weekend long. We’ll have to see if either company gambles wrong when it comes to tire life.

Naturally, there is still a lot of interesting news in the paddock. Silly season is coming to a close but there are injuries, replacement riders and job hunters still to be mentioned. After last weekend’s Australian GP, Capirossi and Roberts Jr are nursing wounds and neither will make the show in Turkey. Likewise, Bayliss and Hoffman are still out and neither will likely re-appear on a MotoGP bike this season. Ducati is replacing Capirex with Bridgestone test rider and GP veteran Shinichi Itoh. Jacque is again filling in for Hoffman at Kawasaki and Honda superstar Vermeulen is still subbing for Bayliss. All three of these riders are hoping for GP rides next year though it sounds like their current rides will not be available. Itoh is rumored to be a possibility on the D’Antin Ducati squad, Vermeulen may or may not be heavily in talks with Suzuki and Jacque is begging for something better than another year as Kawasaki’s test rider.

The first question, as always, is whether anyone can beat Rossi. The only time he has really been bested all season was when he had to learn a new circuit at Laguna Seca. The Americans had ridden there before and their 1-2 finishes over Rossi were thus explained away as home field advantage. It will be interesting to see if anyone can win against The Doctor when the track is equally new to everyone. The layout should favor Hayden because of the left hand turns so expect him to be fast. Likewise, Melandri is mostly healed from his foot injury and has returned to his early season form with strong finishes at the past few races. Since he is fighting with Nicky for second overall in the championship Marco will be up front. Checa has also woken up here at the end of the year and will want to close out his career on the Ducati with strong finishes. Expect the Duc’s power to be very helpful when accelerating out of the slow corners in Turkey. Gibernau, who has gone backwards at the last few races, will want to close to his season with Honda with an upswing before trading bikes with Checa for next year.

Then there is Rossi. Ever time a track looks to suit the faster bikes the Italian wonder boy shows that his incredible talent trumps everything. I expect to see Rossi pull some amazing passes at the Istanbul circuit especially into the downhill tight turns. Rossi was given some push back at Phillip Island by the youngsters Hayden and Melandri. I doubt he’ll be able to break away from the faster Hondas in Turkey but expect him to rule the turns.

It should be an exciting race. Fortunately, SpeedTV is showing both the MotoGP and 250GP race this Sunday so I’ll be able to settle in for an afternoon of race watching. I hope you can do the same.

[image from the Istanbul MotoGP web site.]

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Riding buddies #1: Mike Mitten

Author: site admin
Category: My Riding Buddies

For awhile I was doing regular postings based on mangled motorcycle parts I found in my Box of
. Well, I’ve pretty much exhausted the stories about my mechanical screw-ups so that thread is on hold until I break something else. In the meantime, I thought I’d do a few write-ups about some of my riding buddies and our trips together. Today seems like an appropriate day to start this new series of postings since it has been exactly five years since one of my closest friends passed away. This inaugural post of my Riding buddies series then is as much memorial as it is celebration of our friendship and our shared passion for motorcycles.

I first met Mike Mitten when I was in college at Georgia Tech. He and I were both computer geeks and thus haunted the computer labs in the evening and weekends. We were also both pretty unhappy with our situations at the university, both feeling like we lacked freedom and were being run through their system like anonymous degree earning robots, so becoming friends was inevitable. We both pulled the rip cord at the same time during our junior years and opted to drop out and enter the “real world”. We remained friends and met up regularly to eat, drink and trade stories. A few years later, while swapping drinks at an Irish Pub, we got to talking about motorcycles. It turned out we had both become interested in them over the years and we were both shopping for bikes. I eventually bought my old Honda CB400 and shortly thereafter Mike bought a Suzuki GS850.

Mike Mitten checking tire pressure 

At this point in time, Mike and I had known each other for about 7 years. However, it was the bikes that really fueled our friendship. By the time I moved to Colorado in ‘95, I’d ridden almost 50,000 miles on that old CB400 and on the GSXR1100 that followed it. Of those, probably half were ridden with Mike. In the three years we did rides together we covered much of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. We did trips up the Blue Ridge Parkway and halfway across the country to Colorado and New Mexico. We formed a small group of motorcyclist that met up on Tuesday nights at a cafe in Atlanta to talk bikes. We learned to ride together, became mechanics by working on each others bikes and even formed a staggeringly large group of mutual friends all through our common love of motorcycles.

Let me break for a moment and tell a little story about Mike’s first bike. After I bought my little Honda, Mike got the itch to buy a bike really bad. We’d been talking bikes for a few months so once I got one and was actually riding it pretty much sent Mike over the edge. He found an ad in the local paper from a guy selling an ‘82 Suzuki GS850GL that was described as being “used but running”. I went with Mike to look at the bike and I must say I questioned even that optimistic of a description as soon as I saw the thing. The bike had clearly been crashed at high speed but a stout set of crash bars had borne the brunt of the accident. The bars were twisted, the front fender was bent, the turn signals and mirrors on one side were missing and there was a healthy dose of road rash on various parts. However, Mike’s desire to own a bike clearly gave him a case of rose colored glasses and he bought the thing straight away for $250. At the time, I would have sworn the bike wasn’t capable of leaving the Atlanta city limits. The bike needed a lot of work but in the end, that old GS covered about 40,000 miles. Mike rode it to Canada, halfway across the US, up and down the east coast, everywhere in the southeast and God only knows where else. It looked like crap from the day he bought it till the day he sold it but was probably the best $250 he ever spent…

Mike eventually bought a BMW R100GS/PD which was a fantastic upgrade from the old GS. He moved up north to New Jersey for awhile and rode the old Beemer all over New England. As I mentioned above, I moved to Colorado in ‘95 and although we didn’t get a chance to ride together after that we did keep in touch via email and visits.

In 1998, Mike was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He spent over a year going through chemotherapy and was pronounced cancer-free in the summer of 2000. Unfortunately, Mike’s immune system had taken a hell of a beating from the chemo and he ended up catching a cold that September that progressed into serious pneumonia. In October the pneumonia took a turn for the worst and eventually took his life.

My plan is to write stories not just about my riding buddies but to also share some stories from our rides. However, in this case, I’ll just let this entry stand as it is. I know this is a downer for a series of blog entries that are supposed to be about celebrating motorcycles but hey the world isn’t always sunshine and fuzzy bunnies. Mike was someone who was passionate about life, he was a dedicated motorcyclist, he was a great friend and he was a damned fine guy. Its been five years and I still miss him. So is there a motorcycling message from this? Sure. You never know what life is going to throw at you so just get out there and ride.

…Oh, and enjoy the time you spend riding with your friends.

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Its a hard knock life…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Periodically this year I have done blog entries tracking the progress of American Nicky Wimbauer’s season in the World 600 Superstock series (which is a support class for the World Superbike series. Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the last World Superbike race of the season so it is time to give a final update on how Nicky did over the course of the season.

First, his ‘05 results:

Valencia - 8th
Monza - 23th
Silverstone - 13th
Misano - 12th
Brno - 14th
Brands Hatch - 6th
Assen - DNF (crash)
Lausitz - DNF (crash)
Imola - DNS (blown motor)
Magny-Cours - 14th

Final position in 2005 World 600 Superstock championship: 15th

Now I’m sure that fifteenth wasn’t what Nicky hoped for when he started the year but I think it is a quite respectible finish. This was his first full season racing at the world level which means he was going to have to learn the tracks, deal with all the difficulties of travel and fast track his skill improvements to be able to race at that level. He had the advantage of racing for the Moto 1 team which is a very professional privateer outfit running with factory support from Suzuki but the disadvantage of never having raced any of the European riders before while many of them had been racing against each other in their national series for years.

For a little perspective on that 15th place finish keep in mind that there were a total of 37 riders from 11 different countries who scored points during the ten rounds of the ‘05 season. Unlike the 600 Supersport series which has been dominated by Honda the past few years the level of parity among the bikes in 600 STK is amazing. All four of the Japanese manufacturers were represented in the top five positions of the 600 Superstock championship. The series was lead primarily by two riders: Italian Claudio Corti on a Yamaha and Frenchman Yoann Tiberio on a Honda. Only eight points separated the two riders at the end of the season, so it was a thrilling championship to watch.

…but back to the point of this article. Nicky Wimbauer went into the season with high hopes. In the end, I doubt he is happy with his performance but as a somewhat neutral outsider I think that he did well. He was consistent with top fifteen finishes in ever race were he wasn’t taken out by another rider or didn’t have mechanical problems. He learned all the tracks and was able to improve his lap times over the course of each weekend. He showed everyone that he was a responsible rider with talent and an desire to win.

The bike after the crash at Assen

With all that said, I think Nicky now has to focus on what to improve next. I’ll be the first to admit that luck plays a big part in racing but I also think a rider sometime has to made his own luck. Wimbauer, like Nicky Hayden during the first two years of his MotoGP career, has been struggling with qualifying. There is a huge amount of pressure when racing against the clock. The mental and physical effort required to turn a single fast lap during a qualifying sessions is intense. Still, three of Nicky’s DNFs have been because of first turn incidents where he has been taken out by another rider. If Nicky can improve his qualifying then he’ll be starting further up the grid and thus lessening the chance that a mistake by another rider is going to affect him. Getting knocked down by someone else’s crash is bad luck. Qualifying well enough that you aren’t there to get hit when a crash happens is making your own luck. Job one for next year is to improve in that regard.

It hasn’t been announced yet whether Nicky will have a ride with Moto 1 next year. If not, I hope that some team owner is willing to give him another shot in one of the world roadrace series. He has shown that he is willing to take on challenges head first and that he’s got the raw talent of a champion. I’m confident that he’ll be given another chance to show off those skills some more in ‘06.

Oh and in case you are just checking in, you can read my past postings about Nicky Wimbauer here:

December of ‘04 - pre-season preview

April of ‘05 - First race review

August of ‘05 - mid-season review

[image from the Nicky Wimbauer web site.]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Show us what you\’ve got…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Last month I did a long posting announcing the start of the biennial Paris Motorcycle Show. Well, I’ll have to say that based on the press releases I read and the reports on various web sites I was pretty disappointed with the show. There are two things that I depend on to buoy my sagging spirits as the riding season draws to a snowy close and race series one by one crown their champions for the year.

The first is silly season. That crazy time of the year when riders, sponsors, team managers, lawyers and journalists all converge in a feeding frenzy of rumors, second guesses and wild hunches. For a few short months, before the cold of the Colorado mountains freezes my brain cells together, my imagination can run free with thoughts of dream teams and undiscovered young talent.

The second are the new bike announcements that at first trickle and then flood from the various manufacturers as each tires to upstage the next with innovative ideas, bold styling, technological breakthroughs and the continual game of performance oneupsmanship. Retro chic, futuristic concepts, cross genre blending and narrowly focus designs all shine as everyone tries to find the next big thing.

So I place a lot of expectations on the shoulders of the bike manufacturers to really surprise me each year and that holds doubly true for something as big as the Paris Motorcycle Show. I mean, they only bother to crank the thing up every other year so surely it isn’t unrealistic to expect something earth shaking when they open the doors. Well, this year the motorcycle makers apparently decided not to play along. Most of the major new bike announcements, like those for the Kawasaki ZX-14R, the Yamaha R1LE, the Aprilia SVX and the Triumph Scrambler, were shown to the public in early September a few weeks before the first show off the year. A few new bikes were announced, like the very interesting Yamaha MT series of roadsters and the awesome custom KTM 990 SuperDuke RR but on the whole there were disappointingly few surprises to be found at the Paris show. Even the bike declared “Best in show”, the BMW HP2, was a bike that was announced almost six months earlier. Its an interesting bike but it was old news by the time it hit the spotlight in France.

Suzuki Stratosphere concept bike

Well, ever the optimist, I’m now pinning my hopes of new bike excitement on this coming weekend’s Tokyo Motor Show. The Big Four have already announced most of their big production bikes but Honda and Yamaha always seem to pull something special out of their collective R&D hats when the Tokyo Motor Show rolls around. It is happening earlier this year than last and thus it gives the Japanese companies a chance to showcase their concept bikes on home soil rather than jumping the gun with a display at one of the European shows that historically have happened earlier in the year.

Scooters are huge in Japan and thus they will be the focus of most of the marketing buzz at the Tokyo show. Honda, intent on flipping that statement by putting a huge scooter in Japan is set to release the 900cc E4-01 scooter this weekend. Imagine putting a CBR motor into a scooter chassis! With the low center of gravity and long wheel base the thing could be a beast in acceleration. Yamaha has already leaked photos of a whole line of bizarre scooters including the hybrid powered bizarre Gen-Ryu that looks like something out of a 1950s sci-fi comic book. They also have a fuel cell scooter, an electric scooter and a two wheel drive scooter. See a trend here? But the pre-show news indicates that step-thrus won’t be the only cool bikes on display. Suzuki is supposedly going to show a production ready in-line six cylinder bike styled like an early 80s Katana. Talk about a bold statement!

Hopefully the news that comes out of Tokyo this weekend will entertain me in a way that the Paris show couldn’t quite manage. I’m all for controversial bikes…nothing gets the conversations going quite as fast as an ugly bike. It is a fascinating time of year and I love reading about it whether the bikes are making a fashion statement, a technology statement, a performance statement or just a strange statement. Viva la Tokyo!

[image from the Riding Sun web site.]