Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January \’06 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I thought that things would be so slow during the winter that I wouldn’t have enough unmentioned news items each month to do my monthly “Odds and Ends” postings. However, I have slacked off so much in my posting schedule that I now find it is the last day of January and there is a long list of things that I’d intended to talk about this month. So here is is, a January edition of the “Odds and Ends” postings.

The theme of this entry is going to be “dirty movies”. Sorry, this isn’t a review of porn but instead the topics here are motorcycle movies and off-road racing. I’ll wait to talk about the MotoGP, World Superbike and AMA news in postings in mid-February (once I get back from Costa Rica). I haven’t been ignoring everything that is going on in the racing world, just haven’t had the time yet to talk about them in depth…its coming!

World's Fastest Indian promo shot

First up in the movie category has to be The World’s Fastest Indian. In the September ‘05 Odds and Ends posting I mentioned that this movie had been released in New Zealand but that it probably wouldn’t be coming to the US. Well, I’m happy to say that I was wrong and that the movie is now starting a national release this coming Friday, February 3rd. Given that the last motorcycle related movies to make it to the big screen were Torque and Biker Boyz, I think it is fantastic that a film is being shown that doesn’t make all motorcyclists look like the Las Vegas Extremes crew. From the movie trailer and the clips I’ve seen it looks like Anthony Hopkins does a great job with his portrayal of New Zealand bike builder Bert Munro. The plot should ring true to many riders since it is the story of one rider’s obsession with his bike and his desire to push the boundaries of speed. The supporting actor in the movie is Munro’s 1920s Indian motorcycle which Munro modified over a 25 year period into a Bonneville Salt Flats land speed bike. A fascinating story, a great actor and lot of cool motorcycle images. Alright, bikers, get out there and support this movie!

If you read the above statement criticizing the last motorcycle movies to make the big screen and thought I’d forgotten Dust to Glory, I didn’t. I just didn’t include it because it is technically only half about motorcycles since it covers the entire Baja 1000, cages and all. However, I recently bought the DVD and loved it. It is obvious that Dana Brown, like his father, has a soft spot for motorcycles and that he has a real talent for documenting the excitement of motorcycle racing. If you haven’t seen Dust to Glory, make sure you buy, rent or borrow it. It will have you talking about Mouse McCoy with your co-workers and talking about getting some Mexican dirt on your dual sport bike with your riding buddies.

Lets step away from the big screen now and dive into the DVD offerings. I recently borrowed Bang Production’s Enduro at Erzberg DVD from by buddy MikeDz and thought it was amazing. The Rodeo-X Enduro at the Iron Giant in Erzberg, Austria is won of the mind-bogglingly difficult races that was won by Brit David Knight in ‘05. While the focus of the movie is primarily on Travis Pastrana, it is the racing that really amazes (though Pastrana’s attempted back flip in the middle of a hill climb is pretty impressive as well). I think the best part of the movie is actually one of the pieces of bonus footage: a five minute long aerial shot from a helicopter following Knight on his final decent of the mountain. I’ll be buying a copy of this for my DVD collection.

One thing I’ve already added to my DVD shelf is the Bruce Brown’s Moto Classics boxed set. Unlike his previous releases, which were collections of unused film from the ‘On Any Sunday” film reels, this new boxed set is actually a set of three DVDs covering four races that Bruce Brown taped for ABC’s Wild World of Sports in the 60s: The 1968 Baja 1000, a 1967 Hare & Hound race through the Mojave desert, the 1967 Hopetown Classic and the 1970 Ascot TT. If you’re a fan of motorcycle history this is a really enjoyable set of DVDs to watch. I was fortunate enough to get them the weekend I came down with the flu so I spent a weekend glued to the TV (and glued to a box of lotion Puffs tissue). This is real “when men were men” stuff…no suspension, no brakes, unreliable motorcycles and tough courses. Some of the giants of our sport were caught on these tapes like Joel Robert, Roger de Coster, Mert Lawwill, Skip vanLeeuwen and J.N. Roberts. It almost makes we want to own an old Triumph but the DVD doesn’t have dodgy electrics and doesn’t strain your back when you pick it up.

Finally, when I get around to buying the Enduro at Erzberg DVD, I’ll also be buying a copy of Troy Lee Design’s 2 Laps 2 Go. I haven’t seen this one yet but I’m a big fan of Supermoto racing and I enjoyed the races during the 2004 season that I saw and I think Jeff Ward is a demi-god for winning the championship that year. The DVD should offer plenty of entertainment even if it just follows Ward backing his Honda into every corner at every track.

Alright, leaving the boob tube behind, let me get on to talking about the off-road racing that I mentioned at the start…the dirt part of the dirty movie theme.

The winner of the Enduro at Erzberg was the 2005 off-road superstar David Knight. The guy won Erzberg, won at the 2005 ISDE, won the 2005 World Enduro 3 Championship, won the AMA EnduroCross and cleaned up at the Red Bull Last Man Standing event. So how does a guy with that kind of record follow up? Well, by winning everything he enters in 2006, of course. The enduro giant, both figuratively and literally, won the UK’s Tough One event, a two hour extreme hare scrambles race split between daylight and nighttime. As the reigning champ from ‘05, Knight was forced to penalize himself with a self-selected handicap at the start of the race. He chose to start by having to sprint 1/4 mile to his bike when the green flag flew, putting him at the back of the 30 rider deep field in the Premier class. Yet despite his deficit, he still managed to lap the entire field including not only the Premier class but while also having to work his way past 30 Expert and 30 Clubman riders. The man is an animal.

Not content to rest on his laurels from the Tough One, Knight then headed over to Austria to compete in the Rodex-X indoor arena enduro that is part of the Die Bike Austrian Motorcycle show. As a quick aside, remember back in December when I was complaining about how lame the American motorcycle show is compared to the ones held in Europe? Consider this indoor enduro another data point to back that assertion up. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the enduro… Despite being held indoors the event is run in sub-zero temperatures and has a difficult man made terrain course like the one recently seen in the AMA EuduroCross. Naturally, Knight won both races but added another twist to impress the fans by finishing over two laps ahead of his nearest competitor. If anyone is placing best on the ‘06 World Enduro series, I think you better be putting that money on Knight. Oh, and if SpeedTV is considering whether they should continue showing the World Enduro races like they did in 2005, consider this a big vote “yes”.

Thats it for this month.

[image from the Indian Motorbikes web site.]

Monday, January 30, 2006

January dates for \’06…

Author: site admin
Category: Days Of The Month

For this year I’ve decided to add a monthly blog entry mentioning some interesting motorcycle related dates that will be happening each month. Unfortunately, I was such a slacker during January that I’m just now getting around to posting it. I’ll try to be more prompt with the February posting.

Phil Read back when men were men

Phil Read - born 1/1/38 - This Brit grew up to become one of the greatest roadracers in history. He rode for Yamaha in the late 60s winning six championships in the 125 and 250GP classes. In 1973 he moved to the primer 500cc class with the factory MV Agusta team. He then promptly won two championships there in 1973 and 1974. Perhaps one sign of how great he was as a GP racer is that he is one of only three riders to have won world championships in three different Grand Prix classes. The other two are Mike Hailwood and Valentino Rossi. In addition to his GP victories Read also won eight Isle of Man TTs. Despite his 67 years of age, he continues to race vintages races in England.

Kel Carruthers - born 1/3/37 - Although Carruthers has a distinguished career as a racef, among other things he was the 1969 250GP World Champion, he is probably best remembered for his role as the team manager and mentor for Kenny Roberts. The Australian rider raced, and achieved victory, throughout the 1960s in the World 250GP class, at the Isle of Man TT and in AMA road racing here in America. However, in 1973 he was hired by Yamaha to run their US road racing team and he immediately began to coach a young Kenny Roberts. This continued into the 80s where Carruthers guided Roberts to three 500cc World Championships. Kel Carruthers was at the USGP at Laguna Seca this past summer showing that he still maintains a connection to the motorcycle racing community.

Craig Jones - born 1/16/85 - This young British rider will be making his World Superbike debut this year on the Foggy Petronas FP1. However, he is not an unknown on the other side of the pond, as he has steadily risen through the ranks of the British championship and finished up the 2005 season in second place in the dog eat dog world of Supersport racing. Sadly, I doubt the Foggy bike will allow him to showcase his potential but it will give him an opportunity to learn the tracks and continue to develop as a racer.

Ivan Clementi - born 1/18/75 - Clementi is one of the multitude of Italian privateers who have been racing the World Superbike series for the past few years. His first year in WSBK was in 2002 aboard a privateer Kawasaki. He has continued to race in the series since then usually on Kawasakis but he did spent part of the 2005 season aboard a privateer Ducati. As with most non-factory riders, the hallmark of his career thus far has been struggling to earn a top ten finish. His best finish to date has been a 7th at Assen in 2003. For 2006 he will continue in World Superbike riding a privateer Ducati for Team Pedercini.

Aaron Slight - born 1/19/66 - This New Zealand rider was a mainstay of the World Superbike championship for most of the 90s and was a perennial front runner throughout his career. In fact, my favorite stat from Slight’s career is that he finished in the top three of the championship every year between 1993 and 1999 and was runner up two of those times in ‘96 and ‘98. He is perhaps best defined by his rivals which include World Superbike greats like Troy Corser, Carl Fogarty, Scott Russell and Colin Edwards. Slighty retired from racing in 2000 after having a brain aneurism and is now racing cars in New Zealand.

Gary Nixon - born 1/25/38 - Nixon is one of the legends of AMA racing. He was a front runner in both dirt track and road racing throughout the ’60s. He won the AMA Grand National championship in 1967 for Triumph, back when earning that meant winning on dirt and pavement. He also raced internationally during his careering including winning the famous 1976 Formula 750 World Championship for Kawasaki before a controversial decision by the FIM nullified the points from one of the races and dropped him back to second in points. He retired from professional racing soon after. However, he continues to race vintage bikes with AHRMA and to tutor up-and-coming riders including MotoGP star Nicky Hayden.

Dale Quarterley - born 1/25/60 - Quarterley is probably the most successful and most popular privateer racer the AMA Superbike series has ever seen. He came up through the ranks of the AMA racing in the support classes. He then stepped to race Kawasakis and Ducatis in Superbike from 1989 until 1995 reaching two important high water marks . First, he is the last privateer to have won an AMA Superbike race, winning at Mid-Ohio in 1993. Second, he ended the 1993 season in second place in the championship, another feat which has not been repeated by a privateer since then. However, I think he will be best remembered for his incredible ability as a privateer to bring in outside sponsorship when even the factory teams struggled to do this. I thus primarily remember him for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Kawasaki ZX-7RR from the 1993 season. He has spent the last half decade racing NASCAR stock cars.

Bubba Shobert - born 1/29/61 - Shobert was another in the incredible string of multi-talented American racers to rise to fame in the 1980s. He was a three time AMA Grand National Dirt Track Champion riding for Team Honda between 1985 and 1987 and then earned the 1988 AMA Superbike Championship riding a Honda VFR750. In 1989, Shobert followed the path to Grand Prix which had been blazed by other American racers such as Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey. Sadly, the famous Kevin Magee post-race burnout accident at the 1989 Laguna Seca GP resulted in severe head injuries. Thankfully, he recovered but those injuries ended his career as motorcycle racer. He now lives in Texas running his family’s jerky business.

Fabien Foret - born 1/29/73 - This French rider has campaigned the World Superbike series for the past four years, winning that title in 2002 for the Ten Kate Honda team. He was fourth in the 2005 WSS season but is being promoted to World Supebike in 2006 with the Alstare Corona Suzuki team. If you don’t remember him for his World Superbike championship then perhaps you remember him for his habit of continually looking behind him while racing…a trait that has lost him a few races over the past few years.

Davide Tardozzi - born 1/30/59 - This Italian rider raced Bimotas during the infancy of the World Superbike series in 1988 and 1989. However, reliability problems with the bike kept him from winning a championship either year. He then switched to privateer Ducati’s for 1990 and 1991, again without championship success. In 1992, he was hired as the Ducati test rider and then promoted to Ducati Factory Team Manager in 1993. He has since guided the Italian company to 11 Manufacturer’s Championships and 8 Rider’s Championship. He will again be managing the factory Xerox Ducati team this coming season with riders Troy Bayliss and Lorenzo Lanzi.

Finally, it was 1/22/98 when AMA dirt track champ Ricky Graham died in fire at his home. The story of Graham’s meteoric rise to fame as an American dirt tracker in the early 80s is bookended by a sad story of depression and an attempted comeback in the 90s. Graham’s death was a tragedy as it appeared in 1989 that he was finally beginning to triumph over some of the demons he had been fighting for over a decade.

Alright, that’s it for my first attempt at a monthly calendar of motorcycle related dates. If you know of an interesting date in the month of January let me know and I’ll add it to my database os that I can mention it next year.

[image from the | RSS Feed | TechnoLinks | Comments (0)
TagIt! in: Spurl Furl

Friday, January 27, 2006

The devil is in the details…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

There is an old proverb that says “The devil is in the details”. The idea is that no matter how good the overall plan the minor things are what make or break any project. Well, this past week the Sepang track held the first tests of the year for the MotoGP teams and for many the success or failure of their upcoming race season will be determined in these next couple of tests. For today’s blog entry I’ll be talking about the teams and what some of those devilish details may be for each of them.

First up, lets look at the various Honda teams. The factory Repsol Honda team had a busy test program for Sepang. Primarily, they have to realign the development of their 2006 RC211V behind their new lead rider, Nicky Hayden, after focusing on Max Biaggi last season. Since Max and Nicky have dramatically different riding styles this means that the Honda engineers may have had to make dramatic changes to their bike between ‘05 and ‘06. This will be Hayden’s first time developing a MotoGP bike so he will have to learn quickly how to hone in on problems so that he can provide accurate feedback to the engineers after just a few laps. He will have to quickly and efficiently go through all the myriad options for the new bike to find the best base configuration. Then he can start the fine adjustments necessary to optimize the package. If he picks the wrong path this week he will probably be chasing his tail on setup all season long.

Next on the Repsol team’s list was the continuing effort to get MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa up to speed on the bigger four stroke after he spent the past two seasons dominating the 250GP series. The Spaniard’s small physical stature, as well as his lower muscular strength, means that the bike has to be adapted to fit him and Pedrosa has to develop the endurance needed to ride the bigger bike. Dani’s crew has to get the bike adjusted to match the rider, then get the rider up to speed on the bike and only then can they start to develop the combination of the two to get ready for the upcoming season.

The satellite Honda teams have their own challenges. The Konica Minolta Team has the biggest challenge because they haven’t made either of the official MotoGP tests since the last race of ‘05 and have thus not even started their development program. Their absence is probably due to the costs required to travel to and take part in these tests but their chance of being competitive in ‘06 are dramatically reduced by missing these tests. This is a real pity because rider Makoto Tamada seems capable of running up front but will likely be unable to do so until the team has had a chance to find the correct setup for his new model RC211V…something that is particularly difficult to do during the race season.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Team Gresini rider Marco Melandri. Like Hayden, Melandri is leading development of his team’s bikes and is returning to a team as the top rider. He’ll have the support of his team but will also have the added pressure of stepping into a lead development role after being the “B” rider behind Sete Gibernau in ‘05. Its unclear how soon Melandri will get an ‘06 RC211V so he could be doing his Sepang test work with a final model of the ‘05 bike or maybe he is already working with an ‘06 model. His new teammate, Toni Elias, on the other hand is having to learn a new bike having moved from Yamaha to Honda this year. In Elias’ favor is that he’s working with the same sponsor, Fortuna, from ‘05 while the rest of Team Gresini have to learn the responsibilities that come with representing a new company.

Finally, there is the smallest and newest Honda satellite team, Lucio Cechinello’s new MotoGP squad with rider Casey Stoner. Stoner has the advantage of having ridden a RC211V at the test last November but at that time it was with the now defunct Pons team. Now Stoner has to work out the kinks with a different team while also adapting to the big MotoGP bikes after a few seasons racing with Pedrosa in the 250 two stroke class. Fortunately, he raced for Cechinello’s team in 250s so he already knows his crew but it appears sponsor Carrera isn’t making the leap to the premier class so who knows who much money the team will have to support their ‘06 effort.

Kenny Roberts Jr testing at Sepang

As long as I’m talking about Honda, I should also talk about Kenny Roberts, Sr’s TeamKR. After nearly withdrawing from MotoGP at the end of last year they are back for this season with a Honda motor in their custom made frame. Kenny Roberts, Jr was finally confirmed as their rider and was riding the new KR211V at Sepang. The big devil for them is adapting their chassis to the Honda motor in the short amount of time between the end of the previous season and the start of the next one. Based on their comments after this week’s test it appear their current frame is too stiff and this means the bike isn’t handling as well when leaned over as will be required to be competitive. They will have a new frame for the next test but it won’t have any alterations based on their Sepang tests, just an alternate geometry based on their initial designs from last Fall. Time is working against the TeamKR folks to get in enough testing to fully develop their new bike before the first race of the season. Worse yet, they can’t really test tires or suspension or engine electronics until they have the frame dialed in.

In this same boat is the Suzuki team. John Hopkins as been tasked with leading the GSV-R development which appears to be all, or at least mostly, new for ‘06. This means he’ll have to find the direction needed to guide development of a new bike, as opposed to working off an iterative design like Hayden is doing with the Honda. On the positive side, the old Suzuki seemed to have serious power problems so hopefully Hopper is working with a better motor this time around. Rumors have it that Suzuki may be trying out pneumatic valves and enhanced electronics, in addition to the normal chassis adjustments, exhaust configurations, suspension components and tires so there will be plenty of options to work through. On the negative side, he’ll be somewhat alone in this engineering work since his teammate Chris Vermeulen is a MotoGP rookie who is still trying to come up to speed on riding such a powerful bike. Fortunately, Suzuki test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi was on hand at Sepang to help out the two factory riders.

Kawasaki is a step ahead of Suzuki by working with an evolutionary design of their ZX-RR Ninja and also by having returning rider Shinya Nakano as their lead rider. On the other hand, they appear to be trying out another variation of the big bang firing order for their motor which means less peak power and more stress on the motor. Based on Kawasaki’s improvement the past two seasons it would appear that Nakano is an excellent development rider so they are probably in good hands in this regard. His teammate, on the other hand, is MotoGP rookie Randy de Puniet who will be learning to ride the big Kwack at these initial tests. Like Suzuki, this means that all the testing is dependent on a single rider. They are racing to speed up their development with the front running manufacturers while being hampered with the smallest R&D budget of the bunch and only minor sponsorship. Money is definitely the detail they have to overcome.

Even further down the testing path is the factory Yamaha team. They have two returning riders, a championship winning bike with only evolutionary improvements, an experienced crew and a big money sponsor behind them. The only things waiting to trip up this team will be of their own making. For Valentino Rossi, this is likely to be over confidence. It seems unlikely that Rossi would underestimate his opponents but given his apparent focus on testing Formula One cars in ‘06 it is possible that he’ll lose some of his focus. The only reason I think he would undertake these driving tests are because he feels certain that he can win in MotoGP while also learning a new form of racing. It is possible, however improbable, that this could finally be the chink his armor that his rivals have needed for the past five years. For his teammate, Colin Edwards, it will be finding the confidence to perform at his peak while being in the shadow of his spectacular teammate. The path to gaining this confidence took a small hit at Sepang when Edwards crashed during testing and his M1 burst into flames. The other impediment to gaining this confidence is knowing that development is based primarily on Rossi’s, rather than Edwards’ feedback, so the Texan will effectively be riding someone else’s bike. The claim as always been that Edwards and Rossi have similar riding styles so perhaps this year’s test results will finally prove or disprove that assertion. The only other trap waiting to catch the Yamaha team is the impending legal battle with Altadis over the claimed breech of the Gauloises agreement. if the litigation goes bad for the Japanese company they may end up paying significant penalties to their ex-sponsor. This is money badly needed to pay Rossi’s extravagant salary, development costs of the 800cc bike for ‘07 and to keep the current M1 successful in 2006.

Unlike the factory team, the only satellite Yamaha team this season is starting out with a lot of obvious pre-season challenges to overcome. First, the Herve Poncharal lead Tech 3 team is still working out how many riders they will have. At the moment, Brit James Ellison is confirmed but rumors are swirling about that Carlos Checa may be added before the next test at Phillip Island. Second, if Checa is added it is likely that they will then have to deal with having two different tire manufacturers supplying their team since Ellison is sponsored by Dunlop while Checa has a long standing association with Michelin. Third, the team is still looking for sponsorship after being abandoned by Fortuna during the Rossi-Gauloises fiasco. So with a new rider, new tires and no money the team will have to develop their bike for the upcoming season while also being distracted with rider, tire and sponsorship negotiations. It is not even the little details that will hamper these guys it is the overall chaos of their big plan.

With that depressing situation out of the way lets cheer up a bit by looking at the Ducati team. Lead rider Loris Capirossi is back and helping develop this sixth generation of the Desmosedici MotoGP bike. In addition, he has been teamed with star rider Sete Gibernau who has previous experience at developing bikes from his ‘05 stint with Team Gresini. Both racers have been turning fast lap times and both ended the Sepang test with bragging rights as the top two riders. The modifications to last year’s GP5 model seem to have again improved the Duck’s handling while maintaining it’s class leading power output. It also appears that Ducati learned from their ‘05 pre-season tests mistakes where a dramatically new slipper clutch/engine management system was forced on the riders and resulted in crashes and injuries. These in turn reduced testing time and eroded rider confidence in the bikes. Perhaps Ducati’s devil’s were washed out last year and they have a solid plan in place for this one.

Or perhaps they have just shoved those vexing details down to their satellite team D’Antin Ducati. Where the factory team is set with experienced riders and a strong sponsor, the D’Antin team is struggling. They recently signed ex-Kawasaki rider Alex Hoffman and recent World Superbike racer Jose Luis Cardoso as riders but both missed the first test back in November. Neither have raced a Ducati before, though Cardoso has raced for D’Antin in the past and Hoffman did race in MotoGP last year. The two riders will have to come up to speed on the customer GP6 Duc before they can begin to adjust the bike to try to improve their lap times. What the team does have going for it is an even closer level of cooperation with the Ducati factory compared to last year and a current version of the bike, rather than the one generation old version they have raced in the past. What they are going to be hampered by is the lack of sponsorship and thus the costs associated with both testing and racing.

Finally, the underdog of the season is the WCM-Bimota team who, like the Konica Minolta team, didn’t have the funding to run the pre-season tests. They are, in fact, at an even greater disadvantage because they are only a couple of months away from the first race and don’t yet have any signed riders or a running motorcycle. The current rumors are the Brit veteran Jeremy McWilliams and American GP rookie Jason Perez will be riding their bike and it is assumed they will be running a KTM powered bike that is somehow badged as a Bimota. However, until they show up for the first race of the year I think that their participation, as well as certainly their competitiveness, will be very much in question.

Let me say one more word about how the devil is in the details during testing. It is always risky to make assumptions about a team or rider’s preparedness based on the lap times given for a test. On the one hand, you never know when the rider is testing components and when they are focusing on a fast lap. Likewise, you never know when they are or aren’t throwing down fast laps with super sticky qualifying tires as opposed to testing at race pace on harder tires. However, there are two bits of data that are very useful and that is seeing all the lap times and the number of consecutive laps run throughout the entire test. Unfortunately, this data isn’t generally available and, if it is, it may come from the teams rather than an unbiased third party like the FIM and thus be of questionable accuracy. Only if we could see the times that riders have run consistently and the average lap times over a simulation of race distance would we be able to make some real predictions about the upcoming season.

However, the one abstraction of this that is available is to at least see who consistently shows up at the top of the lap charts that are released since those riders are the ones most likely to be doing their test and development work at a fast enough pace to be helpful. For example, the Ducati riders were fast the second and third days of the test. It is possible that this was due to their access to the spectacular Bridgestone qualifying tires but it is also likely that they wouldn’t have wasted the time on qualifying tires unless they felt their setup was pretty solid. If not, they would likely have continued to focus on their development work by running race simulations on race compound tires.

In contrast, a rider like Kenny Roberts Jr is consistently near the bottom of the lap time charts because he is currently running about three seconds off the pace of the front runners. Any development he does on the bike right now, aside from collecting data on their frame stiffness issue, is unlikely to be useful later because the frame, suspension and tires will all react differently when dealing with the stresses created when running a faster pace. The sooner the frame is fixed, and no longer holding KRJR back, the sooner he can push up the lap times and start developing the bike at the speed it needs to run to be at the front.

Like the past few seasons, at this stage of testing it looks like the factory Ducati, Honda and Yamaha teams have done the best job of exorcising their pre-season demons. It looks like Gresini Honda are well positioned and that Kawasaki is again well placed to improve. Less clear is the situation at Suzuki though it does appear they are putting forth their strongest effort yet. Finally, it looks like the others are going to be struggling throughout pre-season testing and probably into the early part of the ‘06 season.

[image from the Yahoo Sports UK web site.]

Monday, January 23, 2006

Aged like fine wine…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

So I, like most of the official motorcycle press, spent a lot of time last year heralding the new guys that were joining the sport of bike racing. Guys like James Stewart, Ben Spies, Max Neukirchner, and Marco Melandri got more than their fair share of bits and bytes at the beginning of the season. However, as it turns out, 2005 was a good year to be one of the old folks. Despite many current racers being considered near retirement age, the old guys generally stuck it to the youngsters last year. What is really amazing is that this trend was pretty consistent across all disciplines of motorcycle racing.

First off, the sports of Supercross and Motocross have always been considered a young man’s sport. They are two of the most physically intensive sports in the world and the combination of jumps, ruts and crashes can exact a harsh toll on the body. The top news story at the beginning of the 2005 AMA Supercross season was the 19 year old sensation James Stewart. However, at the end of the season, it was the seasoned veteran Ricky Carmichael, at 25 years old, who swept both premier AMA Supercross and Motocross classes. In SX, 23 year old Chad Reed was second overall but the runner-up in the outdoor series was Kevin Windham who is two years older than Carmichael. Impressive stuff for guys on the second half of their twenties but the real surprises are found just a little further down the championship points listing.

As I pointed out in a blog posting last season, old timer Mike Larocco embarrassed most of the factory teams by bringing his privateer Honda home in 5th place in championship. Not bad for a then 33 year old. Even 34 year old Jeremy McGrath turned in some strong riders in his one-off appearances in ‘05, showing that the King of Supercross can still teach the youngsters a thing or two.

John Dowd at Washougal

Want to really blow your mind? Take a look at the AMA Motocross points table for 2005. Despite competing in the most physically demanding form of dirt bike racing, 40 year old John Dowd managed to snag 7th overall in the AMA Motocross division aboard his privateer Suzuki! This guy was born in 1965, turned pro in 1988 and was the 1998 West Coast 125cc Supercross Championship…the year Dowd start racing in the Pro ranks James Bubba Stewart was two years old and Chad Reed had just turned six. For a little perspective, remember that Reed finished the ‘05 season in 8th, 15 points *behind* Dowd, while Stewart finished up in 12th a staggering 135 points down on the vet. Lets all say it together now…”JD is the man!”

Alright, so the more experienced riders did well in the premier class. Surely the young guys made their mark in the entry level 125 classes. I mean, there has to be a whole hoard of teenagers out there just waiting for their chance to race with the twenty-somethings, right? Well, sorry to disappoint but the stats don’t bare that out either. The 125 champs, Grant Langton (1st in 125 SX East and 4th in 125 MX) and Ivan Tedesco (1st in SX West and 1st in 125 MX), are both already in their twenties. Langston was 23 last year and and Tedesco a year older. Not exactly ready to hand up their riding boots but not representative of a youth movement either.

Fortunately, things in the dirt world aren’t totally bleak. James Stewart looks to have turned around a miserable ‘05 and is riding strong this year and starting to live up to the hype. The teenage Alessi brothers seemed to have knocked the edge off their egos and are steadily improving as riders. Ryan Sipes, who had some strong showings in the 125 class last season, is just barely breaking the twenty mark. The two Ryans, Villopoto and Mills, are still in their teens and both are riding well so far in this year’s Supercross Lites class. Hopefully these are the guys that can step it up and run with the grey hairs. Frankly, I think they will have to if they want to justify their getting a factory ride in the year couple of years.

Okay, lets shift gears now and look at my personal favorite: Road racing. Its generally understood that road racing is an environment where older and more experienced riders can be competitive against the young up-and-comers. Still, the stats for 2005 have to be a little disappointing for the folks that are looking to the younger generation for the next big thing. Of the four championships crowned in the AMA series, three of them went to riders who are in their thirties. Matt Mladin won his *sixth* AMA Superbike title while at the same time celebrating birthday number 33. His 32 year old teammate Aaron Yates topped the ultra-competitive Superstock class to put a third championship trophy on his mantle. Miguel Duhamel, the elder statesman of the AMA series, brought home his seventh AMA title by winning the Formula Xtreme class despite being just a couple years shy of forty. Even Tommy Hayden, the relative spring chicken of the 2005 AMA champions, isn’t exactly representing the youth movement since he was 27 when he sewed up his second straight AMA Supersport title. This trend towards old riders is generally true across the entire AMA Superbike paddock with only a handful of riders under the drinking age and all of them eligible to vote.

Okay, lets look a little further afield. 2005 World Superbike Champ Troy Corser was 34 when he lofted the title trophy last summer. In fact, the WSBK paddock has more riders over the age of 25 than they have riders under that age and the series appear to be skewing their average even higher in 2006 with ex-GP castaways like Alex Barros, Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi rumored to be racing there. It is nearing the point where WSBK teams should drop sponsorship from youth oriented companies like Corona or Koji and switch over to old foggie brands like Geritol and Metamucil.

Alright, since I mentioned the topic of MotoGP up there I’ll admit that things are looking better in the Grand Prix paddock. While seven time World Champ and 2005 title winner Valentino Rossi isn’t exactly a rookie at 26 he’s also a decade years younger than some of his competitors were in ‘05. Things really start to look up when checking the stats of second place Marco Melandri (23) and third place Nicky Hayden (24). The outlook is even brighter when checking the age of the new comers to MotoGP for ‘06 as Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen are all under 25. Finally, things are downright heartening in the 250 and 125 classes were the average age on the podium is regularly under 20.

Alright, how about a couple more quick examples of how old age and experience is overcoming the exuberance of youth? In the world of AMA Flat track racing, it has been Chris Carr who has dominated for the past half decade. The younger riders in series look up to him as a mentor and, at 37, its a good thing they do because he is old enough to be their father.

Finally, as a sign of respect, I’ve saved the oldest for last. Logic would dictate that a rider that is 44 years of age shouldn’t be able to win at anything in competitive motorcycle racing. Yet the legendary Jeff Ward did just that in 2004 by tying up the premier class in the AMA Supermoto series and it was only a stalled bike in the final round that prevented him from winning it in 2005 as well. In fact, the past three seasons have netted Ward one Supermoto championship and two second place finishes…not bad for a guy who won seven AMA Motocross championships in the 80s.

I want to see the various forms of motorcycle racing grow and thus I’m always looking at the young guys to see who will be the next big thing. However, for 2006, I have to say “Viva la Veterans!”.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, January 20, 2006


Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

The drought in my blog postings seems to have coincided with the start of the 2006 AMA Supercross season so I’m already falling a little behind in commenting on what is happening in the deafening and dirty world of indoor motorcycle racing.

Well, the first sound to roll out of the arena this season has been the thundering sound of four strokes. Just as the big thumpers swallowed the motocross season in one big gulp in ‘05 they have now turned their appetite to supercross. Everyone has known that the two strokes where soon going to puff their last cloud of blue smoke but a few people have undoubtedly been surprised by just how fast this wave of cam shafts and overhead valves has descended upon the supercross landscape.

Bubba whipping the Kawi four stroke

The second sound, immediately following the first, was a deafening shattering sound when James Bubba Stewart crushed the year long reputation he’d gained as being immature. Stewart’s legacy from the ‘05 Supercross and Motocross seasons where that he was blindingly fast but unable to control his emotions and that he was destined to crash his brains out long before he’d win any titles. (I myself put those same criticisms on this blog and still stand by them based on what I saw last year). However, Stewart showed up at the Amp’d Mobile World Supercross opener in Toronto and flat humiliated the assembled masses. No small feat since both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed, the current superstars of supercross, were in attendance. In fact, Bubba was so on his game in Canada that he crashed on the first lap but still went on to smoke the field by 5 seconds. Since one win, especially a win after a crash, doesn’t set the record straight Stewart when on to the second round at Vancouver and did it all over again. James is fast, incredibly fast, but also seems to have his head in gear as well.

With the tinkling echos of the exploding Stewart image still coursing through the paddock, the next sound was the huff and puff of the rest of the field trying frantically to up their game. In particular, both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed left Canada with a angry look in their eyes. I have a feeling their trainers got a phone call early Monday morning after the Vancouver races telling them not to make any plans for the next few weeks.

Around mid-December the sounds again changed and this time it was a big whump sound followed shortly thereafter by a lot of cussing. That was when Kevin Windham got launched off his Honda while training and broke his arm. The accident was bad enough that Windham is probably out for the first half of the 2006 SX season. If you listen careful, you can hear the sickening sound of the life leaking out of Windham’s professional career. 2006 seemed like a make or break year for the likable Honda rider. He already had SX experience on the four strokes, he’s earned a strong (if distant) second to Carmichael in the outdoor series and he had the hopes and dreams of Big Red resting on his shoulders. Its gonna take a second miraculous comeback for him to recover from this accident…

When the starting gun cracked off a shot in Anaheim for the first official round of the AMA Motocross series, it was again Bubba that was making the most noise. Carmichael lead early but then went into the dirt and Stewart decided not to hang around in second while RC was dusting himself. He again flew to the front and won the race in fine style. However, both Reed and Carmichael were in touch this time around so the other message that was loud and clear is that they had both gotten the hurry up message from the Canadian rounds. If the race at Anaheim did anything it was to convince everyone that they better get the 2006 Supercross rounds programmed into Tivo. We won’t want to miss a single round.

Then, bang, things exploded again last weekend when the second AMA round burst into Phoenix. In a reversal of the Anaheim race, it was Stewart who crashed out during the race and Carmichael that looked dominant. Reed ran up front early in the race but a big incident in which the Aussie spectacularly crashed but somehow missed the hitting the ground part. This handed the lead to RC while Reed got the bike pointed back in the right direction and got back up to speed. Bubba charged from the back of the pack to third with Chad hanging onto second. The big wins put Carmichael and Stewart even in points but Reed’s consistent second places have him only one point behind. Exciting stuff.

The top three riders weren’t the only ones making noises. First up was the sound of stiff joints and geritol bottles being cracked open as Iron Man Mike Larocco picked up where he left off in ‘05 by smacking the youngsters around. He took the finish line jump at Anaheim in fourth place behind Stewart, Reed and Carmichael. Then, as a followup lesson to the whippersnappers in the field Jeremy McGrath stuck it to them in Phoenix by finishing in fourth (again behind Carmichael, Reed and Stewart). The Rock kept it in the top ten with an eighth at around two. Maybe its because I have a head of grey hair or maybe its because I’m stick of hearing cocky little punks talk smack in front of their factory semis while finishing outside the top ten but I think it is awesome that these older racers are doing so well. It is time the younger factory riders catch the clue that even if they aren’t good enough (yet) to run with the front three they damned sure better make sure they’re fast enough to beat the guys who are eligible for the vet class. Besides, the roar of the Phoenix crowd when Showtime McGrath and his ring-ding two stroke went to the front on lap one brought back some great memories.

That’s still not it for the soundscape that is the 2006 Supercross series. Another distinctive tone was the forehead slaps from the AMA officials when they realized that these big, powerful four strokes where faster than the current track designs allowed. In Canada, the front guys weren’t carrying much corner speed but would just slam the bike into the corners on the brakes, get the bike back upright and then still have enough acceleration to go from a dead stop to nailing a big triple in just a few yards. By the third race at Anaheim the track layout seemed to have gained back some complexity but then some of the riders complained it was too tough. Hopefully, the designers can find a way to build tracks that are challenging for the four strokes without being so dangerous that riders are getting hurt. The deep trenches in the Phoenix whoops seemed like a good design, as did the rhythm section in Anaheim. In fact, I think even the dry, dusty track surface at Phoenix added another level of complexity that was good for the competition.

Thank you sir, how about another? Well, maybe some moaning is what we should be talking about. That moaning being the sound of the rest of the field after being handily spanked four races in a row. Last year, it seemed pretty obvious that the depth of talent was rising in the 125 class (now called Lites) while it was shrinking in the 250 class (now just called Supercross). Well, now it is easy to see why that is happening…the front three are so far ahead of everyone else on the track that even crashes aren’t keeping them off the podium. Sponsors have to be questioning why they are shelling out bucks to put their name on rider’s bikes when those bikes are never getting any camera time. In fact, the guys at the back of the field are probably more sponsor friendly because they are getting lapped twice and thus offer up twice the opportunity to show up on TV. Meanwhile, the Lites class is chock full of talent and is already offering up close racing and a variety of fast guys. The cha-ching of sponsorship change may soon be falling into the coffers of Lites riders rather than those in the supposed premier Supercross class.

One thing I don’t want to hear this season? The ambulance. With Windham already out, the field of potential race winners has shrunk 25%. With the front three all riding on the ragged edge (and all three having fallen or nearly fallen a few times already this season) is seems like the danger level is well into the red. There is a barely controlled intensity to the riding right now and just a little bad luck could result in a season ending crash. Lets hope these guys ride hard, but safe, this spring so we can enjoy the competition all season long.

Okay, that does it for tonight. The next sound you hear is the last byte of data falling into the bit bucket as I sign off. Have a good, and silent, night.

[image from the Discover Today’s Motorcycling web site.]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

  • I’ve written a couple of times now about my upcoming motorcycle trip to Costa Rica…first in September and then again in October. Well, the trip is now just a couple of weeks away, so I thought I should do one last update before leaving… The first big news is that our little gang of adventurers has grown from three to five with the addition of my buddies Flash and Dork Shoei coming on board, in addition to myself, Todd Unpronounceable and Hubert. This could be bordering on too big a group, if only because different riding styles, different personalities and just plain group dynamics can be an issue. Fortunately, I’ve ridden with all these guys before so I think we’ll be alright. Besides, since I am at the sucky end of the dirt riding skill spectrum it is possible I’ll end up being the one pissing everyone off… !@(afimages/Blog/2006/1/costarica03.jpg:L200 popimg: “The challenges of riding in Costa Rica”) We are all pretty excited about the ride. As I mentioned in the October update, our plan is to split our riding time between the Nicoya Peninsula and the Osa Peninsula. At that time we had the bike rental and airplane tickets but not much else. Since then we have booked reservations at hotels in San Jose, Montezuma and Puerto Juminez. While having hotel reservations locks us into a set schedule, it also frees us up to ride all day without having to get to the day’s destination early in order to find lodging. Additionally, by basing ourselves out of one town in each of the two places we want to check out we can leave our bike’s luggage at the hotel for the days we are out out exploring rather than having to lug it everywhere we ride. Also checked off the list since the October posting is stocking up on info about Costa Rica. I bought a Fodor’s Costa Rica 2005 guide book, as well as a nice National Geographic map of the country. I doubt the map will be all that helpful, as I understand the roads aren’t well marked, but if nothing else it will give me something to read while the other guys figure out where we are. I also found a website with GPS data for Central America but the Costa Rica data looks pretty bad since the coastline of the Bay of Nicoya doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, I’ve loaded up my Garmin Quest anyway. Perhaps between the GPS and the map I can at least determine where I am, even if I can’t figure out how to get where I want to go. I decided not to bring my trusty one piece Aerostich Roadcrafter suit so I bought a Kilimanjaro Air Jacket made by First Gear. My only complaint with the Kili Air is the rather wimpy armor that is included so I upgraded the shoulder and elbow armor with a kit from Bohn Armor. The kit is excellent but unfortunately, the back protector won’t fit in the small pocket sewn into the Kili so I’ll have to use the stock foam until I can cut down the Bohn unit. I’ll be using my ancient Shoei helmet, Alpinestar gloves, Aerostich Combat touring boots and a basic pair of motocross pants and a jersey. Oh, and I’ll have a Camelbak as well… Perhaps the first adventure of the trip took place before I even left the old US of A. I made the mistake of wandering into a travel clinic last week to see what immunizations were recommended for Costa Rica (and Tibet, where I’ll be travelling in August). If you believe the nurses at a travel clinic, the entire world is a huge, dank cess pool of disease. It took me a while to shake off their fear message and focus on what I was really worried about…stuff that might kill me rather than just make me sick. I left with a sore arm, a shot for Hepetitis A & B and some Malarone pills for malaria. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll take the malaria medicine but I don’t have to make that choice until two days before I leave. I guess that if I come back with yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, polio, influenza or measles then I’ll look like an idiot but I feel like having some crazy mixture of vaccinations could be unhealthy as getting the tropical disease I’m trying to avoid… I still have to go back two more times to finish up the Hep A & B shots so I can always get additional vaccinations for Tibet after returning from the Costa Rica trip. I’m also considering joining the Diver’s Alert Network. I don’t (yet) scuba dive but one of their membership benefits is $100,000 in Emergency Medical Evacuation. Any time I’m going riding with Todd I carefully examine my medical insurance but since my current policy only covers the bare minimum if I’m out of the country it wouldn’t hurt for me to have some extra protection. If nothing else, DAN guarantees to be able to get my broken and battered corpse back to the US if Todd leads me off a cliff or something. I’ve also spent the past week pre-packing all my gear. The only luggage we’ll have on the KTM LC4 is a tail trunk. Since I have to fit everything in such a small space I’m trying to carefully organize everything. At the moment my clothes, shaving kit and miscellaneous other gear all fit in a 10″x10″x10″ space so I think I’m okay. I’ve made duplicate copies of all my paperwork but should be able to leave that with my gear duffel at the rental place so won’t have to carry that on the bike. Between my Garmin GPS and Canon digital camera I’m the designated geek…hopefully I’ll make it back with stuff or else my wife will kill me when I try to replace it. I wonder if DAN’s insurance covers spousal danger? Otherwise, I’m just taking a pair of motocross riding pants, three dirt jerseys, some bicycling shorts, three pair of socks, my shaving kit and a pair of sandals. Travelin’ light… Flash is packing the tools so the rest of us can save that space. Dork Shoei is covering the basic first aid kit, though I’m donating some Cipro and Immodium in case one of us drinks some bad water (or in case I, as the vegetarian, gets forced into eating the dreaded raw vegetable salad and spends the next week with GI “issues”…). Hubert has been voted into the role of our interpreter. He doesn’t know Spanish but since he is Swiss we figure he already knows some other language besides English and is thus one step ahead of the rest of us. He registered a complaint at this assignment but as we are functioning as a democracy we out-voted him. I have no idea what Todd’s contribution to this trip will be other than that it was his idea in the first place. So that’s about it. Just a few loose ends to finish up and then its time to head south for some warm weather and motorcycle riding. A stark contrast to the current weather in the mountains of Colorado where its freezing, we’ve just recieved a foot of snow and my bikes are languishing in the garage hooked up to battery chargers. I’ll post a trip report once we get back. If I don’t get something posted by late February someone please call the US Embassy in Costa Rica and see if five Juan Does have been found pinned under motorcycles in some remote corner of the Osa Peninsula. [image from the Costa Rica Motorcycle Tours web site.] (1)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This year\’s bike show, Pt 2…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Last year I did a review of the Cycle World International Bike Show. Since I did a preview for this year’s expo back in November I guess I should finally get around to doing a review of the 2006 Cycle World show.

First, the good stuff:

My wife and I flew to Atlanta, GA for a friend’s wedding the same weekend as the Cycle World International Bike Show was in Denver but we scheduled our return flight for Sunday morning so we still had some time to take in the show. One of my stated goals for this year’s show was to find a couple of things my wife and I needed for the upcoming riding season. One of those was to get my wife some electrics to replace her old Widder vest that finally shorted out this Fall. Gerbing’s Heated Clothing had a booth at the show and were prepared to size and sale all their products at the show. Jonna picked up a heated jacket liner, thermostat, Powerlet wiring harness and a storage bag. She is happy and if the wife is happy, I’m happy.

The second reward from our visiting the show was my finding a great deal on the enduro jacket I’ve been price shopping all summer. A shop up in Ft. Collins called Beemers and More Motorcycle Works had a booth in the vendor area. They also had a sales rack which had most of the First Gear jackets including the Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket that I wanted for my upcoming Costa Rica trip. They didn’t have the size and color I wanted but agreed to order me one for the price listed on their sales rack. Good folks and a very good price for exactly the jacket I wanted.

MV Agusta F41000S Corse

Next up was having the opportunity to lust after the MV Agusta bikes in person. The highlight of their booth was the F41000S Corse bike but all of their product line are equally incredible. The Italians know how to build a beautiful bike and the folks at MV exemplify that. Even the routing of the brake lines is carefully planned out to run parallel to other lines of the bike so even the smallest details are visually cohesive. The F4 should be prescribed by doctors as a cure for ED…

Another cool bike to see in person was the historic 1980 Yamaha OW48 500cc Grand Prix bike once raced by Kenny Roberts Sr. This was on display next to Kenny Robert’s Jr’s 2000 Suzuki RGV 500cc GP bike which I’ve now seen three or four different times…Suzuki’s marketing department is sure getting their money’s worth out of that bike. Anyway, having the two bikes together made for a interesting compare and contrast moment, not to mention the thrill of seeing two historic Grand Prix bikes up close and personal.

Next up was getting to see the three new Ducati Sport Classic bikes on display. The marque bike of this line is the Paul Smart Replica and it is even cooler in person than in the photos. The green/silver paint job is a stroke of genius as it looks drop dead gorgeous. The big surprise for me was how much I liked the GT which had looked pretty ho-hum in the magazines. Finally, the Sport 1000 is really just a Smart replica without the big fairing but it is still a good looking bike. Any three of these would be a fun bike to own. I’m glad to see Ducati coming up with designs that aren’t following the styling trends of their recent bikes like the Multistrada, the 999 and the Supersport. I’m also glad to see another manufacturer coming up with modern retro-themed bikes to compete with the Triumph Bonneville series.

Finally, it was great to see some of the interesting new bikes for this year like the Kawasaki ZX-14R, the Aprilia SVX, the re-vamped Aprilia Tuomo, the Yamaha R1LE and the Moto Guzzi MGS/01. It also gave me another chance to sit on all the liter bikes from the major Japanese companies so I can continue my new bike shopping. The R1LE is the first Yamaha that pegs my meter in a long time but I’m still more likely to whip out my checkbook for the Kawi ZX-10R or the Suzuki GSXR. Surprisingly, the ZX-14R didn’t really excite me and the MGS/01 did. Perhaps it is because the Kawi was pretty much what I was expecting but the Moto Guzzi was so different from their other products. Finally, the SVX and Tuomo were seriously amazing to see in person. I knew I’d like the SVX but I’ve always hated the looks of the Tuomo so was shocked that I liked the 2006 model so much. Both are now on my list to be revisited when its time to put the new bike in the garage.

Synopsis: The show gave me a new jacket, a wife that is again excited about riding and a lot to think about in my quest for a new bike.

Now the negative things from the show…

First, KTM didn’t have a booth at the show. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog postings, I’d buy a KTM 990 Superduke tomorrow if they were available in the US. I was hoping for a chance to talk to a KTM rep in person to see if there were any plans to import the bike in 2007. With the dollar valued so low compared to the Euro surely the cost of a booth at the Cycle World show is about the same blow to their Marketing department as putting up a single poster for the Paris show. Whatever their motivation, not showing up is probably going to be their loss and some other company’s gain.

The second raspberry for the expo was that there was no Triumph booth at the show. One of the bikes I wanted to see the most was the new Triumph Scrambler which I think is dead sexy. For some bizarre reason Triumph decided not to include the Cycle World shows in their marketing budget this year. While I wanted to see the Scrambler for its sheer coolness factor I also wanted to check out the new Speed Triple as another bike that is on my shopping list. Oh well, at least Triumph has one up on KTM by actually having their bikes available for sale in this country…

Another disappointment was that BMW didn’t have their new 2006 models like the F800ST, K1200R, R1200GS Adventure and R1200S at the show. I’m not particularly interesting in buying any of these but it would be nice to see the new parallel twin motor, their boldest bike ever, the new and improved GS and BMW’s new boxer based sport bike. Basically, its another sign of how little importance the European bike makers place in the show that they aren’t putting for an effort to get their new bikes to the US in time to show them to customers at this time.

Another change for the worse was that so few of the booth had interesting race machines. In past years there have been Grand Prix bikes, factory superbikes, trick endurance racers, hand built supermoto bikes, desert racers and lots more on display. This year the pickings were slim and decidedly lacking in exotic hardware. For example, Kawasaki had Hayden’s Supersport bike, Yamaha had Disalvo’s Superstock bike and Honda had Duhamel’s FX bike. Yamaha also had Burkhart’s Supermoto Lite bike. In the off-road arena Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki all had their factory Motocross bikes on display (Windham, Reed and Stewart’s bikes respectively). Still, nearly all of these bikes are production based machines being raced in nearly stock form. In contrast, there were loads of crappy choppers all over the place which means there was probably more titanium on custom show bikes than on race bikes. A disgusting turn of events!

The final disappointment was that AMA racer Eric Bostrom was only at Racing 2 Save Lives booth on Saturday but not Sunday. Since I couldn’t get there until the final day I missed a chance to talk with him about his 2006 deal with Yamaha. Getting a few first hand comments would have bee a nice addition to the blog. Oh well…

Overall, I was happy with the show but I’m still disappointed that US market in general, and the western states market in particular, has such relatively minor importance to the marketing departments of the major manufacturers. I’d hoped that things would continue to grow as the Cycle World show entered its fifth year but it seems to have taken a step backwards this year. Hopefully 2006 will be a big enough year for the European manufacturers like Triumph and KTM that they will join the show next year. Hopefully, the interest in the US generated by the ‘05 USGP will raise the awareness of racing here in the US so that the Big Four (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki) will again use race bikes as their booth eye candy rather than mangled, nonfunctional cruisers. Hopefully, the US market will be important enough to all the bike makers that a greater emphasis will be put on getting new models to the States in time to put in the Cycle World show rather than just rolling out the 2005 models for us to see. There is still room for improvement!

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The dangers of the desert…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

This past week the 2006 Dakar rally completed it’s 15 day, 5613 mile journey from Lisboa, Portugal to Dakar, Senegal.

This year’s rally was again a challenging one made up of 15 separate stages with the longest being 543 miles (874 km) in length and the shortest clocking in at only 68 miles (110 km). Sprinkled throughout these stages were special sections where the riders could forget about navigation and instead just race against the clock through the stage in an effort to cut the fastest time. As I mentioned in my Odds and Ends posting back in July, the rally entries were sold out six months before the race and among those registered were 240 people competing in the motorcycle classes. The vast majority of the bikes were KTMs, in fact, there were 106 of the Austria bikes entered while the second most popular brand, Yamaha, had only half that number. The rest of the field was made up of a smattering of Hondas, BMWs, Suzukis, Kawasakis and an Aprilia. Finally a mix of ATV and sidecars completed the field.

The big news before the race were some rules changes that the Rally organizers put in place in an attempt to make the rally safer after two high profile deaths on the factory KTM team in ‘05. Most of these new rules were aimed at improving the conditions for the motorcycle riders, including: 1) mandating a shorter fuel range and thus lighter bikes, 2) imposing a maximum speed limit of 100 mph (160 km/h) for the bikes which would be enforced via GPS, 3) instituting a mandatory 15 minute rest at fuel stops, 4) and changing the starting order for the longer stages so that the slowest riders go first and thus have the largest amount of daylight in which to finish compared to the faster riders who would need less time for the stage.

Despite the new safety precautions this year’s rally was again plagued with tragedy. First, during stage 9 of the rally, KTM rider Andy Caldecott had a fatal crash while running at high speed across the desert. This accident was particularly devastating for the KTM team because it was very near the location of and very similar to the accident in 2005 that killed rally superstar Fabrizio Meoni. The entire paddock was shocked by news of the Australian’s death and the 10th stage of the rally was cancelled out of respect for his fellow rider’s grief. Additionally, KTM effectively quit tracking the rally from a PR/marketing stand point after Caldecott’s death in an effort honor his memory (not to mention that their top two riders had effectively cemented their positions which took most of the excitement out of the rally anyway).

However, death didn’t just strike the riders this year. The biggest tragedy of the rally was that two children were struck and killed by rally cars in the final two days of the event. As a result of these fatalities the final stage, a loop around Lac Rose in Dakar, was un-timed and run only for ceremonial purposes. The actual scoring of the rally reverted back to stage 14.

Marc Coma on the Dakar podium

When the checkered flag flew and the numbers were crunched it was Marc Coma, the KTM mounted Spaniard, who won the motorcycle division with a time of 55:27:17. 1 hour, 13 minutes and 29 seconds back was fellow KTM teammate, Frenchman Cyril Despres, with a time of 56:40:46. The final podium spot went to Italian Giovanni Sala who brought his KTM home in third at 57:57:05, nearly two and a half hours behind Coma and over an hour behind Despres.

Other news worth mentioning is that Team USA rider Chris Blais, also on a KTM, came in fourth with fellow American Jonah Smith bringing his privateer KTM over the line in 17th place to finish up a fantastic Dakar premier. Also of note, Charley Boorman of Long Way Round fame was out early with a broken arm (or possibly even two) after a crash during stage 6. Nonetheless, a valiant effort by the Brit. All of the top eight were on KTMs with Portugese rider Helder Rodrigues preventing a complete sweep of the top 10 by the Austria company by finishing 9th on his Yamaha. As is typical for the Dakar, over half the bikes failed to complete the rally with only 93 of the original 240 making it to the finish in Dakar.

I see a few things from this rally worth mentioning:

The first is obviously the continuation of the recent trend of great rally riders being kill during the Dakar rally. As with the Isle of Man TT and the Macau GP, I firmly believe that any event has a right to run as long as the riders chose to race (and there aren’t contractual and/or championship obligations to do so). Still, it is becoming increasingly painful to cover such events when the best riders of each respective discipline are being killed each year. As the bikes get faster and faster the danger levels increase and I think even more needs to be done by the organizers to balance the challenges of the event with the safety of the riders and spectators.

Second, this year’s Dakar was a turtle versus the hare battle in which Marc Coma won the overall without taking a single victory in any of the individual stages. It is worth noting that the Spaniard’s ability to be consistently fast over the entire course of the rally was a more successful strategy than a rider like second place finisher Despres who won four of the stages (and was in the top three on seven different occasions) yet whose time when averaged out over the course of the rally still put him over 75 minutes behind Coma at the finish. Undoubtedly some of this was luck but then again, as the saying goes, perhaps the riders were making their own luck.

Third, I think this year shows the success of the Team USA Red Bull KTM team who started two years ago with the goal of building up an American rider to be a world class rally racer. After 15 stages, American Chris Blais was only 10 minutes behind third place rider Sala at the finish and thus tantalizingly close to a podium in only his second Dakar. His best stage finish was a fantastic second place on the 352 mile long day 8. Also impressive was rookie Jonah Street who also scored a second place stage finish during the rally, his coming during the next to the last timed stage on day 13. Clearly the Americans have rapidly risen from being also-rans to being front runners in the Dakar. Hopefully, this will increase both fan interest and media coverage in the event next year.

Finally, I want to mention that Charley Boorman started his rally with more than just the normal equipment carried by a contestant. He also brought along a film crew and a bunch of camera equipment. This goal was to make a documentary movie about his running the Dakar rally. Despite his injury in the middle of the event, his film crew continued on following the rest of the Dakar. I hope that this project comes to fruition, as I’d love to see a well done movie on the Dakar in the same vein as the recent Dust to Glory movie which captured the excitement of the ‘05 Baja 1000. Best of luck to Charley in this endeavor.

[image from the Official 2006 Lisboa Dakar web site.]

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feed me, Seymour…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP, WSBK

So, it has been over a month since I posted my last entry. I guess I took a longer break than I’d anticipated after hitting the one year milestone on the blog. Well, all that time off hasn’t been completely wasted though it will take awhile for the full impact the break to actually bear any fruit here. On a more personal note, I also used that time off to take a relaxing holiday vacation to Savannah, GA, to catch up on some other aspects of my website that needed attending, to make a small dent in the large stack of books that had built up on my night stand and to watch quite a few movies that had been on my “must see” list. I’m now recharged and very excited about resuming the blog here in the new year. I hope all the readers had a good holiday and that you are excited about the upcoming year of motorcycling. Now, on to one of the backlog of topics I’ve been wanting to write up…

When the MotoGP class introduced 990cc four strokes in 2002 (after having been dominated by 500cc two strokes since 1975) it brought Grand Prix bikes to a new level of performance. It also opened the door for speculation that the racers of four stroke production based Superbikes could be the future stars of MotoGP rather than the two stroke 250cc GP riders which made up the traditional training ground of world champs. The most logical feeder series for MotoGP was seen to be the World Superbike series and by 2003 two of the biggest stars of World Superbike were sitting astride MotoGP bikes: Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss .

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the 2003 MotoGP championship…the old guard continued to dominate aboard the new four strokes. Rossi won the title in ‘03 with Gibernau and Biaggi rounding out the top three. Young American Superbike champ Nicky Hayden was the top guy with previous production bike experience finishing out his freshman year in fifth just behind Loris Capirossi.

Despite other Superbike pilots like Neil Hodgson, Noriyuki Haga, John Hopkins, Ruben Xaus, Shane Byrne, James Ellison and Kurtis Roberts all giving the MotoGP bikes a go over the past few years, none have had much success against the more experienced Grand Prix racers in general and Valentino Rossi in particular. For 2005 there appear to be only two riders on the MotoGP who came up through the World Superbike ranks: Colin Edwards and Chris Vermeulen.

Max Biaggi at the Bologna Motorcycle Show

In contrast, half of the riders currently confirmed for the ‘06 World Superbike season have prior Grand Prix experience: Norick Abe, Alex Barros, Franco Battaini, Troy Bayliss, Max Biaggi, Pier Francesco Chili, Troy Corser, Michel Fabrizio, Noriyuki Haga, Regis Laconi, Fonzi Nieto, Andrew Pitt, Roberto Rolfo, Chris Walker and Ruben Xaus. Of these riders, eight are guys who came up through the GP ranks (Abe, Barros, Battaini, Biaggi, Chili, Laconi, Nieto, Rolfo) before moving into World Superbikes. This leads to the question of which is really the feeder series for which?

Granted, most of the riders moving from MotoGP to World Superbike are generally regarded as being in the twilight of their careers but that doesn’t make the depth of the field any shallower. In fact, given the number of riders over the age of 30 who have won titles in the past few years the whole idea that someone is beyond winning at age 35 is being seriously challenged. The MotoGP series is banking on younger riders, primarily those from the 250cc class, to carry their torch into the future and of the current MotoGP riders only six have previous world championships (Rossi, Edwards, Pedrosa, Melandri, Vermeulen, Capirossi). World Superbike, on the other hand, seems to have built a hugely competitive roster made up primarily of experienced riders of which ten have prior world championships (Corser, Bayliss, Biaggi, Iannuzzo, Foret, Gimbert, Fabrizio, Muggeridge, Alfonsi and Pitt). Clearly World Superbike holds the edge when it comes to bragging rights about their riders.

Now, I don’t think that any current rider would pass over a decent MotoGP ride for a World Superbike ride but I do think that the World Superbike series has taken a huge step forward in the past year towards becoming the premier world class motorcycle road race series. Depending on what happens with riders and teams in ‘07 when MotoGP switches to the 800cc bikes (and costs again take a big jump) there is still a chance for World Superbikes to surpass MotoGP in power, popularity and perhaps even prestige. In the meantime, MotoGP needs to hope some of their young riders can finally beat Valentino Rossi so they will deserve the reputation afforded GP racers.

[image from the Max Biaggi web site.]