Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

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.]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We have a winnah…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Since I’ve been slowing down on the blog postings, I haven’t been following all the races that have gone over the past month. Time to catch up on who has been hoisting the trophies lately.

Hengeveld on the Honda

First up is the big surprise that Honda has won the 38th running of the Baja 1000 with Steve Hengeveld, Johnny Campbell and Mike Childress on board their big XR. Not only did Honda best everyone in the desert but also brought home the runner up honors as well with XRs finishing 1-2. Even though this was Honda’s ninth consecutive win in the Baja 1000 they at least they made things a little easier on the competition since star rider Johnny Campbell was sick with a stomach ailment and struggled during his stints on the bike.

As if Honda’s win at Baja wasn’t surprising enough Brit Michael Rutter won the 39th annual Macau GP. This was the sixth win for Rutter on the dangerous street circuit. This ties him with Ron Haslam on all time winners list. Unfortunately, Rutter’s fantastic win was overshadowed by the death of Frenchman Bruno Bonhuil who was killed in an accident on the armco lined track. Many of the European riders sat out the event in honor of their fallen rival. There was a UK sweep of the podium as second place went to John McGuinness and third was Les Shand.

Dominance was the name even with two new events. David Knight has blown away the offroad community this year as the overall winner at the 2005 ISDE event, as champ of the 2005 Enduro at Erzberg and by bringing home the 2005 World Enduro 3 championship. He then showed up at the inaugural Red Bull Last Man Standing event and dominated from start to finish. At the end of the day, be brought home nearly $18,000 in cash. His win is all the more impressive since he raced the grueling event with the flu running two 40 miles loops during the day and then two 30 miles loops at night on his KTM. Second was Nathan Kanney and Michael Lafferty rounded out the podium.

As if being crowned the Last Man Standing wasn’t enough, David Knight then won the second annual AMA EnduroCross this month in Las Vegas. This added another trophy to his mantle, another $10,000 to his wallet and another boost to his reputation as the best off-road racer in the world. Just to prove that he always likes doing things the hard way he crashed on the first lap of his heat race. This not only meant he had to go through semis to make the final but that he was also racing with some pretty serious bruises. He got a horrible start in the main and crossed start/finish in nearly last place but then worked his way through for the win. Also impressive in the EnduroCross was old man John Dowd who came in runner up. Ricky Dietrich came home in third.

Okay, so really no surprises in any of these cases but great racing nonetheless. The Campbell/Hengeveld pairing aboard their Honda XR have dominated the Baja 1000 in a way that even Rossi or Carmichael would envy. Michael Rutter has found success at the Isle of Man but his career will probably be defined by his successes over the years on the Macau GP circuit. Finally, there is David Knight who is winning everything he enters this year. He is the best enduro rider in the world and has proven himself to more flexible than any other rider as well.

Great stuff from all of them.

[image from Dirt Rider Magazine web page.]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Killing winter time…

Author: site admin
Category: Motorcycles

As regular readers will have noticed I decided to take a break over the last couple of weeks. Some of this was to recoup a small amount of sanity after being so focused on the blog over the last year and part was to enjoy a relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. However, I didn’t just sit around eating bon bons and dreaming of motorcycles but I also went on the offensive in my annual war to stave off the boredom of winter. As the snow flakes fell up here in the mountains of Colorado and the outside thermometer struggled to get above freezing I spent some time gathering provisions for the upcoming four month campaign I’ll be fighting against the bleak days between November and March.

Primarily, the supplies I need for this protracted battle are books. Specifically, books about motorcycles. To that end, I’ve stocked up a few that should keep my attention focused on bikes even when my own motorcycles are stored away in a chilly garage for the year.

Peter Egan's Leanings 2 book

Topping the list is Peter Egan’s Leanings 2. I’ve been a reluctant subscriber to Cycle World for over a decade and yet I continue to give them some money each year to keep their magazine arriving at my door step. I’m not a big fan of the publication as a whole but the simple fact that they continue to employ the two best writers of motorcycle stories in the world keeps me addicted to the rag. Those two are Peter Egan and Kevin Cameron. Two years ago, Egan put out a book which pulled together many of his feature articles from the past 30 years and called it Leanings. I read the thing cover to cover in a single weekend and then mourned the fact that I didn’t string out the pleasure over a longer period of time. Now he’s released a follow-up tome which collects many of his one page columns from that same time period. I’ve already burned through half the book in just two days and I’m torn between finishing it this week or dragging it out over the entire winter. Peter Egan is the high water mark of moto-journalism and re-reading his articles both shames me as a writer and inspires me as a motorcycle enthusiast.

Queued up next on the night stand is Dr. Claudio Costa’s autobiography titled Doctorcosta. I bought this a few months back but haven’t found the “Round Tuit” in order to crack the cover. Dr. Costa is the paddock hero of MotoGP and the stories of what he’s seen in his multiple decades of following the GP circus, along with the miracles he has personally performed in patching up injured riders, should make this an incredible read. I figure I’ll have it finished before Christmas and will then suffer the agony of waiting three more months before MotoGP action resumes.

Keeping with the MotoGP racing theme is Mick Walker’s Giacomo Agostini: Champion of Champions which is the biography of the fifteen time GP champ. The topic of Rossi being the greatest racer of all time is hotly debated and the best counter argument is just saying the word “Ago”. I figure this book is worth the purchase price just to see the cool photos of Ago during his prime but it should also be a fantastic story as it traces Agostini’s story from childhood to motorcycle greatness.

The final book on my winter reading list, which coincidently is also another story of racing greatness, is Ed Youngblood’s Mann Of His Time. This is the biography of AMA legend Dick Mann. This guy is the iron man of motorcycle racing and was a hero to most of the racers I consider great: Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and others. If there was ever an era when motorcycle racers had to do everything, it was the age of the AMA Grand National Champion when riders had to race dirt track miles, half-miles, TT and road races in order to be considered the best. During these grueling years, Mann accomplished this lofty title twice. If I finish this before spring, I’ll still have time to write letters to Chris Carr begging him to come back road racing in ‘06, along with his flat track program, so we can see a multi-talented champ like they did it in the old days…

But man (or probably even Mann) can’t live by books alone. Also on the list for winter entertainment are a few DVDs:

First and foremost is the long awaited release of the Long Way Round DVD which will finally be available on December 13th. It has only taken them a year to release the thing! This isn’t the best motorcycle story ever told but it is good enough to watch again and again if only to inspire us to follow our dreams. Sure, we aren’t all rich movie stars but as long as we own a bike we can point that front wheel somewhere new and go for a ride. Besides, watching Ewan and Charley struggle through Mongolia should help prepare me for following my buddy Todd through Costa Rica.

Next month I’ll also be placing an order with Bruce Brown’s Monterey Media to pick up his newly released Moto Classics Box Set which includes footage Brown recorded while making On Any Sunday but hasn’t previously released. I have all the rest of the On Any Sunday movies so there is no way I’ll pass up getting this boxed set. Should make for some fine visual entertainment while watching the snow drifts build up on the deck some frigid February afternoon.

Speaking of Bruce Brown, I’m yet to watch his son Dan Brown’s Dust to Glory DVD but I have it on my “to do” list to finally pick it up for a little cold weather relief. What better contrast to a Colorado winter than to watch guys on motorcycles blast through the desert during the Baja 1000.

Finally, my Christmas wish is for Duke Video USA to finally release a NTSC DVD version of Best Bike GPs of the Decade. I first saw this film ten years ago and immediately wanted to own it but have held off year after year waiting for it to be available on DVD. A few months ago it was finally released in the UK in PAL format but they haven’t brought it stateside yet. US distribution of Duke Video products has just changed hands so hopefully the new company will speed up getting some of the PAL stuff converted over for us yanks. Come on, Santa, bring me this DVD!

[image from the Road & Track Magazine online shop web page.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Who is humping who…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The past few weeks have really pulled back the curtains on the ugly inner workings of the MotoGP paddock. There has been a shake up in the bizarre love triangle that is the factory-rider-sponsor relationship and the fall out has given us a glimpse at exactly who calls the shots when it comes to racing at the highest level of the sport.

I’m going to use three different examples to illuminate this situation:

Max when he still had a Honda ride

First up is a tale of riches to rags with one Max Biaggi as the star of the show. One year ago the word came down from the people on high at Honda that Biaggi was finally being given the opportunity of his lifetime. A ride on the factory Repsol RC211V with famed tuner Erv Kanemoto at his side. All of Honda’s development effort would be resting squarely on the shoulders of the veteran Italian rider and he was expected to wrest the MotoGP title away from rival Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha. That dreamy state lasted until the first race at Jerez and then quickly slipped into a nightmare season for the Roman.

As the races wound down Biaggi started making more and more negative comments to the press about the state of the bike and support he felt he was (or perhaps more accurately wasn’t) receiving from Honda. When the big bosses back in Tokyo heard about this they were less than impressed. In fact, they tried to keep him from racing at the final race at Valencia and promptly thereafter sent out a mandate to all the Honda teams saying that Biaggi would not be given a Honda for 2006. When Camel, Biaggi’s personal sponsor, heard this they threatened to pull their millions from Sito Pons satellite team. This set up a show down between Honda, Sito Pons, Biaggi and Camel. If there was ever a situation that would show who calls the shots in MotoGP, this would be it. And the result? Biaggi won’t be riding red next year and Pons won’t be getting any financial support from Camel for this team. Clearly Honda has shown that for next year they intend to be completely in charge of their MotoGP teams, even at the risk of ruining a faithful partner’s funding and maybe even threatening the team’s ability to exist. It also shows that Honda has no problem telling a major backer to go stuff themselves if the sponsor disagrees with corporate policy. Interesting.

Next up, is the state of affairs just down pit row in the factory Yamaha pits. There is a huge lawsuit brewing between Yamaha and Altadis who was their primary sponsor for the past year. Altadis signed a contract with Yamaha to sponsor the factory team under the Gauloises banner for the upcoming season. At the time the contract was signed there was not commitment from Rossi to ride the factory bikes and once that contract was signed it was with the understanding that Rossi would not run branding from a cigarette company on his bike, presumably to clear the way for future work with Ferrari and their primary sponsor Marlboro. (Why, exactly, Rossi didn’t sign with the Ducati team for 2006 since they already have Marlboro sponsorship is unknown).

When Yamaha told Altadis that Rossi would not be on the factory team Altadis deemed this a breech of the sponsorship agreement. As a warning shot Altadis pulled their Fortuna sponsorship from the Tech 3 satellite team for next season which has put them in a serious money crunch. However, Yamaha hasn’t backed down and now look likely to run without Altadis sponsorship in ‘06. What is surprising is that Yamaha approached Telefonica Movistar with an offer of having Rossi run under their colors but were turned down. In this case, Rossi laid down the law about the terms of having him ride with a tuning fork on his tank and the factory followed suit even at the risk of having to pay the full tab for both their factory and satellite team’s costs next year. In this case, the seven time world champ is the one in the cat bird seat and both the team and the sponsor have to play by his rules.

Finally, there is another conflict which also involves Honda but in this case it is with the Gresini satellite team. Gresini’s primary sponsor for 2005 was the Spanish telecom giant Telefonica Movistar. In addition to putting huge amounts of money into the Honda team they also had 250GP star Dani Pedrosa under personal contract and had brought up the Spanish youngster through the GP ranks. In fact, the company spends huge amounts of money in GP sponsoring not only individual teams but also paying for title sponsorship of some rounds of the series and also to sponsor some European feeder classes which development future talent. Telefonica is the dream partner for both the MotoGP series and the Honda teams.

At the end of this last season Dani Pedrosa’s contract with Telefonica expired and before it could be renewed Honda offered the 250 World Champion a direct contract and a chance to ride on the factory Repsol team as replacement for the departing Max Biaggi. Telefonica was furious that their star rider had been scooped out from under them and that he was put on the Repsol sponsored team rather than the Telefonica sponsored Gresini team. As reprisal, the telecom giant pulled their money from MotoGP altogether (even refusing the Yamaha/Rossi offer…something any other company would have begged to get) and brought their big fat check book to the Formula One cage racing series instead. Fortunately for Honda, they were able to sign Spanish star Toni Elias to Team Gresini and Altadis decided to spend their Fortuna backed support to the Honda team after pulling it away from the Tech 3 Yamaha squad. Honda set the tune and both Gresini, Pedrosa and Telefonica had to dance to it.

So what does all this mean? Well, I think it means that ultimately the entire GP paddock is following the lead of Valentino Rossi. Yamaha needs Rossi and had very little say in the terms. Honda has gone into desperation mode and will do whatever is necessary to build a rider line-up capable of challenging Rossi even if it means losing long time sponsors or pissing off faithful team owners. It seems clear that the factories have become tired of sponsors, particularly cigarette companies, being the ones that call the shots and have completely reshuffled the power pyramid in MotoGP. Whether the riders or the factories are in contol depends on the rider’s last name but there is no doubt that both are playing alpha dog over the sponsors right now.

[image from Moto Forum web page.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Champagne on a beer budget…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Lately I’ve been doing a write up for each of the major international motorcycle expos like Paris, Tokyo, Birmingham and Milan. All of these shows represent the pinnacle of motorcycle marketing. The major manufacturers, along with hundreds of aftermarket companies, spend significant portions of their annual budget to make a big splash at these shows. From the stand point of a fan I’ll admit that getting an opportunity to attend one of these shows would be an incredible experience. Unfortunately, the cost associated with jetting off to Europe for a couple of days just doesn’t match up with my current salary no matter how much I fantasize about being able to do so.

Sierra dreams big at the '02 Cycle Show

However, I do have the time and money to attend the much more mundane Cycle World International Motorcycle Show which has been occurring at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the past four years. An international show like the International Motorcycle Exhibition that is going on in Milan, Italy this week will be characterized by amazing concept bikes, surprise new bike announcements, hundreds of vendors, test ride courses, on-site race events, live music and more. Sadly, the smaller Cycle World Show is lacking much of this and is instead more like an uber dealership where one can ogle the latest bikes, try on some of the more popular bits of gear and see some popular accessories like tires and exhausts. The show in Denver will often have some kind of stunt show, either trails demo or a freestyle MX crew, that is pretty much the extent of the entertainment.

On the positive side, most of the major manufacturers have a presence at the Cycle World show and this year it looks like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Buell, Aprilia, Cagiva, Polaris/Victory, Star, Triumph and Ural will all have bikes on display. Sadly, the expo will once again lack participation from KTM…the fourth straight year that the Austrian company has stood up show goers.

Let me take a moment to pull out my soap box here. What the hell is KTM thinking? They are gaining market share in the US faster than any other motorcycle company. KTM has made a recent push to build a line of street bikes that they hope will be as popular as their off road models. The KTM Adventure has enjoyed strong sales in the US and they are launching new street bikes like the 950 Supermoto this year. KTM is competing directly with BMW, Triumph and Ducati for street bike sales in America. Surely only a small increase in bike sales would be all that is necessary to offset the relatively minor hit to their marketing budget that would be required to have a booth at the show. Then again, maybe its better they don’t show since then I’d have to bitch them out for not importing the 990 Super Duke.

Okay, back to the show. The bikes, gear and parts aren’t the only things going on at the show this weekend. They will again have the BOSS brothers and their Ball of Steel stunt show. Additionally, newly signed Yamaha racer Eric Bostrom will be at representing the Racing 2 Save Lives charity. There will also be a display of vintage bikes which is always a highlight of the show. Beyond that, though, the appeal drops off dramatically. The food court chow is both unappealing and expensive. Parking sucks. Oh, and there is a lot of stuff is packed into a relatively small display area so some of the walkways are more crowded than necessary.

So why am I going? Well, first of all my wife needs a new electric vest and I want to have her try on the electric jacket liner from Gerbing. Second, I want to pick up a Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket for my upcoming trip to Costa Rica. Third, I always enjoying seeing the new bikes in person and seeing them all in one place is more convenient that driving around to all the dealerships. Finally, well, $12 is much cheaper than a flight to Milan…

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Happy 1st Birthday…

Author: site admin
Category: Uncategorized

Happy Birthday

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary since I was stupid enough to tinker around with a blog. At the time, I just thought I’d post a few things to see how it worked and then move on to something more important like creating a Wiki of motorcycle racing information. However, this minor side trip into the world of online information quickly became an obsession and the Wiki never got beyond the initial install point.

As for the blog, for my first year I set myself the goal of writing one article per day of the work week and then taking weekends off to have something that resembled a life. As a result I have typed up nearly 250 articles and have kept to my schedule except for when vacations have pulled me away from the computer. I’ve covered almost every MotoGP, AMA and World Superbike race. I’ve also covered many of the AMA Supercross and Motocross races, some of the Supermoto races and done entries about the major motorcycle shows. In addition to motorcycle content I’ve tried to inject my perspective and strong opinions about the topics I cover rather than just regurgitating press releases or web pages. Finally, I’ve experimented with creative approaches to things in the hopes that I will improve as a writer and it prove interesting to readers.

In some cases I think I’ve been successful while re-reading some of the postings show they are pretty lame. On one hand I’m thrilled that I was able to successfully follow such a strict publishing schedule and that the sheer number of postings meant that I could cover so many different aspects of motorcycling. On the other hand, many of the postings seem rushed with perhaps more quantity than quality. Additionally, it takes between two and three hours for me to create, proof and publish each article which is a pretty significant time investment, no matter how much I enjoy maintaining the blog.

For the second year of my blog, I’m going to take on a more relaxed publishing schedule. I plan to continue writing when I have a topic in mind but won’t necessarily be posting every day. Hopefully, this will mean I have some extra time to do data collection and proof-reading on some of my postings rather than feeling pressured to keep up my daily postings. Maybe I’ll even find some time to start on that Wiki idea…

Finally, I want to say “Thank you” to everyone that has read my blog. My web stats show around 2,000 hits per month on my main blog page and another 2,000 per month as rss feeds. I’m indebted to everyone that has taken the time to read any of my writings and doubly appreciative of those who repeatedly visit my site. My birthhday wish for the blog is to hope that everyone who visits finds something interesting, enjoyable or informative.

Thanks for your support!

[image from the web site.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Italian style…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

A couple of weeks ago, I did a motorcycle show intro about the British NEC show. This was a follow-up to postings I’d done earlier about this Fall’s Paris and Tokyo motorcycle shows. Well, this coming week is the last and biggest of the major shows: The International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan, Italy. Since this is the final of this year’s major expos expect any manufacturer that hasn’t already blown its marketing wad to unveil new products and interesting concept bikes this coming week. Since the Milan show is the granddaddy of all bike shows, at least in terms for floor space set up for exhibitors, it is more of a spectacle than any of the other shows.

Historically the Milan show, like the Munich and Paris shows, has been a biennial event but it’s popularity has grown to the point that it is now going to be held annually. Lets throw out a few numbers to show just how popular this thing really is. First, over 1,500 exhibitors are scheduled to be at the Milan Show. Think about that for a second…that kind of turn-out highlights just how incredible the motorcycle market is in Italy. Next up, the exhibition area is nearly 700,000 sq ft in size indoors and over 600,000 sq ft outside. In addition to the traditional booths and displays that will be set up inside the Nuova Fiera Milano convention center there will be a large number of activities happening in the outside space including freestyle motocross demos, supermotard and supercross races, trials performances, riding classes, motorcycle and scooter test drives and live concerts. Wow.

You know, reading the descriptions of what all happens at the NEC and Milan shows really brings to light how the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show is incredibly lame. If, somehow, the Cycle World show in Denver could be combined with the CycleFest held annually at Copper Mountain (with demo rides, supermoto racing, organized rides, etc) then it would be getting close to the scope of one of these major international shows. One can always dream that the US motorcycle market will eventually grow to the point where an American expo will be considered equal to a Paris, a NEC, a Tokyo or a Milan show. ‘Course, given the current grown in the US motorcycle market such a show would probably be made up primarily choppers anyway. Sigh.

…but I digress. Now where was I? Oh yes, talking about the Milan show. Well, the excitement has built continually all Fall as each of these major shows has revealed an increasing number of new bike announcements and radical prototypes unveillings. Thus Milan is bound to have a few surprises in store. The current rumors are:

MV Agusta F4 Senna to be introduced at Milan

First, MV Agusta will announce the new F4 Senna which is their Ayrton Senna replica but using the 1000cc F4 1000S instead of the earlier 750cc version. Likewise, MV Agusta should also show off their 910R Brutale naked bike. It is hard to beat a MV when it comes to a lustworthy and exclusive bike, so expect their showing to be the biggest news coming out of Milan.

Benelli, freshly returned from the dead thanks to a last minute infusion of money, are rumored to be showing two versions of their three cylinder Tornado sport bike and an updated version of their TNT naked bike. The Benelli triple was an innovative bike when it was first made a decade ago but their lingering financial problems have prevented development and the bikes are pretty dated now. They need to find about 20 hp and do a redesign to get the bikes up to modern spec.

Aprilia, also saved from bankruptcy after being purchased by Piaggio last year, is starting to show some movement. Their big news at Milan should be the overhauled RSV Mille sport bike, as well as updates to their European bread-n-butter two stroke sport bikes like the RS-125 and RS-250. I think the RSV Mille Factory is one of the prettiest sport bikes available so hopefully their updates have been aimed at keeping it competitive in a market where performance is improving year to year. I’m looking forward to seeing one of the new Milles when they finally make it to the states.

Bimota, yes yet another Italian motorcycle company that was out of money just twelve months ago but is now back in business. In this case, a consortium of Italians raised the money to start making Bimota motorcycles again. All the new Bimotas will use Ducati engines but very little is known about the new model they are expected to announce other than that the name will be the Delirio.

Ducati has already shown its new bikes but the Monster S4RS which uses the S4R frame but with the water cooled three valve motor from the Multistrada should be officially announced. Otherwise, not much excited from Ducati at their home expo.

The last of the Italian motorcycle companies rumored to be showing new product next week is the small manufacturer Moto Morini. This company is…wait for it…back from a bankruptcy induced dormancy that has lasted for the past decade. They have designed their own 1200cc V-Twin and are creating a line of bikes around this motor. The first was the Corsaro sport bike and now their follow-up, the 9.5 naked bike, should be unwrapped in Milan.

Naturally, the main players in the Italian scooter market like Piaggio (aka Vespa), Cagiva, Gilera, Aprilia will be showing new step throughs, as will Peugeot. The Japanese all pulled the cover off their scooters at the Tokyo show so its up to the Europeans to answer with their own prototypes and concept scooters.

But the Italians aren’t the only ones popping off some surprises in Milan. BMW is expected to announce some new models as a follow-up to their NEC show unveilings. First is a sport-touring version their newly announced 800cc parallel twin which will be called the F800ST. Keeping with the sporting trend they will roll out the R1200S sport bike and a K1200GT.

Finally, KTM is also bringing the big guns to Italy with two versions of their Adventure using the 990cc motor, a factory built enduro using the 950cc motor and probably showing off their 990cc sport bike prototype again. In my opinion, KTM has now completely overtaken Ducati as the most innovative and rapidly reacting motorcycle company in the market. Now if they could just get that big 990cc certified in the US so they could import all these cool bikes…

Alright, so I’m again jealous of the motorcycle treasures which are cascaded upon the heads of the European motorcycles. As if our government wasn’t enough of a reason for me to head across the pond now these shows are adding even more temptation. With the race season over, the silly season nearly settled and now the bike shows finishing up, it is starting to look like a long winter is ahead…

[image from the Beaudry Motorsports web site.]