Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, April 29, 2005

Learning curves…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MotoGP

This weekend will be a great weekend of racing. For the first time this year, there will be three different race series I can watch in one weekend:

Shanghai China MotoGP track
First, the MotoGP season holds its third round at the new Shanghai Circuit in China. This track promises to make for some exciting racing for a few different reasons. For one thing it has the longest straight of all the tracks on the MotoGP calendar at nearly 3/4 of a mile in length. The long length of tarmac will mean everyone better bring their horsepower to the 3.3 mile circuit. Honda probably has an advantage in this arena. However, the teams can’t just focus on going fast because the designers threw in four 180+ degree tight turns including one that is nearly a full 360 degrees. Some of these turns are long enough that the bikes stay leaned over on the right side of the tire for a long time. The fourteen turns on the track mean that a good handling bike, like the Yamaha, may have an advantage. Finally, this is a new track so the teams will have to figure out tires (Michelin is basically bringing one of everything since they don’t yet know what the tire wear will be like), suspension settings, fuel usage, gearing, computer settings and lines around the track. The team that can get all these myriad details sorted out the fastest will have an advantage. This may be a place where teams like Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati can shine. I doubt they’ll close the gap to the top Honda and Yamaha teams but they can show their stuff within their own competition to be the best of the rest. It will be very interesting to see which riders are the fastest after the first practice and whether those same riders are still among the fastest in the last practice session, as it will show whether riders are slowly and methodically building their speed or if they get up to their max speed relatively quickly and then just fine tune. Any rider that can get up to speed quickly will then be making tire, gearing, suspension and computer changes that match the speed they are likely to run in the race. Everyone else will tune as they go and may well find new problems showing up if their race time is faster than their final practice time.

A more predictable situation will present itself this weekend when the AMA series returns to California Speedway in Fontana, CA. Unfortunately for the rest of the field, Fontana has been the sole domain of Mat Mladin for the past two years. With Mladin coming off two devastating victories at Daytona and Barber, things don’t look good for anyone hoping to break Mladin’s streak at California Speedway. Despite being built in the middle of a NASCAR oval, California Speedway is a reasonably interesting track…at least as interesting as a flat, concrete wall lined bull ring can be. The track designers managed to squeeze 21 turns into the two mile NASCAR track, including some high speed left hand sweepers that give the gutsy riders a chance to show their stuff. From what we saw at Daytona, this is going to favor the Suzukis, so I predict another Suzuki sweep in at least one of the two races. Those fast sweepers put a premiun on a rider’s ability to trust his front tire and that is a weakness for both the long wheelbase Ducati and the still developing Honda.

The final race of the weekend is the series opener for our local MRA roadrace series at Pueblo Motorsports Park in Pueblo, Colorado. Of the tracks in Colorado, Pueblo may be the most interesting. It is among the longest of our tracks and has the longest straight. The track is actually part of a motorsports complex which means that in addition to watching roadracing, you can ride dirt bikes, camp and even watch drag racing in the evenings after the racing. As for the races themselves, the usual suspects should dominate: Shane Turpin, Ricky Orlando, Dan Turner, Mike Applegate, Jon Glaefke, Jim Brewer, Dennie Burke, Mark Nudelman, Marty Sims and Rich Deeming. While there have been some impressive new riders joining the series in the past couple of years, no one has yet been able to step up in the premier Race of the Rockies class to challenge the veterans like Shane Turpin, Ricky Orlando and Dan Turner. In addition to the weekend’s MRA road races, the MRA also has a Supermoto class which runs on Saturday afternoons once the morning practice is over, which makes for an even more interesting race weekend. ‘Course all this assumes that our unseasonably late snow fall doesn’t force the cancellation of the event.

Because of the weather I won’t be driving down to Pueblo for the MRA races. Instead, I’ll be spending Sunday curled up on the couch with two foot of snow outside and the TV tuned to Speed….

[image from the Shanghai Circuit web site.]

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Still tired…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

This coming weekend will be another session of fighting with the big, round, black deamon from hell. Yes, its true, no sooner than I got all my tires mounted back in February I walked out one morning to find the front tire on the DRZ was flat.

DRZ-400S tire

Specifically, I found that the last time I rode the DRZ I ripped the valve stem out of the tube in the front tire. I remember that I was practicing stoppies on the dirt road leading to our house but a couple of things still make this flat tire surprising: 1) I was trying to brake hard on a loose dirt road so I’m surprised it generated enough stopping power to slip the tire on the rim and 2) I suck at stoppies so I’m surprised I was able to apply that much braking force without falling down.

Nonetheless, when I went to put air in the flat front tire, I heard the tell-tale sound of air hissing out into the rim rather than filling up an inner tube. This past weekend, I broke the bead on the tire and fished out the tube to find that, sure enough, the valve stem was no longer attached. Now I’ll have to completely remove the tire so that I can extract the stub of the valve stem. While I have the tire off, I’ll see if I can install a rim lock as the front tire on the DRZ400S doesn’t have one (that lack of rim lock no doubt contributed to the ease with which the tire rotated on the rim).

In addition to spending even more time fighting with tire irons I’ll get to add to that pleasure the delicate task of trying not to pinch the inner tube. The one bonus is that when I’m finished installing the new tube and remounting the tire I’ll get to try static balancing the tire on my new Rod Neff tire balancing stand which is shown in the background. (Don’t worry, I’m aware the balancing a dirt bike tire is overkill but I’d like to get some practice before I start doing tires where balancing is important.) I bought the adjustable stand that can also be broken down flat for easy storage. Its a well made unit and, assuming I get around to buying the $BMW$ adaptor for my GS wheel, I should be able to now mount and balance the tires on all the bikes in my garage. My buddy Jeff just bought a motorcycle tire changer from Harbor Frieght which I need to go check out to see if it will fix the problem of trying to juggle three tire irons while holding a tire flat and without bending the expensive brake rotors…as if I don’t have enough toys in the garage!

Ultimately, I’m just trying to find a way to make tire changes more interesting because at the moment I’m tired of fighting with the damned things and summer is just beginning!

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What a rush…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

“I still think that riding motorcycles is much, much more than a sport; pretty close to religion.”
– Keith Code

This past weekend was the American debut of a documentary film made in Canada about multi-time AMA champ Miguel Duhamel. The film Adrenaline Rush, as with many other religious functions, was shown this past Sunday on SpeedTV.

Miguel Duhamel winning the 2002 Daytona 200

The primary focus of the film was the 2003 AMA series, the year in which Miguel won his 41st AMA Supersport race at Brainerd. As if winning 41 of anything isn’t impressive enough that race win emphasized what a determined racer Duhamel is since a crash at Infinion Raceway six weeks earlier had broken his left collarbone in three places. The fix for the shattered collarbone was to insert a pin to strengthen the bone while it healed. The pin didn’t stay in place and by mid-season was protruding out of the bone enough to pierce the skin. After an attempt to hammer the pin back into place failed, Duhamel just taped foam over the pin, took antibiotics to prevent an infection and raced anyway. Taken as a second chapter to his stunning 1999 Daytona victory after a crash at Loudon the previous season left him with a crushed left femur, the collarbone stories shows just how much Duhamel wants to race and to win. Looking at his record: 32 career Superbike wins, 5 Daytona 200 victories, 41 Supersport wins, 9 Formula Xtreme wins, 1 Superstock win, the 1995 Superbike championship, five Supersport titles (1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997) and his being the 2004 Formula Xtreme champ shows just how successful he’s been.

This is basically the story that is told in the biographical film. There are home movies of a young Miguel riding mini-bikes with his siblings, race footage from many of the key races in 2003 and 2004, interviews with family members and friends and one-on-one interviews with Miguel himself. Some of the film footage, like the post race film from Barber in 2004 where he was taken out in a multi-bike accident with Ben Bostrom, shows the less glamorous side of Miguel. It clearly shows how he tried to force a red flag after the crash in an attempt to get back into the race. While this is understandable from the viewpoint of a racer, its of questionable ethical value when considering those still in the race. This film clip also shows how that very personal decision on Duhamel’s part affects both his girlfriend and mother who were watching the race.

Ultimately, these personal glimpses are what really make the documentary a decent film. Duhamel’s personality is entertaining and getting this view into the man behind the visor makes many of the trials and tribulations that much more human. Finally, I doubt a film about a less charismatic rider would be nearly as enjoyable to watch, and it would be very difficult to find a rider that has experienced as many highs and as many lows as Miguel has during the course of his career. Both of these factors make him the perfect candidate for such a film. While this isn’t the greatest motorcycle documentary ever made, that honor is still held by On Any Sunday, it offers some great insight into motorcycle road racing in particular and into one of the AMA’s greatest in particular.

For the moment, a trailer for the movie is available online. Check the SpeedTV program schedule to see if the program will be broadcast again.

[image from the Daytona International Speedway web site.]

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Life under the big top…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Back in December, I did a blog entry about an ex-Colorado racer named Nicky Wimbauer who has gone on to race this season at an international level in the newly created World 600 Superstock championship. This class, along with World Supersport and World Superstock, are support classes for the European rounds of the World Superbike series. It is a more “stock” class when compared to the well established World Supersport class (which are stock framed and “superbike” engined 600cc bikes) and was specifically created to bring new talent into the series by giving young riders under the age of 21 that have risen to the top in their national series an arena for further competition. What makes this particularly exciting is that some of the existing World Superbike and World Supersport teams have already started to support the new class. Belgian based Moto 1, a successful Suzuki supported team in World Supersport, picked Nicky as their rider in World 600 Superstock and have thus given him a great opportunity to join the WSBK circus aboard a competitive bike.


This past weekend was the first race of the class as the World Superbike series opened its European dates with a race in Valencia, Spain. Wimbauer had some challenges in qualifying and ended up 17th on the grid for the start of the race. Once the green flag fell, he showed why Moto 1 put such faith in him by charging his way through the pack to finish eighth roughly 20 seconds down on the leader. The field ahead of him consisted of two Frenchmen, two Spaniards, a German and two Italians most of whom were older than the 17 year old Wimbauer. If he continues to ride smart, finish this well and to learn at each race you can be sure we’ll see him on a Superbike very soon.

You can follow the series and Mr. Wimbauer’s results on the Official World Superbike web site.

[image from the Nicky Wimbauer web site.]

Monday, April 25, 2005

Crashing the Suzuki party…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, WSBK

This past weekend’s superbike races would seem, at first glance, to have been a story of old timers sticking it to the youngsters. In both the World Superbike and the AMA races, 30+ year old veterans won handily over a field that included both series regulars and bright young stars. Likewise, both riders took early commanding leads in two races each and those double wins put both in positions atop the points table with large enough margins to miss a race without threatening their advantage. Impressive stories to be sure. However, I found that the race reports show an equally interesting development further down the podium.

…but first, the race reviews:

In World Superbike, it was another Troy Corser weekend. As in the first two rounds, TC was unbelievable all weekend. In both races, he jumped out to an early lead and held that till the finish. The focus therefore shifted to what was happening behind him. In race 1, that was highlighted by a crash-fest. It all started before the race when Ducati mounted title contender Regis Laconi crashed in morning practice and was too concussed to race. In the race, nearly all the Australian riders, with the exception of Corser and Vermeulen, visited the gravel including Pitt, McCoy and Martin. German Neukirchner had a particularly nasty highside on his Honda early in the race that sent Muggeridge and Lanzi off track with Italian Lanzi breaking his collarbone. The later stages of the race boiled down to a fascinating battle for second between Honda’s Vermeulen and Yamaha’s Abe. The Pirelli tires appeared once again to be crap and in the second half of the race all the riders were sliding everywhere. This finally bit Abe and sent him down the track, handing third place to Suzuki’s Kagayama. Another notable finish was Frankie Chili crossing the line in seventh just two weeks after breaking his collarbone in Australia.

The second WSBK race started as a mirror of the first with Corser clearing off early. Vermeulen put up a better fight and stayed a little closer but it still seemed TC could manage the gap, upping the pace if necessary. Once again the focus turned to the Australian youngster in second place this time because Kawasaki’s Walker made a surprise appearance at the front. As with Abe in Race 1, Walker put a tremendous amount of pressure on Vermeulen. Also as in the first race, it appeared that the Honda used up the rear tire sooner than the following bikes which made Vermeulen’s job of holding off Walker all the more difficult. In the end, the talented Honda rider did just that to take home another second place trophy. Walker performed brilliantly to get onto the podium after struggling in the early races of the season. The other big surprise for race two was Ben Bostrom’s fantastic sixth place. It appears the Renegade Honda rider may finally be getting the new bike sorted out.

In the weekend’s AMA Superbike races, the headline was Mat Mladin’s continued romp towards a sixth title. In just the second race weekend of the season, Mladin has already pulled a 22 point advantage in the points chase. This is shades of seasons past where Mladin creams ‘em early in the season and plays it smart in the second half, while others come apart under the pressure. In both races, Mladin lead immediately and just pulled away throughout the race, turning laps a second a lap faster than anyone else. The trailing pack was limited to Suzuki teammates Yates and Spies, as well as Ducati’s Hodgson. Yates was easily the second fastest guy of the weekend, able to gap the following riders but not catch Mladin. The race for third in the first race boiled down to a wonderful battle between the ex-World champion Hodgson and the superbike rookie Spies. At the end, Spies threw down an amazing move through traffic and clinched the final podium spot.

The second day’s Superbike race at Barber Motorsports Park started with another rocket maneuver from Mladin. Second was briefly a battle between Yates and Hodgson with Yates eventually pulling a gap but then having a rear tire vibration which forced a pit stop, handing second place to Hodgson. The focus then trailed back down to Spies who was in a see-saw battle with Honda’s Duhamel. This fight came down to the last lap, when Duhamel pulled a brave last corner pass but was then pushed wide allowing Spies to sneak back underneath for the win. Another exciting race for the rising star from Texas.

The only AMA support race that was televised, the 600 Supersport race, was a thrilling race as well. Yamaha’s Jamie Hacking was on fire all weekend and took off from pole position (both times actually, as there was a red-flag induced re-start) with Kawasaki’s Hayden brothers in close pursuit. The race pace was very fast which eventually caught Roger Lee out causing him to run off the track and lose touch with the two front runners. Tommy kept pressure on the Yamaha and finally made a run at him on the last corner of the last lap but came up a little too short to make the move. Jamie’s victory ties up the points battle. Particularly noticeable in the race was how slow the Suzuki GSXR600s are this year. Despite some hard riding by the racers, the first Suzuki was in 10th place. Yamahas and Suzukis filled the first nine positions. Its time for Suzuki to put some of its GSXR1000 engineers to work on the smaller bike. Mention should also be made of Yamaha mounted privateer Robert Jensen who finished seventh. That is a phenomenal placing for a privateer in a class so loaded with factory backed talent and it definitely highlights the guy’s riding skill.

Chris Vermeulen

With all that out of the way, my focus will be on the two young stars that showed their metal through some extremely tough races. On the World Superbike stage in Valencia, Spain that star was Chris Vermeulen. While he didn’t quite have the speed needed to challenge Troy Corser, he survived two grueling race long battles with more experienced racers. In race one, it was ex-GP winner Norik Abe and in race two it was ex-GP racer Chris Walker. Both racers applied considerable pressure and in both cases, appeared to have tires in better condition and thus better mid-corner speed. Despite these advantages, Vermeulen kept his wits and rode a superb race to beat both of them. I’m sure his previous World Supersport experience really helped here since that class is all about racing in a tight pack. I also believe that him continuing to get this experience, as he did last year in Superbike, will forge him into a better and better racer. The guys that lead races from the front may become better technical racers but its the guys that know how to fight it out that build a skillset that helps them in the long run. Expect Chris V to be replacing one of the under-performing MotoGP riders next season.

In the AMA Superbike series, this same kind of performance was turned in by Ben Spies. He was able to go to school with ex-WSBK champ and ex-GP rider Neil Hodgson and then in race two do the same thing with multi-time AMA champ Miguel Duhamel. Both of these riders are smooth, precise and smart. All attributes that, should they rub off, will be useful to Spies throughout his career. The fact that the Suzuki rider bested both veterans in their respective races shows he is a quick study and that he has bucket loads of talent. If anyone is going to be able to step up and challenge Mladin this season, it may well be Spies as he continues to grow as a rider.

Bravo to both these riders, as well as the two old guard masters who should be their targets.

[image from the Italian Motorsport web site.]

Friday, April 22, 2005

Win on Sunday…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, WSBK

Yamaha and Honda both lay claim to the title of best motorcycle company based on their engineering prowness in the battlefield of the MotoGP series. For the past two seasons, it has been obvious that these two companies can out research, out design, out innovate, out test and out spend all the other manufacturers in their quest to build the fastest prototype racing motorcycles in the world. The Honda RC211V and Yamaha M1 have dominated for two years and look to continue that in 2005. However, if the yard stick for measuring a motorcycle company’s success is production racing, then this year it appears Suzuki has all comers covered.

This weekend there are three different major Superbike races: World Superbike at Valencia Spain, AMA at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and British Superbike at Mallory Park. In two of those series the Suzuki GSXR 1000 has already stamped its authority in just the first few rounds. In the third, the chances are good that Suzuki will soon flex its muscle. As I said in a posting last month about Suzuki’s strong showing early in the year the Marketing department at Suzuki is set to have a busy year.

Lets start with the bad news: The British Superbike Series. After being the fastest guy at the first pre-season test for the BSB series, Suzuki rider and defending champ John Reynolds had a serious crash which resulted in a shattered right leg. Amazingly, he has come back in an amazingly short time and ridden at the first races of the season but he has been in such a poor state of fitness that he couldn’t hang with the front runners. With each passing day, his leg is mending and he will soon be back to fitness. Whether he will be able to challenge the current season’s undefeated race winner, Honda’s Ryuichi Kiyonari, this weekend at Mallory Park remains to be seen but you can be sure JR will run up front once he’s healthy. Reynold’s young team mate, Scott Smart, still has some learning before he’ll be a title contender but what better teacher than a two time BSB champion? Expect the Suzuki name to be back on the podium later in the season.

In World Superbike action the races have been a Suzuki ad as the two Alstare Corona riders, Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama, have lead every race by a proverbial mile. The dominance of the GSXR1000 is shocking, considering that World Superbike has been the property of Ducati for so long. That the new bike can not only be competitive but actually monopolize the results has to shake the series faithful to the core. Suzuki and Alstare team owner Francis Batta have put a huge amount of effort into this series because if you want to get your new bike noticed in the show room, having it reign at the race track is a good start. Expect the two GSXR riders to continue this trend this weekend in Spain.

Suzuki GSXR 1000 Mladin replica

Finally, there is the AMA series where the three Suzukis have been in the top four fastest in every test session and during the race at Daytona. Mat Mladin has topped everything at every track. No matter what your opinion of the guy’s personality, there is no getting around his riding prowess. The force he wields over the AMA Superbike field is incredible, both with his equipment, his skill and his psychological warfare. Last year Suzuki had a GSXR1000 Mat Mladin replica for sale, showing just how confident they were that Mladin’s win on Sunday would translate into sales on Monday. Mladin was consistently the fastest guy, sometimes by over a second, at the recent AMA test at Barber. Just like Daytona, I think Mladin will use that speed to pull away early and control the race from the front. That’s just the image Suzuki wants in people’s minds…

While Suzuki’s GSV-R MotoGP bike is getting is ass handed to it by Yamaha and Honda, they have found a different way to showcase their engineering strength and its a method that probably gets more potential buyers into showrooms. If Suzuki can sell more bikes by focusing on Superbike racing, do they really care if they stand atop the MotoGP podium?

The rest of the teams stack up like this:

BSB - Honda has kept a perfect win record so far, with Kiyonari and has captured second place two times in four races thanks to Michael Rutter’s performance. The only rider to put pressure on the two Hondas thus far as been Ducati mounted ex-WSBK star Gregorio Lavilla.

WSBK - The Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis are all a half-step behind the Alstare squad but it looks like Ducati mounted Regis Laconi has the best chance of bridging the gap. There are a lot of young riders in WSBK this year (Muggeridge, Vermeulen, Neukirchner, Pitt, Lanzi), so maybe those guys still have some growth left in them as well.

AMA - I think Ducati’s Neil Hodgson is the only guy that can challenge the three Yoshimura Suzuki riders at this point. Honda are still struggling to build their bikes, Eric Bostrom is still trying to figure out the front end of the 999 and the Jordan Suzuki team is still trying to gel.

[image from the Powersports Network web site.]

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pinch hitter…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

With Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman out with a wrist injury for the next five weeks, Team Green has found itself in need of a quality rider for the next two races. The upcoming race is at the new track in China in a little over a week with the following race at Le Mans in France two weeks later. Since every rider will be equally challenged at the new Shanghai facility, team owner Harald Eckl needed to find a rider that knows Le Mans. He has decided to turn to part-time Moriwaki test rider Olivier Jacque.

Olivier Jacque

Jacque’s resume is mainly anchored by his 250GP World Championship in 2000. That season he raced his Yamaha teammate and title challenger Shinya Nakano all season long and narrowly won the last race at Phillip Island to earn the championship. Before the 2000 season, Jacque had been a talented 250 racer but had only occasional notable finishes. Following his 250 title, he and teammate Nakano where brought into the 500cc Gran Prix class on second tier Yamahas with the Herve Poncharal Gauloises team but both failed to make much of an impression. With the change to four strokes in 2002, both riders struggled with the finicky M1 for a few seasons before being let go from Yamaha at the end of 2003. For 2004 Nakano moved on to Kawasaki and is in the middle of an amazing resurgence. For 2004 Jacque moved to being a French motorcycle magazine reporter and filling in on one-off MotoGP rides for Moriwaki and WCM. Now, for the next two races, the pair will again be teammates. The sense of deja vu is amplified because ex-Yamaha GP project leader Ichiro Yoda is now the technical director for the Kawasaki team.

While the Frenchman never seemed to find his stride with the four stroke MotoGP bikes, he now seems to have found his calling as the person teams call when they need a solid rider who already knows the tracks, teams and the politics of the Grand Prix circus. In this regard, he joins the ranks of other riders who have become better known as pinch hitters than Grand Prix race winners like Jean-Michel Bayle, David De Gea, Gregorio Lavilla and even Anthony Gobert. However, it would seem that being a stand-in for injured Kawasaki riders pays off more than with other teams. Alex Hoffman got his start with Kawasaki as a substitute rider for an injured Hitoyasu Izutsu. Izutsu, in turn, did some testing work for Kawasaki when then MotoGP test rider Akira Yanagawa was injured in 2002. Andrew Pitt, a Kawasaki factory MotoGP rider in 2003, also sub’ed for the injured Yanagawa. Clearly Eckl has a history of later hiring his substitute riders…

Personally, I don’t expect great results from Jacque. Any GP bike requires a lot of testing to really master so its unrealistic to expect him to jump on the bike and immediately be up at the front. However, having a second rider, particularly one with as much experience as Jacque, is bound to help the Kawasaki team continue to improve the ZX-RR. It is always possible that Olivier’s home field advantage at Le Mans, when teamed with a strong desire to impress team owners and hopefully get back into MotoGP full time, will lead to an inspired ride in three weeks. If nothing else, the Kawasaki ride should keep his skills honed so that when he gets his Moriwaki wild card rides later in the season he’ll be ready to race.

Being the guy that gets called in as a substitute rider isn’t all bad. It certainly wouldn’t suck to be the guy that periodically gets called to fly to some exotic location and ride a 250hp MotoGP bike around for a weekend.

[image from the Olivier Jacque web site.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The best bike I can\’t buy…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

As I mentioned in a blog posting last December, I’m looking to add a new bike to the garage this year. After a few months of looking, I’m still not ready to lay down cash but the field has been cut down to just a few candidates.

Before talking about the contenders, let me explain how I narrowed the field. First, I got to spend two weeks riding the new BMW R1200GS during our recent Edelweiss tour in Spain. The new GS is a fantastic bike but ultimately it doesn’t differ enough from my current R1150GS to justify an upgrade. What was most apparent is that the new GS is lighter than the older model. I’m not convinced BMW has really gotten more ponies out of the motor but with less weight it feels that way. When it does come time to replace the R1150GS, the new 1200 will be the one but not this summer…

Another option was to replace my old FT500 Ascot based track bike with something newer but that was a long shot from the beginning because of how little I use the thing. Jonna really loved the F650GS during the Spain trip and has expressed an interest in replacing her SV650 with the Beemer. That leads to a possible situation where I sell the Ascot, turn her SV into a track bike and then get her a F650. However, when we looked at the cost difference between the Suzuki and the BMW, that option seemed less attractive. Again, maybe in the future but not this summer.

So with those two alternatives postponed I’ve started seriously looking at sport bikes. Any of the liter bikes are pretty hard to justify, given that they have more power and better handling that I’d probably ever use on the street, but when are bikes really a logical thing? If I can buy a 185 hp, tire shredding, asphalt melting monster why wouldn’t I? The Suzuki GSXR1000 and Kawasaki ZX-10R top the list of sport bikes that I’ve been checking out.

KTM 990 Superduke

But there is one bike that I’m passionate enough about that I would buy it immediately: the KTM 990 Superduke. The bike just seems perfect…light weight, upright seating, lots of power but still tuned and geared as a brutal supermotard bike. I like the bike’s looks and think the KTM V-twin motor is really in its perfect environment in the Superduke…a physically small motor but with big power. Now for the bad news: KTM isn’t importing the Superduke into the US in 2005. A few of the local shops have them but only for display purposes, not for sale. KTM USA hasn’t announced any plans to import the bike in 2006 either, so the chances of the bike being available this fall looks pretty slim. For the moment, the closest I can get is surfing the 990 Superduke web site and watching the promotional video over and over.

If anyone from KTM USA is reading, consider this one vote for bringing the 990 Superduke to the States. If there are any grey market importers reading, then forget KTM USA, lets talk!

[image from the Sport Rider web site.]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Watch this, Bubba…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

ESPN2 screwed up their grid guide this past Sunday so I was unable to watch the Seattle round of the AMA Supercross race on TV. Nonetheless, from what I’ve read it appears that the top four riders were all news makers.

Bubba Stewart and Ricky Carmichael

First, Bubba Stewart pulled another performance like at Dallas a couple of weeks ago and simply crushed the field. From start to finish he was plainly faster than anyone else. More importantly, he kept it upright and didn’t throw the bike down the track. If he does this a few more times, maybe he’ll start making habit of it.

Second, Kevin Windham put in a tremendous ride to get a second place, his best finish since the second round of the series back in Phoenix. Beating both Carmichael and Reed is going to be another boost to his confidence and he’ll need that for the upcoming motocross season.

Next up, Ricky Carmichael rode a smart and safe race to fill out the podium and get the final points he needed to take the World Supercross GP championship. He also finished ahead of Reed and thus kept his points lead for the AMA Supercross title.

Finally, Chad Reed gets a consolation prize. After getting parked in the first turn and punted off the track by a sliding Windham and Stewart, Chad turned in an amazing ride to charge back to forth. While it doesn’t do much for his title hopes, it does show he’s got the speed needed to consistently beat early season rival Carmichael.

My thoughts from this one are pretty simple. Stewart continues to show just how phenomenal a rider he has become by effortlessly turning lap times a second a lap faster than anyone else. Windham always seems to do best when his confidence is high and he’s gaining momentum here at the end of the season but will have to deal with the Stewart show from now on which may be worse than anything Ricky has dished out thusfar. Speaking of Carmichael, RC is playing it smart but has to be worried about Stewart’s speed. With Stewart committed to running a proven two-stroke in the outdoors, Carmichael may be reconsidering his decision to run the new four stroke. Finally, Reed really needs to get some sort of award for mental strength since he just keeps coming back again and again. Crushing defeats, crashes, mistakes and getting punted off the track but he still turns in fantastic rides.

My only other comment is the near complete meaninglessness of the “World Supercross GP” title. The FIM has decided that tacking on a mandatory pair of Canadian rounds onto the front of the AMA Supercross series somehow qualifies it for a separate “world class” championship. There needs to be more non-American rounds and a lot more non-US riders to get any sort of world title status. Right now it is just a bonus the AMA Supercross champ gets for running a couple of practice events before the official season starts. Ideally, a World Supercross series would differ enough from the AMA series that riders couldn’t run both, meaning they either race for money in the US or for a world title in a seperate series. At the moment the AMA series has the best Supercross riders in the world but a World championship should at least be unique whether it has the best riders or not.

[image from the Moto X Sports website.]

Monday, April 18, 2005

Substitute teacher…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Brazilian Alex Barros almost won his home race today. The fact is, he did win the MotoGP race it just wasn’t in his home country. The Brazilian Grand Prix, originally scheduled for this weekend, was dropped off the calendar this past winter due to contract negotiation problems and the Portugese Grand Prix at the Estoril circuit was added as a last minute substitution. I guess having a common language was close enough for Barros because he put on a riding lesson all weekend long by leading every practice session, taking pole position, turning the fastest lap and then winning the race.

Barros wheelies at Estoril

The real story of the race wasn’t the racing it was things like the weather and rider injuries. Spitting rain all day long meant that the race was run under cloudy skies and early in the race the new “wet weather” rules kicked in allowing riders to pit for a backup bike (with different tires) if they chose. Despite some parts of the track becoming very slippery, all riders opted to stay out. The combination of slick tires, tricky track layout and misting rain meant lots of riders visited the gravel trap. The most dramatic instance being race leader and championship contender Sete Gibernau who threw his bike into the turn 1 kitty liter on the 17th lap. Also taking spills were Hopkins, Bayliss and Edwards. At the finish line it was Barros ahead of Rossi and Biaggi. This puts Rossi into the series points lead, followed by Barros, Melandri and Biaggi.

Added to the injured list this weekend were Honda’s Makoto Tamada, Troy Bayliss also on a Honda and Yamaha’s Tony Elias. Tamada crashed during qualifying and is thought to have broken his wrist. As a result, he missed the race altogether. The scaphoid, the same bone broken by Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman earlier in the week, is a very slow bone to heal since there is very little blood flow in that part of the wrist. The normal treatment is six weeks in a cast or inserting a metal pin but I doubt a top star like Tamada will wait that long. An improperly healed scaphoid can basically end a rider’s career…just look at the wrist injuries that plagued Freddie Spencer during his career, so I hope the talented Konica Minolta rider doesn’t rush back too quickly. Bayliss’ injury wasn’t as severe but that is only because the Australian rider apparently rubbed his lucky rabbit’s foot the morning of qualifying. Troy had a *huge* highside that slammed him down on his head and shoulder. Aside from a sore neck, he is reported to be uninjured from the accident. He also crashed, apparently uninjured, in the race meaning it may be time to buy a new luck token because his current one is surely empty now. The final injury news was GP rookie Tony Elias who also crashed twice during qualifying. The second crash resulted in an injured knee. Elias rode in the race and finished a respectable 14th.

At this point, its easier to talk about who isn’t injured that to talk about who is. Barros, Rossi, Biaggi and Melandri are all healthy…hmmm…they are also the top four finishers. Edwards (sixth today), Nakano (eighth), Xaus (tenth), Roberts Jr (twelfth) and Hopkins (DNF) round out the list of healthy factory riders. WCM’s Battaini and Ellison and D’antin’s Rolfo are also unscathed so far this season. Some of these are a surprise, given that Melandri, Xaus, Hopkins and Roberts have all spent a decent amount of time testing gravel traps so far this season. Toby Hirst’s morning warm-up article at pointed out the fascinating statistic that this weekend marked the 14th crash so far this year for Ruben Xaus. Xaus may end up costing Yamaha more money than Rossi’s salary! Adding in teammate Elias’ two crashes this weekend and Edward’s race crash means there is probably a shortage of M1 bodywork back in Japan right now.

Looking beyond the MotoGP to the 250GPs makes for a huge contrast. Where the bigger bikes were fairly processional, only interrupted by the occasional crash, the 250 race was a barn burner. It looked more like a 125 race than what the past season has shown from the quarter liter two strokes. From the green flag, Porto took off and built an impressive lead in just a few laps. The following gaggle of riders was incredible to watch with five or six riders all mixed up in a dog fight. Pedrosa, Stoner, De Punier, De Angelis, Dovisioso, Aoyama and Takahashi were all over one another while Porto continued to pull away. Around half race distance, Porto apparently started having trouble since his lap times fell and he was gradually caught and passed by the trailing pack. The top five (Pedrosa, Dovisioso, Stoner, De Puniet and De Angelis) pulled a gap on the following two Japanese riders and then with just a couple of laps to go Stoner, Dovisioso and De Puniet pulled a slight break. In the end, Stoner won his first 250 Grand Prix, Dovisioso earned his first 250 podium with a second place finish and De Puniet bounced back from his crash at Jerez to earn some valuable points. In the championship, Pedrosa leads Porto and De Angelis.

I’d like to comment on two things. First, the new flag-to-flag rule. This new rule means that a race where it starts to rain, after starting the race in dry conditions, will not be stopped. Instead, a flag will be shown that will allow riders to pit and change to a backup bike that is in “wet weather” setup. This pit stop will take somewhere between 30 seconds to a minute (and interestingly enough will void the FIM’s own 22 liter fuel limitation rule). The idea for this rule is to keep the TV cameras rolling and to prevent “two part” races which, when scored on cumulative time, mean the first person across the finish line isn’t necessarily the winner. This weekend’s weather was dicey and made for variable track conditions. While no one was injured due to their crash today, I think this race does show that riders will not pull into the pits unless weather conditions are so bad that *everyone* is going to pit. It is today’s conditions that offer the worst case scenario where the leaders stay out on the wrong tires in sketchy conditions because pitting may compromise their result. Instead, they are compromising their safety. I think the FIM knows how much scrutiny they will be under because of this new ruling and they certainly dodged the bullet today. Still, I hope this ruling will be re-thought before something more serious occurs.

Second, I want to point out one of the traits of a champion…they know how to take what they can get. In today’s MotoGP race, both Gibernau and Barros had Rossi beaten. Rather than push and risk crashing while trying to stay with obviously faster riders/bikes, Rossi sat back and rode his own race. After Sete crashed, Vale was gifted second place and those points put him atop the championship points table. Likewise, in the 250 race, Pedrosa didn’t push on the damp track to beat the youngsters like Stoner and Dovisioso. He finished forth in the race but those points were enough to put him on top in the 250 points. Both riders rode a smart race, knowing who their championship rivals are likely to be and only doing what is necessary to stay ahead of those riders. Even when a champion has an off day, its still often enough to further their cause. This is an important lesson for more hot headed riders to learn. Last year Barros and Stoner both crashed while trying to win races, today they both won. Perhaps it is a lesson they have both taken to heart.

[image from Yahoo Sports France web site.]