Euro Gossip November 2009

November 4, 2009
Ian Kerr
Contributing Editor | Articles | RSS | Blog | Blog RSS

Our man in Europe, Ian delivers a monthly dose of those tasty rumors and hearsay from across the pond that make up our Euro Gossip column.

Harley Davidson Motorcycles
MV Agusta

Will the now-for-sale Italian MV Agusta brand fall into the hands of Volkswagen?

I suppose the big news this month revolves around Italy because of Harley’s decision to sell off MV Agusta and the forthcoming international motorcycle show. This will see the last of new model launches planned for 2010 and confirm or deny some of the rumors we have been pushing here throughout the last year.

Spare a thought though for all those at MV, who after so much investment and hard work by Harley-Davidson looked to be paying off with the new models (mentioned last month) due to be launched at Milan in November. The company at long last seemed to have a stable and viable future and now, once again, it is up for sale.

Who will buy them this time around? Well, the bets are on two options at the moment: a group of venture capital investors or Volkswagen. Remember we told you a couple of months ago that the boss, 72-year-old Dr. Ferdinand Pech, had told a German motorcycle magazine he wished he had bought Ducati when it was struggling in the ’80s. A massive two-wheeled fan, he could now get his last chance to own an iconic motorcycle company.

Another victim of the current financial crisis is French manufacturer Voxan who have just gone into receivership after defaulting on creditor’s payments. The company, which employs 15 people at its plant at Issoire in central France, blamed the collapse on several of its sub-contractors who have themselves, gone into liquidation.

The company, which produces six models, has also suspended joint ventures overseas. It claims the delayed launch of a new model planned for next year, along with poor sales in 2008 was also responsible for the closure. They now have six months to raise finances to keep the company alive.

Zero X
Zero Motorcycles continues to outshine the competition with the impressive performance of its Zero MX motocross bike.

New bikes sales may be struggling, but motorcycle theft in France is on the increase according to recent figures, which showed a decline in car theft. A rise of 1.3% this year comes after a 7.1% fall in the same period last year. More desirable bikes, or no money to buy?

The French Federation of Motorcycles has recently run a challenge for electric motorcycles in Gironville, France, which has been won by U.S. brand, Zero Motorcycles. Surprisingly over 250 riders competed in the race, which saw one Zero MX machine up against four other electric motorcycles.

After taking first in the electric class, one Thomas Aubry, riding on behalf of Zero Motorcycles, went on to take first place against the gas-powered motorcycles. The Zero MX has been designed specifically for track riding and motocross, using a high-performance suspension system and all the usual accoutrements for a conventional petrol-engined machine.


MZ Motorcycles
Will funding come through to save the MZ brand or will it leave the motorcycle industry for good?

Some months ago we told you that former German works riders Martin Wimmer and Ralf Waldmann had bought the MZ name and factory for five million Euros. For their money they got an 85-year-old iconic brand, a modern factory and two models, a top-selling 125 and the not-so-popular 1000cc Twin.

They stated their intention was just to go with the 125 and develop a race bike, but it now seems the announcement might have been premature. The promised financial subsidy’s from the Saxony government has yet to materialize and they cannot get any credit to finance production. With the selling season ending it looks like it could be the end of a brave rescue attempt.

The German domestic market has reported that registrations are down 30% in the first eight months of this year with just 116,647 units being registered, which includes scooters. Interestingly, the BMW R1200GS was the top-selling bike overall, during this period BMW themselves were fourth behind the Japanese in the overall manufacturer’s league table for sales. BMW’s worldwide sales are also down 15% compared to previous figures in 2008.


It is interesting to note the Milan Show press release concerning this year’s EICMA trade show in November, given the fact that many European shows have been canceled. Apparently they have six pavilions with a net exhibition area of 55,000 square meters full, which will house 1,290 companies displaying their products.

The gratifying news comes after initial concern that the loss of Honda and Yamaha as exhibitors might trigger a domino effect that had led most manufactures to stay away from other events this year and led to their cancelation. In this case though, there are apparently 138 companies on the waiting list and applications to attend the show from over 100 countries. As a sign of the times, part of the exhibition will be the “Green Planet” area dedicated to hybrid and electric vehicles.

Since the last edition of this monthly column, Moto Morini has announced it has gone into voluntary liquidation after not being able to pay staff and suppliers for over a month. While such a move in other countries would mean closure and the assets being sold off to pay creditors, under Italian law the move just protects them against claims by creditors and allows them to keep on trading.

A spokesperson was at pains to point out it was business as usual when revealing more information on the updates to the Granpasso mentioned last month. He announced supplies and spare parts would not be affected and the new-for-2010 Granpasso would still be at the Milan Show. The Granpasso has, of course, been making inroads into the BMW GS market. Moto Morini is looking to get a bigger slice and stay in the game, especially with the official announcement from Ducati about the new Multistrada.

2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200
Ducati has been careful to only offer a small glimpse at the 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 prior to its unveiling at the 2010 EICMA show.

No complaints have ever been made about the 118 hp V-Twin engine which has been praised for its power delivery, so it remains the same, although there is now a software upgrade for the injection system on the new bike. Likewise there have been few comments about the bike’s on-road handling. So work at the Bologna factory has been focused on enhancing rider ergonomics and improving its off-road capability.

Changes mentioned include handlebars that now have risers to allow greater adjustment. The seat also decreases the ride height and is fitted with a molded alloy heat shield to benefit both rider and protect the Ohlin’s rear shock. Morini has also now homologated the bike for use with knobby, enduro-style tires. High strength iron alloy motocross-style footpegs, with rubber inserts for the road, complete the changes and the move toward the dirt.

After months of speculation both in this column and worldwide, Ducati has finally confirmed that its major new bike to be launched at the EICMA show will be the Multistrada 1200.

Designed once again like the original to combine sportbike technology with comfort and versatility, it will now come with the 1198 Testastretta engine, modified to provide smoothness and tractability.

The Bologna company claims a completely new look from the original, which always provoked a love or hate opinion from riders, along with it being safe and easy and comfortable to ride. Ducati is focusing on the new bike being multifunctional, as before, with pre-launch information stating: ‘From sport bike to a tourer for long journeys with passenger and luggage. From an everyday bike, which can breeze through the daily commute, to an agile Enduro able to tackle off-road routes.’

Ducati Shanghai Opening
Ducati continues to expand into new regions with its first official Ducati store in China.

It will be interesting to see if this can break the BMW GS stranglehold on adventure motorcycles.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, China, Gabriele Del Torchio, Ducati’s President, cut the ribbon at the opening of ‘Ducati Shanghai’. This is the first official Ducati store in China following on from the opening of a regional office last year and brings the number of countries in which Ducatis sell to 80. The opening has been made possible by recent revision of vehicle use and registration rules within the most important Chinese cities that will allow larger capacity machines to be used.

Despite entering new markets and increasing exposure, Del Torchio has spoken publically that he will cut production by over 8,000 units for this financial year, noting the sales decline was due to buyers having difficulty in obtaining credit. He also stated he was personally taking a 20% pay cut to help reduce company overheads.


Rieju Moto
Rieju Moto continues to be strong in a troubling time for a majority of motorcycle manufacturers.

Spanish manufacturer Rieju are based in Barcelona in Spain and, despite the home market problems regularly mentioned here, has just produced their 400,000th Yamaha-engined motorcycle. The brand name is on the tank of a large proportion of 50cc, 80cc and 125cc road machines in Europe and the firm has actually been producing motorcycles since 1934.

Ever moving on in a declining market, the UK International Motorcycle Show at Birmingham that will start at the end of November will see Rieju unveil a limited edition, MRT 250 Pro Enduro and the new MRT 450 Pro Enduro bike. Continuing its ongoing relationship with Yamaha, both are powered by the WR series Yamaha engines. These are mounted in chassis that come from fellow Spanish manufacturers Gas Gas and Scorpa, making them real-engineering badge specials.

However, what the customer will get is really top specification road legal Enduro machines capable of competing at the top level. Both bikes have been tuned so that they have more power and torque compared to the ’09 versions. As far as the running gear is concerned, the 250 is based on a Gas Gas frame and uses top specification components such as Marzocchi 45mm forks, while at the rear is a Sachs shock. KTM radiators, Galfer wave discs, Excel rims, billet hubs and Brembo brakes make up the list. The 450 uses a Sherco-based Enduro frame and chassis and all the same quality running bits as the 250 above.

United Kingdom

Iconic UK brand Metisse Motorcycles has just unveiled a new one liter Parallel Twin motorcycle. The new engine, designed by a man from the F1 car world, kicks out 97 hp at 8,000 rpm and is mounted in a MKV chassis with motocross styling. The bike has modern forks and band suspension along with Brembo brakes and is expected to sell for around £16,000 when it eventually goes on sale in 2010.

2010 Norton 961 SE Commando
The Norton 961 SE Commando has sold out before the first bike has been produced.

A second bike is already underway and incorporates a six-speed gearbox and hydraulic clutch as feedback from the initial tests showed these were required. The motor will be used in a range of three stages of tune for three different models including a touring version.

Meanwhile Norton has announced its new limited edition 961 SE Commando has already sold out before the first one has even been produced. The new bike has fuel injection and the air-cooled motor is claimed to give 80 hp. It is mounted in a tubular steel frame with Ohlin’s suspension, Brembo brakes and carbon-fiber wheels. The newly formed Norton Company says they will unveil a Café Racer version at the UK show at the end of November as part of their ongoing effort to re-establish the brand.

Triumph has now introduced the most powerful version yet of its gargantuan 2.3 liter Rocket III, called the Rocket III Roadster. The move takes it out of the cruiser market and moves it into the ultimate muscle streetfighter category inhabited by the likes of the Yamaha V-Max and Harley V-Rod Muscle. Triumph claims this new version has the biggest torque figures found on any production motorcycle. The updated version of Triumph’s three-cylinder 2,294cc powerplant has maximum power increased and torque up 15%, to 163 lb-ft. An ABS system has been added and the new bike has extensive ergonomic changes compared to the previous model.

Talking of muscle bikes, the homemade Dodge eight liter V10-powered Millyard (named after its creator) has just topped 200 mph in testing. Despite seeing 207.101 mph on the test, its creator is now undergoing some changes to try and top 250 mph. Who said, ‘Mad dogs and an Englishman’? kawafives@

Rest of the World


Honda Logo
Honda passes a big production milestone in Indonesia with 25 million units.

Some markets are not as badly hit as others, given the recent information emanating from Indonesia, which has the third-largest motorcycle market in the world after China and India. In 2008 they marked an all-time record of approximately 6.2 million units showing a 33% increase from 2007 figures. Despite a decline in the first half of this year the market is on the rise again.

Certainly Honda, who originally began motorcycle production in Indonesia as far back as 1971, has something to celebrate as well. PT Astra Honda Motor (AHJ), Honda’s joint venture company in Indonesia since 2000 and responsible for motorcycle production and sales, recently held a ceremony to commemorate cumulative production of 25 million motorcycles.

AHJ now has an annual motorcycle production capacity of 3.1 million units, making it the second-largest of Honda subsidiaries worldwide. Hero Honda in India, which has an annual production capacity of 4.9 million units, is still number one.


Yamaha Logo
Predicted losses, closures and reduced staff continue to plague Yamaha. Will 2010 prove to be any better for the Japanese brand?

It seems that even the bosses at the top of the Japanese industry still have to fall on their swords if things are not going as they should. Despite the credit crunch being out of their control and despite having won just about every major blue-ribbon motorcycle championship in the world this year, Yamaha President and Chief Executive Officer Takashi Kajikawa is stepping down.

The announcement was made in the Japanese press following information that the company based in Iwata City, Japan is expected to fall into the red with a net loss of 182 billion yen for the year ending December 31, 2009. They also intend to close three factories over the next three years and have reduced sale forecasts by 12%.

Yamaha blames the drop in demand for motorcycles in the home market, North America and Europe, i.e. the major consumers of large and high-performance machines. The report stated that Kajikawa will be replaced by the current Chairman Tsuneji Togami.

Kawasaki has announced that it is to transfer some of its medium and large-sized motorcycle production to Thailand in 2010 in an attempt to cut labor costs. Such a move would make it the first of the Big Four to do so, but it is rumored Honda is also looking at such a move.

American Nicky Hayden  69  during free practice at Phillip Island MotoGP.
MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden sporting Arai’s RX-7 GP helmet.

According to Japanese helmet manufacturer Arai, the new RX-7 GP is the very first motorcycle helmet to exceed both the European ECE 22-05 and new US Snell M2010 performance requirements. The European standard is the legal minimum demanded for motorcycle helmets in use throughout the European Union, although the UK still runs its own British Standards for helmets and visors. The Snell M2010 standard was introduced at the beginning of October this year and demands protective standards well beyond the legal minimums accepted elsewhere in the world.

The RX-7 GP is Arai’s range-topping helmet and was introduced in December 2008. Apparently, it easily surpasses ECE 22-05 and is the only helmet so far to achieve Snell M2010 as well. By going well beyond these requirements, Arai claim the RX-7 GP offers superior levels of head protection for motorcyclists compared to the opposition. The RX-7 GP replaces the RX-7 Corsair and according to the firm’s spokesperson, it is ‘a completely new helmet, from the construction, lining, visor, fit and scoops or diffusers.’

And lastly.

If you think you need a BMW GS or similar to make that trip of a lifetime, ponder this information that appeared in the British press. Due to his fear of flying, Nathan Millward bought an Australian post office-specification Honda CT110 with two panniers. An additional eight-liter fuel tank, sheepskin seat cover and a $15 tent completed the preparation.

He then rode from Sydney to London without a map, just writing ‘way points’ on his arm each day to aim at during his 14-hour stints in the saddle. Despite going through several war zones, he rated the German Autobahns the most dangerous thanks to his 38 mph top speed.