2015: The Motorcycle Year in Review

Bryan Harley | December 30, 2015

The champagne is ready to be uncorked, streamers will soon be strewn, and the ball will soon fall over Times Square. With the new year right around the corner, we thought we’d take a moment to look back at some of the most intriguing storylines of 2015, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. While the year seemed like it passed in the blink of an eye, like Adam Waheed on the Portimao straight aboard the 1299 Panigale S, 2015 demonstrated that the motorcycle industry is on course to right the listing ship of a few years ago and it’s refreshing to see manufacturer’s once again pushing the engineering envelope.

This includes unleashing pert-near race-ready superbikes on the buying public, from motorcycle exotica like the supercharged Kawasaki H2R to Honda’s MotoGP-inspired, $184,000 RC231V-S. Yamaha did its part by going over the R1 with a fine-tooth comb (but missed a spot with the transmission) while Ducati pumped up the already potent Panigale’s L-Twin to 1285cc. Victory, known best for its cruisers, threw everybody a curve ball by becoming the first manufacturer to release a production electric motorcycle and gasp, developed a water-cooled engine for an upcoming model. Ducati cashed in with its Scrambler, their timing impeccable as scrambler-style motorcycles were the latest hot ticket item. Attend The ONE or Handbuilt Motorcycle Shows and tell me I’m wrong. BMW has followed suit with the release of its R nineT Scrambler while Ducati seeks to further stuff its coffers with the upcoming release of a smaller 399cc Scrambler Sixty2.

Speaking of the aforementioned bike shows, the small shop, garage-built movement is stronger than ever. Resto-mods and restorations are the rage, the art of injecting new life into old machines is going strong and more builders than ever are painstakingly honoring the heritage of biker lore through their craftsmanship. Sure, you can’t find a dirt cheap CB anymore that hasn’t been scooped up by some bearded hipster in a slouch beanie, but at least there’s some much needed new life being injected into an aging industry. Visionaries like See See’s Thor Drake, the catalyst behind The ONE Motorcycle Show, and Born Free founders Mike Davis and Grant Peterson have helped pave the way to what is now a nationwide phenomenon, from Austin’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show to Milwaukee’s Mama Tried to Cincinnati’s Garage Brewed Moto Show. It’s encouraging to see people taking pride in building things by hand and finding new functions for salvaged parts.

Talk about salvaging. Gotta give MotoAmerica props for working hard to restore respectability to American road racing. Sure, it’s still an uphill battle, but considering it’s the first year Wayne Rainey and the KRAVE Group LLC have been at the helm, they’ve done an admirable job. MotoAmerica has been able to get a long list of sponsors onboard and struck a deal for delayed TV broadcasts on the CBS Sports Network. Programs like the KTM RC Cup are helping the series to achieve one of its primary goals, to foster upcoming talent. Take a look at the list of 2015 MotoAmerica champions and you see fresh young faces holding the number one plates – Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier, Supersport champ JD Beach, Bazzaz Superbike 600 winner Joe Roberts and Superstock 1000 titlist Jake Gagne. Beaubier and Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate Josh Hayes waged some pretty intense battles this year in the Superbike class. Yes, there’s still growing pains to overcome, but MotoAmerica is definitely moving American road racing in the right direction. We’re not the only ones who think so because Rainey was named the 2015 AMA Motorcyclist of the Year for his efforts.

Sepang-Rossi-vs-Marquez

Talk about drama. These two provided probably the most compelling storyline of 2015. 

Of course, when you start talking about motorcycle racing in 2015, nothing came close to the drama coming out of MotoGP this year. Who would have thought nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, one of the coolest cats on the planet, would lose his cool the way he did. We definitely saw a different side of baby faced assassin Marc Marquez who isn’t as innocent as he’s been portrayed in the past. We thought we were going to have to put our British correspondent Frank Melling in the witness protection program after the uproar over his MotoGP Outsider – Sepang, Rossi’s Lowest Point article. Who foresaw Jorge Lorenzo’s return to championship-winning form, or predicted Dani Pedrosa would be the best rider on track at the end of the season? Too bad he didn’t start as strong as he finished or maybe Pedrosa would have finally gotten that ever-elusive MotoGP championship he seeks. The 2015 season also saw the return of Suzuki to MotoGP. Now if we could only get Kawasaki back in seeing how Jonathan Rea absolutely killed it in World Superbike on the ZX-10R.

Another rider who dominated in 2015 was Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey who doubled up, winning the 2015 Supercross and Motocross titles. Not only is Dungey a phenomenally skilled rider, he does so humbly with style and grace as he lets his results do the talking for him. Another rider who had a phenomenal year was four-time Grand National Champion Jared Mees. Mees is a model of consistency and just missed out on the trifecta of flat track racing. He won the 2015 GNC1 title, topped the podium at Superprestigio of Americas, and should have won the gold medal at the X Games if he didn’t throw a chain on the last lap of the race. Come game day, Mees races with the intensity and focus of a champion, which has led him to the top tier of his sport.

Brad-Baker-holeshot-Austin-

Harley got flat track racing into the X Games in 2015, giving the sport exposure to a broad, new audience. 

The bigger winner though was flat track racing. While American road racing has struggled on the path back to respectability, flat track racing has been riding a wave of popularity recently. Harley-Davidson got it into the X Games as a medal sport for the first time this year, giving flat track racing worldwide exposure to a new, younger audience. The first Superprestigio of the Americas was held in Las Vegas, an all-star flat track race featuring not only the best AMA Pro Flat Track riders, but an international contingency and racers from other disciplines as well. Two-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez once again hosted the international Superprestigio races featuring a long list of GP and World Superbike riders. Many of them use flat track racing as a tool to perfect their sliding techniques. And while they’re a talented bunch, it was a good ol’ American boy Brad Baker who showed them how it’s done, Baker bringing home the title to US soil for the second time. Flat track racing is on the rise and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

This is due in part to its grass-roots appeal that has spawned events like Dirt Quake and the SuperHooligan flat track races. People are discovering what a blast it is to get together with a bunch of buddies, jump on your bikes, and rip off some laps on a dirt oval. The “run-what-you-brung” movement is more popular than ever, from Harley and chopper night at Costa Mesa Speedway to the Hooligan Dirt Dash at Sturgis. Thanks to crews like Rusty Butcher, The Speed Merchant, Suicide Machine Co. and RSD that are organizing and competing at hooligan races around the country, the essence of dirt tracking that spawned flat track racing at the professional level is alive and well. The 2015 Dirt Quake party put on by Thor Drake and the See See team was by far the funnest event we attend this year.

RSD SuperHooligan Races on Indian Scout Sixtys

And that’s saying something considering we spent eight days in Sturgis for the 75th anniversary rally. While gaudy figures like a million people were tossed around, these projections were inflated. Don’t get me wrong, there were a ton of people in town for sure, but the hype exceeded the actuality. This isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of cool stuff going on. Harley-Davidson cut the chain on its new Rally Point pavilion on Main Street in downtown Sturgis, City Park was opened up for business once again, Michael Lichter’s Naked Truth exhibit at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip was spectacular, and AMA Pro Flat Track racers ripped it up on the Black Hills Half Mile. The pinnacle though had to be when Doug Danger came barreling across the amphitheater of the Buffalo Chip on one of Evel Knievel’s old XR750s and launched over 22 cars, a feat even Evel failed at. Considering Danger had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer four years prior to the jump made his accomplishment even more amazing.

While 2015 had many high points, for some it also brought ultimate lows. Just ask Full Throttle Saloon owner Michael Ballard, whose iconic biker bar which became a reality TV sensation, burnt to the ground a few weeks after the 75th rally. Seeing 17 years of an empire you’ve built into a strong-selling brand being reduced to ashes in only a few hours has to be a nigh impossible pill to swallow. Ballard announced his intentions to rebuild the popular Sturgis biker bar just last week. Then there’s the plight of Erik Buell, who once again had his business shuttered. Hopes were high for EBR when it was announced Hero MotoCorp Ltd bought a 49% stake in Erik Buell Racing. These hopes were dashed when EBR filed for Chapter 128 protection in April 2015 and went into receivership. First Harley, now Hero. Just goes to show that even though you can be a talented, brilliant individual, there’s no guarantees in the business world.

Motorcycle USA itself has experienced its share of highs and lows in 2015. We lost one of our beloved editors, Justin Dawes, to KTM. Justin is a super-talented guy, be it in the dirt or on the track, is a phenomenal photographer and a whiz in the video editing bay. Beyond that, he’s our friend, and we hated to lose him from the team, but are proud of the work he’s doing now for KTM. On the plus side, we scored big-time when we were able to add one of the best Off-Road Editors out there, Adam Booth, to the MotoUSA crew. We couldn’t believe we had the good fortune to add the talents of such a seasoned veteran to our team (Thanks Dirt Rider!). Besides being a phenomenal rider, he’s got skills behind the lens to boot and has bolstered our off-road coverage immensely. We also launched a new website in 2015, which has been a bumpy road. There were lots of bugs to work out on the back end, and sometimes people are opposed to change, but our aim was to make the user experience even better and after putting in many hours to fine tune the overall product, things are finally smoothing out.

2016 Troy Lee Designs Adventure Gear

High five! We made it through another year. Here’s to whatever 2016 may bring. 

While these are many of the headlines from the motorcycle world from 2015, no doubt we missed some of the storylines from the past year. Feel free to add what you think were some of the significant plots and themes of the motorcycle industry in 2015 in the “Comments” section below. We’d love to hear what readers have to say. See you on the road in the New Year!

Bryan Harley

Cruiser Editor |Articles | Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it’s chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to ‘Merican, he rides ‘em all.