As you will see from this latest column there is still plenty of positive news in the European and world motorcycle industry. Obviously there are some changes that come as a result of the current financial situation, as you will see in the Japanese section, but generally things are still good and positive for the motorcyclist.
KTM's new electric technology could lead to a big change in the motorcycle industry.
Austrian manufacturer KTM
has recently patented a two-wheel drive system that uses electricity to drive the front wheel, as opposed to some of the other more complex systems that have been devised by other manufacturers. Most of these have used either chains, driven by additional shafts attached to the engine, or hydraulic systems that involve considerable piping and additional weight from pumps.
What KTM has done is simplified things and contained all the workings within the hub of the front wheel. An electric motor is controlled by an integral black box and this drives the wheel by means of planetary gears, which help multiply the torque of the motor. The additional electrical power comes from the starter motor, which after starting the bike as normal, then reverses its flow and changes to a generator, meaning the engine does not have to be altered in any significant way.
A capacitor is also included in the system to provide an extra kick when needed if the generator is not producing much current, like at low revs.
As you might expect, it is the bike’s engine management system that controls how the power is applied by monitoring wheel and other sensors to obtain the information needed. Different mapping can be applied for the type of terrain, making the system ideally suited to different types of machine.
Voxan has enlisted the services of famed minimalist designer Phillippe Starck for its Super Naked IV. Starck collaborated with Aprilia in 1996 on the Moto 6.5 featured above. Hopefully he'll do better this time.
Thanks to the compact nature of the system (which KTM claims does not add too much extra weight), and the fact the engine remains almost standard, it will be suitable for all types and styles of bike. At present though there is no information as to when KTM may release the system on a production motorcycle.
A couple of years ago we mentioned the naked Café racer from French manufacturer Voxan
The bike had been styled by Phillippe Starck who you may remember branched out from kitchen design to style the ill-fated Aprilia Moto 6.5. Rumors are now circulating that it could make a limited production run - watch this space.
French firm Tucson
has taken the Aprilia V-Twin motor and put it in a 125-sized race bike to produce a 550 racer that they claim will beat a Ducati 1098R on the track. Massive weight saving has taken place even to the extent of gluing in threads to very thin metal to save a few ounces.
A spokesman claims Aprilia has supplied different camshafts, gears and other parts for the motor that was developed for the SXV Enduro bike. The Italian firm could not use it for a road bike due to the high servicing requirement, but this will not be a problem for a race bike to be used in the French Pro-Twin racing class this year.
The challenge aims to pit the meanest and wickedest bikes against one other, both in terms of look and power: bikes customized for racing, boosted roadsters, crazy naked-bikes, prototypes of any kind…
A new French racing series to be launched this year is bucking the trend by insisting that the bikes are modified, in fact they insist on a minimum number of modifications. The Joe Bar Unlimited Power Race
sates that 4-strokes must be over 880cc and 2-strokes above 500cc. New frames, turbo-chargers are all allowed. The first race is in April!
It seems that despite BMW
dropping its F650 Single some time ago, they are brining it back in GS form and it will be called the G650GS. Now manufactured in China, the bike has got a second lease of life due to demand from the US police and military. There are no plans to offer it elsewhere in the world where BMW is keen to push its replacement, the Parallel Twin F650GS.
Dutch company EVA
has been working on a diesel-engined trail bike for three years. The Track T800 has just been launched with a whopping price tag of £15,800.
EVA Track T800cdi
What you get for your money is a bike that looks very much like a KTM Adventure powered by a fully automatic 800cc three-cylinder turbo common-rail diesel motor similar to that used in a Smart car. Drive is through a shaft driven by a constantly variable transmission to the rear wheel and there is a hydraulic system available to drive the front wheel for those who want additional traction.
Brakes are Brembo items; suspension is from WP inverted forks supporting a Ducati trellis-style frame. The good news is that the bike will run on biodiesels or vegetable oil, so purchasers can recoup some of the money spent on purchase thanks to cheap running costs. The bike is currently intended as a limited production machine.
More information is now emerging about the Ducati
Multistrada replacement, which we have referred to here as the 'Strada Aperta'. It now seems that it has broken cover as it undergoes final testing and it is nothing like a BMW GS machine, it is a pure road-based machine.
What we do know now is that it has a 160-hp engine taken from the 1098 complete with traction control. ABS and adjustable top notch Ohlin's suspension and Brembo brakes are also on the list of goodies. Although it has apparently been launched to dealers at the end of last year, the public will not see it until November when it debuts at the Milan show.
New president of the Ducati board of directors Gabriele Del Torchio.
In Bologna, while news leaks out about the new models in the boardroom, it is all change and means that very few of the original players under Frederico Minoli are left in the historic building. Gabriele Del Torchio has now been appointed President of the Board of Directors of Ducati and Claudio Domenicali has been nominated a member of this Board. They agreed that the new president will also undertake the role of CEO of the Company.
Former Ducati designer Pierre Terblanche is rumored to be back in the bike industry and doing some consultancy work at the Piaggio Group
. If that is true he will be working alongside his former Cagiva chum Miguel Galuzzi who designed the Aprilia RSV4.
Italian performance house Ghezzi and Brian
is now offering a kit to transform the Moto Guzzi V11 into something quite special. However, unlike previous 'Furia' kits this one is being sold as a collection of parts that allows purchasers to build their own versions.
On the cosmetic front they can chose an aluminum petrol tank, minimal rear sub-frame, plastics for the nose cone and belly-pan and a new digital dashboard. Suspension front and rear can be upgraded; Brembo radial calipers and lighter wheels help cut weight as do other items on offer. As one might expect there is an engine kit to increase power to 108 hp, which given to weight cutting, should be more than enough to enable anyone to stay ahead of the pack!
Motorcycle air-bag systems have come a long way but according to critics of the APC system, but the system is said to be a little heavy.
Spanish firm APC systems
has developed an air-bag system to fit on the back of a crash helmet. It is designed to protect a rider's neck and top spine in the event of a collision. Designed to deploy in 0.15 seconds, they claim it will not deploy under normal riding conditions such as traversing speed bumps, or as a result of normal head movements.
The unit is triggered by a bike-mounted control unit which monitors deceleration rates and the makers claim that it uses data obtained from real world crashes. The bag deflates slowly after use to allow medical team's access to the vulnerable areas and to be able to remove the helmet.
Currently it is on sale attached to an NZi helmet, but critics are already pointing out the risk due to additional weight and a reduction in the helmet's ability to slide along the road!
While more mainstream motorcycles may be struggling a bit, a healthy dose of nostalgia saw sales of the Royal Enfield Bullet growing by nearly 30% during the last year. This rise actually bucks the national trend which saw motorcycle registrations fall by 3.4%.
The Bullet has been in continuous production since 1949.
This is the ninth successive annual growth report for the Bullet, which has been in continuous production for over 50 years. No doubt that the classic styling and low running costs of the Royal Enfield make it an attractive proposition given the fact that for most money is tight.
However, tough new Euro 3 emissions regulations mean that the original 4-speed 350cc and 500cc Bullet models have had to be consigned to the history books. This of course created a strong demand for the last of the line and helped boost the above figures.
From now on all new Royal Enfield motorcycles sold in Europe will be powered by the new 500cc unit construction fuel injected engine. Its modern design is more powerful, producing 41.3 Nm of torque at 4000rpm, but the pushrod construction, with a bore of 84mm and 90mm stroke, still delivers an authentic-feeling 'British Single' experience and is already selling well for the same reasons as its forebears.
Sales of motorcycles in the UK may have dropped slightly, but in the main they are holding their own as consumers look to cut travelling costs, especially when rail fares are increasing by as much as 11%. Recently released figures show that at the end of 2008 overall sales were just 4,866 registrations short of 2007. A total of 139,715 motorcycles, mopeds and scooters were registered in 2008, only 3.4% down on 2007. By comparison the UK car market plunged 11.3% last year.
To confirm the move back towards transportation from leisure use, mopeds ended the year 1.5% up, suggesting increasing 'utility' use by commuters and those with relatively short journeys. Scooter registrations were also 1.1% up, and the adventure sport and touring categories increased by 5.7% and 8.6% respectively.
The only major sector to show a major fall was the high performance Supersport sector which now accounts for less than 17% of the market. The assumption is further strengthened when you look at individual machines.
Not only is the CBR1000RR the top selling model, but Honda was the top selling manufacturer in Europe in 2008!
Despite the year's top selling model being the Honda CBR1000RR, five of the best-selling models were small-capacity motorcycles, mopeds and scooters with engines of less than 125cc. The biggest-selling manufacturer in 2008 was Honda with 20,107 registrations, followed by Yamaha (17,031) and Suzuki (16,132).
Another positive move that will encourage more people to turn to two wheels has just taken place in the capital city. London Mayor Boris Johnson has honored a pre-election pledge to open up the capital's Bus Lanes to Motorcyclists. The 180 miles that are now available to Powered Two Wheelers (PTW's) will be clearly marked showing that access is now permitted, as some Boroughs are not opening those lanes under their jurisdiction.
The 18-month trial comes after a 10-year battle to get them opened by riders groups after numerous other trials around the UK have proved that PTW use helps cut down on crashes and collisions and is in fact safer for all road users. A code of conduct has been issued by the Motorcycle Industry (MCIA) and Transport for London (TFL) in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police in an effort to ensure that the result in London is the same as before.
On a less optimistic note, a new two part driving/riding test is being introduced despite opposition from the trade and industry, as well as riders groups last year caused a six-month delay to the original proposals. However, the amended test is being cautiously welcomed as it splits the new overall procedure into two parts.
The new test is being introduced as a result of new requirements included in the Second European Community Driving License Directive (Directive 2000/56/EC). The new test will first be available on April 27 this year and will consist of two modules:
Module One will contain the specified maneuvers element of the test which will be conducted off road and will include a number of exercises designed to assess the rider's ability to control their machine safely. These maneuvers will include the emergency stop exercises, ability to avoid obstacles, and low speed control. Module Two will include the eyesight test and at least 30 minutes of riding on the road, during which the examiner will assess the candidate's ability to safely interact with other road users.
Despite the new proposals being better than the last proposal, there is still concern over the lack of available test centers, meaning people could have to travel 100 miles to a test center. As one might expect there has been a price increase to go with the new government administered test!
Historic Motorcycle Racing circuit Silverstone has once again won the rights to host the British round of the MotoGP series. Since 1987 it has been run at Donington Park in the Midlands after they reputedly bought the rights to host the championship for just one pound from Silverstone after attendances fell to just 18,000. Despite the loss of the prestigious event, Donington will still be staging world motorcycle racing at the highest level with the British round of the Superbike World Championship.
Rest of the World
There is some interesting information coming out of Japan concerning the 'Big Four's' problems arising from the worldwide monetary problems. Most of it comes from the respected mainstream Japanese press who are keen to highlight the different methods being employed by the various companies.
As we all know Kawasaki has decided to withdraw from MotoGP in an effort to cut costs. No doubt more information on road going production will follow shortly and probably in line with the sort of thing that Yamaha and Suzuki are reporting below:
Yamaha is quickly taking steps to minimize the damage from the economic down turn but time will tell what the over all effects will be.
Yamaha Motor Co. has announced that it expects its net profit to have been nearly wiped out in 2008 as it has soaked up the slide in consumer spending in major markets brought on by the global economic downturn. The world's second-biggest motorcycle manufacturer expects its net profit for the 12 months ended last December to be just Y1.50 billion compared to Y71.2 billion a year earlier. As a result, the company is to cut directors' salaries by 10%-20% as part of its efforts to cope with the downturn.
Meanwhile Suzuki Motor Corp. will cut part of regular workers' wages when it suspends car and motorcycle production at five of its domestic plants in February, the first such cut since 1975 according to company officials. In addition it will leave production lines idle for three to eight weekdays at five plants.
Honda Motor Co. on the other hand is a lot more positive in their press releases. While they may have downgraded their earnings forecast, they still expect 80 billion yen group net profit for the year ending March 31. Although this figure represents an 87% decline from 2007, strong motorcycle sales in Asia are likely to help Honda skirt the losses seen for such industry rivals. The company expects to sell just over 3.52 million automobiles, 120,000 fewer than planned and 10% less than the prior year. By contrast, Honda forecast motorcycle sales to rise 9% to 10.17 million units.
Despite the declining home sales coupled with drops in the US and European markets, sales in Asia, (which account for more than 70% of all bike sales) are projected to grow 14%. The motorcycle segment is likely to account for about half of Honda's group operating profit, compared with slightly more than 10% the previous year.
The engine in the new Monkey Bike has been cleaned up and features both fuel injection and catalytic convertors.
On a more practical front Honda has taken a step forward to beating the worldwide recession by reintroducing the classic Monkey Bike model. The re-introduction may also be more of a move to re-establish the company's status as the original designer of the concept in the face of numerous Chinese copycat machines. Production of the fuel injected machine will be limited to 4000 machines in the first year.
Those helmet head-up displays that currently exist rely on a projector and eye piece and as a result are not ideal for motorcycle crash helmets. However, things could change thanks to scientists in South Korea who have just pioneered the technique of printing sheets of graphene.
This is a flexible, mesh-like substance of hexagonal atoms, which conducts electricity faster than silicon, which makes it ideal for circuits. More importantly it is transparent and remarkably tough, which makes it ideal for motorcycle visors.
It is hoped that it could be self-powering combined with a solar panel, enabling it provide a whole host of information to the rider in complete safety. The big sticking point is going to be price as it currently costs 68p (almost $1) per square micron!