Friday, September 14, 2007

Are electronics ruining MotoGP? Riders speak out

One of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time, Valentino Rossi says he isn't enjoying MotoGP anymore. At least not as much as he used to...

Speaking to MCN, Valentino Rossi has made it clear that he thinks MotoGP is getting a bit boring and that tyres and electronics are to blame. Says Rossi, ‘Before, the races were more fun, but now it is a little bit boring and this is the worst thing for me. The two big problems are tyres and electronics. If we want a good show, we have to make some changes because now there is a lot less overtaking.’

Rossi admits that for the first time in his career, he’s finding it difficult to keep his motivation going. ‘It’s a difficult situation for me – it’s difficult to fight when you know it’s not possible to fight for the victory. But I will try,’ he says.

Alex Barros was Kevin Schwantz's teammate at Suzuki in 1993. And he's still getting podium finishes in 2007...!

Alex Barros was racing in 500cc GPs in 1990, and is still finishing on the podium in 2007, taking third place in this year’s Italian MotoGP. The old-timer also seems to agree with The Doctor and says that electronics are taking something away from MotoGP. Speaking to MCN, Barros says, ‘In the past, with less electronics, the rider was able to make the difference. But right now, it neutralises it a little bit. Maybe Ducati, Yamaha and Honda have to talk about this for the future.’

No.34 Kevin Schwantz. 500cc world champ in 1993. Used to crash hard, and often. One of the most charismatic bike racers of the 1980s and 90s...

Another perspective comes from Kevin Schwantz, 500cc world champ in 1993. When Superbike Planet recently interviewed him, Schwantz said, ‘I think it's a pretty general consensus across the board amongst the riders that electronics are making it very difficult to find the opportunity to pass somebody. Everybody gets on the gas at about the same time, the electronics all work just about the same. I think the racing would be better without electronics.

My opinion is, electronics have really made the average guy be able to go out and go fast, and everybody qualifies really, really well, and I think that we're paying too much attention to that. Seeing everybody, all 20 bikes, within less than a second or a second and a half in qualifying, hasn't made the racing any better. We need to go back to letting these guys really ride these things, and wrestle these things around.’

Kenny Roberts, the hard man of motorcycle GP racing grew up honing his skills on American dirttracks

Three-time 500cc world champ, Kenny Roberts has, at various times in the past, spoken openly against the excessive use of electronics in MotoGP. Speaking to Speed TV, Roberts says, 'At this point in MotoGP, the guys that are winning would be winning anyway. But then there are a lot of guys farther back that can ride the bikes in a different way – like 250s – but still go fast because they have traction control. It’s easier to ride with all these power devices, not just traction control. The whole package of electronic rider aids makes it easier for these 250 guys.'

Roberts won three successive 500cc world titles - in 1978, 79 and 80

'I gave my opinion a long time ago. I said ban traction control, ban fly-by-wire and get us all on the same control tyres. You want some guy to go out there and ride the bike loose and on the limit, so you can see that this guy is winning because of something you can see – his riding – not some electronics package that decides how much throttle to open,' says Roberts.

Randy Mamola raced in the 500s throughout the 1980s

Randy Mamola, who also raced 500s at the top level in the 1980s, adds his opinion. ‘The electronics have made the racing kind of neat and tidy. Earlier, you could see the rider controlling the spinning rear tyre, scrubbing off speed with the bike sideways on the brakes… The 990cc MotoGP bikes did everything the old 500s did, but with a big, forgiving powerband that meant that the bikes were safer to ride.

These things don’t high-side and that’s not because this bunch of riders is better than the 500 riders. The bikes are just so good, so easy to ride and safe, that the bike’s smart electronics just don’t let a guy with a quick fist hurt himself. Now, it is easy to get into a rhythm and run a race with consistent lap times. Before, when you had a hair-trigger 500 engine with too much power to let you use the side grip, you had to stay on top of it all the time, making sure you had the thing picked up before you got on the power. We all had to figure how to keep those 500s under us instead of on top of us. Some guys rode the rear brake to keep the things from spinning too much. Me, I just used my right wrist. That has changed now.’

Indeed, much has changed in top-flight motorcycle racing. Some things haven't, thank god!

What about Valentino Rossi? How would he have done on the old 500s? Says Mamola, ‘Valentino would be smoking these guys on 500s. He’s the best rider out there, but with these bikes that mask errors and let riders of lesser ability run in the same second, Rossi wins by being the foxiest, the smartest – the guy who paces himself and knows when to go. You don’t see him go early because he knows that he can’t get away and he doesn’t what to give away his lines and his braking points.’

Indeed, and Rossi himself misses the 500cc era. He says, ‘I miss the 500 still. The electronics is so important now and this makes the rider less important. I would like that the rider controlled the motorcycle, but maybe with so powerful bikes now it would not be possible to ride these bikes without the electronics. When I came from 250s to 500s, I had to learn to control the 500’s throttle and to slide. It was more fun, more exciting. I don’t know what can be done to give control back to the rider…’

And that’s pretty much how it stands now – nobody knows what’s the best course of action, what needs to be done next. Compared with the last few years, MotoGP has been a bit dull this year. There is talk of changing or modifying the tyre rule for 2008, but nobody seems to be talking about restricting electronics. And in any case, while riders like Rossi and Capirossi may be in MotoGP for only another year or two, there’s now an entire generation of MotoGP riders who can, perhaps, only go fast with electronics, not without them…

Hubless wheels: Does the wheel really need reinvention?

Franco Sbarro, Italian genius who pioneered the hubless wheel...
Mention motorcycle wheels, and most people will picture a regular alloy wheel, complete with the hub and the spokes. For most, the hub and the spokes are an integral part of the wheel and people can’t usually imagine that a wheel can actually exist and work without these.

Not Franco Sbarro, a mechanical engineering genius from Italy. Born in Italy in 1939, Sbarro moved to Switzerland in 1957, and is widely considered to be the ‘inventor’ of the hubless wheel. He did not, of course, ‘invent’ the wheel, but he was probably the one to believe that a wheel – without a hub and spokes – could be put to actual use in motorized vehicles. Sbarro designed a few concept vehicles around the hubless wheel, though none of them took off due to the practical, real-world drawbacks and difficulties associated with manufacturing and using hubless wheels.

Over the last two decades, there have been various attempts at using hubless wheels on motorcycles. Most haven't worked...
Others have tried to follow Sbarro’s example, but with little or no commercial success. Based in France, Dominique Mottas and his company, Osmos, have worked on hubless wheels since the early 1990s. However, as far as we know, nothing much has come of it. In theory, hubless wheels are supposed to offer various benefits over regular wheels – reduced unsprung weight, fewer engineering constraints, better braking and steering and improved packaging.

Hubless wheels are expensive and difficult to adapt to regular bikes. Not that it stops people from trying anyway
Pic: Flickr
In the real world, problems associated with manufacturing tolerances, engineering suitable drivetrain, suspension, and braking systems and wheel assemblies being prone to jamming and/or failure, have meant that nobody has successfully reinvented the wheel yet. And that’s the way we suppose it will remain, in the foreseeable future!

They look cool, but hubless wheels on motorcycles haven't worked because of mechanical complexity. Don't expect a hubless-wheeled GSX-R anytime soon!

Video: MCN's Ducati Desmosedici RR first ride

MCN get to ride the 200bhp Ducati Desmosedici RR. Yes!

You already know about the Desmosedici RR's pre-2007 MotoGP-spec 989cc 200bhp L4 engine, sand-cast aluminium crankcases, magnesium engine covers, cassette-type six-speed gearbox, hydraulically actuated dry multi-plate slipper clutch, titanium valves and titanium connecting rods. But seeing the bike in action is something else. Yes indeed, the Desmosedici RR looks and sounds awesome. We just hope somebody at Fifth Gear gets hold of one, and that they pit it against a Ferrari F430. Oooohhhh..... :-D

More Italian exotica:
MV Agusta F4 CC: The most lust-worthy bike in the world!
MV Agusta F4 Senna...
The amazing 2008 Bimota Tesi 3D
Memorable: The Laverda 750 Formula S
Face off: Ducati 999 vs Ducati 1098!
The CR&S Vun: Single and naked!
The very beautiful MV Agusta Brutale 910R...
The mighty Laverda V6 racebike from the 1970s
2008 Benelli Tre-K 1130 Amazon...
Memorable: The Bimota DB2
Alfa Romeo-engined motorcycle...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

First pics: 2008 Kawasaki ZX-6R, ER-6n, Versys 650, Z1000 and Z750!

New paintjobs for the 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R...

(From left) The 2008 ZX-6R is also available in blue and black, the 2008 ER-6n goes green and the 2008 Z750 gets a black painted engine and chassis

After the 2008 ZX-10R, pictures of which we posted earlier in the day, here are the 2008 ZX-6R, ER-6n, Z750, Versys 650 and Z1000 (see below) models. Kawasaki have released these pictures, which show new colours and graphics, but other details are not yet available. We doubt if any of these bikes have got as radical a makeover as the ZX-10R, but we should know for sure in another day or three...

More Kawasakis:
2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZZR1400 revealed...
First pics: The 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo: The quest for 200mph!
First pic: 2008 Kawasaki Z1400
Fast past: Gary Nixon rides Kawasaki's MotoGP bike...
2008 Kawasaki 1400GTR Concours: Just how boring can 153bhp be?
MotoGP: Is the 2007 Kawasaki ZX-RR Ninja any good?
MotoGP: John Hopkins to move to Kawasaki in 2008...
Pics and details: 2008 Moto Guzzi Griso 1200 8V

The new Z1000 looks the best of the 2008 Kawasaki lot...
More 2008 Kawasaki pics on Motoblog, here, here, here and here
The 2008 Kawasaki Versys 650

Update (20th Sep, 2007): Stunning new Honda Evo6, CB1100R and CB1100F revealed!

For entry level sportsbike riders, this is the 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R

2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R: First pics, video and details

The 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. Looks ugly, eh?
A bit challenged in the looks department, yes, but this is indeed the 2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R. The new Ninja is still green and mean as ever, and according to Kawasaki, it’s now ‘The ideal superbike, with engine and chassis performance capable of satisfying professional racers, combined with top-notch streetbike qualities for mainstream riders.’

The 2008 ZX-10R’s engine is a liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, 998cc inline-four, with a compression ratio of 12.7:1. Dual fuel injectors are used for each cylinder, with 43mm Keihin throttle bodies. Power output figures have not yet been quoted, but we suppose the 2008 ZX-10R Ninja would be packing about 170 - 175 horsepower, and the power to weight ratio would be around 1:1.

In a few months time, when magazines start doing their litre-class superbike shootouts, it'll be interesting to see how the new Ninja fares, especially against the 2008 Fireblade
Suspension is 43mm USD forks with DLC coating (to reduce friction) at the front, and Kawasaki’s bottom-link Uni-Trak at the rear. Both ends are fully adjustable, while the rear suspension also gets independently adjustable high- and low-speed compression damping. The brakes, at the front, are semi-floating 310 mm petal discs, with four-piston radial-mount calipers, and a single 220mm petal disc with single-piston aluminum caliper at the rear wheel.

For us, the 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a disappointment in terms of styling – it looks gawky and awkward in these first pictures, and the exhaust pipe, which seems to have been borrowed from the Z1000, doesn't work here. But for all we know, performance may have been significantly improved by Kawasaki engineers.

Here's a video of the 2008 ZX-10R in action
Update (28th Sep, 2007): More details on the 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R here

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Face off: 1989 Yamaha OW01 vs 2008 Yamaha R1!

Does 20 years of superbike development make the 2008 R1 a better machine than the 1989 FZR750RR...?
The World Superbikes championship series kicked off in 1988, and by 1989, Yamaha had launched the FZR750RR, which was built with one aim in mind – to win WSBK races at any cost. Also known as the OW01, the FZR750RR was made to get the better of Ducati 851s, Honda RC30s, Suzuki GSX-R750s and Kawasaki ZXR750s in World Superbike racing.

The 187kg (dry weight) OW01’s high-revving, liquid-cooled, 750cc, 20-valve, four-cylinder, carbureted engine made 120 horsepower at the crank – impressive stuff in those days. The bike was fitted with Yamaha’s stiff, lightweight ‘Deltabox’ chassis (made of aluminium), fully adjustable Ohlins rear shock, 43mm front fork, six-speed close-ratio gearbox, 17-inch wheels, and various titanium and magnesium bits to keep the weight down.

Exotic, expensive and fast - the FZR750RR OW01 is probably the most lust-worthy Yamaha ever made!
This was a racer-with-lights, so ergonomics were uncompromising – barely padded seat, high footpegs and low bars made it clear that this bike was not for pootling around town. Yamaha only made 500 units of the OW01, which was just as well – the bike was very expensive, costing two million yen in 1989 in Japan (about US$17,400 at current exchange rates) and about US$25,500 elsewhere. And if that wasn’t enough, you could spend another US$5,000 on buying a racing kit from Yamaha, which would get you more fancy bits for your FZR750RR.

Despite all of this, the OW01 wasn’t really as successful as, say, the Honda VFR750R RC30 or the Ducati 851, in World Superbike racing. And for the street, for most people, the Yamaha FZR1000 offered more usable performance at a significantly lower price. Sure, the FZR1000 never handled as well as the race-bred OW01, but on the street, where few dared to push to ten-tenths, that did not matter.

Heavier, less powerful, slower and not as good looking as the OW01, the YZF750 wasn't really a very good follow up to the mighty FZR750RR
The FZR750RR was succeeded by the rather less remarkable YZF750, which in stock form was heavier and less powerful than the OW01. The YZF R7 OW02 came much later, and though it was strikingly good looking, it was a bit underpowered and again, wasn’t very successful in World Superbike racing. The FZR1000 EXUP, on the other hand, ultimately led to the YZF1000 Thunderace and finally, in 1998, the mighty R1. The latter, with the demise of the 750s in World Superbikes, continues to be Yamaha’s top of the line offering today.

Now that almost 20 years have passed since the OW01 was launched, it’s interesting to compare that bike with Yamaha’s 2008 R1, pics of which were unveiled only yesterday. With 20 years of advances in motorcycle engineering, electronics and technology, it isn’t surprising to see that the R1 offers far more performance at a much lower cost.

The 2008 R1 offers huge performance gains over the old FZR, at a much lower cost. Such is sportsbike progress...
Compared with the FZR750RR, the new R1 (which also has a 250cc engine displacement advantage) has about 50 more horsepower, in a package that weighs about 10kg less. So while the OW01 had a power to weight ratio of 1:1.56, the newest R1 has a ratio of 1:1. It also has a more substantial swingarm, USD front forks, computer-controlled fuel injection, ride-by-wire throttle control, a variable air-intake system and more powerful brakes.

With equally capable riders on each bike, we don’t think even the exotic old OW01 would be able to keep up with an R1 today!

First pics: 2008 Yamaha R1

The 2008 Yamaha R1. Looks absolutely superb. Honda should look at these pics and think about what they've done to the new Fireblade

(From Left) The 2008 R1 will also be available in blue, with gold painted wheels, the 2008 XJR1300 gets a new paintjob, and the 2008 FZ1 gets ABS

Yamaha have released these pictures of the 2008 R1 and while there seem to be no radical changes, the new R1 paintjobs looks hot! Last year, Yamaha had introduced some radical technology on the R1, including the much-hyped Yamaha Chip-Controlled Intake (YCC-I), a variable length air intake system that boosts power at high revs, and the sophisticated YCC-T fly-by-wire throttle control system. Taking a break from 20 years of using five-valve cylinder heads, the bike had also been given four-valve cylinder heads with intake valves made of titanium.

More pics of the 2008 R1. Amazing looking bike...

We still don't have information on what tech changes have been implemented on the 2008 R1, but if at all any changes have been made to the engine, chassis or suspension, we expect those to be relatively minor. More details as they become available...

Update (20th Sep, 2007): Stunning new Honda Evo6, CB1100R and CB1100F revealed!

Also see:
Pics and specs: 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZZR1400
1989 Yamaha OW01 vs 2008 Yamaha R1!
First pics: 2008 Yamaha R6 and R125
DVD review: Riding Solo to the top of the World
Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo: The quest for 200mph!
2008 BMW HP2 Sport: Pics, tech specs and details...
The Puerto Rico government doesn't like motorcyclists...
First pic: 2008 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR
2007 MotoGP race reports, features, interviews and hi-res wallpaper!
Hubless wheels on motorcycles...?

For the adventure bike types, here is the 2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere. Does look quite funky, we must say! More pics of this bike here

Monday, September 10, 2007

2008 Yamaha R6 and R125 shown

Lighter, more powerful, faster and more high-tech: The 2008 Yamaha R6

Yamaha have released these pics of the 2008 R6 and R125 bikes. The 2008 R6 gets a mild style makeover, new chassis and swingarm, freshly fettled 599cc engine with titanium valves, slipper clutch and better front brakes.

With the new YZF R6, Yamaha are going all out on the performance front – they’ve increased the engine’s compression ratio from 12.8:1 to 13.1:1 and fitted their YCC-I (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Intake) system found on the 2007 R1. This system essentially comprises of a variable-length air-intake system which boosts power at higher revs. The 2008 R6 also gets remapped fuel injection for better throttle response.

2008 R6 paintjobs look good, but we're still undecided about the gold painted wheels...

The new R6's chassis gets a magnesium alloy subframe, which is supposed to improve mass centralization. Other changes are increased brake rotor thickness for better heat dissipation, and new colour schemes. The 2007 Honda CBR600RR had thrashed the Yamaha R6 in most bike magazine shootouts this year. Whether the 2008 R6 can claw its way back to the top remains to be seen...

The learner legal 2008 Yamaha YZF R125

For those who are just starting off with bikes, Yamaha have also shown the new YZF R125, which is learner legal. The bike is fitted with a liquid-cooled, four-valve, 124cc, fuel-injected, single-cylinder engine, which is mated to a six-speed gearbox. Styling cues are taken from the latest R6, which is so important when there are teenaged girlfriends to impress…

Also see:
First pics: 2008 Yamaha R1!
Scooter chic from Tokyo!
Women in motorcycling: Hi-res wallpaper
2008 Kawasaki Z1400 and KTM RC8 pics
2008 BMW HP2 Sport to go into production soon
2008 Triumph Hurricane 1300: The 200mph sports-tourer is coming...
2009 launch for the amazing, six-cylinder Suzuki Stratosphere 1100!
First pic: 2008 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR
1989 Yamaha OW01 vs 2008 Yamaha R1!
Debate: Are electronics ruining MotoGP?!

A video of the 2008 Yamaha R6 in action!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

DVD Review: Riding Solo to the top of the World

Some images from the Riding Solo DVD...

Cubicle dwellers who also love motorcycles – people like us, here at Faster and Faster – are often enchanted by the idea of motorcycle travel. We fantasize about setting off on that really long journey, riding off into the sunset someday. We watch, again and again, our favourite bits in Long Way Round and promise ourselves we’ll do something similar, someday. And then the weekend ends, and it’s back to the office cubicle on Monday morning.

We reassure ourselves that we aren’t riding off into the unknown because of all the right, logical reasons. What if we lose our job? What about the loans? The wife will object. What will the neighbours think? What if the bike breaks down and we end up being stranded somewhere...?

Which is why you need to watch Riding Solo to the top of the World, a 90-minute film made by Gaurav Jani. An inhabitant of Mumbai, India, Jani is the founder of the 60Kph Motorcycle Travel Club and is also a part of Dirt Track Productions. Apparently, Jani loves bikes, loves travelling and is a filmmaker.

Gaurav Jani takes you to Changthang, a magical place at a height of more than 16,000ft, near the Indo-China border. The sights and sounds are truly amazing...

So, of course, he combined all his three passions and the result is Riding Solo to the top of the World – a film that chronicles Jani’s solo ride from Mumbai, to the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, close to the Indo-China border. This is, perhaps, one of the remotest places on earth, and at a height of more than 16,000 feet, largely devoid of any creature comforts whatsoever. Add freezing cold winds, sub-zero temperature, inhospitable terrain and a single-cylinder, 18bhp motorcycle that was designed in the 1960s to the mix, and you begin to get an idea of what we’re talking about here.

What’s truly amazing about the film is that it’s a one-man effort. Jani just straps his luggage and equipment – all 100 kilos of it – on his trusty old Enfield Bullet 350, and sets off on the journey alone. Over two months and thousands of kilometers, he rides and shoots the entire film himself, with no assistance from anyone! And watching the film, it’s very hard to believe that Jani has managed to pull it all off on his own. The film is very well shot and it’s clear that Jani has a talent for frame composition – he knows what works, and he delivers the goods.

Video: A few snippets from Riding Solo

Just think of the huge effort and commitment that must have gone into him setting up the camera, leaving it running (unattended), shooting footage of him riding the bike, coming back to the camera, re-packing it and repeating the whole process again and again hundreds of times. Mind-boggling!

An integral part of the story is Jani meeting the people of Changthang – the hardy Changpas, who live a hard, nomadic life. In Changthang, time seems to stand still – you get a glimpse of how people might have lived a hundred or two hundred years ago. The Buddhist monasteries, the festivals, the hand-woven tents, the fresh, home-made butter (made from milk churned in the skin of a whole sheep!), the simple people and their no-frills existence – it makes you look at life from a whole new perspective.

Riding Solo to the top of the World has won various major awards in India and other countries. It really is a brilliant film and we heartily recommend that you watch it. You can order your copy at the Dirt Track Productions website here. You may also want to visit the 60Kph Motorcycle Travel Club website here.