Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Most Important Motorcycle in the World or How to Become Very Old Instantly

In a recent Bike (UK) issue, they wondered aloud in a Suzuki GSX-R600 review, “is this the bike to save the supersport class?”  Imparting a message of sanguine desperation at the loss of something indescribable, but felt by many –maybe the passing of youth.  The underlying theme though is men lolling about lamenting the loss of the good old days.  The most egregious was a downright depressing Kevin Cameron article on the topic a few years back, mostly involving bikes’ diminishing ‘character’ and other slosh.  It reminds me of a labor dispute I once heard of, before the economy fell, about how the employees were preparing to strike because their ‘morale’ was low.  Legal and HR found the argument unsupportable and unquantifiable, mostly because you’re personally responsible for your own damn happiness –but I digress.

The super duper uber FX 600ss of Josh Hayes in 2008 at Miller Motorsports Park
The supersport era, whether it is now stalled or closed, was easily the most profitable (my guess) and sensational for the Japanese manufacturers in the United States.  With a current market share of around 66% in the U.S., Harley Davidson ensured that the lions share of the sport bike market would always reside elsewhere like Spain or Italy, but with the advent of lighter frames one year, fuel injection the next, and so on, the effects unrolled before us.  Magazines began to sell month after month of analysis on rumors, spy photos, and relentless (and mostly moot) testing of bikes with 599cc engines.  A fascinating life breathed into the tired old AMA series that led to television coverage with ads other than funeral insurance.  Old school test tracks, like Willow Springs, became known (and re-paved) again. And bikes sold like hotcakes.  I still remember in the early 2000s someone trying to sell a steel framed CBR from 1998 for an unreasonably high price, when the aluminum framed models had been out for at least two years –I tried to argue down the price but the owner still winced at the bath he took buying new from the dealer.  Now the recommendation is to buy used because they haven’t changed in five years; amazing change.

So what is the most important motorcycle in the world today?  If we asked the CEO of Honda, Japan, I think the answer would be something like, “now how did you get past security again?”  To break it gently to the supersport revivalist/survivalist group, manufacturers are in business to make money and I imagine the 600SS phenomenon was never looked at as more than a wildly successful speed bump in the road of the company history and development. 
Where are we now?  Look at it this way, remember when maxi-scooters first came out and how we laughed?  They’re slowly growing market share in Europe.  Remember when the BMW GS 1150 was purchased by your neighbor with the tweed jacket?  He’s COOL now!  Remember when Harley Davidson had a 66% market share (they’ll say)?  What happens when all the baby boomers die and/or the air-cooled atavism dies with it?  While the sport bike market atrophies and diminishes –never to die, mind you, just try to think of an instance in the history of motorcycles where there wasn’t someone trying to enhance performance or race the thing- we’ll stodgily become the next generation of geezers that insist on riding 40 year old bikes and meeting up regularly to give dirty looks to kids riding by on their horribly sacrilegious new fangled two wheelers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nicky Hayden -WSBK?

As the Factory Ducati MotoGP squad 'quietly' let their option on Nicky Hayden pass this weekend, there has been plenty of speculation on who will fill his seat (Redding, Crutchlow?) -but little discussion on where the Kentucky Kid will go. (Italian, do a google translate) has speculated, and I love this idea, that he will go to a revival of the Ducati World Superbike factory team and the introduction of the Panigale into the competition limelight.  There are rumors that Carlos Checa (the current Ducati WSBK darling) does not like the Panigale and is looking elsewhere for a ride.  My favorite part about this is the last time Nicky convincingly rode to many victories was at the bars of the very similar-to-Panigale Honda RC-51 with the AMA Superbike championship in 2002 (the same year our favorite son, Colin Edwards used the same bike to win WSBK).  It would be nice to see Nicky in a competetive ride since Honda pulled the rug out from under him with its shrimp-favoring 2007 dwarfish-MotoGP bike and saying, "thanks for the championship Nicky, now hold still why we kick you in the nuts!"  -Go Nicky!