Wait, what? It’s 2015 already? It feels like 2014 just started a couple of months ago. I guess it’s time to hang up another FastDates calendar my wife doesn’t approve of. (Seriously, love, I didn’t ask for it, they just sent it to me.)
It’s also time to close the door on 2014 with a look back at the top motorcycle news stories of the year.
10. Husqvarna’s rebirth under KTM
Husqvarna made strong strides in 2014 after the brand was acquired by KTM Chief Executive officer Stefan Pierer the previous year. Husky released a full line-up of off-road models as well as a new street-legal 701 Supermoto.
We also got a glimpse of what Husqvarna has planned for the future at EICMA with the 401 Svartpilen and 401 Vitpilen, two modern-retro concepts that may give some potential Ducati Scrambler customers pause. Powered by a version of the 373cc Single from KTM’s RC390 and Duke 390, there’s no guarantee the Svartpilen or Vitpilen will go into production, but then again, the 701 Supermoto was also a concept at 2013’s EICMA show. Let’s make it happen, Husky.
9. James Stewart Suspended after Positive Drug Test
The first couple of months of 2014 weren’t too bad for James Stewart. The former AMA Supercross champion rebounded from an injury-filled 2013 with a strong start to the 2014 season. After round 14 in Houston, Stewart sat a solid second overall in the championship race with a series-leading five wins.
The good times seemed to continue the next round in Seattle with a second-place finish behind eventual champion Ryan Villopoto, but that’s when Stewart’s year took a turn for the worse.
A post-race drug test found traces of amphetamines – a substance prohibited by FIM’s anti-doping policy – in Stewart’s system. It was later revealed that the amphetamines were from Adderall that Stewart’s physician had prescribed for an unspecified “long-term condition,” and that Stewart had not properly filed the paperwork for a therapeutic-use exemption. He has since obtained an exemption.
After a rather lengthy review, the FIM’s International Disciplinary Court stripped Stewart of his results from both Supercross and Motocross competitions that followed the positive drug test and suspended him from competition for the entire 2015 Supercross season and all but the final two rounds of the 2015 Motocross season.
Stewart was devastated by the punishment, saying in a post on his Facebook page he considered retiring from the sport completely, but vowed to return after his suspension lifts on Aug. 11, 2015.
The AMA Supercross series can’t be too happy either, losing perhaps its most marketable personality just as four-time champion Villopoto moves on to the FIM MX World Championship.
8. MV Agusta Temporarily Loses License to Operate in California
James Stewart wasn’t the only one to suffer from misfiled paperwork. MV Agusta also learned a valuable lesson after leaving out some important forms while renewing its license to sell motorcycles in the state of California. As a result, the California DMV barred dealers in the state from selling or registering any 2014 MV Agusta models.
Fortunately for the Italian manufacturer, MV Agusta was quickly able to correct the problem and renewed its license to operate in California in just 12 days. It’s hard to say how much business MV Agusta lost out on during those 12 days, but the PR embarrassment didn’t help the brand image.
7. Sylvain Guintoli wins 2014 WSBK Championship
French racer Sylvain Guintoli knew he had a lot of ground to make up heading into the World Superbike Championship’s mid-summer break. The Aprilia rider trailed Tom Sykes by 44 points with only four rounds remaining, so it wouldn’t be easy to catch the reigning world champion.
It wasn’t, but Guintoli clawed away at Sykes’ advantage, finishing the season with eight consecutive top-two finishes including a dramatic double-victory at the season finale in Qatar to take the 2014 title by six points.
Guintoli will now take his talents to Honda, signing with the Pata racing team to race the CBR1000RR SP.
6. Polaris Launches the Slingshot
If it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck. But though it looks like a car, drives like a car and has seatbelts like a car, the government calls the Polaris Slingshot a motorcycle (except in Texas, where they do things a little different, apparently).
Since it’s officially considered a motorcycle, the Slingshot therefore falls within MO’s domain, so we didn’t just review it, we also pit it against the Can-Am Spyder and the Morgan 3 Wheeler in one of our most-read shoot-outs of the year (which is impressive, considering it was only published in December).
Whether we agree with the government’s definition of motorcycles (Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke does not), it still amazes us how huffy people can get about it. We can always expect at least a few Facebook commenters expressing how mortally offended they are at seeing vehicles like the Slingshot on MO. Relax, people. It’s just a trike.
5. Lane-splitting Debate
Lane-splitting, or filtering, became a hot topic for motorcyclists around the country this year, including in California, the only state in the union where the practice is not prohibited.
Moto-advocates largely cheered when the California Highway Patrol published a set of guidelines about how to safely ride through traffic between cars. Those cheers turned into boos after the guidelines were taken down following a single complaint from one Kenneth Mandler who successfully argued against the police issuing information on how to lane-split.
The AMA responded with an online petition to support allowing the CHP to restore its lane-splitting guidelines, while a second petition was started to urge the Obama administration to allow lane-splitting on all public roads across the country. Okay, so lane-splitting might not fall under the federal government’s jurisdiction, but at the very least, let’s hope some state legislators get on board and bring filtering out of the Golden State to the rest of the country.
4. Marc Marquez wins 2014 MotoGP Championship
What’s left to say about the phenom known as Marc Marquez? The Spanish wonder followed up on his championship-winning rookie season with an even more impressive sophomore season, taking a record 13 wins including 10 in a row to start the season. It says something about Marquez when the most disappointing thing he did this year was not win every single race.
The scary thing is Marquez only turned 21 this February, making him just old enough to legally drink the champagne on an American podium. With a ton of talent and a new contract keeping him on top-tier Honda prototypes through 2016, Marquez is a threat to win several more championships.
3. Kawasaki Ninja H2/H2R Hype Machine
As impressive as Kawasaki’s new Ninja H2 and H2R are sure to be, we’re even more impressed with Team Green’s supercharged promotional campaign. Kawasaki released a whopping 26 teaser videos hyping the H2 and H2R.
Whether the H2 or H2R live up to the hype remains to be seen, and believe me, the MO editors are wrestling with each other over who gets to attend the press launch. (Not the face, guys; we need those mugs pretty for the video!)
One thing’s for sure though: Kawasaki is putting tremendous resources behind the Ninja H2 and H2R, as the flagship models represent more than just the company’s motorcycle division but the whole weight of Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
2. Harley-Davidson Goes Electric
It still sounds like an April Fool’s prank, but it’s true. Harley-Davidson is developing an electric motorcycle. To some of the Motor Company’s detractors, it’s the motorcycle equivalent of strapping a jetpack on a dinosaur, but you have to admit, that would be pretty awesome too.
Forward-thinking from a company notorious for clinging to its heritage, Harley-Davidson made headlines in both the motorcycle and mainstream media with its its Project LiveWire prototype. Harley was pretty canny about the LiveWire introduction too, conveniently announcing the project just as some eager eyes noticed the electric motorcycle was spotted on the set of the new Avengers movie. Think about it: photos of the LiveWire on set were taken back in April, but people only started noticing what it was in June, mere days before Harley-Davidson’s announcement. This was no accident.
Harley-Davidson just completed a 30-city cross-country tour collecting feedback on the LiveWire. Although no definitive production plans have been revealed for the LiveWire, Harley-Davidson deserves kudos for venturing into the electric motorcycle business.
1. MotoAmerica Breathes New Life to U.S. Road Racing
After years of disappointment under the auspices of Daytona Motorcycle Group (DMG), American road racing is ready to enter a whole new era with MotoAmerica and former 500cc Grand Prix World Champion, Wayne Rainey.
Let’s give credit where it’s due: DMG did offer some compelling racing with stars like Josh Hayes, Josh Herrin and Danny Eslick. But that doesn’t hide the mess the series has become: last year the series comprised just seven rounds and wasn’t broadcast on television, and the classes have had a confusing jumble of rules and regulations. (Can someone explain why the Buell 1125R was allowed to compete against 600cc sportbikes?)
AMA Pro Racing used to be one of the top national racing series in the world, producing such talents as Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies. Under DMG, the U.S. national series has nearly fallen off the map, with the top racers now coming from Spain, the U.K. and Australia. MotoAmerica brings a promise of turning that around and developing new talent and (hopefully) future world champions.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though; MotoAmerica still has yet to run a race, with the first round set for April 10-12 at Circuit of the Americas. There’s also the hiccup with not securing the rights to the Daytona 200. Still, Rainey and MotoAmerica have been pushing all the right buttons, securing a television contract, introducing a beginner class around the KTM RC390 and adopting a rulebook that falls in line with the FIM’s international production-based roadracing regulations.