Top 10 Motorcycle News Stories of 2012

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

As we count down the days until 2013, it’s time for a look back at the year that was in motorcycles. Here now, is our top ten motorcycle news stories of 2012. Check back for three separate lists, our top off-beat motorcycle news stories of the year, ten news stories to look forward to next year, and the hottest bikes for 2013.

Despite its international motocross pedigree and “Ready to Race” reputation, Austrian manufacturer KTM had never won an AMA Motocross 450 class title … until this season. KTM has had success in the smaller classes, winning its first AMA Motocross title in 2003 with Grant Langston taking the 125 class title.

The combination of Ryan Dungey, team manager Roger “The Man” de Coster and the KTM 450SX-F proved to be too much for the competition to overcome. Dungey won 18 of 24 motos including a string of 10 in a row to score 580 championship points ahead of Suzuki-riding Mike Alessi‘s 453 points to take the championship.

The title was Dungey’s second in the 450 class, but more importantly the first for KTM. Dungey almost made it a double if not for an injury that knocked him out of five races in the AMA Supercross season. Despite missing five rounds, Dungey finished third overall with 257 points behind Kawasaki‘s Ryan Villopoto‘s 323 points and Yamaha‘s Davi Millsaps and his 266 points.

Still, it was a very good year for KTM in AMA Motocross and Supercross action. KTM and Dungey will have a chance to continue their run with the 2013 AMA Supercross season set to start in early January.

You would think having two MotoGP World Championship titles and sitting seventh all-time in Grand Prix race victories would garner a lot of respect. But for some reason, Casey Stoner seemed to have as many detractors as supporters during his 12-year GP career. There was no denying Stoner’s talent, but his often-times awkward relationship with the media and a tendency to make pointed and often controversial statements about other racers and the state of the sport led many to call him “Casey Moaner”.

Coming off his second championship – with two different manufacturers to boot! – Stoner was a favorite to repeat in 2012. It was a shock however during a press conference ahead of the fourth round at Le Mans that Stoner announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.

And even then, his retirement statement was very Casey-like, lobbing one more critique of the sport he dominated just the year before.

“After so many years of doing this sport which I love, and which myself and my family made so many sacrifices for, after so many years of trying to get to where we have gotten to at this point, this sport has changed a lot and it has changed to the point where I am not enjoying it. I don’t have the passion for it and so at this time it’s better if I retire now,” Stoner said.

What’s next for Stoner? Besides spending more time with his wife Adriana and his daughter Alessandra Maria, Stoner may be turning his attention to V8 Supercar racing.

After years of rumors and gallons of tears shed by disappointed Honda fans, the Japanese manufacturer finally announced plans to produce a sportbike based on its MotoGP racer.

Takanobu Ito, Honda’s chief executive officer, confirmed the production model is on its way, saying:

“Since its market introduction in 1987, the RC30 (VFR750R) super sports bike has been loved by a large number of fans. With a goal to create a new history, passionate Honda engineers have gotten together and have begun development of a new super sports bike to which new technologies from MotoGP machines will be applied.”

Though no specific details were announced, Ito’s reference to the RC30, not to mention the current RC213V MotoGP racer, suggests the new model will be powered by a V4 engine.

The new sportbike model isn’t the only V4 project in the works. Honda is also reportedly working on a production racer based on the RC213V that would be leased to prospective MotoGP teams. The production racer is expected to be ready for the 2014 season and could carry a price tag of over a million dollars. The consumer model is also expected to be quite pricey, with some predicting a price over $100,000.

Most manufacturers introduce a couple of new models every year, so it’s not really much of a surprise when they do. But there was something different in the way Kawasaki did it this year.

Team Green provided two significant product updates this year in its 2013 Ninja ZX-6R and new Ninja 300. Both replace outgoing models while offering a boost in engine displacement. The ZX-6R received a 37cc bump to 636cc, an engine size it had previously used from 2003-2006. The Ninja 300 meanwhile replaces the Ninja 250, offering a number of upgrades including a slipper clutch, optional ABS and a new 296cc engine.

Both models were leaked in an EPA spreadsheet that was first to report in August, weeks before the bikes were officially announced.

What makes this appear on this list of Top 10 Motorcycle News Stories of 2012 however, was the big Times Square Takeover event Kawasaki used to unveil the new models for the U.S. market. Instead of a big reveal at a motorcycle show or a private launch event with a room full of moto-journalists, Kawasaki rented two blocks of Broadway from West 45th to West 47th in New York City for a very public launch.

After years of budget cuts and compromises following the global economic downturn, Kawasaki went all-out in introducing its new, larger-displacement models, reminding us of a happier time for the industry,

The world’s two biggest motorcycle shows take place in Europe, with Italy hosting EICMA in November and Germany hosting Intermot every two years in October. In the U.S., consumers had the International Motorcycle Shows, which tours the country with the latest motorcycles for this market. The IMS shows start long after the European shows however, and while they still offer U.S. debuts for many models, it’s still not the same as the worldwide debuts offered at the two European shows.

That may change in 2013 however with the first ever American International Motorcycle Expo. Set for Oct. 16-20 in Orlando, Fla., AIME will be offer a new premiere motorcycle industry event for the U.S. market, a singular show to compete against the IMS’ tour.

AIME also faces competition with the Dealer Expo, an annual trade show usually held in February in Indianapolis. Dealer Expo is geared more for dealers and distributors but it already sees AIME as a threat. Next year, Dealer Expo will hold two events, one in February and again in October. From 2014 onwards, Dealer Expo will only be held in its new October timeslot.

The rivalry between the production-based World Superbike Championship and the prototype-based MotoGP Championship came to a head this year as both series were placed under the stewardship of Dorna Sports.

Dorna, the longtime promoter of MotoGP, and former WSBK promoter Infront Motorsports are both owned by an even larger conglomeration called Bridgepoint which acquired Infront in 2011. Motorcycle racing was seen as just a small portion of the deal, as the acquisition also gave Bridgepoint control over FIFA soccer coverage including the World Cup. Motorcycles were left more or less alone until this October.

That was when Bridgepoint decided to put Dorna in charge of WSBK while shifting Infront into a marketing partner and global adviser for both series.

“Under the new structure, the two leading motorcycle road racing events are now set for sustainable further growth and development,” says Philippe Blatter, president and chief executive officer of Infront Sports & Media. “A true win-win situation has been created. Both Dorna and Infront can now further strengthen and focus on their core competencies and, in addition, achieve leading positions in their specific area of expertise.”

It’s too soon to tell where this new world (championship) order will lead us, but the most immediate changes will be in the regulations for both series. By operating both series, Dorna can create the rules in coordination to better separate the two.

Last year, we named Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunamis the top motorcycle news story of 2011. About 15,000 people lost their lives and many more were left without homes. The motorcycle industry was also shaken up, with the Big Four Japanese manufacturers seeing disruptions in production.

A little more than 13 months after the earthquake, a curious shipping container washed ashore on an island off the west coast of Canada. The container was the first notable debris from the Japanese tsunamis to travel across the Pacific Ocean and reach North America. Within the container was a heavily damaged but mostly intact 2004 Harley-Davidson Softail Night Train.

The motorcycle’s owner, Ikuo Yokoyama, was located in Japan, alive but still living in temporary housing. Harley-Davidson offered to restore and reunite the Softail with its owner but Yokoyama, who lost family members to the disaster, turned down the offer, asking instead for the motorcycle to be enshrined in the Harley-Davidson Museum as a memorial to those whose lives were affected by the earthquake.

Following Yokoyama’s wishes, the Harley-Davidson Museum opened the tsunami motorcycle exhibit in October, becoming a symbol of the disasters. The exhibit bears a plaque which reads:

“Metals like steel and aluminum, along with rubber, plastics and leather, all deteriorate. Add in moisture, oxygen, and salt and the process intensifies, particularly for metal. While the trailer holding the motorcycle was adrift, some seawater was likely inside, causing initial corrosion. The destruction rapidly increased after the motorcycle was washed out of the trailer and onto the beach. Laying on its left side, the bike was pounded with water and dragged over the sand and rocks by the tide.”

“The resulting mechanical damage breached the bikes surface finishes like paint and chrome plating, leaving parts vulnerable to salt water. The surfaces on the other side, such as the chromed oil lines on the right side, were not broken and show little signs of corrosion. The bike has not been cleaned since it left the beach on Graham Island. The remaining salt and sand is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. As long as these stay, accelerated corrosion will continue. Despite this, a decision was made to leave the motorcycle exactly as found. Cleaning out otherwise restoring it would erase the evidence of what this machine has been through, and the motorcycle would no longer serve as a testament to the ongoing tragedy of the tsunami.”

In November, the European Parliament passed new rules that would make anti-lock brakes mandatory for all motorcycles with engines larger than 125cc by the year 2016. While the rule is limited to Europe, its effects will be felt around the world.

Even though it’s been around since 1993, ABS for motorcycles is still a relatively new technology. Many manufacturers offer ABS on only some of their models, and even then, they’re available as an option. With the new regulations, motorcycle manufacturers will start integrating ABS across more models, even those bound for markets outside of Europe.

After all, it is much more cost efficient to have all units of a model built with ABS than to have to separate assembly processes for ABS and non-ABS models. The rule will also likely have an effect on product planning, as manufacturers will begin offering ABS as a standard feature rather than an add-on.

Already, BMW has gotten a head start by making ABS standard for all models in its 2013 lineup. BMW, of course, was the first manufacturer to introduce ABS on production models in 1993 so this move was not surprising. But other manufacturers have started to make similar changes.

Piaggio has started adding ABS to more models, from the flagship Aprilia RSV4 to scooters such as the Piaggio X10 and the new Vespa 946. Kawasaki has also started making ABS available on more models, from the big ZX-14R to the Ninja 300.

Electronic suspension has been around for a while now, notably with BMW’s ESA and ESA II and on the Ducati Multistrada 1200S. Those systems offered preset settings riders can select to meet different road and riding needs. This year, electronic suspension took a evolutionary step forward with dynamic damping which automatically adjusts itself while you ride.

Dynamic damping, also known as semi-active suspension is the biggest technological advancement introduced in 2012. Essentially, it uses sensors on the wheels and frames to collect data about riding conditions. An algorithm processes the information and the system activates valves in the suspension to optimize damping.

The technology is still very new and only offered on a handful of models. The 2013 BMW R1200GS and the S1000RR-based HP4 are available with Dynamic Damping Control while the 2013 Ducati Multistrada 1200S offers its version of the technology, branded as Ducati Skyhook Suspension.

Suspension manufacturer Marzocchi presented its semi-active suspension technology at EICMA while Öhlins introduced a new semi-active “Mechatronic” suspension designed for the 2011-2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. Dutch firm Traction Suspension also offered its version of the technology. It comes equipped on the Ghezzi-Brian V-Twin motard kit for the Moto Guzzi Griso.

Our pick for the top motorcycle news story of 2012 is Audi‘s acquisition of Ducati from Investindustrial, a deal that took months to resolve and changed the landscape of the motorcycle industry.

Under Investindustrial’s guidance, Ducati saw revenues increase to 480 million euros in 2011 from 305 million euros in 2006 when the investment firm purchased Ducati. At the same time, Ducati expanded into emerging markets and grew its product lineup beyond sportbikes with models such as the Diavel sports cruiser and the Multistrada adventure tourer. With the brand at its highest value, the time was right for Ducati to be sold.

Investindustrial courted a number of suitors but Audi, a member of the Volkswagen Group, quickly became the front runner and in April, announced the acquisition. The deal still faced some regulatory hurdles but in July, the European Union gave its approval and Audi officially took over as owners of Ducati, purchasing the brand for 747 million euros, about three times what Investindustrial originally put into acquiring Ducati.

Audi kept Gabriele del Torchio as chief executive officer of Ducati while also giving him a seat on the board of directors for Audi-owned Lamborghini. Retaining del Torchio was an important move, maintaining Audi’s stance that “ Ducati remains Ducati.

There were some changes at Ducati however. Filippo Preziosi was displaced as head of Ducati’s racing program, replaced by former BMW man Bernhard Gobmeier following two disappointing MotoGP seasons and the withdrawal of Ducati’s World Superbike factory team. The company also started new cross-promotional tie-ins with Audi including a promotion for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and both Audi and Lamborghini had cars on display at World Ducati Week.

Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

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