Top 10 Motorcycle News Stories of 2015
We’re approaching the end of the year which means it’s time to look back at some of the top news stories in motorcycledom from 2015. The last 12 months saw a lot of ups and downs, and here’s to hoping there will be more of the former in 2016.
10. Notable Obituaries
We begin our countdown on a sad note by remembering some of the people we lost in 2015. This year saw the loss of several AMA Hall of Famers, racers and an all-time great in Geoff Duke.
Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list, so if there is anyone we missed that should be recognized, please let us know in the comments.
- AMA Racer Dane Westby, 28
- Flat track racer Jethro Halbert, 29
- MotoAmerica racers Daniel Rivas Fernandez, 27, and Bernat Martinez, 35
- Isle of Man TT racer Franck Petricola, 32
- Drag racing innovator Ray Price, 78
- Four-time consecutive AMA Grand National Champion Carroll Resweber, 79
- Six-time World Champion Geoff Duke, 92
- Dirt track racer and dealership owner Melbourne J. ‘Mike’ Wilson, 94
9. Marzocchi Shuts Down
Suspension manufacturer Marzocchi ceased operations his year, leaving several manufacturers searching for a new supplier of motorcycle forks.
Parent company Tenneco Inc. of Lake Forrest Ill. (Yes, that means Marzocchi was American-owned!) announced in July it would discontinue Marzocchi’s motorcycle fork operations. Tenneco acquired Marzocchi seven years earlier in 2008, assuming the Italian brand’s $15 million debt.
Marzocchi supplied forks for Ducati, MV Agusta and BMW, and Tenneco says it will help customers transition to a new supplier. MV Agusta, for one, has reportedly decided to continue using Marzocchi forks until April 2016 but will need to find a replacement beyond then.
At least part of Marzocchi will live on however. Fox Factory has agreed to buy Marzocchi’s mountain bike suspension operations from Tenneco, but Marzocchi’s motorcycle business is no more.
8. Villopoto Retires
Ryan Villopoto announced his retirement this summer after suffering a serious injury while competing in the MXGP Championship. Villopoto was competing in his first MXGP season after having nothing left to prove in the U.S. where he notched nine AMA Supercross and Motocross titles in a stellar career.
Though a back injury forced his decision, Villopoto was reportedly considering retiring in 2015 anyway, after completing the final year of his contract with Monster Energy Kawasaki. Still, we’re disappointed to see the end of a sure-fire Hall of Fame career.
Villopoto retires with nine national championships, putting him second all-time behind Ricky Carmichael. His first national title was the AMA Amateur National Championship in 2005. After turning pro the next season, Villopoto began a stretch of three consecutive AMA Motocross 250 class titles while also winning the 2007 AMA Supercross 250 West Regional championship. Moving up to the 450 class, Villopoto won four consecutive AMA Supercross titles from 2011-2014 while adding AMA Motocross titles in 2011 and 2013.
Professional road racing in America received a much-needed change with the inaugural MotoAmerica championship. Under the auspices of Grand Prix legend Wayne Rainey, MotoAmerica gained the rights to promote superbike racing from DMG and completely revamped the rules, bringing them more in line with the FIM’s international regulations.
If there was one critique for the inaugural season, it was competitive balance. With no factory involvement other than from Yamaha and Suzuki, Yamaha dominated MotoAmerica, scoring the grand slam, winning the Superbike, Supersport, and Superstock 1000 and 600 titles. Yamaha not only went four-for-four in championships, the manufacturer also had a perfect season, winning every single race in those classes. That’s a perfect 64 wins out of 64. The only time you’d see a bike other than an R1 or R6 win at a MotoAmerica event was in the KTM RC390 Cup!
6. Nicky Hayden, the Last American in MotoGP
One of the goals of Rainey’s MotoAmerica is to foster racing talent in the U.S. and develop racers that can re-establish America’s place in the international motorcycle racing scene. As MotoAmerica held its first season, America’s last World Champion competed in his final season in MotoGP.
Nicky Hayden raced the 2015 season for Team Aspar on the new RC213V-RS, a less-powerful derivative of Honda’s factory machine. Hayden scored 16 points in 18 rounds including a season-best 11th at Le Mans. It was a disappointing final MotoGP season for the 2006 champion, though it should be noted he finished just a point behind Jack Miller and 7 points up on Eugene Laverty, both riding the same machine.
The Kentucky Kid will take his talents to the World Superbike Championship next season, riding the aging CBR1000RR SP for the Ten Kate Honda team, with an eye to racing a reborn CBR1000RR in 2017. The change opens a new chapter in Hayden’s successful racing career, but it also marks the absence of an American in the premier class of motorcycle racing for the first time since 1974.
5. Polaris Acquires Brammo
Harley-Davidson shocked the motorcycle industry last year revealing its Project LiveWire electric prototype. This year, it was America’s other major motorcycle maker, Polaris Industries, that took a big step forward and beat H-D to market with an electric bike through its acquisition of Brammo’s motorcycle business.
The initial result was Brammo’s Empulse motorcycles being marginally reworked and rebranded as Victory models, but Polaris has further plans in store. Brammo’s TT Zero racer also got rebadged, becoming the first Victory to race in the Isle of Man TT. Polaris also filed a trademark for the name “Victory Charger,” suggesting more electric models to come.
4. Recalls! Recalls! Recalls!
Vehicle recalls made headlines this year, most notably in the car industry with a massive airbag recall and an upcoming recall to correct Volkswagen’s emission test-dodging shenanigans. This year also saw a number of significant recalls affecting several thousands of motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson in particular had two fairly large recalls. In April, H-D recalled 45,901 touring motorcycles because of a problem preventing clutches from disengaging, and then in July, there was a recall on 185,272 touring models because of a risk of the saddlebags falling off. And that’s just counting models in the U.S.
Honda also had two big recalls. The venerable Gold Wing was subject to its third recall campaign to correct an ongoing issue with its rear brakes. Honda initially recalled the Gold Wing in 2011 and again in 2014 when it realized the original fix wasn’t working. This year, Honda finally came up with a solution that (hopefully) will solve the problem. The recall affected 145,219 GL1800 Gold Wing models dating back to its initial launch in 2001, and that’s only counting American units. If that wasn’t enough, Honda had a recall to fix a problem with a starter relay switch. The catch was the same faulty part was used on several different models, resulting in a recall on 45,153 motorcycles in the U.S. plus thousands more around the world.
Suspension company Öhlins also had a significant recall on its TTX36 rear shock. The component was a popular choice among OEMs, so the recall ended up affecting such notable models as the Ducati 1199 Panigale, Yamaha YZF-R1M, Honda CBR1000RR SP, and Triumph’s Daytona 675R and Speed Triple R.
Recalls can be a costly expense for manufacturers, but it’s even costlier if a company drags its feet. Triumph learned this lesson first hand after getting slapped with a $2.9 million fine by NHTSA because it took too long to conduct a recall. How long? Triumph reported the recall in the U.S. on September 2014, some 15 months after similar recalls was first announced in the U.K. in June 2013. Making things even less excusable, the same recall was also conducted in Canada in June 2013, and Triumph’s Canadian operations are run by same subsidiary in charge of the U.S. side of things.
3. Harley-Davidson Layoffs
Recalls may be bad for PR, but so are job cuts. Harley-Davidson not only had two large recalls this year, but also the company had two rounds of layoffs, affecting more than 400 workers.
The first layoff affected 169 employees at the Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations plant in Kansas City. What made this look bad is the Kansas City factory is where Harley-Davidson Street models for the North American market are assembled. Meanwhile, Street models bound for other markets are made in India. The optics of an “All-American” brand like Harley-Davidson laying off workers in the U.S. while paying people in India to do the same job look dreadful.
A second round of layoffs following Harley-Davidson’s third-quarter report also proved controversial. The company announced it would cut about 250 jobs while increasing its budget for Research & Development and marketing. Some people would find the idea that Harley-Davidson wasn’t doing enough marketing laughable, even if motorcycle sales were down compared to the previous year. What made these layoffs look particularly bad was the surprising departure of Harley-Davidson’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richer just two weeks later.
2. Rossi vs. Marquez
If you were a MotoGP fan this season, you were either on Team Rossi or Team Marquez. On one side you have the charismatic Valentino Rossi, at age 36, having a resurgent season with possibly his final shot at a tenth World Championship, on the other you have Marc Marquez, the talented young upstart with two MotoGP titles already to his name at the age of 22.
The 2015 MotoGP season didn’t unfold the way Marquez hoped, especially following his record setting 13-win season in 2014. With more DNFs than wins, 2015 wasn’t Marquez’s year, so he was resigned to playing the proverbial spoiler in the title fight between Rossi and his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
Then came the Sepang pre-race press conference where Rossi accused Marquez of favoring Lorenzo, interfering with Rossi in the previous race to help his fellow Spaniard. To some, this seemed like class bluster, the type of mind games he famously deployed on other rivals such as Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau. Having just recently reunited with Yamaha, it also made better political sense to fire some warning shots at the Honda-riding Marquez than toward his teammate and only real title challenger, Lorenzo.
The young Marquez was not so easily cowed, and invariably, come race time at Sepang, he and Rossi clashed. The two traded positions several times, culminating with the events of Lap 7 when Rossi purposely ran Marquez wide in a corner. What happened next in their encounter depends on your perspective. Some say Marquez leaned into Rossi, causing the Spaniad to lose his front end and crash. Marquez fans say Rossi kicked out his leg, knocking Marquez off balance and off the track. The two perspectives divided racing fans, especially pitting Italians versus Spaniards.
— MotoGP™ (@MotoGP) October 25, 2015
Race Direction levied a penalty on Rossi that forced him to start from the back of the grid in the championship-deciding race in Valencia two weeks later. The Doctor put up a good fight, but Lorenzo, starting from the pole, was given an insurmountable lead even before the race began.
Hopefully, Rossi will have another few competitive seasons in him, otherwise 2015 will be remembered as the year he threw away his tenth world title just to mess with Marquez.
1. Erik Buell Racing
The odyssey of Erik Buell took another sudden turn this year when his company filed for Chapter 128, a process similar to bankruptcy specific to the state of Wisconsin. At the time, Buell said that some funding had fallen through, leaving him no choice but to cease operations for Erik Buell Racing.
EBR fans found some new hope after Bruce Belfer of New Jersey bought the company’s assets at auction for a reported $2.25 million. Unfortunately, the deal fell through in November, over some confusion about what assets were included. Hero Motocorp, which owned a 49.2% stake in EBR, had first crack at the company, scooping up its consulting business and other R&D assets for $2.8 million. Belfer told the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel Hero had until Oct. 6 to claim its assets but he had to close his part by Sept. 30. With an uncertain inventory, Belfer was unable to secure the financing required to seal the deal.
As a result, EBR went back on the auction block on Dec. 10. A company called Liquid Assets Partners submitted the only bid at $1.6 million but Belfer objected, saying he needed more time to secure funding for a higher bid. The court-appointed receiver, Michael Polsky, decided to decline Liquid Assets Partners’ bid, as it was his responsibility to get as much as possible for EBR. Belfer will get his chance to submit a new bid when EBR goes back to auction on Jan. 14, 2016.
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