Bring back MotoGP to the BBC, for Racing’s Sake

andrew Racing Leave a Comment

I was disappointed when I discovered back in 2013 that the BBC had lost rights to show the MotoGP. I enjoyed the programming of the shows, I enjoyed the punchy coverage (just right) and I enjoyed uncle Stavros and uncle Charlie’s irreverent natter over the race.

The BBC picture is available in HD, perfect for high action bright punchy slow-motion footage. BT had aspirations to become a sports broadcaster and bought the rights to pretty much everything. Very bold, I thought, but will this work? Will it be good for racing?

I moved home in 2014 and picked up BT sport for ‘free’ as part of a BT TV box deal. “Great”, I thought to myself. “Now I can watch the races, and even if I can’t, the BT box will record them so I can watch them later.”

That was the plan. But has it actually transpired that way? Have I actually taken the time out of my life to watch people going round and round a racetrack? Not really. Why? I find the BT sport footage and the process of watching it, too long winded, too clunky, and pitched at the wrong level (for me at least).

What I love about BBC Sport, got bless it, is the lack of advertising. There’s no ‘fluffer’ material, just designed to give the audience something, anything, to keep them on the boil between two lengthy advert breaks. I love the racing, and I think it’s important to see some behind-the-scenes footage, but what I want to see are well produced VT’s of rider profiles, or season summaries, or rivalries. Watching Craig Doyle or Neil Hodgson in the pits is well, the pits. Give me too much of this and I switch off.

BT has also given its viewers with a BT box ’free’ access to BT sport for 12 months. Except it wasn’t free for 12 months, it was free for about 10 months, because in August they changed the rules and downgraded the ’free’ element available to their free subscribers (I’m sure, all within the law) to just BT sport 1.

Big companies can do that I guess. We consumers just have to suck it up, but I can’t help feeling put upon, like someone changed the rules of the game because they felt like it. It makes BT look unprincipled. I will not deal with who I perceive to be the Ryanairs of this world. They don’t deserve my money or my time.

The process I have had to go through to cancel my free (now £5) BT Sport, shows me what BT is all about. They have a beautiful glossy website which is designed to give you the option to add as many new ‘orders’ as you want to your account. But just try cancelling anything, and you will be going round and round from one glossy magazine page to the next, and each offer to ‘manage your account’ takes you precisely nowhere. Annoying aggressive sales loses you customers. Is getting a few cheeky £5 subscription payments because people can’t get through on the phone to cancel their ‘orders’, building the kind of loyal customer base that makes for sustainable business? Methinks not.

Eventually, after a good half an hour sifting through glossy material on their website, you do find a telephone number to call. At least this call centre is in the UK, and I’m lucky in getting through, and speak with a man with a Scottish accent. True to BT’s ethos, he is in maximum sales mode; whilst on the phone, as he was processing my ‘order’ for a free BT sport lite package (I suspect it is a contractual order because they will want to start charging me for that in the future, too) I was offered a mobile phone contract, and he also checked to see whether BT infinity is available where I live. It isn’t.

I don’t have a problem with companies making money, but I don’t like the ethos of the BT website, of their marketing to pull in the punters for ‘free’ and then change the rules. I especially don’t like their long winded MotoGP footage, and the SD picture quality. You can of course upgrade to a HD picture for a little more. Meh.

But then I remember, they are taking on the giant behemoth Sky. If you’re playing with the big boys, you can’t play nice. It’s off with the gloves and time for a bloody nose.

The footage off the racing takes into account the previous two classes, Moto 1 and Moto 2 before the big MotoGP race at the back. This is broadcast as one big lump, so if you record this for later viewing, you have to fast-forward though 3 hours of footage until you get to your race. Can I be bothered? Any time pressed individual (and who isn’t time pressed nowadays) wants to see the race, not someone in the pits speculating about something or other.

I’m not suggesting that BT sport is wrong in their footage, but it’s clearly pitched at fanatical teenagers, not grown men with jobs and families and lawns to mow. I am saying that it could be punchier, more BBC-like. BT’s problem is they have 24 hours in a day, and so their footage has turned into the Moto GP equivalent of News 24, where the poor producer has hours and hours of scheduling to fill and is forced to hire chatter boxes to fill in the airtime with drivel.

There’s only so much you can wring from a motorcycle race, and if you watch the BBC MotoGP shows, and you will see what that is. ‘Always leave them wanting more’ is the way to do it, don’t bore them to tears. People are busy, and have better things to be doing than sifting through hours of broadcasting to find the nuggets. Remember, this is just a load of men and boys riding round in circles.

So no, I’ve not watched the last few races on BT sport, and I’ve downgraded by my free BT sport package (over the phone) which was costing me £5 a month, to BT sport lite. This means no more MotoGP. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. A well written article will be a better use of my time than watching racing on BT sport. Or perhaps I could get off my bum and go and ride a real motorcycle. After all, there is one in the garage. BT sport can continue to cater to the teenagers who don’t yet have the real thing.

If you want to do something good, you need to focus. When you focus, others will get the benefit of your focus. You can tell me what’s on your mind in a quick and engaging 5 minutes, or you could drone on and on about it for 3 hours until I want to push you into a lake. It’s up to you how you deliver your message, but don’t be surprised if I ignore you in the future.

For the love of racing, bring back the MotoGP on the BBC.

The BMW M2 has Landed and it’s a Cracker!

andrew Cars

It was inevitable. After the release and warm reception of the not quite M car M135i, and the introduction of the 1 series coupe, the 2 series and its equivalent M235i, it was only a matter of time before we saw a BMW M2 come along. Well it’s been worth the wait. But it does seem to me somewhat that BMW has shot itself in the foot. With beautiful lithe proportions and the same performance available, why would anyone buy an M4 over the cheaper, more agile M2?

Headline Figures:

  • 3 litre twin scroll turbo’d straight six producing 370bhp and 343lb/ft
  • CO2 emissions 199g/km
  • 0–100kph in 4.5 s (4.3 with 7 speed DCT)
  • 19” forged alloys
  • Manual gearbox receives auto blipping on downshifts
  • engine can produce as much as 369lb/ft (500NM) of torque on overboost.

The Powerplant

The beating heart of every M car is its engine, and this one is bristling full of technology. It has the usual BMW engineering; double-VANOS variable camshaft timing, and Valvetronic variable valve control, a twin scroll turbocharger which is integrated into the exhaust manifold. Despite being turbocharged it revs to 7000rpm, and (most important for a turbo’d motor) all of that 343lb/ft of torque is available from 1400rpm to 5500rpm, a truly flat torque curve. That’s a flexible motor, one which won’t be out-dragged by a turbo diesel rep-mobile. The turbo has an electronically operated boost pressure control valve, and despite the prodigious power available, BMW’s engineers say that the car can return 35mpg on the combined cycle. We’ll see about that, but I’d expect mid to high 20s achievable in normal brisk driving. The M2 borrows from its bigger siblings the M3 and M4; employing its pistons, cast iron liners, and crankshaft main bearing shells. As you might expect, the BMW M2 engine also comes specified with high temperature spark plugs. The sump has an additional oil scavenger pump to maintain engine oil lubrication under extreme lateral loading e.g track days, and an additional oil cooler (for DCT equipped cars) and an additional water cooler for the engine. The sound from the quad tailpipes can be tweaked using the Driving Experience Control switch, although whether this is a real sound affected by the baffles on the exhausts, or something more synthetic, we will have to wait and see.

Gearbox

The manual ‘box is a dry sump affair, and comes with an auto blipping function to match the engine revs for smoother downshifts, in case your heel and toe technique is not quite up to scratch. The DCT is the latest generation seven speed gearbox with the usual Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings. These can be selected using the Driving Experience Control switch

Smokey Burnout

In today’s modern cars with all their clever safety systems, its often hard to have some good old fashioned fun. Never fear, the M2 come with the ‘Smokey Burnout’ (a la Smokey and the Bandit) function. As BMW puts it: “the Smokey Burnout function invites the driver to indulge in a degree of rear wheel spin while the car is moving at low speeds”. Nice. Seems they thought of everything.

Wheels, Tyres and Brakes

The M2 comes as standard on Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tyres; 245/35 ZR19 at the front and 265/35/ZR19 at the back. Front brakes are four piston fixed calipers, rears two piston fixed. Wheels are 19” as standard forged aluminium. The M-Differential is electronically locking, and cleverly deploys between 0 and 100 percent locking depending on the driving conditions, and the DSC. On track, deploying M Dynamic Mode allows a greater level of wheelspin before reining it all in. Looks wise, I think M division have done a cracking job. Where the M235i was a practice piece of styling, we can now see in the M2, the finished article. It has the protruding front and rear bumpers of the M4, the swelled arches over the wider tracked wheels, and scalloped sides. If you’ll allow me the expression, it looks fat with a ph. The car’s stying mimics the bigger M4, but somehow looks better in a smaller more dynamic frame. Let’s hope it looks as good in real life as it does in the photos

Which is the Best Motorbike? The One You’re Riding

andrew Motorcycles Leave a Comment

I love photography and taking pictures. There’s a saying in the photography world that goes something like “The best camera is the one you have with you”. This saying is partly advocating the use of equipment that you actually want to use, and therefore carry around with you, because you’re more likely to get the shot if you have your iPhone in your pocket than if you have to lug around a 5×4 field camera and tripod.

But it also speaks to the notion of gear envy, upgrade-itis, that dis-ease experienced by people who live in a perpetual state of AGNI (All the Gear, No Idea). These people see their route to success as one that can be purchased (often quite appropriately with borrowed money. They are quite literally living beyond their means).

“Surely if I pay enough money, then I’ll be able to produce some good work?”

“Surely not.”

The modern world is responsible for selling us this particular red herring; that greatness will come to me when I: (own this car, house, husband or wife of certain attributes, professional grade at work, business, gadget). Delete as appropriate.

Alas, achieving greatness takes time, dedication, and hours put in.

Beware those who come bearing gifts, who want to sell you the secret formula for weight loss, perfect abs, or how to make millions from your blog. These individuals are almost certainly selling you what you think you want, but unfortunately most of them don’t have it to give you in the first place.

Ask someone who has it all, and they will tell you that they still have the same problems as they had before they acquired everything they thought they wanted. We don’t find joy in getting stuff, we find joy in the process of going towards it.

Your Life’s Work

The process of learning to ride, of becoming a better rider is a life’s work. It can begin when you’re 16 or when your 60. Ask Valentino Rossi if he’s a better rider today than he was 10 or even 20 years ago, and he’ll tell you, Yes. He has to be, to keep up with those young whippersnappers. Most older riders lose their bottle, they don’t lose their skill. Crashing hurts, and eventually you have more important things to do like bringing up a family.

If you’ve just got into the sport of motorcycles, don’t make the mistake of trying to run before you can walk. Enjoy the process, and have fun along the way.

I currently ride a pretty old bike. It cost me £1500, and it’s been in a fair few battles. It is however in pretty good fettle, and the engine is as strong as ever, with 55k and counting on the clock. I bought it so I could use it without worrying about it getting stolen, scratched, used properly.

Every day it carries me to work, blasting down the M5, never missing a beat and still returning 50mpg. The bike existed before I got my licence. It’s old, but it is immensely fun. Would I enjoy having something a bit sportier? As the GOAT would say “For Sure”.

I won’t lie, I miss the delightful tactility of my GSX-R 1000, but the VFR is up for some fun, and when we hack it about as we do on a daily basis, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

When I started out riding, I remember reading about how you want the bike to be the weak link, and not the rider. I wondered how this might be a good thing, but as I’ve owned lots of different bikes over the years, I’ve come to a much better understanding of what they were on about.

Having owned, and ridden bikes which were far more capable than I (basically any modern super sport bike, but especially 750cc and up), I also appreciate riding bikes which are less capable than a full out supersport missile. Why? Because you can get somewhere near the performance limits. I’m not saying that my current bike can’t do more in more capable, more brave hands. It surely can. But right now, I can ride that thing much closer to its limits on the road than my last bike, and I have a blast doing so.

Is Your Bike Taking You for a Ride?

The thing is, you don’t ride any litre sportsbike hard on the road. You just can’t. Those litre bikes are too powerful, too capable, and the other road users too pedestrian for you to get anywhere near the bike’s operating envelope and stay looking even slightly sensible. I suppose this is a large part of their appeal. Having owned one, I agree, they are awesome.

They are effortless to ride, you only need a couple of whiffs of throttle to thrust you forward like you’ve been fired out of a canon. If you do start to stretch a litrebike’s legs on the road, you will undoubtedly feel a bit naughty, like you’ve misbehaved in church and are about to get a spanking. Old habits die hard.

But a sports tourer, or a 600cc bike? Well, you’ve got to work a bit harder for your kicks on those. There’s not the same effortless wave of torque and power in any gear, you have to rev them. You can rev them to the redline. On a thousand, hitting the redline in first gear will have you heading rapidly into triple figures, but on a smaller capacity bike, you can explore more of the bike’s performance on the road. With smaller machine, you feel like you are riding the wheels off your bike rather than being taken for a ride on a fire breathing monster like a 1000cc Superbike.

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Shed of the Week. Not an expensive bike – but probably a hoot to ride!

The same applies to suspension. All those exotic sports bikes may have trick suspension, but if they are set up for racing, and have rock hard suspension suitable for the heavy acceleration, braking and cornering normally expected on the track, they aren’t going to work so well at lower speeds, and lower loadings. When you are on the road, at those lower road speeds, comfort and compliance is preferable to outright control. You can feel the wheels moving around beneath, the tyres squirming, you have the natural compliance in the suspension to soak up the lumps and bumps of UK road conditions without throwing you off course, and your wrists and arms won’t suffer in the process.

So what? Your think your current bike is a bit soft? It moves around a bit and doesn t quite give you the level of attack you’re looking for? Rather than looking at your machine as some kind of hindrance, try to work with what you’ve got. Every ride is a learning process, and if your bike is easy to ride, and ride hard then you’re learning much more than someone who is frightened of his machine.

Some of the most fun rides can come on the least inspiring machinery. I have had some epic rides on bikes which weren’t anywhere near the top of the tree. HONDA CBR600F with road tyres in Wales, Suzuki SV650S with BT010 on Brands Hatch Indy, KTM 950 Supermoto (anywhere you ride it), Honda VFR800 are all great road oriented bikes. They are a bit heavier, a bit less exciting and less racy than top level race bikes (KTM 950SM aside), but when you wind the throttle to the stop, they will all put a grin on your face.

What’s more, you can ride these kind of bikes daily, and ride them hard, even in through the winter. You will find yourself on full throttle more of the time, riding them with more confidence in the rain, and fitting a pair of tyres which allows you to test the limits of traction in a more realistic setting. They don’t have feel-robbing steering dampers so the steering is light and communicative, if a little twitchy at elevated speeds, but this is all part of your biking experience.

There’s also something to be said for not being on the latest-greatest machinery. I remember doing a track day on my SV, overtaking all manner of sportsbikes, Fireblades, GSX-R, Ducatis, and knowing that I was the difference, and not the bike. A ex-GP rider on a 125cc will beat a novice on a Superbike.

Fancy a Chinese?

SO what is the best motorbike? The one you’re riding. There is one exception to the rule, in my world at least. I took my KTM990SM for a service at Bracken on the Old Kent Road (now sadly gone out of business). I was given a courtesy bike in the shape of a Superbyke (sic) RMR125. This is a Chinese motorcycle exuding all the quality and heritage of the Chinese motorcycle industry.

While undoubtedly cheap, this thing was just about acceptable to get from a to b, and only very slightly preferable to walking. I think I could have made a better go of producing a motorcycle than the brave folks at Superbyke.

Its engine was gutless, changing gear was a bit like kicking a toolbox and hoping something would happen, and the throttle and brakes were made of wood. Even though it was only 125cc, it wasn’t exactly light, it wasn’t good looking either and had the most ridiculous name. Worst of all, I felt like a prick riding it. Fortunately things have come a long way in the 125cc camp. When confronted with my first extortionate first service bill for £350, I couldn’t wait to pay it and get back in my own bike.

So, Chinese “motorcycles” aside, rung what ya brung. Get out there and ride, whatever it is you’ve got, and enjoy stretching you and your bike’s limits. As time passes you will certainly progress, and will buy yourself more powerful, sportier bikes along the way.

But when you get to where you thought you wanted to go, you may find yourself hankering after something less serious, something more fun, like you had in the early days of your biking career, when fun had a lower speed attached to it, and you didn’t mind chucking your bike about a bit or winding the throttle to the stop.

I bet you a 2004 R1 is still far better than you are, and with a decent set of new road tyres fitted would make an excellent year round ride for very little cash. That’s my plan anyway.

Essential Biker Tools: #1 Crafty Plugger

andrew Gear Review Leave a Comment

This morning I went to the garage to get my bike out so I could ride to work. As I pushed it forward off the centre stand, it sat down squat as though the suspension had collapsed. Damn! Flat tyre.

I pushed the bike forward out into the light, popped it back on the centre stand and assessed the situation. Whilst annoying, I do appreciate it when punctures happen at home, they’re so much easier to fix than dealing with a flat on the road.

A screw had found its way into the rear (I’ve never had a puncture at the front, it’s always the rear tyre which gets it!)

I got under the seat and got out my Crafty Plugger kit. This consists of a giant threaded needle on a handle, and 20 sticky fibrous rubber bands and a Stanley knife blade for trimming.

Instructions are included. Here’s the steps of how to fix the puncture:

1. Remove offending Object from tyre using pliers from your bike’s toolkit

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2. Using the crafty plugger tool, insert into the hole and push it in and out a few times to make the hole a little bit bigger, and to roughen up the edges of the hole. The tool looks like a giant darning needle with a screwdriver handle.

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3. Thread the plug through the eye of the tool so there is equal material either side

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4. Insert the tool into the hole, up to the handle

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5. Twist the handle 1.5 turns.

6. Pull until the tip of the tool is just out

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7. Cut the plug off flush with the surface. If your puncture is in the tread, cut as close as you can to the surface.

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8. Pump up your tyre. If you are out and about in the field and you don’t have a pump handy, you can use a few mini compressed air bottles to get your tyre up to a pressure that will allow you to ride your bike to the nearest petrol station and get it inflated properly.

This is the view from the inside

This is the view from the inside

Buy your crafty plugger at Craftyplugger.com

Get yourself some mini gas bottles and an inflators tool. Here is a list favoured by cyclists.

There you have it. The crafty plugger. Essential under seat tool.

The Throttle Goes Both Ways

andrew Comment, Racing Leave a Comment

Modern motorcycle design is experiencing an explosion in electronic rider aids. Are these adding to our experience of two wheels, or taking something away that will never be returned?

There’s something wonderfully gratifying about riding a full-fat, 1000cc sportsbike. Plenty of people will tell you that they are a handful, and too much really for the Queen’s highway, and they would be right. But the same can be said of any high performance car or bike. That doesn’t make them any less exhilarating to ride. If you like the feeling of power, and you have a few years’ riding experience under your belt, then a litre sports bike will thrill like no other. Responsive, with deliciously tactile controls, you can feel everything going on on the road beneath.

But modern superstock bikes like the R1, Panigale, ZX10r and S1000RR are pushing the amount of power and handling that it is possible to deploy in a road going motorcycle, and in pushing the envelope beyond the comfortable detente, they have adopted clever electronics to make these machines rideable by us mere mortals. But do the computers make them any better, or do these nanny electronics packages put something between the bike rider the way that modern Dual Clutch Gearboxes rob the driver the involvement of a good old fashioned manual gearbox?

The Beating Heart of the Beast

What makes litre bikes so enthralling is their engines. They are, even in 15 year old guise, astonishing powerplants. 1000cc engines which rev to 14,000 rpm, and produce around 150+bhp. They pull smoothly and strongly from low down, and when you get them spinning, you experience what I can only imagine it feels like to be launched off an aircraft carrier. Any faster and the bike would rotate over backwards. Manufacturers have adopted increasingly clever ways to extract more and more power from their motors’ cubic centimetres of swept volume; variable length inlets, dual fuel injectors, more aggressive cams, and more and more over square engine designs to raise the rev ceiling and generate more power. Meanwhile, the inside of the engines have gotten lighter, stronger and friction minimised as far as possible.

As motorcycle design has become more and more aggressive, and front steering head angles decreased for sharper handling, sportsbikes were fitted with steering dampers to prevent riders experiencing a ‘tankslapper’; the moment when the front bars shake violently from side to side, normally leading to loss of control of the bike. A tankslapper is symptomatic of aggressive steering head design, hard unyielding suspension and a bumpy road surface input to the front wheel. Many argue that if such bikes had been designed ‘properly’ in the first place, that no such damper would be required, and that it was being used to cover up an inherently unstable design. There was a growing sense that things had been pushed further than their natural equilibrium, and engineering (and electronics) is being used to cover up the cracks.

The Quest for more Power

In the world of production class motorcycle racing, power is king, especially at places like the Isle of Man. Manufacturers who fail to push on up get left behind, as Honda have experienced with their CBR1000RR Fireblade, the current model of which is essentially the same bike released in 2008 with a few minor changes and a new front end. It couldn’t keep up with the competition in superstock form at the Isle of Man. But good design shines through, and the Fireblade still managed to bring home the bacon, when the engine was given the World Superbike Tuning treatment, as John McGuinness demonstrated at this year’s Senior TT. Describing his venerable bike as an ‘old girl’, an old girl with which he is extremely comfortable, but an old girl that won a senior TT. No small feat.

So power has climbed, and electronic aids have been introduced to tame these bikes. I am certainly no Luddite, but I suspect that one day people will look to the last of the great “unsullied” bikes, the GSX-R1000, 2008 CBR1000RR (pre ABS), Yamaha R1 (pre 2012 traction control). Once safety systems get introduced, they do make the power more accessible, but we lose a little bit of something in the process. No more wheelies, no more stoppies and no more rolling burnouts, the Combined ABS will see to that! Whereas before you knew that when you twisted the throttle, you were the master of your own destiny, now there’s a computer to make sure you don’t fuck it up. It’s the nanny state manifest in motorcycle form, trying to save us from ourselves.

Since the introduction of ABS and airbags to cars, I’m sure the number of road deaths has reduced, but those same people have had to go and find other ways to exit this mortal coil. Dying is dying, whether you go straight on at a corner and exit through a hedge, choke on a large piece of superb fillet steak, whether you need to have tubes up your nose in hospital when cancer takes your vital organs, or just die in your sleep without any fuss.

“I felt like a boy who’d been given a gun”

I’ve always maintained that a large spike located in the middle of the steering wheel would be far more effective at improving driving standards than a soft cushioning airbag; this is the main reason there are relatively few motorcycle accidents given the relative risks involved. Self preservation is a powerful motivator. People are going to crash, but when they crash with safety systems onboard they have handed over power of control to the computers, and spurred on by a false sense of security, they are usually travelling at a faster speed when they do.

What are the Limits?

What I do think motorcycle training should involve is a means of assessing available grip, or allowing riders to experience the limits of grip without the expensive, painful effect of crashing. And in this regard, safety systems such as ABS, traction and slide control and the like can demonstrate quite how capable modern motorcycles and modern rubber are at propelling us bikers forward at a rate of knots.

I remember the first time I rode a 1000cc sportsbike. I hired a 2004 R1 and went to Wales for the weekend on my own to ride. I felt like a boy who’d been given a gun. Power was mine, and mine to use as I determined. Overtaking 10 cars in a flash felt naughty, I felt like I was operating in a different dimension, like a fly mocking the human’s attempt to swot it, I was gone before they even knew I was there. Leaning the bike over was another revelation. I’d heard individuals talk of knee-down on the road and wondered how on earth they could comfortably lean a motorcycle over that far. With the help of a standard R1 on BT014 tyres, I now understood.

Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner have spoken about how much of the fun of racing in MotoGP has been taken away by modern electronics; that they have levelled the playing field. As someone from the ‘old school’ of viscious two-stroke powerbands, where rider skill was everything, Rossi understands that you can’t fake pure talent, but you can learn to trust a bike, and ride around its electronics packages. But as we’ve seen from recent injuries, it doesn’t make crashing any less frequent, or the effects any less serious. If you push it, it’s gonna get you.

Motorcycling in the Year 2025

andrew Comment 1 Comment

In the quarter century period between 1946 and 1970, a phenomenon took place in the west which would come to shape the next 75 years. In the years following the end of the second world war, significantly more children (up to 50% more) were born. These ‘baby boomer’ children, as they grew up and entered the maximum consumption age group of 25–54 years old, drove their respective national economies forward on an unprecedented scale, and were largely responsible for the boom in economy, housing, and markets evident since the 1980s.

The ‘Crazy Years’

The late eighties and early nineties were years of excess; excessive consumption, excessive power, excessive expense accounts. Work was easy and boozy lunches were the order of the day. As the economy was on the up, and the (credit) money flowed liked water, you could be a monkey in a suit and still make you and your company lots of money (many did).

But the ‘golden age of consumerism’ is now coming to an end as the baby boomers who caused this great boom in economy are reaching retirement age and instead of spending, they have started saving for their retirements, which, thanks to advances in diet and healthcare, could be another 30+ years, or over half their working lives.

While they may have saved a modest pension, stopping work and expecting to live off accumulated savings doesn’t yield the annual return experienced as a working person. For example, a pension worth £1m, will bring an annual income of £33k per year over the next 30 years. Not bad, but we don’t all work on the board at HSBC and Barclays. A more modest but still significant £250k pension pot yields just £8,333.33 a year over 30 years. How would you like to live on less than £10k a year? You’d better have paid off your mortgage.

Supply & Demand

Demographics is rarely considered in economic forecasting, but if you break it down to its most basic elements; economics is about supply and demand. Not supply or demand, both of them. Demographics should really be the primary means of assessing likely economic spending habits, but for some reason it is overlooked by most mainstream economists. It certainly hasn’t made an appearance in any explanations of economic downturn that I’ve read recently.

When young, adults have limited income and therefore limited spending power, but as they mature, gain experience and skills, they become more valuable in their offerings to the world and start to earn and spend money as they have children, buy houses, cars etc. 

Adults enter their maximum earning and spending years between the ages of 25 and 54. The flow of cash arising from this natural demand is good for the economy; houses, cars, white goods, DIY products, bicycles, iPads, new kitchens, even luxury toys like motorcycles are all bought. The baby boomers provided enormous demand, but they were also the same people working in the economy creating the supply.

Having such a large quantity of people no longer consuming affects the economy in a significant way. The oldest UK baby boomers born in 1946 reached the age of 55 in 2001, around the time of the dotcom crash. The median baby boomers born in 1958 reached the age of 55 in 2013, after which the world reached a tipping point in consumption and economic growth. For the foreseeable future, based upon the economic measurements we are accustomed to using to judge the economy, we will not return to such prodigious growth for many years.

Japan’s Baby Boomers

Japan’s economy and the spending habits of its baby boomers preceded those of the West. Japan’s baby boomers were mostly born between 1940 and 1952, and were in their greatest consumption years (aged 25–54) between 1977 and 1994. This unprecedented demand, and the easy credit supplied by the banking sector to fuel it, created the enormous economic boom seen in Japanese markets in the late 1980’s, and the bust shortly afterward, as those same Japanese boomers entered the 55+ bracket and personal consumption tailed off, and spenders became savers. 

Central bank money printing ‘Stimulus’ programmes employed in Japan and elsewhere have attempted to fill the hole left by natural demand, but have failed to stimulate the economy to its former glory. Creating false demand by getting a smaller number of people to borrow and spend, whether it is equity release from re-mortgaging a house, credit card spending, buying goods on finance, or even taxing the working public and spending it on their behalf doesn’t work, as the cash must be repaid eventually, with interest, and the cost of excessive credit weighs down an economy. 

Even with this disastrous policy clearly demonstrated in Japan, governments of the UK and USA seem to think that for them at least, things will be different. They won’t. On our present track we are headed for another lost decade of growth caused by too much debt, and a reluctance to let capitalism work as intended. We can have booms but we must allow the busts to clear out the dead wood, or we face stagnating economies full of technically insolvent institutions, on government life support. 

The Japanese economy has effectively been in a state of stagnation for the last 20 years as government stimulus programmes have done little more than increase the national debt (Japanese debt to GDP was standing at 227% in 2014).
With government baby boomer liabilities such as elderly care and pensions at an all time record level, and an ageing and largely unproductive population, there are not enough active people paying taxes to fund the baby boomers’ retirement fund, and so government is having to borrow to make up the difference. Economics lesson nearly over.

The Golden Days of Motorcycling

The nineties and even more the early noughties were glory days for Japanese motorcycle manufacturers and retailers in the UK. Multi-franchise dealerships like George White Superbikes and Carnell sprang up everywhere with a tantalising range of new models to choose from, the bulk of which came out of Japan. Money (debt) was cheap and a lot of it flowed into luxury goods such as motorcycles and cars. 

Moreover, UK boomers were coming into their maximum earning and consuming age range. Motorcycles were cheap, and the wave of born again bikers, who had toyed with motorcycles in their youth, now had the means to buy the latest, greatest sportsbikes in large numbers. And buy them they did.

Since the Japanese economic bust in 1989, the Japanese economy had been on the wane. Despite this, markets of the US and Europe were still booming on their later born babies, and so demand existed in foreign markets; the traditional purchasers of high quality Japanese consumer products. And so Japanese motorcycle manufacturers remained afloat despite less than healthy domestic economics.

Due to manufacturing improvements, productivity increases and a growing market base, the cost of Japanese motorcycles fell progressively, year on year, until the global financial crisis hit in 2008/9, where there was a sudden price hike. The Yen rose relative to the British pound and put the cost of a Japanese manufactured motorcycle up from around £9,000 to around £12,000, almost overnight (a 30% increase).

Japan was badly affected by the crisis of 2008 as it relied principally on the economies of the US and Western Europe to buy its high end consumer goods (over 90% of Japan’s exports consisted of highly income-elastic industrial supplies, capital goods, and consumer durables; ‘income-elastic’ meaning that when people are broke, they don’t buy them). 

Additionally, as credit was the main way people bought expensive consumer goods like motorcycles, when the banking sector seized up, so did the flow of credit and businesses everywhere became insolvent, as their own debt levels and cashflow problems saw them default if their debts.

The boom in motorcycle sales enjoyed in the noughties has not returned, and a fall in sales as well as a decline in the financial position of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers has meant a fall in capital investment in the Japanese motorcycle industry. Where once we saw regular three yearly updates to Japanese bikes, some of the bikes currently on sale are not much changed in 8 years (2008 Fireblade, 2009 GSX-R1000)

In the face of falling sales volumes, manufacturers cannot justify the high costs in R&D to bring out new products every three years. Six years is more likely the product turnaround, and as long as they all stick to the same programme (perhaps another one of their ‘gentleman’s agreements’) It could become the norm in Japan.

Around the time the Japanese bikes went up in price, as if to make matters worse, the big four Japanese manufacturers who were exporting to markets in the UK, Europe and USA were now not only competing with each other, they also had a growing talent of European manufacturers to contend with. 

European manufacturers were starting to beat the Japanese at their own game. Moreover, they were waking up to the emerging ‘demand led’ trend. They were asking their customers what they actually wanted, and then building it.

BMW introduced the giant-slaying S1000RR, modelled around the seminal 2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000 sports bike, which wiped the floor with the competition pretty much first crack out of the box. 

Meanwhile, Triumph was beating its four cylinder Japanese 600cc adversaries with a very British 675cc Daytona triple and Adventure bikes like the BMW R1200GS and the Austrian KTM Adventure were the hot new wheels in town following Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman’s multi round-the-world trips.

The Death of the Middle Class

As sales volumes of high cost products like cars and motorcycles have fallen, car manufacturers have found themselves in worse condition than motorcycle manufacturers; bikes have always been a luxury item, not typicaly bought as mainstream transportation (check the ads for sub 10k mile, 10 year old bikes), and so any fall-off in sales can be easily revived with competitive pricing, and the magic of easy finance. Cars are far more expensive by comparison, and the number of people learning to drive is falling year on year.

Manufacturers who are going to not only survive the next ten years, but emerge healthy and intact in 2025 must accept that the old “middle class baby boomer” model is giving way to a “new normal”; an economy where consumption has fallen significantly and cannot be revived by false demand, based on borrowing.
Want to know why biker meets are made up of middle aged men? It’s simple demographics. The majority of the market is over 45 years old, and 60 is the new 40. Being 60 isn’t about zimmer frames, dentures and walking sticks, it’s a new period of extended, healthy life. It’s about having fun.

Because of the baby boomers’ activities, many of them are sitting on considerable property wealth, which they are going to need to fund their retirements (one reason I’m not worried about a shortage of housing)

The baby boomer market still holds huge potential, and companies who crack this market segment over the next decade will see their share prices grow significantly in a stagnant market laden with debt.

While the ageing baby boomers want one thing, at the other end of the scale we have demand from the true growth economies of countries like China and India. They are seeking utilitarian, reliable, safe and easy to maintain transportation, but they haven’t much to spend. These people may be entering the ‘middle class’, but we are talking about the middle classes in their respective countries, and it is far less than salaries in the West.

Companies which understand these two demographic groups; retiring baby boomers and developing ‘aspirational’ demographics in countries like China and India will do extremely well. Those who continue to focus on the disappearing middle ground will be like stranded fish out of water as their pool of potential buyers gradually dries up.

Comfortable and Refined / Cheap and Durable

The Japanese and European motorcycle industries have served their own wealthy markets successfully, but these markets are saturated, and the number of consumers are falling compared to the global supply chain which has been built up to serve them. Some of these businesses are going to fall by the wayside unless they adapt their business models to take a more specialised slice of the pie, serving smaller, more bespoke markets.

You might think that baby boomers are not really the sort of people who would be interested in purchasing motorcycles, but I warrant you that they have been. The rise in adventure bikes is a perfect example of the spending habits of the baby boomers. 

Their wrists and lower backs can no longer take the strain and so they are giving up their sportsbikes for something still appealing but much more comfortable. Chief among them are the BMW R1200GS, retro bikes like Triumph’s and Ducati’s scramblers, and super-nakeds, a chassis and engine from a sportsbike, but with a more comfortable upright riding position.

Biking in the Year 2025

The biking landscape of 2025 will look very different to what we have today. In a shrinking marketplace, manufacturers will be forced to gather ranks and focus in on specific products. Successful motorcycle manufacturers will focus their effors on the two ends on the spectrum; on the one hand we will have more expensive, virtually bespoke products; larger capacity, refined, more comfortable bikes for those still riding in the 60+ demographic. 

On the other hand, youngsters (who are basically poor by comparison) and those in the developing world who will be joining the motorcycle fold. They will have very little to spend, so bikes like the £450 Hero Honda Splendor NXG which costs 48,702 rupees or £500 will appeal.

If we give youngsters the motorcycle as a cost effective alternative to a car, the growth potential for two wheelers is enormous. But has anyone in the MCIA assessed the requirements or the desires of the young and the 55+ baby boomers? There’s no need. Just take a look at where the current consumption is in any economic sector, and you will the effects of a shift in the spending habits of those with the cash; the baby boomers.

Sales in touring motorcycles are falling, while sales of Custom and Adventure-Sport motorcycles are soaring. The boomers are rejecting the fuddy-duddy image of BMW touring machines ridden by IAM examiners wearing luminous Sam Browne belts, for something a bit cooler that doesn’t take itself too seriously; Harley Davidson, Adventure sport, and one off Custom roadsters are all popular. Naked bikes are being bought in greater numbers too, which suggests that these are being bought as toys rather than functional machines.

Expect to see a rationalisation of models; a focussing in on what manufacturers do best. Instead of offering a number of different models of motorcycles, manufacturers will offer the ability for clients to customise a more limited range of vehicles in much more specific ways to their own liking; much as you can currently with cars. This is the ‘value added’ ethos of the go faster stripes of the 1980s. 

If you want to specify Ohlins or K-tech suspension, you can. If you want to specify ABS, heated grips, traction control, multi spoke lightweight wheels, just tick the box. If you want an auto transmission, LED headlights, or a state-of-the-art TFT display and anodised headstock, you can choose to have it. Want a fairing? Don’t worry, the bike has been designed to look good with any number of configurations. Want a V-twin, a triple or an inline 4. Just check the box.

Manufacturers will spend the bulk of their time and money making the core bike solid, so that in its box-standard configuration, it works well and lasts well. Honda might for example release what will be known as the “Honda One” (They would also make a Two and a Three). This bike would be:

  1. Cost effective to buy
  2. Reliable
  3. Cheap to run
  4. Easy to maintain
  5. Long lasting (ideally piece-meal upgradable over time, so that you could upgrade bits of it rather than the whole thing, as funds allowed)

The biggest market for motorcycle manufacturers, a path many have been pursuing for some time, is low-cost low-capacity models which make up the majority of transportation in the developing world. 

India is a target market for the Japanese. Honda has already released the Hero Honda Splendor NXG sold in China and India, and Yamaha’s sub $500 bike, are two examples of the new market focus for the Japanese.

You may think that nobody in the developing world would buy Japanese or European motorcycles, but I think we’ll developed high-tech manufacturing has something to offer the market that domestic makers can’t. Think of them more as services economies rather than manufacturers. 

As personal income shrinks, so does the economy. People will quickly tire of the disposable products they have grown accustomed to over the last few decades, and we will see a return to high quality, well engineered, durable products. Consumers will be looking for products which last and which can be fixed over time. 

Japanese and European manufacturers have the quality manufacturing and design pedigree to provide customers with long lasting products, but they must design these elements into their machines from the outset.

The ’504’ model

If you go to North Africa, or even the Eastern Mediterranean, the place is chock full of cars which disappeared from UK roads sometime in the late 80’s. Granted they don’t use much salt on Turkish or Moroccan roads so their cars don’t tend to suffer from tinworm, but the venerable Peugeot 504’s, Renault 9’s and late 80’s Mercedes saloons have lasted through time because they were solidly built, parts were cheap (or even possible to fabricate yourself), and because people knew how to fix them and they were easy to work on. 

Any motorcycle suitable for the emerging market must be equally appealing in these regards, and as parts wear and eventually fail, they must be able to be replaced with new (often improved) parts from the factory shelf. People in the developing world don’t want to be replacing their motorcycles every three years, they want them to last 20 and be cheap and easy to service and maintain (ideally they can do it themselves with the tools under the seat). Such design is well within the capability of the likes of Honda, Triumph and BMW but it must be on the drawing board from the outset.

The Boomer Market

It is clear from the rise in sales of adventure touring motorcycles, that boomers are still interested in bikes, but they are moving away from the two stroke race replicas of their youth, through their litre superbikes, towards something powerful, stylish but with a little bit more comfort. 

Some gentlemen bikers in their mid forties to mid sixties still buy themselves sportsbikes, but they are far more likely to put down a deposit on a KTM Adventure, R1200GS or Triumph Explorer than a Japanese sports 600.

How about the wider motorcycling market for baby boomers? They will be looking for something to do with their time. Having stopped work, they are time rich and cash poor. I would expect their interest in motorcycles to expand rather than contract as they get into their retirement years; expect to see more education and time spent tinkering, not just in the garden, but in the workshop. 

We might see a rise in workshop courses on how to maintain and service classic motorcycles, increases in touring trips (potentially with the wife on the back), advanced riding courses, even 55+ track days (Ron Haslam “Rocket Ron” runs a track school at Donnington and he is 58 years old, and almost certainly faster than you).

Focus

In a shrinking market, motorcycle manufacturers can no longer each be all things to all people, they must decide what they stand for, and make that their primary focus. Just as one individual cannot serve an economy on his own, he is part and parcel of a bigger picture, motorcycle manufacturers must decide what they wants to contribute to the mix. Manufacturers must focus on what they do best. Instead of making 10 reasonable models, they should make three truly excellent ones.

Think about what John Bloor did when he resurrected Triumph; he focussed the organisation’s efforts into producing a few products based on the same underpinnings. I expect to see a similar thing returning to the world of motorcycles. 

If manufacturers leave it too late, they will discover that in a world laden with excessive debt repayments and a shrinking money supply, the middle class demographic (which is paying off all the debt) has no money left to buy luxury items like motorcycles. Two distinct groups will remain

1. The rich (for whom money is no object) who will want something special, and 

2. The poor (who want a cheap, reliable, durable means of transport).

Let’s hope the manufacturers get the message before they too disappear.