Quick Escalation – Tariffs and Motorcycles

It’s gone from bad to worse in a day. Harley-Davidson was quick to state they would move some production overseas to get around the tariffs that are being levied on the company’s motorcycles by the European Union in response to the US tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The US administration was quick to respond to Harley-Davidson’s announcement claiming that the company would be taxed like never Harley-Davidson street 750before if they tried to bring offshore built motorcycles back into the United States.

Is this what the motorcycle industry needs right about now? Harley-Davidson was already feeling the crunch of changing demographics and falling sales volume just like the rest of the industry in North America. There is no getting around the aging of the market. For Harley-Davidson, the Street 500 and 750 models were suppose to address the issue by getting the “young riders” back in the game but those two bikes haven’t turned the tide. Europe represents the largest share of Harley’s market outside of North America. Cutting that market off would be hugely detrimental. Harley-Davidson stated the company would not pass the price increases along to European consumers – hoping perhaps the issue would be resolved. But it is only getting worse.  The US is now threatening potential tariffs on European automobiles which represent some big and powerful players – Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW….  The logical expectation from that scenario is that European motorcycles would be lumped into the same tariff action – tit for motorcycle tat. Up goes the price of every European marque which would have a substantially negative effect on the industry considering the market share the US represents for brands like Triumph, Ducati and BMW. If one was aiming to squeeze riders this would do it as there are no US built alternatives to non-cruiser motorcycles and therefore shrinking the sales of motorcycles even further.

Is anyone going to blink in this trade debacle that will do far more damage than good? Will calmer heads prevail? We don’t seem to be seeing any.

Jack, Jim and Willie : Tariff Collateral Damage

Caught in the cross fire of trade tariffs aimed at US goods from specific regions of the USA that will most affect Republican states, the likes of Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Harley-Davidson are the unintended victims of the aluminum and steel tariffs that have been imposed by the US on European commodities.  The EU has reciprocated with tariffs of their own on targeted products that are most likely to cause a lot of “noise” – ie making European motorcyclists pay a lot more for a Harley, a sip of Tennessee whiskey or Kentucky bourbon,  peanuts or orange juice. The list goes on. Motorcycles have repeatedly come under tariff threats through the years often related to disputes that have nothing to do with motorcycles. The idea is that riders will complain to whoever is making the rules – or in this case case, workers in American factories will complain as they  face the real possibility of dwindling markets. While we in Canada will not be directly affected by the tariffs, the possibility that the US will inflict tariffs on European motorcycles would be a bigger concern as many of those manufacturers have North American headquarters in the US. If these tariffs drag on it may nudge Harley-Davidson to move some production of the US built bikes offshore as to avoid the punishing tariffs. That wouldn’t be good either.

Level the Field – The Boxer Cup

2018 Boxer Cup with rNineT Racer

It could be argued that it is the form of racing that most emphasizes the skill of the rider   rather than the technology and highly secretive advantages of the bike being ridden. In almost all other realms one machine is going to have an advantage over another in one regard and perhaps a disadvantage in another regard. The engines can be different configurations, the weights are going to be different, the power outputs are going to be different. Yes, the best riders still often rises to the top but often a limitation is the capability of the bike rather than the capability of the rider. An  idea is often presented – most likely by a manufacturer – to build a series around one of their machines i.e. the Harley-Davidson XR1200R and the Honda CBR250 here in Canada. It often sounds like a great idea and a good promotion for the brand but there is a downside – the costs can really start to add up and the question inevitably asked is “did it sell any more bikes?” to which the answer comes back  “probably not enough”. That isn’t to say that the manufacturers don’t keep trying.

For the spectator the racing can be very enjoyable. The bikes are all the same and therefore competitive so it is the skill of the rider that makes the difference- separates the 1st from the 2nd and 3rd if you will. BMW has run the Boxer Cup featuring the R1200S previously in both North America and Europe and they have just announced after a long hiatus that the series will be returning to Europe for a 2018 season. The bike utilized for the new Boxer Cup series will be the retro inspired rNineT Racer. To insure that all the bikes are identical, each race machine will be prepped by Motorrad Germany with a couple of upgrades, most significantly to the suspension and steering. The only item that individual riders will be able to change is the stickers on the bike. The Boxer  Cup series is limited to thirty entries with a couple of spots left available for guest racers. Not only will the bikes be identical but the rNine T Racer also levels the playing field by putting a limit on knee and elbow dragging due to the protruding cylinders.

Start your engines and may the most talented racer win. If you are up for the series yourself you will need a racing licence from some FIM sanctioned body. Once you have that in your pre-race clammy hands, BMW will actually rent you a bike for the duration of the season. We do not think that your credit card will cover the deductible so read the fine print. Good luck!

Never Too Old – Valentino Rossi

Like current Canadian superbike champion Jordan Szoke, 39 year old Valentino Rossi is proving that racing isn’t just a young man’s game. The multiple MotoGP champion, and to many a living legend and  greatest draw of any MotoGP event,  has just extended his contract to race on a Yamaha for two more years as to include the 2020 season. The 2018 MotoGP season kicked off under the lights in Qatar this past weekend and to prove the point that age is relative and experience can’t be overrated, Rossi was on the podium having finished as the top Yamaha rider in third place.

Throwing Money At It : AMA Flat Track Contingency

The 2017 AMA Flat Track season didn’t turn out the way most of the participating manufacturers probably hoped that it would have. Indian Motorcycle was happy with the results but not so much the rest of them. The answer for the 2018 season to those woes has a lot to do with throwing money at the series in the form of contingency funds. The AMA just announce that with Ducati’s  $180,000 contingency fund thrown into the pot, the total monies available to riders for the upcoming season is a whopping $2 million. The largest chunk is  coming from Harley-Davidson who have pledged $562,500 towards the coffers of racers successful on either an XG750R  (the newish liquid cooled Street variant) or the venerable XR750. This is the biggest single contingency offering in the history of AMA flat track racing.

Why the bucket loads of money? Keeping in the game. Last year was an almost total domination of the series by Indian Motorcycles. Many hopeful riders may think it necessary to ride one of the Indian race bikes to have a chance at victory or  placing in the eighteen 2018 races. But with all that money sitting on the sidelines should a rider be successful on a Harley, Ducati, Kawasaki or Yamaha is sure to have some riders gambling that they can pull off a good race result and collect some of the cash on one of these brands. The other is exposure. Flat track is a growing sport. Barriers to entry are relatively low, the bikes are affordable and the tracks – well. they are made from dirt. Flat track is getting trendy exposure from the X-Games and that is a target audience every manufacturer would like to get a piece. So win on Sunday (and sometimes Saturday), sell on Monday.

Should you get an urge for a race effort yourself, there are a lot of rules to follow should you pass the checkered flag in a good spot – up to 10th for some brands. The rules are on the AMA Flat Track site. The 2018 AMA Flat Track season consisting of the Twins and Singles classes  commences in Daytona this March with a TT race during Bike Week.

Mongolia or Bust – GS Trophy

It may not hold a place in our hearts like the Kootenay  region of British Columbia where much of BMW’s global competition,  the GS Trophy,  took place  in 2014 but Mongolia is sure to prove a dramatic back drop to the upcoming 2018 event. There will be two women’s teams made up of international participants to battle the country and intra-country men’s teams. Women from all around the world battle it out in South Africa to become one of  the six team members  who will compete as two individual teams. The GS Trophy takes place in June and  much of it will take place at high elevation in one of the least populated countries in the world.

In addition to the second women’s team there are two other new teams in this year’s competition from Australia and India.  Canada placed 14th in 2016 and 9th in 2014. The top teams in 2016 for the Thailand rally were South Africa, Germany and the UK. While some teams are consistent, there is typically variety of teams competing for the top spots at each of the past events going back to the first in 2008.

The GS Trophy isn’t all about the skill of riding a motorcycle as there are off bike events and obstacles that require lifting, dragging and scraping a motorcycle over obstacles. The picture below is one of our favourites from the Canadian rally that seemed to be a competition involving bathing a dirty team member with the rooster tail from a rear wheel while in the middle of a stream. These guys are hard core.

Slow Burn on the LiveWire

Harley-Davidson has announce that the company will be introducing an electric motorcycle. Oh, come on, you say! Didn’t we go down this road already? Indeed, it was in late 2014 and early 2015 that we were seeing and hearing the LiveWire. Canadian Biker spent a couple of the Canadian shows during the 2015 motorcycle show series very near the demonstration booth for the LiveWire where a line-up of enthusiastic folks waited for the opportunity to spool up the electric bike  on a rolling platform. Then in the spring  of 2015 we attended a riding event for the LiveWire to sample the bike in a real world, on-the-road environment. And it was good. A real motorcycle that rode like a real motorcycle sans the petrol. The LIveWire looked production ready, well finished, well styled and not like some white plastic appliance aimed at non-motorcyclists.

What else was there to say but bring it on…… hmmn, bring it on……..(cough). Silence. The LiveWire faded quietly away like the power in a unmaintained battery. To be fair Harley-Davidson never said anything firm about bringing the LiveWire to market. It was  an experiment. To test the waters. Whether the waters weren’t deemed responsive enough is unknown.  But that was then an this is now and  perhaps those seemingly production ready LiveWires have been road test for the past three years for toughness and longevity.

The  electric Harley-Davidson is said to be coming to market in 18 months which would coincide with the traditional release of the 2020 models from Harley-Davidson. Few details have been provided for the new offering beyond a premium niche placement and a 80km range. It probably will not be a return of the old LiveWire but  some technological lessons will have been learned.

Are electric motorcycles what the world wants? Hard to say. Nobody, so far, seems to be doing a booming business in the segment. Even Polaris, a company that seems willing to give every option that involves two, three or four wheels a shot, seems to have left the Victory electric bike in limbo when they disbanded that subsidiary.

We hope that the lesson learned from the LIveWire is that whatever the new eH-D turns out to be,  it looks like a motorcycle and not an electric motorcycle.

 

 

Audi to Ducati : We Still Love You

name that beakAmid all the speculation that Volkswagen was going to have to unload some assets to pay for the emissions scandal that saw the company facing fines around the world that were reaching into the billions, the idea was floated that Ducati owned by Volkswagen division Audi  would be worth somewhere around the $1,000,000,000 mark (it looks so much bigger with all the zeroes).  Sell off the Italian motorcycle icon and add the profits to the punitive pool. Several bidders were said to be in the running for the red-hued brand, while some came and some left, but there appeared to be genuine interest in the marque. It seems for a price the profitable company would be a good fit for another manufacturer with deep pockets and the need for an instant icon in the motorcycle world.

Sorry to disappoint but Ducati won’t be on the block after all. Volkswagen and we assume Audi have decided that the profits and prestige of the Italian marque along with their other Italian arm, Lamborghini,  will be staying in the Audi fold. BMW has BMW Motorrad (as well as Mini and Rolls Royce) proving that having a cool motorcycle brand in the portfolio makes any car manufacturer look good.

Racing in Flannel! Snow Bike Championship

Snow Bike Racing

While racing in a flannel shirt shows an incredible amount of style – and something we could really get behind with perhaps a sponsorship from Mark’s Work Wear –  it isn’t the big story here. Should you be lacking a little race fix this winter  head south of the border – although not very far south. The AMA has announced that there will be National Championship awarded in Snow Bike racing starting in 2018. The series has seven stops which as mention stay pretty close to the Canadian border (with the exception of a race in Lake Tahoe) as we do have the best snow.

The calender for the 2018 season is:

Dec. 9:  Hill City, Minn.
Jan. 19-20: Eagle River, Wis.
Jan. 27:  McCall, Idaho
Feb. 10:  Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Feb. 24:  Kalispell, Montana
March 11: West Yellowstone, Montana.
March 24: Diamond Lake, Oregon

Ninja 400R (2011) vs Ninja 400(2018)

Hold on, you exclaim to yourself. Why is everyone getting so excited by the new Ninja 400? Wasn’t there a Ninja 400R just a few years back? Yes, you keened eyed observer of motorcycle lore, Canadian Kawasaki did indeed have a Ninja 400R in the early days of this decade but it was a quite different beast and its longevity wasn’t….long. The Ninja 400R was an effort to fill a gap. At the time there was a Ninja 250 and a Ninja 650 (it is worth noting that none of these Ninja’s were of the fire-breathing ZX variety – again, totally different beasts). It was obvious back then as it is now  that a 400cc class bike would be an excellent option and at the time would be a bump from the 250 and offer a broader riding experience. The hitch was that the 400R  wasn’t really a new bike but rather a Ninja 650 with a 399cc engine. The engine was a liquid cooled, 8-valve parallel twin variety providing  43hp and 27ft-lbs torque. Those numbers are going to sound vaguely familiar when we tell you that the engine of the new 2018 Ninja 400 is a 399cc liquid cooled, 8 valve parallel twin claiming 48 hp and 28 ft-bs of torque . So that would a 5hp increase and a smidgen more torque.  Enough to get excited about? Depends on how excited you get. The big news is that the old Ninja 400R (based on a bike with a much larger engine and not so sporty aspirations) was a portly 448 lb curb weight. The new Ninja 400 in comparison is a lithe with much more sporting curb weight of 366 lbs – assuming both those curbs are comparable that is a whopping 82lbs lighter. With it’s slipper clutch, the Ninja 400 is obviously intended to be ridden a little harder. That weight difference alone is worth a few extra horsepower.

For interests sake, the Ninja 650R is available in the Kawasaki line-up. It has been on a bit of a diet itself  and is down to a curb weight of 422 lbs with a 68hp output. That does make things a little more interesting. Of course there is also the Ninja ZX6 but like we said it is a completely different, less comfortable and fire breathing beast – designed for the track and not the real world. It weighs 422 lbs as well but comes with 129 hp.

 

Keeping Canadian riders informed and entertained since 1980.