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Whatever happened to racer cool?

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So Nicky Hayden will be riding a Factory Honda at Phillip Island this weekend, standing in for the injured Dani Pedrosa, a case of the nicest man in racing deputising for the unluckiest.

I love Pedrosa’s current Samurai lid, and this got me thinking about what has happened to replica paint jobs. Sure, Arai issued a limited edition RX7-GP Joey Dunlop replica a couple of years ago, which looked stunning, and has reissued some classic paint on its Chaser V range – Doohan, Schwantz and Spencer designs – all of which look suitably cool, but there is a distinct lack of eye-catching designs across today’s racing paddocks.

I love a loud lid me – the louder the better as far as I’m concerned – but the helmets today’s racers sport are distinctly dull. Jakub Smrz was proudly flying the flag for cool with a distinctive pink and baby blue number in his WSBK heyday and debut BSB season, but has since reverted to a more subdued number to match his team’s colours.

Cast your eyes across the MotoGP and WSBK paddocks, and Rossi aside, with his regular one-offs, there’s a distinct lack of distinctive designs. Sure, Lorenzo tries, but his ‘Shark’ Shark was about as inspiring as his press conferences.

The only rider who seems to be pushing the envelope in recent seasons is Nicky Hayden, who has worn several versions of Starline Design’s innovative ‘face’ design.

The problem may be that helmet painters are finding their creativity limited more and more by riders (and the teams) sponsors. With an ever increasing number of riders signing sponsorship deals with the same few energy drinks companies, all of which insist on having their logos feature prominently on their riders uniforms, Monster’s green and Red Bull’s red, blue and yellow, are increasingly having to be incorporated into any design.

Compare this with the road racing scene, where the riders stand out far more. The helmets of Michael and William Dunlop, Guy Martin, Lee Johnston, Conor Cummins, Josh Brookes, Ryan Farquhar, Keith Amor, John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson are all easily identifiable as belonging to that rider, making it much easier for spectators to follow the action. Sometimes less is more…

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Ten things I’ve learnt from a nine-hour, 400-mile round trip to Bristol

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01) Our roads are shocking, really fucking shocking. Massive potholes, cracks, poor surfaces, gravel – they need sorting out. Fast.

02) It’s still way too cold for vented leathers.

03) The Factory’s Akras sound like victory…boooooooom, braaaaaaap, baaaaaaang.

04) The amount of drivers using their phone behind the wheel is frightening.

05) Aching knees, wrists and necks mean I’m getting old, but the lack of thermals means I’m not getting wiser.

06) The first scraaaaaaaape of slider on tarmac of the year still brings a MASSIVE smile to my face.

07) Chicks dig wheelies.

08) I’d forgotten how good fish finger sandwiches are.

09) There’s A LOT of blood when you strike a pigeon.

10) Little Chef lollies do strange things to grown men…

MotoGP – Pedrosa fall but proves he’s THE class act of the field

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Honda Factory rider Dani Pedrosa is under intense pressure as speculation grows that he has already lost his seat for 2017.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a lacklustre start to the season as he struggles to adapt to the new Michelin tyres and the spec ECU, and he was the first to admit his podium at the last round in Argentina was the luckiest of his career.

He struggled again yesterday at the Circuit of the Americas, failing to find enough grip from the front to fight for the lead. He dropped back early on in the race, but regrouped, dug deep and began fighting his way to the front. He moved past Rossi on lap two before the Italian crashed out of the race, and passed Aleix Espargaro on the third lap. He set the third fastest lap of the race at 2’04.950, and was closely chasing Dovizioso and Lorenzo, preparing to battle for second position, when he lost the front while braking into turn one on lap seven, the bike skipping out of control. Pedrosa tried to save the bike, but that seemed to make the bike skip more violently and he torpedoed a blameless Andrea Dovizioso off the Ducati.

What happened next sums up Pedrosa. Instead of running to check the bike, Pedrose made a beeline for the distraught Dovizioso, apologised and checked out his rival before remounting and eventually retiring. The first thing he did when he returned his damaged bike to the garage was head straight for the Ducati box to seek out Dovizioso personally, and apologise to his face. He did this without hesitation, in the full glare of the massed media. The actions of Dovizioso and the Ducati management showed that this gesture was well received.

That simple action shows why Pedrosa is THE class act of the field. He never moans, never points the finger and is the consummate professional. Yes, in there past there have been issues – he notoriously failed to forgive Marco Simoncelli and publicly refused to shake the Italian’s hand when he tried to apologise in a press conference, and anyone who has seen Hitting The Apex will know that this still haunts Pedrosa. Yet, this is a more mature Pedrosa, one who restored some credibility to the series when the bad blood between Marquez and Rossi split over towards last season’s climax – one which even drew the unflappable Lorenzo in.

Pedrosa may seem to be a miserable, dour and soulless rider, but in reality he’s articulate, intelligent and funny. His talent deserves a premier world title, though sadly that seems likely to elude him. Pedrosa we salute you…

The good, the bad and the ugly – what paintjobs work?

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We love this Racing colour scheme on the Gen 2 Tuono. It’s not authentic to that model, having actually been the paintjob for the limited edition Racing version of the previous generation bike, but it looks cool, it’s recognisable as an Aprilia and it suits the bike’s lines.

Not all paintjobs do work though. I can remember riding to the British MotoGP at Silvestone on a Ducati 848 Evo SE in 2012 and overtaking a Yamaha painted in Rossi Ducati colours. The rider was obviously a massive Rossi fan, and had got PaintNation to spray the bike in the Ducati livery. The bike itself was immaculately finished, but it just looked wrong – a Yamaha masquerading as a Ducati. It drew a lot of attention in the car park, simply because it stuck out like a sore thumb, and almost universal ridicule. It must’ve cost a small fortune to do, but ultimately it was an epic fail.

But does it really matter? I’ve got a Ducati 749S that was originally yellow but is now satin black after running out of talent at Oulton Park. And I’ve lost count of the number of Gulf painted bikes I’ve seen – though oddly enough they all seem to be Italian machines – or the bikes sporting Red Bull or Monster colours.
All this talk about paint got me thinking about the best colour scheme I’ve seen, and I can’t make my mind up. I’m torn between Nicky Hayden’s 2010 Ducati (the bike and leathers were topped of by the Gerhard Berger inspired lid), Yamaha’s iconic yellow and black Speedblock or Guy Martin’s sliver, yellow and red Wilson Craig Honda.

What do you think? Best motorbike paintjob? 1,2,3…go!

BSB – John Hopkins, time to say goodbye?

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Hopkins is filling in for the injured Jakub Smrz, with the Czech rider ruled out after breaking his thumb during qualifying at Snetterton two weeks ago. The American, who hasn’t raced competitively at all this season, managed three sessions during a trackday as he looks to acclimatise himself to the bike.

Hopkins said: “For sure it’s been frustrating waiting but I looked at my career and decided straight away it couldn’t end as it did in 2014 and because of that I am more motivated than ever to prove I have more.

“I have a lot of memories of Brands Hatch and nobody can forget the famous end to 2011 can they?! It has always been a great circuit for me and I know I can enjoy it – the track knowledge there will definitely help me especially with my limited knowledge of this bike. The team and Kuba have proven that the bike is competitive this season and despite having never ridden a Ducati before, I think it should suit my riding style.

“I am really motivated to go out and do the best job I possibly can and I think that should mean aiming for a result well inside the top ten. I feel excited that I can finally get back on track, especially as the support I have had from the British fans continues to be amazing. I am feeling really positive right now and I want to repay everyone for their faith and support by putting on one hell of a good show at Brands Hatch!”

Hopkins cut a sad figure at the Brands test, red gaffer tape crudely covering the logos on the Suzuki BSB branded leathers he chose to wear. He hardly pulled up any trees during his barren WSBK stint, and he looked massively overweight on his mediocre return to BSB in 2014. Injuries have taken their toll on what was without doubt a racing talent – you don’t get to ride in MotoGP without having talent – but I can’t help thinking that this is the last role of the dice in what is becoming a sad end to a distinguished career. And what does this say about the quality of riders in the UK paddocks, when the Moto Rapido team feel their best course of action is to turn to a has been? Wouldn’t it have been better to give the ride to an up and coming youngster?

KTM – to kill off RC8R, no replacement as superbikes are just too powerful for the road

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So the news coming from Austria, is KTM, who’s motto is ‘ready to race’, will not build another superbike once they’ve killed off their brilliant RC8R. For the full story click here…

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Which brings us to the question as to whether KTM’s head Stefan Pierer has a point when he says today’s superbikes are just too potent for the roads. Does he have a point? What do you think?

Comment – what happened to racer cool?

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I love @NeilHodgson100’s new lid – the striking colours are a homage MX but bear a striking resemblance to one of my favourite colour schemes; Elio de Angelis’ 1983 F1 helmet.

This got me thinking about what has happened to replica paint jobs. Sure, Arai has issued a limited edition RX7-GP Joey Dunlop replica, which looks stunning, and has reissued some classic paint on its Chaser V range – Doohan, Schwantz and Spencer designs – all of which look suitably cool, but there is a distinct lack of eye-catching designs across today’s racing paddocks.

I love a loud lid me – the louder the better as far as I’m concerned – but the helmets today’s racers sport are distantly dull. Jacub Smrz was proud flying the flag for cool with a distinctive pink and baby blue number in his WSBK heyday and debut BSB season, but has since reverted to a white and red number to match his Ducati team’s colours.

Cast your eyes across the MotoGP and WSBK paddocks, and Rossi aside, with his regular one-offs, there’s a distinct lack of distinctive designs. The only rider who seems to be pushing the envelope in recent seasons is Nicky Hayden, who has worn several versions of Starline Design’s innovative ‘face’ design.

The problem may be that helmet painters are finding their creativity limited more and more by riders (and the teams) sponsors. With an ever increasing number of riders signing sponsorship deals with the same few energy drinks companies, all of which insist on having their logos feature prominently on their riders uniforms, Monster’s green and Red Bull’s red, blue and yellow, are increasingly having to be incorporated into any design. Will there really be that much difference between Pol Espargaro’s, Cal Crutchlow’s and Eugene Laverty’s designs in MotoGP this season? Watch this space…

Compare this with the road racing scene, where the riders stand out far more. The helmets of Michael and William Dunlop, Guy Martin, Lee Johnston, Conor Cummins, Josh Brookes, Ryan Farquhar, Keith Amor, John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson are all easily identifiable as belonging to that rider, making it much easier for spectators to follow the action. Sometimes less is more…

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Comment – Forget the Scrambler, this is the retro bike Ducati should have built

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Am I the only one who feels distinctly underwhelmed by Ducati’s new Scrambler? The world’s press are falling over themselves to heap praise on this entry-level 803cc air-cooled V-twin roadster, which was launched on the back of a massive ‘Land of Joy’ social media campaign.

There are four models in the range – the base Icon, the flat-track inspired Full Throttle, the Urban Enduro and the Classic. Ducati themselves say it’s not a Ducati, it’s a Scrambler, hoping to clearly define the bike as an entity in its own right, complete with extensive range of accessories and clothing.

And yet seeing the bike in the metal at Motorcycle Live at the NEC left me cold. It looked like a toy. It’s trying so hard to fit in the achingly cool, hip world of turns ups, beards, open face lids and checked shirts that every other sheep seems intent on following that it feels fake.

It’s trying too hard. It’s a shame really that Ducati ever stopped producing its Sport 1000 model, which was ahead of its time in combining modern reliability while echoing the styling of days gone by. That bike was stunning and was a proper tribute to the 70s. This is the bike we’re craving now, not the Scrambler. This is the bike they should have given us, an updated Sports 1000.

WSBK – #bearacer

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Prior to the WSBK showdown at Losail this weekend all the talk in the paddock had been about team orders – what role would Marco Melandri and Loris Baz play in the destination of the championship? Both had played huge roles in the previous race at Magny Cours – Melandri theatrically moving aside to let team mate Sylvain Guintoli take the lead, while Baz did the same for Kawasaki stablemate, and defending champion, Tom Sykes. However race two saw Melandri put the cat among the pigeons and ignore team orders, riding for the win, taking five precious points from Guintoli, leaving the Frenchman 12 points behind Sykes. Would Melandri, still without a ride for 2015, follow team orders and assist Guintoli? Would Baz be in a position to take points off the Aprilias and help Sykes? Would the teams issue orders?

Race one in Qatar saw that question answered unequivocally by Frenchman Loris Baz, who refused to obey pitboard instructions to pull over and let Sykes past. Guintoli finished the race first, Baz second, Sykes third. That result left Guintoli trailing Sykes by just three points going in to the final race.

A war of words quickly broke out between the Kawasai riders, who have had a strained relationship at the best of times.

In a post-race interview Baz admitted he had deliberately ignored his team’s orders. he said: “I saw the pit-board, but I am only nice with the people who are nice with me,” he said. “Things could have been different if things could have been different in the last three years. I didn’t think my mechanics deserved to finish third instead of second, they have been working hard for three years so it is for them.

“About team orders. At least I’ve helped him once in my life, in Magny-Cours. Not sure he can say the same.”

A furious Sykes bit back, clearly riled by his team mate’s defiance. He said: “That just shows how immature and disrespectful he is. That was a team order, a fairly pivotal one. We lost points in Sepang from his misjudgement and another five now. I could have followed Sylvain in the next race and now it is winner takes it all.”

Even former double WSBK champion James Toseland threw his weight to the debate by saying that if he was the Kawasaki team boss he would have sent Baz home. “He’s a disgrace and was riding for himself. He showed a total lack of respect for his team. He’s no use on the track at all. I’d send him home.”

Race two, and ultimately the championship itself, was decided by Guintoli, who had the quicker bike and put in the ride of his life and cut through the leading pack to hit the front. He never looked back and secured his first title, finishing ahead of Rea, who rode the wheels off his Honda, and Sykes, taking the championship by just six points.

So racing decided the title, and WSBK was the beneficiary. Aprilia’s slogan this year has been #bearacer, and in the end it was a victory for Guintoli, a victory for Aprilia, who secured the manufacturer’s championship, and a victory for racing.

2015 Year of the sportsbike: Japan fights back

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For years we’ve been told that sportsbikes are in terminal decline – sales dwindled as thousands of riders ditched their pocket rockets and switched to the ubiquitous adventure bikes and nakeds. The Japanese manufacturers noticed this trend and concentrated their efforts on tapping into this lucrative market, turning their back on sportsbike development and giving their flagships minimal upgrades. Honda’s CBRs, Yamaha’s Rs, and Suzuki’s venerable GSX-Rs received minor tweaks, the factories content that there was nothing to challenge their hegemony – they didn’t need to be cutting edge because there was nobody to challenge their dominance.

But nobody told the Europeans this, and bikes like Aprilia’s brutal RSV4, BMW’s brilliant S1000RR and Ducati’s focused 1199 Panigale caught the Japanese with their pants down – these cutting edge bikes featured the latest in electronic rider aids and in one foul swoop made the Japanese offerings seem technologically-retarded and outdated.

Kawasaki was the first to respond, creating the effective Kawasaki ZX-10R – traction control, switchable power modes, sports ABS and ABS, LED bar graph display – Yamaha and Suzuki gave their flagships fresh paint and Honda gave their Blade a blueprinted engine.

But this year sees the Japanese fightback. Kawasaki have already unleashed their H2R on an unsuspecting public – a 296bhp, 998cc supercharged inline four in a green trellis frame, wrapped in a carbon fibre fairing with winglets and featuring traction control, launch control and ABS. Yamaha are set to unveil their all-new R1 next week at the EICMA in Milan. The bike is expected to ditch the crossplane crank technology and return to a conventional firing order. It will be available in two versions – a racing version rumoured to make 230hp with a revised traction control system and electronic suspension, and a standard version.

However, the biggest news coming from Japan is that Honda are set to unveil the road-going version of their RC213V MotoGP bike at EICMA. This V4 will be produced for a Honda assault on the WSBK championships and will feature a host of technology from the prototype racer. Expect it to produce 200+bhp and feature state-of-the-art suspension and electronics but no seamless gearbox.

The sportsbike is dead. Long live the sportsbike.