Friday, June 28, 2013

Yamaha strategy, post-Lorenzo crash

Lorenzo's crash and broken collarbone, early in the Assen weekend (which begins extra-early at Assen, so that the racing can be over before Sunday's mass at a nearby cathedral) threatens to derail #99's effort to repeat as champion this season.

His injury -- broken collarbone -- is relatively minor. It's something almost every motorcycle racer deals with, often more than once, in a career. And he's only 7 points behind Pedrosa. And there are still a dozen races to go. So, mathematically, Yamaha's a long way from admitting defeat.


There've been questions about Yamaha engine longevity, haven't there? And while Lorenzo may only miss one race -- that oddball Assen schedule actually buys him one more precious day of recovery time between races -- there's a real chance that he'll be sore and weak for the next couple of races. By the time Lorenzo is back up to full fitness and speed, Pedrosa could have 25 points in hand, and Yamaha will have lost the title.

That would suck for me because I like Lorenzo and dislike Pedrosa. Now is when Yamaha would love to have a #2 rider capable of winning, in order to deny Pedrosa full points. I mean, if it had been Pedrosa who'd crashed, Honda could quite realistically have hoped Marquez would step up and defend P1 from Lorenzo.

Unfortunately for Yamaha, they've got Valentino Rossi on the distaff side of the garage. I suppose they can pray for rain; Rossi's always been fast in the wet, and he's been ahead of Pedrosa in wet sessions at Assen this weekend. But if it's dry, Cal Crutchlow's faster than Rossi.

Which begs the question, how much of an advantage could Yamaha give Cal, with full factory support, for the next few races? There's lots of reasons those tuning forkers might not want to support Cal. First of all, he's been a vocal critic of the bike he has been riding, even though it is probably the fifth-best bike on the grid. He's bitterly complained that Yamaha aren't showing him the respect he deserves. If Yamaha does throw some extra support his way -- by, for example, allowing Tech 3 to slot a motor from Cal's allotment into a full-factory rolling chassis -- they might in fact give Cal the tools he needs to win, effectively handing valuable points to Lorenzo in the larger title chase. But if Cal could win on a 'factory' bike, it would make all of his whingeing seem justified, and it would make Yamaha seem like pikers.

I still think they should do it.

There's also stuff they could do to Rossi's engine management system, to give him a tiny edge in the next race or three; things that would expose Rossi to risk, vis-a-vis engine longevity, later in the season. What it they upped his rev limit a little (I'm perhaps oversimplifying, but you get the idea)?

With a tiny edge, Rossi  might be capable of winning, which would do him a world of good. He's second right now, behind Marquez, in a dry session, so he's close; Assen, seems to agree with the aging ex-champion.

Rossi's not a championship contender, so who cares if, later in the season, he needs a seventh engine and has to start from pit lane?

The wild card in this mix is Marquez. While I wrote, above, that if it had been Pedrosa who'd broken his collarbone, Honda could reasonably hope Marky Marq would win, the truth is that Marquez may win anyway. He won't listen to team orders. And judging from the way Pedrosa and Marquez seem to relate to each other on track, there's a real possibility they'll both end any race in a gravel trap, beating on each other.

Still, if I ran Yamaha's race effort, I'd bring in the crew chiefs. They should do anything they can to make Crutchlow and Rossi faster this Sunday, and at the next couple of races. Even if it means losing face by proving Crutchlow right, or using up Rossi's motor allotment later in the season. Because if Pedrosa can win at Assen, where Jorge will score no points (then pad his lead over the next couple of races while Jorge recovers) all bets are off.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sid Biberman Nov. 24, 1930-June 22, 2013

"Big Sid" Biberman, a legendary drag racer and Vincent tuner, passed away in Louisville, KY on Saturday, June 22.

Sid first came to attention as the creator of "The Rattler", one of the fastest drag bikes of its day, in the Mid-Atlantic region. Later, Sid owned a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia; it was the kind of place where, when you walked in, there was always something interesting in a state of disassembly. It'd be a Vincent, or a Brough, or a Laverda... Sid was a magnet for the rare and exotic.

Sid's son Matthew is an English prof and writer. He wrote a book about his relationship with his father -- a relationship that was resurrected as, together, they created a 'Vincati'. 

Sid, Matthew, and their creation -- a tuned, '50s-vintage Vincent motor set in a '70s-era Ducati frame -- are featured in this video from Jay Leno's web site.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How's business, Cycle Gear?

Normally, I ride my 125cc Vino enough through the winter to keep the battery charged, but this winter we had a couple of long cold snaps that killed it. For a while, it wasn't a problem because it's a great kick-start bike. It started in 3-4 kicks even below 0 degrees a few times this winter. But now, in the heat of summer, it's become recalcitrant. So, I need a new battery.

This morning, I rode down to Cycle Gear to pick up a new battery for it. That's about 12 miles from my house. There are many closer auto parts shops that probably have that (tiny) size, but I figured what the hell, support the motorcycle industry. Before leaving, I checked the store's hours online, and read that it opened at 10.

At 10:07, when I arrived, I saw that the security grille was still locked. I hoped that only meant, the staff entered through some rear door, and that as I was the first customer of the day, they'd as yet been too busy stocking shelves and sweeping the floor to get around to opening up. But no, peering through the glass and knocking on the window confirmed that there was simply no one there. I phoned the store, and it rang and rang. There's not even a voicemail system.

Haplessly, I went to a nearby O'Reilly's but their computer system didn't come up with a definite fitment. So I rode back past Cycle Gear at 10:20 on the off chance that the store'd be open by then.

No joy. Now, I realize that I'm some kind of crazy retail guru with insanely high standards, but is it too much to hope that the store will be staffed, not three hours before opening, like a Trader Joe's store, but almost half an hour after the scheduled opening time?

The current state of the motorcycle industry's recovery from the heady 10-15 years that ended in 2008 depends on your perspective. If you're in the top 1% of the population, income-wise, or sell motorcycles into the market, things aren't what they used to be, but they seem to be improving. I was at Kansas City's BMW dealer a couple of months back, with a friend lucky enough to "need" a new 1200 GS. The salesman blandly told my friend he could take a test ride, and get on the waiting list. My friend later found one at a St. Louis dealership, at which point the KC guys magically got their hands on one, too.

But for the 99%... Well, things are still pretty slow. Kawasaki showed the way when it finally updated the Ninja 250 (then in Kawi fashion, they upgraded it to an oddball displacement, 300cc.) Honda followed suit with interesting and relatively affordable 250 and 500cc bikes. The industry's responding to our situation, albeit half-heartedly.

The retail store, though, is where the rubber meets the road. I'm picking on Cycle Gear with this post, but my experiences with dealerships have rarely been much better. I've seen new riders get terrible advice, grossly misleading posted prices, and desultory customer service.

I didn't just want a battery; I needed a battery, or my scooter'd be useless. If I'd merely wanted one, I might have given up altogether. As it was, I sat in a nearby cafe, and bought a battery online at It took five minutes; my battery'll be here in two days, and the cost of shipping was barely more than the cost of the fuel I'd burn making a return trip to the store.

How's business, Cycle Gear? Probably not so great.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Seen at the TT: Fairy Bridge

Tom Guttry is the film producer who I spent the fortnight guiding around the Isle of Man. He's the 'hands-on' guy for the four(!!!!) production companies involved in the development of Riding Man as a feature film. Over the two+ weeks, I tried to check as many boxes as possible for him, showing him a selection of different-character spots on the TT course, and introducing him to a selection of the characters I met when I lived here. Some of them are, ah, 'different' too, to say the least.

One must-see spot was the Fairy Bridge. To be honest, it's not one of the nicer or more scenic bridges-over-streams on the Isle of Man. And there are days when the trees over the stream, and crevices in the rockwork, festooned with souvenirs and notes, strike me as that much litter. Still, I try to remember to bid the fairies 'hello' every time I cross.

On the Thursday of race week, quite a few bikers stopped by. One foreign guy asked me, in heavily accented and broken English, who'd died there. That's an honest mistake, as anyone who's lapped the TT course is so used to makeshift memorials that look similar. I don't think he understood me when I explained that no one had died here, it was a place people came to leave notes and little presents for the Manx fairies, and to ask for good luck.

Tom made a wish. I warned him not to tell me what it was, or to ask for too much and anger the fairies with greed or hubris. (Those, I admit, are not official rules for communicating with fairies. I told him that only because to me, that's a common courtesy.) Presumably, he wished for success in his effort to turn Riding Man into a feature film, so rather than bore the fairies with a similar wish, I asked for a different favor.

I placed my own wish, written on a tiny scrap of paper torn from my Moleskine (I know, what a snob, eh?) in a tiny snail shell, the snail long dead and his shell stuck to the wall by a thick impasto of white paint. Some Isle of Man public employee had painted the stones of the bridge as part of the general pre-TT beautification program, I guess.

In hindsight, I suppose that I put my note in the empty home of a slow guy. I hope the fairies have a suitable sense of irony.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Seen at the TT: Dogs

I've been on the Isle of Man for the whole of this year's TT fortnight. So I apologize for not posting a whole bunch of stuff. I've barely had time to get a couple of columns written for MotorcycleUSA (the first of which is found here.) My excuse is... Well, forget it. I'll catch you up later.

The TT paddock is its own little community really. A town of a few hundred people camped out between the Grandstand and 'downtown' Douglas, on the sporting fields of Nobles Park. Since most of those people are on the Island for over two weeks, they bring the whole household, including kids and dogs. Dogs are great stress relievers, and I can easily see how it would be nice to have one around in the hours before setting out onto the Mountain Course.

Over the next few days, I'll try to back-post some more observations from this trip. And watch for more 'Manx Postcard' Backmarker columns on, with the next one coming this Thursday...