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Jonathan Rea: “SBK feels like home. I don’t see myself moving”




As the Donington Park World Superbike round dawns upon us, and everyone reflects upon the devastating news we received about Nicky Hayden, we took some time to chat with championship leader Jonathan Rea about his thoughts for the weekend… and beyond.

What are your plans for the weekends racing? Any specific strategies?
We have no real strategy for the weekend and we approach every race weekend the same. When we arrive here we’re always talking about where we’ve been with the bike in the past and where we’ve been in recent races and then making a plan of test items for Friday. Generally, I’ve always planned a race simulation for Friday afternoons to understand our competitiveness and consistency, and then it’s just about trying to do as best as I can in Superpole.

By sitting down with the team and crew we can understand how competitive we are compared to the others with our chronological analysis and then make a plan for the race from there. We’ll have a technical meeting later on and do a track walk with the guys, and then make a plan for FP1. We can’t start the weekend with any defined plan, we have to just build up our speed and rhythm, test some items then a race simulation in the afternoon and we can understand where we are.

“I feel like I’ve probably missed the boat on a full factory [MotoGP] ride.”

At the Jerez test, you set a 1:38.7 and the fastest GP bike of Bautista set a 1:38.9. So the question on everyone’s lips is, if given the chance would you make the move to MotoGP? (@mclennp on Twitter & Dustin Langston on Facebook)
It really depends on the opportunity. I’ve been offered the chance in the past but with teams that finish in the mid-pack and to the rear. For me, and at this moment in my career it’s not exciting. I feel like I’ve probably missed the boat on a full factory ride, but you can never say never.

That said, I’m enjoying life in SBK. I’m with the Kawasaki Racing Team who are without a doubt one of the best teams in the paddock and I’m working with an incredible bunch of personalities and good people and SBK for me feels like home. I’ve been here since 2008 and I don’t really see myself moving – it’d have to be one hell of an opportunity to make me want to move away. I’m comfortable here and enjoying the opportunity to win races with good bikes and that’s what it’s about for me – the winning feeling.

If you were offered the chance, would you race the roads? (@dhhwas on Twitter & Paul Mills on Facebook)
No no, I get that question a lot and I love these events – my family holidays when I was young with my mum and dad were based around it and we went there all the time, but it’s not for me really. I don’t have that desire to go out and do it, but I do love the events. I’ll be testing this week in Misano after Donington and rushing back home to the Isle of Man to enjoy the TT race week.

So you’ve never even been tempted?
I get a parade lap at the Northwest 200, the TT and the Ulster GP but I spend my time waving to the fans and just enjoying the experience. I get my adrenaline from riding my bike at 110% around the best circuits in the world!

I make up a part of the rider’s safety commission here in World Superbikes and they’re complaining about barriers that are tens of metres away and
these guys are brushing ARMCO barriers and trees so it’s a bit of a contradiction to go there!

But I really respect the guys who do it and I’m a huge fan of their skills and never miss it whether it’s following it online or actually being at the event.

What was your first bike? Do you have a road bike now and if so, what are you riding? (@skyrmish on Instagram)
My first bike was a Italjet 50 which was like a mini motocross bike which I got when I was almost 3. Now I mostly ride off-road on a KX450 and in my spare time I have a CB500 café racer that I restore and I’m also restoring a Z750 with a friend.

But one interesting fact that your readers might not know about me is that I don’t have my motorcycle license. Right now I’ve got the application on my iPhone and I’m studying for the theory part. The idea is for me to enjoy riding and that buzz of riding on the road. I’ve got a ZX10 too but it’s set up in track specifications that I ride at home for fun in Jurby motor park, but I’ll be on café racers that I can ride with friends with open faced helmets to enjoy the weather!

“I don’t know any sport in the world where you penalise people for doing a good job.”

Something that has got everybody talking and that everyone has an opinion on is the reverse grid format. At the start of the season it felt like a good idea but now not so much. What are your thoughts?
I never agreed that it was a good idea, I stood firmly against it. I didn’t force my opinion on the media but for me we had to understand whether we were racing for sport or for entertainment. From the entertainment side of course it’s maybe…funny or more exciting but I don’t know because I’m not on that side.

From the sporting side it’s not fair. I don’t know any sport in the world where you penalise people for doing a good job. Should you ask Usain Bolt to start 10 metres behind Gatlin in the 100m sprint? No, because the definition of fair isn’t what’s happening and the definition of sport isn’t what’s happening now. Aside from Aragon when Alex Lowes was in the front of the race for a longer time, it hasn’t changed the results at all and it hasn’t changed the dynamic of the race results either.

In Imola I was a little bit scared coming from the 3rd row because it gets really backed up in those first two chicanes. In the first start of race two I got a great start and Chaz not so much, but in the second restart I found it more difficult to get to the front, so it really depends on how you get through the traffic. There’ll be harder tracks – I’m sure Laguna Seca will be super hard to get through and also Misano when it gets backed up in the Stadium section, so we’ll see but it’s the same for everyone and I do understand both sides of the argument, but for me I’m not a fan.

What do you think could be done to change things up a bit?
I don’t know, I get a lot of questions about that and more recently it has become the talk of the paddock – how to make other teams and riders more competitive. It’s a tough one, because I’ve been in the flip side of it where we haven’t been as competitive as others, and I don’t think anything should change because I’m winning and it’s fine for me!

I do understand that it would be nicer if more people were involved but it’s hard to compete against Kawasaki and Ducati. They’re putting all their resources and budget behind Superbike and taking it seriously, but companies like Yamaha and Honda are only playing with the championship in a small way.

It’s difficult… How do you penalise Kawasaki and Ducati for taking the championship seriously? Is it right to make a team that spends a fifth of their budget as competitive? Right now, it’s the most critical because the best guys are on the best bikes and that makes the gap even bigger. Sometimes when I was at Honda, I felt like the stars would align and it could make the difference and I could win races. Aprilia used to be involved at a factory level and it was the same then – they were always competitive.

It’s hard to beat that factory support system and right now I am lucky and blessed to have it, but I’ve no answers on how to make it more level! I’m sure there’ll be something done about it in the months to come because right now it’s not good for the guys who are struggling.

We hear a lot about how you help Kyle Ryde in WorldSSP. What do you do to help – spotting, mentoring?
There’s no time in my weekend to go out and spot for him to be honest! With Kyle it’s quite easy. It was two years ago at Donington when he did a wildcard from British Supersport and I mentioned to him behind the paddock show that if he ever needed any help, just let me know.

I pushed really hard and made it my business to try and get him into this paddock because the 2015 British SSP was super competitive with lots of fast kids, and for me his career was only going to progress if he got to the world level. Unfortunately last year we were sold up the river with a team that had huge ambitions but no substance, and after four rounds they decided to stop racing.

Together with his father, we looked around and whilst we were in Sepang I put a deal together with the Schmidt Racing team to finish the year. We have a saying in Ireland which is “all fur coat and no knickers” and there wasn’t a lot of structure there. I really believed in his ability and I worked really hard with Kawasaki and Puccetti in the off-season to try and make this deal work and for him to be Kenan Sofuoglu’s team mate.

I spent hours on the phone to Manuel Puccetti in Australia and we managed to put a deal together, so I guess from that point of view I’m really helping him to find opportunities to race, helping him to secure funding and budget, and investing loads of money of my own into Kyle. I see a lot of similarities in Kyle – he’s got a lot of raw ability and talent but he’s a rough diamond and there’s so many areas he needs to improve as a rider and as an athlete, and hopefully I can guide him to not make the wrong decisions. I enjoy it, even when I’m trying to race a world championship, look after my kids and wife trackside and help Kyle – it doesn’t really leave a lot of room for anything else!

It’s nice to see when he does well because I feel a small part of that success.

“Maybe after racing I can get involved in the sport council to try and bring a world class racing facility to Northern Ireland.”

The Circuit of Wales is hanging in the balance at the moment. In your opinion, would it be worth investing into a short circuit in Ireland where motorcycle racing is so much more prominent than it is over here?
I think it was always hard for CoW to build something from nothing and to compete with iconic tracks like Silverstone and Donington. It was always a pie in the sky idea for me and I never really got involved with it.

It’d be great to see something in Ireland but sadly for me it’s more road race related – there’s not a lot of budget spent on circuit racing at home so what you find is most young kids have to come to the British championship to be competitive. Maybe after racing I can get involved in the sport council to try and bring a world class racing facility to Northern Ireland. We do have some really good circuits there – Modello Park used to be a British championship circuit, Bishops Court is definitely worthy of a British championship…it’s as worthy as somewhere like Knockhill and it’s a lot better than some of the current British championship tracks. It would be nice to get involved with some sort of biking initiative back home to bring a world class facility to NI or Ireland as a whole.

Will you be encouraging your kids to race? (@mclennp on Twitter)
Not encouraging or discouraging I guess, it’s my job as their father to support their dream. They’ve grown up around bikes and they’ve shown interest in them, my little boy wanted a bike and they both ride around her on balance bikes and Jake’s now riding an electric trials bike at home, it’s whatever they want to do whether it’s football, tennis, rugby, motorbikes, painting and decorating…

Whatever it is, it’s my job to encourage them.


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When Projects Creep Out of Control




Is ‘more’ always better?

Back in 2008, after more than a decade working in the motorcycle industry, I finally bought my first brand new bike. Like the kid in the proverbial candy store, I wandering through my local motorcycle dealer with my stomach in knots knowing that one of these shiny, magnificent machines would be mine. And like so many people tilted by emotion, despite years of experience and insider knowledge, or perhaps because of it, I let excitement take over the decision making process. I bought a motorcycle far beyond my needs.

It was not long after taking possession of my Yamaha FZ-1 that I realized my mistake. The bike was technically faultless, the problem lay in that it was not at all what I needed. With a tiny fuel capacity and very firm ride it was a lousy touring rig (especially in Quebec where road surface quality is akin to a bombed out airstrip), but conversely it was too bulky and heavy to flick into corners on curvy A roads. It was bigger, faster, incorporated superior suspension and materials technology than it’s predecessor, the Fazer 1000 I helped develop years earlier, an yet somehow the new package was less motorcycle.

When you ask motorcyclists what they want in a new bike, the answer is always “more”. More power, more space, more features. The only thing they don’t want more of is cost. It makes sense, after all we all want more of a good thing. With motorcycles problems often arise when designers and engineers are tasked with piling on those ever increasing specifications to an existing model. This mission creep can, if not managed carefully by a strong project leader, end with a product so packed with features and high specification that it can do everything, but none of it particularly well.

The 1998 – 2004 Yamaha FZS600 Fazer was a wildly successful motorcycle design. At a time when entry level, middle displacement (500cc to 650cc) street bikes were either extremely basic or used obsolete technology, the Fazer delivered modern handling and performance in a user-friendly package. Featuring the engine and brakes from Yamaha’s YZF600R Thundercat, and a compliant chassis made of steel pipe to keep costs down, the little Fazer sold like mad satisfying a wide array of beginners and experienced riders alike.

With motorcycles the temptation is always to add more performance.

Yamaha introduced a mildly revised version two years later, along with the aforementioned larger, 1000cc version. Honda blatantly copied the Fazer formula of packaging supersport technology into an inexpensive package with the CB600F Hornet. Yamaha saw sales plummet, so along with a dozen other designers and engineers I was brought into a group to create the next, all-beating Fazer.

And that’s when the wheels came off the cart.

A whirlwind tour of European cities took place in which we interviewed hundreds of entry-level 600cc customers. The specification list grew longer and longer each day, as the demands of existing users piled on. More fuel tank range! More wind protection! More cargo carrying capacity! And of course… more power! Always more power.

Back at headquarters, the project leader handed over the design brief. As a very young designer I was confused. The new Fazer would now have an R6 motor. It would feature an all aluminum, Deltabox frame, lightweight R6 rims and a 180 section rear tire. Projector headlights. LEDs. Twin, under seat stainless steel exhausts. The brief read like the spec sheet from a top-of-the-line flagship project, not the replacement for Yamaha Motor Europe’s best selling motorcycle.

This is project creep, and it happens when an organization is beset by fear and acts out of ignorance of the big picture. The reasoning behind this phenomenon seems sound: if your opponent has three guys with knives, you better make sure you have six. It makes sense until you discover that you only have enough food for four, and so field six starved, exhausted guys against three strong and healthy ones. In manufacturing history there are hundreds of examples of this, the most famous of which may be the case of the Ford Edsel. It had more of everything than any of its competitors, and yet was so much less car.

With motorcycles the temptation is always to add more performance. After all, motorcyclists are fundamentally sold on the thrill of speed and aggressive handling. The problem is that too much performance makes most motorcycles into unmanageable, sphincter-clenching torture devices. Among our tribe few are skilled enough to exploit even half of the potential of modern bikes, which makes adding high performance to models destined for the rest of us an academic exercise. Of course our egos won’t allow us to admit it, but inside we are terrified of opening the throttle fully mid-corner. So we don’t, and wobble around on large, expensive bikes that not only don’t satisfy, but fill us with regret because we cannot master the objects of our desire.

At the cruiser end of the spectrum, the height of the chopper era saw mature, fully grown manufacturers launch models that were laden with Edsel-like heapings of features. The Honda Rune was presented as the end-all, be-all of the cruiser genre. According to Honda America’s Ray Blank, they “…wanted to set the bar higher than ever, erecting standards that no one else had yet imagined.”.

The result was a seven foot long, 400 kg, six cylinder monster that boasted 50% more torque than Honda’s then flagship superbike.

It was literally the most cruiser you could buy from any mainstream manufacturer, and yet its’ excess was its failure. At $30,000 (US) it wasn’t more expensive than a range topping Harley-Davidson, but the market balked at its bulk and cornucopia of pointless styling. Honda had failed completely to stop the design at some stage and roll it back, asking the team to refocus on what make people yearn to cruise on a motorcycle: the simple joy of sitting astride a large mechanical powertrain suspended between two chunky tires. The Chopper is, by definition, a bike “chopped” down to its basic, core elements. A little baroque styling and flair is cool, but it is not the main attraction.

As an industry, the motorcycle business is not very good at learning the lesson of project creep. The endless fight to produce the sexiest products in the marketplace inevitably drive an arms race that produces some great innovation but also squeezes out lots of poorly conceived motorcycles. If a bike comes out with a strong styling direction that hits the market like a storm, then simply copying it only with a more extreme execution is not going to work. When a competitor eats your lunch, as the Honda Hornet did when it replicated the original Yamaha Fazer concept in 2003, then just doubling down on everything is not going to win the market back.

How did we end up in a place where an entry-level street bike comes with racing style, upside-down forks and a mouse pad for a seat?

The second generation FZS600 (called the FZ6 in North America) that debuted in 2005 with all those crazy upmarket features did well in Europe for a few years, but alienated a lot of customers who loved the original Fazer’s rugged, approachable simplicity. They flocked to the second generation Suzuki SV650S, which was a better Fazer than the new FZ6 (ironically, the Suzuki’s styling was almost a copy of the updated original Fazer). By 2008, Yamaha introduced the FZ6R, a confusingly named but genuine successor to the formula that was simple, cheap, versatile and easy to use. It quietly dropped the over-spec’ed FZ6 Fazer without a replacement a year later.

In the market battlespace, project creep is easily seen in the most hotly contested areas. The 250cc class ballooned to 300cc because Kawasaki needed to edge out the class leading Honda CBR250. Then KTM launched the RC390, resplendent in its superior specification. The new Honda CBR250RR presented this winter is a very far cry from the CBR250 I tested in 2011. In five short years, the baby Honda sport bike went from being what I called “the missing link”, a motorcycle for everyone that the industry so badly needed, to being a mini CBR1000RR World Superbike contender.

I love the look of the CBR250RR, and if I am completely honest I want one rather badly. But how did we end up in a place where an entry-level street bike comes with racing style, upside-down forks and a mouse pad for a seat? I suspect it has a lot to do with looking ahead instead of behind. I’ve seen this show and I know the ending. In five years time the 250cc class will be dead again, because it will have priced itself out of the marketplace.

Getting excited and dreaming of the ultimate motorcycle is the job, but it is also the duty of manufacturers to deliver products people can actually afford and use. The ultimate anything is, as the word suggests, the last of the line. And winning the battle for the ultimate product is meaningless if you destroy the consumer base as a consequence.

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Ladies and Gentleman, motorcycling.

So many things to say, so few cares left to give, but c’mon people? Is this really want we think passes as a way to attract people to a biking festival?

Sure, as the guys from the Two Enthusiasts podcast so eloquently put it in their latest episode, ‘people like to see boobs’. But do you know a better way to double your boob quota for an event?

Yep – like the same guys from the same podcast also suggest – why not produce an environment that’s inclusive to women and may actually encourage them stick around and pay an interest towards these wonderful, two-wheeled machines.

Also, Bridgestone? You should know better. Even Pirelli have stopped that nonsense with their calendar now and moved on to something far more interesting.

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