With the rumours of a Ducati sale by Volkswagen Audi Group continuing, perennial Harley-Davidson are the latest manufacturer to be associated with a potential purchase.
Harley-Davidson already have previous form with alternative marque ownership – having done the dance with both Buell and perhaps more portentously, MV Agusta in recent history. If Reuters are correct about their most recent murmurings however, those deals will pale in comparison.
We’ve already heard rumours of various brands and consortiums taking a potential interest in the Italian manufacturer, but if ‘sources’ close to Reuters are right then Harley-Davidson could well be working towards offering somewhere within the region of €1.5 billion for Ducati.
That valuation is the one that Goldman Sachs have valued the profitable Italian motorcycle manufacturer as being worth and – if achieved – it would net the VAG group somewhere in the region of €600,000. They purchased Ducati for a seemingly paltry €860 million.
Take all the rumours with a huge pinch of salt however. We’ve been around the block long enough with all of this to know that nothing is ever certain.
Especially when it comes to the financial fate of automotive companies.
Ana Carrasco: The fastest female motorcycle racer of all time
She’s 21-years-old, stands five-foot-one, and weighs eight stone, wringing wet. But don’t let that fool you.
Ana Carrasco is one tough little Spaniard. She’s the first woman in the 100-years-plus history of the sport to lead a motorcycle road racing world championship.
She was also the first woman to set pole position and the first to win a race and, with just two rounds remaining of the World Supersport 300 Championship, she has a healthy16-point lead – against an entire field of men.
Oh, and she’s also half way through a four-year law degree and trains six hours every day. Are you starting to feel a bit inadequate? You should be. Meet Ana Carrasco – the fastest female motorcycle racer of all time.
Women have not always been welcomed in the sport of motorcycle road racing. Original regulations laid down by the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) in the early days of racing dictated that competitors must be ‘male persons between 18 and 55 years of age.’ This ruling didn’t apply to Sidecar racing so in 1954 the intrepid German, Inge Stoll-Laforge, caused a sensation by entering the Isle of Man TT – the biggest motorcycle race in the world at the time.
She finished in a highly credible 5th position but was tragically killed four years later in a crash at the Czech Grand Prix.
By 1962 the FIM had changed its rules and allowed women to race so Beryl Swain became the first female solo rider at the TT, finishing 22nd in the 50cc race before the FIM did an about-turn and banned women again in 1963.
Despite this historical backdrop of rampant sexism, a handful of brave, determined women have persisted in blazing a trail for female riders in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Riders like Maria Costello have scored podiums at the Manx Grand Prix (the ‘amateur’ TT) and Jenny Timnouth recently became the first female rider to compete in the prestigious British Superbike Championship.
Germany’s Katja Poensgen won the Supermono Championship in 1998 and women have even scored points in the Grand Prix world championships, the first being Taru Rinne with a seventh-place finish at Hockenheim in 1989. But while convalescing from a crash shortly afterwards, the Finn received a letter from Bernie Ecclestone (who, at the time had a heavy, but thankfully short-lived, involvement in motorcycle racing) informing her that she was ‘not qualified’ to compete the following season.
Clearly, nothing had changed. Despite occasional outstanding performances by women in the male-dominated sport of motorcycle racing, by the start of the 2017 season no female had won a world championship race – perhaps unsurprisingly given the additional barriers they faced.
But that all changed at Portimao in Portugal on Sunday, September 17, 2017 when a 20-year-old Spanish rider called Ana Carrasco came out on top in an epic drag race to the finish line in the World Supersport 300 Championship race. In doing so, she became the first woman in history to win a motorcycle road racing world championship race.
And while the significance of the moment wasn’t exactly lost on Carrasco, she thinks like a racer first, and a woman second. ‘At the time I was not thinking about the significance of this’ she says. ‘I always just try to ride as hard as I can and try to achieve results – I don’t think about being a woman. So, in that moment I was just happy because I’d won the race but after some days I start to realise what I had achieved. It’s important that a woman can be fighting for the victory in the world championship because it’s good for other girls to see that this is possible.’
“It’s important that a woman can be fighting for the victory in the world championship because it’s good for other girls to see that this is possible.”
After finishing the 2017 season in eighth place overall, Carrasco came out of the traps ready for a proper fight in 2018, setting pole position at Imola, winning the race, and taking the lead in the world championship. After another win at Donington Park in England, Carrasco now has a 16-point lead with just two rounds of the championship remaining. This makes her the first woman ever to lead a motorcycle racing world championship.
It seems an incredibly young age for anyone – male of female – to be leading a world championship but Carrasco was practically born into the saddle. ‘I started riding when I was three years old because my family was always involved in the motorcycle world’ she says. ‘My father was a race mechanic since before I was born so when I was three I started riding my big sister’s minimoto because she wasn’t interested in it. So that was a good thing for me!’
Standing at just 5”1 and weighing eight stone-three (52kg) wringing wet, Carrasco cuts a diminutive figure in the racing paddock. Her slight frame would normally give her an advantage under acceleration but constantly-changing rules in the fledgling WSS300 championship (which is only in its second year) mean that even this advantage has been removed: because she is so light, Carrasco is forced to carry a weight penalty on her Kawasaki Ninja 400 race bike.
‘I now have to carry a 13kg weight penalty so I think it’s actually worse to be small’ she says. ‘I have to move more kilos than the other riders through the corners and yet the overall weight of rider and bike is the same (because of the combined bike-and-rider minimum weight rule) so I don’t have any advantage on acceleration.
‘The rules change every race so sometimes we have a good bike and sometimes no. It’s difficult for us to work like this because every Thursday of a race weekend they say “Okay, now you have to change this” or “Now you have to change that.” It’s difficult for the team and it’s also difficult for me to ride fast like this because every race I have a different bike. I hope for next year the rules will be more stable because I like to win, always, and with all these changes it’s not always possible to win. At the moment, Kawasaki is not always on the top because the rules are helping the Yamahas to be at the same level. But we just have to work within the rules Dorna gives us and finish the championship the best we can.’
Carrasco at least has a competitive bike and team for the 2018 season, which is something of a novelty after battling for years with uncompetitive and poorly-funded rides in various Spanish championships and even, for a few years, in the Moto3 World Championship that runs alongside MotoGP – the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing. ‘Yes, for me it’s really good because in the past years I was struggling a lot because I wanted to be at the top but it was impossible with the bikes that I had. Now it is really good and I’m really happy with my team and with my bike and Kawasaki is helping me a lot so now I don’t want to change my team because I feel so comfortable. I want to win, so I will stay in the place where I can fight for the victory.’
The World Supersport 300 Championship which Ana currently leads is a support series to the World Superbike Championship, meaning the young Spaniard has operated out of the two biggest paddocks in world motorcycle racing. So how do they compare in their attitudes towards women? ‘The people in the WSB paddock are more friendly and more relaxed’ Carrasco says. ‘You can speak with everybody. In the MotoGP paddock there’s a lot more pressure so the riders have to always be thinking only about riding and they cannot do anything else. So, yes, the paddocks are different but I like both.
‘I didn’t notice any difference between the paddocks in their attitudes towards female riders. My job is the same and the people are good with me, always. But in the World Supersport 300 Championship it was more easy for me to find a good team and a good bike so that I can be fighting at the top. In the past it has been really difficult for me because I never had the equipment I needed to be fighting for the victory.’
Like every motorcycle racer, Ana Carrasco needs to have the mental capacity to accept the inherent dangers of her chosen sport and the ability to endure the pain caused by regular injuries. Although safety measures have improved radically over the last 30-odd years, people still die in this sport.
“I broke my elbow in 2007 and I broke my collarbone in 2015 and also my shoulder. I’m okay with pain – I can handle it.”
Yet it’s clearly not a fact that Carrasco loses much sleep over. ‘I broke my elbow in 2007 and I broke my collarbone in 2015 and also my shoulder. I’m okay with pain – I can handle it. I can ride with pain and don’t feel it so much. I’ve had some difficult injuries but I don’t worry too much about it. I know it’s a dangerous sport but many things are dangerous so we have to try and take part in all sports with as many safety measures as we can. We have to respect the dangers and just try to remain safe and do our job. For my mother it’s more difficult! I think this sport is difficult for all the mothers to watch!’
And before you think these are the words of a crazy and irresponsible young kid, consider this: when she’s not travelling the globe fighting for a world championship, Ana Carrasco is studying for a law degree. Half way through a four-year course, the girl from Cehegin in the Murcia region of south-east Spain must balance adrenalin with diligence and solitude in equal measure.
‘It’s difficult to do both things because I spend so much time away from home but now I’m in a sports university where many Olympic athletes study so they give me the possibility to change the dates of my exams if I am racing. So I try to work out my study and exams calendar according to the racing calendar. It’s a four-year course and I am in my second year now.
‘I don’t know for sure if I will be a lawyer after racing but this is my Plan B! I want to be a racer and be riding for many years but, if not, then at least I have another plan to be a normal person and to have a job and a family and everything.’
Perhaps even more impressive – and certainly testimony to her determination and will to win – Carrasco also maintains a brutal training regime that would qualify as a full-time job in itself. ‘I train around six hours every day’ she says. ‘I go to the gym for about three or four hours and then ride dirt bikes for another few hours.’
It’s this kind of commitment that sees Carrasco regularly beating an entire field full of men and her reward is the sheer satisfaction that generates. ‘Yes, for me it’s good!’ she laughs. ‘This is a motivation to show the people that women can do the same. This is what I want – I want to win in a world championship so I can show that I can beat the best riders in the world in that class. So, I want to be always better and better and better and to arrive at the top.’
Once you can see that other girls are doing it then you can think “Why not? Why can’t I do the same?”
It’s perhaps not easy for every male psyche to handle being beaten by a woman (in the past, they’ve also had to accept Carrasco’s own take on the brolly dolly – she had her own umbrella fella on the grid!) especially in a sport that has for so long been male-dominated. So how do her rivals treat her? Does she get the respect she deserves or does she get shunned by bitter, defeated rivals? ‘For sure they respect me because if you are fast, everybody respects you! I’ve shown them that I can win races and fight for the championship so I think everybody respects me now.’
Testosterone is not always a man’s best friend. Often it can lead to rash decisions out on track and crazy do-or-die lunges that have little chance of working and every chance of ending in crashes and broken bones. In the sport, this kind of aggression is known as ‘red mist’ and it’s the one area where Carrasco thinks female riders may actually have a slight advantage over the men. ‘Sometimes it helps to be a woman, yes. Women think more when they are on the bike! The men are more brave but they sometimes make dangerous moves without thinking and sometimes this is not so good! I think in my case I have a slight advantage here because I always stay calm and think a lot about what I have to do out on the race track.’
Female motorcycle racers are no longer a complete novelty but they’re still very much in the minority (there are none at all, for example, in the world’s two biggest motorcycle championships – MotoGP and World Superbikes) although Carrasco believes it’s getting easier for women to be involved. ‘Every year it gets a bit more easy. It’s difficult for a young female rider to see how they can arrive in a world championship if they never see any other girls doing it. So if you are the first girl to do it then it’s more difficult but once you can see that other girls are doing it then you can think “Why not? Why can’t I do the same?” So, for the girls, it’s important that I’m doing a good job in the world championship.
‘I think women can do the same as men in this sport. We are all just riders and we can all do the same thing. But it’s more difficult for women to find a good opportunity – a good team and a good bike. It’s more difficult for people to believe that we can win so we have many problems in getting access to competitive equipment to be fighting at the top. In this sport, if you do not have a good bike then you cannot fight to win.’
As to the future, Carrasco already has some options on the table due to her incredible performances this year. But for now, she’s concentrating on the job in hand. ‘I want to continue with Kawasaki because I am very happy with them and they are supporting me to be at the top. I would also like to continue with my team. But it will depend on what we achieve this year. I have some offers from the Moto3 World Championship and also from World Supersport 600 and World Supersport 300 teams. At the moment, I don’t know. I think around September time we will start to look more closely at next year but at the moment I just want to think about the championship.’
There are two rounds remaining of the World Supersport 300 Championship – at Portimao, Portugal, on September 16, and at Magny-Cours, France, on September 30. Carrasco has a healthy 16-point lead over Germany’s Luca Grunwald but with 25 points available for each race win, it’s still all to play for. One crash or mechanical breakdown could change everything, but Carrasco is confident. ‘We have a good opportunity, we are in a good position in the championship, so I want to try to win at Portimao because I like this place. The circuit is good for me, so I would like to finish on the podium and win the championship there. But if not, then we will wait and try again in Magny-Cours. For sure we have a good opportunity and we are in the best position to win the championship.’
The sport of motorcycle road racing has been around for well over 100 years but no woman has ever come this close to lifting a world title. So what would it mean to the petite, highly intelligent, and multi-lingual Spaniard if she could put an end to all that and finally prove beyond all doubt that women have a genuine place in motorcycle racing?
‘For me it would be a dream come true because, for my whole life, my dream is to be world champion and this year I have the opportunity so I want to give my best to try to win.’
This article first appeared on the freshly minted blog of renowned Motorcycle writer Stuart Barker. It’s been republished here with explicit permission.
Motofire is for sale
Figuratively at least, most – if not all – UK based motorcycling websites are for sale. The same could be said for a few of the larger US-based publications too, but our direct experience has been mostly here within the UK , where we’ve directly opposed the way that other publications have bowed, kotowed and licked their way downwards towards the current motorcycling media climate’s position of ‘everything is pretty much terrible, but can we have some money please’.
When we launched Motofire in late 2014, both Ian and myself were at the lowest points of our respective lives. Both of us had been independently removed from our jobs at the dwindling circulatory and German-megacorp owned weekly, motorcycling newspaper, and both of us were desperate to prove that the online world of motorcycling could – and should – be different. Which was something that we’d met resistance for believing in over the previous years of employment.
And so – with a large dose of ‘what the hell’ – Motofire.com was born.
We were determined to be different. Having worked previously for companies who had manipulated online audience statistics and had sold potential advertisers placement based upon numbers that were not quite what they seemed, we had hoped that our open approach to running an online property would be precisely what manufacturers and brands wanted.
We were going to openly share our stats, our audience figures and more importantly our recorded and independently audited engagement figures. Sure, we couldn’t claim to have over 2.5 million online ‘visitors’ a month, but we knew that the few thousand that would find us would be those people who genuinely cared about motorcycles, had visited out of passion for a shared past-time, and hadn’t just arrived upon us because they’d been hoodwinked into stumbling across miscalculated MPG data from a random Honda CB600F search on Google.
Two-wheeled machines offer more by way of thrill, excitement and life-affirming adrenaline than any other mode of high-speed travel today
Of course we would need advertising money to survive, but with the market even then looking down the barrel of an ever-aging population, and the beginnings of an electrical onslaught that nobody in the industry seemed either ready for, or even aware of, we were confident that we could get enough young and/or progressive brands to join us on our crusade to show that motorcycles weren’t just the purview of old, white men in hi-viz jackets or Schwantz replica Arai lids. Motorcycles were, are, and always will be fu*#ng cool!
Four years later, we still maintain that two-wheeled machines offer more by way of thrill, excitement and life-affirming adrenaline than any other mode of high-speed travel today – and they are indeed, cool – but the honest truth of the matter is that whilst we have proven that there is an interest in motorcycles above and beyond the, elderly echo-chamber clientele that is attracted to most of the other online press, the marketing departments and advertising of most UK manufacturers and brand distribution houses don’t share the same enthusiasm. At least not when it comes to spending their adverting money with an independent publication such as Motofire.
Motorcycles are fu*#ng cool!
Yes, the new wave custom scene arrived to inject a much-needed shot of inspiration into the arms of new – and lapsed – bikers, and we are proud to have been at the front of some of that development with our early relationships with The Bike Shed and Bike Exif. But whilst we would love to be able to say categorically that younger riders are joining the throng of two-wheel aficionados because of this new ‘scene’, evidence that we’ve been privy to actually shows that even the sales of the most hipster of all hip motorcycles within recent years – the Ducati Scrambler – was bought by more people in their 50’s than anyone else.
The custom scene is not the magical bullet to new sales that the marketing men of Triumph, Yamaha and Ducati had hoped it would be. Or even the one that Kawasaki so belatedly jumped onto the bandwagon of.
So maybe new drive-trains and electrically powered motorcycles will be the saviour of the industry?
We really hope so. We’ve spent much of our time here on Motofire extolling the virtues of electric motorcycles, and that has been due to genuine passion and belief. Just a couple of years ago, we heard tales of respected journalists writing for some of the world’s most ‘respected’ titles refusing to swing their legs over an electric machine, and that backwards thinking sentiment is reverberated around the comment threads and vitriolic social media replies in almost every post about an electric motorcycle that exists online.
But we fostered a different community. You – good and dear Motofire reader – didn’t dismiss battery-powered machines out of hand. You were different. You are different.
The same happened when we wrote about Yamaha’s Motobot, or Honda’s self-balancing tech. You didn’t instantly hate and grumble about the ‘death of motorcycling’. Like us, you were intrigued, fascinated and keen to learn more. This new technology will certainly change the nature of two-wheel ownership, but in the face of dwindling sales and dramatic shifts in our populations’ behaviour, you joined us in believing that maybe, just maybe, this all might combine to become the saviour of motorcycling and not the harbinger of doom.
Sadly, the thin thread of people in charge of the purse strings in motorcycling don’t feel the same passion for this new juncture and our new(ish) venture’s optimism as we do.
And so – now – we find ourselves in a position were the market is at a crossroads technologically, financially and philosophically and instead of exploring new markets or new avenues, the introspective nature of the industry means that our dream of being the ‘new voice of motorcycling’ has been met with wide eyes from our ever-growing audience – (over 1.5 million website visitors, 120k Facebook fans, 25k Twitter followers and over 60k Instagram fans at that last count) – but deaf ears from the media-buyers, programmatic advertising engines and tranquillised fear of marketing managers.
To put it bluntly, we here at MFHQ have simply not been good enough at manipulating the people with money to offer us any of it, and this means that we can’t earn enough money from this site currently to pay for the two of us to give Motofire the time and dedication that it – and you, our readers – deserve.
Personally we’ve given our all – despite only ever working on it in our spare time whilst managing other jobs – to provide a new and exciting way of covering motorcycling online. We like to think that we’ve done motorcycling journalism veteran Wes Siler, and his excellent manifesto for online bike journalism, justice.
— Wes Siler (@IndefiniteWild) January 18, 2018
When we started, the major publications here within the UK were publishing one, maybe two ‘articles’ a day of generic, press release and general news. Enough maybe to support their attached print articles or insurance advertisers, but nowhere near what we – as motorcycling fans – wanted to see.
We like to think that it’s because of our influence that you can now see dedicated teams of staff publishing on a nearly full-time basis across those same, said websites.
Sure, some of our stories and articles have been little more than YouTube videos of bears in sidecars, but we’ve also tackled some pretty huge stories when other publications at the time were only tentatively covering them at best…
When MV Agusta went into their latest round of financial trouble, it was Motofire that broke the story first.
Whilst other motorcycling sites ignored them; we were talking about Alta Motors years ago.
We first connected the dots between Norton and John McGuinness last year.
When Nicky Hayden so tragically lost his life last year, it was Motofire that first told the story worldwide – but more importantly, we maintained the coverage beyond just the horrible click-bait from other sites and continued the narrative as exhaustively as possible for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of fans who were desperate for correct and verified information.
Plus (and admittedly we may be biased) we produced the best tribute to the great man available anywhere on the Internet.
Perhaps you’re a brand who feels that they could maintain a daily blog whilst having access to over a quarter of a million motorcycle fans every month?
Through our little website, we gave an outlet to the great and wonderful MotoGP reporter Hannah Smith – an exhaustive talent and voice for whom we will never tire of reading.
We may just be ‘two, lazy, disruptive arseholes who deserved everything they get’ (actual quote from an ex-colleague) but we are also two people who’ve given our all over the past four years to make Motofire the best website it can be; and we’ve done it all on a part-time basis with little or no budget to work with, and no major support from anyone within the UK motorcycling industry. Because we had passion for everything two-wheels and both genuinely believed that this industry of ours needed to think differently in order to survive.
But now it’s time to pass on the challenge.
Perhaps you’re a brand who feels that they could maintain a daily blog whilst having access to over a quarter of a million, genuine, real and engaged motorcycle fans every month?
Maybe you’re an existing publisher looking to expand their market?
Or maybe you’re one of the rival publishers we’ve spoken of who just wants to offer a paltry amount in order to watch us squirm and struggle with such an existential decision?
Either way, we’re going to do our best to maintain Motofire for the coming weeks and/or months – so please keep visiting – but if you’re serious about motorcycling online and think you have what it takes to tackle all of the challenges that we’ve menioned above, then we’d love to hear from you.
(Ian has said that he’s happy to sell to anyone who can offer him a kevlar riding jean with more than a 36″ inside leg, and I’ve been known to do almost anything for a free run at the Icon catalogue. Just sayin’).
Anyway, thank you – ALL of you – for the past four years. It’s been a blast, we’ve both enjoyed the myriad highs and lows, and more importantly we’re insanely proud of what we believe to be the best motorcycling-based website on the internet.
So long, and thanks for all the FS1-Es