1977_mx3_250This article went up on the Canadian Design Resource blog today. It’s a little historical retrospective on the 1977 Can-Am MX3 250. The article notes the passing of Can-Am, as Bombardier moved away from recreational vehicles to transit equipment and later into aircraft manufacturing. In 1983, Bombardier licensed the brand and outsourced development and production to Armstrong / CCM of Lancashire, England. 1987 was the final year for Can-Am.

It takes approximately 150 million years for organic matter to become oil that we pump out of the ground. We all know the ramifications of this – finite oil supplies, ever-growing demand for a limited resource, economic upheaval as supplies dwindle in our energy-hungry world. We also know the basics of renewable energy – government subsidized ethanol production, rising corn (and food) prices, a lifetime, government-guaranteed annuity for ArcherDanielsMidland, etc. And the attendant problems of switching our vast base of petroleum-based engines to alcohol.

But what if we could reduce that 150-million-year cycle to three days? What if we could create, in that three days, a grade of crude oil that is as high, or higher, than any currently available bio-oil? An oil that is really oil, not an alcohol substitute for oil.

a startup company called brief video on how the algal biodiesel process works. Here’s a C-Net video on the broad applications of this algae-based oil.

Although algae-based oils have been discussed for decades, this is first time that a scalable, industrial-grade process for producing them has been developed. The implications for this, if it ultimately proves viable, are enormous. Paired with high-performance, clean diesel technology — such as that developed by Audi and Peugeot for their endurance racing teams — could significantly change the automotive landscape.

What about CO2 emissions? According to Solazyme:

The algal biodiesel fueling the car is made through Solazyme’s proprietary process for manufacturing high-value, functionally-tailored oils from algae. This process, which uses standard industrial fermentation equipment, yields a biofuel that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is biodegradable, nontoxic and safe.

That almost sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. But it’s clear (at least to me) that the current approach to ethanol is not even a short-term solution. Trading food for driving is a dumb approach. It takes at least six months to grow a crop of corn for ethanol, then you have to break it down into its constituent parts to make the fuel, which basically wastes all the corn parts. With single-cell algae you don’t have to wait six months, and you don’t have to break it down nearly as much.

This isn’t a panacea. The algae has to be fed sugar to grow, and the sugar comes from corn syrup, sugar cane, wood chips, etc. So it’s still going to require some sort of organic matter. But it doesn’t have to be a primary food stock. This looks like something worth watching.

Editor’s note: You may want to read Long live the two-stroke: Part 1 and FIM to put 2-strokes on even footing in 2010 for more background.

Recently a vintage racing/CZ friend posted the following query here:

Hey Terry, Correct me if I’m wrong because I’m not totally sure, but hasn’t Calif banned 2 stroke sales there or Continue reading

I’ve been working on some updates to the site, in an effort to make it friendlier for readers. I’ve got more to do, but the changes I made this round are:

  • Consolidated “Comment” links – There is only one comment link now, and it always goes to the same place. The old way had two links – one to a separate comment posting form, and one to the threaded message list where all the previous comments were shown. Now it’s just one link, and the form is at the bottom of the page when you click that link.
  • Improved layout of the [More…] page – I have modified the layout of the page you see when you click [More…] to read an article. This is now the same page you get when you click the “Comments” link. You see the original article and all (any) comments on one page. I have added bigger titles and better headers for the comments so you can see who’s posting what much easier. I also added some bookmarking tools for those of you who may want to bookmark certain pages.
  • Better navigation – I have added new navigation links at the bottom of each page/article. Depending on where you are, you can now move back-and-forth through the weblog, or easily link to similar articles in the same category as the one you are reading.
  • Improved Logon/Signup process for commenting – this was a problem before. You would logon or signup (only required for posting comments) and be taken to a confirmation page and then not be able to easily find where you were. That’s fixed (mostly). The Logon/Signup forms are now included right in the article page with the comments. When you click the button to Logon or Signup it remembers where you are and takes you back there immediately. Much easier. (There’s still a small problem with Logon, but it’s still a big improvement and will be fixed 100% shortly.)

In the next round I am going to add a list of recent comments. I know how to do this technically, but I haven’t figured out how I want to do it from a practical standpoint. There’s already a ton of stuff on the homepage sidebar, so maybe I should add them to the sidebar on the article pages. Or maybe somewhere else on the home page. They need to be somewhere they can get attention. Suggestions welcome.

RacerX Illustrated founder, 2nd-generation motocross promoter, track owner, prolific media entrepreneur, and all-round good guy Davey Coombs just announced in Racerhead #28 that he is stepping down from the day-to-day operations of his RacerX empire to focus on the future of outdoor MX and the pro motocross Nationals. In less than a year we’ve gone from feeling the AMA genuinely wanted to kill the outdoor series to having someone like DC step up to drive the sport forward. Very few, if any, have a better grasp of the sport’s past and future than DC. We could not be in better hands.

Coombs has already talked about things like raising the minimum age for Pro licenses, the problems with pulling children out of school to focus on becoming professional MX racers, the increasing danger posed by faster bikes and bigger obstacles, and many other issues that face the sport. I don’t know if there is anyone in the US who is more respected for his balanced views and genuine interest in protecting the sport than DC. That he made this announcement one day after the AMA confirmed the sale of AMA Pro Racing to DMG is telling. It’s a strong indicator that DMG will leave professional motocross in the hands of businessmen who know and love it. That bodes well for all of us.

I don’t know Coombs, and he has never heard of me. But his media savvy is unquestionable. I’ve been in various parts of the printing, graphic arts, and publishing business for more than 20 years and what he’s built RacerX into is impressive. His list of accomplishments is proof he has a talent for motivating, organizing, and managing. More than that, he is an innovator and has a true passion for out sport. All of these traits will be needed in his new endeavor, and we should be grateful that someone with his skills is willing to tackle the challenge.

My best wishes to Coombs and the NPG family. For the first time in a long time I am actually excited by what the future holds for MX, despite the serious issues we face with land closures, environmentalists, and rising fuel costs. For years it felt like the sport was a bastard stepchild. Now it feels like Allstate – the good hands people – are in charge. Carry on, guys.

Back in early June I posted this note on the talks between H-D and MV Agusta. According to this AMA press release the two groups have signed a definitive agreement worth approximately $109 million US. The agreement gives H-D 100% of MV Agusta.

This is not Harley’s first foray into Italian motorcycles. Most of us remember when Harley sold small-bore and 2-stroke bikes made by Italian firm Aermacchi in the ’60s and ’70s. It will be interesting to see how Harley fares this time around. According to this Chicago Tribune story H-D’s sales in the US are falling, but have been growing at double-digit rates in Europe for the past three years, to the point that they now have nearly 10% market share. Sportbikes make up 80% of European sales, so it seems that H-D is looking to capitalize on that.

In the US this may not work. My son once applied for a job at a Harley dealer. We had put together a nice resume package, with a letter referencing his interest in motorcycles and powersports. The Harley dealer told him, in no uncertain terms, “We don’t do powersports!”

But in industry, the big grow bigger through acquisition. There aren’t a lot of new markets for big motorcycles, so the key is to acquire market share by buying customers. According to the article:

MV Agusta is considerably smaller than Harley-Davidson, which has nearly half the U.S. market. The company has about 500 dealers worldwide, the majority of them in Europe, and in 2007 it shipped 5,819 bikes. Harley-Davidson shipped 330,619 bikes last year and has a network of about 1,300 dealers.In the U.S., MV Agusta has about 45 dealers that sold 330 bikes last year.

Harley-Davidson noted MV Agusta significantly slowed production this year due to financial difficulties.

I wouldn’t expect to see MV Agusta bikes show up in your local H-D dealer anytime soon.

097977770403mzzzzzzzMy Chicago-based friend (and high-powered consultant to captains of industry) Jim McGee recently reviewed the book Brain Rules by John Medina. It’s worth reading Jim’s review here. You wouldn’t normally see a post like this on a motorcycle blog, but one of my main interests is the fitness and health of the aging athlete (and athlete wannabes). Brain health – the ability to focus and concentrate, absorb new information, retain what we’ve learned, etc. – is critical to staying active and healthy over the long term. Too much of what we’ve accepted as natural consequences of aging are little more than a misunderstanding of how the brain works.

Medina is a molecular biologist and delves into how the biology of the brain affects our ability to function, and how many of the things we believe to be true about brain function really aren’t. Jim highlights 12 rules Medina uses to organize the story in his book:

  1. Exercise boosts brain power
  2. The human brain evolved, too
  3. Every brain is wired differently
  4. We don’t pay attention to boring things
  5. Repeat to remember
  6. Remember to repeat
  7. Sleep well, think well
  8. Stressed brains don’t learn the same way
  9. Stimulate more of the senses
  10. Vision trumps all other senses
  11. Male and female brains are different
  12. We are powerful and natural explorers

Based on Jim’s review I’m going to order this book on my next purchase from Amazon. If you, like me, are interested in maintaining a level of health that will keep you on the bike and on the track for years to come it pays to understand the lessons modern science and research can teach us about our bodies. Caring for the brain, and doing the right things to support it, are an important step in achieving that goal.

According to this Dec 21, 2007 press release (pdf) from the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme, the Permanent Bureau has decreed the following:

2) Motocross Classes: as of 2010, single cylinder engines will be used in MX1 and MX2 and multicylinder in MX3, whether 2 or 4-stroke (open concept). The cubic capacity will be 250cc in MX2, and up to 650cc in MX3. Discussions are currently being held about the cubic capacity in MX1. A decision should be taken in the next three months. Concerning the MX2 class, a maximum age limit of 23 years will be introduced. Moreover, a World Champion will be allowed to defend his title only one time (in the following year).

3) The FIM Junior World Championship will have an additional class as of 1.1.2010: 65cc. All the classes (65cc, 85cc, 125cc) will be exclusively 2-stroke.

I think this is a move that’s long overdue. I’d prefer that there not be a specific technology decreed, even for the tiddler classes, but I’m glad to see this happening. For far too long MX has been run as a corporate organ for the Big 4 Japanese mfgs. We can only hope that AMA/DMG/NPG follow suit.

A rule whose time has passed

The idea of granting 4-strokes a 2:1 displacement advantage (30% in MX3) was fine 20+ years ago, and was intended to prompt the development of competitive 4-stroke engines. That purpose has been served. But for at least the last 10 years the net effect has been to kill all 2-stroke technical development. This, I have been told, was at the behest of Honda, who have been dedicated to eliminating 2-strokes from the market since shortly after Soichiro’s death in 1991.

The end result has been a very cloistered, cozy, little world of coopetition for the Big 4 in MX. They leisurely roll out technology as it suits their budgets, without fear that anyone new will come along and rock their boat. Now that may change. We have long needed technical rules that foster innovation and invite new players into the sport. One of the reasons so many of us are not interested in modern bikes is they are so damn boring – not an ounce of personality amongst a warehouse full of them.

The myths of modern marketing

We have all heard the anti-2-stroke arguments — 2-strokes can’t compete anymore, 2-strokes can’t meet emissions standards, 2-strokes are too hard to ride, etc. Many of these “everyone knows…” comments started in a Honda marketing department and their pervasiveness should serve as a lesson to us that just because a major motorcycle manufacturer says a thing is true, doesn’t mean it is. Thanks to Honda and their motorcycle keiretsu we are well past the point where even general comparisons between 2-stroke and 4-stroke MX motors are valid. You simply can’t compare a technology that hasn’t been developed for a decade in any meaningful way to the state-of-the-art in another technology. It’s nonsense.

In conversations with a well-placed industry engineer I was told that the real issue for Honda (who, ironically, have declared they will produce no 2-strokes after 2010) is intellectual property – they don’t own any patents on two-stroke technology. So, like any big, market-dominating company, they attempted to kill off what they could not control. It appears they have failed.

Which is better?

This does not mean that the different designs don’t have relative advantages and disadvantages. In a Cycle News editorial titled “R.I.P. Two-Strokes? Not So Fast” (Cycle News issue #26, July 2, 2008, pg 60) Michael Scott discusses the 2-stroke situation in the context of the dissolution of the 250GP road race class. He lists a number of the well-documented, legitimate differences in the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke debate — simplicity via fewer moving parts, lighter weight for a given displacement and, typically, better power/performance at the smaller displacements. Scott interviews Aprilia two-stroke engine designer Jan Witteveen and notes that modern technologies have brought two-stroke fuel efficiency, emissions, and performance well into the modern era. Modern direct injection significantly lowers the amount of oil needed in the cylinder, and there are already 2-stroke engines which meet stringent Euro-3 emissions standards. With newer materials like ceramics and carbon fiber the need for oil injection may soon be completely eliminated.

Witteveen is, understandably, a 2-stroke advocate and insists, “There is definitely a need for the two-stroke motorcycle engine, particularly in small capacities.” He recently designed the innovative Maxtra 125 for Chinese company Haojue and is currently working on a rather secretive project for the future of the 2-stroke engine. It is likely the emerging markets (like China) that have driven the realization that 2-strokes are not only viable, but necessary. Cost matters in these markets and 2-strokes have, historically, been cheaper to design and manufacture.

No favorites

It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m curious why this rule change hasn’t seen more conversation on this side of the pond. It has to be pissing the Big 4 off, having spent millions developing, marketing, and selling the mythical advantages of their 4-stroke race bikes. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t favor 2-stroke over 4-stroke. What I favor is choice, free market policy, innovation, competition, and variety. MX has been the cozy playground of the Big 4 for nearly 30 years. It is the role of the FIM/AMA to safeguard the future of motorcycling for all of us, not just for a handful a big corporations. It’s high time they gave us an environment that encourages new players to get in the game. This is an important step in the right direction.

I look forward to the new discussions that should come out of this change. For the first time in a long time we might actually get new blood into the MX marketplace. At the very least we can begin to have productive discussions about engine technology and what the future might hold. It’s great to throw off the stifling blanket of corporate market speak that has controlled our choices for decades. We can only hope the US sanctioning bodies follow the FIM’s lead.

Here’s the press release from the AMA regarding final approval of the Pro Racing/DMG deal. I’m sure the road race community is up in arms over this, and I feel for them. The changes underway there have created a lot of friction with the riders, factories, and race track owners. There’s a lot of bluster going on now between all sides. As Dave Despain said in his Wind Tunnel editorial a couple of Sundays ago, a lot of this is posturing for negotiation, so let’s get to negotiating guys and get it worked out. Davey Coombs of RacerX Illustrated made the same point — time to move forward — in a recent editorial I can’t find right now.

But the NPG have been busting their butts in a way that has not been seen since… well, I don’t know when. They are really working hard and professional MX seems to be rocking and rolling. More changes are to come, but we can hope that DMG will stick with the horse that brought them and let NPG do what they know how to do better than anyone.

In the end, this is the right thing to do for motorcycling and professional motorcycle racing. It may get worse in some quarters before it gets better. But it will get better. And there is no use in carping about it. It’s done. Let’s all move on now and make it the best we can.

Here’s an interesting product I came across recently from ISC Racers Tape — Surface Guard Tape. According to the company it’s “a bullet-proof, 8 mil clear, urethane paint protection tape. You cannot puncture this tape with a pen.” It has a semi-permanent adhesive and protects against UV, extreme temperatures, and automotive solvents.

I’ve been using a product called Snider’s Paint Guard from Aerostich to protect the paint on my Guzzi from saddlebag rubs and such. It’s a clear plastic film that adheres like static film. It work pretty good, but it’s hard to apply to compound curves. But it removes easily. I don’t know how well the Surface Guard removes after it’s been on a few weeks or months – especially if it’s been in the sun a lot. But I’m going to get a roll and see. I can see how this would be really good to protect the frame from rub marks around the footpegs after you’ve spent a few hundred dollars for a nice powder coat job.