Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The great Volkwagen emissions scandal. Or rather a great political science scandal

Is it just me who finds the VW emissions “scandal” a jaw dropper? The same VW group, by the way, that owns Ducati along with all the other marques in the picture.
Not jaw dropping because I didn’t think motor manufacturers were fiddling emission declarations, but because I assumed our self-serving masters knew about it but were happy to at least look as if they were doing something about the environment.

But it turns out they really didn’t know, because none of them have even a passing knowledge of engineering, the experimental method or – god forbid – science. It even turns out that the UK’s House of Commons science committee is chaired by someone with a degree in – get this – dance. I suppose it makes a change from the usual blagger’s charter of politics, philosophy and economics favoured by most of the folk who run this country.

But with the rise of technology driving wealth for anybody outside the city, you’d hope for better. Google and Amazon are changing our society, yet I’d wager the aforementioned chair of the science committee doesn't even have a science A level. Land Rover Jaguar – about our most valuable manufacturing company – can’t recruit enough engineers. This might be a good thing, with our youngest about to start a MechEng degree at Warwick, which is establishing a joint academy with Land Rover Jaguar. Further good news is that almost 80% of Warwick’s engineering graduates are working in engineering within 6 months of qualifying. There just aren’t enough folk with science A levels – never mind degrees – to satisfy our needs.

Yet when was the last time we had a Prime Minister with an engineering or science degree? Ironically it’s back at the point we started out on the farce of emission control that has always seemed to me – as always - more about being seen to do something, rather than actually grasping the nettle.

Margaret Thatcher (yes it was she – Chemistry from Oxford, and married to a former BP executive) was championing British Leyland’s lean burn technology (her Marxist haters might want to read that again), reasoning it was cheap and that using less fuel would, ergo, mean lower emissions. But the Americans wanted a simpler fix for their gas guzzlers, and pushed their platinum catalytic converter technology instead. Never mind that this meant mining, refining and transporting platinum, it was their technology and a quick fix. And also never mind that lead in petrol buggered the catalyst because the US had already phased its use in fuel out, where Europe hadn’t quite got there. So we’ve gone from a time when lead from vehicles was commercially viable to collect from road junctions, to a time when the same is now true of platinum. Oh, the irony. Maybe we should have just handed our lean burn technology over to the Americans, just as we did with the A-bomb and jet engine.

Of course the fragile catalytic convertors needed all sort of technology to protect them from too much or too little fuel, being too hot or too cold, and so on. Eventually engineers realised the same sensors and controls could spot when an emissions test was being run – a certain distance at a certain speed, for instance – and make sure the emissions and noise levels complied with legislation. The rest of the time it’s a free for all which is why in practice some cars and motorcycles can’t meet track day noise requirements, despite complying with them in theory.

Yes, VW took this one step further with a urea tank that only supplied the exhaust system's diffuser under test circumstances, but it’s surely just another step into this cheaters charter that’s been going on for decades. Or maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps it can all be explained by interpretive dance rather than by science.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Ducati to launch nine(!) new models for 2016

Ok, it's the usually PR guff; except for the statement that two 2016 Ducati models will take them into new market segments. Any guesses? Minoli once hinted at an off roader (Scrambler based?), and  I guess in the niche hunting world that is motorcycling the Multistrada is neither an adventure bike nor full dress tourer.
  • Nine new models for the Ducati 2016 range to be presented at EICMA 2015 (17-22 November, Rho/Milan)
  • New Monster 1200 R wins public and media acclaim after its unveiling at the Frankfurt IAA
  • Positive growth trend continues for the made-in-Bologna bike brand: before the end of the year the symbolic figure of 50,000 sales will be exceeded

Borgo Panigale (Bologna), 17 September 2015 – The first of a major series of new bikes that will join the Ducati 2016 range has been presented at the Frankfurt-held IAA (Internationale Automobil Ausstellung). The new Monster 1200 R, the most powerful supernaked ever built by Ducati, made its official debut at this prestigious international showcase where it was immediately given a warm welcome by the public and media alike.

With its 160 hp, a new, even sportier look and an array of components worthy of a real "superbike", this latest Ducati is just the first in a long, exciting series of new models to join the "made in Bologna" 2016 range - a range that represents, beyond any shadow of doubt, the biggest, most decisive attack on the market ever to have been launched by Ducati.

"The year 2016 will see continued growth at Ducati,” stated Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, at the Frankfurt fair. “No less than nine new models, including the just-unveiled Monster 1200 R, will be joining the 2016 range. Never before has Ducati presented so many new bikes and EICMA will provide the perfect platform on which to show them to all to our enthusiastic customers.

Two of these will take us into segments in which we’re currently not present and this is going to be one of the greatest challenges of 2016: to extend the Ducati hallmarks of style and performance to motorcyclists who were – until now – beyond our reach.

 Following a highly positive 2015, we look to the future with optimism and confidence. Given the results achieved during the first six months of the year, with 22% growth and 32,600 bikes delivered, we can already state that 2015 will see us attain another absolute record as we expect - for the very first time in our company’s history - to break through the symbolic barrier of 50,000 bikes sold before the end of the year.

Nevertheless, our main goal is not so much the pursuit of ever-greater volumes but, rather, to keep on surprising our customers with awe-inspiring bikes. The increase in sales is simply a consequence of just how incredibly well-received our products are - products that stem from implementing strategies that are in keeping with our identity, looking to new markets and taking on tough new challenges every day”.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Donington Classic festival photos

Thanks so much to all who came and said hello at Donington. Too exhausted to scribble now (thanks to our motorway network rather than the spectacular event at Donny) but in the meantime here's some pics. And that's Eddie Roberts on the works Ducati he lapped the TT circuit at 106-odd mph

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival 7 to 9th August

I'll have a stand at the Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival 7 to 9th August (aiming to get there lunchtime Friday) which is now  one of the largest classic bike events in Europe. With 46 (!) races plus practice and parades a bumper entry of over 500 bikes is expected.

Star names of the world of motorcycling have already confirmed appearances at this year’s festival, including the legendary Freddie Spencer, Niall Mackenzie, Steve Parrish, Ron Haslam and Jim Redman. Oh, and me. I'll have my Ducati and the TT book for sale, with Pat Slinn on hand to autograph, plus the cover star on show - the wonderful ex-Sports Motorcycles Ducati that Roger Nicholls' rode to a morale victory in the 1977 F1 TT.

I'll also have a handful of Benzina back issues - if there's something missing from your collection, email me and I'll try and find a copy to bring along

Monday, 3 August 2015

John Hopkins confirmed as permanent rider for Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati team

Ducati's racing manger Alan Jones has some of the best news for UK Ducati racing fans for years... PR follows
John Hopkins confirmed as permanent rider for Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati team
  • John Hopkins confirmed as permanent rider for the remainder of the season
  • Hopkins replaces the injured Jakub Smrz
  • Smrz wishes team and Hopkins good luck for the rest of the season
John Hopkins has been today (3 August) been confirmed as the permanent rider for the Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati team for the rest of the 2015 MCE British Superbike Championship season. Hopkins replaces the Czech rider Jakub Smrz, who was injured following a heavy crash in qualifying at Snetterton back in June. The injury to his left hand sidelined Smrz for the Knockhill, Brands Hatch and Thruxton rounds.
Hopkins, the 2011 BSB runner-up, had been drafted in to deputise for the last two rounds but with the injury to ‘Kuba’ still in question it has been decided that he will be replaced on a permanent basis by the ex-MotoGP Californian.
John Hopkins said: “I have definitely been enjoying myself with the team and there is a great atmosphere and for me it has been fantastic to come in straight away and show what we are capable of. I haven’t enjoyed myself on a bike this much in a long time and this opportunity is what I have been waiting for, especially after the frustrating start of the year when you had to watch everyone else testing and racing.
“I bided my time and it has paid off because I wanted to come back with a team and package that I knew had the potential to be at the front and everything I think happens for a reason. I can’t deny that I feel bad for Kuba because he is a great rider and I am sure he will be back soon, but I had to grasp this opportunity and I couldn’t give it up.
“It is amazing to think where we are already; I have had to take a step back and breathe to just look and appreciate how much progress has been made already. I have felt instantly at home with the feel of the throttle and the chassis which is incredible, I think that comes down to it feeling very similar to how the GP bikes were that I spent most of my career on.
“Last weekend we had a few technical issues at the start of the weekend, which wasn’t the fault of the team, but some of the things would have been what everybody else had ironed out at the start of the year.
“We are coming up to some of my favourite tracks and I couldn’t be more excited now and I definitely want to pick up where we left off last weekend at Thruxton.”
Steve Moore, Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati Team Principal, said: “I can confirm that John Hopkins will ride for the team for the remainder of the season and is now signed as our permanent rider.
Expanding the team to a two rider effort isn’t possible, we simply don’t have the resources to properly staff and run two riders without compromising the effort and attention to detail that I’m sure has pushed the team forward.  To overstretch would be a big mistake and wouldn’t be professional or fair to either rider.  Personally it isn’t an easy decision to replace Kuba, but with his injury still in question and the momentum we have with John I have to do what is the best for the team, sponsors and Ducati.  I’ve spoken to Kuba and he remains professional, which I thank and respect him for.  It’s important to recognise the amazing development work that he has done with the Ducati.  The situation doesn’t do him any justice especially as the bike was considerably improved prior to the Snetterton round (specifically the clutch to fix the race launch issue) and he just didn’t get a chance to display his potential on the bike John is now riding.  I am sure he would be a front running rider too and if we had the opportunity to expand the team there would be no question about having him ride.
The remainder of the season and 2016 is what we have to concentrate on now, and my job is to make the decisions that will give us the best chance of success.”
Jakub Smrz said: "Racing is not always going direction you want and I understand and respect decision of the team. It’s been hard beginning of season and very unlucky for me and team as well. In the moment when things started to work perfect and I could finally fight for podiums I got injured. Of course I’m not happy for early season finish and that it’s not me to benefit from hard development work we’ve done. But I wish good luck to Moto Rapido and John in the remaining of season. Now I will continue in my fitness preparation and hopefully I can be back on race bike soon.”
John Hopkins and the Lloyds British Moto Rapido Team will be back in action at Cadwell Park on the 21/22/23 July.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Calne Bikefest 2015; variety is the spice of life

Parking regulations once again pushed aside for the annual Calne Bikefest. I had to leave by 10:30 but already there were hundreds of bikes - and the sheer variety is striking. Everything from pre-war speedway bikes to the latest shop fresh common or garden, it's all here. Too many Harleys for my taste but at least they get ridden. The affection for Brit bikes is still touching, although the age of owners suggests this may pass in the next decade or so. What is nice to see is Marks and Spencer kitted middle aged couples wander though the bikes reminiscing about their youth, happy to mingle with ruffty tuffty bikers. The townsfolk genuinely welcome the bikers, and the bikers appreciate it. Live music adds to the atmosphere, and it would be churlish to bemoan the rather downmarket stalls and burgers vans, when there are some hidden gems.
The bigger purpose is to raise money for charity - a children's hospice (Julia's House), the Calne Youth Trust and, perhaps predictably, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance. At the end of 2014 the committee gave away £10,000, most of it raised by the happy campers who stay Friday and Saturday nights at your typical bikers' rally. The town gets extra business and  a higher profile thanks to what the organisers claim is Europe's biggest free bike meeting. Calne could do with it - although famous for being the home of JB Preistly when he discovered oxygen, its greatest employer was the Harris family. They invented the Wiltshire cure for ham, by soaking to meat in brine for under a week - far quicker and more reliable than the old air cured methods. However, like many others, the firm struggled through the 1970s and eventually closed in 1982 after 200 years of meat production, employing 1500 people in its heyday. Since then, despite huge efforts at regeneration, Calne has struggled to match the prosperity of many other Wiltshire towns. Something left field like a bikers' meet might well be part of the solution