Motorcycles

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

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CM testrode the latest KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (SAS) model and redicovered what a lunatic’s grin was. Having owned the KTM 1290 Superduke R (SDR) CM was aware of how addictive the shared 1301cc v-twin engine is. While the SAS does with only 160hp vs the SDR’s 180hp, the engine is still a thermonuclear device. It dominates. It’s probably a bad choice in nanny state NSW. It is truly addictive.

While a more extensive test ride is required (like the 3 day test ride of the BMW R1200GS Rallye X) to find how it is to live with from day to day some short observations here.

Engine – KTM 4.5/5

The KTM has so much grunt but gets cranky at low rpm. It will protest below 3,000rpm in higher gears. Yet the BMW is far happier to pootle around in any gear and pull away regardless of what speed. Yet when winding the throttle open, the KTM’s extra 35hp quickly shows itself.

Suspension – KTM 4.5/5

The SAS has semi-active WP suspension which has a wide range of adjustment. The BMW’s self leveling suspension set up seems simpler (dialing in height and firmness) than the SAS which requires individual selection of each load. The BMW telelever front end behaves differently to the traditional telescopic forks but the feedback on the KTM is superior. Part of that is down to the lighter weight of the Austrian.

Brakes – 5/5

The brakes have plenty of bite, feel and the rear has good modulation. Fork dive is noticeable under heavy application but half of that is due to the fact the BMW won’t dive due to the telelever set up

Gearbox – 5/5

The quick shifter is far slicker than the BMW especially upshifts. BMW gearboxes are usually rubbish. CM blew two of them in his old K1600GT (see below) inside 4,000km.

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Ergonomics – 4/5

The KTM feels slightly firmer in the seat than the BMW but there is a power parts option including one with heating.  TFT screen is excellent. Clear and allows one’s mobile maps to synchronize to the screen and headset. The menu operation is not as good as the BMW’s mouse wheel.

The KTM offers a mobile phone compartment with a USB socket but it won’t swallow a iPhone Plus with cover on. Petty but something that will be righted soon enough. Backlit switchgear good.

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Tyres- 4/5

The Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tyres on the KTM are so much better than the BMW’s Michelin Anakee III although later models are shod with Bridgestone A41s.

Quality – 4/5

The tactile feel of the switchgear is better on the BMW. No question. Fit, finish and attention to detail are all better on the BMW. KTM has improved miles in this regard but the industrial design of the Beemer is better.

Overall – 4.5/5

A bit early to judge but no question that the SAS puts a smile on the rider’s face immediately. Something the BMW can’t manage. The BMW is very competent everywhere but rarely does it excite the rider. The KTM is good in some areas (quality) and amazing (engine) in others. That 1301cc engine dominates the experience in noise and performance. You buy the BMW with the head and the KTM with the heart.

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Note BMW is introducing a new R1250GS (1254cc) which will have 136hp (up 11hp) in 2019. It supposedly has variable valve timing but it is unlikely to be much more than a nice improvement on the 1170cc engine’s civility. The faithful will be pleased.

Hats off to the Jorges

The performances of Spaniards Jorge Martin (Moto3) and Jorge Lorenzo (MotoGP) at the Austrian Grand Prix yesterday were nothing short of master classes.

Martin may have finished 3rd on the day but he rode with a broken left arm, operated on some 8 days ago. Talk about grit. The acceleration forces may not be huge on a Moto3 bike but the braking and cornering forces are. It must have pushed mind and body to the limit. Such is the will to win that pain took a pillion seat.

His main championship rival in the Moto3 class, Marco Bezzecchi doffed his cap to Martin after qualifying such is the respect he holds for such heroics. How demoralizing for the rest of the field to be trailing a guy with metal plates, stitches, swelling and muscular pain in this left arm?

As for Jorge Lorenzo, he rode as aggressively as CM has ever seen him. Lorenzo has generally been one of the riders everyone loves to hate. Cold with the media, never smiling at the camera, making an excuse for everything and detailing a littany of complaints when he was dusted up on track by the other riders. His 2015 world championship was one full of scandals including trying to weigh in on getting the race stewards to penalize his team mate and main rival Valentino Rossi so he could win it. So bad was the reaction that on winning the 2015 crown in Valencia, Spain an all Spanish crowd booed the Spanish rider as he received his trophy from the Spanish King. Instead of soaking up the accolades Lorenzo ran off the podium as quickly as possible. It was an ugly affair.

His first year at Ducati in 2017 showed he had lost none of those bad habits. His face was full of being shown up for a rider whose talents were not worth the €25 million shelled out for his services. It was eating him up. Then it all came together. His first victory on the Ducati GP18 in Mugello was the sweetest of his career no doubt. Not only did he prove his detractors wrong, he proved to himself that he could overcome all of the odds. All of a sudden he was smiling. Someone who had lost the weight of the world off his shoulders.

He has since lost the chip on his shoulder, often smiles at the camera and CM truly respects the 180 degree change. Three slices of humble pie and deepest apologies for writing Lorenzo off in joining the Bologna factory. He deserves everything he gets.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Harley-Davidson to go into the Adventure category

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Actually credit where credit is due. Harley maybe very late to the party but realizes it must be bold to survive in the long run. Adventure (ADV) bikes (think of them as 2-wheeled SUVs)  are one of the most popular motorcycle segments now due to versatility but the competition is fierce and only getting moreso. Harley plans to launch a 1250cc ADV bike in 2020.

It is unlikely to cause segment leader BMW to quake in its boots with respect to its best seller GS series although the question is can the Harley brand can carry any sales at all? At the luxury end BMW, KTM, Ducati, Triumph, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia all have ADV bikes. BMW & KTM are the sales chart leaders. BMW for inventing the segment and KTM for strapping a 160hp nuke to its expertise in off road and 17 straight wins in the Paris-Dakar.

It is fast becoming a horsepower war. BMW is looking to launch a 145-150hp 1250cc next year for the GS from the 125hp 1170cc twin it currently has to keep up with the competition.

Without a spec sheet it is hard to tell much about the Harley ADV. It looks heavy. Weight matters. The BMW is around 240kg. The KTM 210kg. Will the Harley keep it under 260kg?

Horsepower is not a Harley strong suit. You won’t find power in a Harley spec sheet at the dealer. Will it use a clump of lazy torqued Milwaukee pig iron for an engine? In a low slung cruiser one can get away with it but in a tall ADV bike, when negotiating goat tracks (that’s a wide belly pan!), traction, power delivery and how a bike carries its weight is crucial. Can Harley produce over 120hp from this 1250cc engine with flexibility across the rev range? Will it be chain driven? Shaft? Belt? These things matter to the ADV snobs.

The design of the ADV Harley is certainly bold. CM likes it although if you drop it that headlight unit sure looks expensive to replace. Like many SUVs never see more off-road than a gravel driveway, the most dirt tracking Harley ADVs will see might be some road repairs on Route 66. The Pan America name certainly rings of highway biased use.

The next thing will be price. Even before (and after) we have full specs can Harley launch the bike at a competitive price? Harley can’t just rock up into a segment it’s never been active in and demand the type of premium it’s cruisers carry. It’s top of the line CVO series can be $50,000. BMW is considered the premium offering in ADV. Luxury Italian brand Ducati tried to price it slightly north and was caned in the sales race. KTMs are priced slightly cheaper but BMW remains king and having owned one know exactly why. The BMW is good at absolutely EVERYTHING.

Harley has history in new ventures. It broke the mold decades ago and took a stab at sports bikes with the Buell brand, but it was an abject failure. Porsche was called into help develop the V-Rod engine some 18 years ago but that is no longer sold.

Harley also aims to launch electric bikes, smaller 250-500cc categories for Asian markets and a mid range 500-1250cc for new sport type street fighters. All looks margin crushing from a distance.

From an investor perspective the accountants will require a lot of volume to justify the R&D expense. The shares closed toward the lows on the announcement.

Without getting too Harvard MBA, Harley feels extension of product is vital. To a degree it is right. Unfortunately graveyards for such strategies are too commonplace. Few get it right. Buell was case in point. BMWs K1600 Bagger will flop because it was an excuse trying to find a home for its 1600cc 6-cylinder regardless of capabilities. Customers see through this.

Harley’s ADV will have distribution channels as it’s biggest weapon. It will have a hard time converting ADV faithful unless it offers something truly better at a competitive price. Otherwise it will gather dust on showroom floors.

Personally this ADV will probably do better than most think. It won’t get close to toppling the Beemer but there are enough quirky people out there who want to be different. Nice job Harley but can it turn groups profitably around? The last 5 years have been a disaster. The question is all this product arrives at a time when the economy is likely to turn south.

Zen and the art of motorcycle winter cleaning!

Well overdue winter clean of the 2015 Yamaha WR450F. It was filthy in every respect! Therapeutic- Zen and the art of motorcycle cleaning.

Indian Motorcycles upbeat on 2018 outlook at 2Q stage

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Indian Motorcycles – owned by Polaris Industries –  saw a mid single digit bump in unit sales in 2Q18. Gross profit was up 17% in the m/cycles segment although some funnies in the like for likes with the wind down of the Victory brand. Slingshot soft. Polaris Off Road Vehicles strong. Group 2Q ahead of market expectations, even factoring in the buyback and retirement of around 2.2% of outstanding shares in 2Q.

Exciting new launches like the Indian FTR1200 flat tracker next year will keep the registers ticking over. Scout series continues to do well. Heavier Indians finding it tougher going which is in line with market trends. Doing well with limited editions.

Polaris see the Indian brand performing strongly in international markets and expect momentum to improve over the year. Indian market share growing in domestic (at the expense of H-D) and international markets including Europe. Expect a $40mn impact from tariffs across all Polaris lines.

Share Buyback Activity: During the second quarter of 2018, Polaris repurchased and retired 1,429,000 shares of its common stock for $177 million. Year-to-date through June 30, 2018, it has repurchased and retired 1,562,000 shares of its common stock for $192 million. As of June 30, 2018, the company has authorization from its Board of Directors to repurchase up to an additional 4.9 million shares of Polaris common stock equivalent to c.10% of outstanding.

Indian had a contrasting set of results vs Harley. Both complaining of sluggish domestic market in big bikes but Indian remaining the more agile of the two with innovation. FTR1200 will hit it out of the park.

Harley-Davidson Shinjuku declares bankruptcy after revenues fall 85%. Changes ownership.

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Yahoo Japan reports Harley-Davidson Shinjuku, a central Tokyo dealer for the motorcycle brand has gone out of business after almost 70 years in the trade.  Established in August 1953 before Harley Davidson Japan became the domestic agency, it ran a parallel imports business of the iconic brand. In the fiscal year ended July 1992, the annual turnover was estimated to be about 2,426 million yen. However, as the motorcycle market contracted, annual sales in the fiscal year ended July 2017 fell 85% to about 376 million yen. Even after closing the Yokohama, Hachioji stores, losses continued every year.

Debt is approximately 146 million yen as of the end of July 2017. “Harley Davidson Shinjuku” was closed on July 11.

It has since reopened under new ownership. Customers of the dealership have been informed of the ownership change according to HD Japan. Harley had peak sales of 16,000 units in Japan and is likely to do around 9,500 units in 2018.

Harley – the Milwaukee Anvil

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Harley can blame tariffs for ruining margin but the rot set in well before. 2Q motorcycle shipments came in at 72,593 (-11.3%). The other luxury brands continue to climb. Its long time American arch rival Indian continues to grow. Indian’s parent Polaris Reports Q2 tonight. Indian sales were up double digit in Q1. The limited edition Indian Jack Daniels Scout Bobber sold out in 10 minutes. Product anyone?

Harley is losing share in America, it’s largest market, and Australia and Japan remain soft. Harley used to sell 16,000 units in Japan. In 2018 it will be lucky to ship 9,500. Ironically Europe is its most encouraging growth area yet tariffs will impact it.

Luxury motorbike brands BMW Motorrad, KTM, Ducati, Triumph etc are ALL growing.  Just Harley is flailing – the best motorcycle brand in the business (one where customers are prepared to tattoo the brand to their bodies) is chasing dreams from some consultant inspired long term plan which misses one core ingredient – listening to customers.

Expect the Harley management to keep the excuses rolling. It suffers from the divine franchise and its leadership seem more willing to point to external factors for its issues when internal complacency and resting on the laurels of the glory days seem the biggest factor. It is so obvious.

So Harley met its Luke warm 2Q EPS guidance. Maybe shareholders should reflect on the $103mn (1.3% of outstanding) of the $700mn in planned share buybacks which flatters EPS. E is not rising, S is falling. 10% of the stock is being shorted.