For me, personally, Mugen and the Shinden bike are kind of a “who the hell is Mugen” scenario. So I looked into it. What I found was Richard Dort’s blog, TTXGPMatters, and a lengthy interview with Colin Whittamore who apparently heads up the Mugen Europe TT effort. Now I love Richard and all, and this is a really amazing bit of work, but it’s long. Really long. And it crashed my browser and overheated my processor. And, Rich is kind of moving his focus and shut his other site down, esbk.co, so I’m linking his blog, but I also downloaded the interview so it wouldn’t get lost to posterity. Here it is here:
I don’t think Richard will mind.
So, Mugen is Mugen Motorsports, and was founded in the ’70s and made motorcross bike performance parts, and pretty quickly moved to performance and race cars. Much is made of the Honda connection, with good reason – the guy who founded the company is Hirotoshi Honda, the son of Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Company. Hirotoshi, however, has been the major shareholder in Honda since his father’s death in 1991. Mugen has never been owned by Honda in any way. Read up more, here, on the Wikipedia. Their site is Mugen Power, here.
So here’s the short, but sweet timeline.
|1973||Mugen forms around motocross performance parts|
|2010||Mugen management team goes to IOM TT, interested in entering|
|2011-12||Building starts on IOM TT bike|
|2012||First IOM, John McGuinness|
|2012||2||John McGuinness||Mugen Shinden||102.215 mph||22′ 08.85|
|2013||2||John McGuinness||Honda Mugen Shinden||109.527 mph||20′ 40.133|
|2014||1||John McGuinness||Honda Shinden San / Team Mugen||117.366 mph||19′ 17.300|
|2||Bruce Anstey||Honda Shinden San / Team Mugen||115.048 mph||19′ 40.625|
But wait. Team: “Honda Mugen Shinden” and “Honda Shinden San / Team Mugen”? Is this Wikipedia taking liberties, or has Honda jumped on board now? From Gizmag’s 2014 story: “Just a final note that the winning Team Mugen issued a statement to us during the week emphasising that the team is a Mugen internal programme and is not associated with Honda.”
They are, however, associated with Mission Motors. From an A/R story:
“We are introducing some exciting new technology for the Mugen Shinden San race bikes,” said Mission’s Director of Powertrain Systems Engineering, Mark Sherwood.
“Our engineers have worked alongside Team Mugen Shinden to learn from their race data. For the 2014 Isle of Man TT, we have engaged in rapid new product development that truly raises the bar for electric motorcycles on and off the racetrack,” Sherwood added.
A/R, however, wasn’t shy about adding fodder to the Honda rumors:
It’s no wonder trying to put this history project together is going to take me a solid year, with reporting like that. “Soon to be released Mission RS superbike” indeed. Ah well, if you can’t get facts, I guess you have to make them up.
A couple of my notes from Richard’s interview:
In spite of everybody’s take on why they’re doing this, Whittamore says the Mugen “angle” is not to sell anything, just to race. He’s not denying there’s a relationship there with Honda, but it’s purely personal. These guys know those guys, and though there were Honda guys at the IOMTT, it was solely a personal relationship with the Honda engineers who helped with the bike.
A big part of the effort is for the younger engineers – to give them an opportunity to work with electric/hybrid drivetrain racing tech. They are completely committed to this as the future of motorsports, and they have a very Japanese philosophy of bringing the younger members of the team along, hoping for a lifelong commitment and involvement. What a novel idea.
A huge benefit of the Honda relationship is the rider. McGuinness joined the team partly because of the level of commitment and skill from Mugen’s reputation and relationship to Honda. He knew they weren’t going to give it a half-assed effort.
That bike was designed and built for the IOM TT 2012 only. One can only assume later bikes were also single-purpose designs.
And here’s the interesting comment. As far as their future plans – the future has to allow for more people to go racing. The comment was made that “after the tech has settled down and the big manufacturers can develop a stable product”, then you’ll see racing blossom. Interesting, right? Because: Honda? Certainly makes good copy, that kind of speculation.
Let’s be grownups here, OK? The guy who owns and started Mugen sits around the dinner table – or sat – with his pappy, Daddy Honda. He likely knows every single member of top management at Honda. He owns 91% of the company. But, Mugen is his company. He’s built a stellar test-bed product in the Shinden, and you think he culled any expertise from Yamaha? I think not, and Colin says it straight out – they – all those Honda engineers – are all drinkin’ buddies, and they hang out and talk bikes.
Do you think Honda engineering is looking closely at the Mugen bike? Sorry, stupid question. Do you think they helped out? Oh, right, another stupid question – he as much as said they did. Do you think they gave Mugen money? Well, since the owner of Mugen owns most of Honda, I don’t think that’s a particularly bright question either. I’d guess, oh, just a guess, that the man doesn’t really need to ask Honda for anything… sort of the reverse, right? Do you think Honda owns Mugen? Um, do I need to repeat myself? Sorry for the tone, but seriously. Those that know better should, well, know better.
It’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Honda engineering has the benefit of some free R/D in the form of their major shareholder’s pet project, and it’s a project they can get all hands-on with. Whether Honda or Mugen or both announce that the team is now a Honda partnership really is purely academic. If (and when) Honda comes out with an electric superbike, you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to look like the Shinden, or have it’s roots there, at least.