It's Official - "The Kid" Steps Up!

When you can't get Troy Bayliss, who's next in line?  Brett McCormick, of course.

As we alluded to yesterday, the Effenbert Liberty Racing Team officially announced that the Saskatchewan native would become the fourth member of the Czech-based team to enter battle in the 2012 SBK World Championship.  In what might be the shortest Superstock career ever, McCormick spent a weekend testing at Phillip Island in Australia last month, and didn't even get to his first official race before being promoted to the flagship Superbike squad.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 10:31

Direct Fuel Injection

Almost all on-road motorcycles are fuel injected now, but we are still behind the automotive world when it comes to the induction side of the four-stroke engine. More and more cars are fueled by direct injection - with fuel injected right into the cylinder - while motorcycles make do with port injection, where fuel is injected into the intake port or throttle body. Direct injection offers more power and improved emissions, as the fuel can be better mixed with air in the combustion chamber over a wider variety of conditions.

There are two-stroke scooters using direct injection, and the ill-fated Bimota V-Due was originally equipped with DI. Currently, however, the Motus MST is the only four-stroke motorcycle with direct injection, although it is not in production. The company claims power and torque are increased by 10 percent compared to port fuel injection, and emissions are reduced by as much as 25 percent during cold starts, the time most harmful emissions are generated.

There are multiple reasons direct injection is not used on more motorcycles, at least for now. Most high-performance motorcycles - where you would expect direct injection to first appear - have crowded cylinder heads, with four valves and a centrally located spark plug. Fitting a fuel injector in there as well is a difficult proposition. An injector located in the cylinder head is under much harsher conditions than in the relatively safe throttle body, and must also overcome the pressure of compression. Higher fuel pressure - as much as 40 times higher - must be used. This makes the individual components and the entire fuel system much more expensive. Note in the picture of the MST engine how solid the fuel rails are, and compare that to the plastic bits on most motorcycles.

Another consideration is the volume of fuel that must be injected into the cylinder, and how much time is available for that fuel to be injected. A fuel injector has only two states, on or off, and the amount of fuel delivered varies according to how much time the injector is on during each engine cycle. As rpm and/or load increase, the injector is opened for longer to deliver more fuel. In port fuel injection, a limit is reached when the injector is on all the time and can deliver no more fuel. You can use a larger injector to get around this limit, but a large injector has difficulty metering the tiny amounts of fuel required at idle - just like you can put more water on your garden in the same amount of time by using a bigger hose, but would have trouble measuring out just a couple of drops of water. Some manufacturers remedy this by using two injectors, one for the low load/rpm accuracy and one for the high load/rpm volume.

With direct injection, fuel can only be injected into the cylinder on the intake and compression strokes, rather than at any time during the cycle - half as long as with port injection. And, for best emissions, it's best to wait until after the exhaust valve closes during the intake stroke to open the injector, further limiting the time available. This is the stumbling block for direct injection currently. Motorcycles have such high-revving engines that the injectors can't deliver enough fuel in the reduced time available for each cycle. And the approaches used in traditional port fuel injection to increase delivery are difficult to implement: A bigger or additional injector would use up even more space in an already crowded cylinder head; increasing fuel pressure even further is also not an option, as it is already extremely high.

The sport-touring Motus engine is well suited to direct injection. With two valves per cylinder, there is room in the combustion chamber for the injector, and with a relatively low rev limit of 8000 rpm there is time in each cycle for the fuel to be injected. It will be interesting to see what develops in the next few years with more mainstream production motorcycles. With increasingly stringent emissions requirements and improving components and technology, direct injection will certainly make its way onto more motorcycles; the question is when rather than if.

Tuesday, 06 March 2012 02:36

Colin's Corner: Old Guys Dominate Down Under

The 2012 International road racing circus opened at Phillip Island in south eastern Australia last weekend, and veteran front runners controlled the action.  Reigning champ Carlos Checa was leading race one on his 2011 title-winning Althea Ducati 1098R when he high sided exiting the second last turn.  This violent moment handed the race lead to 2010 champ Max Biaggi on the works Aprilia RSV4, and “Mad Max” duly pulled clear to take the opening race win—his first at the famous venue since his 500cc Grand Prix days way back when.

Race two, run in even hotter conditions, offered the same dynamic duo in control of the show. Checa moved forward from a cautious start to take a solid win, but the man to watch was Biaggi.  After almost running into the back of the pole sitting works Kawasaki ZX-10R of Tom Sykes in turn one off the start, Biaggi was lucky to survive a very high speed off-track trip. 

From there, the Aprilia team leader charged back through the tightly knit pack, eventually making his way all the way to second, not far from Checa, by the chequered.  Of particular interest is the fact that long time hero Biaggi is almost 41 years of age, while Checa will turn 40 this season.

Phillip Island is one of the few newish circuits with lots of high speed turns, and that layout, combined with high temps, means the track is a tough one for spec supplier Pirelli.  While many of the top runners suffered a variety of traction issues, primarily with the rear Pirelli slick, Biaggi and Checa seemed able to run consistently good lap times without cooking their rubber.

As usual, Biaggi’s potent exits were a thing of beauty, the “Roman Emperor” seemingly able to play “point and shoot” when others were trying a different game, “aim and pray.”

Of course, electronics no doubt play a big part in this, and having the confidence to make the right set- up choices (traction control, etc.) and handle the bike accordingly is key.  The Aprilia certainly seems to have a very stable platform, although traditionalists will point to the fundamental benefit of their vee-four engine configuration.

Not so long ago, Phillip Island races for big bikes features lots of sideways action, but TC has calmed that show.  However the big high side performed by Checa looked like a throwback (throw up?) from a different era; in fact all the way back to the famous 500cc two-stroke vee-fours of the Grand Prix elite of twenty years ago.

Insiders couldn’t help but wonder if the Checa tumble was in fact caused by an electronic glitch, such was the unusual nature of the location and violence of the fall.  Checa was certainly lucky not to get hurt, and his immediate response was to dominate the second race – this is definitely a champ who is not resting on his laurels, let alone crutches.

It was great to see Tom Sykes snatch a podium for team Ninja in race two, after showing so well in pre-race testing and starting the opening races from pole.  Sykes’ battle with Biaggi, although unlikely to produce a success for Kawasaki, proved that the Brit is no quitter—it took Biaggi four attempts to actually make a pass stick.  However Sykes made his eventual move onto the box at the expense of Ten Kate Honda’s Jonathan Rea.

Rea definitely gets that sideways award from race two, since it was clear that his CBR1000RR wasn’t putting much of the power down late in the race.  Last year, Honda made electronics breakthroughs late in the season, but superior traction control wasn’t evident on the works Honda in Australia.

Another strong storyline at the SBK opener was the relative success of the BMW works squad.  Entering their fourth season with the S100RR, Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam showed well.  New recruit Melandri was a fighting second in the opener, while in race two Haslam was fifth just ahead of his team-mate.  Given that Haslam had recently had surgery on his crushed ankle, BMW certainly appears on the upswing heading back to Europe and event two in Imola, Italy at the end of March.  

Thursday, 01 March 2012 14:41

Tech with Trevitt: Airless Tires

At the Tokyo Motor Show late last year, Bridgestone introduced a non-pneumatic, or airless, concept tire. Comprised of a strip of rubber tread bonded to a structure of thermoplastic resin spokes, the airless tire is similar in concept to the Michelin Tweel introduced several years ago. An obvious benefit of these airless tires is that they are immune to punctures, and Bridgestone is promoting its version as being 100 percent recyclable and much better for the environment than conventional tires. Additionally, airless tires offer lower maintenance (no more checking pressure or fixing flats) and cheaper replacement costs as only the tread itself need be replaced when it wears out.

In addition to those benefits, the Bridgestone and Michelin airless tires both offer several performance improvements over pneumatic tires. Compromises are usually made in a conventional tire's construction because it's difficult to change stiffness in one direction -laterally or vertically - without affecting stiffness in the other. Make the tire stiff laterally for performance, and comfort suffers; reduce stiffness vertically for comfort and compliance over bumps, and the tire flexes too much laterally for performance. With the Bridgestone or Michelin airless tires, however, stiffness can be varied in any direction - the tire can be stiff laterally for stability, but pliable in the vertical direction for compliance and comfort. Michelin showed its Tweel on an Audi A4, and reported that the car was "unusually responsive in its handling." The Bridgestone airless tire adds another dimension to this targeted stiffness with the curved format of its spokes. By interlacing spokes with curves in different directions, the amount of twist in the tire can also be controlled- and again, separately from vertical or lateral stiffness.

Both the Tweel and the Bridgestone airless tire are limited to lightweight, low-speed vehicles for now. At the Tokyo show, Bridgestone showed a four-wheel mobility scooter with its airless tires, while Michelin's Tweel was at one time available on the iBOT, a four-wheel stair-climbing wheelchair which is no longer in production. Where do motorcycles fit in? At the Milan show in 2005, Michelin showed an "airless scooter" that used airless tires with a similar construction of rubber tread bonded to elastomer composite spokes set in a radial pattern. While the airless scooter tire is different in its construction compared to the Tweel or Bridgestone airless tire, the concept and performance benefits are similar.

On a motorcycle, we are also concerned with a tire's compliance when the motorcycle is leaned over in a corner and the suspension has difficulty functioning. Here the tire acts as the suspension, and an airless tire could be constructed to be nicely compliant at lean without sacrificing overall stiffness and stability. The performance benefits could be quite significant for motorcycles once the basic technology becomes widespread and further developed. It appears that the current struggle with airless tires is making the spokes rigid enough to carry the weight of the vehicle while keeping them flexible enough to absorb shocks. Still, both Bridgestone and Michelin are hoping to make airless tires available for passenger cars in the near future, and certainly motorcycles factor into those plans as well

At the Tokyo Motor Show, Bridgestone showed its airless tires mounted to a four-wheel mobility scooter; this video shows the tires in action and explains their construction in more detail.

Thursday, 23 February 2012 16:06

Teaser photos - Ducati Panigale First Impression

This is just a teaser!

Please be patient as you anxiously await the arrival of your next copy of Inside Motorcycles, in which veteran road test editor Colin Fraser reports back from the Ducati Panigale worldwide press launch at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. IM was one of just two Canadian publications invited to the highly anticipated launch of this eagerly awaited model. And we can honestly say that it didn't disappoint.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:41

Colin's Corner: More Framers and Rare Chassis Designs

Following my most recent blog concerning Lang Hindle, the 1970s and the very rare Tri Mil Racing frame, a couple of readers contacted me to talk about other rare chassis.  Custom-built designs have always been the exception rather than the rule in racing, particularly in North America.  In Europe, specifically in France and the UK, the custom-built bike was more common, and the wacky French endurance scene produced some unusual layouts.

In North America, most frame mods involved improving a standard design already in use.  Much has been made of the lack of road holding manners that plagued Japanese sports bikes in the 1970s.  In truth, it would be fair to say that performance (meaning engine output) simply pulled away from the chassis designers – that is, until the mid-1980s at least.

Long before adjustable compression or rebound anything, well before today’s at-the-track suspension gurus, the best handling production bikes tended to have long wheelbases, stiff frames, conservative geometry and torquey twin-cylinder engines.  This covers most Ducatis, as well as Laverdas, Moto Guzzis etc. from the era.

Those racing the more powerful inline 1970s O.E. four cylinders, particularly the Kawasaki and later Suzukis tricked out by Yoshimura, were forced to try and improved their chassis’ configuration. This involved changing the steering geometry, bracing the frames, beefing up the swing arms, laying down the twin rear shocks and improving suspension travel where possible.

Soon, the privateers copied the “A” team mods, and Lang Hindle hit on a successful geometry formula for his Kawasaki Z-1 Superbikes.  However, unlike some builders, Hindle didn’t believe in too much bracing or giant engine mounts that turned those gigantic air-cooled mills into stressed chassis members.

Perhaps the wildest "improvements" ever performed (or at least ever approved by the technical inspectors) in AMA superbike involved the works 1976 factory BMW R90S, some of which raced with mono-shock rear suspension inspired by the breakthrough Yamaha GP design.  In production form, the BeeMm came with vertical twin shocks, but getting a shaft drive bike to win on the race track was quite an achievement, regardless of the tricks employed.

BMW officially withdrew after taking the inaugural ’76 Superbike crown in the US, and didn’t return to the SBK class until the advent of their own four-cylinder in-line S1000RR, waaaay back in 2010!

Meanwhile, the ‘70s privateer bike of choice for the featured Formula 750/Formula One category was Yamaha’s long-serving TZ750 four-cylinder two-stroke, which you will read about in more detail in Graham Clayton’s upcoming Rapid Classics feature in the April issue of Inside Motorcycles (available in early March).  Tire, chassis and suspension development on road racing machines really came into its prime thanks to the big Yamaha, although it took years for all the tricks to filter down to the privateers.

While Kenny Roberts bitched about not getting his full works, unobtanium YZR750 to handle, the owners of the later production TZ750s (D through F models) did their best to imitate every part ever viewed on the rare works bikes of Roberts, Steve Baker, Skip Akslund and world champ Johnny Cecotto.

Special swingarms were constructed to clear the larger rear wheels and tires, while the counter shafts were spaced out, chain runs revised and the trick, crossover, three silencers on one side exhaust layout was also replicated.  The '70s-era Yamaha stayed competitive well into the 1980s, and by that time some brave souls even experimented with the newfangled 16-inch front wheels.  Power was ever increasing, so making rear slicks last was a major, ongoing concern.

Perhaps the most aggressively developed Yamaha TZ750 was the final bike campaigned by Canadian Miles Baldwin in the AMA F-1 series in 1983.  With help from famed Boston-area builder Kevin Cameron, hardcore privateer Baldwin almost snatched the AMA crown from the works Honda of non-relative Mike Baldwin.

“Milo’s” Yamaha was well used and well travelled, bought from Mike Baldwin at the end of the 1978 season.  In fact, it was the bike that Mike used to win the Mosport F-750 World round at the end of 1978, launching Mike’s works racing career.

Nearing the end of its storied career, Miles Baldwin’s TZ was heavily massaged by Cameron, improved in every way.  Eventually the bike featured a one-off, heavily modified chassis, complete with bell crank-actuated swing arm.  This is perhaps the most exotic and rare “production” Yamaha TZ750, although no doubt someone has it hidden away in a barn somewhere.  Anyone heard anything?

Thursday, 16 February 2012 16:42

Safety vs. Performance of Rider Aids

Even though traction control and ABS have only recently become more prevalent on sportbikes, it's been 20 years since those particular riding aids were introduced. Traction control was first used on Honda's ST1100 in the early '90s, while ABS first appeared on BMW's K100 in 1988. Much of that delay can be attributed to the difficulties manufacturers have faced in combining both safety and performance in cost-effective packages. Motorcyclists, as always, are reluctant to accept a safety feature if it impacts performance too much, and it is only recently that the performance of these rider aids has reached an "acceptable" level.

A traction control system designed for safety can be a relatively simple affair, based on an on/off algorithm. On a slippery street or going over a patch of gravel, the goal is to minimize slip, or wheelspin, under acceleration; if the rear wheel spins faster than the front or if engine rpm increases too quickly, power is cut. Designed to intervene at the slightest hint of a traction loss, however, such a system is subject to falsely activating. And if you are trying to get around a racetrack quickly, that false activation slows you down. A performance traction control system, on the other hand, is designed to optimize slip, as some wheelspin can actually improve traction. And at the same time, it must eliminate the false activations that cut power unnecessarily. From details of the various manufacturers' systems, it's evident that just as much effort in their development was focused on minimizing false activations as on managing slip once it is properly detected. On a production sportbike, a single system must account for the extremes of both safety and performance: A street rider may encounter a wet manhole cover on a dry road, and the traction control must manage both transitions (on and off the manhole cover) appropriately. On the racetrack, the system must accommodate a wide variety of weather and pavement conditions in addition to rider skill. It's no wonder that such systems end up with multi-level adjustability.

Turning to ABS, the same compromises must be made: A single system for both performance and safety must maintain traction at all times but not sacrifice stopping distance or distract the rider with false activations. The ABS on Kawasaki's ZX-10R is of particular note here, because the company has incorporated some of the attributes of a performance traction control system into its ABS. The attached graph shows the ZX-10R's KIBS (Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System) using "small-increment pressure management" and "minimal intervention" to better modulate front wheel speed for smoother operation - again, optimizing slip rather than a simple on/off approach. And just as with traction control, the system looks at rpm, clutch actuation, gear position and throttle position (in addition to front and rear wheel speeds) for a more complete picture of what is actually happening rather than relying on wheel speed data alone.

The system works. In a test of three ABS bikes I helped conduct for Sport Rider magazine, the Kawasaki showed consistently short stopping distances with little of the feedback or pumping at the lever usually associated with ABS. Part of the credit goes to Bosch and its motorcycle-specific ABS module, but also to Kawasaki for making full use of that module. My article in the February/March issue of Inside Motorcycles covers more details of the system, as well as other electronic rider aids currently available, but looks more at the performance aspects rather than the safety aspects. The good news is that all this development on the performance side of rider aids in helping with safety as well. Motorcycles with ABS today stop quicker than those of a few years ago, and the systems work in a wider variety of situations with fewer distractions to the rider when they activate. Likewise, current traction control systems not only work better on the racetrack, but also they are almost transparent in operation and increasingly effective at keeping the average street rider off the ground.

Sometimes, in the rush to analyze and promote the racetrack performance of a new technology, the safety aspects for the street rider get brushed aside. Luckily, the manufacturers keep both in mind and make progress so that everyone benefits.

Thursday, 09 February 2012 00:14

Memories Of 2011: Mad Bastard Scooter Rally

The wakeup call came early at 4:30 am. The predicted rain was indeed falling. A sane man would have returned to bed after looking out the window, especially when faced with a two-wheel rally covering over 700 kilometres. Only a mad bastard would suit up, hop on a scooter and head over to the start line.

That's right — 700 km on a scooter. That distance is tough enough in a car, and produces bragging rights when completed on a motorcycle. On a scooter, it's epic.

Friday, 03 February 2012 12:06

Colin's Corner: Hindle Special

Last August, while sorting paper at registration prior to the Parts Canada Superbike round at Mosport International Raceway, I had a chance visit with Lang Hindle.  Best known as the founder of the Hindle Exhaust empire, building quality race components right here in Canada (actually near Mosport in Port Perry), Lang is even better known to bike fans of a “certain age” as the father of Superbike racing in Canada.

When I first got involved in the Canadian motorcycle road racing scene in the mid-1970s, Hindle was already a legendary character.  At that time, he was busy working for the American Lester Wheels Endurance squad, mostly riding in the U.S.  To give you an idea of how long ago this was in terms of technology, Lester Wheels built aftermarket cast wheels for motorcycles – back then, production bikes came with wire spoked wheels, not ideal for racing use.

While I knew of Hindle back then, I didn’t know him personally, although he was busy performing technical inspections on machines as a favor to the CMA sanctioning body at my first racing event, again at Mosport.

Lang’s claim to fame at the time centered on the fire-breathing, air-cooled, twin shock Superbikes of that early time period.  Hindle was not only good at building these beasts – he also had a good handle on how to ride them.  Over time, I would learn much about Lang’s unique philosophy of racing, mostly at long gone (but not forgotten) Ontario Honda on Queen Street in Toronto.

I was one of many racers that “Ontario” owners Murray Brown and Rick Andrews tolerated, and for a time, around 1980, Hindle worked at the shop as a mechanic.  This allowed me to see Lang service and prep both his well-travelled “lucky Lady” Kawasaki Z-1 racer, as well as his V-12 E-type Jaguar street sports car, first hand.

During our recent chat at Mosport, Hindle told me a little about his time living in Los Angles, during the key ‘70s era that eventually established the Superbike platform as the central element of road racing in North America.  For most fans back in the days before the internet, we learned about this community of hot rod builders through the pages of a long gone magazine called Cycle.

One of the main movers and shakers of the US/SoCal SBK scene was Pierre des Roches and his Racecrafters team.  It turns out that Hindle almost got a dream ride with Racecrafters, but reluctantly declined the offer, out of loyalty to his Lester Wheels Team.  When the March Daytona season opener went poorly, Lester Wheels pulled out of the AMA National series, leaving Hindle without full time work.

(Des Roches, as with Hindle, could build ‘em as well as ride ‘em, and did a lot of the development that eventually allowed the under-framed, over-horse powered Japanese machine to succeed.  Des Roches died in a military helicopter crash in the 1980s.)

Although out of Superbike, the Lester Wheels team continued with their famed Endurance effort. Hindle however lost the chance to prove his sprint race prowess on the “Zee-One”; Racecrafters instead hooked up with former BMW team leader Reg Pridmore, and went on to win the Superbike crown in 1977 for Kawasaki.  It was the first title for a Japanese four-cylinder Superbike, defining the era after previous success by euro twins such as BMW, Ducati and Moto Guzzi.  Soon the series would be almost completely Japanese in content.

Hindle, meanwhile, didn’t get really famous on the Superbike scene for a few more years, returning to sprint action in 1980 when Superbikes got serious in Canada.  However in the late 1970’s he did produce an interesting project, one most race fans don’t know anything about.

The Lester squad planned to go to France to compete against the works best at the famous 24-hour Bol d’Or event, the premier Endurance event of the day.  Having dominated the WERA Enduro tour, they wanted to prove themselves against the best.  Back in the 1970s, Endurance racing was a big deal in North America, with three 24-hour events, and the Canadians were very well represented – although Hindle mostly rode with “yanks”.

That era of European Endurance racing was even bigger, and full of custom built, often wacky  “outside the box” designs from a host of builders, usually British.  Most famous were the French importer teams for Kawasaki (Goudier-Genoud) and Honda (Japauto).

Hindle helped persuade Lester Wheels to commission a custom frame from California, produced by a dune buggy fabrication shop in Long Beach.  Hence the Tri-Mil Kawasaki prototype was born, one of the rarest road racers of the custom bike world.  With a single, large diameter backbone linked to a single rear shock – using the engine as a stressed member – the Tri-Mil was certainly ahead of its time.

I had almost forgotten about the Tri-Mil until Hindle mentioned the machine during our recent Mosport chat.  Turns out he had found one of the chassis, although I am not sure if it’s the one he rode at Le Mans for Lester Wheels.

The last (heavily modified) Tri-Mil I remember seeing on track was piloted by Guelph’s speedy rookie Pro Colin Gibb.  That Tri-Mil Kawasaki 1000 appeared occasionally with some success, including racing against Hindle’s Superbike Z-1 at the invitational Île Notre Dame race held in conjunction with the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, September 1981.

At the recent 2012 International Motorcycle Show near the Toronto Airport, the organizers had an impressive display of interesting motorcycles referencing the hundred year history of two-wheeled transportation.  Although no one was making a fuss about it, among the machines was a (the only?) restored Tri-Mil Kawasaki, complete with Endurance refueling rig.  It was great to see a bike so specific to Hindle, and so long out of the lime light, finally get a little of the attention it is due.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 17:15

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