When Moto2 was first announced, fans around the world consoled themselves over the loss of the 250s with the hope that the new class would bring a new wave of design innovation in motorcycle chassis. As the spec engine made innovation in the engine department a moot point, chassis builders, it was hoped, could give free reign to their imaginations and experiment with ways of improving on the basic chassis concept.
And so the disappointment has been considerable as Moto2 bike after Moto2 bike has been unveiled, to reveal the same basic chassis and very little novelty indeed. About the most adventurous in terms of design that we have seen so far is the use of a trellis chassis in the RSV bike to be used by the Aspar team, and that can hardly be described as revolutionary. Other than that, there has been some small experimentation in the margins of bike design, with slightly non-standard subframe sections and swingarm mounts.
I was fortunate enough to visit the workshop of FTR Moto in early February, the firm who are building bikes to be fielded by Alex Debon, Gabor Talmacsi and Andrea Iannone in the 2010 Moto2 season. At FTR, I spoke at length with the company boss Steve Bones and engineer Mark Taylor. During our conversation - a full report of which should be available some time in March - I put this point to both Steve and Mark, and their response was both surprising and illuminating. They pointed out that as much as they would like to incorporate a host of innovations which they have lined up for the next version of the FTR Moto2 bike, anything they attempted would have been rejected by the teams they were trying to sell their chassis to. "What surprised me most," Bones said, "Was how conservative the Moto2 paddock is."
In every story we have posted about Moto2 testing so far, the discussion has inevitably turned to the disappointing lack of innovation seen in the class. This criticism has struck home among the creative minds at FTR, and over the weekend, we received the following note from Steve Bones, giving their side of the story about why there is so little innovation in Moto2. It is a fascinating and salutary lesson for anyone who believes that the current crop of racing motorcycles are the pinnacle of technology. Here's what Steve Bones had to say:
At FTR Moto we deliberately designed the M209 to be conventional in layout and to package all as neat and tight for aero as possible, pushing it as close to the extreme of conventional as possible. This may sound defeatist but the simple reason for this is the customer (ie teams) are totally risk-averse and to make a machine that was different or cutting edge would simply be commercial suicide, and so we, like all the other manufacturers have had to take the same approach.
Race teams in the past bought or leased machines complete, tested and developed by the manufacturer and all they had to decide on was set up for each race, now it's more complicated because development is added and it's safer to develop a machine that poses less risk and has known parameters.
Therefore I don't think it's fair to say the Moto2 designers are not adventurous or lack innovation, at this early stage of Moto2 we are simply making what the customer wants and I hope after success on track, FTR will be the first to implement some innovation for you all to cheer about as we want to push the boundaries too.
I think this sums up the situation:
While testing last year one of my colleagues was so exasperated with hearing "on the Aprilia......." he turned to the mechanic to inform him he had "Aprilia sunglasses" an affliction that affects mechanics and engineers so they only see what has been made in the past as good.
Perhaps this is all a case of "Aprilia sunglasses"!
While at the factory, Bones and Taylor showed me one example of the technology that they wanted to incorporate, but which teams had initially baulked at. The latest version of the FTR bike - due to debut at Valencia in a week's time - uses what is described as a stemless headstock. The triple clamps are fixed to the headstock by bearings fixed to plates at the top and bottom of the headstock, rather than to a stem (basically an axle) running through the headstock, which itself runs in bearings.
The advantage of this simple yet stunningly effective design is that the airflow into the airbox now no longer has to pass around the steering stem, but has a straight, unobstructed flow from the scoop on the front of the bike into the airbox. Nothing gets in the way to cause unwanted turbulence or disrupt the airflow. The idea is simple, and the impact on the bike is minimal, given that the necessary rigidity is still possible. Yet the teams were afraid to adopt this, worried that they did not understand how it worked, and that it could be less effective than a conventional setup.
If you would like to take a much closer look at the FTR Moto2 bike, you can of course buy one of your own, at a remarkably reasonable price. If you do, you'd better hurry up though, as the limited run of 10 bikes is rapidly selling out.