Why No Innovation In Moto2? FTR's Designer Explains

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.

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I'd bet that some options may even come out of those bike makers this season. There will be riders that may not be in the hunt for the championship or victories. The exposure of novel designs could be great ways for these teams and riders to be remembered. How many people remember the ELF Honda for all it's victories? The manufacturers would probably have to 'loan' the prototypes to the teams to prove the design can be at least not a liability. It could be an interesting August.

Do the rules allow for radical in-season modifications? Can the bikes be approved on site at any given race?

You could turn up with two totally different bikes from one week to the next. As long as the bike design complies with the rules, it doesn't matter if you turn up with a conventional front end one week and a Hossack front end the next. All bikes are submitted to scrutineering on Thursday, where MotoGP's technical director Mike Webb and his team goes over them to check they comply with the rulebook.

ingrained culture is stifling innovation? I never would have guessed ;)

Good article. I'm sure it's difficult to be on the cutting edge when you can't use the engine as a stressed chassis component. I hope innovation will return as the uncompetitive teams look for ways to gain speed (if they can't hire a better rider).

Well it's all theory at the moment innit? FTR can have any number of ideas that work a treat in the workshop and in Solidworks, the stop watch tells no lies.
Aprilia sunglasses? Well........... there isn't a great deal of room left in Aprilia's trophy cabinet. Didn't get like that by a fluke. Evolution not revolution.
Which begs the question why do I need a fancy frame anyway when a stock CBR 600 would probably do just as good a job?

Sorry to sound so underimpressed but people on the MC-Chassis-Design discussion list at www.eurospares.com have been doing 'stemless headstock' triple clamps for years for ease of design and fabrication issues in the headstock area. To me, if you want to be 'innovative' lose the fixed headstock.

The only way to get a race team to buy into a 'radical' innovation is to do back to back tests and show them a quantifiable lap time improvement. I would hazard a guess that the benefit from the stemless design would be very difficult to show due to the fact that ram air only provides a theoretical best 1-1.5% power increase (ignoring frictional losses which really cannot be ignored), and less in the real world. In Moto2 you are also required to use the supplied Honda airbox with no modifications so FTR won't even be able to optimize the system to maximize the benefits of the design. From their perspective it is good to use as a marketing tool to differentiate themselves from so many similar machines but the performance increase is likely neglible.


You're right, there's nothing radical about the stemless headstock (though it has other advantages besides airflow, such as load distribution, as I'm sure I don't need to explain to you). But that just underlines the conservatism of the teams: If they are so resistant to taking on board something this mild, just imagine how they feel about a radically different design.

FTR's approach, if I understand it correctly, is exactly as you described. Feed in innovation one change at a time, showing tangible performance improvements, then allowing them to get used to the idea of innovation being a good thing, and not just something which upsets the way of working they are used to.

I think there's not as much need for innovation as people are making out? Have a look at the bikes the Moto2 class is replacing - they're all pretty much the same from front to back... maybe we were all expecting a V5 mass centralised bike with the rear shock integrated within the swingarm, but Honda isn't building a Moto2 bike.

And it's not just the racing fraternity who are conservative when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking... how many orders do you think BMW would have on the books if the S1000RR had a Telelever front end?

The good news is that there's suddenly a whole bunch of chassis manufacturers creating bikes that didn't exist a year ago; and furthermore, bikes that the average road rider could cope with. So with any luck this will develop into even more specialist roadbikes available for us punters to buy. I've never thought about buying a Bimota before 2010, but now, if I could get my hands on a road version of their Moto2 bike I wouldn't hesitate...

"I think there's not as much need for innovation as people are making out? Have a look at the bikes the Moto2 class is replacing - they're all pretty much the same from front to back..."

I think you need to read up a bit on 250's , the Harald Bartol designed KTM FRR 250 was a parralel twin that bucked the prevailing thinking of a 70 deg V twin. After the conrod issues solved proved every bit as fast and reliable as the V-twin.
If I could get a road verion of the FRR 250 I would buy 2 or 3 or 4....................

With all due respect to Harald Bartol, just electing to run a parallel twin instead of a V hardly counts as innovation. The bike, magnificent as it was, had a fairly conventional chassis and running gear. It certainly bucked the trend in using a parallel twin, but it's no Bimota Tesi or Elf Honda.

That being said, I'd sell a kidney or three and club that money together with you to get an FRR for myself.

Yes, but contrast that with the effort that Honda had put into 250's recently, i.e not bloody much.
KTM even had injection running on their two strokes, admittedly just to prevent seizure on a closed throttle (as I understand), but given the R&D that goes into racing, how long until a clean competitive direct injection racing two stroke?
But, as we are painfully aware, Honda doesn't like two strokes, so they got the rules changed, and now we have an engine only 10-15hp more than the top 250s, and around the same as a CBR with a pipe.
KTM also brought KERS to bikes before F1 managed it, before it was subsequently banned.
World championship racing is usually too narrow of a focus for radical innovation anyway. Look at the Britten, massively innovative, ret restricted by rules to the (relatively) small series of BEARS/BOTT.

TSI, I have no doubt that you know a hell of a lot more about the 250s than I do, but my first roadbike was a parallel twin... it was a 250 as well and lots of fun. And I know about Bartols bike, I liked riding my mates 1995 TRX850 parallel twin with 270 degree crank too so I understand exactly why Bartol went with that design. But at the end of the day there is little difference between a parallel twin and a v-twin when you're talking innovation, unless innovation simply means choosing something different to what everyone else has chosen.

My point was more regarding - forks, twinspar frame, single shock, swingarm... tank up top and wheels down the bottom, bum goes here. None of the 250s could be described as avante garde. So we shouldn't really expect the Moto2 bikes to be much different and in fact it is harder to get radical with the 4-strokes because they weigh more and have a fixed architecture to work around.

There are 2 types of innovation :
1° The usual step by step design which is the right path to develop our century old technology.
2° The scientific way used by all advanced industries. This rational way has got a method called "Functional specifications".
It start to point out all current flaw to erase and behaviors wanted by the rider and the top engineer.
Then it follows by designing the kinetics inducing the new behaviors.
And then only at last: geometries providing wanted kinetics will induce one, or a choice of suspensions.

No "funny work" has ever worked properly on a racing bike.
Not because it will never work, not because they are improper, but just because "STEP by STEP" is not calculating anything (not even the grip or the traction!).

So if FTR was ever deciding to design a faster bike. (It's no use to design an innovating bike slower than the old current type.)...
... FTR would have to switch from the "step by step development empirical method" to the "functional specification scientific research method".