Where's The Innovation? Why Moto2 Churns Out Identikit Bikes
After the initial disappointment at the death of the 250cc two strokes, the advent of the Moto2 class raised hopes that Grand Prix racing would enter a new era of chassis innovation, as the teams spent the money saved on engine development on exploring novel solutions to the problem of hustling a motorcycle around a circuit is the shortest time possible. The first set of designs unveiled did little to feed that hope, with most bikes being of the aluminium twin beam variety which is standard in most sports and racing machinery, with a couple of tubular trellis frames thrown in for good measure.
Even that variety did not last. The trellis frames were the first to go - mostly as a result of the extra weight the design created - and the number of chassis manufacturers dropped from 13 in the first year to 6 in 2013. Even that figure gives an inflated picture of the variety in the paddock: 28 out of the 32 permanent entries form Moto2 this year use either the Kalex, Suter or Speed Up chassis. The bikes vary in stiffness, in aerodynamic detail and in aesthetics, but other than that, they are virtually identical.
So why is there no real innovation in the Moto2 paddock - or MotoGP or Moto3, for that matter? The answer is simple, and has been discussed here many times before. The attitude which characterizes the paddock in technical terms is not one of the fearless pursuit of knowledge and innovation. It is not a hotbed of blue sky thinking and adventurous engineering. It is a place of conservative evolution, of cautious refinement, where proven concepts are polished to as near perfection as possible.
Why the conservatism? Surely a gamble on a radical new approach could end up paying big dividends? That is certainly true, but major changes often take a lot of work to get right. With teams struggling for sponsorship contracts year on year, they simply cannot afford to risk a year (or two, or three) of terrible results, as they work to iron out the flaws and bugs in their radical new concepts. It is better to stick with what you know, working on perfecting a set up, and put pressure on your rider to find the extra tenth in their riding. The chances of that path paying off spectacularly may not be large - unless you happen to find an undiscovered talent, which is rare enough in itself - but at least if you fail, you will not fail badly. At worse, you end up running around at the back of the pack, a second or so off the pace. You can then try and remedy that by picking up a new rider, and maybe a new crew chief into the bargain.
This aversion to innovation has come to pervade the paddock to such an extent that even relatively small changes are feared. In 2010, chassis builder FTR tried to persuade Moto2 teams to use their stemless headstock design, which swapped the stem joining the top and bottom of the triple clamps for a much stronger set of bearings at the top and bottom of the headstock. This removed the stem from the air intake for the airbox, creating a much cleaner and less turbulent flow of air to the inlets, something which offered a significant advantage in terms of fueling. The teams were not interested, not even to try and test the bike. It was not what they were used to racing with, and they feared the difference in feel such a construction might create.
Since then, that conservatism has only grown. It has been fueled by Ducati's problems, as they have struggled since the departure of Casey Stoner with both the carbon fiber frameless chassis, and then with the aluminium twin spar chassis which has replaced it. If a major manufacturer like Ducati is having such problems, the thinking goes, then what chance does anyone else have of making a new chassis design work? As one chassis designer said to me recently, "Ducati’s current woes have set us back to almost post-Elf like aversion to innovation." If the teams feared innovation before, they are in absolute terror of it at the moment.
The pursuit of alternative chassis technologies is also made much harder by the use of a spec tire. With everyone constrained by a single stiffness and construction, handling flex and road irregularities has to be found in chassis and suspension design. It is not possible to simply ask your tire manufacturer for a tire with a softer carcass or a different profile, you have to design your bike around the tire, rather than the other way around.
The other major factor in limiting innovation is what is affectionately termed 'the nut between the handlebars'. To be able to go as fast as possible, riders depend on the feedback they get from the tires. They use that feedback to determine how close to the limit they are, and then respond appropriately. If the front is pushing, they know they can't turn much faster. If the rear is starting to step out, they know they can't get on the gas much harder. I once asked Tech 3 crew chief and technical guru Guy Coulon why we don't see any unconventional front fork designs, and he pointed at the ground and then at his head, saying "because you do not want anything getting in the way of the information traveling from here to here." Every rider currently in Grand Prix has grown up racing bikes with a completely conventional design, and they have many years' experience with the feedback such a design provides. Unconventional designs usually provide different feedback, and riders have to spend more time relearning a skill set they thought they had already mastered.
The only area in which there is any real progress being made is in electronics, but such progress is invisible to the spectators. Where previously, a design like the Elf Honda might have gathered a group of admiring fans to wonder at the technology, Honda's latest software algorithm optimizing fuel conservation during engine braking is invisble to the naked eye. There is literally nothing for the fans to see. Even the changing electronics strategies are only accepted because most engineers have no need to fully understand just what has been changed. After all, all the electronics systems are doing is controlling vehicle dynamics in a number of directions, the precise details are not directly relevant. Crew chiefs merely need to tell the electronics engineers that they need a little less wheelie in this section, or a little less torque in that section, the ingenuity of the code which actually manages this is beyond the scope of their interest.
So if you want to see real innovation in chassis design this weekend, you will need to head to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where John Keogh and Paul Taylor will be displaying their TaylorMade Moto2 prototype. The bike features an all-carbon fiber chassis, with integrated fuel tank and bodywork. The front suspension operates via a single wishbone and conventional fork tubes, much like BMW's telelever suspension. The advantage of this set up is that it allows air to flow freely into the airbox, the disadvantage is that it lacks a little bit of the feel of conventional telescopic forks under hard braking.
Below is a press release from TaylorMade with more details of their Moto2 machine:
TaylorMade All-Carbon Moto2 Prototype to debut at Goodwood
The sensational TaylorMade Carbon2 prototype will make its first public appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK in mid-July.
The unique Moto2 class racing bike features an all-carbon fibre monocoque chassis which integrates the fuel tank and bodywork in a single fabrication, cutting weight and increasing strength. The multi-adjustable chassis is a key innovation for the ultra-competitive 600cc Grand Prix series.
TaylorMade head Paul Taylor said: ‘Moto2 is meant to be a prototype class. While the racing is fantastic, the level of innovation has been frankly disappointing. Carbon2 aims to challenge that.’
Carbon2 has been developed by Paul Taylor and designer John Keogh, to produce a race bike with optimum strength and weight, but with exceptional ‘tunability’ to suit different riders, circuits and track conditions.
Carbon2 contains a range of cutting-edge design elements. The super-rigid swing arm is all carbon, while the radiator is positioned at the rear of the bike - the monocoque is only as wide as the engine - to minimize the bike’s frontal area.
The integral fuel cell is positioned just behind the engine, running vertically to below the swing arm, centralizing mass and maintaining a constant balance as the fuel level drops.
Front suspension is a highly-adjustable single wishbone, with conventional damping in the fork tubes.
Use of a wishbone and telescopic forks allows the air tunnel feeding the radiator to pass through the center of the bike, improving intake flow, yet retaining a familiar suspension feel for riders.
Carbon2 has been developed on-track over two years and is now ready to race
Paul Taylor said: ‘In a class as ultra competitive as Moto2 the chance of an advantage has got to be of interest. That’s what we’re here to prove.’
Taylor added: ‘Moto2 was introduced as a prototype class using a supplied Honda CBR 600 engine to limit costs, but with complete freedom for chassis design. As designers, this was a very exciting prospect as top level racing had become exclusively based around modified production bikes.
‘However, I’ve been disappointed in the way Moto2 has developed. It may be the best racing in Grand Prix, but the bikes do not have an ounce of distinction between them. Of course, the racing community is innately conservative, but we hope to prove to teams that thinking “outside the box”, combined with rigorous testing and development, can deliver a competitive advantage.’
Carbon2 has been invited to run at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK from July 11-14 and will be demonstrated daily on the famous hillclimb track.
Carbon2 has been developed in the USA by former Buell factory rider Shawn Higbee and will be ridden at Goodwood by the bike’s designer John Keogh.
Taylormade Racing, based in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California, USA, is a specialist in innovative design and manufacture of carbon-fibre components, to Formula One standards. It is a discreet supplier to the Yamaha, Honda and Buell race teams as well as producing its own range of hi-tech exhaust mufflers for street bikes, which have attracted much attention for their light weight and integrated design.
Englishman Paul Taylor has been responsible for many ground-breaking road and race bike designs; including the Saxon Laverdas. His Daytona-winning Triumph Triple Racer will also be demonstrated at Goodwood. John Keogh, who is another Brit, has long been associated with TaylorMade’s products, adding the stunning looks which stylishly integrate the company’s exhausts into the standard sportbike bodywork of Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki.
Web Links: Goodwood: http://www.goodwood.co.uk/festival-of-speed/welcome.aspx:
National Motorcycle Museum: http://www.nationalmotorcyclemuseum.co.uk/museum/
Photo credit: Taylormade Moto2/TotalSim USA