Mainly through the 1980s there was a “new technology movement” in motorcycling which sought to incorporate into motorcycle design concepts developed in Formula One. A major player was the French fuel company ELF, allied in 1979 to Honda, but there were other would-be innovators as well, such as Claude Fior, John Britten, and Bimota.
Andre de Cortanze, the Renault racing engineer in many ELF projects, stated the four goals of his work:
- To achieve a lower center of gravity.
- To incorporate natural anti-dive into front suspension.
- To reduce weight.
- To eliminate the duplicated structure of a separate chassis.
All of these projects have been well-described elsewhere, so I will just say that adding race car concepts to motorcycles wasn’t easy. Today’s racing motorcycles still have high centers-of-gravity, but fuel has been lowered to be closer to their level. The multiplicity of sliding-friction steering ball-joints in the A-arm bikes was not welcomed by riders in comparison with the conventional single pair of rolling steering-head bearings. As was discovered by all race teams in the 1980s, brake dive has value because by lowering the center of gravity (CG) during braking, it raises the level of deceleration required to lift the rear wheel off the pavement. The much-criticized “stiction” of the sliding bearings in the conventional telescopic fork has been steadily reduced by ever-harder, ever-smoother slider coatings such as titanium carbide.
Those who rode the ELF bikes praised their exceptional and stable braking–attributing it to reduced front suspension stiction, making it possible to maintain tire grip over rough pavement.
A series of Honda-powered ELF bikes ran in 500 GP races in the 1980s but the ruthless arithmetic of racing found the sum of their pluses and minuses to be less than that of refined conventional construction.
That is where the matter rests today. Simplicity has, at least for the moment, prevailed over borrowed F1 complexity. The revolution a designer might hope for is a decisive one, like that of the “underpowered” rear-engined Cooper of Jack Brabham in 1959, over all the forces of front-engined orthodoxy. Brabham just drove away from cars that were supposed to have 40 to 60 more horsepower than his. Within two years, front-engined racing cars were history.
Can there be such a revolution on two wheels?