Friday, March 20, 2009

2WD on sportsbikes: Is there more to come?

From left: The 2WD Yamaha R1 test bike from a few years ago, and Lars Jansson, the man who was in charge of 2WD development work at Öhlins
Pics: RoadRacerX

Mark Gardiner, who writes a column called ‘Backmarker’ for RoadRacerX (and whose book, Riding Man, we had reviewed here), has written a very interesting piece on the use of 2WD on motorcycles. As many people might already know, Yamaha and Öhlins started working on the 2-Trac hydraulic 2WD system for bikes in the late-1990s, trying the 2WD thing on various off-road bikes, including the WR450. According to Gardiner, as many as 400 units of the 2WD Yamaha WR450 were even sold to customers by Yamaha France.

Yamaha later decided to abandon the 2WD program while Öhlins, who were at one point supposed to provide the 2WD technology to KTM (but never did...), also admit that the project is now dead. According to various reports, 2WD proved reasonably useful for the not-so-skilled riders, but did not provide a significant advantage in the case of skilled riders.

However, what’s really interesting is that Gardiner got to speak to Lars Jansson, the man who was in charge of research and development work on Yamaha’s 2WD YZF-R1 prototype, which was apparently being tested about 6-7 years ago. On the test R1, depending on grip and throttle position, the Öhlins 2-Trac system transferred up to 15% of the power to the front wheel. According to a statement released by Öhlins at that time was that the 2-Trac R1 was about five seconds faster [than a stock R1] around the Karlskroga test circuit in the wet.

According to what Jansson has now told Gardiner, there were issues with the 2WD system’s extra weight, power losses in the hydraulics and with high-speed manoeuvrability, with the bike not being too keen to change direction as quickly as a stock R1. Adding torque to the front wheel changed the bike’s behaviour dramatically, which expert riders couldn’t come to grips with right away.

Still, Jansson is convinced that had it been developed further, 2WD would have been a big safety feature for streetbikes. Of course, the whole idea of having 2WD on bikes not dead – we’d written about Christini’s mechanical (rather than hydraulic) AWD system here, and Gardiner says Steve Christini is already speaking to some bike manufacturers about developing AWD for streetbikes.

Gardiner, who’s writing a detailed article on 2WD on motorcycles for a magazine, says he can’t spill all the details right now, but he might in the near future. So the idea of using 2WD on sportsbikes/superbikes may not be dead after all! Stay tuned for more dope on this one…

Update: MCN speaks to Lars Jansson. See here

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