Wednesday, May 07, 2014

SoftWheel could bring benefits to trials, dual-purpose motorcycles

SoftWheel with in-wheel suspension
SoftWheel SoftWheel SoftWheel
In situations where regular motorcycle suspension might need some extra help, the SoftWheel, with in-wheel suspension, might be handy. Bring it on...!

A motorcycle's ride and handling dynamics are immensely complex. With so many elements coming together - wheel size, tyre size and tyre sidewall height, the chassis and its ability to flex, front and rear suspension with all its adjustability - getting a bike to handle the way its rider wants, has to be rocket science. And if you have any doubts about that, witness Valentino Rossi's years spent with the Ducati MotoGP team.

And now, there's the SoftWheel wheel, which could possibly bring some benefits to motorcycle ride and handling dynamics in the future. Developed in Israel, the SoftWheel wheel incorporates in-wheel suspension (see images and video), which may provide multi-directional shock absorption, improved dynamic response, better control and better propulsion energy efficiency.

While the current SoftWheel wheel has been designed for bicycles and wheelchairs, the same basic concept might well be developed for motorcycles in the future, especially for trials bikes and off-road/dual-purpose motorcycles. According to its developers, for bicycle use at least, the SoftWheel wheel can actually absorb more than half of the impact energy when the bike is ridden over obstacles like kerbs and stairs etc. Also, the in-wheel suspension activates only when required (when the vehicle hits bumps and other obstacles). At other times, on flat terrain, the SoftWheel wheel functions like any other regular wheel, with no energy loss and no 'bouncy' feel or sensation.

Regarding the wheel's possible motorcycle application someday, we spoke to SoftWheel's COO, Amichay Gross and he agreed that that might happen someday. "We believe that in the future our technology will be embodied in a motorcycle wheel. As a small company we have to focus on 2-3 products, and preferably those that have short time-to-market and low regulatory barriers. [However] we've given thought to motorcycle and automotive applications - it is actually included in our patents - and even met with several European manufacturers recently, to see what they think, and encountered a great deal of interest on their part," says Gross.

"We do believe that incorporating SoftWheel technology in both automotive and motorcycle applications can benefit ride comfort and handling by decoupling the two requirements, which may pull in different directions. Comfort requires plushness on impact, while performance requires fast response and less tail/nose dive on acceleration and deceleration. Some additional interesting benefits can be especially relevant to hub-motor electric motorcycles, as these suffer from increase in unsprung mass," he adds.

"We plan to partner with one of the major motorcycle manufacturers to adapt the SoftWheel technology to motorcycle use. However, this may take a few years, as things go in the motor vehicle industry," he concludes.

We think the SoftWheel wheel is damn interesting and we hope to see some motorcycle applications in the near future. With things like trials bike and supermotards, this kind of a wheel, with in-wheel suspension, might be especially useful!

Visit the SoftWheel website for more details

Yes, the SoftWheel wheel currently only exists for bicycles and wheelchairs. But with a lot of development work, a motorcycle-specific wheel should not be impossible to produce

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