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Motorcycle front suspension systems:

Traditional problems and alternative solutions

A telescopic history of suspension


Telelever and SaxTrak
Brittens girder forked parallelogram
Pierluigi Marconi and the Bimota Tesi
James Parker and RADD/RATZ
Bakkers QCS
Conclusion
Bibliography
reprinted here by permission of the author,
Gen M. Kanai
Photos sourced by Chris, comments.
Last modified 96.09.01

Imagine riding a motorcycle. You are motoring along and see a turn up
ahead. You squeeze the front brakes to slow down and immediately the forks
compress and you are thrown slightly forward. As you reach the turn, you let
go of the brake and the bike wobbles slightly, a pogo-effect universal under
these conditions. As you accelerate through the turn you see a dog in the
road up ahead. You immediately grab the brakes in order to do an
emergency stop. The weight of you and the motorcycle is thrown forward
onto the front wheel as the forks are compressed. Steering becomes heavy
and the wheel starts shuddering. You finally come to a stop and the dog
looks quizzically at you.

The key to building an excellent motorcycle is to hold the parts of the bike
together in a desired relationship. Certain parts must move in certain ways
and others must be rigid. In the front end of a motorcycle, the steering head
must turn in a horizontal plane moving the wheel at the same time. Crucial
information in the form of energy must be transmitted from the road to the
rider. A rigid system will conduct more of that vital information to the rider
than a flexible one. A stiffer system will make a more confident rider and a
more competent bike.

The forces that interact between motorcycles, riders and the road are
significant. With horsepower transferred between the road and the
motorcycle through small patches of rubber, acceleration, braking, cornering
and suspending a bike over uneven terrain can flex even the stiffest modern
designs. The alternative front suspension designs discussed here have made
significant efforts to go beyond the status quo, to revolutionize motorcycling
instead of evolving upon the present technology. All make an effort to
separate suspension and braking, and all claim to increase rigidity and
stability.
In reality, all of these ideas are important steps towards breaking the
dominance of telescopic fork usage on modern motorcycles.

The main functions of a motorcycles front suspension are: to guide the front
wheel, to steer, to spring, to dampen, and to provide support under braking
(Brooke, 1993:71.) By design, telescopic forks have a tendency to dive, twist
or bend under braking forces. When suspension demands are placed on forks
in addition to braking, the limits of traditional forks are obvious. Telescopic
forks cannot separate steering and braking forces. Forces must travel up
long, thin tubes to headset bearings and then back down to the frame,
certainly not an ideal system. The whole fork and wheel assembly must be
steered in and out of turns. Often road irregularities coupled with flexible,
heavy forks create dangerous oscillations in the forks and frame. Forks not
only weigh a significant portion of the bike, they also place much of that
weight as far from the center of gravity of the bike as possible. The force of
the loads requires that fork legs must be strengthened, bearing areas widened
and frame structures enlarged in an ever-downward spiral towards heavier
and bulkier systems. The alternative front suspension systems discussed
herein address these problems in innovative fashions. Discussed are Hugh
Nicols Telelever, Nigel Hills SaxTrak, John Brittens girder, Bimotas
Tesi, Nico Bakkers QCS, and two systems by James Parker, the RADD and
RATZ.

A telescopic history of suspension

The first motorcycles were bicycles with small engines thrust into the frame.
Suspension systems were developed to keep wheels on the ground in the
face of uneven pavement and higher speeds. The traditional telescopic fork
came from a 1935 BMW design that included hydraulics. After BMW,
Norton developed a similar system in 1939, Matchless in 1940 and Ariel in
1941 (Ford, 1989:65). The main benefit of telescoping fork systems of the
early era was hydraulic damping, far superior to the friction damping
systems used to that point in leading and trailing link systems. While friction
dampers provided high initial friction and less with greater wheel travel,
hydraulic damping provided the opposite, a boon to keeping the wheel on the
road. Modern iterations of BMWs 1935 design are built with modern
materials and CAD/CAM systems but remain essentially the same.
Refinements in bearing technology, metal anodizing, metal strength, spring
technology and composite materials all help to create modern telescopic
forks which can handle extreme loads. Yet there are many inherent problems
with telescopic fork suspension systems for motorcycles.

Because of a common heritage, traditional motorcycle front ends have much


in common with bicycle systems, including a steering headset and forks. Key
drawbacks to motorcycle front suspension systems as we know it today are
structural. A design developed from bicycle technology, even modernized
with new materials and improvements, is hardly adequate for the power
available in todays modern machines.

Tracing the path of loads from the front tire, inherent flaws in traditional
forked suspension systems are revealed. Forces acting on the tire and wheel
must be transmitted up along fork tubes, (essentially 30 inch levers) through
the steering head bearings, and back down into the frame. This long path for
the forces induces extreme loads on the fork tubes and steering head
bearings. Forks under extreme loads often twist, bend back, forth or to the
side. This flexibility is very undesirable, especially at extreme occasions
when one needs rigidity most. Even with the advent of modern materials,
bracing and CAD, motorcycle suspension is still a copy of a pair of lowly
bicycle forks.

One gradual trend motorcycle design has been moving towards wider wheels
and tires. Early motorcycles had tires not much wider than bicycles while
modern motorcycle tires are often 190mm wide or larger than tires on small
cars. Traditional fork systems show other drawback here as forks are
inherently wider than the wheel and tire combination. As tires get wider to
give the rider a larger contact/traction patch, fork tubes must be strengthened
to deal with the forces of braking and steering a motorcycle. As fork tubes
diameters are increased for strength, the steering head bearings must be
placed farther apart to deal with the increased leverage power of the fork,
tire and wheel combination. Thus the steering head grows taller, raising the
center of gravity and placing more weight higher. This becomes a vicious
cycle as traditional telescopic forks must be designed heavier, taller and
wider than previous systems, all attributes unwanted by any motorcyclist.
All of the systems discussed here have lessened or changed load bearing
surfaces to rotational bearings from linear systems to reduce stiction. Most
of the designs are lighter overall and carry the weight at a lower center of
gravity, enhancing stability and ease of turning.

In recent decades, motorcycle manufacturers have moved towards


gas-charged mono-shock systems to suspend the rear ends of many
motorcycles. In fact, mono-shock rear ends are de rigeur on everything but
old-style or inexpensive bikes. One of the main reasons for moving towards
a single shock rear versus the twin shock design of old was developments in
shock technology. The main drawback to running twin rear shocks was that
it was very difficult to get both shocks to do the same thing at the same time.
It was also more compact, lighter and cost-efficient to use one shock in place
of two. Developments in nitrogen-charged coil shocks made monoshock rear
ends a reality for most motorcycles today. Why did manufacturers not hold
the same ideals for the front end? Forks are springs with oil, dated
technology in comparison to the gas-charged monoshocks they developed
for the rear end. Even with progressively wound springs, adjustable preload
and damping, two forks are very difficult to setup identically. All of the
alternative systems discussed in this paper have moved to front suspension
with gas-charged monoshocks resulting in lighter and more adjustable
suspension, taking advantage of the extensive research and design which has
gone into the modern gas shock.

Another development that all of these alternative suspension systems use is


that they have discarded the traditional frame. Even today, many
motorcycles are built using trellis or cradle frames, a nod back to the early
history when motorcycles were bicycles with motors. These designs all use
the engine as an integral stressed part of the frame. Not only has this new
development in design increased rigidity, it has moved weight from the
extremities of the bike in towards the center of gravity.

Probably the most revolutionary aspect to all of these alternative suspension


designs is that they all make attempts to separate braking and suspension,
traditionally intertwined in telescopic forks. For the racer, this means more
effective braking as the suspension always has 100% of its travel devoted
solely to suspension while braking is absorbed into the frame.

Telelever and SaxTrak

The systems on the BMW R1100 series motorcycles and the Saxon-Triumph
900 BEARS racer are very similar. Both the BMW Telelever and SaxTrak
front suspension system, designed by Nigel Hill, look deceivingly similar to
traditional systems at first glance. The "forks" on the SaxTrak are merely
thin-walled cast alloy sliders which ran first on linear bearings and now on
hydraulic fluid. The "forks" have no internal suspension systems and are
used only to place the wheel in front of the engine, and to operate the
external shock. The shock absorber is a modern gas-charged monoshock
whose top mount is attached just behind the steering head. The bottom
mount for the shock is attached to an A-arm steel wishbone which is
mounted to the frame on eccentrics. The top/front of the A-arm is attached to
the "forks" via a large ball and socket . The top of the "forks" and steering
head is clamped by a billet aluminum triangular triple clamp three inches
thick, easily twice as large as is found on production street motorcycles.

Nigel Hills Saxon-Triumph is not only a technological step beyond


traditional forked racing motorcycles, it allows for a faster motorcycle. The
separation of steering and suspension means that a racer can brake and know
that suspension travel is not being used up at the same time. Practically, one
can brake later and harder than with a conventional setup, with better
roadholding, lowering lap times and winning races. Alan Cathcart has
proven the benefits of the SaxTrak with wins in the BEARS series (British,
European and American Race Series) one week after the debut of the bike
(Cathcart, 1994).
BMWs Telelever front suspension is very similar to the SaxTrak system and
was designed by Englishman Hugh Nicol in 1981. The Telelever forks are
very long in comparison to the SaxTrak and BMW does not use any
anti-stiction systems in the sliders besides oil to lubricate the sliding
surfaces. This combination makes for comparatively y weaker rigidity and
promotes stiction although not nearly as much as is found in traditional
telescopic forks. The differences in the systems are acknowledged in focus:
one bike is a purpose-built racer and the other is a production motorcycle for
mass consumption.

Telelever and SaxTrak both work to separate suspension and steering with a
combination of fork tubes and swingarms. Both systems use the engine as a
stressed member, an a modern gas-charged monoshock mounted on an
A-arm . The Saxon-Triumph mounts the A-arm on the frame with an
eccentric to make steering geometry changes easily and uses either linear
bearings or hydraulic pressure to lessen stiction in the tubular sliders. These
systems benefits of traditional telescopic forks are much greater rigidity due
to the suspensions A-arm design and wide mounting area. Braking and
suspension force paths are shortened to the frame through the A-arm and
both bikes can separate suspension and braking forces. The Saxon-Triumph
has ease of geometry changes and both bikes look like tradition bikes but
arent. While the Saxon is a limited production racer and has proven itself
beyond merely the alternative front end, the BMW has also been well
accepted by the purchasing public. These bikes have made significant strides
by their mere existence and design. Seemingly traditionally forked, these
bikes are the interim step towards more radical alternative designs for front
suspensions on motorcycles.

An informal survey of BMW owners who are using Telelever have some
strong comments about Telelever.

I have been riding and racing for 53 years and have never found
a front end as remarkable as the Telelever. No dive and
exceptional control under any conditions. To me it is superior to
the RADD or any other type because of its simplicity. John
Goodpaster (bsajohn@pla-net.net)

I think that by experimenting with Telelever and a combination


of rake and trail, you could have the perfect suspension. I have
35,000 miles on the clock and Ive had no degradation in
performance whatsoever. Compare that to any conventionally
sprung bike--new fork springs/shock notwithstanding. No fork
oil. No compressed air. No leaky seals. Guess you can tell Im
pleased. Sam Taylor D81 (taylor@hooked.net)

The suspension is smooth under almost all conditions. I am


surprised that it moves and handles so easily (short wheelbase
effect) and yet is so stable (long wheelbase effect). I think the
suspension gives it more stability and also better handling. Quite
a feat. Stephen (dali@ipof.fla.net)

Fabulous. More responsive than forks. Responds to minor


ripples during braking/ cornering. Stable during impact/
cornering situations. True anti-dive properties. Aaron Burns
(aaronb@acm.org)

Another desirable effect of this front suspension is noticeable


when carrying a passenger. With the Telelever, the passenger is
not thrown forward much when the brakes are applied hard. This
makes braking much easier for the rider, because he does not
have to brace against the weight of the passenger against his
back. Manuel Helzel (mhelzel@mail.transdata.ca)

The Telelever is arguably the finest feature of the bike, works


completely as advertised, and is the most elegant and robust
solution to motorcycle front suspension problems since the
telescopic fork was first applied to [production] motorcycles. Its
only shortcoming as far as Im concerned is the quality of the
shock itself, which is easily (if not cheaply) rectified. I cant
picture myself riding a non-Telelever machine in the future. John
Dancoe (jdan@msp.com)

God, I love it. All bikes should have front ends this good. I can
only compare it to standard forks, but Telelever is far, far, better.
I wont go back to standard forks. Neil Kirby
(nak@gwe486.cb.att.com)

Brittens girder forked parallelogram

John Britten recently died of cancer in late 1995.


Although his death is considered by some to be the
greatest loss to modern motorcycling, his legacy lives
on in his V-1100 supertwin race bike. For most of the
motorcycles featured in this paper, their alternative
front suspension systems are their raison detre. Not
so for the Britten. While the Britten has an alternative front suspension
system, it has a whole host of other technological marvels as well.

The first iteration of John Brittens race bike used a traditional White Power
upside-down telescopic fork. In a move for more rigidity, suspension
geometry flexibility, and the ability to separate suspension and braking
forces, Britten created a new front end. Brittens handmade alternative front
suspension is a modern redevelopment of Norman Hossacks
girder/wishbone parallelogram suspension or systems designed by Claude
Fior. The Hossack design was an update of the Vincent Girdraulic fork
which itself was an update of systems used at the dawn of motorcycling
(Alan Cathcart, Superbike Magazine, January 1993). This fourth design
iteration was chosen, much like the SaxTrak, because of the versatility of the
geometry. But it is a girder fork nonetheless.

Britten had four reasons for scrapping the proven race-quality White Power
telescopic fork. He wanted to eliminate sliding friction under braking, raise
rigidity, create an adjustable system, and reduce weight. While achieving all
of these goals, Britten also managed to reduce wheel chatter common on
telescopic forks, enhance braking, and improve handling (Cameron,
1992:36).

Because the girder design uses rotational bearings in place of telescoping


bearings on traditional forks, bearing area and motion is significantly
reduced and stiction under braking is almost eliminated. The telescoping
action of traditional forks means that the front wheel is constantly
accelerating or decelerating relative to the bike itself. This relative motion of
the wheel and tire must either be absorbed by the tire, the fork or the brakes
and often manifest itself as a "chatter" in any or all of those components. The
wide expanses of carbon fiber and the girder design assure that unlike
traditional systems, the front wheel position relative to the bike is constant
even with extreme suspension movement. This creates a more stable
platform under extreme forces (better braking) and a more direct feeling as
rigidity is increased (better handling).

In order to create an adjustable system, Britten knew that a double wishbone


system would be the most flexible design. Either length or angle of either
wishbone in the parallelogram could be changed to affect the handling of the
suspension. Brittens system can be set up for no dive under braking,
pro-dive or anti-dive or a combination of any of these. At the moment
current racers, having grown up on telescopic forks, like the reassurance of
dive under braking. Thus Britten has set up the forks currently to dive for the
first 80mm of travel and then rise for the last 40mm (Cameron, 1992:38).
But as racers begin to understand the strengths of Brittens design, the fork
geometry can be setup for any desired action: constant wheelbase, pro-dive,
anti-dive, no-dive or any combination of these. Single wishbone systems,
such as the Bimota Tesi, are not nearly as adjustable by design. The two
purpose-built racebikes discussed here (the Saxon-Triumph and Britten) both
have adjustable steering geometry to make a bike that can be competitive at
different kinds of racetracks. By design, materials and construction, Britten
was able to lighten the weight of the whole front end, reducing polar
moment and making for lighter steering and better handling overall.

The Britten girder fork also has another key benefit it shares with all of the
alternative suspension systems discussed in this paper. It too suspends with a
modern nitrogen-charged Ohlins monoshock, probably the best developed if
not most researched suspension device made. Thus it too does away with the
problems of trying to make both forks in a telescopic system do the same
thing at the same time. The one shock is easily adjustable, accessible,
rebuildable, and lighter than the suspension systems held within the fork
tubes of a traditional system.

The faults in the Britten girder parallelogram suspension are few. One issue
in common with the SaxTrak and Telelever designs discussed above is that
the braking forces do not have the shortest or most direct path to the frame.
In all three cases, forces acting on the tire and wheel must travel some
distance up mock fork tubes or a carbon fiber girder to reach arms that attach
to the engine or frame. The later discussed RADD and Tesi systems have the
shortest path possible for braking forces into the frame and do so at a lower
height on the bike, lowering the center of gravity and easing steering. The
low weight of the Britten system in addition to the rigidity of the materials
make that fault almost imperceptible. Britten has shown us that an updated
version of the girder fork that was used at the dawn of motorcycling is still a
viable option that has many benefits of traditional telescopic forks.

More than any other motorcycle in the world, the Britten V-1100
showcases the integration of a host of design features that, given
a clean sheet of paper and an unlimited budget, designers would
unerringly adopt as the best way to achieve a given design
target. Features that for commercial or marketing reasons, they
are simply unable to adopt themselves. Alan Cathcart, Superbike,
May 1993, p.42.

Pierluigi Marconi and the Bimota Tesi

Bimota is a small Italian firm which designs motorcycles around engines


from other manufacturers. The unique aspect of the Tesi is that it is a
hub-steered motorcycle, having more in common with the articulation of a
car wheel than with forks on a bicycle. Conceptually, the front end of a Tesi
looks like a set of motorcycle rear swingarms moved to the front and bowed
to accommodate approximately 30 degrees of steering lock for turning the
front wheel. The front swingarm is kept at hub level and attaches to the
"frame" of the motorcycle directly behind the wheel.
One of the most important design benefits of the Tesi
is that the path for any forces entering the motorcycle
from the front wheel have the shortest distance to the
frame. The frame in this motorcycle is not a
traditional cradle which has been the design paradigm
since the beginning of motorcycling. Bimota has a pair of milled aluminum
plates which sandwich the Ducati engine on each side. Shaped like an
upside-down U, the ends of these plates accept the front and rear swingarms.
Using the engine itself as an integral part of the frame is yet another
revolution in this motorcycle design. What this new front suspension has
done is to change where and how much weight is up front. The Tesi uses
significantly less weight to achieve a stiffer steering and suspension package
and places the weight low. Steered weight is extremely reduced as the only
steered mass is the tire, wheel, brakes.

A telescopic fork system and frame must support the extreme braking and
suspension forces in addition to the weight of the rider. Most modern
motorcycle front ends weight close to one hundred pounds or often a quarter
of the total weight of the bike. In a traditional system, this whole mechanism
must be turned to affect a change in the trajectory of the bike. Steered mass
is very heavy as faster motorcycles need stronger, stiffer and bulkier
telescopic forks.

The benefits of hub-center steering are many. The main benefit is a true
separation of braking and suspension forces and overall rigidity. With
telescopic suspension systems, braking forces are mated to suspension
forces. When a rider uses the front brakes on a traditional bike, the front
forks are compressed. In extreme or race situations, to reach optimum or
threshold braking potential is to often use up nearly all of the suspension
travel. This makes the bike incapable of following the road if it is uneven
and makes for very heavy steering. The short, direct force paths from the
front tire to the frame are the most efficient system for getting power from
the road to the bike and rider. Bimota chief engineer Pierluigi Marconi has
tested the Tesi design as being 25% more rigid than a comparable traditional
fork. Thus, this system is stiffer.

The first and second prototypes of the production Tesi that was sold in 1991
were developed on a Honda VFR400 platform using hydraulic steering
actuation and a composite frame. Bimota realized that hydraulic steering was
the problem with the prototypes. Thus for the 1991 production model,
powered by a Ducati 851 fuel injected V-twin, mechanical steering linkages
were used. (CW 5/91)

In place of the traditional axle is a horizontal non-rotating trunnion tube


through which is vertically set a kingpin, to serve as the axis so that the
wheel can be turned for steering. Large bearings around the trunnion allow
the wheel to spin on a vertical axis. Horizontal bearings around the kingpin
allow the wheel to steer. Tilting the kingpin allows adjustments of rake and
trail. All of the steering is actuated from the handlebars with a maze of
levers, spherical and rotational bearings, ten all together. Attached to the
main swingarm are twin lever arms which actuate a gas-charged monoshock.

Unfortunately, the actualization of this hub-center steering system was not


optimized. Although the hydraulic steering linkages were dropped for
mechanical linkages, the sheer number of moving parts resulted in a certain
amount of slop. Four spherical joints and six rolling bearings must be moved
to steer this bike. The inclusion of 10 bearing surfaces made for significant
flexibility which is undesirable. Much of the design problems with steering
probably had to do with the fact that Bimota had to design the steering
system to work with an engine not optimized for the situation.

While the hub-level front swingarms had the shortest force path to the frame,
they had to be bowed to allow the wheel to turn. This bowing coupled with
the diameter of the swingarms meant that the front end of this motorcycle
was much wider than a forked unit. While riders do not complain of
dragging the swingarm in turns while leaned over, one liability of this design
is the width of the system. Steering is also further complicated by the
trunnion tube hitting the swingarm at either extreme. Thus, compromises
must be made to allow steering as well as rigidity.

The limited number (300) and exotic price ($40,000) of this motorcycle
relegated it to only a few. Yet it served to prove the viability of a hub-center
steered system and the benefits of truly separating braking and suspension
forces. It was and continues to be an influential design, heralding the
emergence of hub-center steered designs.

James Parker and RADD/RATZ

One of the most influential motorcycle suspension designs is the RADD


system designed by James Parker licensed to Yamaha for the GTS1000A.
Holding the most theoretical promise, it is a true hub-center double
swingarm system which separates braking and suspension. What makes the
RADD design different than the Tesi aside from the single-sided nature of
the suspension swingarm is that two A-arms are used, the lower to suspend
and brake, and the upper to steer. Unlike the Tesi swingarm design, this has
the advantage of parallelogram adjustability as seen in the Britten or
SaxTrak design as well as higher rigidity.

Parker went through many prototypes before working with Yamaha on the
GTS and the key was the telescopic steering column which allowed the most
direct inputs on the steering swingarm and is a stronger design solution than
the scissors-link used on Nico Bakkers QCS machine and the Britten. The
bane of a cornering motorcyclist is "bump steer" or the ability of road
irregularities or suspension movement to steer the bike itself. Many
prototype alternative front suspension systems by different designers had
problems with bump steer due to intricate or hydraulic steering linkages.
Parkers solution was direct steering control through the telescoping steering
column.

Essentially, two swingarms project forward from the


frame mounted on radial bearings. At the front ends of
each of the swingarms are spherical bearings that help to
control the movement of the wheel. Right here, benefits
over telescopic forks are visible. Bearing surface area is radically smaller
and bearing movement is less, creating almost imperceptible friction. No
longer are telescopic tubes moving against each other creating sliding
friction. The lower arm has a modern gas-charged shock mounted on the top
of the arm, connected to the frame. In this manner, the lower arms
movement is solely to suspend the front end. Frictional movement is
significantly reduced and rigidity is significantly increased. The steering
arms upper end is connected to a telescoping steering box which is
connected to the handlebars at the upper end of the system. Below the
steering box is another single-sided swingarm, smaller and lighter than the
suspension swingarm because it only needs to be strong enough to steer and
carry the weight of the rider. At the bottom end of this swingarm is another
spherical bearing that carries the wheel. The brake caliper is mounted to the
steering arm and a dished wheel with brake disc is the last component.

With Parkers design, there are many benefits as discussed with the other
systems. Steered mass is halved as all that needs to be steered is the wheel
and the upper steering swingarm. Rigidity is increased significantly due to
the nature of the suspension swingarm. A wide area at the frame mount
places loads in a much more direct route than traditional systems which send
forces up a set of telescoping levers, through a pair of roller bearings at the
steering headset and back down the frame. Suspension travel is essentially
relegated to one plane, and extreme travel does not cause changes in rake
and trail as experienced with traditional forks. Center of gravity and weight
is lowered, making a more friendly, easy to steer system. And finally, the
single-sided nature of Parkers system makes for easy wheel removal. The
benefits over traditional forks are numerous and practical.

Although the GTS was not considered a commercial success in the US, it
certainly was not due to any mechanical problems with the suspension.
Traditional fork systems have been in use for the entire life span of most
motorcyclists alive today. While the GTS does not demand a new riding
style, to get the most out of the design is to revolutionize the way one rides
as well. This front end, coupled with Yamahas excellent ABS system is the
potentially the most potent and stable braking platform on two wheels. The
separation of braking and suspension means that a rider can brake at a
threshold level while knowing that the suspension has 100% of its travel
available to deal with road irregularities. Traction and handling are no longer
mated to each other. Stability is the paradigm. In the same way suspension
has revolutionized bicycling both on and off-road.

Forks are a lever, and no matter how good the forks are, they
still act like a lever on the frame and multiply the load from the
front wheel to the chassis. If the front wheel of a motorcycle that
has traditional telescopic forks is loaded with 600 pounds, that
600 pounds translates to 1800 pounds of load on the frame. If the
forks of that same motorcycle were to be replaced by the RADD
system, a 600 pound load would be fed into the frame at only 600
pounds. [In the RADD system], the load of the motorcycle and
almost all of the loads that are generated by the front wheel
essentially travel into the chassis through the lower arm. The
lower arm is in-line with the load so theres no lever arm
involved. (James Parker, speech at RPI, 10/14/95)

According to Parker and owners of the GTS, the RADD front suspension not
only solves the classic lever problem, but works much more efficiently and
rigidly than the traditional system under heavy braking. Comments from an
informal poll of GTS owners reveal similar opinions.

Ive found the front suspension on this bike to be everything I


expected and more. Ive never ridden another motorcycle that
inspires the same cornering confidence that the GTS provides.
Unlike most bikes, which feel less and less secure as lean angle
and cornering speed increase, the GTS just never seems to use
up its full capacity to stick through even the bumpiest corners.
Paul Taylor (72002.3603@CompuServe.COM)

The most common criticism of [the GTS] was that it reduced


feedback and feel through the handlebars. Thats probably
partly true, but I think that it suspended so well that it unnerved
long time riders who were used to telescopic forks and had
trained themselves to understand and work with their inherent
quirks. It wasnt nearly as complex as it was made out to be, and
it provided more stability and more structural integrity than the
Telelever. It really does feel different--and I believe some riders
would never get comfortable with it--but if you are willing to
trust and adapt to it, its head and shoulders better than a
conventional fork, and potentially superior to Telelever. Mike
Knezovich (mike@spyglass.com)

Parkers effort since the GTS has been to create a purpose-built


roadracing bike developed around a Yamaha two-stroke engine.
The RATZ (mating RADD and the Yamaha TZ 250) roadracer
has addressed all of the problems that the RADD system on the
GTS had. Unfortunately, Parkers relationship with Yamaha in
developing the GTS was not as close as it should have been.
Problems that came up with the GTS included over engineering
of the swingarms, making them unnecessarily heavy and wide.
Slow-speed steering was theoretically better because of halved
steered mass over traditional systems, but Yamahas front wheel
was again over engineered and much heavier than was necessary
or safe. A better swingarm could have been both lighter in
weight and stronger by design, but Yamaha engineers erred too
far on the large side. The main problem with the wide front
suspension swingarm, other than weight and bulk, was that in
extreme cornering situations it is possible to scrape the
swingarm itself on the ground. A thinner, stronger and
higher-placed swingarm could work as efficiently and give the
rider as much lean as needed and that is exactly what Parker did
on the next design. He also eliminated a pair of flexible
couplings at either end of the steering tube to quicken steering
and lighten weight. (Karr, 1994:24)

Another Achilles heel for the GTS, and all of the designs discussed here, is
tires. While significant research was purportedly done to test tires on the
GTS, GTS owners believe that this bike is much more sensitive to tire design
differences than any other bike. Parker believes that once tire technology has
been re-examined to be developed specifically for the different needs of
swingarm suspensions, more benefits will be seen from the suspension
design. As it stands today, tire design and construction plays a critical role in
helping to suspend a traditional telescopic fork and modern radial designs
are iterationally optimized for these systems, not for any of these new
designs which place different loads on the tire. Parker believes there are no
inherent problems with the double swingarm suspension system and with
even a fraction of the research and design that has been devoted to telescopic
forks should bear out his beliefs. (Interview with James Parker, 5/17/95)
Parkers new effort is RAV, or Radically Advanced Vehicles, a company
dedicated to building an American sportbike. Using lessons learned from the
RADD and RATZ systems, Parker hopes to design a bike with an engine
specifically built for the front end design. He also hopes to cause a
revolution in tire manufacturing to build tires that will be developed
specifically for the new demands of these alternative suspension systems.
Tire design, much like motorcycle design, has been a evolutionary
development since the advent of radial construction. All of Parkers efforts
are, like Brittens, an attempt to look at motorcycles and riding from a fresh
perspective, a tabula rasa. Instead of updating an iteration of a previous
model, Parker chose to examine the benefits of twin a-arm steered upright
front suspensions systems and decided that the benefits vastly overweighed
the modern iterations of telescoping fork systems.

Bakkers QCS

While very similar the Parkers design, Dutchman Nico Bakkers Yamaha
QCS had a few important design differences to highlight. Much like Parkers
GTS, Bakkers machine used an FZR 1000cc Yamaha engine and a front end
almost identical to the GTS. But Bakkers bike used a scissors-link as is
found on airplane landing gear instead of a telescoping steering column. The
other difference is that Bakker had more linkages actuating the front
monoshock than the GTS design. These subtle differences made for a
product that is not as refined as the GTS. Low speed steering was hampered
by the scissors-link which added steering deflection because it was not
attached to the frame in any significant fashion.

Bakkers effort was a limited-production of 30 hand-built bikes. While his


execution of the twin-swingarm, steered-upright front suspension was less
effective than Parkers design, it shows the weakness of the scissors-link as a
steering member. Curiously, the Britten uses a scissors-link in its steering
system with excellent results.

Conclusion

The main stumbling blocks to further development of these alternative


systems is the conservative motorcycling public. While some of these bikes
are high-cost, low-production exotic machinery, it is telling that the BMWs
Telelevered bikes have been a commercial success when the Yamaha GTS
has not. Setting aside differences in audience and brand loyalty, the BMW
looks deceivingly like a traditional motorcycle whereas the difference of the
GTS is obvious. Not only do these alternative designs demand an open mind
when assessing the bikes, they demand a new riding style as well. The result
is a better motorcycling experience but not without efforts to change the way
one looks at or rides bikes. Those who have made efforts to try the new
technology know that the future lies beyond telescopic forks. Yet it is telling
that a significant portion of motorcyclists currently desire technology from
the early part of this century in the form of pushrod engines and dated
designs. What all of these alternative designs have done is to open the door
for further research into alternative systems not only in suspension but in
frame, tire and engine design. The immediate future of motorcycling will see
a move away from traditional frames as we know them and engines as
stressed members of frames will become the norm. When the designs of the
other parts of the motorcycle have been revolutionized as these suspension
systems have been, we will see a very different, better motorcycle.

Bibliography

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The Unofficial Britten Website in no way represents or tries to represent the


Britten Motorcycle Company Ltd.
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