Honda Developing Active Aerodynamics For Road And Race

Is this the next CBR1000RR’s killer feature?

CBR1000RR patent
Honda is working on active aero for the next-generation CBR1000RR. The winglets in the extended position are labeled #80.Honda Patents

Honda's CBR1000RR might have been updated a few times over the years, but strip the bodywork off the latest version and there's little hiding the fact that it shares its bones with models dating back to 2008. Not for long though. A new CBR1000RR is coming and this new patent application might have just revealed one of its unique selling points: active aerodynamics.

retractable winglets patent drawing
Honda’s retractable winglets on what is most likely the 2020 CBR1000RR can be seen in this left side profile, located near the front of the side fairing behind a fixed external panel.Honda Patents

One glance at the bike shown in the new patent application confirms that it shares little more than its basic layout with the existing CBR1000RR. There's still an alloy beam frame carrying an inline four-cylinder engine, but both are redesigned, as is all the bodywork. The fairing seen here bears more in common with the latest RC213V MotoGP bike than the road-going CBR1000RR, most notably the single, central air intake on the nose—grabbing a fresh intake charge from the point of highest pressure to ensure the maximum ram-air effect.

It's not quite as it seems though; the patent explains that a small headlight unit (labelled #59 in the drawings) hides inside that central intake to ensure the road-going versions of the bike look near-identical to their racing cousins. It's a similar ploy to the one Honda used on the frighteningly expensive, limited-edition RC213V-S streetbike, though this headlight is smaller and neater still. Harder to hide are the mirrors and licence plate bracket that are clear to see on the drawings.

2020 Honda CBR1000RR possibly
Is this the face of the 2020 Honda CBR1000RR?Honda Patents

Interesting though the new look is the real reason for the patent application, the active aerodynamic system which takes the winglets used by other manufacturers to a new level. As is becoming increasingly common, the bike features four winglets, stacked biplane-style on the fairing sides behind a “floating” external panel that’s similar to the one used on the initial 2018 version of Honda’s MotoGP bike. What’s new is that while that external panel is fixed, the four winglets it hides can be retracted or extended depending on whether the bike needs downforce or not.

CBR1000RR patent
When aerodynamic downforce is not needed the winglets retract into the CBR1000RR’s fairing.Honda Patents

The winglets themselves are at a fairly extreme angle of attack, designed to help deflect air upward and keep the bike’s nose down under hard acceleration as well as adding some downforce during braking and cornering. In a straight line at high speed, where conventional fixed winglets simply slow bikes down by causing aerodynamic drag, they can be pulled back into the sides of the bike, leaving a clear path for air rushing down the sides of the fairing.

It’s a remarkably simple system. The winglets are pivoted at the front and use Bowden cables connected to two servos, one on each side, to move their rear edges in or out.

four servos
A total for four servos, one for each winglet, control the extension and retraction of each.Honda Patents

For safety’s sake, the system is designed so any failure will result in the winglets staying in the “out” position, maximizing downforce. They’re sprung to default into that mode, only retracting when electricity is fed to the servos; a loss of power or broken Bowden cable would lead to them returning to full extension.

While MotoGP specifically bans the use of moving wings (the regulations state that “moving aerodynamic devices are prohibited” for all three classes) there doesn’t appear to be any such rule in WSBK. That’s clearly Honda’s target with this bike, and in that class the regulations for wings simply say: “Wings and other aerodynamic aids will only be considered legal if originally fitted to the homologated road-specification machine in all of Europe, Japan, and North America.”

winglet shape
A closer look at the winglet shape, in its extended position, that may be employed on the 2020 Honda CBR1000RR.Honda Patents

Honda could be beaten to the punch however. Aprilia clearly has similar ideas in mind, having shown the RS 660 concept last year which also promised adaptive aerodynamics, albeit with little detail as to how its system actually worked. The RS 660 is expected to become a production reality in 2020, and surely if Aprilia's active aero system works, it's likely to be employed on the RSV4 superbike as well.

Whether the FIM will start hastily scribbling amendments to those rules after seeing this patent remains to be seen, but there are rumors that Honda's 2020 CBR1000RR is going to be a huge step forward compared to the existing model. We've already seen patents for a variable valve timing system apparently aimed at a new inline-four superbike, and this new document adds to the growing body of evidence that Honda's next liter will be a quantum leap forward.