SR Archive | Senior Thesis: Monocoque Shock!

Hans Moritz takes his passion of motorcycles and creates his own

This article was originally published in the June 1996 issue of Sport Rider.

Graduating seniors from California’s Art Center of Design have a habit of wowing the public with their final projects, designing and assembling brilliantly executed models of everything from electric commuter cars to high-tech hockey gloves. But senior Hans Moritz had already gone the model route and looked beyond theory to reality. And his reality is motorcycling, not just because he commutes and plays on a lightly modified ZX-11, but because he told us, “Designers know a motorcycle is the most passionate object to design or work on. The size was feasible; besides, people told me it couldn’t be done. I had to prove them wrong.” And what Hans Moritz has done is design and build a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis housing a GSX-R1100 engine, the first composite monocoque street bike we know of. Moritz calls it his senior thesis as a graduating Transportation Design student. We call it the future.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Don't be distracted by the nine-year-old Suzuki running gear, because the project's emphasis was solely on the monocoque chassis. You can hoist the entire motorcycle from the immensely strong front "fender." Don't try that on your CBR900RR.Photography by Wes Allison

Don’t look for hidden frame members or even strengthening gussets between major stress points such as the steering head and swingarm pivot because the gracefully sculpted carbon fiber isn’t just the body, it’s the entire chassis. In an age where the carbon-fiber look runs rampant, seen on everything from stick-on numbers to triple-clamp covers to laid-up, fiberglass-like fenders, Moritz’s monocoque reminds everyone of the benefits of carbon fiber when properly applied: immense strength with minimal weight. The lesson is taught clearly by Stealth aircraft and IndyCar technology, but the general public isn’t always privy to these teachings. Moritz, however, is.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Hans Moritz fully plans to register and ride his creation, thus the projection-beam headlights grafted on the monocoque’s right-side and low-profile turn signals. A removable windscreen would easily bolt to the front “fairing.”Photography by Wes Allison

Moritz spent the last two years as an intern for Digital Design in Irvine, California, and the high-tech aerospace firm had reams of IndyCar carbon fiber. Hans had an idea and his Independent Study instructor at Art Center, Peter Brock, the man who sculpted the aerodynamic body of the 1965 world-championship-winning Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, encouraged him to pursue it. Digital Design provided everything from work space to the high-tech carbon fiber and nomex core (a honeycomb strengthener sandwiched between two layers of composite), the same stuff used in Stealth aircraft construction; it would be the conversion of Stealth technology that allowed Moritz to construct a chassis that also serves as the bodywork, seat and even fuel tank.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
The lower front engine mount bolts directly to the monocoque; carbon fiber is prone to fatiguing at pinpoint stress areas, necessitating large washers to spread the load. The composite in this area is 2.5 times thicker to handle the stress and vibration of the engine mount.Photography by Wes Allison

Moritz simply measured a 1987 Suzuki GSX-R1100 to obtain wheelbase and other chassis dimensions, then went to work, relying heavily on engineering consultants Dale Woolum (owner of Digital Design) and Larry Diener for the correct carbon-fiber technology, which included everything from the carbon-fiber matte and epoxy to cure times and temperatures, two specifics Moritz wouldn't reveal. The design, styling and impetus came from the 24-year-old Moritz, as well as the motivation to put together this year-long project that saw this team work around the clock to make the Art Center's Senior Show deadline. Was it worth it? "Absolutely," enthuses Hans. We agree.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Brandon Smesick placed 2.5-inch-tall aluminum strips around the clay to ensure the molds pull cleanly away without cracking.Photography by Wes Allison
Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Clay master Chuck Boudreau puts the finishing touch on the clay nose prior to the forming of the molds that will then be used for the final carbon-fiber body.Photography by Wes Allison

The chassis, with engine mounts, weighs 39 pounds, though Hans thinks he can cut 30 pounds from the chassis alone, telling SR, "This first chassis was so experimental, from the clay work to the molds, everything, so it was com­pletely overbuilt. Now we can go back through it to analyze loads and strength, improve the engine mounting points and refine everything. I'm sure I can get the entire chassis to weigh nine pounds." The beauty of a rigid, nine-pound chassis should make the light-and-lithe club salivate. Also consider that Suzuki's oil-cooled GSX-R1100 isn't the lightest engine on the planet; stretch your imagination to include a superlight V-twin, two-stroke 500cc engine, and you can easily picture a Moritz monocoque weighing in at…180 pounds? Even with the best current four-stroke technology such as the CBR900RR or GSX-R750 light­weights, Moritz could be looking at a bike near 300 pounds. Excited yet?

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
“Minimalist” best describes the monocoque’s rear end, with just a scrap of foam representing the seat; a taillight will be added. The seat top unbolts and the battery and electricals ride in the seat-pillar cavity.Photography by Wes Allison
Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Moritz almost apologized for the simple, laid-up, carbon-fiber rear fender.Photography by Wes Allison

This first Moritz machine isn’t just a roller, it runs. Hans told us at the photo studio, “I didn’t want to bring it here without running it, so last night we got it fired up. With this open pipe my neighbors must hate me, but hey, it runs!” A coil shorting out gave Hans some problems and the oil cooler lines were touching the header pipes, but Hans addressed those minor points and we rode the bike around Art Center’s parking lot, whetting our appetite for the day Hans licenses it and invites us on a Sunday morning ride; expect a full ride report soon.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
The artist in Moritz created the faux dash panel and Dale Woolum created the lovely top triple clamp that matches the billet-aluminum side panels.Photography by Wes Allison
Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
The switchgear is functional and Moritz was adamant about making the bike ridable.Photography by Wes Allison

Moritz and friends worked around the clock for nine months, with four months spent preparing the full-scale clay model over an aluminum buck to create the all-important molds. Chuck Boudreau’s invaluable clay work carried the project through these tough early months, and Brandon Smesick handled the difficult and tricky mold designs, working through the night not for salary but with an enthusiasm that Moritz and these experts traded back and forth to accomplish what many said couldn’t be done. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much Moritz’s efforts remind me of John Britten’s initial work on the V1000, a machine that shouldn’t have existed, built by men that couldn’t have built it. It’s this enthusiasm, dedication and brilliance that can’t be measured, purchased or borrowed, and it’s this enthusiasm that pulled this team back from the edge of despair and exhaustion again and again. John Britten’s smiling.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Lenn Dodd Jr. follows in his famous father’s foot­steps and helped the project by crafting the aluminum belly pan, working the metal like only a Dodd can.Photography by Wes Allison
Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
There was tension in the air as Hans Moritz and Brandon Smesick pulled the mold off the carbon fiber, but one look at the faces of the two fabricators tells you the relief of clearing this huge hurdle.Photography by Wes Allison

The entire project team held its breath the day the molds were pulled off the finished piece. They had entered an extremely experimental stage of the project, and any flaw would scrub the months of night-and-day work. The clay buck had served to make the molds; the molds were filled with carbon fiber, then vacuum-bagged separately in an aerospace-spec vacuum for 24 hours; they were then bolted together and a bonding agent was added to form the complete bike. One by one, the molds popped off perfectly. “From that day on, I knew we could do it. But up to then, I wasn’t sure,” Moritz confesses. Then the team went into high gear, finding Tony Yo to complete the electricals and none other than Lenn Dodd Jr. to knock out the stylish aluminum belly pan. Lance Haney and Derrick Ferretti burned the midnight hours during final assembly, while Dale Woolum added finishing touches such as the machined-from-billet side panels and a swiss-cheesed triple clamp. “It was tough fitting everything into the small space of a motorcycle, because I was used to working with car models and their relatively large engine bays,” Hans said, but as the show deadline approached, the work moved forward steadily, clearing the major hurdle when the molds popped off. “This wouldn’t have happened without Dale, Chuck and Brandon. Those guys are pros,” Hans told us.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
The carbon-fiber bodywork after one of the sides of the mold has been removed.Photography by Wes Allison
Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Hans takes a look at his work that took many dedicated hours to create.Photography by Wes Allison

Moritz employed several techniques to deal with the realities of a working motorcycle, as opposed to gluing things in place on a design model. The team cast the steering-stem races into the carbon fiber after Moritz cut the stock steering stem out for use in the clay buck, then simply attached the GSX-R1100 steering stem as you would on a stock Suzuki frame. The lower shock mount and rear engine mounts were wrapped in fiberglass, then bonded into the chassis (all aluminum was wrapped in fiberglass to prevent corrosion that results from carbon fiber and aluminum contact), but the front engine mounts were simply bolted to the carbon-fiber chassis with three bolts per side, though the carbon fiber in these two areas was more than doubly reinforced. Certainly machining races and mounts into the monocoque would be the preferred method and something we’ve seen on IndyCar tubs, but it was a bit too large of a gamble for the first roll of the dice.

Hans Moritz' monocoque street bike as his senior thesis
Hans Moritz aboard his senior thesis. A month after graduation the 24-year-old was hired by Honda. That’s good news for all of us!Photography by Wes Allison

To call Moritz’s first working monocoque motorcycle a gamble isn’t a negative description, because the 1995 graduate actually completed a senior project to satisfy his graduation requirements at the same time this motorcycle thesis was taking place at Digital Design. He didn’t need this Suzuki-powered composite ride to make a grade, but he needed it to satisfy his desire to push the envelope of motorcycle design by applying aircraft- and IndyCar-technology to the sport he loves most. Hans Moritz designed and produced models to satisfy Art Center requirements, but this senior thesis launches his career and shines a light into all our futures.

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