Technology Validated In The Showroom, Not On The Racetrack

Production improves the breed.

Max Biaggi
Aprilia refers to the RSV4 X as “the most exclusive super sportbike.” Claimed dry weight for the 225-hp carbon-faired machine is 364 pounds. After riding the winglet-equipped 1,078cc V-4 at Mugello, 48-year-old Max Biaggi said, “The sensations are exactly like those of a racing bike.” Biaggi won three 250cc Grand Prix championships and two World Superbike titles with Aprilia.Aprilia

Honda patents and other information sources suggest that company will soon release a new CBR1000RR featuring retractable MotoGP-style downforce winglets. The conservatism of MotoGP, where electronic rider aids are required to operate on 10-year-old software, deters manufacturers from introducing new technology there so quite possibly what we are seeing is Honda's plan to introduce such innovation in World Superbike competition, where electronics remain "free" and anything goes that is part of a production model. As recent events demonstrate, the present Kawasaki ZX-10RR and Ducati V4 R will take some beating—more than bold new graphics.

Aprilia may be doing something similar with the “No Neutral” gearbox supplied on its “production” run of 10 RSV4 X racer-replicas, priced at 40,000 euros each or about $44K at current exchange rates. At least one account of why Aprilia has put neutral at one end of this bike’s shift pattern, rather than between first and second, says it is because “this saves time.” That is clearly not true, as there is exactly the same shift-drum rotation angle required for all shifts.

A neutral exclusion during vigorous riding would eliminate the possibility of accidental contact with the shift pedal selecting neutral from either first or second.

In a non-seamless transmission, there is a neutral condition between each pair of ratios, but only between first and second is there a detent on the drum to hold it in place when selected. This detent is a weak one, which is why it can be difficult to find neutral with a running engine and some degree of clutch drag—right after cold starting, for example, when oil viscosity is high. During a normal first-to-second upshift, the shift claw pulls the drum through the same number of degrees as between all other shifts, and the drum passes right through the weak neutral detent without delay.

On the other hand, a neutral exclusion during vigorous riding would eliminate the possibility of accidental contact with the shift pedal selecting neutral from either first or second. One way to do that would be to retract the neutral detent and another way would be to put neutral at one end of the pattern and provide a drum stop that prevents the drum from reaching neutral.

Based on the RSV4 1100 Factory, the RSV4 X is part of the “factory works” program launched by Aprilia’s racing department. The Italian manufacturer intends to hand-build 10 examples of this lightweight $44K superbike, all of which will be equipped with Aprilia’s No Neutral (ANN) gearbox, machined-from-solid Brembo GP4-MS front brake calipers, and Pirelli slicks.Aprilia

When winglets first appeared in MotoGP, I thought they might provide a styling element sought after by tech-hungry sportbike riders, even though the original reason for their existence is to prevent high-speed acceleration from being interrupted by the anti-wheelie system, which, operating by ignition, fuel, or throttle cuts, slows acceleration. If a MotoGP winglet array generates, say, 40 pounds of downforce at 220 mph, it will generate only 11 percent as much, or 4.4 pounds, of downforce at a freeway speed of 75 mph. This makes it hard to imagine the system is functionally useful to highway riders, but its association with racing may make it socially attractive—“Like, rad, dude!”

These systems and possibly others yet to come, validated in the showroom, will be eligible for use in World Superbike and possibly more acceptable to MotoGP rules makers, caught as they are between the growing vintage aspect deemed necessary to preserve inter-team parity, and the conflicting need to present their class as motorcycling’s highest technology.

Manufacturers race for two reasons: 1) To associate their names with the excitement of widely viewed motorsports; and 2) to develop advanced technologies. If the latter is stopped by MotoGP’s “need for vintage,” it can still go forward in World Superbike.