Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time

engineering

SHARP Dressed Man

I was never one to get into the ride with or without helmet argument.  For me, wearing one seemed to make sense.  During my short racing career, I learned that my neck was not up to the job of keeping my head from contacting the ground.  That that orb of skin, bone and brain affixed to the top of my shoulders was pretty vulnerable.  No matter how hard I tried, my head often struck the road whether my falling off was precipitated by a high side or a low side.  So my choice was limited to what make of helmet to wear and whose rating system I should consider.  Snell, ECE, BSI or DOT.

The choice of helmet has been made even more difficult with many manufacturers claiming that they have premium protection over the competition.  You could spend less than $50 on a DOT sticker beanie, and less than $100 on an open or full face helmet.  The choice is made even more difficult with helmet manufactures making all kinds of claims about the certifications they’ve obtained, while others have remained silent on the subject.

I used to think that having a Snell or ECE sticker on my helmet marked it as a quality helmet. Having a DOT or BSI sticker was OK, but not a sign of cutting edge protection.  But over the last couple of years a debate has broken out as to whether these ratings were based on good science and real world situations. Some claimed that the Snell certification did not represent real world scenarios and resulted in a helmet that was too “hard” that would transfer more energy to the rider than a “softer” (i.e. DOT/BSI) helmet.

A major magazine did an article that questioned the ratings systems and postulated that indeed, the generally cheaper and softer helmets DOT helmets were a better alternative to the harder more expensive Snell helmets.  From there a major firestorm erupted.  If the ratings system didn’t tell the truth, what can we rely on when choosing a helmet?

Well arguably there’s a new sheriff in town and it is gaining wide acceptance throughout Europe and perhaps soon in the United States.  It’s called the SHARP Helmet Safety Scheme.  It’s based in the United Kingdom and it claims that it takes the best elements from each of the safety standards, while using a more rigorous targeted testing process.

SHARP evaluations take testing one step further than the other major certifications.  Using a 5 star rating system, instead of just earning a “certification” SHARP ratings compare helmet performance against the SHARP standard and assign the helmet from one to five stars.  Because of this, you can compare the tested results not only against the standard, but against other helmets.

So with all these choices, certifications and claims, what do you use to help you make a decision as to what certification you should trust when choosing a helmet?  Want to know how your Arai RX-7 GP rates against an AGV GP Tech?  You can compare them right on the SHARP website and get the star rating for each (in this case 4 stars for the Arai RX-7 GP and 5 stars for the AGV GP Tech).  You can review all the helmets tested so far here:

 http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/home

The only problem is that they are still testing many makes and models of helmets so you may not find yours or the one you want to purchase.  But we now have another source to assist us in making our helmet choices.

Are you even more confused now?  I don’t know a lot about the exact science of helmet testing, but I do like having the ability to compare helmets against each other.  What do you think?

 


Forced Marriages – Do they work?

Forced marriages?  What does the topic of forced marriages have to do with motorcycling or adventure riding?  Have they lost their minds over there at R2ADV?   Not really, for the most part.  But what brings this topic to mind is the recent purchase of motorcycle manufacturer Ducati by automobile manufacturer, Volkswagen, AG through their division Audi for a reported $1.13 billion USD.  Many financial analysts have questioned the purchase as making no business sense, saying that there is no concrete business case for the purchase.

So why would Volkswagen/Audi (let’s just call them Audi for now on) a German automobile manufacturer known for precision engineering, spartan, efficient, and practical transportation want to purchase Ducati, an Italian, motorcycle company known for beautiful design (sometimes at the expense of functionality), passion and racing prowess?  Can the two heritages be aligned and successfully combined into one big happy family in this apparent shotgun marriage?

Well the conjecture is that Audi wanted a trophy in its cabinet and its purchase of Ducati certainly represents a big shiny one.  Huge racing heritage, cutting edge styling and maker of perhaps the most iconic motorcycle ever to be manufactured, the Ducati 916.  In addition, prior to the purchase, Ducati had been recently leveraging its racing heritage and begun moving and promoting its brand image to and even wider audience.

With the introduction of the Streetfighter, Hypermotard, Multistrada (version 2) and most recently the Diavel, Ducati had moved from a racing company to a full market motorcycle company.  But, and this is a big but, styling has always been a HUGE priority with Ducati even over cost, functionality and dare it be said, winning races.

But the question remains, how will Audi reconcile this styling priority with its engineering practicality philosophy?  Can/will Audi listen to the Italians when they say but this design is beautiful, you shouldn’t change it?  Will process and engineering controls overwhelm passion and styling at the new Ducati?

This brings me to question what the new Audi/Ducati might do to their adventure bike; the Multistrada.  Ducati, so fixated on performance, installed the engine from their world class superbike, tuned for torque, and fit it between excellent suspension.  Based on all this power, suspension adjustability and perhaps styling,  Ducati decided to mount a solid cast 17 inch front wheel.  This is not an optimal wheel for off roading, but it certainly looks swoopier and handles better on pavement and at high speeds.  Ducati just could not force themselves to fit a 21 inch front spoked wheel which probably couldn’t handle the projected power of the Multistrada, nor does it look especially nice.  Especially limiting is he fact that no tire manufacturer made a “knobby” tire in 17 inch rim sizes.  In fact, Ducati had a tire made by Pirelli especially for the Multistrada that they hoped would fit the adventure mission.

It was not a hit with the off road community.  In fact, it was the reason I sold my Multistrada.  It just really didn’t want to be an off road bike.  It was an awesome machine on the pavement, but anything more than wide gravel roads were a chore for the bike.  I should have known that from the start with the 17 inch front wheel.

So what will the new Audi/Ducati do?  Will the new company use the Audi approach and fit the engineer’s choice 21 inch front wheel or stay with the 17 inch wheel.  Recently, Continental Tire came up with a true “knobby” for the 17 inch rim so now the Multistrada has a knobby tire available.  They are “low profile” knobs, but they are knobs.  Will that be enough, or will the new Audi/Ducati start anew with a new design and a fresh sheet of paper, throwing away the Italian legacy?

Interesting question eh?  I did find that Wunderlich, a german motorcycle accessory and tuning company had been working with Continental and developed this machine based on the BMW S1000RR.   (picture from Motorcycle USA)

It’s an interesting looking machine to say the least.  Wunderlich has no relationship with Audi that I am aware of, but does this impart an idea of German thinking?   Such a comparison is pure conjecture, but it’s interesting to think about.

Well the jury is not only out, it’s yet to be selected.  But once selected, it will be interesting to see whether this forced marriage betweenVolkswagen/Audi and Ducati is given the thumbs up of survival or the thumbs down of business failure.