Motorcycles are about passion mixed with thrills, and when those two ingredients are combined on a good day, everything lines up like a perfect apex.
I recently had one of those days, riding an extraordinary motorcycle, right here in little old Australia. That motorcycle is the Motoinno TS3, a wild-looking creature 10 years in development that would not look out of place on a Matrix film set, which, as it happens, is not too far fetched.
You see, the inventor of the Motoinno TS3, Ray Van Steenwyk, happens to have over 35 years of experience in film production and 3-D animation, with a list of movies that include Matrix Reloaded, Mad Max Fury: Road, Happy Feet 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Charlotte’s Web, Promethius and many more.
A self-taught mechanical engineer and lifetime motorcyclist, Ray eventually combined all of his skills to create this masterpiece of motorcycle and mechanical engineering. And it’s a bike I had a special interest in riding too, as the famed Grand Prix mechanic Warren Willing did some work on it before he passed away, and readers familiar with my past know I did my motorcycle mechanic apprenticeship at Willing Motorcycles, with his brother and legendary racer, the late Len Willing. For Warren to have worked on the bike, he must have been really interested in it.
What Is This Thing?
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another hub-center-steering bike, or even a Bimota Tesi or Vyrus, but on second glance you will see huge differences. By the time you really stop and take it in, you will realize this is an all-new one-off alternative hub-center-steering (HCS) motorcycle. So, why?
Bikes have had telescopic forks for over 100 years, but manufacturers have always been aware of their flaws. We’re familiar with them and understand them. However, like our esteemed Ed-in-Chief’s skating skills, everything can be improved.
Forks and the steering system that comes with them present a problem because steering, braking and suspension moments all affect each other. When you brake, the braking forces are put through the suspension, which leads to the suspension being compressed. This in turn limits travel and the ability to ride bumps. We then increase spring rates and damping forces to slow down the dive and offer support on weight shift, however, this then compromises suspension performance. Braking hard also increases the steering angle as the forks compress, and then the opposite on extension, and there are other issues such as stiction and the major one, lateral flex, which can happen mid-corner over bumps or on the brakes, causing the tire contact patch to move away from the steering axis. This can cause wobbles or tank slappers.
All of this causes forces that produce torque around the steering axis, or steering head, which needs to be massive and bulky to cope. That force needs to go somewhere, and that is the rider’s arms, then body, legs, the rest of the bike and more wobbles and weaves result. A steering damper helps but only deflects the forces somewhere else.
There are good points with forks, of course. We are all used to the feel of them and compensating for their flaws, and the ability to adjust steering angle on the hop by using more or less braking force into a corner can be great, particularly tightening radius turns, and the feel and feedback we get through a telescopic fork front-end is not only familiar but also intimate as there is very little separating our hands from the front axle.
The single biggest advantage of hub-center steering is that it divides steering, braking and suspension functions into three separate moments that do not have an impact on each other. The disadvantage of these funny front ends has been a lack of rider feel and feedback. There has always been a series of linkages separating the handlebars from the steering axis, and each one reduces feedback and introduces the risk of slack.
The Motoinno TS3 minimizes this greatly as the ’bars are joined directly to the upper parallelogram swingarm, and that in turn is mounted straight to the steering axis.
The donor for the prototype test bike is a Ducati 900SS. What is left of the original machine includes the engine, bodywork, instruments and not much else. The engine is actually standard aside from open pipes and an ECU remap.
The Ducati trellis frame is gone, replaced by a chro-moly sub-frame at the rear, billet CNC sideplates that support it and the footpegs, the engine and the front swingarm. The engine thus becomes a stressed member with both the front and rear swingarms pivoting off it. There are two offset parallelogram swingarms on the front that keep rake and trail geometry constant through suspension travel and also allow the inbuilt Pro-Dive (fully adjustable dial-in anti-dive), while braking forces are directed through the horizontal plane of the lower swingarm to the engine.
What this design does is give the TS3 a virtual kingpin that starts at the contact patch of the tire, travels through the hub center along the steering axis and ends above the front wheel. So, if you look at the side-on image of the front of the bike, draw a triangle from the front axle to the pivot point below the front shock, then up to the steering head lower pivot point and back down to the axle, you will see this triangulated strength – thus the TS3 (Triangulated Steering & Suspension System) name designation.
What this does is almost completely eliminate a problem that some other HCS systems and all telescopic forks have, which is oscillation harmonics from the wheel or the kingpin, which is under huge loads. It also eliminates ground clearance issues, which some systems in the past have had due to the size of the front swinging arms they have had to employ.
The TS3 system is highly adjustable. Both ends feature a fully adjustable Afco shock, easily accessible, while rake and trail can be massively adjusted from 15º to 24º. For this test, the rake was set to 19º and corresponding trail was 98mm. Ray says the bike’s dry weight is a stunning 161kg (355 lbs), with 52% of it placed on its front end. Unlike other HCS bikes, the TS3 has a tight turning circle using a total steering sweep of 54º, around 25% more than an average bike with a telescopic fork. Wheelbase is a short 1394mm (54.9 inches).
Dive under braking can be adjusted via the Pro-Dive system invented by Ray. For my test, 25% dive was dialled in, leaving at least 75% of suspension travel available at all times under hard braking. The wheels are lightweight BST carbon-fibre, and the brakes are standard Ducati 900SS Brembo stoppers.
Testing a prototype with accuracy takes a lot of experience – you need hundreds of tests under your belt to give real feedback on a prototype. You also have to be prepared to put yourself on the line and push the bike past its limits, ideally without crashing of course, and you have to trust the builder and hope it is all strong enough. You also have the responsibility of not damaging a bike that can often be worth a million bucks and be difficult, or impossible, to repair or replace. Doing all of the above at a dangerous place like Lakeside Park near Brisbane, Australia, just adds another challenge, but this is part of the job I love.
I had a test plan in place before I arrived, which was to gently feel my way into the bones of the bike, do a thorough mechanical check over, make any subtle set-up tweaks (very few in the end, in fact only tire pressures), then gradually build to pushing the bike to crashing point but not crashing. I wanted to see how far that front end could be pushed compared to conventional forks as best as possible without having an identical bike on identical tires fitted with forks on hand to do a direct comparison.
Ray fires the bike into life and I grab a gear and roll out onto Lakeside Park’s short front straight. I’m surrounded by other bikes, which makes me nervous, and there is a no-passing-on-the-first-lap rule. I get a feel for the brakes, steering, engine character and gearbox while trundling along with in the group.
As we all round the final corner, I put my head on the tank and hit the go switch. Within two corners my knee is on the ground and I’m feeling like I have been riding this bike for an entire racing season, not the actual two minutes I’ve been aboard. From this point onwards, I know I am in for a good ride. The Motoinno TS3 is more than just pretty CNC work and wild looks.
Why am I so comfortable on this bike? The answer is that I am a front-end rider and I always need a planted, solid and confidence-inspiring front end to be able string a good lap together or to have a good Sunday run on the road. A rider who has faith in the front tire can do almost anything on a motorcycle. So I feel good on the bike, a big relief, and can now push on to dig up some info on this invention.
I circulate at the same pace for two more laps to learn more about the feedback and work out where the bumps are. I then push a little harder, first on the brakes, just a little later at a time into the Bus Stop and T2, trying to get a feel for the tire and what the bike does. It feels strange as there is the initial dive, which is comforting and familiar, followed by a sensation that left me wondering if the suspension was actually travelling up and down through its stroke or the track was simply billiard-table smooth. I assure you it is not the latter!
For the last few laps of the session, I combine late braking and introduce turn-in into it, again trying to get a feel for edge grip and sidewall compression and how far I can push before losing grip. I also play with lines and discover that regardless of corner entry or turn-in point, if there is a slower rider ahead, I can simply push the bike a bit further over and steer tighter and go underneath any bike I happen to come across.
Exiting the final corner I can choose where I want to be, even hugging the inside all the way around despite carrying incredible mid-corner speed. It is like there is more front tire available in reserve if needed, a bit like insurance. This makes the bike very raceable. It would be fantastic on an opening lap negotiating the pack, darting up the inside, around the outside, anywhere! It would also be a great wet-weather bike, allowing more safety margin. The session ends with some front tire chatter in the long tightening-radius double-apex T2 combo, and no sign yet of any other limitations.
After having a lot of experience on the 900SS platform, including racing one in the past, I enter the pits very impressed with the TS3. In fact, I admit I was a little shocked at how well the initial test session went.
I head out for my second session an hour later with a clear set of processes I want to go through to further push the limits of this bike. I begin by simply getting into a rhythm on the bike, which only takes a lap, such is my confidence in the front end. I’m still not getting the familiar communication I get from a telescopic fork and a steering-head, but I do have trust in the front as I have already overcome that purposely over-the-top corner entry: ‘Well, deep breath, here we go if I’m going to crash this will be it’ moment and came out the other side, so kept it at that level from that point.
The feel is coming to me, but the tire pressure is too high and causing some feel and chatter problem. Regardless, I now begin to test for lean angle and just how far that front tire can be pushed before it has a little tuck. This is a touchy job and I really don’t want to crash this bike, but I really, really want to know the answer!
I push and lean and push and lean, and there seems to be no end to this limit, then it suddenly tells me to back off – a front fold while leaned over in a corner. It was communicable, there was warning, and I simply did a Marquez and dug my knee in, only with nowhere near the style and grace!
I pull back to 90% for the last few minutes of the session and then get another message from the TS3 when the back comes around. I start to get some rear-end drifts, not really slides, but it is a gentle nudge from the back to say, “Hey, I can’t keep up with that front end, my limit comes first, pull it back a notch…”
The fact that to get to that point of the rear tire took so much pushing really is testament to the front, and as I roll back into the pits I’m yet again impressed. I would not have got that rear slide with a conventional front end, as the front would have folded before the rear could even get into that situation. Interesting stuff.
After some discussion, we agree to drop the front tire pressure by 3 psi and the rear by 4 psi. This fixes the chatter and transforms the bike. No other changes were required.
After a cold drink I head out for a last session on the TS3. The temperature has dropped and there is a cooler breeze. The Ducati 900SS engine feels crisper and cleaner and has a few more horsepower, and I’m wringing it out of this poor motor by revving it beyond where it should be, but it is holding up admirably well, as is the gearbox and clutch.
I have already tested the braking capabilities, the braking and turn-in transition, lean-angle behaviour, line changing into, through and out of turns and the high-speed stability, so now it is time to pose for a few photos for a few laps and then ride the Motoinno TS3 like I stole it.
I put my head on the tank, literally, and hold it flat in fifth gear onto the main chute, holding a tight line with ease and therefore using less tire on a corner where often you are just about kissing the Armco on the outside. I then snick sixth just before the Turn 1 kink completely full throttle and touching my boot and the redline just before preparing for the ultra-late braking point for Turn 2. Normally you want to slow but not wash off too much speed into here, but on the TS3 I am able to go really deep, brake hard and still easily get it turned and on line, without losing speed.
A quick burst of throttle has the TS3 rolling fast for the second apex and again I easily get the bike turned, tight and not at all near the bumpy outside part of the track, leaving me on the paint on the inside of the apex and ready to accelerate hard towards the Bus Stop. The TS3 simply leaps forward like a wild animal with only a very gentle wiggle of the ’bars.
The Bus Stop entry is where the advantage of the TS3 really shines. I brake as late as I would ever dare. In fact, I squeeze the Brembo lever as hard as I can and still, easily flick the bike left and right into the Bus Stop, on as tight a line as I could on a 125 GP bike. On exit of the Bus Stop I have to wrestle the bike through, however, this is the only part of the lap where the steering geometry settings feel conservative and I am carrying more speed than I would attempt on a conventional bike, making a mess of the exit on this occasion.
Accelerating hard down the hill, I recall seeing bikes drifting out to the edge of the track here. Not the TS3. I’m a good few meters off the outside and in fact pass some bikes up the inside before swinging into the fast uphill Hungry Corner, a classic spot for front-end grip losses. Not on the TS3. It remains solid and planted throughout, with no ground clearance issues.
Full throttle up the hill from the apex of Hungry Corner and I run it up the slope of Eastern Loop while braking and turning in. This corner has a habit of sucking you in late and then you either run wide or lose the front. On the TS3 I am able to get in a little hot and uncomfortable but still pull it into the apex here. It was here I was getting some decent rear-end drifting off the turn for the fast run down the hill for the entry to Turn 7, where the lap starts all over again.
The dropped tire pressures mean I have a more intimate feel for the front and am getting more acquainted with that each lap. However, it’d take me a bit longer than one day to fully understand the feedback, so right now it is a mixture of trust and experience. Another fun few laps and I decide it is time to give the two-valve a good rest and I head in.
A look at the tires reveals I was off the edge of the rear yet had a good few mm left in reserve on the front, which is not unusual, but the next challenge for Ray and team will be getting that rear end to go that little bit further to help get more advantage from the front. However, this is purely from a racer perspective and not required for road or track day applications.
Overall, I was very impressed with the TS3 and the positives for me outweigh the negatives so far. That feel on the track would improve with race rubber fitted, and I can’t comment on what the feel would be like on the public roads until I try it.
What were the negatives? Not many. I would like a feeling of more resistance to steering inputs, as I am accustomed to pushing on a bar with a certain amount of pressure and resistance to get a bike turning, whereas the TS3 feels like the front tire is suspended – it is that light – so it did oversteer occasionally when riding on autopilot at the limit.
I could feel what I thought was a small amount of flex or movement between the bars and the wheel actually turning, but only during quick changes of direction.
The positives are clear, though, with improved braking capabilities, steering behaviour and suspension freedom (it can work unhindered) making this a great ride.
The next test will be durability as there are a lot of parts and I would absolutely love to see this adapted to a more powerful bike. It would be something else…
Now the question everyone wants to know. Is the TS3 better than a bike with a telescopic fork? I can’t answer that for certain yet. However, on my day, on that track, on that bike, I can confidently say that I would not have been able to take a Ducati 900SS with a conventional front end to the same limits as I could take the TS3 to.
|Motoinno TS3 Specifications|
|Engine||Ducati 900SS 90º V-twin Desmodromic two-valve per cylinder air/oil-cooled four-stroke, custom air intake and exhaust, re-tuned EFI|
|Bore x Stroke||92 x 68mm|
|Transmission||Six-speed gearbox with dry clutch|
|Chassis||Billet CNC machined 6064 aluminum frame and swingarm, chrome-moly sub-frame|
|Rake||15 to 24 degrees variable|
|Trail||3.9 inches to 19 degrees variable|
|Pro-Dive/Anti-Dive||variable from zero to 100%|
|Steering||Scissor (shear) link hub-center steer|
|Front and Rear Shock||Afco T2 custom fully adjustable|
|Wheels||BST carbon-fibre wheels|
|Tires||Pirelli tires 120/70-17 (front), 180/60-17 (rear)|
|Front Brakes||320mm dual Brembo rotors and four-piston Brembo calipers|
|Rear Brakes||Single 200mm Brembo rotor and two-piston Brembo caliper|
|Weight||354.9 pounds wet|
|Seat height||32.3 inches|