Why is it that powertrain evolution in motorcycles has not kept pace with that in motor-cars? Were attempts made to devise bikes with front-wheel or both-wheel drives? Intrigued by these questions, Piyush Sonsale decided to dip into motorcycle history. As he garnered fascinating information, he also got in touch with companies involved in such innovations overseas to get a complete picture
“Now I know how owls feel,” I thought to myself as my head pointed towards the corner exit and my body swayed laterally out of control with the bike. Legs stuck in ankle-deep slush, the helmet visor still mud-stained from my last fall, I struggled to find traction on the rear wheel of my bike while the spectators witnessed my helplessness. Finally, I steered out of my misery by stepping out and pushing the bike.
Well, my first off-road experience on a motorcycle wasn’t exactly, er, smooth, but it gave birth to an idea in my head. What if motorcycles were all-wheel driven? Now, most of us have seen the wonders of all-wheel drive cars on YouTube and sported a 4 X 4 vehicle wallpaper on our desktops some time or the other, but, as they say, you don’t get it till you do it. So back to the question. As Leonardo DiCaprio says in ‘Inception’, “What’s the most resilient parasite?
An idea!” I was possessed by the idea and had enough faith in human curiosity to believe that such experiments had been done in the past and, maybe, some exist even now. I was right.
Wiping the dust off motorcycle history, I found a treasure-trove of what can only be called marvellous engineering feats. Before getting nerdy, however, let’s find out what this ‘drive’ term I have been using means. The ‘powertrain’ (engine-transmission-countershaft-final drive) transmits the engine’s power and torque to the wheels. The wheels transmit the same to the ground by spinning and as a reaction the motorcycle moves.
Conventionally it’s the rear wheel that gets the honour and is said to be ‘driven’. The front wheel in this case is called a ‘dead wheel’ as it only steers (directs) the motorcycle.
There are three ways in which motorcycle wheels can be powered or ‘driven’: a) rear-wheel drive (RWD), b) front-wheel drive (FWD), and c) all-wheel drive (AWD). Among these, the rear-wheel drive system is the only one conventionally used in on-road, off-road and even racing prototype bikes. However, in this article we are concerned with the unconventional, with experiments that never made their way to the mainstream.
Let’s examine why.
All-wheel drive (AWD)
The all-wheel drive system is probably a communist idea since it involves distribution of the engine’s power and torque to both the wheels of a vehicle. But the distribution of power may not be equal. A capitalist intrusion?
Well, whatever the case, the AWD gives pulling power to both the wheels and amazing climbing and off-roading ability to the vehicle.
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