Monday, 18 March 2013

Vyrus Motorcycles - Hub-Centre Perfection

Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle
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Last week we featured the FFE 350, a heavily modified forkless Yamaha RZ350 built by engineering virtuoso Julian Farnham. In keeping with a forkless-front-end theme, this week we will be profiling the most exotic and advanced hub-centre steering designs of all time – the Vyrus.
If you want to re-invent the proverbial wheel in the motorcycle industry, it seems that the most popular place to start is the front suspension. Dozens of companies have fielded hundreds of prototypes and the odd production model that eschews the conventional telescopic fork for something more effective. It seems that every few years an iconoclastic design emerges to tip the motorcycle world on its head and correct the flaws of the traditional fork. One of the most striking (and difficult to execute) alternative suspensions is the hub-centre steered front wheel, and the undisputed current king of the hub-centre design is Vyrus, based in Coriano, Italy.



Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984
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Ascanio Rodorigo was a Bimota technician who joined the famous boutique brand early on as a racing mechanic in the 1970s. He left the company in 1985 to form his own manufacturer, called ARP, where he produced custom components for racing motorcycles. This experience is what allowed him to develop one of the most advanced and avant-garde motorcycle designs of the modern era. He did the unthinkable – build a bike that was so exclusive and so desirable that it would make a typical Bimota owner green with envy, Not only that, he built a bike so amazing that Bimota themselves licensed it for resale under their brand name.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984
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But first, lets look at a bit of history and technology. Last week we profiled the FFE 350 which featured a forkless front suspension steered via a Foale’s type design. While the FFE is forkless, it is not a hub-centre steering design, nor is James Parker’s RADD suspension – those are steered upright designs. A hub centre suspension uses the same principles as a forkless front end (using a swinging arm and shock to suspend the front wheel) but the wheel itself is maneuvered via a king pin in the axle hub that yaws the front wheel from side to side when it is rotated forward and backwards via a push-pull linkage. The wheel pivots around the central axis of the wheel itself. You get the same benefits as any other swinging arm front suspension – no dive or squat or stiction, you isolate the steering from braking and accelerating forces, very little lateral flex, and you can make a lighter and more minimalist chassis because you aren’t channeling suspension forces into the headstock. The only drawbacks are complexity, unfamiliarity, a wide steering lock, and a vague feeling if there is any freeplay in the various bushings and bearings.
Bimota Tesi 1D Ducati Motorcycle
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Hub-centre steering on motorcycles is not a new concept – it has existed in two-wheeled designs for nearly a century - the Ner-a-Car of the 1920s had a simple hub-centre design. The best-known modern production example, and the inspiration for the Vyrus, is the Bimota Tesi.
Difazio Hub Centre Steering Design
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The Tesi 1D was introduced in 1991 under the technical direction of Pierluigi Marconi and wowed riders the world over with its radical suspension setup and high-tech components, not to mention its exorbitant price tag. Marconi had developed the hub-centre design in 1982 as a design thesis (hence the name, Tesi is Italian for Thesis). The design was based on the Difazio hub-centre assembly, which uses a floating axle riding through a king pin inside an oversized front hub. Several prototypes were built and tested through the 1980s, including one that used a Honda V4 and hydraulic steering assistance. The production version was announced in 1987 but delayed until 1991 by financial difficulties (a common occurrence at Bimota). The production model that was unveiled in 1991 ditched the V4 and complex hydraulic arrangement for a simpler approach – tuned Ducati Desmoquattro L-twin and mechanical linkages with no assist. The 1D saw several updates over the years, finally finishing production in 1996 as Bimota geared up to build the infamous V-Due.
Bimota Tesi Ducati 2D
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The original Tesi was flawed but served as inspiration for Rodorigo who developed an updated hub-centre design in 2002. This machine would become the Tesi 2D “Millenium”, introduced in 2004-05 when the brand was resurrected (for a second time). He adapted the principles of the 1D but simplified the overall design. The engine was now an air-cooled Ducati Desmodue 1000DS twin. The suspension was refined and tweaked to improve on some of the complaints leveled at the original Tesi. The suspension was damped by a unique springless air assist shock mounted on the side of the bike, pivoting off the distinctive Omega frame spars that used the engine as a stressed member. Styling was decidedly modern and in keeping with Bimota’s new aesthetic direction – gone were the soft curves and enveloping fairings of the 80s and 90s, here were sharp angles and naked engineering. The Tesi 2D was a spectacular industrial beauty that wore its mechanical bits on the outside for all to see.
Bimota Tesi 2D Naked
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If you read the press reports carefully, you’ll note that while the 2D was announced, presented and promoted as a Bimota, Rodorigo and his “VDM/Vyrus” brand were credited with the design, which was being licensed to Bimota. In fact the Vyrus 984, named for the tuned 984cc Ducati twin it used for motivation, had been around since 2003. If anything, Bimota’s involvement served as a way to promote Vyrus as a viable manufacturer and develop a demand for the stunning work emerging from Rodorigo’s garage. It was clear that Vyrus was not some fly by night operation showing off a vaporware product – this was the real deal, and it was impressing testers around the world. Without Bimota homologating the bike for road use and providing it to journalists for review, getting placement on magazines covers all over the world. With demand growing fast, Rodorigo set about refining his design and developing new variants.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984
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Vyruses are produced in what would be best described as an atelier. The “factory” has an R&D department, prototyping workshop, spares warehouse, assembly floor, offices, and a loading dock. All within the footprint of an average motorcycle dealership, and not an especially big one at that. It makes Bimota look cumbersome in comparison. And it emphasizes the unhurried, bespoke approach Vyrus takes when assembling bikes. They aren’t churning out production models for showrooms. They build individual bikes to order, and no two bikes are the same.  
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984
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You can order any Vyrus you like from the catalogue, in any specification you please. The basic model is the 984 C3 2V, based on a classic air-cooled Ducati 1000DS motor. Next up is the 985 C3 4V, which upped the ante with a Testastretta liquid-cooled engine taken from a Ducati 999R. Once the 999cc motor became old hat, they introduced the 987 C3 4V with the 1198cc Testastretta Evo engine out of a 1098R. The basic chassis is shared between all the models. But this only tells half the story.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984
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Options are limitless and every machine is built to order, in consultation with the owner. Rodorigo will personally guide the buyer through his or her options, which are mind boggling. Would you prefer titanium axles and bolts? Maybe you’d like some carbon fibre oil cooler hoses? How about carbon ceramic brakes? They will even custom map the engine to suit your riding style (and skill level). Every single element of the bike is customizable, so no two Vyruses are the same and every machine is tailored to suit the owner. Retail prices are moot, because that is only the starting point. Needless to say, they are terrifyingly expensive, starting around 60-odd thousand excluding options.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 985
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It’s a lot of money for a bike, but when you witness the quality involved you simply can’t criticize. Rodorigo is proud to say every single metal component – nuts, bolts, assemblies, axles – is CNC milled from solid. The company coordinates with over 250 suppliers as well as prototyping and making specialized components in-house, a staggering accomplishment when you consider the whole operation is comprised of five people. Every piece is of the highest quality and the finished bikes, regardless of the specification, are absolutely mesmerizing to look at. Every single component is a work of art, coming together to form an abstract rolling sculpture that sounds like the end of the world and looks like a science fiction creation. The design is not for everyone. People who are dead inside might think it’s a bit ugly, while anyone with a pulse and an eye for detail will be utterly gobsmacked by a Vyrus.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 985 Suspension
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Performance is as impressive as the components. Vyrus is famous for its incredulously lightweight machines. Rodorigo is quick to point out that his “dry” weight measurements are obtained with all the fluids and the tires installed, only the gasoline is omitted. So when Vyrus quotes 330lbs for the 984 and 350lbs for the 985/987, they mean it. That excludes optional lightweight components like carbon fibre wheels and subframes – there is always room for improvement, if your wallet can sustain it.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 985
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If the 184hp, 350lb 987 4V R isn’t hot enough for you, Vyrus will install a low-pressure Lysholm-type twin-screw Volumex supercharger to boost the motor up to 211hp. In 2010, the 987 Kompressor was the most powerful production bike on the market, not mentioning that it had the best power to weight ratio of anything this side of a formula one car. Only the absolutely bonkers price-upon-application NCR M16 was able to surpass the Kompressor in the absurd, eyeball flattening power-to-weight ratio competition, and NCR resorted to using a tuned Desmosedici RR V4 to pull that off.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle
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But what about that advanced chassis and hub centre front end? After all, that’s the Vyrus’ real claim to fame. Reviewers heaped the expected praise on the design – stable, undisturbed by dive or squat, and generally very impressive to ride once you got used to the characteristics. They even reported good feedback and feel from the front end, which is high praise for a hub centre design. The only gripe was limited steering lock due to the narrow width of the front swingarm.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 985 Front End
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Early versions shared the Tesi 2Ds air assisted shocks but later versions abandoned the system for conventional coil-spring designs. In either case the shock is mounted via a rising rate linkage. The chassis is clearly inspired by the Tesi 1D, with box section aluminum swingarms at both ends connected via a billet Omega frame spar bolted to either side of the engine. Two simple subframes are bolted onto that, one for the seat, the other to support the controls and instruments. The front end has two ball-jointed torque arms connected to the brake caliper mounts, with the steering linkage on the right side connected to a bell crank on the right hand frame spar. Geometry is fully adjustable. The handlebars are arranged like a traditional set of clip-ons around a vestigial top triple. I only mention the controls because with a hub-centre design there is no need to maintain the traditional layout. It could use a joystick for all that it matters. But some familiarity with tradition is probably needed, lest they alienate anyone reared on common bikes.   
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 985
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 In 2011 Vyrus made a surprise bid to join the new Moto2 category by designing a new bike around the series-spec Honda CBR600RR powerplant. The 986 M2 appeared similar to the Ducati-powered offering at first glance, but had some clear differences. The hub-centre front end was retained, but with a new swingarm and a hydraulically assisted adjustable steering linkage. A new frame was developed around the inline four, and it was clothed in a new set of bodywork. Two versions were offered – a race-ready model with top spec components for a little under $90 000 USD, and a street legal variant for around $40 000. An engineless kit was in the works for around $27 000, certainly the smartest option considering you can’t swing a dead possum without hitting a salvage CBR600 up for grabs. 
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 986 Moto2

Unfortunately there were no takers for the Moto2 venture and the company sold off the prototypes in 2012 - but not before Vyrus designed a new front suspension assembly that incorporated what appears to be a steered upright. Why they did this is not clear, and there hasn’t been any recent details on this new suspension design. The Ducati-powered 984/985/987 models continue to use the original design.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 986 Moto2

Perhaps strangest of all was the MiniVyrus project sold via LRG minibike specialists in Italy. The MiniVyrus 07 EV was a miniaturized hub-centre design build around a 40cc two-stroke pocketbike. Details are scant, but it is clear a few examples were built (including one housed in the Barber Motorsports Museum) and that they were stupendously expensive (as you'd expect) for a minibike at well over 5000$. 
Vyrus continues to operate quietly, working on their backlog and building some of the most spectacular bikes on the market. The most recent model is the 984 Ultimate Edition announced (well, one was built and offered for sale) this year, which maxes out the trick parts to reduce weight to a scarcely believable 317lbs. That’s for a 992cc bike that is street legal, complete with lights, mirrors and a starter motor. The only way you’ll get a Ducati in that weight range is by stealing a WSBK-spec RS machine from the paddocks and duct taping flashlights to the fairing.
Vyrus Hub Centre Motorcycle 984 Ultimate Edition
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Ascanio Rodorigo has gone from his humble wrench-spinning beginnings at Bimota and built his Vyrus concept into an exclusive marque that produces some of the most jaw-droppingly incredible street-legal motorcycles you can purchase and stick a license plate onto. The unique hub-centre steering design developed by Rodorigo and used on all his bikes is only one element of the innovation he offers. His philosophy, of constant innovation and the use of the finest components possible, are reflected by his company motto: "Questa รจ la mia sfida!" which translates to "This is my challenge!".

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