“One component, two jobs. On the surface, brilliant. In reality, it worries me a bit”
ILIKE MOTORBIKES. I mean, I really, really like motorbikes. I’ve owned them for years, ridden them long before that and they’ve taken me around the world, over mountains and across deserts. One of the things I like most about bikes is that they tend to be pretty bloody-minded from a design point of view. Well, the ones I like best are, anyway.
When you’re working with a machine that can’t stand up by itself even when it’s NOT moving and it has to be manhandled by a single human in the normal course of things, and can easily be capable of a 10-second quarter mile, you tend to find a lot of what would be considered considerations in a less focused machine are suddenly not. Considerations, that is. Keeping weight down also means paying serious attention to the notion of one thing having two or more jobs.
It’s how some bikes evolved to carry their lubricating oil in their frames. And why engines became stressed members and, therefore, part of the load-bearing frame structure. But sometimes, that ethos gets a bit out of hand. Apparently.
I recently saw a home-made bike (and some of my all-time faves have been home-brews) which took the multi-tasking thing a step too far. The builder had realised that the fuel tank was a teardrop shape with a rounded front that tapered back. And so was the bikini fairing he had in mind. So, the bloke (or it could have been a dame, I dunno) took a fuel tank, made recesses for the handlebars and then mounted it at the front to the bike just like a small fairing. Hell, he even mounted the headlight in the front of the tank, too.
On the surface, this was brilliant. One component, two jobs. In reality, it worried me a bit. For a start, petrol is heavy and, when you carry it up high, your centre of gravity moves up with it. This goes against accepted engineering wisdom in a bike or a car. Not only was the centre of mass hiked, it was also moved way forward (outboard of the steering axis, in fact, so just like hanging a car’s engine ahead of the front axle line) to where it would have been if the bike had used a conventionally-mounted fuel tank. And not only that, but now the mass was also sloshing around when the handlebars were turned. And just to cap it off, the changes to the C of G and the load on the steering axis would change as the volume in the tank varied. Looked cool, but deffo not the way I would have gone. And that’s before we even get to the stuff about the fuel tank now being the first thing on the scene of the accident.
Same goes for some car design I’ve seen in the last few weeks. The Ferrari 488 that featured at PCOTY the other day had the least integrated door handles I think I’ve ever seen on a car. Cockburn tut-tutted, explaining that he reckoned they were designed to tailor the airflow into the cooling ducts at speed. He’s right, but they still look fugly and remain a winglet too far for mine.
Modern touch screens are probably the worst offenders. A Citroën I drove recently used the same touch screen for the entertainment, HVAC, phone and nav functions. Sounds like clever use of a single screen. At first. Problem was, once the screen was switched to either discipline, you couldn’t access a single function of the others. You want to change the radio station and turn up the air-con at the same time? Tough. Select entertainment from the menu. Change the radio. Go back to the menu. Select the climate control and then, finally, set your new temp. And halfway through all that, the phone rings and over-rides the lot.