Shape of things to come?

Does Ducati’s new Su­per­sport sig­nal a re­nais­sance for comfy sports­bikes? MCN in­ves­ti­gates the sci­ence of sit­ting at speed

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Twenty years ago, there was a glut of com­fort­able, prac­ti­cal sports­bikes – ma­chines that had the sport­ing abil­ity our heart de­sires, but com­bined with the prac­ti­cal­ity, ease of use and com­fort our head de­mands. In a world that was then sports­bike crazy, it wasn’t a co­in­ci­dence that th­ese were some of the coun­try’s best-sell­ing bikes. They were sim­ply bril­liant bikes – and al­lowed us all to scratch, tour and track­day on the same bike with­out too much dan­ger of a cricked neck or dodgy knee.

There’s still loads of them around now – bikes like the Honda CBR600F and Firestorm, Yamaha Thun­der­ace and Thun­der­cat, Suzuki RF fam­ily and pre-2003 ZX-6R still boast lots of happy own­ers who’ll never swap.

But change was afoot. By 1999 the Yamaha R6 her­alded the ar­rival of the truly diminu­tive race-replica and, in the last half of the 2000s, the head­long de­vel­op­ment of road-based, pro­duc­tion rac­ing sports­bikes reached a log­i­cal con­clu­sion. And the end re­sult was painful – the av­er­age sports­bike was a com­pressed ball of high-revving fury that, with 50% of Bri­tish rid­ers now over 40-years-old and not get­ting any slim­mer, many of us sim­ply couldn’t be both­ered with the ef­fort.

The so­lu­tion was enough to make many give up on sports­bikes and buy a BMW GS. With its elon­gated rid­ing po­si­tion, day-long com­fort and the prom­ise of ad­ven­ture, it could take you places your tiny su­per­bike couldn’t.

But the Su­per­sport could help re­dress the bal­ance. It’s the first sports­bike for a decade where com­fort has played as big a part in its de­sign as per­for­mance. If it catches on, it could be the bike that restarts the comfy sports­bike cat­e­gory and breaks the su­per­bike-to-ad­ven­ture-bike chain that’s made the GS the UK’S best-sell­ing ma­chine.

It’s all in your be­hind

But what is it that makes a bike un­com­fort­able, or for that mat­ter, com­fort­able? “Com­fort is in the bum of the be­holder,” says Dr Alex St­ed­mon, a rider er­gonomics ex­pert at Coven­try Univer­sity. “Fun­da­men­tally, a com­fort­able rid­ing po­si­tion comes down to the bars/seat/ pegs tri­an­gle. Most bikes still lack any ad­justa­bil­ity of those points with­out af­ter­mar­ket mod­i­fi­ca­tions. And dif­fer-

ent rid­ers suit dif­fer­ent styles of bikes, based on the ge­om­e­try of their joints.”

Like old-school comfy sports­bikes, the Su­per­sport ad­dresses this with a high-bar, low-peg com­bi­na­tion - the han­dle­bars are 100mm taller than a Pani­gale and 150mm closer. The re­sult is straighter back and straighter arms.

Ac­cord­ing to St­ed­mon, this is clas­sic sports-tour­ing ter­ri­tory. “We don’t want our knees or el­bows too tight. If we get un­com­fort­able we’ll ad­just po­si­tion to com­pen­sate and by the end of the ride we’ve adopted a poor pos­ture and will have a stiff back or neck, for ex­am­ple. And it can even be­come a safety is­sue if we don’t do life-savers so of­ten be­cause it’s harder to turn our head.”

But just be­cause the Su­per­sport is on-pa­per com­fort­able, we shouldn’t ac­cept that as the re­al­ity. The Pani­gale, for ex­am­ple, is com­fort­able be­cause of its roomi­ness and wide bars. “Just be­cause a new model comes out and we think it should be more com­fort­able be­cause it’s less ag­gres­sive than a sports­bike, we won’t know un­til we’ve rid­den it a long way; more than just an hour’s test ride,” con­cludes St­ed­mon.

Com­fort is the key to con­trol “In er­gonomics we talk about user Con­tin­ued over

‘The Su­per­sport could be the bike that restarts the comfy sports­bike’

re­quire­ments, user needs and user lim­i­ta­tions – and look­ing at the re­quire­ments of some­one who wants a sports­bike to be more com­fort­able, it may not just be a case of make the bars wider, or higher, or ad­just the foot­pegs; that may be part of it, but it might also be re­duc­ing tur­bu­lence, or im­prov­ing weather pro­tec­tion, or the phys­i­cal size of the bike,” con­tin­ues St­ed­mon.

“On a bike we hold that pos­ture and we can’t do any­thing else. That’s why we’re al­ways stretch­ing. Static work can be more de­mand­ing than ac­tive work be­cause it takes more ef­fort to main­tain a pos­ture than to move around. But when it’s static work, our body can get over-stressed eas­ily, hence when we get off the bike we sud­denly feel achy. And we could be build­ing up longert­erm is­sues.”

If Ducati have got the er­gonomics right, the Su­per­sport could be more com­fort­able than an ad­ven­ture bike. “A sports­bike is de­signed with the idea of ex­treme rider move­ment; on a track, we never sit in one place for long. The abil­ity to move our weight about is cen­tral to the bike’s dy­namic. On an ad­ven­ture bike, about the most we can move about nat­u­rally is to shift from rid­ing on our toes to the heels of our feet. And that’s it – we can move our bum back a bit, but with a dual seat we can’t go too far back. And we can’t eas­ily lean for­wards ei­ther – so

‘The more use­able we made the Blade, the more units we sold’

we tend to get locked into po­si­tion on an ad­ven­ture bike, and that leads to too much static work and joint stiff­ness.”

Is this the come­back of the comfy sports­bike?

It’s cer­tainly a start, and if this bike catches on, we could see sim­i­lar mod­els from the other man­u­fac­tur­ers. Honda for ex­am­ple, al­ready pro­duce a CBR650F on sim­i­lar lines, but a big­ger­faired, more com­fort­able Fire­blade­based CBR1000F would have huge ap­peal, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing how diminu­tive the new Blade is. A bike like that could be the best of both worlds.

But there has to be a com­pro­mise. Sports­bike de­sign­ers have an im­pos- sible job fac­tor­ing in the im­pact of ran­dom rider shape and size on chas­sis dy­nam­ics – a rider can in­crease the weight of a sports­bike by be­tween 25 to 40%, of­ten in ex­actly the place an en­gi­neer would least want it.

This means sports­bike rid­ing po­si­tions are al­ways a com­pro­mise – and the more ex­treme the bike, the less scope for mak­ing the rider com­fort­able. This leads to the fairly ob­vi­ous ob­ser­va­tion that if we, the bike-buy­ing pub­lic, still like sports­bikes, mak­ing them more comfy and less ex­treme will be a good thing. And, as Honda’s Dave Han­cock, test rider for the orig­i­nal Fire­blade, points out: “In 1992 all the jour­nal­ists raved about the Fire­blade, but it wasn’t all that com­fort­able – it was a rad­i­cal rid­ing po­si­tion and quite raw. So, over the years, we lis­tened to our cus­tomers and made it more user-friendly. We lifted the bars 10mm higher and we moved them out 10mm – and the more use­able we made it, the more bikes we sold.”

Der­riere com­fort is key to pil­lion and rider har­mony DUCATI SU­PER­SPORT S £12,795 ● 111bhp ● 183kg ● 810mm seat

Sit­ting com­fort­ably? 810mm seat height is the same as the Pani­gale, but the depth and shape of the seat is dif­fer­ent, with deeper sculpt­ing sit­ting the rider deeper be­hind the fuel tank. This in turn makes the bars even higher in re­la­tion Lower foot­pegs The Su­per­sport’s pegs are a few cm lower and fur­ther for­ward than the 959’s, but both bikes share the same rel­a­tive dis­tance to the seat. Knee and an­kle an­gles will be roughly the same Raised clip-ons Ap­prox­i­mately 150mm fur­ther back to­wards the rider, and 100mm higher than the 959. This puts the rider’s body more up­right, straight­ens the back, and car­ries the head higher Screen height Two po­si­tion set­tings. While 50mm be­tween low and high might not sound much, it’s enough to move tur­bu­lence from the head (bad) to the chest (good)

Low bars Low clip-ons put more of the rider’s weight over the front wheel, in­creas­ing for­ward bias for bet­ter han­dling and feel Open wide Oddly, the Pani­gale has a comfy leg po­si­tion due to a very open knee an­gle for a sports­bike. The tank’s in­dents also aid rider com­fort lev­els DUCATI 959 PANI­GALE £13,795 ● 155bhp ● 176kg ● 810mm seat

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