ROAD WAR­RIOR

THE MAD MAX AN­I­MA­TOR DREAM­ING UP A WORLD-BEAT­ING SU­PER­BIKE IN HIS QUEENS­LAND SHED.

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - FRONT PAGE - BRUCE McMA­HON

Not far be­yond Bris­bane’s north-western city lim­its stands a con­crete-floored, tin-roofed, one-bed­room shed, hid­den in a tangle of scrub and guarded by a bully Brah­man steer. Just off the sweep­ing curve of a road that snakes up a moun­tain where week­end war­riors ex­er­cise their bru­tal ma­chines, this tidy shack perched in green Sam­ford Val­ley is home to a mod­ern-day da Vinci, a once-no­madic film an­i­ma­tor, a dreamer and en­gi­neer.

In this shed sits the brain­child of Ray Van Steen­wyk, 54 – a naked two-wheeler with a revo­lu­tion­ary front end, a piece of en­gi­neer­ing that may her­ald a ma­jor shake-up in the busi­ness and sport of mo­tor­cy­cling. This is the pro­to­type Mo­toinno TS³, a “tri­an­gu­lated steer­ing and sus­pen­sion sys­tem” with hub-cen­tre steer­ing up front – no tele­scopic forks. A se­cond quicker through cor­ners than a race-bred Suzuki 750.

Van Steen­wyk’s love of mo­tor­cy­cles be­gan at 16 with dirt bikes in his home­town of Syd­ney. He loved them, but knew he’d never be Evel Knievel. “I was never that good a rider. Couldn’t do a wheelie on the things, came off too many times,” he says. In his early twen­ties, Van Steen­wyk took a hia­tus from rid­ing. Threat­ened with di­vorce by his then-wife, he didn’t get on a bike for some years. “If only you’d known,” laughs his busi­ness part­ner, Colin Oddy, di­rec­tor to­day of the pair’s Bris­bane-based Mo­tor­cy­cle In­no­va­tion out­fit. “You could’ve kept rid­ing.”

When Van Steen­wyk’s di­vorce came through in 1991, he sad­dled up again. He fell for old bikes, re­built them and rode for leisure. Among them was a 1942 BSA 500, and he lusted over the trac­tor-like 1942 Har­ley-David­son WLA. He was charmed by early BMWs, would have loved a 1927 model. Th­ese old crates taught the man new lessons about rid­ing and en­gi­neer­ing.

When not rid­ing the Bris­bane hin­ter­land, Van Steen­wyk was spend­ing months, of­ten years, work­ing on an­i­ma­tion for films around the world. He trained as an art di­rec­tor un­der de­signer and artist Ken Done and pho­tog­ra­pher Graeme Davey. Through pro­duc­ing com­mer­cials and video clips for bands, then do­ing an­i­ma­tions for com­mer­cials, he was pro­pelled into tele­vi­sion and film work. He was an early mas­ter of com­puter-gen­er­ated an­i­ma­tion.

To­day, Van Steen­wyk is an artist-for-hire of some re­gard, col­lab­o­rat­ing with English di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott on Prometheus and also lend­ing his skills to block­busters The In­cred­i­ble Hulk and The Matrix Reloaded. He worked on both of the Happy Feet an­i­mated fea­tures for Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Ge­orge Miller, and his most re­cent big job was Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a fit­tingly high-speed chase film up for Mon­day’s Best Pic­ture Os­car.

Like all the best an­i­ma­tors, Van Steen­wyk is most suc­cess­ful at his job if you don’t know he’s do­ing it. “The thing you don’t want [peo­ple] to see is that it’s an­i­mated, so they wouldn’t even recog­nise what I’ve done,” says Van Steen­wyk, light­ing a ready-rolled cig­a­rette. “I’ve an­i­mated [ Mad Max] char­ac­ters in [ Fury Road’s] sand­storm

“Hope­fully it’ll put a shock wave through the whole in­dus­try. And it changes the shock load of the bike it­self.”

RAY VANS TEENWYK

se­quence. In that toxic storm, the War Rig is driv­ing along and there’s an­other car chas­ing it and all the guys on the back of this car, and the car it­self, get sucked up into the vor­tex.”

Back

in the mid-1990s, Van Steen­wyk’s life of fly­ing around the world, work­ing for film stu­dios, came to a screech­ing halt for eight months when he was hit with chronic fa­tigue syn­drome. Laid up, he be­gan draw­ing de­signs for a hub-cen­tre steered mo­tor­bike, look­ing for so­lu­tions to a cen­tury-old prob­lem. Since the early 1900s, mo­tor­bikes have re­lied on forks to hold the front wheel in place, much like push­bikes. Any early ad­vances or in­no­va­tions were stalled by the out­break of World War II, and at­tempts since then have not been too suc­cess­ful or ac­claimed.

Van Steen­wyk doo­dled for months be­fore he was well enough to head back over­seas for work. He couldn’t find a bet­ter front-end de­sign and it was time to re­fo­cus. “I de­cided to cull ev­ery­thing, started throw­ing things out, and found all the stuff I’d been draw­ing, looked at it all again, ready to toss it, and then on one page I saw two de­signs, dif­fer­ent parts of struc­tures – and, putting those two to­gether, came up with this.” It was his eureka mo­ment, and the Mo­toinno TS³ was given form. Built around a Du­cati 900SS, this pro­to­type bike has been 18 years in the de­sign­ing, build­ing, test­ing, and now the mar­ket­ing.

In 2008, Van Steen­wyk re­signed from a film pro­ject in Canada and headed home to Oddy’s aid. The two are long­time mates. Oddy, 64, is a film pro­ducer. Con­vinced of the TS³’s po­ten­tial, he’s on board as the ven­ture’s pro­ject man­ager, the ad­min­is­tra­tor chas­ing up funds and grants and mar­ket­ing ideas. Oddy was told the pro­to­type needed build­ing be­fore in­vestors would come knock­ing. Van Steen­wyk needed to get crack­ing.

It’s cost roughly $1.5 mil­lion in man-hours since then and close to $380,000 – al­though the duo has been helped in part by a $50,000 grant from the fed­eral Depart­ment of In­no­va­tion, and 45 per cent tax off­sets on re­search and de­vel­op­ment funds. Now the Mo­toinno pair are clos­ing in on the last lap of this en­duro. Van Steen­wyk’s baby is ready to catch the eye of the mo­tor­cy­cling world and de­but on in­ter­na­tional race­tracks.

While there’s of­ten an­other scep­tic around the cor­ner, Van Steen­wyk and Oddy are en­cour­aged by kilo­me­tres of test­ing, metic­u­lous data col­lec­tion, praise from ex­perts and the will­ing­ness of oth­ers to lend a hand. Ma­chin­ist and fel­low biker Gor­don Ghillie made the TS³’s com­po­nents gratis; and Gold Coast car racer Paul Mor­ris al­lowed the pair to use his Nor­well track and work­shop space for two years of early test­ing.

There’s been ac­claim af­ter two vis­its from English rider and moto-jour­nal­ist Alan Cath­cart: “I doubt I ever went through the [Vic­to­rian race cir­cuit] Broad­ford ‘esses’ quicker on any of the 50 or so bikes I’ve rid­den there down the years than I did on the TS³.” The late Aus­tralian racer and mo­tor­cy­cle sus­pen­sion guru, War­ren Will­ing, took one look, came back the next day and ap­par­ently put it more suc­cinctly: “It’s got me f..ked.”

Mo­tor­cy­clelife.com.au’s Steve McDowall was “ab­so­lutely blown away” by the TS³. “Back it off in a cor­ner … it just stays there. Ac­cel­er­ate in a cor­ner … it just stays there … Like noth­ing I’ve rid­den be­fore.”

The se­cret to the TS³’s steer­ing and front sus­pen­sion is the tri­an­gu­lated sys­tem hold­ing the bike’s front wheel in place. Van Steen­wyk’s in­no­va­tion sep­a­rates the steer­ing from the sus­pen­sion and brak­ing. “The struc­ture looks com­plex but it’s very sim­ple, and that tri­an­gu­la­tion is our pa­tent,” he ex­plains. “This doesn’t set up os­cil­la­tion har­mon­ics [as it does on tele­scopic fork bikes].”

On a tra­di­tional set-up, any forces on the wheels are mul­ti­plied three-fold by the stan­chions of the front forks. Un­der brak­ing, the forks flex, hor­i­zon­tally and lat­er­ally. The ge­om­e­try of the steer­ing changes. “It’s al­ready a buck­ing bronco you have to ride by the seat of your pants – this is a very dif­fer­ent bike,” says Oddy.

On the TS³, the en­ergy is trans­ferred di­rectly back into the bike down low. So this bike doesn’t dive nas­tily un­der brakes and the sus­pen­sion doesn’t send dis­con­cert­ing shud­ders back through the bars. It turns into cor­ners smarter and runs a tighter line. It also weighs 40kg less than the fac­tory Du­cati. This, say the Mo­tor­cy­cle In­no­va­tion team and the ex­perts, is a far more sta­ble chas­sis to ride. And Aus­tralian test­ing against a Suzuki GSX-R 750 showed the Mo­toinno TS³ to be a se­cond faster through ev­ery cor­ner, the rider able to take a more pre­dictable and tighter line; there’s more turn for less lean.

Now it’s off to Spain in Au­gust – once the $200,000 bud­get is cov­ered – to strut a TS³ in front of a ju­nior Moto2 se­ries for mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ers mak­ing their way, let them have a ride and com­pare the Aus­tralian chas­sis to their race-bred ma­chines. Suc­cess there is a good way to prove to ma­jor play­ers that this chas­sis tucked up in a Sam­ford shed could be the way of the fu­ture for the mo­tor­cy­cling world. Win on Sun­day, sell on Mon­day.

“The ul­ti­mate dream,” says a re­laxed Van Steen­wyk, “is to get into ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ing but we also want to cre­ate our own bike to keep our bou­tique mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany run­ning. We’d like to build a bike around the 1200cc Tes­tas­tretta Du­cati, a lim­ited run of be­spoke ma­chines, all titanium and car­bon, for up to $200,000.”

And what would you call that? The an­swer is quick, and smart: “The Shock Wave, be­cause hope­fully it’ll put a shock wave through the whole in­dus­try. And it changes the shock load of the bike it­self.” The self-taught en­gi­neer pops a mint into a broad smile and rolls the Mo­toinno TS³ back into his shed of dreams.

STEEL HORSE … VAN STEEN­WYK WITH HIS PRO­TO­TYPE MO­TOINNOOUT­SIDE HIS SHED IN THE SAM­FORD VAL­LEY.

TRI­AN­GLES IN SYM­PHONY … VAN STEEN­WYK’S SKETCH OF THE REVO­LU­TION­ARY SYS­TEM THAT HOLDS HIS su­per­BIKE’S FRONT WHEEL IN PLACE.

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