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Ducati is Stuck

We’ve talked about this before, but the Brno round this weekend, followed by the testing of the 2012 1000cc bikes by Honda and Yamaha immediately thereafter, only reminds us of how tough this year has been for Ducati.

When Ducati introduced its carbon fiber-framed MotoGP prototype a little over a year ago, it seemed cool and forward thinking.  Carbon not only has a superb strength-to-weight ratio, its flexibility and bending characteristics can be customized almost infinitely based on the quality of the carbon and the nature of the lay-up.  This is something that is well established in bicycle manufacturing, for instance, where strength-to-weight has always been of paramount importance.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the recognized leaders in race bike development, i.e., the team of rider Valentino Rossi and crew chief Jeremy Burgess, Ducati seems incapable of improving the handling of its race bikes (including, the frame that is intended to be used next year).  Rossi and Burgess, like everyone else, have essentially zero experience with carbon fiber chassis, and the bike simply isn’t getting any better.

Now, of course, Ducati has to be concerned that carbon fiber is the wrong material for next year’s 1000cc machine.  This may be at least part of the reason Ducati has chosen not to test the 1000cc bike alongside Honda and Yamaha after the Brno race.

Is Ducati considering a switch to an aluminum frame like the other manufacturers have been using, or even a return to a steel trellis chassis that has worked so well for them in superbike racing?  There is an interesting discussion on this topic on the MotoMatters website here.

It is clear that Ducati needs to do something rather drastic, and perhaps a switch to a different material for its chassis is a necessary first step.

52 Comments

  1. Jonwawa says:

    Put Simoncelli on the Ducati with Rossi, The crown will thus pass to the new italian champione….. and the world will be much hairier!!!!

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  2. kirk66 says:

    I (not an engineer) believe the issue of feel is directly related to the fact that the material used in the CF doesn’t transmit enough force/flex/vibration for the rider to understand what the bike needs in the turns. Since motors don’t bend the feel is left to very small sections of the frame connected to it. CF has a kind of “tunable” flex, but if you can’t get any “feel” then you don’t know where to tune the frame. The cost of a traditional aluminum frame is much less than the CF and there is a way to tune it in similar ways to the CF.
    I think Ducati could use a combination of Aluminum and the Ducati faithful trellis design. The trellis hanging the motor could be the trick in tuning the frame. If the main spars are rigid and the trellis has flex it may help the riders get the “turn in” feel that they are looking for and the traction needed upon exit. But I’m not an egineer. So, I may be overlooking some obvious faults in this idea.

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  3. Gutterslob says:

    I’m no engineer. Perhaps it’s got something to do with rider-feel?
    Any engineers here know what kind of “feedback” a CF frame gives compared to a steel-trellis or alu frame?

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    • kpaul says:

      See below several of us engineers have talked about the differences between CF and metal. If you mean feedback as in deflection rate than CF doesn’t deflect as much with the same force applied. I had one of the early CF frame Trek bikes. It definitely had a duller less road feed back feel compared to my aluminum bike. “In general, Carbon Fiber is stronger, and is lighter than aluminum, steel, or titanium. It can be produced in a variety of shapes, but at much greater cost compared with sheet metal parts. Carbon fiber must be molded, set, epoxied (about equivalent to aluminum), then autoclaved, cured and assembled. So it costs a great deal more in terms of the facilities required to produce it, as well as the time required to assemble it. The upside again is it’s strength and light weight. In addition to this fact, however, Carbon Fibre has a certain natural damping quality to it. Vibrations are not transmitted through carbon composites with the same fidelity as with metals, making it useful as something of a shock absorber in the wings.’ From an aerospace expert

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  4. Norm G. says:

    re: “Is Ducati considering a switch to an aluminum frame like the other manufacturers have been using, or even a return to a steel trellis chassis that has worked so well for them in superbike racing?”

    though it likely won’t happen :( one vote here for a full trellis. any push biker worth his salt knows “nothing rides like steel”…! :) 2 words… Reynolds 531. however, in the off chance they sod the C/F, they’ll probably just “aluminize” the double subframe (at least the front) in-line with what they went through the time and expense of filing the patents on…? and are obviously about to debut in production with the new superbike.

    mind, not to imply this has ANY bearing on whether or not this latest design stunt is going to work any better. while my guess is it would…? that’s not to be interpreted as suddenly matching pace with honda’s 213 or yammi’s 1000cc crossplane. corse will still find themselves “back on one” trying to sweep water up hill. :(

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  5. jfc1 says:

    I’ll throw this out there since I have called at least two people idiots in this comment-section…risk the same…this is a basic engineering problem when you take chances. Sometimes you succeed sometimes you fail. When you work with prototype systems you make a few guesses and all it takes is one big guess to come out wrong in a big way and you’re screwed.

    I think the major problem here is that they either really do not know how to make a competitive frame in 2011, OR, they really screwed up badly when they made the frame for the current bikes. There’s something to be said for the fact that Rossi is finding *some* speed with the GP11.1, at least catching a whiff of Spies and Dovisioso in Brno, but Spies is in his 2nd year of MotoGP and Dovisioso is having a problem dialing in a new component on his bike. But still this means catching the slower Yamaha. And compared to the past few races, this is a big step forward for Ducati.

    So the hand hasn’t been played-out yet, they may have a decent bike for Rossi after all, just not as fast as Stoner and Pedrosa on the Hondas or as fast as Lorenzo on the Yamaha. Rossi may come away from this saying that if he can consistently battle Spies and Dovisioso for 4th-6th than he’s in decent shape, for his first year at Ducati.

    What is Hayden going to say?

    What about Karl Abrahams?

    There are a few hands left in the deck, and then there’s the end of the season and next year and a new deck, yes? The real thing limiting Rossi is the fact that he’s not going to Honda and he’s not going back to Yamaha. He’s not going *anywhere* -short of BMW or Aprilla joining MotoGP- and he’s just going to have to deal with what he has. He gets out of his Ducati deal and joins a fledgling BMW team? That could be fun.

    Until then? This nightmare is just going to play out.

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    • jfc1 says:

      …I think that Rossi will work out ok.
      The guy whose shoes I’d hate to be in right now, relatively-speaking, is Simoncelli. He’s got good but not world-beating speed, on hardware that isn’t factory Honda hardware, while Honda has THREE factory riders. He’s basically in the same position that Spies was in at the beginning of last year…but Spies has picked up several podiums and a win plus a factory Yamaha ride since then. Simoncelli has picked up 6 DNFs this year alone. There are faster, more-consistent riders on faster bikes trying to win their 2nd and 3rd championships while he’s on a slower bike still trying to figure out how to get a podium…and he can’t even stay on the bike. He’s a faster version of Randy de Puniet. He’s going to flip off his bike so many times that his manager is going to take him off for his own health.

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    • jfc1 says:

      And then who wants to bet me that Honda will carry 3 factory riders next year? What odds would I have to give you to make you take that bet?

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  6. jfc1 says:

    their problem is that it’s not a simple matter of having results that are better than “lackluster”

    Honda and Yamaha aren’t just going to move over and let Rossi steamroll his way to the championship

    Much less Pedrosa, Spies, Stoner and Lorenzo

    Plus it would help a lot of Rossi wouldn’t break his own legs in practice…you’ve bot Pedrosa racing on two bad shoulders, who since he has broken anything in a fall? And there have been *plenty* of falls. Rossi is somewhat lucky that he broke his leg last year rather than have Lorenzo beat him straight up on the same bike…that *he* debugged.

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  7. motobell says:

    IS STONER GOD? if this bike sucks so bad, how did he win with it – yeah I get 2011 is different from 2010.. but is it that much – the results speak – see gap between teammates versus cumulative points. Is anyone doubtful that in the hands of Stoner they would have put it on top of the box or fight near the front (yes he would have crashed several times as well). Meaning Stoner will ride it to the edge with almost no margin for error that the other riders are unwilling to do.

    Clearly they have engineering challenge that one special rider can ride around and others cannot or are unwilling to take that risk… good points from several above, tuning the chassis dynamics may be tougher with CF or is it just early days of evolving science.

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    • JeffMess says:

      This is getting to be old news. Yes, Stoner is an amazing rider, however, this is a different season with many different factors. There is ONE god and it is not Casey Stoner.

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    • Stinky says:

      IS STONER GOOD? He was/is very good. Ducati had an advantage in speed when Stoner rode it because of fuel limits, difficult to ride, very fast. Now everybody is fast, and handles better. Next year everybody is gonna be fast and easy to ride power. Vale/Burgess can develop bikes but he’s never worked with this material, nobody has. Hope they can figure it out. Don’t want a carbon frame, but the industry will benefit.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Clearly they have engineering challenge that one special rider can ride around and others cannot or are unwilling to take that risk… ”

      i have to admit, rossi may in fact be the “weakest link” in the forward progress of the C/F chassis. he’s riding like a man who’s “weirded out” by the ever changing sensory feedback the chassis is giving him…? and that’s not even really a slight to vale, but a compliment.

      now this may sound odd or seem like a stretch, but stay with me. rossi may suffer from having a peter parker-like “spidey sense” as they say in the comic books. think of how a canine “freaks out” over a dog whistle that the average person can’t even hear…? or how when a human loses their vision, the remaining 4 senses “amplify”…? reference milsaps, stevland morris (aka stevie wonder), ray charles, andrea bocelli, etc. this is the only way i can describe what it is i’m seeing out of rossi this year…? Vs. the still injured rossi of last year’s sachsenring, motegi, etc. how does one ride HARDER, while using crutches to get to and from their friggin’ motorcycles…? WTF…? it doesn’t make any sense…? or DOES it…?

      savant syndrome is well documented. rossi could even be what they call “high functioning autistic”. think of how given he is to routines and rituals before going out on track…? ask any parent or teacher of autistic children about repetitive behaviors, hyper-sensitivity, and enhanced perception. rossi may be a “rain man” or a john nash of sorts…?

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  8. Kit Halsted says:

    That’s really a rather good article over at MotoMatters, though my takeaway from it was that the real problem with the Ducati is the layout of the motor. Whether they need to move to an I-4 or a 60º V angle, or if they can work around it with a twin-spar aluminum frame, or even if just going back to the traditional Ducati trellis can make it work, I think we can (almost) all agree that it would be nice to see The Doctor racing on a competitive bike again.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “That’s really a rather good article over at MotoMatters, though my takeaway from it was that the real problem with the Ducati is the layout of the motor.”

      I’m sure the japanese would LOVE to have you think that. however, may i humbly suggest that would be a BAD takeaway. by god and sunny jesus PLEASE don’t get sucked into that goofy rhetoric. there’s nothing wrong with the layout of the engine. the engine is in fact superior in many ways to the others (always has been). unfortunately, it’s “superiority” is simply being masked now by a severly recalcitrant chassis. stoner after all DID win an entire championship on it (convincingly this) and was winning with it last year right up until he left. the problem is in the chassis and the tires as has been suggested. per the Pirelli mantra, “power is nothing without control”. so, we all just need to take a deep breath and step back down off that ledge.

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      • Kit Halsted says:

        Okay, let me rephrase…

        IF you want to make a “frame” from a short carbon fiber box and an engine,

        AND you want that “frame” to emulate two long, skinny aluminum spars,

        THEN your engine’s layout must be compact enough that its position can be tuned with the other parameters.

        That was my takeaway from the article.

        The Ducati L-4 may be superior in some ways to the other motors, but it is decidedly inferior in flexibility of placement, and flexibility of placement is exactly what they need from it in order to work with the CF “frame”.

        You say the superiority of the motor is being masked by a recalcitrant chassis, I say the motor’s layout is what’s preventing the chassis from working- it’s essentially the same thing. The combination of the L-4 with the frameless carbon chassis is not working.

        As for Stoner riding it to victory, well… Can’t say I’m a big fan of his, but I have to give him credit. He’s winning by seconds, not tenths, on the Honda this year.

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        • Norm G. says:

          re: “You say the superiority of the motor is being masked by a recalcitrant chassis, I say the motor’s layout is what’s preventing the chassis from working- it’s essentially the same thing. The combination of the L-4 with the frameless carbon chassis is not working.”

          well then the answer comes down to “what’s cheaper to tool up for”…? molds and an autoclave…? or scrap 25 years of data PROVEN successful, millions if not billions (with a B) dollars invested, design an engine from scratch and start all over again taking bets on how it all comes out…?

          mind, not a trick question. you don’t need to hold a CPA to answer this.

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  9. Dave says:

    I don’t believe it’s the material, just the development. Whole F1 cars are constructed of carbon fiber. Duc just needs more time to figure it out, which I think they eventually will. Was the bike Stoner was so fast on last year not equipped with the CF front end?

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    • motobell says:

      Agree with viewpoint that CF frame tuning is early days but they only do it with a rider willing to push the envelope..

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    • jfc1 says:

      technically the choice of material is part of the development process, so if it’s the first then it’s definitely the latter. It could be “the right material” just improperly used, or it could simply be the wrong material for this use.

      Is anyone else building motorcycle frames from carbon-fiber?

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      • Norm G. says:

        re: “It could be “the right material” just improperly used, or it could simply be the wrong material for this use.”

        SURVEY SAYS…!!! (*ding*) the former…

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        • Dave says:

          That’s the tricky part of CF. It’s not a material with set properties the way metals are. With alumuinum and steel you have properties that must be designed around. With CF, the engineers have a lot of control over the properties of it (lay up schedule, resin types, etc.). It’s literally rocket science so it’s going to take a while to figure out. Ducati’s aches are caused by having to develop it in competition (and losing).

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    • kpaul says:

      Agree Dave the material is much different and less forgiving than metal but F1 has made it work. Ducati just needs more time. However, the dynamics of a motorcycle frame in a motion are different than a F1 car. Ducati is the pioneer.

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      • Norm G. says:

        re: “but F1 has made it work.”

        and so has aerospace and aviation… and there’s WHOLE lot more at stake in those arenas.

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        • kpaul says:

          It hasn’t been easy or cheap in aerospace. I know personally. Just remember that.

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          • Norm G. says:

            re: “It hasn’t been easy or cheap in aerospace.”

            nor should it be. nothing of value ever is. it’s why i’ve contended from the very first valencia test to NOT look for anything out of ducati nor rossi during transistion year 2011. they have neither the time nor resources to successfully conduct the R&D in the unrealistic timetable given by rabid fans and laymen. here we are 1/2 way thru august and i’m batting 1,000.

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      • Ruefus says:

        Carbon is not ‘more forgiving’ than metal unless its fabricated that way. Carbon can be made more rigid, less rigid, rigid in one plane but not another……ad infinitum. Instead of a handful of possibilities, they’ve become essentially limitless.

        Plus, they’re the only ones using the material in this manner. IF they get it figured out they stand a chance of leapfrogging everyone. Not unlike when Honda developed their first Indy car engine. They absolutely sucked for several years, and now are the only engine in the field.

        There are myriad number of problems being solved. The results at Brno seem to show a fair amount of progress. Rossi was in site of the podium

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        • Ruefus says:

          Gee…since I’m not no engineer, I muss-be a billy bob speakin’ out his butt. Really? It’s more expensive to manufacture? Gawrsh…I had no idea.

          Never said carbon was more predictable or even AS predictable. I said it’s fabricated to a specific purpose. Metal can be as well, but not in nearly the range that carbon can be ‘tuned’. Given the millions of parameters, getting it ‘right’ is much harder with carbon.

          Now, to your ‘obvious’ statement.

          Considering I’ve been around the fabrication of carbon fiber, the various lay-up procedures, the application of resins, vacuum bagging and the use of autoclaves etc. but don’t have a degree makes me just a billy bob, right? Or is it obvious someone besides myself is a billy bob here?

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  10. Dale says:

    The positive response that Ducati has received from Valentino and Nicky regarding the GP12 may have caused them to continue with carbon fiber frame development. Ducati may feel that if they can perfect this technology they will have a competitive advantage in the future. The problem with following the leader comes when You want to be the leader, at some point you have to choose a different path than the leader to take the lead for yourself.

    This seems a “lost” season for Ducati MotoGP why not focus, now, on “the future”? Prototype racing allows development to be gauged against the state of the art, it encourages innovation, it also allows traveling down the “wrong” road at times, Time tells. If you had “the answer” you could go straight to production and save a lot of money.

    Many wondered if the small Italian Manufacturer could compete at all with the “Big Four” at the beginning of the MotoGP era. Now, minus Stoner, we’re surprised at their apparent lack of competitiveness this year. I recall Ducati being a dominant player at the end of the 990cc era with the team sweeping first and second place in the last race (Nicky Hayden, with one good arm, finished third to win his first World Championship on the factory Honda). I won’t be surprised if Ducati finds a way to become a top runner yet again, somehow.

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  11. Fat Old Man says:

    Perhaps a few extra pounds and not having the newest thing out there doesn’t make that much of a difference. Of course, you would expect me to say that.

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  12. Bob says:

    Roxx, as an engineer myself, and also with some CF layup experience, I can comment that CF is actually pretty difficult to tune at the level they’re in. Everything looks easy when you create a shape and then analyze it for strength when it’s sitting still. You can even get good results for flex when you try to bend it back and forth and such. The reality is that when you subject the structure to stresses and vibrations of a given range of frequencies, the weave acts like a kevlar vest. It stiffens up. Then all that tuned flex that was designed in changes or even goes away. All materials have a resonant frequency. The thing about metals is that they continue to resonate at their peak but dampen in others. It’s a very predictible material. CF is highly reactant to what it is subjected to and can react to an extreme end of the spectrum when you don’t want it to. It’s a great material and I’m a believer in it. I have 2 mountain bike frames, seat post and bars with it. But when you need such fine levels of feel at the GP level, CF reacts differently when going in a straight line compared to a slow 55 degree lean angle turn. The feel will be nigt and day different. There needs to be more consistency in how the material of choice handles the stresses it is subjected to. Until then, CF will remain unpredictible.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “There needs to be more consistency in how the material of choice handles the stresses it is subjected to. Until then, CF will remain unpredictible.”

      but actually there IS a way to add “predictabilty” to C/F. ducati simply haven’t done it yet. i don’t think the answer can be found in F1 either. i saw it done over 20 years ago when i did a brief engineering internship at Agusta Aerospace (yes, started by the same Count Agusta of MV motorcycle fame). i invite ducati to analyze the door structure of any A109 helicopter. though they are now technically in bed with daimler, they can also talk to the UBER-boffins at BMW for a modern example. it’s been employed recently (past 10yrs) in a few of their M cars (M3 and M6 iirc). though both are now defunct, there have even been a few MOTORCYCLE specific entities that know this technique. still born marque Mondial used it in one of the last variants of that rc-51 powered “piega”. the original C/F wheel manufacturer, Dymag knows how to do it also. add any one of the unemployed brain trusts from THAT operation to corse’s payroll and i contend results will come in short order.

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      • Bob says:

        Norm, you said a whole lot but actually haven’t said anything. You make references to “it”. “It” has been done by BMW, the A109, Dymag… Ok, take a look at what? What the hell is “it?” What did any of these guys do besides fabricate something out of CF? What is this technique you speak of? And what is the problem you speak of that this technique is employed to? You don’t mention any of that at all other than pointing out names of companies that use CF.

        Any joker can make something out of CF. I’ve done it. My first CF parts were full sets of bodywork for my landspeed bikes. After that, some smaller parts. Not a big deal at all.

        None of the sources you cited ever made a motorcycle chassis to handle and engine that revs to 19000 rpms, so any solutions to a problem they ever dealt with were not the same problems nor solutions. So you can’t say that Ducati needs to look at these companies for a specific solution to their problems.

        BTW, Dymag sucks. I’ve seen a dozen of them come apart from the hubs at the track, causing the rider to crash and completely destroy the bikes and seriously injure the rider. For normal street riders, they’re not trustworthy, because after 10s of thousands of miles on a bike that weighs 100 lbs more than a racebike and riders who likely weight 50+ pounds more than a top level racer and on roads that are a lot rougher than a track, the average street rider doesn’t have the equipment to x-ray the wheels to check for delamination between layups. You don’t see CF wheels in MotoGP for a reason.

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        • Norm G. says:

          re: “BTW, Dymag sucks.”

          whose talking about dymag wheels…? i’m talking specifically about a little known C/F swingarm prototype designed for the 1st generation R1′s that actually never went into production. be wary of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. it’s how we miss things. it’s how we overlook the answers to our problems that are often right in front of us.

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  13. kpaul says:

    Materials make a big difference e.g. example if you take two beams, aluminum and carbon fiber, of equal dimensions like 12 inches by 1 inch and 1 inch. Now hang 100 or 1000 lbe lbs off it. The defection rate is 150% more with aluminum. i.e the CG, Geometry are equal. Now that would make a big difference in motorcycle frame design. That is why engineers who specialize in materials make so much in the aerospace industry.

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  14. ROXX says:

    I’m not an engineer, but I would have doubts that switching the material ‘alone’ would have a dramatic improvement on the handling of the bike.
    My guess is it has more to do with geometry, weight centralization, center of gravity, weight shifting under acceleration and deceleration, etc. that is resulting in the loss of front end feel for the riders.
    I hope they do get the bike to handle sooner rather than later.
    The more competition at the front, the better.

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    • kpaul says:

      I am an engineer (electrical) and you are wrong. According to my college sophomore Statics class and Junior Mechanics of Materials class (My mechanical and civil engineers bothers can chime in) materials make a big difference. For example if you take two beams, aluminum and carbon fiber, of equal dimensions like 12 inches by 1 inch and 1 inch. Now hang 100 or 1000 lbe lbs off it. The defection rate is 150% more with aluminum. i.e the CG, Geometry are equal. Now that would make a big difference in motorcycle frame design. Don’t believe me look it up

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  15. ze says:

    Some tried with carbon in the past without results…
    If the japs never followed this path, follow them…

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “If the japs never followed this path, follow them…”

      or it means they gave up 5 mins before their miracle happened…? ducati is far from exhausting all the modern approaches to C/F.

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  16. EZ Mark says:

    Make the switch Ducati. There’s no shame in admitting your “better idea” didn’t work out. Remember the oval piston Honda’s? The 23 inch front wheel? The linkless KTM suspension?
    At one point you have to say “seemed like a good idea at the time” and move on.

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  17. DB says:

    The old saying goes “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. Well I think it’s time for Ducati to say – it’s broke.

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  18. Thommo says:

    Given that the new Duc superbike has a carbon frame, I think you can safely assume that Duc is throwing all their eggs in the one basket, and that basket is made of CF. I can’t see them changing the MotoGP bike to another material now.

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    • jfc1 says:

      do you really expect them to run all of *next* year with an uncompetitive bike simply because you can’t see them changing the frame at this point? LOL

      They really have a simple choice. Make a frame out of aluminum and test it against the current frame. Simple question is whether to try it with the 1000cc bike or the 800cc bike but since they’ve built the motors out to the same size & mounts it becomes a question of how much the motor matters

      maybe they just forgot to design the current frame for the 800cc motor vs the 1000cc motor LOL

      maybe motorcycle frame design is still a black art at the MotoGP level

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Given that the new Duc superbike has a carbon frame”

      (*misinformation alert!*) the new duc superbike has an ally frame.

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  19. brinskee says:

    I think a year of lackluster results is good reason for Ducati to throw in the towel. It would be fantastic to see Rossi win another championship, especially with Ducati! Make the switch guys…

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