BREAKING THE MOULD
(c) Tony Foale 1986 - 1997
There have always been those dissatisfied with the established order of things, this occurs in all areas of human endeavor, not the least in our motorcycle world, where it manifests itself with the construction of any custom bike or special. There are those, who direct their effort to improving the handling of the outdated chassis that are offered up by the manufacturers, other expend their energies following that age long quest for greater power, however, many pursue the concept of visual, mobile beauty through the medium of radical styling ideas. Some are the technicolour two dimensional representations of a reader's dream machine, convinced as he usually is,that,if only the British industry had produced such a bike twenty three and a half years ago,then the Japanese would now be only producing hi-tech rickshaws instead of the largest proportion of the world's motorcycles.
Other ideas are from the well worn felt tips of design students. It matters not from whence they come, most of these styling exercises are just that, very few if any are ever produced, either in quantity or even as a one-off expression of their designer's ego. The reasons for this are not hard to find. Anything for mass production must be fairly conservative or a large enough proportion of the market will not be motivated to part with next years dole money, for the purchase of same. On the other hand to undertake the construction of a one-off is the pinnacle of sheer folly.The demands on any thinking man's drinking time, for such a project, is simply beyond sane contemplation. Much better to prop up the bar at one's local and bore the barmaid with tales of the riches to be had, if only some wealthy financier had the foresight to cough up with a fistful of dollars to fund one's fantasy.
This article describes some of my own experiences of converting an idea into a reality. As you may (or not) know I earn my living by producing small quantities of alternative motorcycle chassis, and for some years I had been trying to find the time to build a super special for myself. Well, some years ago I started experimenting with different front suspension concepts, these are not the subject of this story but suffice it to say that one of these schemes was to form the basis of my new machine, to be called the QL. ( QUANTUM LEAP ) I had also decided that some form of comprehensive bodywork was to be included in the spec.. This story is about that bodywork.
However,by this time,I had a customer who was interested in having a similar bike, his to be Ducati powered and mine B.M.W.. Now, things were beginning to get serious, the bench racing had to stop, here was some fool (sorry Rob) wanting to give me money, the long missing motivation had at last arrived. A project of this nature is best considered in a series of discrete steps, and for the bodyshell I chose the following breakdown of tasks.
1.Basic concept and list of requirements.
3.Model construction, for wind tunnel tests and to get a three dimensional feeling for the final shape.
4.Fabrication of a full size pattern to take the mould off.
6.Layup the bodyshell itself.
7.Design and application of the paintwork.
The basic concept was for a reasonably aerodynamic shape which offered good weather protection, and luggage space preferably arranged so that a full face helmet could be stowed away out of sight. Other requirements were:- light weight, quickly detachable, compatible with both a Ducati V2 and B.M.W. boxer engine, single seater but with the option of later modification to pillion use, safety -- a flat surface in front of the rider to reduce the chances of a family planning type of operation, should it ever prove neccesary to leave the machine in a hurry via the front door. There were many other details I wanted to incorporate too numerous to list here.
Styling presented me with a bit of a problem, I simply have no measurable talent in that direction. Initially I made some sketches which embodied the functional requirements, but oh boy, did they look terrible. Next, a bike riding, design graduate friend offered help.What a pity, I did't like his ideas either, all straight lines and flat surfaces, as the man once said "I don't know anything about art but I know what I like", and this was not it. Organic shapes and curves for me. While this was going on, unknown to me, my customer was busy with his own pencil, drawing nice rounded shapes, these appealed aesthetically, but were mainly of the dustbin fairing genre. I had already decided against enclosing the front wheel, efficent though that may be for lower drag, because accessability suffers as does rapid removal, of both the fairing and the wheel. Any design is a compromise, a question of trade offs and I was trading Cd. for practicality.
Then Dan Parry-Williams, a non motorcycling, car freak, student who happened along one day, volunteered some sketches. At the time he didn't know what he was letting himself in for. Initial reaction on seeing his ideas, was that here we had the basis of what I was after, reservations existed about some aspects but these were sorted out without resort to fisticuffs. The final version was not totally unlike some of the ideas from my Ducati man, so he was kept reasonably happy also. So armed only with a rough profile drawing we set to the model making. This was to be 1/6 scale (I'd prefer 1/4) which corresponds with "Action Man", who had been seconded from his normal duties, of saving the world, to undertake the riding assignment during the proposed wind tunnel tests. A lump of geliton -- super wood for models, but so expensive -- was duly carved into shape, wheels were turned up and stuck on,a miniture engine made and installed. A plastic model of a R90S. to the same scale, eventually arrived, this was for direct drag comparison. Both models were subjected to the same breeze in a fairly crude home made tunnel, and the greater penatration of the new design was suffient to encourage the immediate commencement of the next phase in the operation.
The pattern, this has to be a full size mockup of the real thing, with a surface finish at least as good as that required on the finished article.Unsuspected by me at the time, this was to be the most time consuming and frustrating part of the whole exercise. I had played about with making patterns and moulds for seats, mudguards, etc.in the past but nothing on this scale. Construction would take about three weeks, or so I thought, it was now Febuary 1984. There are many methods and materials for this task, I believe the professionals in the car industry use clay, but being totally inexperienced with this medium I looked around for an alterative. Chicken wire over a wooden frame, subequently covered with plaster is another established method but as my previous aquaintance with this stuff resulted in it not sticking to the wall, to which it was supposed, I passed on this also.
Eventually it was decided to build a solid frame-work from 3/4" chipboard and sort out the details as they arose. Two pieces were cut to the scaled up profile of the drawing, and nailed and glued to pieces of wood, spacing them eight inches apart (the seat width). This gave something to sit on. Next, handlebars and footrests were fitted and the cutouts for legs and arms were marked, even if the project went no further we could have hours of fun just pretending. To this centre section were attached some shaped side pieces at what seemed like a sensible spacing depending on the change in section at that point. The photo shows the part finished rear portion. Over this frame work were fitted narrow strips of thin plywood shaped to match the required curve. Hand sanding removed the rough edges and gave a smooth shape. Car bodyfiller took care of any flaws and gaps between the plywood strips. This construction technique was fine for the rear (after all it had only taken a month to get this far) where the curves were gentle, but the front was another matter. We had some tight curves and we might need a greater depth of surface to allow for the removal of material, in case it was necessary to refine the shape after seeing it full size. So, solid lumps of wood were duly glued in place. Now, the hard work was really to start with the hand shaping, there was saw-dust and shavings everywhere.
Somehow, April then May and most of June slipped by unnoticed, but then disaster struck. Rudely awakened by the phone at 2:30am. I was greeted with the news that my workshop had been destroyed by fire.(All say aah!) A lot of the special mechanical pieces for the new bike were junked, but with incredible foresight I had earlier decided to build the bodyshell at home. By this stage I was so cheesed off with the time being taken up with the pattern that it might have been a relief if that too had been burnt. Alas no,I could not get out of it that easy.
It was the end of July by now, but after much painting and sanding, the pattern (or buck as some call it) was ready. The process of making the mould was relatively straight forward, albeit messy. The pattern must be thoroughly waxed to prevent the fibreglass resin adhering, that would be tragic, because both the mould and pattern would be junk if that happened. The mould must be made in several pieces so that it can be removed, and also can be lifted off the final bodyshell when that is finished. The critical moment had arrived, would it release from the pattern?
Early indications were that it would not, after much gentle prodding and persuasion the mould refused to budge, but as the night wore on the prodding became less and less gentle, until hefty blows with a rubber mallet became the norm, eventually around midnight it began to give. Surprisingly there was no damage, despite the rough treatment. A large hurdle was over, would it be plain sailing from now on? Some other smaller moulds were also needed, e.g, one to make the headlight cover, one for the seat base, another for the luggage compartment lid, rear wheel cover, and four for the indicator lenses.--- Indicator lens?? --- Yes, during the months spent on the pattern I had been continuously on the lookout for suitably shaped lenses that would match the body curves. Every car, truck, van, and bike that I saw was closely scrutinised and measured. But no, nothing suitable could be found and so I determined not to compromise and to make some exactly as required. Dan, by now a regular visitor and tame in-house stylist, drew the indicator shapes onto the pattern and moulds were taken from these areas.
The actual lenses were made by laying up layers of woven fibre-glass cloth in a translucent amber pigmented resin. The results were great, just like a bought one. The woven cloth gave the usual cross-hatched appearance. The female mould taken off the pattern for the headlight cover was only used to make the male mould (it's never ending) required by the perspex man. The other small moulds were straight-forward but as usual very time consuming.
Time it was to lay up the first bodyshell. The mould was heavily waxed and polished,a nd gel coat painted onto each half of it. A thin layer of chopped strand matt glass fibre was then layed up with the horrible, sticky, smelly resin. This material was used next to the gel coat because it conforms well to compound curves. Woven cloth kevlar was added next, more expensive than glass but has superior stiffness/weight characteristics, and also excellent impact properties (as used in bullet proof vests). The two separate halves of the mould were then bolted together and the body halves united by more resin and cloth. This work was done in what would otherwise be my dining room, a bit small really and the fumes could get a bit overpowering, so I fitted an extractor fan in the window space. This helped somewhat, transferring the fumes straight into my neighbor's sittingroom. This caused a verbal altercation between my wife and my neighbor's, as if I needed any more hassles by this stage. Have you ever noticed how intolerant, non-motorcycling neighbors can be.
After the bodyshell was joined and in one piece, 2" wide strips of carbon-fibre tape were criss-crossed inside the shell, this dramatically stiffened it with the minimum addition of weight. To otherwise secure the same rigidity would have meant several more layers of kevlar or glass-fibre. The body was then left to cure in the mould for a few days, while I went on a short rest away from it all. Much to my surprise, the mould came away easily and cleanly, leaving the first shell intact. A bit of trimming around the rough edges and it was ready for the painter. The whole nature of this project had changed from being purely a special for my own use, to that of a limited production special. As such this first machine would be used to attract attention at shows and in magazines. Thus the paintwork needed to be eye catching, and Dan designed the bold B.M.W. motorsport coloured graphics shown in the photo. Time was now running short, we wanted to display the machine at the an exhibition in four days. To save time the shell was handed to a local paint shop who did a good job of the paint in a very short space of time. I had not yet got the special dished wheels, needed for the front suspension and so the machine was built up with an earlier design of front end, and wire wheels. These did not aid the appearance but after working until 3 a.m. of the opening morning the bike was ready.---
What an anti-climax,nobody went to that show, what a mickey-mouse affair. The next target was the Olympia show, surely this would be better. SuperBike magazine kindly offered to display it on their stand which was in a central position in the main hall. There were crowds around it all through the show, and I spent some time just listening to the comments being made, as we expected the views expressed were sharply divided, it was either loved or hated, no indecision here. Anything that challenges existing ideas to this extent usually provokes that sort of reaction. Anyway I think John Reed (Uncle Bunt) liked it, but Malcolm Newell (the designer of the feetforward Quasar) wanted to know why it was not a feet-forward machine, next time Malcolm.
Was it all worth it? Well at least I have the bike I wanted, Dan has been given direction in life, he wants to be an industrial designer (fancy name for a stylist), and a few people have liked it suffiently to actually order one. So yes it probably was worth it, but I do not know if I would go through it again, at least not until the next time.
STOP PRESS:-- Have just completed proper wind tunnel tests at Dan's college. At the same air speed, the drag of the QUANTUM was 64% that of a standard BMW R90s.
IT WAS WORTH IT !!!