September 14, 2004 The all-wheel drive motorcycle seems certain to become more widespread over coming years as yet another major motorcycle manufacturer has disclosed its activities in the area. Austrian motorcycle powerhouse KTM is working in conjunction with Öhlins in the development of a mechanical/hydraulic system for driving the front wheel.
A 2WD equipped KTM 525 EXC has been race tested in Europe recently by KTM Sport Director and former Factory Rider Kurt Nicoll.
Austrian motorcycle powerhouse KTM has been around longer than Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, but only really became a recognised international marque in the last 25 years, thanks to its fast and reliable off-road motorcycles.
After a string of world championships in enduro, rally and motocross, the company is expanding aggressively. This year it contested the World 125 Road Racing Championships, next year it will contest the 250 class too, and the company is in testing with a V4 990cc MotoGP engine which may be used as early as 2005 too. The company has also shown a number of variations of a 950 V-twin sports bike for the road.
It is not neglecting its dirt bikes though, and “just wants to be one of the first companies on the ball, using prototypes to test the suitability of 2-wheel drive under different conditions,” according to project leader, Wolfgang Felber.
“What we’re testing at the moment is a mechanical hydraulic system with a pre-set torque distribution between the front and rear wheel,” he said. “This system is already fairly well developed, but can definitely be improved upon.”
“Only after that can the decision be made to produce a limited batch,” he said.
Interestingly, the leader in this 2WD area is undoubtedly Yamaha, which has a limited edition machine for sale already , the 2-trac system having been developed in conjunction with Öhlins. Yamaha has been Öhlins majority shareholder for several years now and has been working on the two wheel drive system for 15 years with Öhlins.
Though the first motorcycle to be offered with Yamaha's 2-Trac system is an off-road competition machine based on the WR450F enduro machine, tests on an R1 1000cc supersport road bike have shown an incredible speed differential on wet tarmac - tests at the tight Swedish Karlskoga roadracing circuit showed the 2-trac-fitted R1 to offer a whopping five second per lap advantage over a standard machine when the circuit was wet.
KTM is not quite as bullish as Yamaha about the advantages of 2WD, though it plainly sees the system becoming available ona KTM at some stage. “At the moment the advantages and disadvantages of 2-wheel drive compared to a conventionally driven off-road motorcycle pretty much balance each other out,” said Felber.
Kurt Nicoll of KTM Motorsport also sees some immediate advantages. “When you ride with the 2-wheel drive system, you notice that it’s so much better when accelerating out of corners,” he said.
“With two driven wheels it’s more difficult to take the inner line around a curve. Therefore you usually take the outer line, as when both wheels are powered, the bike tends to want to straighten itself.
“You also feel the improved acceleration in the upper body, arms and shoulders.
“When you are riding very slowly, for example at the Erzberg, where it’s seriously up and down over rough ground, the rear wheel often breaks traction and spins – but not with the 2-wheel drive, which keeps on pulling with the front wheel. This way you can accelerate in situations where others are already bogged down.
Nicoll also sees the 2wd system as offering more advantage to average riders. “I think that the system has advantages for the hobby rider,” he said. “The advantages for competition riders will be less, as they already have a very good feel for traction – moreover they’re already used to steering the bike with a slipping rear wheel.
“But if someone has problems with steep climbs or often gets bogged down, then I think 2-wheel drive will yield great rewards.
“2-wheel drive helps more on a wet surface than a dry one. When it’s dry, the rear wheel hardly ever spins, but when it’s wet it does so continuously. With 2-wheel drive one simply twists the throttle and the bike accelerates because the power is distributed to both wheels. When it’s wet, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s wet sand or asphalt, 2-wheel drive makes riding much easier.
“At the moment we’re just at the beginning of it’s development. The problem that we’re working on is perhaps the same one that 4WD cars had 20 years ago: the system is heavy!
“We must get the weight down (currently approx. 6 kg). When we’ve managed to do that, so that it only adds a couple of additional kilos, then it has the potential to trigger a similar revolution to that of the Quattro.
Nicoll also commented on the different riding technique which the system encourages. “It is necessary to alter your riding style a little,” he said.
“You must get used to the fact that the front wheel is also always driving, that you should always take a wider curve radius, and that you’ll be amazed when the front wheel pulls you out of a rocky section.
“You have to get a little used to the feeling, and this doesn’t come straight away, especially when you’ve been riding a conventionally driven motorcycle for the last 25 years.