Saturday, September 1, 2007

Ode to the Dustbin Fairing:

Edited for size From RoadRacerX

Airtech Streamlining's Dustbin fairing on a MV Agusta 175

"Dustbin fairings were banned by the FIM in the years after WWII. It was a period of increasingly restrictive rules, as forced induction (i.e., turbo-charging and supercharging) was also banned. Nominally, the fairing rules were put down to ensure that motorcycles had adequate steering lock and were not imperiled by crosswinds. The truth is probably that the rules were British punishment for the Germans’ starting the war and the Italians’ role in it; the restrictions definitely extended the useful life of the British racing singles that made up the bulk of 350 and 500cc grids.

The rules that define legal motorcycle fairings have hardly been revised since. Both wheels and the rider need to be pretty much fully visible when seen from the side. I think it’s time to toss out these rules in MotoGP. If the rules were binned, it would not be long before we’d see a return to full—dustbin-style—fairings.

Airtech got this from a purchase of old molds that were from Greasy Dick Kilgore's Fibercraft. This beautiful dustbin fairing is fairly narrow but has worked on singles, twins singles, twins and four cylinders applications

Here’s why I think dustbins are an idea that should be saved from motorcycling’s, er, dustbin:

First, the original reasons cited for banning them no longer make sense, if they ever did. The steering-lock argument was a canard; race bikes need very little steering lock and in fact they get safer with less of it, not more. As for crosswind stability, that’s a problem that contemporary wind-tunnel testing and aerodynamic modeling should make entirely solvable.

Second, fully faired bikes would be a modern sponsor’s dream. Seamless rolling billboards with lots of logo space would make it easier for MotoGP teams to defray costs by attracting outside money.

The third reason is the most important; wide-open fairing rules in the prototype class would make MotoGP bikes and superbikes visually distinct. Although I am loathe to draw too many analogies between cars and bikes, the clear visual separation between Indy Cars and NASCAR, between F-1 and touring cars or rallying, between Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, have all helped to build audiences who understand that both sides of those pairings are “top” classes in their own ways.

Right now, only real aficionados can tell the difference between superbikes and MotoGP bikes at a glance. Not only that, the two classes will tend to converge as manufacturers homologate production bikes with styling cues (those new shorty exhausts for example) and fundamental engineering (such as mass centralization) inspired by MotoGP research and development. If proddie machines echo MotoGP bikes, production-based superbikes inevitably will, too.

Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen the relative popularity (and viability) of Grand Prix racing and Superbike racing wax and wane. Right now, MotoGP seems dominant, but that championship faces rising costs (and the threat of shrinking grids). Although there are those who say that decreasing displacement to 800cc in 2007 won’t have any effect on speed, I think it will, at least at the more technical tracks. By contrast, World Superbike winter tests on new-gen Pirelli tires suggest that we’ll see some overlap in MotoGP-Superbike lap times. If the two championship’s bikes look the same and are equally fast, it’s vital that fans can see significant differences to avoid a situation in which our sport’s audiences cannibalize each other.

That said, at least at the faster tracks, the fairings would help MotoGP bikes make distinctly quicker laps, too. That would be good; it would emphasize the fact that ten million extra bucks buys something in the way of performance. But, it wouldn’t hurt superbikes; they couldn’t be blamed for not being as fast as the obviously space-age prototypes.

In the long run, I continue to believe that the best future for our sport is one with two equally prized road racing championships—a World Superbike Championship for production-based motorcycles (perhaps with even more restrictive rules than we currently apply) and a MotoGP Championship for wide-open prototypes.

Fans shouldn’t have to choose which championship they follow, any more than they have to choose between food and wine. The two should complement each other. Superbikes’ popularity will always hinge on the fact that fans can easily relate to racing on bikes like the ones they ride. MotoGP bikes should not just apply prototype technology, they should look different, too. Bringing back dustbin fairings would be the easiest way to achieve that goal."

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