Fast and Lucky

Tom Shelley reports on record-breaking motorcycle design and development

Looking like a missile with two wheels protruding like undercarriage, Bub Racing's Lucky 7 motorcycle held the world land speed record on two wheels from 2006 to 2008 before it snatched away by a rival US team. However, it aims to get the record back again later this year thanks to advanced design techniques, analysis, and testing. The aim is to get close to, and hopefully break, the 400mph mark.

Denis Manning has been in the motorcycle business for 40 years and owns a company that manufactures specialist exhausts. However, his real passion has always been building machines to break land speed records. His first success was when he was only 24, building the machine that gave the 265mph world record to Cal Rayborn in 1970. But by 2006, he had enabled dirt track rider Chris Carr to push the speed record to 350.884 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. And he developed a number of useful technologies along the way.

Methanol power, small powerful engines, joystick steering and safer high-speed tyres are just some of the potential spinoffs set to benefit both future mainstream motorcycles and other sectors.

Although the first vehicles were built before CAD software was invented, CAD, CFD and every other CAE is used to help the machines go considerably faster. The team uses SolidWorks Advanced Professional along with Cosmos FloWorks, Cosmos Works and IDF 3D Modeller.

Chief engineer, Joe Harralson, an engineering professor at California State University, Sacramento says: "Thanks to CFD, the drag coefficient is now down to 0.09, which I believe is the worlds lowest for a motorcycle. Based on the wind tunnel and coast down tests the coefficient of lift at the front is essentially zero."

The body work is a carbon fibre sandwich with a honeycomb core on a composite frame. But the limiting factor against going even faster than 350 mph, hopefully 400 mph, is the tyres. These are limited by the need to combine strength and rigidity while minimising heat generation.

"However this problem had been overcome," says Harralson. "Goodyear has already tested the new tyre to 450 mph.

"And the vehicle itself is currently undergoing wind tunnel testing in North Carolina."

The engine for the motorbike is a 3000cc V4, fuelled with methanol. The riding position is also fairly unconventional in the fact that it is feet forward. So the driver lies back and steers with an aircraft type joysticks.

The latest member of the family to get bitten by the bug is Denis's son, Eric, who has used SolidWorks to design an aluminium alloy framed bike powered by a methanol fuelled Aprilia RS 50cc engine, which reached 77.128 mph, a world record in its class in 2008. He has plans to go even faster later this year.


* A motorcycle could be going at or near 400 mph later this year, thanks to advanced design, analysis and testing

* Another motorcycle last year achieved nearly 80 mph with an only 50 cc engine

* Spinoff benefits for commercial motorcycles could include: methanol power, small but powerful engines, joystick steering and safer tyres

Tom Shelley

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