What Ducati’s aluminum beam GP frame means for the 1199

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Imagine a production bike — more powerful than any v-twin before — benefiting from the recognition of Italy’s most popular sportsbike brand and also the star power of MotoGP’s most famous rider, a rider that just happens to be Italian. Imagine also that that rider was winning races, maybe even a championship, on a machine with a clear point of unprecedented mechanical distinction shared by said production bike. Sounds like a perfect storm to create high sportsbike sales, right? That must have been what Ducati was thinking while it was developing the 1199. They’d give it a similar “frameless” chassis to their GP bike, then hire Valentino Rossi to put that GP bike on the podium. Race success + clear connection to race bike + impressive specs + famous dude = winning.

But, reality hasn’t cooperated. Rossi isn’t winning and he’s blaming that failure, at least partially, on that funny frame configuration. Now, Ducati is developing a — gasp — twin-spar aluminum beam chassis to see if it can fix the GP11’s handling problems. What does that mean for the “frameless” Ducati 1199?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s all this “frameless” business?
Well, it’s not so much frameless as it is two subframes on the front and back of the motor instead of one frame connecting the forks to the swingarm pivot. The swingarm actually hinges on the motor case and a dinky rear subframe supports the rider, while a front subframe holds on the forks and whatnot. Michael Czysz perfected the use of a stressed carbon airbox as that front subframe on his stillborn C1 GP bike and Ducati’s been using it on its MotoGP bikes since 2009.

This patent sketch gives you a clear idea of the chassis configuration. Front and rear subframes, and a stressed engine, replace the need for a traditional frame.

The Ducati 1199 hasn’t been released yet, but leaked and spy photos strongly indicate that it uses a similar arrangement. We’re making an educated guess that, for reasons of production cost, that stressed airbox and rear subframe will be aluminum, not carbon though.

Ducati can be first to production with a “frameless” chassis not just because of its experience developing one for MotoGP, but because it uses a v-twin engine configuration. With all their big metal bits at the front, inline fours would simply require too long of a rear subframe to make “frameless” make sense, but with that rear cylinder crammed up under the riders’ nuts, Ducati can get away with a very short rear subframe.

Do you see a frame for the SSA to pivot on in this leaked image of the 1199?

Advantages of “frameless” are part count reductions and therefore weight loss. The engine is also the frame; the airbox is also the front subframe, etc. Disadvantages are the ability of the engine to support the weight and torsional flexing, so the motor has to be developed to work with “frameless” from the off and the mysterious issue of “feel.”

A Ducati like no other.
What makes a Ducati? Belt-driven cams? A steel trellis frame? A high, narrow, rectangular tank? The 1199 has none of that. So what sets it apart from other exotic bikes other than red paint and its “Ducati” badge?

916-alike headlights are likely the only connection between the 1199 and Ducatis of yore.

It’s certainly not the only exotic superbike to use a v-twin. In fact, the engine looks extraordinarily similar to the KTM RC8’s and likely shares its chain/gear driven cams. So that’s not a clear point of mechanical distinction.

It also won’t be the most powerful superbike out there, the Kawasaki ZX-10R is likely to retain that distinction.

The 1199 is expected to come with the full host of performance-enhancing electronics (at least it needs to if it wants to be competitive) — traction control, wheelie control, launch control — but none of that is new and Ducati likely can’t top APRC’s flawless execution, only hope to match it.

It also won’t have any world championships under its belt. Even if the 1198 sews up that honor this year in SBK, that’s a very different bike to the 1199.

Instead of all that, Ducati is looking to re-write its own history with an epic, but unsuccessful attempt at dominating MotoGP combined with pretty impressive mechanical specifications for the new bike. They didn’t just hire Rossi, but also Nicky Hayden, the latter to ensure penetration of the lucrative North American market. But, instead of race track success, they’re suffering very public race track failure, with blame being lumped on that connection between the GP bike and the 1199 — the frameless chassis.

The deal with the GP12 and its aluminum chassis.
Such is the lack of confidence in the frameless configuration and its purported lack of front end feel, that Ducati has done the unthinkable and begun developing an aluminum twin-spar chassis in a parallel program to the regular GP12 development. Not only is the approach almost heretical in its similarity to the Japanese performance bike archetype, but it comes at a time in which massive development effort needs to be put into an all-new, 1,000cc engine.

Compare this shot of the frameless GP11 to the shot of the framed GP12 prototype at the top of the article. Up top, you can clearly see a traditional swingarm pivot plate. Yep, that’s a hallmark of an aluminum twin spar.

It’s not clear yet if Ducati will switch its race bikes from framless to aluminum frame, but if it does, it won’t be doing so for reasons of clear technical advantage. No, the selling point of aluminum twin spar isn’t weight or stiffness or anything quantifiable like that, it’s the experience engineers and riders have with the platform, which should help them dial it in to the nth degree that much better and quicker. Perhaps tellingly, tests this weekend at Mugello of both configurations couldn’t produce a lap time that could match Casey Stoner’s aboard a Honda.

The latest spy photo shows the 1199 on track wearing SBK-spec suspension. Will Ducati re-enter the series?

Anticipation
Anecdotal evidence relayed to us by professional dealers of Italian motorcycles is that sales of bikes in the 1199’s competitive set are way down this summer in anticipation of the new model. This includes Ducati’s own 1198 — despite it gaining a bunch of no-cost upgrades like forged wheels, a slipper clutch, aluminum tank, etc, all in an effort to boost sales during this anticipatory period — the Aprilia RSV4 and even MV Agusta F4. Buyers have also related to us that they’ve passed on bikes like the BMW S1000RR and 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R, instead saving their money to put a deposit down on the 1199 this fall.

This is indicative of how well that Rossi + MotoGP connection + anticipated spec worked even before Ducati began officially pushing such a marketing platform. Those three factors are such a strong combination that Ducati doesn’t need to do anything and buyers will still be knocking down doors to place a deposit.

That connection is powerful. Powerful enough to impact sales should it work against Ducati?

Rolling the dice.
There’s three possible scenarios here: 1) Ducati ditches the frameless setup in MotoGP all together. 2) Ducati continues with frameless, but Rossi pulls his finger out and starts winning. 3) Ducati continues with frameless, Ducati keeps losing and the frameless configuration keeps taking the blame.

Is that the rear subframe mounting to the rear cylinder in this leaked shot of the 1199?

Regardless of which occurs, Ducati is coming to market with a seriously fast (190bhp?), seriously light (under 400lbs wet?), seriously awesome motorcycle that’ll likely sew up sales in its traditional rich guy market. But that’s not the question here. What’s being questioned is the 1199’s ability to follow through on its promise of conquesting sales from other manufacturers in a big way.

Given scenario one, they’ll all of a sudden be selling a bike to the public with no tangible connection to their MotoGP racer. This move will also be a clear indictment of the frameless configuration, at least in the minds of the public. Motorcyclists are a traditionally conservative, fickle bunch. Motorcycles that have tried to break the traditional sportsbike archetype have traditionally been enormous sales flops. Witness the Yamaha GTS1000 and its Omega frame.

Scenario two? Major win. Everything continues as planned, Ducati takes over the world and Jeremy Burgess is elected prime minister of Australia.

Scenario three? Epic fail. Instead of getting a major TV ad in its favor every other weekend next summer, the 1199 is going to get a major tv ad that’s negative. If you were a big MotoGP fan and you kept reading on MotoMatters and watching on television criticisms by your god-on-earth hero, Valentino Rossi, of the frameless configuration, would you be excited about spending your hard earned on something similar? Would you, say, promptly run out and trade in your S1000RR for one? You probably would in scenario two, but not if this happened. And that’s the problem, that’s what the 1199 is designed to make you want to do. Without a clear connection to Rossi’s race track success, it probably can’t.

Top photo: Sport Mediaset, leaked photos: Motociclismo.it

  • $Lindz$

    From everything I’ve read, I think the 1199 engine is still Desmodromic. I mean, it’s called the DesmoQuadratta, isn’t it?

    Anyways, I think the 1199 could bank on race track success if/when Ducati returns to SBK. The soft-carcass Pirelli tires in WSBK are much closer to road tires, and they work much better with the “frameless” design than, say, the hard-carcass Bridgestone MotoGP tires.

    Bridgestone no longer make Ducati-specific front compounds since they are the spec-tire supplier. Everyone gets the same options in tires. This isn’t good or bad, it just means that Ducati have a bike with CLEAR advantages in SBK and road sales (lighter weight, extremely narrow, L-Twin, etc) and they can’t exploit it in the current MotoGP rules (minimum weight pretty heavy, spec hard-carcass tires, fuel economy target, etc).

    I think they should return to WSBK with a factory 2-bike 1199 team (plus customer bikes) and just build D16 GP bikes to the best of the rules and personnel. If the 1199 is as good as the rumors, they won’t need MotoGP success to sell the bikes (at first).

    • ontheroad

      I completely agree.

      The bike is still desmodromic, I imagine still a 90 degree twin: still very much a Ducati.

      Ducatis production superbike sales have, historically, been driven by their years of success in WSBK. MotoGP is a recent foray, they’ve been iconic in WSBK since the 916. I would be shocked to learn that they aren’t fielding a factory team with the 1199, and even more so to see that the new chassis is not competitive.

      If either of those unlikelihoods take place, then yes maybe sales would suffer a bit but, even so, look at BMW: S1000RR’s are selling damn well with shoddy racing results.

      I’d like to see both the 1199 and the GP12 being competitive next season: if that means a departure from currect frame design in GP, why not? It’s a prototype series! To assume that poor performance from the frameless GP chassis will translate to poor performance from the new SBK chassis a huge leap.

      If it bombs in SBK, or isn’t in the paddock, and they continue to flounder in GP, then the new bike’s sales may be in trouble. Regardless, I can’t wait to see and ride it.

  • Jonathan

    “Michael Czysz credits himself for perfecting this arrangement on his stillborn C1 GP bike”

    I suppose he can lay claim to “perfecting” it, but John Britten was building frameless bikes out of carbon fiber 20 years ago. They were also powered by v-twins, and quite handy around a racetrack too.

    • Sean Smith

      “Ducati 1199: The closest you’ll ever get to riding a Britten.”

      All they need are factory optional BSTs and an under-seat radiator.

      • Rick

        Next March will be TWENTY years since Britten’s “Klingon Battlecruiser” V-1000 debuted at Daytona…I wonder where motorcycling would be had he not been stolen from us?

        • Gene

          I saw that race and I still remember the exhaust note. Made a racing Harley sound like a 125cc 2-stroke. I also saw the same bike in “Art of the Motorcycle” 15 years later.

          I have NEVER EVER EVER understood why his heirs didn’t license his designs. Not only would they have made money, but that’s the worst insult I can think of, letting his wonderful accomplishments die with him like that.

    • michael

      Wow… Perfection is a tall order, we have yet to perfect anything, certainly not the CF frame (though last weekend it did performed very well). I did say we made a CF air box for the C1 instead of a frame, that occurred in 2004, wish I would have patented that.

      CF will be the material of choice for the most advanced and best racing frames in the future.

      -Michael Czysz

  • Jose

    Well “Ducati 1199: The closest you’ll ever get to riding a Britten.” it´s too complimentary. Duc is jumping into something new. It remains to be seen if they achieve success…

  • http://www.speedymoto.com SpeedyMoto

    I think you may be giving a little to much credit to the race on Sunday sell on Monday theory.

    Ducati has an amazing amount of customers who learn about Rossi well after they purchase their first new Ducati Superbike. That being said this frameless flip flop isn’t going to help sales much. I feel if Ducati truly felt they needed to sell what they raced they would have replaced the 999/749 with the D16 instead of the 1098/848.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That’s exactly the point. The bike’ll be awesome, every single one of Ducati’s existing customers that can afford it will buy it, but they’d been hoping for major conquests too, relying on the Rossi/MotoGP marketing to make those conquests. Without that or even possibly with it working against them, that might not happen.

      • robotribe

        I tend to think it won’t make a difference in the world. My weekend and co-worker observations lead me to believe those who lusted and purchased a 1098 did so less because of the current Ducati race results of the time and more so because 1.) it’s good looking, 2.) it’s a good looking bike that’s fast enough, it’s colored red, and it says DUCATI on the tank, and 3.) it’s a good looking bike that’s far better looking (to most eyes) than the 999 it replaced.

        However Ducati Racing remedies they’re Rossi/GP11 bet and the results thereof, I think will have little effect on the die-hard Ducatistas and those infatuated with the brand as long as the 1199 performs well enough on paper and more importantly (though most will never admit it) is as SEXY as can be–Ducati goggles notwithstanding.

        And let’s face it, I’d bet most of those with the desire and income to match who buy an 1199 don’t have the skills or ambition to even notice the shortcomings of the “frameless” GP that plague Rossi. The 1199, as I witness many other liter sport bikes to be, are trophies first, serious track and canyon-carving tools second.

        I believe that phrases like “passion” and “personality” being associated more with that brand than “race-proven technology” speaks to how my opinions about the subject are formed. And really, I’m not Ducati hater; I just don’t pretend any positive Ducati feelings myself and many others harbor are primarily based on their pro team’s race results.

    • Rick

      I think Ducati is very clever in sticking with the V-twin for World Superbike. Why? SBK attempts to maintain performance parity between twins and the top fours, so by having the only twins in the field Ducati is practically guaranteed of success. Think about it- when was the last time Bologna went winless for a whole season?

      Life is much tougher within the subset of four cylindered machinery as there is no regulatory mechanism for leveling performance within that group.

      No, Ducati would be crazy to build a four and lose that rulebook security blanket.

    • Max Headroom

      +1
      Yamaha didn’t sell container loads of R1′s because of Rossi’s success – there’s no reason to think that Ducati would be any different with Rossi on the seat of their MotoGP bike. CF or aluminum frames, Rossi, Stoner, Edwards, Hayden don’t make much of a difference in the showroom.

  • Rick

    There’s not much doubt that this will be a brilliant motorcycle in standard form, the question is will Ducati try to homologate a limited production version of even higher performance as has been their tradition? A $50K+ model replete with titanium connecting rods and other unobtainium bits could be World Superbike’s Doomsday Machine.

    With their worldwide sales so low and money tight, how many manufacturers will stick around and fight this new Ducati? Series organizers would be wise to monitor the competitive balance even more closely in 2012.

  • Myles

    Ducati’s are slow, Casey Stoner is awesome, buy a cbr.

    • smoke4ndmears

      If only the CBR was a v4.

      • Gene

        Word. I remember Honda’s “V-4s in everything” age and it rocked.

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Great article. I’ve been following this since the beginning of the season, and now besides the frame talk is the notion that the Ducati can’t succeed on the current bridgestones. Supposedly a harder construction is coming next year.

    Whatever Ducati’s deal is, they better sort it out for Rossi’s sake. Dude has a reputation to uphold!

  • Erok

    I feel bad for the people who had a heart attack when they switched to wet clutches.

  • Kevin

    I didn’t understand any of this, but I’m old and I have money so I’ll just buy one.

  • Charlie

    I don’t see the connection to GP as necessary or sufficient. I think this is a luxury brand succeeding. If it looks good, with those specs, it will sell out like a Cayenne hybrid.

  • rohorn

    Or they drop GP (and the 4 cylinder engine that doesn’t relate to anything new in the showrooms anyway) and Rossi races this in WSB.

  • Liquidogged

    “It’s not clear yet if Ducati will switch its race bikes from framless to aluminum frame, but if it does, it won’t be doing so for reasons of clear technical advantage. No, the selling point of aluminum twin spar isn’t weight or stiffness or anything quantifiable like that, it’s the experience engineers and riders have with the platform, which should help them dial it in to the nth degree that much better and quicker. Perhaps tellingly, tests this weekend at Mugello of both configurations couldn’t produce a lap time that could match Casey Stoner’s aboard a Honda.”

    Kind of shot your own foot there. The fact is, as you mention, even with the alu frame, Rossi isn’t getting close to Stoner. The reason is that all those engineers with all that experience with alu frames don’t work for Ducati. They work for Honda and Yamaha, who have had decades to perfect a technology that Ducati is just now trying out, in MotoGP no less. Of course, Rossi and Hayden have built their careers on piloting alu framed Japanese bikes, so that’s the riding experience they’re going to want, and probably need, to be competitive. But that doesn’t mean Ducati is going to be able to provide that just by switching frame tech. This is not off the shelf stuff we’re talking about, and even Ducati isn’t just going to whip out a race winning twin spar alu frame in such a short time, especially with the R&D they’re throwing at the 1000cc motor. Look how long it took the mighty HRC to come up with a truly world class GP bike with this technology. How many chassis designs have they gone through in the last ten years alone?

  • Ben

    Ummm what about the CBR924? Wasn’t that bike sort of framless?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      More like swingarm pivot plate-less. For the exact reasons described above, that rear subframe needs something to mount to on an inline-4.

  • Nik

    I don’t see how this frame setup is that different from what Erik Buell’s production bikes have been using since late 2002. It seems to be working well for him on his 1190. Maybe Ducati should hire EBR as consultants XD

    • super20

      Nik,
      Check this out:
      http://www.motorcycle.com/gallery/gallery.php?g2_view=largephotos.Largephotos&g2_itemId=51039
      The Buell frame is very cool in it’s own right, but it’s definitely a “frame” compared to the pics and drawing above.
      I’d love to see Erik Buell go to work for either Ducati or (wouldn’t it be funny?) MV Augusta. We’d get all the cool tech stuff Erik is known for, and probably some new ideas too, with the looks of an Italian bike.
      I mean, I love my 1125R, but one thing its not is sexy. The best thing I can say about its looks is I don’t have to see it while I’m riding it.

      • Nik

        I know what the Buell frame looks like, I have one, and have taken it apart. It is similar to the Ducati in that the swing arm attaches to the engine, and the forks to the frame. On my XB the Buell frame is much more substantial than the Ducati front subframe, but it still attaches to the engine at similar points as the Ducati frame as depicted in the line drawing in this article. It differs in that the rider carrying rear subframe of the Buell attaches to the front frame, instead of the engine. But as far as how the suspension is mounted and any resulting dynamics the concepts are the same.

        • super20

          Yep, similar. Except where it’s different.

  • DesmoMorello

    I have owned an 848 for a few years now and am definitely looking forward to actually seeing the production 1199. I love my bike because it is a twin, is a blast at track days, and TO ME is the best looking bike hands down. If the 1199 has these same attributes as well as excellent electronics/safety features, that is why I will buy one. The fact that at purchase time I am only interested in twins already eliminates many bikes before we even get to discussing the frame.

    I would agree that there is a small element of “Well if frameless isn’t working out in MotoGP, maybe it’s not such a good idea?” But as many people like to point out, though I say it’s representative of all superbikes not just Ducati’s, very few of us riders have the skill and time to find and create those few tenths of a second between one bike and the next at the bleeding edge. I commute and enjoy as many track days a year as I can attend on my 848. A few tenths of a second in the protype class where the bike is already so different from mine matters little. In the next few years when the 1199 is racing and it turns out that it flies apart and kills the riders each outing, then I might have second thoughts ;)

    It could be that I’m not representative of most customers but I think I am. While I enjoy it when is doing well (keep it up Carlos!), it’s effect on my purchasing decisions is zero versus simply comparing the 1199 to the other bikes available in the superbike segment.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    This bike will sell well. Very well. Porsche buyers don’t know Porsche’s last factory team was in 1998. Ferrari buyers aren’t disappearing because of the 2011 F1 season. Once a racing brand is built (not easy) it takes an awful lot to destroy it (see Harley-Davidson for one of the few examples).

    The bulk of customers aren’t fanatics. Their brand impressions are from a halo of friends of friends of friends. This bike will be unquestionably capable, technically unique, and good-enough-looking. In the meantime, Ducati should have no problem recovering race results in either WSBK or MotoGP long before effects trickle down to the showroom floor.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      So why bother hiring Rossi in the first place if theres no marketing value?

      • Sebastian

        Patriotism.

      • Stacey

        Perhaps Ducati felt that the bike’s problems could be ironed out by hiring essentially the best development rider in the world.

        The lack of front end feel is probably not something most of us non-Aliens will ever encounter, should we get to throw a leg over a GP bike. But if your goal is to equate new technology with racing success; and if you see your products as revolutionary and not evolutionary; then this problem points to a path that cannot be solved by mere refinements. But you should probably have the G.O.A.T tell you your shit sucks before you throw out millions in development for newer solutions…

      • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

        Didn’t say NO marketing value, just that the connection between race results and sales is not direct and it functions on a very different timescale.

        Even ignoring the fact that most moto shops are closed on Monday, “race on Sunday sell on Monday” is only true if your customer follows racing and aspires to race themselves. In dirt biking, it’s a large portion. In sport bikes, that’s a tiny fraction – it’s a market built on spec sheets, aesthetics and brand, not track results.

        Witness sales of the BMW S1000RR vs the Aprilia RSV4 this past year. BMW vastly outsold the Aprilia because of it’s HP figure, not race results.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Also dealer presence, marketing budget price and brand recognition.

          I’m not arguing a direct correlation, merely some correlation. In this case, that’s likely stronger than usual given Rossi.

          • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

            Definitely more than two factors in sales, but even in markets with a decent Aprilia presence and, IMO, some of the best dealerships in the business, RSV4s are sitting on the showroom floor and selling at discounts while S1000RRs sell at sticker to a waitlist.

            I think we’re largely in agreement – Rossi definitely transcends the usual barrier of GP awareness. I just don’t think his (lack of) results this season, or the specifics of the GP11 will pass that barrier with him.

  • 85gripen

    I’m sure I’m not the first to break the news to you but Ducati has decided to go with the aluminum frame for the GP race at Aragon.