August 29, 2007 12:06 PM PDT
Reinventing the (front) wheel
Philadelphia-based Christini has begun to market a drivetrain that can apply power from the engine to the front wheel of motorcycles. A second chain turns the front wheel so that riders can get through sand, snow, mud or uneven terrain more easily.
"I love it. It is a total advantage," said Mike Bergman, a professional motocross racer who's raced twice on motorcycles equipped with Christini's drivetrain. "Let's say you come into a rough corner with deep ruts, it will pull you right around it."
Christini recently released a version of its drivetrain for some Honda dirt bikes and will soon have a unit that works with off-road motorcycles from KLM. Over the next few years, it hopes to move from selling its system as an aftermarket device to something that is integrated into a motorcycle at a much lower cost at the factory.
Eventually it will also come to street bikes because it can increase safety and handling, according to founder Steve Christini.
"The average rider gets the most benefit out of this," he said. "The benefit of all-wheel drive is control, stability, safety and cornering. It keeps the front end from washing out."
The company has all-wheel mountain bikes, too. With bicycles, all-wheel drive allows riders to get up steep slopes without having to stand up and pedal, or down slippery surfaces with less fishtailing.
Although they don't get near the attention that cars do, inventors actively tinker with the technology behind bikes and motorcycles. Shimano recently came out with an automatic transmission for bikes, and Zero Motorcycles and Vectrix have come out with electric motorcycles.
The all-wheel drive concept sounds simple, but it's difficult to execute. Large, established manufacturers have tried out different ideas for putting a second chain on the front wheel, but ultimately backed away from coming out with products.
The difficulty was in how to deliver power to the front wheel without disrupting steering and handling. If you attach the chain to one side of the hub, it will pull the front wheel, and hence the rider, in that direction. One manufacturer spent years on a system that would drive the wheel through pressure hydraulics. Hydraulic systems, though, consume lots of power.
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