While we are all happy to have carbon-fiber cosmetic parts on our motorcycles, and every racebike is liberally clothed in the stuff, the history of carbon as a structural material on motorcycles is not littered with success stories.
Notable efforts to make carbon fiber frames include those of Cagiva in its early '90s GP race motorcycles and the more recent Ductati Desmosedici GP9, GP10, and GP11 models, with their carbon monocoque chassis. While the early carbon-fiber Ducati won races in the hands of Casey Stoner, few other carbon-fiber frame equipped motorcycles have had such success, and other riders weren't able to replicate Casey Stoner's speed.
Were the problems down to the carbon-fiber frames? Some claim that carbon-fiber is too rigid, harming the feedback needed by top-level riders for forcing other components, like the forks, to flex instead. However, the truth is that carbon-fiber can be as flexible or rigid as a designer wants – most modern fishing rods are made from carbon-fiber, and they flex like crazy. If feedback is affected, one theory is that it's due to the deadening effect of carbon fiber on small vibrations. While it can be as strong as stiff as steel or aluminum, it won't ring like a bell if struck.
Is that really a limit when it comes to outright performance? The jury is still out on that. Ducati didn't see instant improvements when it replaced its carbon frame with aluminum, suggesting its problems lie elsewhere, and Cagiva never had the sort of development budget to be truly competitive, regardless of its choice of frame building material.
What's fairly certain is that a road rider is sure to appreciate the weight saving of a carbon-fiber chassis and is never going to notice the sort of minute feedback differences that may have affected the performance of carbon-fiber frames in top-level motorcycle racing.
Tag: carbon-fibercosmetic partsmonocoque frameBMWCagivaDucatiCasey-Stoner