Motorcycle issue nr.552

ChiQane III: A road less travelled (track test)

Bron: Motorcycle, issue # 522 (April 2004)
All pictures: http://www.zeppelin-works.nl/III/MC/publicatie.htm
Italian Translation: http://www.dueruote.it/notizie/moto/chiqane-iii-il-futuro-in-prova

Telescopic forks might still be a motorcycle suspension norm, but how far away is a next generation replacement? If you take a look at the ChiQane III, could be that it's just around the corner....

You can't help but admire someone who takes it on the chin and comes right back at you - and that's exactly what Dutch disciple of alternative chassis design Roel van der Heide has done five years on from being slated in print by yours truly, after inviting me in 1998 to ride his Honda Hawk-powered ChiQane I prototype. As I discovered firsthand at that shakedown test at Zandvoort, that particular bike was in dire need of some intensive RETD. Hinged in the middle, lacking stability and apparently a victim of the dreaded bump steer, this bike was definitely not right the first time around... Still, after garnering interest in the radical-looking hub-centre steered motorcycle at the Munich Show, van der Heide planned to follow advice and move up in capacity to a full 1,000 cc engine for his next model, which would provide a better test of the validity of his ideas than the worthy but rather puny 60bhp 52-degree Vtwin Revere motor ever could.

However, in seeking to literally double the horsepower delivered by ChiQane II when it arrived powered by the Swedish-built 950 cc Folan engine, van der Heide discovered the motor's Achilles heel - devoid of a counterbalancer, it vibrated like a rattlesnake. "It made the radiator leak and the engine mounts fracture, as did the alloy parts on the chassis," declared 53-year-old former steel worker Roel. "Plus the oil system was flawed, and it kept on pumping it out everywhere. It was a disaster, so we had to find another engine." Having designed the one-litre ChiQane 11 around a 60-degree Vtwin, he wanted to retain that format, which left an obvious choice: Aprilia. Here Roel was able to take advantage of the fact that his fellow-countryman Jan Witteveen is the boss of the Aprilia Corse race department, and was ready to lend a favorable ear to his compatriot's plea for help. "Jan Witteveen agreed to see me to take a close look at what we were doing, and he liked what he saw," says Roel. That resulted in Aprilia adopting the ChiQane III project as a semi-detached adjunct of their RETD department, supplying van der Heide with a new 2002-spec RSV1000R V-twin motor and spares kit, as well as the back half of an RSV-R chassis which would form the basis of the new prototype.

"It was agreed that once I'd completed the bike, Aprilia would analyze and test it in Italy, with a view to adopting the design in one way or another if they liked what they found," says Roel. Okay - but what were ChiQane offering the Italian firm that might be of interest to them? "Many people have tried before to break the mould of chassis design that we're all stuck in today," he continues: "Lots of them are very clever and with much better engineering backgrounds than me - like ELF and Bimota, Yamaha and Fior. "But they all seemed to run into problems with their designs, which made them unviable - ELF with bump steer, Bimota with poor front end feel, etc. The only one that seemed to me as if it worked right was the British ASP - and I also liked its symmetrical appearance, instead of having a single-sided front end that inevitably also looks lop-sided.

"That's one reason I decided to use a twin-sided swing arm at the front of the ChiQanes - but I preferred to use twin shocks with it, for better balance as well as added rigidity. I also aimed for a lighter construction, to reduce unsprung weight: if you use only one swing arm on one side or the other, you have to make it much stronger and heavier than if you have two. "And finally, I also wanted to reduce offset so as to dial in some trail, for better stability where a bike like the Bimota Tesi, for example, which has no offset to speak of, weaves at low speeds. After a lot of thought I designed a special kingpin for the front wheel which allows you to achieve this, so now we have a package that looks good but works better than conventional forks."

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he, I thought to myself as I slung a leg over the ChiQane III prototype in the Assen paddock, and prepared to put Roel's riddle to the test. After all, I remembered only too well how twitchy and nervous the ChiQane I had felt at first, knife edging into turns with a total lack of assurance, displaying none of the stability of a conventional bike, let alone a hub-centre one that will allow you to trail-brake into the apex without the suspension freezing up or the steering geometry altering. Its Aprilia-engined successor couldn't be more different: It's a delight to ride, albeit still in need of some detailed refinement in its set-up. But 30 laps of Assen punctuated by various stops to dial in improvements convinced me that Roel van der Heide has not only resolved all of the problems of ChiQane I, he's also quite possibly hit on a genuine improvement on telescopic forks, which doesn't drag with it other problems in its wake.

'...30 laps of Assen convinced me
that Roel van der Heide has not
only resolved all of the problems,
but quite possibly hit on a
genuine improvement on
telescopic forks...'

So, the new bike doesn't bump steer like its predecessor did, tracking straight and true every lap, indicating that Roel's new design of rear link has done the trick. Until the rear end is set up right, a hubcentre bike feels even more unstable than a badly set up teleforked model, but it was apparent that this had been done right on the new ChiQane, thus resolving one of its predecessor's major hang-ups. Ditto rear grip, all part of the same equation - where even with the measly GObhp on tap from its Honda motor, the original would certainly have spun up the rear tyre running over the ridge on the exit from Assen's first turn. On the new bike I could feel its rear �hlins shock doing its job by allowing me to ride relatively smoothly over the bump, while holding its line and maxing out traction from the grippy rear Pirelli Diablo. Sorted.

Unlike on the first two ChiQane prototypes, which used Roel's own design of chassis in its entirety, ChiQane III employs the main part of a stock RSV Mille twin-spar chassis. This has been modified to accept the elegant front swing arm that pivots in a sub frame bolted to it, and operates a pair of fully adjustable VVP shocks mounted directly to the frame spars to create a twin-parallelogram design. The hub-centre steering sees the handlebar assembly rotating in twin roller bearings set 90mm apart, activating a drag arm off the lower 'triple clamp', which in turn operates the ball joint steering the wheel.

There is a specially made Dymag carbon hoop incorporating the kingpin, while at the rear its companion is housed in the stock Aprilia single-sided swing arm, but with Roel's own rising-rate suspension linkage. It's a clean and symmetrical design that looks good on paper as well as in the metal, with a 1,418 mm wheelbase matched to quite conservative steering geometry as tested, as Roel says stability is one of his top priorities hence the bike's 97 mm of trail (readily adjustable from 74 mm to 97 mm) to match its 20-degree head angle (also adjustable between 20 and 25 degrees). By way of contrast, the ASP that he admires had a nine-degree head angle and 57 mm of trail, so by hub-centre standards the ChiQane III is quite conservative. The ChiQane�s front end conveys a huge amount of feel, the biggest advantage of the design, and once You convince yourself it really is okay to brake hard as you lean deep into the apex of a turn, you'll really feel that front tyre squirming beneath you as the twin 320mrn six-piston AP stoppers do their stuff.

The extreme forward weight bias of 55/45 percent helps load up the front wheel for extra grip, without making the rear wave around in the air too much - but the front Pirelli objected when I tried to turn in still hard on the brakes, and the steering also felt very heavy, much heavier than the ChiQane I. Not what I'd expected given that light carbon fibre Dymag rim, I stopped to checked the tyre pressures - and found them way out. Asking Roel to raise the rear ride height to stop the understeer revealed that it was already on the maximum for extra ground clearance - but so too was the front! Dropping that 4 mm was the work of a moment � underlining the accessibility and adjustability of the ChiQane�s funny front end - and now the bike was cooking. It held its line much better at speed, and steering was noticeably lighter and more positive, even braking deep into the turn on the angle, where the advantages of the hub-centre layout really began to shine.

The ChiQane has more feel under braking than I ever managed to achieve with the Tesi, plus it's very stable in spite of the extreme frontal weight bias, which in turn loads up the front wheel under braking, in pursuit of increased grip. I Could still brake hard cranked right over in the middle of the turn, and thus later than otherwise - an important advantage of alternative chassis design done right, as the ChiQane III so obviously is. But if the ChiQane is completely neutral and predictable in its response, it's also forgiving too � I lifted the front wheel under acceleration several times in the Assen chicane while still cranked over for the exit, and the worst that ever happened was that the handlebars waggled lazily in my hands a couple of times, before resuming normal service - no steering damper either.

'The front end conveys a huge
amount of feel, once you
convince yourself it really is
okay to brake hard as you learn
deep into the apex of a turn....'

Arguably what Roel van der Heide has created here is the best of both worlds in terms of front suspension design: a happy blend of the established and avantgarde. The idea of having a pair of multi-adjustable modern shocks with variable damping working directly between the swing arm and the chassis represents the ultimate logical rationalization of a set of current old-style telescopic forks. By comparison with the ChiQane�s front end set-up, even a set of upside down forks are as a music cassette to a CD, a VHS tape to a DVD. And while this modern twin-shock interpretation of a set of conventional teles offers far more sophisticated damping and greater adjustability from the VVP shocks, it also separates braking from steering, and in an aesthetically pleasing matched double-up format.

Result

With the addition of some proper styling courtesy of Aprilia's design studio, this ChiQane III concept could provide a valid Latin alternative to BMW's Telelever pseudo-tele forks design, which has a similar range of dynamic benefits. "Aprilia has taken a very good look at ChiQane�s hub-centre steering mechanism, and we are impressed by its development - and so were our engineers," says the Italian company's Product Development Chief, Fulvio Parisatto. "Aprilia is not at present in a position to incorporate this in our marketing plans, because our investment plans are fixed until 2007. But we have no objections and indeed will actively support ChiQane producing a motorcycle of this type using Aprilia parts, which we are pleased to deliver to them as required." So, don't call us, chaps - we'll call you, unless you want to become a fully-fledged manufacturer in your own right, in which case we'll be happy to supply parts to you to build bikes on a bespoke basis.

Armed with the assurance that such bikes could be sold through and maintained by Aprilia dealers, Roel van der Heide is considering the financial ramifications of going down that route...

It's always the same problem with anything that looks this different - bikers are such conservative folk, they won't stump up for something that's avantgarde in appearance, like the Yamaha GTS or Bimota Tesi. But at the end of the day the ChiQane III deserves to be more than a prototype - my Assen test proved to my satisfaction that it's worthy of series production.

Could a retired Dutch steelworker with no engineering qualifications, but a surfeit of determination as well as the urge to see his ideas reach the marketplace, be the one to have tracked down the holy grail of an acceptable successor to telescopic forks?

Don't bet against it....

Tekst: Alan Cathcart
Fotografie: Kyoichi Nakamura