Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design: the art and science

Foale, Tony
Spain. 2002.
ISBN 978-8493328610

When I first heard of this book, probably around the time it was published, I just… had to have it.  At the time it was challenging just to figure out how to get one.  Entirely self published and distributed from Spain, this treatise is arguably the most definitive writing on the hows and whys of handling in single-track vehicles.  As should be obvious from the title, it’s not about bicycles, but you don’t need a deep imagination to recognize how much can be learned about bicycle geometry from studying motorcycle dynamics.

Bicycles of course do appear in the text a couple times, and are used to experiment and clarify some of the physics principles governing steering and lean-angle.  We must however bear in mind an important point about the differences between motorcycles and bicycles with regard to analyzing their handling characteristics.  On both machines the rider is a critical element to be considered as part of the machine.  The motorcyclist however is a relatively small percentage of the machine’s (bike and rider) overall weight, often less than 35%, while of course a bicyclist comprises the vast majority of the machine’s weight, rarely less than 80% for adults.  Add to that the sheer differences in power, and these have profound effects on the vehicles’ centers-of-gravity, and how the rider manages the CoG.  Tony FoaleAnother distinction (of many) is wheel and tire size, weight, casing design, pressures, and forces.  Although mostly the same effects exist in the tires and wheels of both machines, the magnitudes of those forces are so vastly different that we must be very careful with any assumptions we make about their similarities.  In numerous instances a line of understanding, in terms of handling design, cannot be directly applied between the two vehicle types.  Nevertheless this book provides tremendous insight, at the very least, into the sorts of things a serious bicycle designer should be considering and trying to understand.

Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design is one of my favorite books on my shelf, but I’d only recommend it to others who are also interested in the rather dry details of handling geometry in bikes.  The clarity in the writing, the comprehensive analyses, hundreds of photos, diagrams, and graphs, and the well thought out explanations are astounding.  Sure it reads a bit like a text book, but anyone would be hard-pressed to explore and report on such a technical topic more effectively.  The author‘s brilliant efforts to go light on mathematics, but instead illustrate with practical theory and experience, must not go unrecognized.

I understand a new edition was released in 2006.  I have not seen a Spanish version, but my paperback copy is entirely English, and written so well it’s difficult to imagine it having been translated.  The latest edition claims to be even better than mine.  Hmmm… What’s a book junkie to do?


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