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How tiny MV Agusta threw down a challenge to big boys

By Andy Downes -

General news

 30 December 2011 15:00

MV claim their new F3 will take the supersport class by storm, thanks to its high power, light weight and sophisticated electronics. But how can a company with a fraction of the staff and investment of the major players manage to build a class-leading bike for competitive money?

MCN’s visit to MV’s Italian factory reinforced just what an achievement this would be – the picture, left, shows ALL the people involved in the project. By comparison, Triumph has 200 people just working in R&D – 10 times as many as MV – never mind the other 430 in production, sales and marketing.

To find out how MV produced the F3, MCN went inside the company’s R&D test facility, the design house in San Marino and the engine department.

“The gravity-cast crankcase is the biggest innovation”

Gianluca Negri sketched out the first version in his spare time back in 2006, so when the late Claudio Castiglioni told Negri he needed a new three-cylinder engine, an initial version was already underway. It then took another four iterations of the basic layout to get to the production version with 132bhp.

Incredibly there are just four people who have worked on the actual design of this engine from the start of the project.

Negri said: “The first element of the design was the easiest part. Getting the engine ready for production was the hardest; that and getting the gravity-cast design of the lower crankcase to work.

“In fact the crankcase has been the most difficult part of the design; that and the overall size of the engine has created some big challenges. The dimensions, weight and strength needed from the crankcase has been a tough balance to get right. It’s just not possible to get that balance from die-casting as it cannot get the depth of the casting that is possible with gravity casting; you wouldn’t be able to extract the stamp afterwards.”

The original design rules laid down by Castiglioni stated the engine had to be the most compact in class and Negri is very proud the finished production version is just 3.5mm wider than the first version despite having to move the generator from the back of the engine to the left side to keep production costs down.

Negri added: “I think the Triumph engine is very well designed; very simple. I think our engine is better in every way though.”

“The hardest element was making everything so tightly designed.”

The F3 was the last bike the late Claudio Castiglioni saw in finished form before his death, and he played a big role in making sure it met the strict criteria laid down at the start of the project in terms of styling. British designer Adrian Morton worked on the bike’s design almost completely on his own but it was the exacting demands of Castiglioni’s brief that gave him the biggest headaches during the development.

Morton explained: “Mr Castiglioni spent a lot of time working with us; probably more than any other MV because Massimo Tamburini (designer of the Ducati 916 and original MV Agusta F4) had left the company and he never liked being watched while he worked. Space was the biggest issue and there are some incredibly tight clearances between fairing panels and the frame and engine; some as low as 3mm.

If you look at a Honda all of the clearance will be around 20mm but that’s why a Honda looks like it does and an MV looks different.”

Morton spent five months carefully crafting the full-size clay model of the F3 at the design headquarters of the firm called Centro Research Castiglioni (CRC). He said: “Designers always want to be a bit wacky but Mr Castiglioni was very clear about what he wanted the bike to look like and he gave a very strong direction before we even got started.”

“The F3 has completed 250,000km of testing.”

MV’s test team has been busy over the past three years on both the road and the track as it prepared the F3 for production with a team of three test riders, four mechanics and the boss. A new development for the F3 was getting a wide selection of employees to ride the bike and give feedback as it developed.

Aristide Cremonese is the head of the test team. He said: “Our work starts with building of the very first prototype bikes and progresses all of the way through to production while carrying out all of the testing needed. The F3 has covered around 250,000km (156,000 miles) in total through all of the different versions but that doesn’t take into account the engine dyno testing.

“We then build a second series of bikes to match the development prototype which is followed by the second prototype stage which uses not hand-built parts but those supplied by outside suppliers. By this stage the bike will have covered around 100,000km on road and track. Once we get past this stage, in the production side of the factory, we build what are called pre-series bikes which keep on testing.”

Even once the bike has been signed off, the test team’s work is not done as they keep on riding bikes to work on the fine tuning of maintenance schedules.

“Getting the ride-by-wire throttle to work perfectly was the toughest thing.”

The F3 has the most comprehensive set of electronics ever seen on a supersport bike, with all of the work done by just three permanent MV Agusta staff and technicians from Eldor, the ECU design company.

Traction control can be fine-tuned through eight levels of intervention, the throttle is fully electronic ride-by-wire with four different riding maps available too; Rain, Sport, Normal and Custom. All of these can be tweaked and adjusted within each map according to the rider’s preference.

Mauro Marelli has been at the helm and explained the toughest element to get right was the part throttle reponse of the F3. He said: “The ride-by-wire (RbW) system was a huge amount of work; particularly the way the throttle works with small inputs. Getting this right was tough and we used lots of riders to help us with that; not just test riders.

“There is still work to be done on this; maybe the last 0.25% of that throttle response but it’s also something that can be worked on into the future. If there are any improvements then we can send those to dealers and they can update the software on the bikes during a service.

“Our aim was to make the bike as easy as possible to ride; fast or slowly. The traction control works very well at achieving this as well.”