BMW confirm carbon-fibre future

German firm’s head of R&D confirms the company is working on high-tech carbon-fibre chassis technology

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MCN revealed BMW’s plans surrounding carbon-fibre technology in August last year when we uncovered a series of patents surrounding the lightweight construction in frames for a variety of different bikes. Now, Karl Viktor Schaller, who is in charge of all bike research and development at BMW, has officially confirmed that work is underway at the Bavarian firm to investigate the use of the material in motorcycle applications.

BMW have invested tens of millions of pounds into not only developing the technology for use in road cars, but have also even bought a carbon-fibre manufacturing company in order to control and guarantee its own access to the super-strong yet lightweight material for their new cars, including the innovative i3 and i8.

Schaller told MCN: “There may well be a number of bikes where carbon-fibre technology can be introduced. We have seen this technology on our cars and these are at a top level. I think this would be the same for bikes.

“I do not see wide use of carbon-fibre but there are functional designs in carbon that you cannot do in aluminium. At the moment BMW is doing a lot of research in carbon-fibre for motorcycles.

“In terms of the way carbon-fibre might be used it’s not a case of simply replacing aluminium castings for the same shape of component built from carbon-fibre. The material works very differently and would need for a complete rethink of how the motorcycle was designed from the start.”

Historically, one of the key issues with carbon-fibre technology has been the potentially disastrous – and often invisible – damage that can be sustained in a crash. It can take an
X-ray to confirm the existence of tiny hairline cracks in carbon-fibre after an accident, which is expensive and problematical.

Schaller added: “This has been one of the most surprising elements of the testing and evaluation we have been doing so far. We have found that in certain circumstances carbon-fibre is a lot stronger and better at withstanding crash damage that we thought possible.”

Strong chance that patents will reach production

The BMW patents revealed exclusively by MCN last year were based around three different concepts; one was a carbon-fibre beam frame clearly aimed at sportsbikes like the S1000RR, a second was a trellis design which was more of a universal design aimed at bikes like the R1200GS and the other was for an internal structure.

Schaller explained to MCN that of all the patents lodged around the world by BMW, around half lead directly to some kind of production version. The process of drawing up and lodging the patents in the first place is exceptionally expensive, so BMW will only patent technology that has a reasonable chance of making it into production. Schaller said: “We can’t just lodge patents for everything we think of because they are so expensive. Some of the work can be seen as playing around for the engineers to see what is possible, but I would say it’s around 50/50 over those that go ahead. It’s so expensive that we have to think carefully about this.”

Andy Downes

By Andy Downes

Former MCN Senior Reporter