Bikes have worn telescopic forks for more than 100 years, and although they have evolved to the point that they work pretty well, they remain theoretically inferior to alternative front-end designs that separate a fork’s three functions: steering, braking and suspension. Trouble is, none of the many attempts to prove the theory has yet fully delivered. Yes, traditional forks, and the chassis that are built to carry them, are hugely compromised but we like how they feel and look.
This beautiful, hub-centre steered Ducati 900SS from Australian engineering company Motoinno is the latest attempt at making an alternative front end motorcycle more than just theoretically better than one with teles. The Motoinno TS3 is a wild looking creature that would not be out of place on a Matrix film set, which, as it happens, is not too far-fetched, as its inventor, Ray Van Steenwyk, has more than 35 years of experience in film production and 3D animation. His list of movies includes Mad Max 4, Prometheus and, yes, Matrix Reloaded.
The first thing you notice is that the donor 900SS’s frame is gone, replaced by a chrome-moly sub-frame at the rear, attached to CNC’d sideplates that support it and the footpegs, the engine and the front swingarm, with the engine thus becoming a stressed member. There are two offset parallelogram swingarms on the front that keep rake and trail geometry constant through suspension travel and also allow inbuilt (fully adjustable) anti-dive, while braking forces are directed through the horizontal plane of the lower swingarm to the engine.
The TS3 system is highly adjustable. Both ends feature a custom made fully adjustable Afco shock, easily accessible, while rake and trail can be adjusted from 15º to 24º. Dive under braking can be adjusted, too, and for my track test, 25% dive was dialled in, leaving 75% of suspension travel available.
It has taken Ray’s team more than 10 years to get the front-end geometry working how they want it to. Yet within just two corners of Queensland’s Lakeside circuit, I felt like I had been riding this bike for an entire race season.
Like so many of us, I need a planted, solid and confidence-inspiring front end to be able to ride fast, string a good lap together or even have a good Sunday blast on the road. The TS3 feels strange, because that initial dive, which is familiar and comforting, is followed by a sensation that left me wondering if the suspension was actually travelling up and down through its stroke or the track was simply billiard table smooth (definitely not the case). It’s an incredible sensation and I found myself braking ever later, yet still able to tighten my entry into corners.
The control and feel I had were simply exceptional. Unlike many HCS systems, the TS3’s bars are joined directly to the upper parallelogram swingarm and that, in turn, is mounted straight to the steering axis. The result is so much feedback that I felt I could lean the TS3 off the edge of its front tyre.
What were the negatives? Not many. The steering is almost too light, so I would like a more conventional level of resistance to steering inputs to make things more ‘normal’. I could also feel what I thought was a small amount of flex or movement between the bars and the wheel during quick changes of direction. The positives, though, are clear: with improved braking capabilities, steering behaviour and suspension freedom this beautifully developed and executed bike makes for a great ride. Sadly, the TS3 Ducati remains a prototype, but the plan is eventually to progress to a road bike, via more development in racing.
||Ducati 900SS, 904cc 90º V-twin exhaust, re-tuned EFI.
||Scissor (shear) link hub-centre steer
Is the TS3 better than a Ducati 900SS with telescopic forks? On the Lakeside racetrack, I can confidently say that I would not have been able to take a 900SS with a conventional front end to the same limits as I could take the TS3. Will it be any good on the road? What works on the track generally works on the street and, I predict, with more development, a phenomenal, beautifully balanced road bike. Can’t wait.
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