Winging it: How Aprilia's aerodynamic clothing could be the next big thing in MotoGP

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There’s an ongoing battle for aerodynamic supremacy in MotoGP that’s resulted in a crop of machines which cut through the air like never before to produce valuable downforce. But there’s a large section of external surface that has so far gone virtually untouched by these technological advances: the rider.

Now that could be about to change as Aprilia, who have been at the forefront of MotoGP aero advancement, are looking at how to make their riders as aerodynamically efficient as the bikes they sit on, filing a patent application for a wind-cheating set of race leathers.

The aero hump of the back of race leathers has been with us since 1988, initially appearing as a safety device rather than an aerodynamic one when Dainese designed padding to shield an area that conventional back protectors didn’t cover.

Design drawing of Aprilia's aero suit

Testing the leathers, 250 rider Jean-Philippe Ruggia noticed they reduced turbulence and neck strain, making it easier for him to concentrate on riding, and the concept was rapidly adopted.

Aprilia’s idea extends similar thinking to other parts of the body by adding ten detachable panels – held on with Velcro – to the outside of a normal race suit. The idea is to provide a smoother surface for the air to flow over, directing it more efficiently to the back of the bike.

Reducing turbulence behind the rider cuts drag and improves top speed – essentially giving the equivalent of free horsepower – and since we’re starting to see rear wings appearing on the latest MotoGP machines, clean airflow behind the rider is set to become even more important to maximise their effect.

Aprilia's winged leathers in action

Aprilia’s suit concept uses flexible, padded panels filled with foam, air pockets or gel. They’re shaped to allow the rider to move freely while eliminating the wrinkles of bunched-up leather that are normally found on a rider’s sides, arms and legs.

Specifically, each arm gets two Velcro-on aero panels, one on the outer forearm to smooth airflow coming off the bars, the other covering the upper arm and shoulder area. The largest panels are a pair of side sections that attach to the rider’s sides, running from the armpits to his hips. Leathers often wrinkle here, creating a surface that disrupts airflow: this solves that problem.

The legs too receive airflow technology with the thigh panels designed to work in harmony with the upper arm and side sections when the rider’s tucked-in, channelling air to the rear of the bike.

The Aprilia aero suit

Finally, the knee sliders are incorporated into the leathers giving a much smoother surface for the air to flow over. The result, according to Aprilia’s patent, is “a significant decrease in the turbulence at the back of motorcycle”.

The document continues: “The thicknesses and materials of the shell elements are such as to make them lightweight and relatively flexible so as not to hinder the articular movement of the rider while continuing to maintain the aerodynamic function, even at high speeds.”

It goes on to explain: “This results in less resistance to advancement, and therefore in increased performance of the motorcycle, in addition to improved comfort of rider, who suffers less from turbulence and does not suffer from impediments in the movements on the seat.”

Aprilia MotoGP winter testing

The aero improvement that boosts overall performance of the bike is the main one, but the reduced buffeting also means riders won’t have to work as hard, cutting fatigue and improving concentration.

Finally, the padded nature of the aero panels means an extra element of impact protection in an accident. Watch this space for the kit appearing in racing…

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis