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Designs on Track Part 3: On Yer Bike Mate!

Motorcycle riders crashing into a gravel trap Designing tracks to be safe for bikes as well as cars is a tricky art.Picture: Dr Photo
 Neil Tipton
 Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Watch a Formula One car and one of the top MotoGP riders make their way around the same circuit, and there is surprisingly little difference in straight-line speed. But come the corners, casual observers may be forgiven for thinking the bike rider was trying to drive a different circuit, so different are the lines, braking points and corner speeds.

All of which makes life pretty difficult for the circuit designer. Rarely these days do you find circuits designed solely for bikes or vice versa. Usually, a circuit will be dual purpose, or at the very least designed with one type of racing in mind and later adapted for the other.

So just how do you go about designing a driver's dream and a biker's bonanza? Circuit designer Tom Barnard explains some of the difficulties involved.

"As a designer, if you are designing as you should for both bikes and cars, you have got to think almost twice over. The problem we have is that the bikers fall off and they have the accident before they reach the barrier. The cars normally get into trouble and they have an accident because they have hit the barrier. So you have two completely different problems to deal with.

"I do find designing for the bikes quite difficult and I think that the bikers are also quite against the types of barriers that the car people require. You need a soft landing if you are on a bike."

Even designing this 'soft landing' area has it own pitfalls, especially when you are trying to still satisfy the very different requirements for car racers.

"The bikes don't like gravel, the historic cars don't like gravel but we are turning over to using a Tarmac run off, which as long as the brakes work or you can spin the car, is actually much better than gravel. But in the end a gravel trap does slow you down if everything else has failed," he says.

Tellingly Tom admits to having little bike experience - save for an amusing moment early on in his car-racing career.

"I have had limited experience of bikes - I never raced a motorbike," he says. "I have actually been out on a circuit, mistakenly, when I was driving a Cooper-Climax and we had a whole lot of motorcycles let out at the same time. The revelation to me was the different cornering techniques and the different racing lines that they would adopt, the different braking points an so on."

And it's these differences that were the major factors behind the decision to place a new chicane at Mallory Park - designed by Tom. What was safe for a car presented dangerous problems for a motorcycle rider who crashed at the same spot. As a result, the bikers flip-flop through the new chicane while the cars cruise on by on the old track - but hopefully not at the same time!


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