Over the last ten years, Yamaha and Öhlins have devoted thousands of man-hours and millions of bucks developing a hydraulic motor capable of driving a motorcycle’s front wheel. KTM has patented a system that uses an electric motor in the front hub, but there’s no reason to think it will show up any time soon at your local dealer. The most viable two-wheel-drive system is the one produced by Steve Christini here in the U.S. In many ways, it’s the most old-fashioned; it relies on a system of chains and driveshafts that any gearhead can easily understand.
So far, the two-wheel-drive research and development that manufacturers have conducted in the open has mostly focused on off-road applications. The results have prompted most major sanctioning bodies to ban two-wheel drive from the sport of motocross.
What about road bikes? A review of patent applications suggests that several manufacturers have unpublicized two-wheel-drive research-and-development projects. They’re looking to improve handling and safety under conditions of low grip, to gain traction and increase outright performance, or to capture energy that’s now lost in braking and increase efficiency. Occasionally, they drop their veils to test at a public race or tease us with a concept bike, but they’re not eager to talk about their findings.
Now, Rodney Aguiar—who works with noted custom-builder Roland Sands—has fit a Christini two-wheel-drive system to one of Sands’ 450cc Super Single road racers. This is probably the least-closely guarded two-wheel drive road prototype, and it may help determine whether two-wheel drive is Next Big Thing in road bikes, or another dead end.
But the question isn’t, “Would 2WD be the biggest safety advance for real riders on real roads since ABS?” Frankly, I’m already sure that’s true. The question is only, “Will you see it in your lifetime?”
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