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Are motorcycles still away from force-feeding?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017
S Ben Raja

Just as I said in last week’s article, the late 1900s was the best era of automobiles. We had manufacturers fighting hard for the top spot with some really amazing machines. We had fire breathing two strokes, quarter litre bikes which could make 20,000 rotations in one minute, no restrictions on top speed and, most importantly, no check on emissions as well.

In addition to all these, many technologies which are now believed to be game-changers in the near future were experimented by manufacturers at the time. For example, the rotary engines which are employed in airplanes also found their place in two-wheelers when Suzuki developed its own rotary engine for its bike, RE5 way back in 1974.

Two of the prime technologies which rocked the late 1900s were obviously turbo-charging and super-charging or in layman’s term, force feeding. They are the technologies to force-feed air into an engine thereby boosting its performance. This is achieved by using a compressor which can force more denser air into an engine within a single combustion cycle.

If the turbine is driven by the engine’s exhaust gas, it’s called turbo-charging and if it’s driven by the engine’s crank, the technology is called super-charging. The greatest advantage of these two technologies is the sudden burst of force they develop. This is how the idiom, ‘kick in the pants’, came into the picture. The driver will feel like somebody has kicked him from behind when a turbo spools in an engine.

Bikes like Suzuki XN 85, Kawasaki GPZ 750, Honda CX 650 and Yamaha Seca are some of forcefed bikes of the 1980s. But, unfortunately, at that point of time, the market was not mature enough to accept such high-performance offerings. Also, at a time when there were almost no electronics, these bikes had poor engineering coupled with poor overall efficiency.

Concentrating on performance alone, they lacked in almost all factors right from daily drive-ability, fuel consumption and price. So, soon enough, these bikes got axed by their manufacturers. In all these years manufacturers used only engine displacement as their trump card to win-over performance battles with their rivals.

In fact, the then fastest bike in the world, Suzuki Hayabusa had the segment’s biggest engine displacing 1300 cc. It was a good 200 cc bigger engine than its rival Honda CBR 1100XX Super blackbird at the time. But after the advent of embedded systems, manufacturers were able to control the full working of an engine with absolute precision thanks to Formula One which brought the true revolution in this area.

When electronics intervened more, highly-efficient, force-fed engines became possible. Soon cars throughout the world, including India, started using force-fed engines. As of now, in India, almost all diesel cars, except a few, have turbo chargers.

But after the gentlemen’s agreement to limit the top speed of all production motorcycles to 299 kmph in the interest of public safety, the displacement game couldn’t hold water anymore in the two-wheeler industry as too much power was of no use with top speed electronically limited.

Though Kawasaki tried its best with the launch of the Ninja ZX 14R with a massive 1400 cc engine claiming it to be the fastest accelerating bike in the world, it couldn’t shake the legacy of the mighty Hayabusa which was not far behind even after being six years older. That’s when manufacturers, especially Kawasaki, started analysing the importance of force-feeding again.

When the top speed is limited, the only way to show one’s supremacy was obviously acceleration which is the prime work of force-feeding. Just as everyone expected, it was Kawasaki which brought the first electronically controlled supercharged production bike to the world in the form of the Ninja H2 in 2015.

The H2 produced a staggering 210 Hp of power and immediately dethroned every other bike of their roost with its mesmerising acceleration which even many super cars failed to catch up. The H2 turned out to be a success story for Kawasaki shaking even Hayabusa’s legacy. But it has been already two years since the launch of the H2 and there are no signs of any other force-fed bike yet from other manufacturers.

Suzuki showcased a turbo charged concept bike named Recursion a couple of years ago but nothing concrete has come out of it till now. Reports also emerged that the next generation Suzuki Hayabusa is under development and it might get a turbo-charged engine.

Again, nothing has been confi rmed by the manufacturer. So, now comes the question: are manufacturers yet to catch up with the trend of force-feeding or are there some other secrets which are preventing them from making the move? Only time will tell.

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