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Seamless shift gearbox: A MotoGP game changer for Honda and Yamaha?

Could SSG push Yamaha ahead of Honda?
Could SSG push Yamaha ahead of Honda?
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Tuesday, 06, Aug 2013 03:17

by Daniel Mackrell

The seamless shift gearbox has been making waves across the motosport world ever since Honda became the first motorbike manufacturer to use it back in 2011.

At the time, it was branded by some as illegal, but it managed to slip past the FIM regulation that prevents dual clutch (like those used in current road bikes like the Honda VFR 1200) gearboxes from being used.

FIM placed its regulation on dual clutch gearboxes to control costs on innovations such as this, but the gearbox is perfectly legal.

At the time Honda was quite secretive about the technology, (which has been produced by British supplier Zeroshift among others), but since introducing it to their bikes, there has been increasing pressure on other motorcycle companies like Yamaha to follow in Honda's footsteps. And the pressure is coming from their riders most of all.

The Honda RC213V has had a seamless-shift gearbox for the last two seasons, and many have said that it has led to a decrease in lap times.

Yamaha didn't take too long to decide that this was the way to go, and recently began testing on its own version of the seamless shift gearbox.

It is looking more and more likely that the team will implement them on the M1 before the end of this MotoGP season, much to the delight of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

Nine-time world champion Rossi said earlier this year: "I think that the seamless gearbox will be very important to improve our bike. It is something that we need but sincerely we don't know.

"We hope that Yamaha work on the project but we are not sure if it is true or not. And we don't know when because it is difficult to set-up that type of gearbox. So I don't know if and when."

The design has certainly intrigued a lot of people in the motorcycle world, particularly in MotoGP, but the jury is still out on how good this new technology is, and how much it's going to shape the future of road-legal motorcycles.

The future of racing?

The first question most people have asked when hearing of this new technology is "what is it?" and "how will it change motorbike racing?"

The seamless shift gearbox (SSG) began in F1 with many of the kinks being worked on during the 2006-07 season. The technology only really made the transition to motorbikes over the last few years.

Some bikes use a 'quickshifter', which lets the rider change gears without the use of a clutch or throttle. While it is better than a regular gearbox in saving fuel, it still cuts off the ignition between gear changes, which loses speed.

The primary advantage of the SSG is to shift delay by engaging the new gear while the previous gear is still engaged, which means that forward drive is essentially constant, which can shave off crucial seconds while racing by never cutting drive to the rear wheel.

The fact that it is seamless on both the upshift and downshift means that it is also useful for late braking, and for turning on fast corners.

However, some people have dismissed the claims that the gearbox improves racing times, including former Honda rider Casey Stoner, who said back in 2011: "For me it is no faster just smoother and doesn't make the bike as unsettled.

"The way it works is nice but definitely it is not the race-winning solution. Coming back a gear sometimes is a little difficult but going up the gears it is nice and smooth."

Research made back in 2011 showed that Honda's average shift time was around 8ms, compared to 27ms for Yamaha and 42ms for Ducati.

This showed the huge gap at that time between the three manufacturers and was a perfect example of the difference the SSG makes.

Wider adoption

So why has it taken so long for manufacturers like Yamaha to catch on? In truth, Yamaha has had its eye on the technology for some time, but they are continuing to work on ensuring they get the best possible performance out of the technology before they risk handing it over to their MotoGP riders.

Because of increasing restrictions on factory (or MSMA) development and engine/gearbox allocations in MotoGP, Yamaha has said that they will not introduce it until they are 100 per cent sure that it's working well and working faultlessly.

Ducati has been very loud in their silence on the topic but then the Ducati MotoGP squad have enough on their plate with the current Desmosedici.

So how and when will this filter down to your local showroom? In truth the normal sports bike development stream will eventually get it there, WSB teams will put pressure on the factories to supply the SSG to them and if they do then the WSB manufacturers will be required to produce a minimum of 250 road-legal versions.

Meaning if you have deep pockets and can afford the race specials it could be yours in the next few years.

Back in MotoGP and Honda certainly seem to be benefiting from the technology already, with riders Marquez and Pedrosa currently occupying the top two positions in the MotoGP world championship this season.

And just this week reports from the Czech Republic suggest that Yamaha has finally installed SSG on the 2014 version of the M1 race bike.

If they can successfully implement this technology, Yamaha will certainly be hoping to push Honda to the limits next season.

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