Review: When you watch Biker Build Off or any similar TV show, the focus is on build speed, what the bike looks like and whether a person can actually sit on it and reach the various controls. The most technical detail to be worked out is how to keep the handle bars from hitting the tank. With 10 days to complete the job, there isn’t much time to do any more. Winners are judged by popular vote at some gathering of bikers, the criteria for “winning” is visual appeal.
I just finished reading Motorcycle Design and Technology by Gaetano Cocco, a book I’ve referred to before, and it underscores how far these shows are from even considering the basic principles of real motorcycle design. Those chopper shops might as well build a stationary metal sculpture of tubing and sheet metal and let people vote for that.
The book opens by considering the forces that act upon a motorcycle in motion. It quickly gets into rake and trail and how these affect stability. It highlights the tradeoffs necessary based on the final focus of the bike since the needs of a racer and touring bike, for instance, are so very different. Weight distribution, aerodynamics, traction and braking forces, drive systems, engine types and placement, and much, much more. Welding a few tubes together and stepping back to see how it looks isn’t motorcycle design. Great design can surely look good but there’s far more to consider.
Math is introduced and supplements the explanations in the text while a multitude of diagrams give a visual reference to some complex concepts. You get the impression the author cares about motorcycle design and is trying to get as much information across as possible without overwhelming the reader. This relatively slim, 160 page book, covers a lot of technical territory and it gives the interested reader a solid grounding in the fascinating and complex world of motorcycle design.
If you want to build a chopper, you don’t need this book and you would be disappointed to find nothing to help you with metal shaping or custom paint, just get a welder and go to work. If you’re an average rider and have no curiosity about the deeper inner workings of motorcycles in motion, this isn’t for you, either. On the other hand, if your intention is to understand motorcycle dynamics, if you would get a kick out of examining all of the forces interacting on these machines we love so much, then this is a book you’ll enjoy.