They are hard to spot, but if you look closely at the 2017 Ducati Desmosedici GP (a bevy of photos are after the jump) you will see something very unique going on with the front suspension. This is because Öhlins and Ducati have teamed up to develop new fork technology, namely carbon fiber fork tubes.
The Öhlins carbon fiber fork tubes can be seen on the machines of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, starting from the season-opener in Qatar, and are noticeable for their matte black tube finish, with gold ends.
Öhlins is coy about how much weight savings are involved with the forks tubes, but they are noticeably lighter when they are in your hands, something we have first-hand knowledge of, as we had one to pass around at the Two Enthusiasts Podcast live show at Austin, Texas this year.
Beyond simple weight savings though, the likely purpose of using carbon fiber fork tubes is to adjust the flex of the front suspension.
It’s been no secret that the Ducati MotoGP bike has trouble with turning, especially mid-corner. Fixing this problem has been the team’s burden for far too many seasons now.
What Öhlins and Ducati are likely doing with the carbon fiber fork tubes though is not trying to shed sprung weight on the machine, but instead using different carbon fiber weaves and construction techniques to tune enough flex into the fork tubes, in order to help Ducati riders get more feeling from the Desmosedici.
This works in a very similar way to the 6D Flex forks that MotoCzysz developed for its MotoGP project, though Öhlins is achieving a similar goal while using a far more simple design.
This solution with carbon fiber is pretty clever though, as it is difficult to tune a fork tube for the right amount of flex, especially when a motorcycle is leaned over. This is the big drawback to conventional fork design, because the more you lean the bike over, the more feel a rider requires to go fast.
But, when you lean a motorcycle over more and more, the trigonometry of the situation means you are using less and less of the forks suspension abilities, because forks move only up and down. This is where the flex in the fork legs is important – along with flex in the chassis as a whole.
There are a lot of ways to make a motorcycle flex when leaned over, namely in chassis design, but it is basically impossible to tune the fork tubes, as the metal tubes need to be strong enough to brace against the steering and braking forces.
Using carbon fiber though, Öhlins can tune both properties independently of each other, more so than possible with aluminum or another kind of metal, For Ducati, this has big potential for its MotoGP program.
We are not sure if you can entirely attribute Ducati’s recent success to Öhlins’ new suspensions setup, but it is interesting to see the gains being made by Dovizioso this season. The GP17 has clearly been a step forward for Ducati Corse.
Photos: Ducati Corse