Just over 18 months ago, I wrote a long analysis of what I believed at the time was the main problem with Ducati’s Desmosedici MotoGP machine. In that analysis, I attributed most of the problems with the Desmosedici to the chosen angle of the V, the angle between the front and rear cylinder banks.

By sticking with the 90° V, I argued, Ducati were creating problems with packaging and mass centralization, which made it almost impossible to get the balance of the Desmosedici right. The engine was taking up too much space, and limiting their ability to adjust the weight balance by moving the engine around.

Though there was a certain logic to my analysis, it appears that the engine angle was not the problem. Yesterday, in their biweekly print edition, the Spanish magazine Solo Moto published an article by Neil Spalding, who had finally obtained photographic evidence that the Honda RC213V uses a 90° V, the same engine angle employed by the Ducati Desmosedici. Given the clear success of the Honda RC213V, there can no longer be any doubt that using a 90° V is no impediment to building a competitive MotoGP machine.

The photographic proof comes as confirmation of rumors which had been doing the rounds in the MotoGP paddock throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Several people suggested that the Honda may use a 90° angle, including Ducati team manager Vitto Guareschi, speaking to GPOne.com back in November.

I had personally been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a naked RC213V engine at one rain-soaked race track in September, but while the glimpse through the window may have been good enough to form the impression of an engine that looked like it may have been a 90°V, it was a very long way from being anything resembling conclusive, and nowhere near enough to base a news story on.

Spalding’s persistence has paid off, however. The British photographer and journalist is a common sight wandering among the garages, either first thing in the morning, as the bikes are being warmed up, or late at night, while the mechanics prepare the machines for the following day.

At some point, the Honda mechanics and engineers – protective to the point of prudishness of displaying any part of their machine to the outside world – would let their guard slip. When they did, Spalding pounced.

So why did Honda elect to use an engine layout which is blamed for causing Ducati so much trouble? And how does Honda make the layout work where Ducati have continued to fail? The first question is relatively simple to answer; the second is a good deal more tricky.

There are many reasons to use a 90°V for both four cylinder and two cylinder engines. First and foremost is that such an engine layout offers perfect primary and secondary balance – put crudely, the vibration caused by the mass of the piston moving, and the vibration caused by the difference in motion between the crankshaft and the piston (see animation here) – which means that no extra measures are required to balance the engine out.

Adding a balance shaft – as is needed for a 75°V, as the previous RC212V was, and as is needed for Yamaha’s big bang inline four – saps power, requiring around 1-2% of the engine output to drive the balance shaft at sufficient speed.

In addition to that, a 90°V also has perfect inertia torque: the torque created by the movement of the pistons all balance each other out — the same reason Yamaha chose to use the big bang firing order for the M1 inline-four. There are more reasons as well – more even cylinder firing means more manageable intake pulses in the inlet tract, from air intakes to airbox, among other reasons.

Rule changes also made a 90° V more attractive. When Spalding spoke to HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto about the engine, Nakamoto explained that the maximum bore size of 81mm – primarily introduced to act as a rev limit – had allowed Honda to think of expanding the engine angle when they switched from 800cc to 1000cc.

The fixed bore meant that the engines required a longer stroke, moving the exhaust ports further away from the crankshaft, and making the cylinder heads higher. This gave more room for locating the rear shock; with the 800cc, the exhausts had to be kept away from the shock to prevent the shock oil from absorbing too much heat and losing damping; on the long-stroke 1000, this is less of a problem, as the exhausts are routed further away from the shock anyway.

The taller cylinders also moved the center of mass significantly; with a narrow V, that weight would have been further up; having a wider V, 90°, the weight is distributed a little better, Nakamoto explained to Spalding.

So why does the Honda work, while the Ducati doesn’t? For a number of reasons, few of which have anything to do with the engine angle. Contributing a small amount is the fact that the Honda engine appears to be rotated slightly further rearward than the Ducati Desmosedici.

Ducati had abandoned its more L-based approach, with the front cylinder bank close to the horizontal, at the end of 2011, choosing to rotate the engine back to close to 45° from the horizontal. But far more important is the location of the engine in the frame, and the arrangement of the gearbox and output shaft.

On both the Yamaha and the Honda, the gearbox is more compact, and everything is packaged more tightly. The Ducati engine and gearbox takes up more physical space, leaving less room for maneuver in terms of frame and swingarm design.

Ducati’s biggest problem, though, remains the concept around which it was built. Ducati appear to have built the most powerful engine they could ensure would be reliable, and put it in a frame. What Ducati Corse did not take sufficiently into account is the fact that a motorcycle is just that: a motor- cycle.

There are two parts to the equation – both engine (motor) and chassis and running gear (cycle) – and getting them to work together is what turns a racing motorcycle into a winner. The synergy between power delivery and handling has always been the Ducati’s weak point, even during the 990cc period.

Then, however, custom-built tires and excessive horsepower allowed riders such as Loris Capirossi to exploit the strengths of the machine – horsepower and drive – to ride around its weakness, an unwillingness to turn. With the advent of the 800’s, the Ducatis lost much of their advantage, and once the spec-tire was introduced, only the combination of the riding genius of Casey Stoner and the set up genius of Cristian Gabarrini could make the bike work, and even then, it remained horribly finicky.

The spec-tire meant that the Ducati could no longer solve the lack of feel from the front end with a specially constructed front tire. The carbon fiber subframe had been a massive improvement in consistency over the steel trellis frame for the Desmosedici, but with the spec Bridgestones built around a standard chassis layout of an aluminium beam frame, Ducati’s frameless design, using the engine as a stressed member, was doomed to obscurity.

That design was scrapped at the end of 2011, and an all-new aluminium beam frame, similar in design to those of Yamaha and Honda, was introduced in 2012. But there is more to chassis design than just copying the layout: Ducati’s previous design, using the engine as a stressed member, had placed a very stiff and inflexible lump of engine in the middle of two more flexible chunks of subframe, connecting the steering head to the front cylinder and the rear swingarm to the gearbox.

Once the beam frame was introduced, the design appeared to follow the same pattern, maintaining a central, extremely stiff section, with two softer sections at front and rear. The chassis changes through the year have had less and less material around the swingarm pivot point, for example, as Ducati searched for more flex in their chassis. The problem, however, may have been in the beams connecting front and rear, rather than in the attachment points for the swingarm and steering head.

The engine, also, retained the solid construction which had previously been required by its use as a stressed member. It was a much heavier lump than the Honda and Yamaha units, as the history of the minimum weight increase for 2012 reveals.

At the end of 2011, Dorna proposed a weight increase from 153kg to 160kg. This proposal could only be rejected by unanimous agreement of the MSMA, the manufacturers. After the MSMA met, they reported to the Grand Prix Commission that the proposal had been rejected by a unanimous vote.

It transpired that the vote was far from unanimous: one manufacturer – though it was never confirmed, it is widely accepted that this was Ducati – had voted in favor of the weight increase, and after they informed the GPC that they had been misinformed, a compromise was reached where the weight was increased to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg for 2013. Ducati had the most to gain by a weight increase, as their bike was already the heaviest of the bunch.

The heavier engine makes weight distribution even more critical. Getting the basic weight distribution right is key, and this is where Ducati have suffered most. How critical this is was demonstrated by Honda in 2012, as they struggled with the added weight and with the altered tire construction.

Both were causing huge chatter for the Hondas, a problem which it took the factory over half a season to get to grips with. Once they did get it under control – or at least, get it under control sufficiently to allow the Honda men to win 8 of the last 9 races – the Hondas were nigh-on unbeatable.

Weight distribution, chassis stiffness and flex, power delivery. These are the variables which a racing motorcycle designer is required to control to build a competitive machine. Ducati’s problems stem from the fact that they have not mastered these three sufficiently to produce a rideable machine.

That Honda should be able to do so, using the engine layout previously blamed for Ducati’s woes, speaks volumes about HRC’s resources, their engineering skill, and their experience. It is a foolish man who bets against Honda when they decide to go racing.

So I was wrong, 18 months ago, to lay the blame at the door of the engine angle selected by Ducati. I should have known better, given Honda’s long history of racing success with V4’s, in World Superbikes and Endurance racing with the RC30 and RC45.

Their 90° V engine will be the basis of their production racer (which writer Mark Gardiner has proposed be named the Honda PVT), as well as the design template for the World Superbike homologation special due to be launched in time for the 2014 WSBK season.

The layout itself is not important: it is not a matter of getting the right engine angle, it is a question of getting the engine angle right for the bike you are building. These remain motor-cycles. The two parts truly create a greater whole.

Photo: Ducati

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • ted smart

    Wouldn’t a 90 degree ‘V’ be an ‘L’? Last time used a compass and a protractor any thing more than a 90 degree wasn’t in a ‘V’ shape.

  • Excellent article, as always, Mr. Emmett.

  • I’m so tired of hearing that comment Ted. Take an L, and rotate it backwards 45 degrees. What do you have?

    Next we’ll be arguing about whether a square can be a rectangle.

  • Motogpdr

    Ducati problems have nothing to do w 90 degree angle…..it has to do with chassis dynamics….

  • Rolo Tommassi

    Motogpdr, when your chassis is one with engine, the angle of your cylinders V is just as important as what the engine is made of. It is all intertwined. I agree that it is absolutely chassis dynamics, and while they have a quasi perimeter frame on this motorcycle, the engine is still a stressed member and still has to be placed correctly in frame for optimum feel… which has much to do with engine layout. Mr. Beeler, some readers are “squares” too, don’t fret that is why you do this, to teach and possibly inspire!

  • Rob

    Take a “V” and rotate it 90 degrees….see how it’s an “L” now?

  • Pete

    Or parallelograms!

  • Excellent, as always. I will be very interested to see how well Honda goes with its new design over the course of the year. Also, I’m sure we’ll all be watching to see how well Ducati can come to terms with things over the next couple of seasons. We need Ducati to be competitive again!

  • Problems with the D16 are it’s rear wheel bias, weight distribution is off, engine is aggressive as hell and this is what i notice from my D16.. Im sure on the race bike with 75 more HP all these things add up to a bikes thats impossible to ride fast. Remember when Honda first introduce the 800 and 1000cc RCV they started running a soft engine mode just to set up the chassis and electronics throughout pre-season maybe Ducati needs to take a step back to take steps foward.. Ducati’s bringing some new updates to Jerez so lets see what happens….

  • 76

    99 problems but a V ain’t one.

  • Gutterslob

    Great read.
    Massive thanks, Asphalt & Rubber.

  • king

    what about the engine of Yamaha M1? is it the M1 engine too powerful for Honda and others to beat?

    perhaps Jensen can make another analysis about that.tq

  • Gutterslob

    ^ LOL!! Yamaha engine too powerful. Now that’s quality stand-up!!

  • The Yamaha motors isn’t the most powerful but the Yami definitely is smooth, stable, and probably the most consistently smooth rider the world has seen lap by lap in Lorenzo. With all those things together that makes it one tough package to beat.

  • Cpt.Slow

    Bravo for admitting when in the wrong. Ducati make a new engine, putting the old one in the new frame is not working.

  • smiler

    Given that Mr Emmett was wrong back then why should we acept he is right now. The Hionda & Ducati are 2 different bikes. They use a differet type of frame & engine. So who is to say that a 75degree engine V might work better for the Ducati.

    Personally I canot se the problem with the engine they have in a steel trellis frame. At least it worked up until and including Stoner’s world championship. it is flexible, adjustable, the riders gets good feedback & it is very adjustable & easy to produce. If weight is niot a problem (which it might be) then they know about steel trellis, about L2’s and 4`’s

    What thsi article also points out is the error of Burgess and Rossi. If Honda were running a 90degree L4 then given Burgess andf Rossi’s experience with Honda why did not try to make the Ducati more like the Honda than an inline 4.

  • i-one

    How can you think that the V-90 engine of ducati is not the problem? Do you think all V-90 engines are the same? Hell, no… There are a lot of factors that can affect the mass distribution. First, the material it uses, the material of each parts. It can affect the mass distribution/center of mass eventough it’s just a fraction of centimeters.
    Here’s an example, A table that is completely made of woods is not the same as the table whose legs made of steel, eventough they have the same shape. They have different center of mass.
    Second, the design of each parts and their interconnections can affect the mass distribution too, like gearbox, crankshaft, camshafts, valves, pistons, firing order, etc. It’s not just a simple frame problem. Perhaps you have to completely redesign the engine and the frame to solve the problem. Honda knows the recipe.

  • Dewey

    Honda have been building 90 degree V4s for quite a long time, from the original V30/45/65 Sabre/Magna/Interceptor to the VFRs and the RC30 and RC45 Superbikes. Honda seems to know how to build a 90 degree V4 with winning chassis qualities.

  • Adam

    Nice write up, but given the fact that none of us know how to design a Grand Prix motorcycle the article and comments will be only speculation. So heres mine. the original article pointed to the 90 degree engine as the problem, but clearly Ducati made this layout work and win in WSBK for years (an over sight by the editor). Honda showed last year assuming the engine upgrade in Laguna was this 90 degree. now i remember seeing naked photos of the old 500cc bikes and they too had 90 degree (assumption based on photos) engine at some odd angles. i don’t think there is any wrong design concept, but if your bike isn’t as fast as the competition then it needs to be changed. this is prototype racing not “sticking to heritage” racing. if that was the case they would still be using a steel trellis twin spar chassis….

  • Pietro

    The reason they didn’t stick with the steel trellis is because every frame would feel different even when they were built to the same specifications. That’s the issue when building these steel frames

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    maybe the ducati guys could sneak into the honda garage (under cover of night of course) and steal a few bikes, shed the repsol honda fairings and put ducati fairings on them.

    There. Solution to all ducati’s problems.

    You’re welcome Ducati.

  • comment of the year?
    99 problems and V isn’t one of them…

    ah ducati we want to love her, but she is so finicky

  • Shawn

    ” Rob says:

    Take a “V” and rotate it 90 degrees….see how it’s an “L” now?”

    No its not, that would be a depending on the direction of rotation.

    ” ted smart says:
    Wouldn’t a 90 degree ‘V’ be an ‘L’? Last time used a compass and a protractor any thing more than a 90 degree wasn’t in a ‘V’ shape.”

    And what does that make 120 degree V12s? L+12s? An L has to have a 90 degree separation and a one horizontal arm. There’s a huge amount of geometry deficiency in these comments.

  • Clive

    All these expert motorcyle gurus who have never designed or built a motorcycle before all think they have the answer to Ducati’s problems. Now you have a whole stack of new reasons as to whats wrong with the Ducati, maybe just maybe you talking sh1t again!!

  • The answer is simple, but of course the Ducati loyalists refuse to accept it, once they’ve shelled out way too much money for a bike that must be religiously, like the Madonna, maintained or it breaks down like a frigin Harley Davidson :-)

    Honda is a better motorcycle company then Ducati Period, better engineers, better metallurgists, better designers better better better. I will admit a Ducati may be more fun to ride on a tight twisty road, but when you want to get there without having to stop to adjust something 6 times on a 1200 mile trip, you better be on a Honda, or any of the other Japanese motorcycles.

    And Honda doesn’t like to get beat when it comes to racing, so they put an inordinateunt of their profits into making sure that they win, and that means hiring the best people and doing the hard legwork it takes to put the best bikes on the track. Ducati doesn’t do that, that’s why they lose, and that’s also why they continue to fail to get it right consistently with their street bikes. Simple as that.

    It’s a cultural thing as well, in Japan, they work themselves to death, employees are expected to give everything they’ve got seven days a week 365 days a year, until they’re burned out and are replaced with new people. With the Japanese motorcycle making is a science, they have reduced it to a science, and they do it very well. Few cars on the road, even Japanese or Korean cars, can match the reliability of a Japanese motorcycle. Of course it’s easier, because a motorcycle is significantly simpler than any car, but still. Japanese Moto equals solid science. That’s how you get all those 24-hour endurance records.

    The Italians, those who are still left the Ducati, I suppose we can talk about the company in the past tense since it’s new ownership could change everything, but in Italy motorcycle making is more of an art, the Italians are artists by nature. Every once in a while they do get it just perfect, and after that they want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, open a few thousand bottles of wine, screw all the hottest women for a few years, rest on their laurels and enjoy life a bit. Throw the next few years designs to the underlings, until they screw it up so bad they have to go back to work and create a new masterpiece.

    Different approaches means different outcomes even when your designs are similar.

  • Shawn

    “Shawn says:

    ” Rob says:

    Take a “V” and rotate it 90 degrees….see how it’s an “L” now?”

    No its not, that would be a depending on the direction of rotation.”

    Damn HTML. That would be a sideways V, not an L.

  • Davey Gravy

    Maybe some of the funniest comments I have ever read :D

  • @Aaron: “It’s a cultural thing as well, in Japan, they work themselves to death, employees are expected to give everything they’ve got seven days a week 365 days a year, until they’re burned out and are replaced with new people.”

    Uh. No. Nice cultural stereotype you have there, but after living in Japan for over 21 years, spending 15 of them in the automotive industry, I can assure you that those particular reasons you cite are pure rubbish. Much like the Western image of what Zen practice entails, your view of Japanese work culture is popular, but wrong.

    I think their success has more to do with a cultural attention to detail and process that could be unparalleled anywhere else. There’s an almost fanatical obsession to optimizing manufacturing processes that fits very nicely in with the cultural tendency to do things “by the book”. The education system here is based on rote memorization and drilling. Being able to reproduce the same result over and over is seen as highly desirable.

    This is a double-edged sword. In a pure manufacturing environment, it births the potential for high reliability and, over time, reduced costs. We see that. The downside of the equation is that when an engineer from that background finds him-/herself in uncharted territory troubleshooting a problem, there’s nothing in the playbook to tell him/her what the problem is and, therefor, how to fix it.

    What you wind up with is a country that can roll superior product off an assembly line, but most engineering troubleshooting is done by committee (combined on-site and over the phone) because no single engineer has enough free-thinking to creatively slog through the problem alone. The dichotomy is an interesting one and it has fascinated me for a long, long time. Aggravated, too, in many instances.

    Comparing Ducati’s design and execution processes would likely be very illuminating when compared against those the likes of Honda and Yamaha.

  • smiler

    Dear Aaron, what a load of b*****cks.
    Clearly you have not riden a Ducati since about 1800. I tracked a 996R for 6 years. Only breakage, needed a new starter motor. Modern Ducati’s service intervals, minor at 5k (oil etc) & regular at 15k , the GSXR is 12k miles. So how does that work then?
    Honda bikes are conservative. the Blade still has no electronics. How long have they been banging on about a V4 production racer. Ducati did theirs years ago and sold 3* more than they envisaged. With innovation taking that long, no wonder they are quite reliable. Remember the NR750, disaster.
    Clearly you have not ridden a multistrada or an ST4s on a long trip. Personally I would take a Gold Wing Car.
    Honda don’t like to get beat. Really, tell that to Yamaha. Honda put more money into MotoGP than likely all the others combined. They pay for the best riders period. In 2010 there were 9 Hinda’s on the grid & they got beaten. What happened to Honda before and after Doohan. What happened to Honda after Rossi left?
    These 2 clearly show the basis of Honda’s legendary ability to build winning bikes.
    Doohan’s most famous comment, to Honda engineers ” Leave the fucking bike alone & let me ride it”.
    The RCV was so good that after Rossi left, it did not win another title until Hayden’s fluke win it, Nothing to do with Honda’s engineering.
    As for Ducati failing to get their street bikes right? Really. So how come in the last 10 years (under foreign ownership) they have tripled sales, extended service intervals from 6 to 15K miles on all bikes? In 2012 they broke all their previous sales records.
    The Diavel has completely changed the category or would you rather have a V Max? The Pan nearly outsold the BMW S1000 in its first year, which outsold the establish Jap bikes. Even Triumph are taking market share off them.
    As for the Japanese. Well if Japanese companies were so good then why is Nissan owned by PSA. Why have Suzuki & Kaaaawaski not won a single MotoGP title since 500’s & ever and both are mediocre in WSB. How is it BMW with no experience of superbikes can build one that outsells the Japanese sportsbikes after a year? Do the Japanese dominate the Le Mans series, Kart, F1, Touring Car, etc. Nope.
    Honda is a great company and I have had several Honda’s. But put it into perspective. Reliability is just one part of good engineering. As I recall the past & current Blade is the only bike not to have any electronics, never had ram air & is like an arm chair but they are reliable.
    Ducati was owned by Texas Pacific from 1996 until 2005. A foreign company. And they seemed to do really well then. Your comments about Italian engineering are just patronising. The Italians next to the Germans are about the best engineers there are. But with added style.
    If you look at Ducati’ motogp effort it is a wonder they ever won anything given the size of the company & the need to use production tech for the MotoGP bike. They have performed much better than Suzuki, Kawasaki, Illmor, Aprilia, Suter TSR, Modernas, Paton, Proton KR & Pulse, but not as good as Yamaha & Honda. So they are 3rd. A category of racing that BMW, KTM & Hog won’t even get involved in.
    If you are going to have a go at least do it using a factual bases please.

  • Forgive me, how I do love to bait the sucker fish on this site, they always bite. :)

  • @smiler. The NR750 was practically a V-8 with four oval pistons wasn’t it? and not a V4. That’s why it took a long time to develop ? with that technological achievement i wouldn’t call it disastrous.. just my 2 cents.

  • I think he explained his opinion very well: too large of a gearbox, too heavy of an engine. Seems tough to beat Honda Engineering with any holes in your program.

  • CTK

    Seems like Duc may only be good for 7/10ths street bikes and rule bending race orgs (WSBK)

    Maybe they should go all the way back to their roots and do a 1200cc twin for the GP14. Would Dorna allow it? That would definitely help with the weight problem.

  • GoneFishin

    Say it again David!!!! “riding genius of Casey Stoner “

  • GoneFishin

    @Aaron B………what you said was very true!!! These fools on here hate to accept it.

  • GoneFishin

    @Smiler….all rubbish!

  • mxs

    So many internet experts … laughable, seriously.

  • jd

    nice tits + nice ass = perfect balance and geometry which will always win anywhere

  • Cole

    Very strange article (and difficult to read) after the original articles were written with such conviction.

  • taikucing

    HRC is full of wonders. First, it’s the seamless transmission.. then the V90 engine.. and then the curvy exhaust.

  • Norm G.

    contrary to the so called “experts”, i have been trumpeting the benefits of the 90 degree L-twin and saying all these EXACT same things (to the deaf) for years. it doesn’t take an alpha-ducatisti (though apparently it helps) to know that ducati has been winning with the configuration in production for more than 2 decades. for those uninitiated all’s it takes is a google search.

    also, you can’t say in one sentence they have a displacement advantage…? then turn around in another sentence and say they have a V-angle disadvantage…? WTF…? any engineer worth his degree will tell you physical law doesn’t allow you to have things both ways.

    Q: so which is it, either they have a an advantage or they have a disadvantage…?

    A: they have neither, the net sum of the 2 conditions =’s ZERO.

  • “also, you can’t say in one sentence they have a displacement advantage…? then turn around in another sentence and say they have a V-angle disadvantage…? WTF…? any engineer worth his degree will tell you physical law doesn’t allow you to have things both ways.”

    Now that’s plain silly. If we were to have a class where twins were given a 20% displacement increase rule, we could design ourselves a nice 15-degree V-twin that would have a 20% displacement over the 4-cyl bikes. Unfortunately, we had to build in a huge amount of counterbalancing to keep the engine from trying to rip itself out of the frame. Unfortunately for us, our 15-degree V-twin ended up requiring so much counterbalancing that we wound up with quite a dichotomy: A V-angle disadvantage (due to the enormous weight of the motor) and a displacement advantage.

    You were saying? Lemme know where I defied the law of physics with my wee parable.

  • A V twin is not a V4, particularly when it comes to where you get the torque and horsepower in the power band. Ducati’s initial efforts at a V4 in the last decade were really just a twin with four cylinders, an attempt to get around the rules, before development and technology progressed.

    I doubt Honda would be resurrecting their v4 without the R&D Ducati and Aprilia put in, and particularly the success of Aprilia’s V4 sport bike on the street and as a track tool. I hear some Honda execs own and prefer to ride the RSV4.

  • MikeD

    Will i still be alive when Ducati gets rid of it’s Gremlims and wins another GP ?