Quasar to Voyager development history
Developing the Voyagers
From Quasar to FJ
This account covers the process of discovery and development that led from experience of Malcolm Newell and Ken Leamans Quasar of 1977 to the Voyager launch at the end of 1989.
It places various prototypes in order and covers the work that was done on each. A recent contributor to the FF discussion group has described this work as "Tales of daring do". At the time it seemed a normal process of vehicle development; forming and testing hypothesis, similar to, and obviously based on my time as an F.1 race technician in the early seventies..
Anyone may carry out their own experiments using the original vehicles. Only 001 is not currently roadworthy. However, this is a history, not a discussion paper.
My contact with the Quasar started with the Bike Magazine road test and I was immediately interested. Malcolm and Ken appeared to value my input to the project and I was given more and more opportunities to run Quasars, for promotional and development work. This culminated in trips to the Isle of Man for TT week in 1978/9. Had the manufacturers succeeded in arranging full production I expect I would have continued to work with them for some time.
The first thing to strike anyone riding the Quasar is it's great weight. This is always apparent at low speed and is it's greatest limitation. Although much less relevant at speed I believe the weight, quoted at 720lbs, is outside the tolerable envelope.
It is also very apparent that getting in and out, while supporting the vehicle, is quite difficult. Basically 'ground handling' is problematical and it is easy to drop the vehicle. People intimidated by the heavy low speed handling and the probable damage to paintwork will not enjoy Quasars.
On overcoming this initial difficulty it next becomes apparent that the normal body movement associated with riding a motorcycle has no effect. To steer it is necessary to use the controls but once this has been taken on board it will be discovered that these, steering throttle and brakes afford extraordinary control compared to a motorcycle. But even when fully familiarised the huge wheelbase makes traffic penetration or manoeuvring difficult and somewhat clumsy.
In the course of development an impressive safety performance was demonstrated. Malcolm Newel, the innovator responsible for the Quasar, crashed several times without much harm and I painlessly crashed one into a ditch for a publicity film. We learned that the running boards tend to trap the riders foot if it falls over, sometimes causing serious injury.
Fast road use
At speed the vehicle is extremely stable, direction changes can be made under full power, as fast as the heavy steering allows and the brakes can be used to the point of wheel locking without dive or deflection. This allows it to carry an unusually high corner speed and although the experience of riding is undramatic it was far faster, on the road, than contemporary motorcycles. I have no doubt that a spirited driver could embarrass most motorcycles even today on twisting roads.
Several problems apart from the heavy low speed handling were apparent. The gear change is extremely slow and deliberate. The Hammock seat back affords no lateral support and the windscreen pillars obstruct objects as large as pedestrians, especially when carrying a passenger.
At the onset of the first trip it was assumed that while the Quasars had proved fast on open road, the I.o.M circuit, a very high speed circuit, would show up the poor power/weight ratio. At that point the major advantages appeared to be good handling allied to considerable comfort and weather protection. The striking appearance made a big impact of course but performance is the main thing on the Island.
In practice the ability to change direction under power, including turning into corners under power, and the huge stability in high speed turns made the Quasar one of the very fastest bikes on the island that year (1978). Driving on what appeared to be flat out sections (e.g. the stretch into Ramsey) it could be seen that motorcycle riders were shutting off on each high speed direction change, sometimes even touching brakes, where the Quasar would be utterly flat out. In multi-apex flat out turns like the Veranda it was easy to make minor adjustments to the course to keep the apexes coming, where motorcycles were clearly easing off the throttle.
In the course of driving as fast as possible some chassis/fork squirm could be achieved under very heavy braking (e.g. Ramsey Hairpin). Also shutting off in a turn could result in enough jack-down to ground the stands, lifting a front wheel. A colleague put a Quasar into the wall at the Waterworks as a result of stand grounding, but escaped injury due to the safety performance. The roof proved to be an impediment, obstructing the view of corner apexes on turn-in. Gearing, with the standard Reliant ratio, was unpromising, with fourth far too high for anything other than motorway cruising. The I.o.M lap was completed mainly in second and third, much of it in valve float.
Although other people may form different impressions of the Quasar, the conclusions I reached myself were to inform much of the succeeding vehicle development work and led to the Voyagers.
1. There was something about Quasar dynamics that allowed it to overcome the limitations of it's high weight and low power. It provided a combination of comfort and handling that could not be achieved on a motorcycle. The reason for this needed to be established.
2. That the roof is probably irrelevant, solving few problems and causing many. You'd still get wet without a jacket and it is difficult to see, or get, out. The roof/screen weight is clearly a problem. Visibility is impaired.
3. The vehicle is obviously too big and too heavy. The front suspension too heavy to comfortably steer but not stiff enough to cope with the imposable loads.
4. There were several detail problems, like the running boards, that needed to be solved in future designs.
5. The overall performance figures, not least the fuel consumptions, showed that the clean shape adds to the performance.
6. Comfort similar to a car could be achieved quite easily.
It seemed to me that provided the reasons for the performance could be established, they could be replicated in a smaller, shorter, lighter vehicle, and provide something like the 'two-wheeled (sports) car that would be needed to allow two-wheelers to break out of their 'recreational' market limitations. This looked like the sort of product that should be popular as congestion and energy shortages increased. (this was the time of the first and second 'oil shocks' of the seventies. I believed at the time that energy-efficient personal transport would be a key development area that matched my qualifications and experience. .
The most obvious feature of the Quasar, in terms of it's dynamics, is its very low CG, the point through which all forces act. It proved simple to show, geometrically, that lowering the CG of a single track vehicle increases it's stability by reducing dive and squat under acceleration and braking, and by reducing the vertical component of CG movement during direction changes. It also reduces the control effort needed to initiate and stop direction changes. These effects were described, rather flippantly, in Bike magazine during the seventies (The High Tech Series) and are detailed more clearly on my website www.hightech.clara.net.
Over the decades since a few people have continued to deny that these effects exist so I stress that my observations about CG height are an attempt to explain the observed performance advantage of low-CG vehicles. It may be that there is another explanation and I will be delighted to hear it. It is not the case that there is no performance advantage and this can be readily demonstrated by any of the FF's extant today.
In 1978 the low CG theory was just a theory and I was very lucky to be able to persuade Jack Difazio to build an experimental vehicle to test it. The object would be to build a low CG two-wheeler without the Quasars limiting size weight and front suspension. Converting a motorcycle was the obvious route and crucially, Jack Difazio was making his "Centre-Hub" front suspension, the first modern front suspension system for two-wheelers..
This didn't steer the suspension like telscopics or the Quasars Earls fork, had anti-dive as a simple geometry option and was stiff enough not to deflect under braking. It's technical description is 'double wishbone Parallel' (from Newton and Steeds "The Motor Vehicle"). There's a lower fork, like a swing-arm. This is the 'bottom wishbone" The wheel mounts on some form of axle across this lower fork, steers and suspends on suitable joints and is controlled by an inverted "U" shaped member (the "upright"), picking up the wheel, inside the wheel bearings, and connecting to a top wishbone over the centre of the wheel.
Although component packaging in the wheel centre needs attention, it is pretty much that simple, certainly less technically demanding than telescopic forks!
The Banana was created by walking round the workshop looking for a motorcycle that could provide the powertrain. It happened to be a Honda CX (The GS1100 engine was too big) It happened to get called "The Banana" because it was painted Yellow. It didn't take long to make and no-one expected it to last especially long.
In the absence of industry or academic support (are you kidding?) handling tests were necessarily empirical. It could be demonstrated quite easily that it would turn faster than the Quasar but this was probably the first FF that will turn as fast as most riders can imagine. Several motorcyclists selected as observers said they thought it was crashing because it turns in to corners so fast.
Jack's front suspension also demonstrated that a stiff system, not steering the suspension, could not be made to wobble. The steering control could be punched in a turn without upsetting anything.
Although it spent much of it's early career racing a Quasar it's performance against motorcycles was extraordinary. In the I.o.M, apart from being a minute faster than the Quasar (33 minutes rather than 34, on open roads, obeying speed limits) there were no motorcycles with similar road performance and it was so much faster than other vehicles into corners that I was routinely stopped by police complaining about my speed. (usually by wandering into the road waving a big stick...)
Unfortunately I crashed it on a wet patch at Creg na baa, cutting short what was a very effective demonstration of low CG.
This was a temporary setback, in the spirit of experimental prototypes it was repaired so I could crash it once or twice more in the course of learning about settings and limits. Astonishingly it always survived, going on to decades of test rides, brutal modifications and neglect, broken engines, trashed driveshafts and almost routine collisions before being rescued by aircraft engineer Bob Winsper some years ago. We carried out a program of re-building and re-designing to finally eliminate the driveshaft and engine problems, and today the Banana goes better than ever, ready to demonstrate again the lessons we learned.
It was absolutely clear that Low CG, high torsional stiffness, unsteered front suspension were unambiguously the way forward. On the road the Banana was so much faster than motorcycles that it was funny. Any experiment I could run, braking or direction change, was an utterly convincing proof of the theory .
An unexpected finding was that riders of various sizes and style agreed on setting feedback. If the suspension was too hard, they all agreed it was too hard. When the steering was heavy they agreed on that.
This is not the case with motorcycle development and I believe this difference is because the FF rider is secure in the vehicle and the vehicle handles rider weight as an integral part of the vehicle. The motorcycle rider rides the motorcycle in tandem, as a separate, loosely connected, mass. Different riders maintain their balance on the motorcycle by different combinations of foot, seat and steering pressure and have unique physical characteristics affecting their balance and responses. This requires a different vehicle setting for each rider.
A range of other lessons were learned that apply to FF design today;
The Banana is noted as the FF that demonstrated that the centre stand operating handle needs to be on the left hand side. So you can use the front brake while getting it on the stand.
It was also seen that the rear brake was not powerful enough for FF use, where weight remains on the rear wheel. This is generally true of motorcycle rear brakes.
There were some aerodynamic problems do to the lack of tail, it could be blown out of a side wind. Tails have proved crucial in good aerodynamics
The importance of the the top wishbone to give torsional stiffness was discovered - early Difazio systems didn't have a top wishbone. This generated 'white lining'. Adding the top wishbone demonstrated the importance of torsional stiffness.
It also became clear over time that the chassis was not stiff enough and was causing engine failures by over-stressing the engine castings. There were also a succession of driveshaft failures until a satisfactory system for extending the driveshaft was found. These are typical 'prototype' problems.
The wheelbase was still too long, coupled with the marginal lock of the Difazio system this meant that urban use was slightly awkward, although the lower weight and lack of roof made it much more practical than the Quasar.
The rigid seat back was better for lateral support, especially when holding the vehicle up, but it was found necessary to support the seat back only at the base, allowing flex at the top, as in a car, to avoid being banged between the shoulder blades.
The Banana, apart from it's blistering road performance also went faster in a straight line than a standard CX Honda, and used less fuel.
A lot was learned about crashing FF's with the Banana, to slide keel first, to stay in the vehicle, the positioning of grounding points.
The final test was a deliberate search for any practical or dynamic disadvantage of the FF layout. None of the classic failure modes of motorcycles could be generated, it would not wobble or highside, wheels could be locked without drama and it could be driven into the ground in "low-side" failure without the rider touching the ground. The one area in need of attention seemed to be the low speed ergonomics, it didn't 'feel' quite natural at low speed.
High Tech prototype 001
There were differences between myself and Jack Difazio concerning the direction of FF development and eventually I could no longer use or develop the Banana. By this time I believed that the product had huge potential to improve the safety, economy and performance of single track vehicles while providing the sort of comfort that would be essential in a mass market.
To progress this I needed a 'proof of concept' demonstrator that I could show to potential manufacturers and this would need to be an uncompromising expression of the core FF advantages.
001, 450 Ducati-powered single seater was an attempt at such a vehicle. It's bodywork was intended to show that full bodywork could be perfectly stable, while providing weather protection. It's wheelbase and weight would be in the mainstream of motorcycle figures and it would include the various safety features discovered such as leg cut-outs, collapsible steering and grounding points.
Apart from these details it's design was an extremely simple expression of the lowest CG and high stiffness that could be achieved. A Volvo seat back provided the comfort.
It was splendid demonstrator, I believe it would have been huge fun to race it against the Banana and this might happen one day, both vehicles are extant. In town it was much easier due to the short wheelbase and lower weight and it suffered few "new vehicle" problems.
Technically it was quite instructive. The use of a jockey wheel on the swing-arm spindle proved to be a usefully solution, especially the mechanical fuel pump driven by a cam off the jockey sprocket carrier. Air cooling meant that while the engine never got very hot, in winter it ran far too cold. Tests by Motad demonstrated that it quieter than a standard Ducati and it was also slightly faster and more economical. It would turn as fast as you imagine and I was once stopped by police for 'frightening the traffic' whilst flickering through a traffic jam.
More than the Banana, 001 demonstrated that FF's were different from motorcycles. Weight distribution, geometry, suspension settings, appearance, performance, were all diverging significantly from traditional motorcycle values. On the road there was no point of similarity. The Banana was a 'wacky bike'. 001 wasn't even a 'real bike'
After 9,500 miles it ran it's big end and I needed another demonstrator.
This was largely due to it's main meeting with a manufacturer. I was fortunate that contacts allowed me to arrange a demonstration to BMW in Munchen, very much a target manufacturer. I believe this went rather well. Everyone had a go, I crashed 001 by going too fast, without pain or damage, they crashed a BMW trying too hard, causing pain and damage. They agreed 001 was 'very fast' and 'very safe'. Then over an excellent lunch I was told that BMW 'don't want to be first'
This was my first contact with the 'first mover problem' Capitalism's main excuse for not innovating anything. On further investigation it became clear that my plan to join up with an existing manufacturer was going nowhere. They all had an excuse, except the ones too afraid to reply. I couldn't join them, I'd have to beat them.
This required a more sophisticated demonstrator. I expected to take a proof of concept demonstrator to BMW and have them understand that it could be extended as a production design into a variety of models - sports, tourer, commuter, etc. However a non-vehicle manufacturer would need to see a prototype closely related to the vehicle they would build.
This could have been an exotic, high speed, vehicle of the sort favoured by Malcolm Newel - the 'Ferrari option', or it could be a much simpler vehicle favouring maximum all-round utility - the 'Ford option' The latter route was chosen as offering the largest market with the least technical challenges.
Technical development, in the sense of discovering new performance or limits was more or less ended by the concentration on one type of FF. From this point the performance or limits, or more often packaging problems, of this specific 'Ford option' FF were paramount. We weren't allowed to race them anyway...
002 offered the prospect of a comfortable, simple two-wheeler with excellent handling and safety and sufficient performance to run with any traffic. It was aimed at the 'older lapsed motorcyclist' that made up the majority of motorcycle licence holders at that time. Surveys showed they would be most likely to appreciate the combination of comfort and performance.
At that time the Reliant engine was the smallest 850 four stroke in the world, with ample performance knowledge available from the racing formula for which it was the listed engine. The Guzzi transmission was well known and reliable and together they made up a package that was comfortably better than the Quasar, could be easily mated and would cause no worries among potential users.
The rest of the vehicle was a straightforward attempt to include this rather large powertrain in another low CG vehicle. 001's front end and control yoke was used to speed the build process and the bodywork attempted to build on the weather protection and efficiency of 001, while looking acceptable.
002 was surprisingly successful. Apart from convincing a manufacturer that it would be worth building, it provided reliable commuting transport for just over 10,000 miles. Late in 1988 a Fiat 132 Croma turned into it's path on an open, empty road and it demonstrated remarkable crash protection. I walked away, the people in the back of the car went to hospital.
The crash performance of the front end was highly instructive, there was only slight bruising from the rider impact with the padded cockpit and it was clear that progressive collapse features, developed from the Banana, had absorbed huge energies while protecting the rider. This accident actually confirmed the belief of the manufacturers that it was worth building. There are crash pictures on Bikeweb and my site.
Some thought was given to serviceability and access on 002 and the 'chassis' allowed the vehicle to be split into several parts. This allowed occasional service access, such as clutch and water pump to be rapidly accessed.
The wreckage of 001 was redundant during the production project and spent some time as a pile in the workshop where it was built.
The production Voyagers were based on the packaging lessons learned with 002. The engine was shuffled forward, the radiator was spilt in two on either side of the front of the engine and longer swing-arm was fitted to improve passenger space. This provided a usefully forward movement of the CG, slightly too far rearwards on 002 where the front wheel could be 'snatched locked'
The same multi-piece chassis was used with similar slides for the two-seater arrangements for moving the seat back from single-seat to two-seat positions. As this was a production design intended for the general public it was entirely conservative, using dimensions and settings that had been shown to be vice-free on previous prototypes.
The bodyshape was further developed to ensure stability and comfort and a proper heater was fitted to improve on the 002 system which used ducted radiator air. A large boot was included after survey results had shown that touring would be a popular use for the vehicle.
The 002 crash showed how the progressive collapse of the footboxes could be improved. This and other safety features were included in the production design. The twin radiators never worked very well however, due to airflow problems that have not been resolved fully. Production Voyagers either tend to overheat or have incorporated one of several solutions, all involving a third radiator.
Probably the most interesting thing to come out of the production project was the Mk1 Voyager front suspension. Often called a 'copy' of the Difazio hub, or attributed to Bob Tait whose patent we used, it was a simple 'clean sheet' design for a double wishbone system that would have as much lock and suspension as telescopic systems, be easy to make and assemble, and have all the advantages associated with the system. It had the biggest brakes we could fit. It's a highly effective system with long service intervals and excellent performance. A Mk11 design was produced in a batch of ten a few years ago, reducing weight, slightly increasing lock and marginally improving the geometry balance. three of the five production Voyagers have had Mk11 conversion kits fitted.
These five production prototypes received a mixed reception, the motorcycle press and some motorcyclists criticised the very moderate performance (around 110-120 mph flat out) and one or two were unable to cope with riding while sitting comfortably. However the proposed customer group were very keen with 155 people turning up for demonstration runs, in Wales, in February. Cash deposits were taken the day it's launch show opened. Police and Paramedics were keener than expected, leading to the rapid development of a simplified, cheaper 'Public Service' design that would have sold more units than the official 200-Limited production version.
The whole process of production development came to a sudden end in December 1989 as funds ran out. One vehicle had been commissioned and was used for demonstrations, road tests and development. Other assembled vehicles were toured around potential backers, with assistance from Police and Paramedic groups. It later transpired that some were going bust as we talked (Reliant, Norton). Even builders ran out of work in 1990 and the five Voyagers retired to the design office. As these things go the project was terminated in a fairly tidy fashion and I retained all the tooling and surplus production parts.
All five of the production prototypes, after the period in the design office while papers wars were concluded, were sold to private owners some of whom had sought an FF since the seventies. Only one has been sold, by original owner, the late Keith Duckworth, to another of those original enthusiasts. At this moment one is awaiting rebuild, one has been "collected" and the other three are in use, in everything from routine shopping, through European touring to track days at Cadwell Park.
Termination of the production project left me facing life without FF's, after nearly fifteen years of continuous development and construction. It was clear that manufacture in the England by any company that I could talk to would not happen, rendering further prototype development irrelevant, But I was not prepared to accept life without an FF.
Fortunately my family who had tolerated my expensive failure to earn anything as an innovator, similarly tolerated my hobby when not engaged in my new career of child rearing and house personing. The insurance payment from the 002 accident provided much of the finance and FJ was the result. Very little of 002 was incorporated.
Built on a hobby basis FJ incorporated several features simply because I'd never tried it that way. The chassis is one piece, slightly lighter, rather less accessible. The detailed layout of the steering is sightly different but won't be next time..
The most successful innovations were the use of rear radiators, much simplifying the front of the engine and getting heat out of the cockpit area, and the use of pivoting yokes to transport the seat back and head fairing for passenger use. This latter allows a free hand with the bodyshape as the (parallel) seat and head fairing slides used in production intrude on the shape.
FJ is also shorter than the proddies, using a short swing arm that is excessively flexible. This basic rear suspension problem was solved on one of the production Voyagers by fitting a top wishbone system to the fork, rather like the front end arrangement and this effective solution may be fitted to FJ one day.
All these old prototypes can be seen on Bikeweb and their owners sites.
I hope never to have to assemble another Reliant engined FF. It's a fine 1960's engine. With care FJ should keep running for another decade - I've even got a spare engine and fuel consumption is still world beating. But powertrains have moved on...
There are two possible developments that seem of interest.
Modern motorcycle conversions.
For the individual constructor, front suspension is now more available than in the seventies and eighties. Apart from the Voyager units there is also the Hossack system and Yamaha's arm-and-wishbone. Modern motorcycle powerplants are compact and light, with carefully integrated components. Provided one can be found that will tolerate the higher speeds it always made sense to look for easy conversions and the availability of good suspensions makes this more logical.
Perhaps the easiest of all conversions and certainly the most cost effective is the Yamaha Tmax/comfortmax conversion that can be seen on bikeweb. The lack of interest in this vehicle shows how little interest there is in innovation or efficiency in England - and there certainly aren't the special builders there were! The BMW F800 also looks fairly easy, albeit with a proper front end and the BMWKLT1200 (with 'telelever' front end) may be the easiest of all - if rather large.
Arthur Middleton is currently demonstrating in Ireland that a simple 'cut'n shut conversion, properly done, is also an effective route to the FF experience. His vehicle is also on Bikeweb where a multitude of different approaches to the FF layout can be seen..
The complete lack of interest in practically achievable efficient vehicles on the part of industry, regulators or the market mean that we may never see electric FF's. in production. This may be unfortunate as apart from being the most efficient use of electric power possible it is also the only low cost option currently available for private transport in the future.
The consequences of failing to deal with resource depletion are so catastrophic that the failure to develop an appropriate, but minor, technology will not be significant. However, an 'EFF', using battery power for propulsion but probably carrying a small bio-diesel generator for 'field' re-charging and heating, could be produced using current technology. It would meet the vast majority of commuting and casual transport needs.
While the electronic control and power technology needed exists,in rather scattered form, the task of designing the vehicle minus cooling, fuelling, exhausting and ventilating needs is straightforward. An EFF, with it's minimal vehicle parts, excellent 'vehicle to battery' weight ratio and smallest frontal area will make the most of the limited power source while retaining traffic penetration and easy parking. In a rational world it would be the most promising 'zero-carbon' vehicle option available.
In the absence of any production of what might be called 'modern' or 'non-recreational' two-wheelers, appropriate to the needs of a post-oil future, it is difficult to see why regulators and public opinion should continue to tolerate motorcycles. It is an entirely recreational vehicle with appalling safety performance and worse fuel efficiency than some small vans. After SUV's, Motorcycles?
In this context it seems unlikely that investment in further English FF development will be worthwhile. Extravagant 3d visualisations may appear from time to time but no-one will ever ride them and the absence of local mechanical engineering employment implies that the traditional home-workshop builder may disappear.
As a result any further FF development is likely to take place, if at all, in other parts of the world.
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