GIZMAG4MC: The 20 year making of the tilting 4-wheelerBy Ben Purvis20:38 June 11, 2009This odd-looking creation could be the start of something massive – its the first prototype of an entirely new design of leaning four-wheeled bike which not only offers a massiveincrease in safety but, should it reach production, will be legal for anyone holding a car driving licence to use without taking an extra test – all while keeping the cheap road tax, goodfuel economy and exemption from congestion charging that goes hand in hand with bike ownership. Following on from our first glimpse of the 4MC, Ben Purvis takes a closer look atthe development of this remarkable machine and talks to inventor Nick Shotter about the 20-year obsession that led to its creation.Think about it for a minute. In the UK alone, there are around 30 million car licence holders, compared to two million with bike licences. If just 0.0001 percent of those drivers – one in10,000 – decided to buy such a vehicle in one year, it would instantly become the countrys best-selling bike. Thats a big pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow and with thatperspective inventor Nick Shotters obsession the concept, which has seen him give up everything in pursuit of getting this prototype running, seems rather less crazy.What is it?Neither a bike nor a car, the 4MC is currently only a prototype designed to prove the concept of Shotters leaning suspension ideas. However, should something reach productionusing the same ideas it would be classed as a tricycle according to European legislation– a long-ignored category that sits somewhere in between the two. But with controls like abike, similar width to a two-wheeler and the ability to lean around corners, to all intents and purposes its a motorcycle in all but name. But since it falls into the virtually forgotten B1licence category – which is automatically granted to anyone passing their car driving test in Europe – its a bike that can be ridden by virtually anyone.Whats so clever about it?While Piaggios MP3 has now started to get us used to the idea of a leaning trike, Shotters concept holds several key advantages thanks to the unique suspension design thats thesubject of his patents.Compared to the MP3, there are two key differences. First is the number of wheels. Despite being narrower than an MP3, the addition of another back wheel adds a massive amountof extra stability. Shotter says: “Imagine you have a triangle linking the three wheels. Halfway along the bikes length, where the center of gravity is, the two lines linking the front andrear wheels are only half as far apart as they are at the front wheels. The center of gravity only needs to move outside these lines for the bike to fall over.”With four wheels, those imaginary lines are parallel, and just as wide where the bikes center of gravity is as they are at the front, giving greater stability. Shotter said: “Ive even triedlocking my bike at full lean in one direction, and then riding in a circle the other way, so Im leaning out of the direction of travel. It feels weird, but it didnt fall over.”The other key advantage of Shotters prototype is its low center of gravity. By using leading arms at the front and trailing arms at the back, compared to the Piaggio set up which is liketwo conventional scooter monoforks attached above the front wheels to a pair of tilting beams, Shotters machine has all its suspension mounted as low down as possible, keeping thecenter of gravity very low. Again, that means it can lean further before tipping over. Horizontally-mounted shocks, with the front spring above then engine and the rear below on theprototype, are each attached to a “balance beam” - a transverse linkage that is connected to a wheel at either end via a pushrod. The beam allows each wheel to move independently,while sharing its spring with the other wheel on the other side of the bike.Cleverly, each wheel has its own damper, but they are interlinked. In normal use, the operate independently, but at the flick of a switch valves re-route the damping oil to connect eachpair of dampers. The result is when one damper compresses, the oil above the piston inside is routed to the area below the piston on the damper opposite, forcing it to move in thesame direction. This basically locks the two wheels together, so the bike can no longer tilt. As well as being far lighter than the Piaggio solution to this problem, which uses a brake onthe tilting axis to prevent leaning, Shotter reckons he will even be able to add a form of stability control to his design, using a fast moving valve, like that in an ABS brake system, toquickly alternate between the free-moving and locked damper positions when sensors register a slide that is leading to the bike tilting too fast.Yet more advantages come from the 4MCs trailing/leading arm suspension thanks to its geometry. As it tilts, the track actually becomes wider, increasing stability and alsoincorporating an added safety measure, as even if the suspension isnt locked, at a standstill the tires would need to move away from each other to allow the bike to tip over. The armset-up also means that as the bike leans, the wheelbase becomes shorter, with the suspension on one side dropping and the other rising, improving the cornering while maintainingstraight line stability.Even in the event of a puncture, the bike is designed to remain safe and stable, the steering geometry designed so, say, the left front tire blows, its extra drag will make the wheel tryto turn to the right, canceling out the tendency for the whole machine to dive off in the direction of the blown tire. In tests with a deflated tire, the machine still tracks straight and can besteered normally.
While the extra wheels offer a grip and stability advantage compared to conventional bikes, the leaning ability means it actually uses that grip better than a car can manage. When anormal four-wheeler corner, the weight is transferred to the two outside wheels thanks to centrifugal force. But by leaning, the 4MC keeps the pressure even on all four wheels incorners as well as on straights, using the maximum potential grip of all the tyres at all times. The same applies on cambers and over bumps, again times where a non-leaning four-wheelers centre of gravity will be moved away from the middle.The PrototypeTheres one thing Shotter is quite clear about: whatever form the 4MC reaches production, it wont look much like the prototype.Designed around a Yamaha YP 400 engine and transmission, the prototype has been developed to include endless levels of adjustment, so the geometry of the suspension can betweaked and altered. On a production version, this wouldnt be necessary. And nor would the frame. Shotter envisions a bike with a purpose-made engine that doubles as the mainchassis part, with the leading and trailing arm suspension simply bolted directly to it . “Using the Yamaha engine meant I had to build a frame,” he said, “So this prototype is muchheavier and longer that it really needs to be. Built around its own engine, the bike could be 70kg lighter at around 200kg for a 400cc, or as little as 160kg for a 125cc, as well as beingsix to eight inches shorter. But all I am intending to do is prove my suspension ideas work, and for that, this prototype does the job.”To demonstrate how much could be stripped off the bike in production form, Shotter has painted all the parts that wouldnt be there on a production machine in blue.The Tesseract connectionDuring the 4MCs development Yamaha has been quickest to offer help and support with the project – supplying the prototypes YP400 engine at “a very special price” and, accordingto Shotter, showing the most interest of all the manufacturers he has so far approached.Intriguingly, while Yamaha has not made an approach to actually buy the design, its Tesseract concept bike – a leaning four-wheeled superbike revealed at the Tokyo show in October2007 – uses a remarkably similar design, complete with leading and trailing arm suspension with similar linkages to Shotters machine. And it came long after Shotters designs wererevealed to the company.According to Shotter, attempts by Yamaha to patent the Tesseracts suspension system have been knocked back by the European Patent Office because they are too similar to thepatents he has already filed. And since the Tesseract was shown, rumors from Yamaha suggest the firm is now working on a scooter-style machine with leaning four-wheeledsuspension.The rivals...Shotters belief that a tilting machine available to car drivers will be a huge hit should be proved one way or another this year with the introduction of Piaggios MP3 LT.Although in appearance identical to the stock MP3, the new LT features one key difference; its front wheels are a couple of inches further apart. And that extra width means its nolonger registered as a motorcycle, with the need for a suitable licence, but as a quadricycle that can be ridden using a car licence, regardless of engine size and with no need for aCBT or L-plates.And rather than being a problem for Shotter, the MP3 LT could be just the thing he needs to get his project off the ground. If its a success – and with 30,000 normal MP3s already soldand the LT reaching a far bigger audience theres no reason to expect it to be anything else – other bike makers are likely to sit up and take notice. And in the rush to get a competitoron the market, what could be better than buying the rights to a design thats already been done.Even if manufacturers try to go it alone and design their own takes on the idea, they are likely to struggle when it comes to designing a leaning system thats effective and differentenough to Shotters design to avoid having to pay royalties on his patents.How the 4MC was made“Why dont they do it like that?” Its a question weve all asked before; the sudden moment of clarity that gives you an insight into how some everyday item could be improved. Formost of us its an idle, passing thought. We assume our idea has already been thought of and dismissed by others far more qualified. But for Nick Shotter just such a moment hasturned into a 20-year labour of love in the pursuit of turning his concept into a marketable reality.The moment came when Shotter, an engineer, was working as a bike courier in London to earn some extra cash. A small off back in 1989 saw him out of action with a broken hand,and got him thinking – how could he keep the traffic beating ability of a bike but massively cut the risk?“It was when I was stuck in traffic driving a van and motorcycle couriers were going past me,” he said, “It dawned on me again how great bikes are through traffic, and got me thinkingabout how to make bikes safer.”And long before the MP3 was even a twinkle in Piaggios corporate eye he came to the conclusion that more wheels meant more safety, and a narrow, leaning machine with morethan two wheels would be the ideal solution. Little did he know then that the idea would lead to him working full time for eight and a half years on creating his 4mc and prototype, withno income and just the hope that eventually a major firm would have the same vision and be prepared to pay handsomely for the rights to use the ideas hes developed.“It started as a hobby, really,” he said, “My first thoughts were about how to get more rubber on the road, and I quickly realised the whole thing had to lean, so the answer was to havefour thin wheels.“For the first eleven years I didnt tell a soul. I was working at home, spending every spare moment on it, and when I won a Government Smart Award in 2000 I went full time on it. Ithoroughly researched the patents on the subject, and there were none like this. Patents are crucial, because at the end of the day, thats what Ill be selling.“Theres been no pay coming back at all during that time. Eight and a half years. Thats the equivalent of around £224,000 in lost wages alone, and on top of that we put in another£87,000 from me and my family, and around £81,000 has come from others, including the £36,000 Smart award and even £10,000 from a guy who just wanted to help. Thats£392,000 its cost so far, coming from me, my family and investors.“When I got married five years ago we looked at our finances and realized that either the project had to go or the mortgage had to go. And even if wed sold the house wed still havehad to find money to rent somewhere else, so that wouldnt have helped. So I started looking for cheap accommodation, so we could let our house out rather than abandon theproject. My wife was all for it, saying if you dont do it, and then someone else does, you will always regret not doing it.”“So we looked at the alternatives, and found out about house-sitting. We found a couple who wanted to go to the Bahamas for two and a half years, and we took over their house.That meant we could let our house, and put the money into the project instead, . Then theres the workshop I used, where the owner said that rather than charging me an hourly rate,he would accrue the hours, and I could pay him when I make money by selling the intellectual property in the designs. I spent nearly 4000 hours in that workshop.”The effort thats gone into the prototype is simple staggering. The front wheels alone accounted for some 300 hours of work, machining them from solid blocks of alloy toaccommodate the bikes rim-mounted disc brakes. Shotter even made the front brake discs and calipers himself.Now, more than twenty years on from the original spark, the prototype of his machine has finally been completed and undergone its first tests, and as the only man to have ridden it sofar, Shotter is finally convinced that hes been right all along – the prototype offering more stability than even an MP3 can muster while remaining as narrow as a conventional bike.For more information, see: 4MC
Sideways on a tilting 4-wheeler: the next generation of fun machinesIf the fun we had aboard Piaggios MP3 is any indication, motorcycles with more than two wheels have a big future ahead of them. The additional stability and traction you get from atilting three-wheeler is quite an eye-opener, and theyre still exceptionally fun to ride. If you want to take the concept one step further, though, an extra wheel at the back as well canactually make the entire bike narrower while delivering the sort of stability that can let you safely powerslide and drift all four wheels on an oily skidpan. Remember Yamahas wild andwonderful Tesseract concept from 2007? The company is keen to get one into production, but as it turns out, Yamaha has run into trouble with patents held by an ex-courier andmotorcycle safety advocate from the UK who has been working on a road-ready tilting 4-wheeler for more than 20 years.Nick Shotter was a London motorcycle courier - and therefore, its fair to suggest, a complete nutter. The task of forcing a motorcycle through Londons choking traffic, racing the clockin the cold, wet UK winter is only attractive to hoons and lunatics, and those who do it for any length of time know that accidents and injuries are very difficult to avoid.It was an accident that got Shotter thinking about how motorcycles could be made safer, while still being narrow enough to lane-split through traffic. In 1989 he started the designprocess for his "4MC" tilting 4-wheeler project.His design finalized, he began shopping the concept around to all the major manufacturers in 2002 - and has spent the last five years building up the home-made, rideable prototypeyou see in the photos and videos here.Extra StabilityA triangle base platform like that featured on the Piaggio MP3 can deliver amazing rider feel and huge front-end stability up to 40-degree lean angles, by which point youre leaving afair bit of nice Italian paint on the ground and giggling like a schoolgirl. But if the center of gravity goes outside the triangle described by the wheelbase at a standstill, the MP3 simpyfalls over - as many new riders who forget to put their feet down at the lights have been discovering.The extra fourth wheel on the 4MC prototype gives a much broader balance range for the bikes center of gravity - so its happy to sit at full lean at a standstill OR when being beltedaround a tight corner.As the lean angle increases, the wheels move slightly further apart, increasing stability when you really need it - and this works as a backup system when you park the bike and leaveit on an angle - the tires grip and prevent the bike from tilting any further.Steering is handled by a pair of upwardly looping front suspension arms, which allow a nice tight turning circle. Like a bike, youll countersteer the 4MC into corners - and thecombination of leaning into the corners while having the stability and grip of 4 wheels means that the 4MC will use its grip much more effectively than a car can. A sporty tilting 4-wheeler could end up being exceptionally fast in the twisty stuff.Slow-Speed SuperstarShotter has built in a clever hydraulic anti-tilt system to keep the 4MC relevant to city use as well. At slow speeds, the rider can engage the anti-tilt system to let them creep along atvery slow speeds, fully balanced and without needing to put a foot down.When the system is engaged, the suspension dampers in the right and left arms at each end of the bike are connected through an oil valve, forcing the left and right arms to movetogether.Despite the additional wheels, the 4MC is exceptionally narrow, with a width of 58cm, or 66cm if you count the handlebars. Hondas CB600 Hornet, for comparison, is 74.5cm wide.Admittedly, the 4MC doesnt yet have mirrors, but it should be absolutely fine for lane-splitting and traffic-busting.
The tilt locks obviously also useful when parking - no side stands here. Just pull the park brake lever, which locks the brakes and the suspension at whatever angle the bikes alreadysitting at.The 4MC PrototypeShotter has put over 4 years and a bucketload of effort into the prototype shown in the photos and video here. Built purely as a proof of concept, it doesnt carry road gear like lights,fairings, mudguards and indicators.The prototype 4MC is designed to demonstrate of the tilting 4-wheeler platform and as such it does an excellent job, as the video below will attest. It uses a Yamaha YP400 engine -but ideally the 4MC will be developed around a purpose-built engine. Shotter has had to build a heavy custom frame around the prototype, but in a production setting he believes theengine should be designed such that the leading and trailing suspension arms bolt directly to the motor, so the frame can be ditched altogether.With a custom-designed engine, the production version could weigh as little as 160-200kg dry, depending on engine size.The prototypes fuel tank has been placed between the two rear wheels to make the operation of the front wheels, suspension and steering arms more visible. In a production setting,the tank would be relocated up front.The prototype also allows a wide range of suspension and chassis adjustments which would be unnecessary on most production models.But Will It Sell?The 4MC is a highly non-traditional motorcycle concept, and as such, itll have serious difficulties breaking into the conservative motorcycle market. Having said that, the Piaggio MP3and Gilera Fuoco are making considerable headway for such a radical idea. The simple fact is that even the most hardened biker, after five minutes in the saddle, cant deny howmuch fun they are to ride.The 4MC will be equally hilarious on the road, but even more stable, and potentially more performance-oriented - a mixture that, as a confirmed hooligan, I find very attractive. Take a look at the oiled skidpan test video below and tell me you wouldnt love to fang a 1000cc version of that puppy to and from work on a wet day.Yamaha announced its Tesseract concept in late 2007, but it has stalled before reaching production, because its design was so close to Shotters that the company will have to licenseShotters intellectual property if it wants to go into production. The mans clearly onto something that could be a ridiculous amount of fun. Heres hoping Yamaha or one of the othermajors manages to run with it and get a performance version to market.More about the system and the prototype at the 4MC website.