Plastic Engines?

Here’s something I didn’t know.  There’s a compnay that’s been around for several years, and it makes plastic internal combustion engines.  The New York Times reports on Matti Holtzberg, an engineer in New Jersey, whose been building these things for quite a while.

Apparently, back in 1984 and 1985, he even raced a Ford Pinto with a plastic engine, and its only failure in the International Motor Sports Association’s Camel Lights series was a busted con rod–a bad part from a supplier (I wonder if it’s the same one that supplied the con rods for the Aprilia RSV4 Rs that went TU during the press launch?).

Anyway, the guy took an 88HP Pinto, pulled the 415-lb hunk of Ford iron from under the hood, and replaced it with a 152-lb plastic engine that put out 300 HP.

Obviously, there are difficulties replacing steel and aluminum in current engines.  And, of course, with aluminum engines, the plastic–polymer, actually–bits would only cut the weight by 30%.  Still, 30% is a signifigant savings. Imagine, if you will, a 250HP motorcycle that weighs 340 pounds.

Uh.  Hmmm.  Actually…that’s kind of scary.

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2010 Kawasaki Concours14 First look

Pete Brissette of Motorcycle.Com got to spend a day with a brand new 2010 Concours14 that had all the trimmings, including Kawasaki’s new linked ABS system and Traction control.  He really liked it, for a number of reasons.

First kawasaki really seems to have listed to their customers about what was good and bad on the 1st-Gen C14.  The top complaints were heat management and wind protection…not enough of either.  Both issues seem to have been addressed, with a completely new front fairing design, and a taller, wider windscreen that even  has a bit of a Cee bailey-type lip at the top.

Second, Kawi stuck factory grip heater on it (they look like they come from exactly the same parts supplier as the ones on my FJR), dumped the useless little tank box, and put a real storage box in the front of the fairing.

But the big news is the linked ABS and traction control. The linked ABS system runs as follows:

But what really sets the new linked-ABS apart is the rider-selectable level of linking. For starters, ABS cannot be disabled, but by pressing the orange K-ACT button (bike must be stopped to select modes) the rider can choose the “high-combined” effect in Mode 2 or the lesser-combined effect in Mode 1.

K-ACT mode selection impacts the amount of front brake application (only one of the two front calipers are involved regardless of Mode 1 or 2) when applying only the rear brake. The amount of linking applied to the rear when using the front brake remains constant.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of this type of linking system.  I prefer the BMW partially linked system, where the rear brake doesn’t engage the front at all, while the front lever engages both.  I realize this is probably a simple matter of preference, but I don’t want the front end to dive when I hit the back brake.

The traction control system seems like a neat safety feature, as long as you remember that it is just a safety feature.  It’s not the Troy Bayliss Ducati 1098 system that’s designed to make you faster.  It’s the “you’re getting a little crazy, let’s apply some sanity” system.

By controlling airflow (via secondary butterfly valves in the throttle body), fuel delivery and ignition timing, three parameters as opposed to the two of competitors according to Kawasaki, the system limits engine output when it senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front.

And for those wondering, yes, it is a wheelie nanny, but only when enabled. Phew!

Most impressive was how seamlessly and unobtrusively KTRC performed. When power is cut, it isn’t done abruptly, nor is reapplication of power. Rather than a stumbly on/off throttle experience, the bike simply feels like it has a fraction of its available power.

All in all, it looks like Kawi has made an already well-received bike even better.

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