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Aprilia’s Aerodynamic Advantage ?

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As the 2023 MotoGP season gets underway, Aprilia RS-GP is again pushing the envelope in aerodynamic technologies with even more winglets and ground-effect surfaces in the quest for extra performance.

 After honing the bike to be as efficient as possible, Aprilia has turned its attention to the awkwardly shaped component sitting on top of the rider. Aprilia has proven to be a leader in aerodynamic efficiency with its RS-GP MotoGP racers making not just the motorcycle but also the rider more aero-efficient as well.

Patents from Aprilia revealed some of the secrets to the surprising speed of the RS-GP, which has gone from back marker to race winner throughout a few seasons. This aggressive approach to aerodynamics is a valuable element of the company, explaining why the RS-GP looks unlike any other bike on the grid, and the 2023 version expands on the same ideas. The company is trying to make the shape cut through the air more cleanly.

It was 35 years ago that Dainese introduced the hump to the back of its racing leathers, with Pier Francesco Chili being the first to use it on his 500cc Honda. Initially intended to be a safety aid, not an aerodynamic one, but Dainese credits Jean-Philippe Ruggia, riding in the 250cc class at the time, with noticing that the hump improved stability and reduced neck strain, encouraging the development of more aerodynamically focused versions. Although there have been attempts to make leathers even more aerodynamic since then—notably for land-speed record riders on semi-streamliners—and modern helmets shaped with aero benefits in mind. Aprilia now fully believes road racing leathers should become more efficient.

In their new patent application, Aprilia mentions an earlier application, filed by Yamaha in 2005, for aero leathers with sections added to the sides, upper arms, thighs, and calves of protective suits. The idea was to create a smooth shape when the rider tucked in on straights, but the new document points out that the concept stumbled once the rider moved during braking or in corners, when the additional sections became cumbersome and compromising. The idea involves figuring out how to make the airflow smoother over the rider, especially the lower section where the leathers tend to bunch up.

Aprilia’s new concept intends to smooth airflow over the rider when tucked in, cutting drag to improve top speed on the straights, However not to hamper the mobility when needed to move around on the bike. Of course, it is also vital that the suit can not compromise safety in the event of a crash.

Shells on the arms are intended to smooth airflow around the forearms. Other pieces get added to the upper arms and shoulders. The idea is to add shell elements to key parts of the suit, giving a smooth surface that makes for a more aerodynamic shape and work in unison better with the motorcycle’s aero. These shells are separate parts, attached to a conventional set of leathers with Velcro, although the patent also says that leathers can be made with the aero elements built-in. There are ten components, five on each side of the rider. There’s a shell on each of the forearms that smooths the airflow running back from the handlebars. Shells added to the upper arms and shoulders are exposed to the oncoming air. The largest components of the aero suit are added to each side of the rider. When a rider tucks in on a straight, leather gets bunched up in this section, creating wrinkles that hinder airflow. The new design creates a smooth surface here.

The largest and perhaps most critical area is the rider’s waist area where the leathers tend to bunch up. Shells there would smooth the air and contribute the most to the bike’s aero. The legs also gain shell sections, one on each thigh and another on the lower leg. The lower leg portion doubles as the knee slider. Since the front of the thighs and lower legs expose themselves to airflow, the smoother shapes promise to make the bike and rider cut through the air more efficiently.

Another key area is the lower legs in the “dirty” air. Shells on the lower leg would double as knee sliders. From a safety perspective, the Aprilia patent suggests that the outer skins of these removable aero segments are made of plastic or similar, smooth material, they can also be filled with foam, gel, or air to give an additional layer of crash protection. Aprilia’s patent also suggests that the reduced buffeting and turbulence on the ride will reduce the workload and make it easier to move around on the bike. Safety improvements could be vital in persuading race organizers to permit the leathers, as there are growing concerns that the battle for aerodynamic superiority in MotoGP is getting out of hand. Banning the idea will be much more difficult if shown to improve safety.

Will we see Aprilia’s riders—Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró on the works bikes and Raúl Fernández and Miguel Oliveira in the RNF satellite squad in 2023?

Given the extent of the aero seen elsewhere on the bikes, and the fact that MotoGP limits the number of in-season updates on fairing aerodynamics, it is yet to be determined. 

As the CEO of The Hard Tail, Jacob Stoner leverages years of immersion in the world of motorcycling. He not only embodies the spirit of the open road as a devoted rider, but also has experience in custom motorcycle design. Though he has dipped his toes into the realm of customization, his main focus remains on riding and the motorcycle community at large. The Hard Tail, for him, is more than just a professional endeavor – it's a reflection of his enduring passion for motorcycling.

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