|Great Review from Rob Smith|
TESTING THE THEORY
I’d been riding the 4MC prototype for about 20 minutes before Nick reached the conclusion that I was either ready for the experience or he was bored and needed a bit of a laugh. The 4MC is entirely the creation of the afore mentioned Nick Shotter, a former motorcycle courier but more importantly a gifted engineer with a vision for the kind of motorcycle that can be ridden by anyone, provide the feel and manoeuvrability of a motorcycle but with the safety of a four wheeler.
SO WHAT THE HELL IS IT?
It’s a four wheeled motorcycle that leans and behaves like a motorcycle in every respect other than it won’t spit you off when everything gets sideways. It’s possible that purists will dismiss the 4MC as nothing more than a technical cul-de-sac destined for the ‘interesting but daft” file. Well having ridden it and put the theory to the test, I’m here to tell you that this is part of our future, and if the likes of Yamaha and another undisclosed European manufacturer are taking it seriously then it’s only a matter of time before you see something very similar in the showrooms.
Built over 20 years by hand in a single car garage in north London, the underpinning principle was that the 4MC was simple The similarity to the Piaggio MP3 is obvious in that the front pair of wheels lean, but there the similarity ends. Where the MP3 is based on a triangle the 4MC is clearly not. The fundamental problem with the MP3, which incidentally is a brilliant laugh in its own right, is that it carries most of its weight forward and high up, resulting in excessive front end ‘push’ if you happen to be trying to make rapid progress. Not only that, but it gets worse with more weight as I found out with the very similar Gilera Fuoco 500. None the less, the MP3 is gifted with staggering levels of grip in the wet and is probably, up until now the most useful scooter type vehicle in production.
Ironically it was an accident as a London courier that prompted the genesis of the 4MC. Clearly what was needed was a vehicle that combined all the attributes of a motorcycle in city traffic with the practical benefits of having four wheels. With this in mind it was obvious that the thing needed to be traffic busting narrow, and it is. A mere 585mm in fact, although the bars are slightly wider at 660mm. Interestingly the width was arrived at by adopting the same width as the ubiquitous Honda CX500, which was the mainstay of the London courier industry in the 80s.
By adopting a four wheeled platform the bulk of the weight can be carried very-very low which again provides terrific stability when travelling at low speed – well in fact any speed as my test ride discovered. Even so, with the profound pragmatism of a true engineer, Nick went one step further by building in a no-tilt function so that the delicate art of lane splitting or “filtering” (legal in the UK) could be engaged in with even greater safety.
I’m not going to go into a full breakdown of the technical development of the 4MC as Nick’s website provides far more detail with greater authority than I can generate. Besides to do it justice would take too long and what’s more I’d rather talk about what it’s like to ride.
ALONE AT LAST
Being in the UK usually guarantees a bit of rain and sure enough on the pre-arranged day, it was cold, grey and wet. Perfect for trying out a prototype. Prior to emailing Nick and arranging the test, I’d had a look at the website via the brilliant emerging technology e-mag Gizmag, and been mightily impressed by the videos of Nick rounding up police driver trainers on a skidpan, so I knew the 4MC had the credentials for wet weather silliness.
The motive power for the 4MC is provided by a Yamaha 400cc single cylinder engine with CVT, so getting underway is as simple as twist and go. Brakes are linked and operated by the right hand handlebar lever. There is a lever on the left, but this engages the anti – tilt mechanism, something Nick was at pains to point out was positioned there for expediency and would not be in the same place on a production version or even usable at speed. None the less, for someone with a clutch programmed left hand like me - best left alone.
Initial impressions were of how low the seat felt and how low down the weight feels. The result is that there is an immediate sense of balance. And there is a fair bit of weight in the prototype, although Nick is confident that once in production as much as 80 kilos or more can be lost very-very simply. Once out onto the airfield the 4MC felt pretty much how I thought it would, solid and as planted as only a wheel in each corner can be. The little 400cc unit provides reasonable acceleration up to about 90Kmh and within little more than about two minutes, I felt confident enough to start exploring the limits of its handling.
The prototype has a built in lean limit of 30 degrees, although in the future Nick asserts that a sportier version could quite easily manage 45 degrees, which is right slap bang in Sportsbike territory. As with any motorcycle you have to countersteer to change direction and with the prototype there’s a bit of rolling resistance felt though the bars. (Dealt with subsequent to the test) But you do get used to it very quickly, and the effort was most noticeable under sudden and hard changes of direction such as collision avoidance which you’d hope would be a fairly rare occurrence.
GETTING TO GRIPS WITH IT
It’d be true to say that I’ve never felt quite as confident leaning hard on wet surfaces as on the 4MC. There is just so much grip available from the small scooter sized wheels (which Nick made himself incidentally) shod with Michelin Pilot tyres, that you can literally throw the thing into a turn and gas up with total impunity. Changes in direction are reassuring and there’s plenty of that motorcycling intangible, “feel”. As a normal motorcycle rolls from one direction to the other, depending on how hard you turn of course, there’s that moment at the top of the arc as you pass through vertical where the steering loses the weight on the tyre. On some machines I’ve ridden the tyre can sometimes lose grip completely, which is quite unnerving. Thanks to the low down and centralized weight as well as the track width, this just doesn’t happen, or if it does, it’s almost unnoticeable.
One of the exercises I set myself involved sudden swerving to avoid cones at about 90Kmh, but leaving the swerve as late as possible as if swerving around an errant pedestrian. This requires a big reef on the bars to countersteer and the swerve happens very abruptly. Without doubt, the same manoeuvre on a motorcycle at the same speed on the same surface would have resulted in one outcome, the mother of all crashes. Yet the 4MC simply switched and straightened in the same way a motorcycle would have in the dry – albeit without the sudden grounding footrests etc that normally accompanies the violent suspension compression of a conventional motorcycle.
Another exercise was hard braking, both straight and in a curve. As expected the straight line stuff was good, with the kind of stability you’d expect with four wheels. Although to be fair, the brakes aren’t massively powerful and so full effort pulls you up without lock up. On a motorcycle you simply cannot brake hard while the machine is leaning; we all know what will happen right? Yet with the 4MC, the levels of lever confidence achievable even after a few minutes of familiarity are staggering. Sure - the thing wants to straighten a little the way a motorcycle does, but the retardation achieved from first application to vertical came as a real surprise. I’d be lying if I said you couldn’t get into trouble, humans are good at trouble, but with ABS fitted the braking capability would be enhanced enormously.
And so we come to the sideways action mentioned at the start. I don’t mind admitting I felt a bit circumspect at first, Especially as despite being wet there was a fair bit more traction than on the skidpan shown in Nick’s video and what’s more I hate crashing other people’s motorcycles. All the same, I was intrigued enough to give it a go. The first time the back came around was an education in itself, simply because what should have ended in a highside didn’t.
Like a rank beginner I snapped the throttle shut from sheer fright and should have been jettisoned - yet the plot simply straightened itself out and carried on as if nothing had happened.
Not being highsided builds confidence very quickly, and the few slides I did manage were hugely enjoyable and demonstrated that not only will the 4MC slide on demand, but you can control the direction in the same way as a rally car. Now this - my friends, spells F.U.N.
Whether we agree with such things or not, the future of motorcycling will demand that design embodies as many safety features as our car driving counterparts. I know Nick has set out to make a safer motorcycle, and let there be no doubt he has; the 4MC is a tailor made platform for all the safety technology that exists in cars today. As I said the purists will initially eschew four wheels with dark mutterings about two wheels good, four wheels bad. There is nothing wrong with innovation and lets face it, the development of motorcycles has been largely inward looking for the last 100 years. Personally though, despite my appreciation of the safety benefits, I can’t help conjuring with the potential that accompanies a 600cc or 850cc engine, 45 degrees of lean and some sexy bodywork.
SO WHAT NOW?
It’s not often you get to see the future with such clarity - but it’s my opinion that with the right backing the 4MC heralds a brand new direction in motorcycling that will generate a whole new market and capture a fair slice of the existing one. Acceptance will be slow to start with as change is often slow to gather speed, but judging by the amount of interest generated so far by Nick’s web site then maybe the time for change is now.