Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Most Important Research on Motorcycles Since 2000

In the past decade, we all seem to have a grasp on what has been written about motorcycling in the popular press. I’d wager it was in this order of impact: aluminum frames, fuel injection, and better quality/higher performance via computer aided design & manufacturing.  On the sheer number of articles written on the other hand, 600 supersports have probably killed more trees than the deforestation of Brazil -but what about scholarship?  In an academic library finding the most significant works in a field of study used to be held in the expertise of subject-specific librarians who were familiar with the research.  Since the turn of the century, (I love saying that), much has been born digital and is easily cross-referenced and indexed so let us take a look deep into the millions of scholarly works with a mind for research.

Steve Martin's (no not that one) Ducati 998 from the
2003 WSBK races at Laguna Seca in 2003
First, a word about the past.  Before 2000, the primary subject of motorcycle related articles was injury, drunkenness/being high as a kite, and other safety-related matters. However, one should temper safety craze with the idea that in the 1990s, the auto industry was heavily into marketing safety features that the government made them implement anyway (like side-impact structures in 1996).  But let’s move on to the 21st century.
There are several resources to discover your academic article’s impact (value, really), but none of them are perfect so I’ve picked the database called Scopus.  A tool readily used in academic circles to determine the performance of published articles, primarily judging by how many times your article has been cited by others.  Cheeringly, the number 1 article (I searched for motorcycl* in the ‘title field’ only), was

Sharp, R. S., S. Evangelou, and D.J.N. Limebeer. "Advances in the Modelling of
     Motorcycle Dynamics." Multibody System Dynamics 12.3 (2004): 251-83.
     Scopus. Web. 27 June 2012.  
It was cited in 87 scholarly articles since the date of publication!! That's like publishing an article and having many many PhD's saying "good job, dude" -really!  Why was it cited?  Here’s a quote:  results show the predictions of the model to be in general agreement with observations of motorcycle behaviour from the field and they suggest that frame flexibility remains an important design and analysis area…
Frame flexibility?  I’m guessing Rossi wishes Ducati had read this last year as he was reported to have suffered from the stiffness of the carbon fiber bits on the bike.

How did the top ten shake out?  Here's the grossly over simplified results:

4 of the top ten were about motorcycle dynamics modeling and understanding how all the pieces work together

3 were on the effect of helmet laws (Italy and Taiwan, in particular)

2 on injuries modeling related to motorcycles (whee!!)

and a couple of outliers (HD branding and hydrocarbon emissions, depending on which database you pick.  I also double-checked Google Scholar and Web of Science for consistency)

The takeaway from this is that safety is still a popular topic, but here's a summary: If you wear a helmet, you’ll be in better shape in an accident (pun intended for all you dark humor types).  The fascinating bit, however, is the new motorcycle dynamics modeling trend.  My favorite moment was reading an excerpt in one of these articles that stated (paraphrased): the rider still counts for quite a bit of what happens on a bike.  Bascially, a scholarly article that goes a long way to explain what we feel in our gut when riding, but still stepping back, like the rest of us, when Casey Stoner melts a tire going around a corner on that Honda.

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