Brian Gillen, Technical Director of the MV Agusta R&D Department, is the man behind the engineering of the iconic and performing Italian motorcycles produced in Schiranna, near Varese, north Italy. We met him in Eicma
In the days of Eicma, we organised a visit with some of our readers at the MV Agusta stand. And we had an interesting meeting with Brian Gillen, R&D Technical Director since 2015.
Brian leads a team of 40 engineers and technicians, organized in 5 departments: engine design, electronics engineering, engine testing and development, vehicle testing and development, homologations.
With him, we talked about MV motorbikes, new projects, races and, obviously, his life in Italy. Born in the USA, he arrived in Italy some years ago for what was supposed to be just one year, but then…
Just to introduce you to our readers, Brian, we would like to know a bit more about you and what you are doing at MV Agusta.
“I took over R&D in MV Agusta in 2015. Before that, I was the technical director of the race department. When MV decided to go racing again in World Superbike and Supersport, they gave me the responsibility to build the race team, lead the people, and lead the program technically. Based on the good results we had – we finished twice second in the World Supersport Championship – I took over the whole of R&D. And we made some very concrete plans at the beginning of 2015, with a technology roadmap”.
“We asked ourselves some simple questions. Where do we want to go with MV? What do we want to do with the technology of MV? What do we want to do to identify MV as a technological brand?”.
“Moreover, I also wanted to take care of the past, because we inherited some problems, like starter clutches.
Therefore, we needed to address issues from the past AND we needed to look forward to the future. And it was really complicated because trying to fix two time frames at the same time, one looking backwards and one looking forward is not exactly an easy task”.
“Today, we are in a position where every goal that we set out in regards to resolving past issues, we have resolved, with regards to quality and service and everything on previous models. While, at the same time, completely changing the direction for the future”.
“Where do we want to go with our bikes and technology? So, let’s say, all MVs are full ride by wire, without a cable connection between the accelerator and the throttle body. We were the first company to put in full ride by wire on a middle-size, minimalist sports bike. We have been the first company to put an electric upshift in place as a production component. The first one also that did electric upshift and electric downshift on a production street bike. The first company to put an automatic clutch directly inside of the same package of an existing engine, as we did with Turismo Veloce SCS”.
Rocco, our reader from Italy asks – You are talking about the Rekluse clutch, right?
“Rekluse is one of our partners. But the real power of the system is the electronic control. Recluse is only mechanical. With full ride by wire, we can completely control the clutch: when it starts to grab, the slip period, and when it locks out. And we do it gear by gear. Through ought position request. We can control the situation as we consider our bikes electric throttle not a command, but a request from the rider. The rider doesn’t command directly the system, he requests something. Based on his request, the control unit decides what’s best to do to meet the request”.
Some Turismo Veloce owners asked us to ask you if it is possible to retrofit the SCS on previous years bikes.
“Mechanically it could be updated, but it’s not just mechanical parts. You have the mechanical clutch parts, the electronics, the ECU, the dashboard with his software. And you also have the emergency brake with the lock. So, it’s a complete system, not just one component to put it”.
I understand you are telling us that it would be too expensive and complicated to retrofit?
“Well, It’s something we’re looking into. But right now, we’re focusing on rolling out bikes with the system. And then, maybe, at some point, we’ll decide to make it available as a kit. It could be. But not immediately”.
Other users ask if you plan to make available retrofit or upgrade kits or “Race” kits in terms of new valves, valve guides, springs, for the F3 engine, in order to upgrade Euro 3 engines to the same specs of Euro 4 ones.
“Only springs are race parts because they are are very expensive and specific components. They are the ones we used in World SuperSport and they are available since 2015 from our spare parts department.
With regards to valves and valve guides, the ones we developed for and used in racing, are the same ones we now use in Euro 4 engines. In other words, if you buy a Euro 4 cylinder head, valves and valve guides you will find in there are the same ones we used in racing”.
Here below the video where Gillen explains changes done to the three-cylinder engine to make it Euro 4 compliant
We also saw a video where you are talking about changes done in the cush drive. Our readers ask if it would it be possible to install this new part in previous years bikes?
“They are available as spare parts, so you can buy that and it goes directly out to the same spot. There are two pieces. There are the outer carrier and the inner carrier of the rubber. So yeah, you see on that bike (he points to the new Brutale 1000 Serie Oro)? You see that there are five bolts visible? The older had no bolts”.
Here the video where he describes the new cush drive system
We are so excited to see the new four-cylinder engine. It looks quite a remarkable piece of engineering. We are actually puzzled by the wording in your press release that was talking about a new “range” of four-cylinder engines. Would you like to expand a bit more on that?
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to give all of our future plans – he laughs – but let’s say that the engine platform will be very likely expanded into a different model”.
Ralf our reader from the USA, asks – We can also assume that we will see a standard Brutale and not just this Serie Oro?
“Of course, every time we come out with a completely new bike, in our history, we do a Serie Oro first, and then the standard bike. So, in this bike we have here today, we went down with carbon fibre wheels and so many other special components. It’s going to be positioned in a certain area. And then the production higher volume production bikes will follow”.
Ralf – When can we expect a standard Brutale 1000? We know that some people are already sitting on their money waiting for it. Maybe you will introduce it at EICMA next year?
“We don’t have any indication to that yet. But, probably, 2019, towards the end, you might see something. Might be”.
Ralf – It’s an exciting bike and looks awesome. But, we imagine, you must also be so much under pressure because now you have to build beautiful bikes all the time!
“We love to do it. That’s good pressure! If they asked us to make a cheap bike, that would be hard!”. He laughs
Ralf – We love the Superveloce, is it just a prototype or are you planning to build that? There will also be a standard version?
“The Superveloce will go into production in 2019. Is going to be positioned higher than the F3. It’ll be more special than F3, for sure.
Therefore, it will be a bike we will continue to produce. It won’t be like the Serie Oro: we make 300 of them and that’s it. It’ll be a special bike. But not limited production”.
How excited are you about the Moto2 project? And how challenging was to maintain the MV Agusta ethos, and spirit, and values, having to use someone else’s engine?
“To have somebody else’s engine in Moto2 is not a challenge. We’ve been watching Moto2 for quite a while now, they’ve had the Honda engine for nine years. And there have been some other manufacturers too, that went into Moto2. We found out that – really – the market is not so focused on having to have your engine in that category. It’s changed”.
“A while ago it would have been impossible. But today, the way that the market is, it doesn’t seem to be impossible to be accepted. And we saw it was accepted with other manufacturers. So, we are excited to get into that, it is the way to move into GP”.
“And then it’s part of a plan. It’s not only we’re going to Moto2 and then we stop. We have some other ideas as well. It puts us into that paddock and will open up some doors”.
What caused this shift of interest from Superbike to Moto2 and – maybe – MotoGP?
“Let’s say that the television audience, the YouTube channels, content on mobile phones, and Instagram: everything is on GP. In terms of audience, it is a hundred times Superbike and Supersport. So really is about visibility. And we discovered that we can spend really not much more money than we currently spend with the Supersport, but we can be much more visible”.
Ralf – In order to race in Moto2, you basically give just the frame to Forward racing?
“No. We made everything that’s not the engine. Really, the design, bodywork design, frame design, cycling design, swing arm design, linkage, fuel tank. Of course, the ECU is a Magneti Marelli, with the software directly controlled by Magneti Marelli and Dorna. And, as we talk, engines will be supplied by Dorna”.
Ralf – Do you have already an idea about the riders? Apart from Stefano Manzi, that’s confirmed, you still have to choose one more.
“We are right now working on with Forward, and we will give the announcement very soon”
As we publish this interview, Forward Racing announced on Twitter that they engaged Dominique Aegerter
— Forward Racing (@ForwardRacingGP) November 14, 2018
Now something personal, about the man. It’s quite some time that you work in MV. What has been the biggest challenge for you? Apart from the cultural shock for an American to work and live in Italy.
“I’ve been in Italy since 2000! My family has a motorcycle dealership in America. Ducati, KTM, Husqvarna, Moto Guzzi. And after engineering school, I went to work for Magneti Marelli, because they were the only engine management supplier to a motorcycle company in America: Harley. But my heart was in Italian motorcycles. So, I accepted the job in Magneti Marelli in 1996, and after launching the V-Rod – I was responsible for the V Rod EFI program – they gave me the opportunity to come to Italy. It was supposed I’d be here just for one year”.
“That was 18 years ago!”. He laughs, again
What was the biggest challenge you faced working in MV Agusta then? You can pick up anything you want
“Challenges it is not something to be afraid of. There are challenges every day, and we look at every one of those as an opportunity: an opportunity to learn, to try, to test, to grow. We are always learning. Especially when we make mistakes. We are always learning from them and making new things, and developing our products, and bringing out new ideas, generating new challenges”.
How is your business transforming with the new industrial plan just announced? Are you also changing the way you communicate with your customers?
“I think you know very well that in the last 5-7 years, not only the Internet but social networks too, has become so important. And social is not only what you do with your smartphones. It’s also your connectivity. So, there’s a whole other side of motorcycles now that wasn’t there even 5 years ago: the connectivity. That connectivity that brings you into the social universe. We are working with a lot of different avenues on how to make our bikes more connected”.
Rocco – What kind of troubles are you facing, adapting your engines to Euro 5?
“Let’s say they are not really troubles. It’s more not losing your identity while doing the upgrade of homologation”.
“Let me give you an example. When we went from Euro 3 to Euro 4, before we started to implement solutions, we had to have a strategic direction. So, I brought in all of the guys from our R&D and I said one thing: we’re not going to lose a single horsepower in a transformation from Euro 3 To Euro 4. We know what the rules are. We know what the targets have to be. But we also need to have some other targets: Ours. That gives an MV Agusta imprint”.
“For example, the F3 675 is a bike with 125 horsepower. When we went from Euro 3 to Euro 4, we had to reduce the exhaust emissions by 52%, we had to reduce the noise level by 48%. But, at the same time, we wanted to maintain our identity in terms of power. And we also wanted to increase our perceived quality. And I said perceived. One thing is quality in the sense: the bike doesn’t break. Another thing is the bike doesn’t rattle, it doesn’t vibrate, you don’t have pieces shaking. We wanted to increase our perceived quality while maintaining our performance”.
“Let’s say we lost a lot of sleep. But that happened because we set a really high bar of what we wanted out of Euro4. We wanted to improve, not only meet the objective of having a sheet of paper that has a statement that says Euro 4. And I think we really did that, because we’ve been Euro 4 since the end of 2015, with the Brutale 800”.
“And it paid because warranty costs now are less than a third. So, warranty costs went way down, product quality went way up, performance went way up, and we proceed boldly where we are”.
“It was not only something we had to do from the legislation side. We turned it into an opportunity to improve our balance. And the same mentality was applied to Euro5”.
Ralf – I appreciate it might not be something immediately visible but when you tune the exhaust to lower the noise, you impact performances. When you stuck something in the muffler, you need to gain the power somewhere else.
“Correct. But we learned a lot on that. It gave us an opportunity to explore some new tools. The sound test we need to perform for homologation happens in a 50 meters straight line with microphones in the middle. And the sounds test is made up of two parts. The first is a wide-open acceleration: you commit to a certain speed and you have to do a wide-open acceleration of 50 meters. The second is a constant speed drive-by, again, 50 meters long”.
“With the F3 675, we had a sound test area inside of the MV Agusta factory. We went over 1000 kilometres, 50 meters at a time. With sound array cameras around the bike linked with video cameras. This way we have been able to see where the noise was coming from. And we developed new algorithms, where we could see exactly what gear was vibrating inside the engine at what RPM. We could see from which part of the engine the noise was coming from. And it gave us a really in-depth knowledge, an opportunity to learn more. And by doing that, we realized that we were going to lose a little bit of combustion pressure. But if we lost 2% of combustion pressure while, at the same time, we reduced also 2% of parasitic loss in the gear train, between the engine and the rear wheel, we ended up with the same power. We just had to look at where we could make up. Therefore, we got rid of a parasitic loss”.
Ralf – Back to competitions, next year there will be no Superbike nor Supersport? Does it make even sense competing there since you don’t produce the bike as it isn’t Euro 4 compliant?
“It’s not decided yet. The F4 is not compliant with Euro 4. You will not be able to put it on the road. But in America and in Australia the homologation is still current. Supersport could go ahead by itself”.
Going back to connectivity and apps. Some people noticed a problem connecting the Turismo Veloce App to their bikes. It seems a bit random but Bluetooth in iPhones and/or the bike might be the culprit. They were wondering if there is any planned update of the App to sort out this problem.
“I didn’t know there was a problem, we connect with bikes all the time. I have the App on my phone, and I’m always connecting with bikes to show people things. I wasn’t aware of the existence of a problem”.
“However, we are working on a new direction with apps, that will include social and connectivity. So, you’ll see some new apps come out in the future. Looking over the whole product range. Even the Brutale 1000 will have its own app”.
So you’re sort of following a smart trajectory. Bikes will be more ‘connected’ in the future? So probably you will be able to download the maps of where you ride, riding styles, setup suspensions and sharing that data online? We saw some prototypes from other manufacturers, where they are developing systems that creates ‘situational awareness’ around the rider – we are referring to Bolid-e, that Energica presented with the cooperation of Samsung. Is that a trend you will be part of?
“Definitely, you will see something in the future”.