There are fundamental differences. For riders, the transition to driver is not so difficult: John Surtees (pictured) and Mike Hailwood among others attest. But in the opposite direction, the engineering cross-over doesn’t work – as several car-to-bike examples over the years have shown.
The most conspicuous of a number of failures date were in the 1980s, when Elf sponsored a series of unconventional machines that tried to move motorcycles on from the “bicycle-with-an-engine” format into a world of scientific car-style chassis design.
Andre de Cortanze was tasked with this job. The French engineer, successful both before and after with formula, rally and endurance cars, applied both logic and originality.
A series of “Elves” were definitely interesting. Most significantly, telescopic front forks (on the face of it an antediluvian concept) were replaced by a pair of parallel upper-and-lower leading links on the left, pivoting off an underslung monocoque chassis, with interconnected front-rear suspension. Hub-centre steering was operated by a linkage from the handlebars, after vertical tiller experiments proved unwieldy; while the box-section suspension links arced out to allow the front wheel to steer.
It was inspiringly clever. But almost impossible to ride, for various reasons. Physically, the arc of the lower link had ground-clearance problems, grounding out at high angles of lean on left-handers. Less easily solved was the loss of steering “feel”. The linkage robbed the rider of direct handlebar-to-tyre contact. It was only in its final iteration, now ridden by Briton Ron Haslam, that the V4 Honda-powered Elf became moderately competitive. And by now the twin-link suspension had been replaced with a sort of McPherson strut that simplified the steering linkage.
Alternative systems offering better braking performance have found some application on larger road bikes (BMW’s “Telelever” and Honda’s Gold Wing front fork); but racing development returned to refining those old-fashioned telescopic front forks. But there was another lesson that took more time to become clear.