The whole point of these projects is to see if there’s a
feasible application for all-wheel drive. After riding them,
I can say there is, but it’s not what you might think. They
aren’t cheater bikes that will allow a guy like me to suddenly ride like Cody Webb. In the hands of an expert, a
rear-wheel-drive motorcycle can do anything the Lawson
can do and, in most cases, do it faster. Cody Webb and
Jonny Walker get over obstacles by attacking them and
using momentum. They barely let the front wheel touch the
ground as they leap and splatter. That’s easier said than
done for most people. The Lawson is like a rock crawler.
You leave both wheels on the ground and pull your way
forward. It isn’t as glamorous, and it doesn’t look as pretty,
but it requires less commitment.
There are some interesting advantages to the Lawson
way of doing things. For one, mistakes are easily forgiven.
If you falter halfway up a hill, you don’t have to go down
and start over. You can stop and then start with a reasonable expectation of success. The same is true for most
difficult sections. There’s a horrendous firewood pit that Ty
Davis designed for Glen Helen’s EnduroCross course that I
have yet to clean on a regular bike. I got through it on the
Lawson by clawing a few feet forward, resting, then going
a few more feet and resting again. It took a while, but I
did get through without the usual leap-in-and-crash-out
scenario. On most regular soil there’s almost no wheelspin.
The bike barely even leaves a track, which is excellent if
you’re riding in a place where you don’t want to make any
marks. Another unexpected benefit is that the front brake
operates both wheels because of the front-wheel ratchet.
That’s a very big deal on unsuccessful hill-climb attempts.
When you come to a stop with both feet dangling, you can
prevent the dreaded rearward slide.
Disadvantages? There are plenty. The biggest is the
extra weight on the front end. These bikes are designed to
prove a concept—not to be elegant, race-ready or light.
Bill says the system adds 32 pounds to the front end of
the KTM. The wheelbase is also about 5 inches longer,
and that makes it difficult to loft the front wheel. As a
result, you can’t really attack obstacles Cody Webb-style.
You have to crawl over them—and sometimes you just
don’t have the ground clearance to do that. And, the front
suspension is a work in progress. The front
wheel doesn’t travel on a linear plane
as it does with a telescopic fork.
It travels in an arc like a rear wheel, and that makes it act
differently on different-shaped bumps. It can be harsh, and
it can be plush. I’m sure Bill and Marty have come a long
way since their first prototype, but telescopic forks have
about 60 years of development behind them.
Another characteristic that takes some getting used to
is that the bike steers by pointing the front end where you
want to go, regardless of speed. Without getting into an
egg-heady analysis of counter-steering, you still have to
adjust to the fact that you don’t slide around a turn. You
don’t slide anywhere on the Lawson.
Expert-level riders appreciated the technology, but most
said that it could actually limit the KTM 350 that we tested.
They said they could accomplish more on a stock 350 with
a lighter front end and aggressive technique. Riding the
AJP version, on the other hand, is a very different experi-
ence for anyone—expert or novice. AJP, if you don’t know,
is a Portuguese company that’s new to the U.S. The PR4
has a mild, 233cc, air-cooled motor aimed at beginners.
Two-wheel-drive technology actually opens doors for that
bike and allows it to do things it couldn’t possibly do on its
own. It doesn’t have the power to attack hills, and lofting
the front end takes effort. So, rolling ahead slowly is the
only option it has. With AWD it’s unstoppable. Hills that
would be absolutely impossible for a
bike of this level are easy as long as
you put it in first gear and keep
going. The AJP’s low seat height
lets you paddle along with your
feet at speeds so slow it’s hard
to keep your balance.
That illustrates a point
that Bill made—the
ted from the
countershaft to the
front wheel through
a very robust design
that can take all the
torque you can