The prodigy that runs on two wheels  

We met the team of Politecnico students that builds motorcycles and races them at 200km/h

Polimi Motorcycle Factory is a sports team at the Politecnico di Milano created in 2015 in order to take part in the international MotoStudentcompetition, which is held every two years at the international MotorLand Aragón circuit in Spain. The teams are tasked with designing, building, managing and racing an endothermic or electric motorbike.  

The competition is split into various stages: the first assesses the industrial design and the business plan while the second evaluates the performance of the prototype in static and dynamic tests, which culminate in a weekend of racing. Azul Amadeo is a last-year student of a Laurea Magistrale (equivalent to Master of Science) in Design & Engineering. She is the head of the fairings department in the Polimi Motorcycle Factory (PMF to its friends). “I thought about finishing my bachelor's degree at the Poli before going elsewhere to do a master’s. But then found PMF and my life changed course. I found the consistency that I was missing, a family and also lots of headaches... and an environment in which industrial design can express itself, where cut things that work are beautiful and beautiful things can work cut .And so I stayed for a master’s.”  

Azul joined the team in January 2018: “There’s an old rivalry between designers and engineers but it is outdated. Working on PMF is like a simulation of the world of work, where the teams are much more multidisciplinary than during our studies, where your work has an effect on that of others and vice versa: and rivalries are overcome, you have to learn to trust others. Those who join PMF also do so becausethey want to add meaning to their university careers, contribute to something and go away with a unique experienceIt has been like that for me. You really become part of something, you are not just a number.”  

“We gave ourselves a pyramid structure from an organisational point of view, in order to avoid sending parts into production that do not work, but everyone contributes. The glue that holds the team together is the motorcycleit’s a product of such complexity... and we created it. In the two years of preparation for the competition, working on the prototype, what was just a group of students becomes almost a family. The biggest change happens at the point where the largest components are manufactured, the motorbike is assembled and the work moves from CAD to the workshop.”  

Credits: foto di Azul Amadeo, studentessa di Design & Engineering, responsabile del reparto carene nel team PMF

Champions of the world

PMF took its first motorbike to competition in 2016, just 8 months after the beginning of the project. They affectionately called it “la Cinghiala” (“the Sow”), because of its weight. The aim was to finish the race (which, as we will see later on, is not always a given). Given their early successes, the team worked with great ambition on a new prototype over the following two years: the Scighera (meaning fog in Milanese dialect), which was driven in the 2018 competition by Luca Campaci, a young rider and student of Mechanical Engineering, became the champion of the world in the Petrol category with a top speed of 197.1km/h.  

“The Scighera did some amazing things, it was a magical moment. It wasn’t 100% reliable, but on the day of the competition everything was perfect and, what’s more, that year we also won the fairing removal competition with such speed that students from the other universities were stunned. We returned victorious from Spain, with two cups and a list of accoladesincluding, in addition to first place overall, Best Design, Best Innovation, Business Plan, Best Acceleration (6,966”/150m) and 2nd Best Mechanical Test.” With this pedigree, PMF began working towards the 2020 edition (which became 2021 due to the pandemic) and decided to take two prototypes this time, one in the Petrol Category (with the Sciura - Milanese dialect for Signora - a fine-tuned version of the Scighera) and also in the Electric category for the first time in the team’s history, with the prototype Nyx (named after the Greek goddess of the night).  

Credits: foto di Azul Amadeo, studentessa di Design & Engineering, responsabile del reparto carene nel team PMF

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.The unexpected lies in wait

Each team receives a motor (a Ktm 250cc 4t), a set of slicks and a brake system (calipers and brake pumps) from the MotoStudent organisation for each prototype. The rest of the motorcycle is the team’s responsibility, which can choose whether to buy the parts or produce them in house, within the limits of the event’s official regulations. PMF prefers to produce them in house. "It’s difficult to design a motorbike from scratch because its performance depends greatly on the interaction between the various partsfinding the right balance so that everything works as it should is black magic,” explained Azul. “The pandemic hit us like an avalanche. In December 2020 we had to deliver certain parts of the bike for the 2021 competition, but there couldn’t be more than 3 people in the garage at a time. Until the last, we didn't know whether we would make it in time, but we managed it and by working 6 days a week with shifts of longer than 12 hours, we were able to develop very sound motorbikes.”  

Credits: foto di Azul Amadeo, studentessa di Design & Engineering, responsabile del reparto carene nel team PMF

But the spirit of MotoStudent is about craftmanship, motorbikes are unpredictable and things don't always go to plan. “Nyx, in the Electric category, had performed really well in the tests. Luca (our loyal rider) had managed to pull off rocket-fast times. However, , during the last lap of the race, the motor cut out several hundred metres from the finish line. Time was about to run out and the referees were approaching in order to help the rider move the motorbike off the circuit, but he brushed them off and heroically pushed the bike to the finish line for the sake of qualifying. It was 40 degrees, in July, in Aragón, and he was dressed to the nines in his racing suit. That’s what it means to belong to PMF. Thanks to him, we could compete, although Nyx unfortunately continued to cause reliability problems and we finished near the bottom. We still celebrated a lot in any case: not only because we had managed to finish the competition (for our first time in the electric category, it wasn't a bad result at all), but also because the atmosphere in those moments is so exciting and tense that when you finish, your emotions explode”.  

The team were counting on the Sciura in the Petrol category, remembering the victory with the Scighera. “We had a superbike rider for the Sciura. As a professional, he expected a certain pace and we struggled to keep up with him.” Almost all of the parts for the Sciura had been built by the team and the bike was performing brilliantly. “We had become really quick, we felt like drones with a hive mind. Ready for anything. But we had_lots of problems, beginning with the motor which broke on the eve of the competition (we had pushed too hard and, let’s be honest, the Ktm isn’t a great motor). We bent over backwards to replace it, because in Europe they aren’t easy to find. We reinstalled it overnight, working until 6 in the morning. It isn't easy: you have to remove the bike from the motor, not the other way around, because the motor is the heaviest part. And, once it is installed, you have a motor that you don't know, which has to be run in. At that point we decided to be thorough and change the fuel pump, replacing the one we had made with a professionally manufactured pump that we bought, in order to ensure greater reliability. It was a terrible mistake: when it comes to motorbikes, you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. Anyway, during qualification the pump let us down, the motor cut out and wouldn’t start again. For this, we were disqualified. It was a real shame, all we needed was to change the pump, but rules are rules.” Upon their return from Aragón, the students of PMF rolled up their sleeves ahead of the 2023 competition. It will be Azul’s last year, who in the meantime will graduate. “I’ll stay until the competition, for sure. PMF means to give everythingto build a team that becomes a family and lead it to do amazing things.”  

Polimi Motorcycle Factory
Credits: foto di Azul Amadeo, studentessa di Design & Engineering, responsabile del reparto carene nel team PMF