So Why do MotoGP bikes Crash so often?
MotoGP is the pinnacle of our sport, in terms of technology, tyres, machines and of course the riders. So with the best tech, tyres and riders why do we see them crash so often?
Sure they are always pushing the limits but why don’t they just run wide, why do we see them in the gravel trap nearly as often as just making a simple mistake?
After all a DNF = no points, combined with time off due to injuries, crashing doesn’t help anyone’s championship aspirations.
Dani Pedrosa is a good example to use here. During his career there were many times he was in with a real shot of the title. Yet a crash and subsequent injury put and end to his title hunt, sadly he never won a MotoGP championship. This is despite having more than ample speed and ability to have done so. On his day he was stupid fast!
So wouldn’t it be better to have a setup that gives greater margin for error? Surely that would give teams and riders a better chance of winning a title right?
We get caught up in the detail, cold tyres, rake, trial, chassis flex blah blah. In an ideal world a cold tyre would make you run wide not crash. Manufactures and top race engineers are not dumb, if they really wanted to they could design bikes and setups that run wide rather than crash.
The fundamental reason they don’t is because of how motorcycles make fast laps times, mainly a thing called mid corner or high lean angle rotation.
Unfortunately, a more stable, more forgiving bike can kill lap time at this extreme level.
If we look at MotoGP, yes the Yamaha is known for its stability but this is in relative terms to the other MotoGP bikes.
A pretty 2nd hand Aprilia - Photo Russell Colvin #783 Media
To understand it properly we can look at our distant cousin in Formula 1 (sorry to swear by using a 4 wheel reference here but it helps). While F1 is such a different sport, the concept is the same, fastest lap time possible with the machine you have.
Engineers design a lap time, the rest is a by-product. Sure giving a rider confidence is important but it is still only to achieve one thing, a lap time. They are more likely to sack a rider if they can’t come to grips with their bike then change their whole design philosophy. Manufactures will only do this for proven riders.
When it comes to F1, the insane amount of downforce leads to grip in corners that is beyond ridiculous. This means cornering speed makes up a huge amount of lap time. Not so with MotoGP bikes. While MotoGP corner speeds are crazy compared to us commoners, it’s nothing compared to F1.
High powered bikes make lap time through acceleration off turns and the speed they can carry into the turn. So the faster we can get in and get out = lap time for us.
Understeer, or as we call ‘running wide’ with either a bike or car results in delayed throttle application and acceleration off the turn. In F1 the corners speed is so high that changing the setup to have more corner speed at the expense of more understeer may be worth it depending on the track or corner. Yet in bike world it rarely is ever worth it, well not at the top level of racing. Simply because our corner speed is low by comparison to our awesome acceleration 😊
don’t get us wrong corner speed is mega important but not at the expensive of throttle application.
Time delayed in throttle application due to understeer, or lack of rotation, or running wide kills our lap time. MotoGP can’t have that.
Did you know in some corners an F1 car will have over 150km/h more corner speed than a MotoGP bike, crazy right.
So if they can find a setup that allows them to carry 290km/h through a corner rather than 250km/h at the expensive of 0.4sec of throttle application, they will take it. This is why formula 1 cars are known to have a tendency to understeer and they are happy to live with it. They don’t want heaps of understeer but they will take that over oversteer.
Bikes on the other hand, a setup that allows us to carry 120km/h corner speed instead of 110km/h yet cost us 0.4sec of monster acceleration is just not worth it. Simply because the acceleration will net better lap time then the mid corner speed.
We need to lean more toward ‘oversteer’ or agility with setup, a setup that will tend to want to slightly swap ends in order to be fast. We need this to help with our mid corner rotation on partial throttle, this will equal earlier acceleration and faster lap time.
The problem with this type of setup is that it comes with some unwanted side effects that we need to put up with if we want the ultimate lap time, twitchiness and instability. It’s a fine line, a little too much will lead to a lack of confidence for anyone other than the elite and of course lots of crashes. This is where rider skill comes in, how much instability they can ride with.
A stable bike/setup is easy to design.
A twitchy, unstable, fast bike is also relatively easy to design.
A very fast yet stable and forgiving bike, now that is a much harder proposition.
Again let’s reference the Yamaha MotoGP, yes they are more stable than the other bikes and we see them run wide more often than the other bikes too. The same mistake on a Honda would equal a crash or a ridiculous front end save by Marc. Again the Yamaha stability is relative to the other MotoGP bikes and that’s a reason why rookies find it easier to get fast on them compared to the Honda or Ducati.
In MotoGP they not only push the limits in riding but also setup. They need to walk this fine line, if they don’t they will get smoked by their opposition.
Look at Marquez, since the first moment he ever left a MotoGP pit lane, his wheels have never been in -line, that thing is always swapping end, especially on entry. Stoner in his day? Thing was more sideways than Daz and Dingo after 15 beers.
These setups are very fast but hard to ride at the limit without the risk of crashing, thus why we see them crashing so often. Too stable at that level of racing = slow.
So what about the average track day punter? Or even the club racer? Do they need a twitchy setup to be fast? No not at all, in-fact 80% of riders and racers will be heaps faster with a more stable setup. This is because they will have heaps more confidence and they will push much harder if they feel safe and feel the bike has tones of grip and is on rails.
As riders get more experienced, they can start leaning toward a little more unstable setup.
Riders with lots of dirt track or dirt experience will be able to deal with a more unstable bike too.
This helps explain why some top of the line sports bikes can handle like a shopping trolley on the road for an average rider. They have been built and designed to be fast for the elite rider around a track rather than the average rider. Furthermore, manufacturers use their racers to help develop the bikes because they are ‘experienced’. Yep experienced at being an awesome rider, that doesn’t really help us mortals. This is why your experience such an improvement when you have your own road or track bike setup by people that really know about this stuff.