As Fagan quite rightly noted, Twitter went into a mini-meltdown the other day when Ducati unveiled their 2021 MotoGP weapon. Some people were really quite keen on it’s new, futuristic design. Others weren’t. In the couple of hours after its reveal, the 2021 Desmosedici suffered even more body-shaming than that fat one from Big Brother. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were all top heavy with mean comments from people the world over. Everywhere you looked, they were harking back to the bygone days of 500cc two-strokes, asking why GP bikes can’t look like that now. Well there are a handful of very good reasons for GP bikes to look so different, so let’s examine some…
Contrary to popular misconception, the way a MotoGP bike looks bares very little relevance to fashion. It’s absolutely true that the superbikes which MotoGP technology (and therefore a lot of the associated aesthetics) trickles down into are subject to designs influenced by fashion, but a GP bike is designed to look good on the timesheets, not the catwalk. So whilst MotoGP bikes don’t follow the trends of fashion, it could be said that trends of fashion quite often mimic the looks of MotoGP bikes. Short stubby exhausts and aerodynamic wings are a case in point. Yes those things have other ‘benefits’ (like noise and downforce), but really, on road bikes, we like them because they are fashionable. Nothing on a GP bike is there to make it look nice, everything is there to make it go fast.
Ok, the paintjob isn’t performance enhancing, but it is one of the reasons GP bikes look so different now. Rightly or wrongly, the powers that be have put a stop to cigarette companies advertising their wares in sport, meaning teams have had to find the cash from elsewhere. But in the good old days anyone could sponsor a race team, if they had a big enough chequebook. Cigarette companies paid for most of the racing and they deserve our thanks for many a timeless livery. Rothmans, Lucky Strike, Marlborough, Camel, to name but a few. Not that it makes up for all the cancer and stuff. But how many truly memorable paintjobs are there on the Grand Prix grids of today? Other than perhaps the Repsol Honda colour scheme, I can’t think of any.
Aerodynamics hasn’t changed all of a sudden but our understanding of it has. Or specifically, our understanding of how we can use it to help a motorcycle get round a track faster. We’ve been dabbling with ‘aero’ ever since the first ‘dustbin’ fairing got grafted onto a race bike decades ago, with the aim, for the most part, of helping the bike slice the air with the most streamline shape possible. Faster top speeds have made aerodynamics more and more important and wind tunnels and computer modelling have helped race teams mould fairings that cut through the air like hot knives through butter, but that’s not the half of it. Over the past handful of years, GP teams have been using Formula 1 style aerodynamics packages to create downforce to help riders control the super-powerful, super-flighty GP bikes of today. That’s one of the main reasons MotoGP bikes of today look so, erm… weird.
On paper, todays MotoGP engines bear no resemblance to the fire-breathing 500cc smokers of the 90s, and as a result, they look completely different too. And not only are they different shapes and sizes, they need all sorts of different stuff to run properly. Big expansion chambers in the exhausts are a thing of the past, and you won’t see a carburettor within 100 miles of a GP paddock these days. Fuel injection and electronic everything hasn’t just changed how GP bikes ride, it’s definitely changed how they look as well.
You don’t have to be an expert to see the differences between Mick Doohan and Marc Marquez’s riding styles. When you look back at the way they used to race bikes, it’s almost comical compared to contemporary methods. And because of that, bikes have had to change shape. Marquez and co regularly find themselves asking for over 60 of lean, so the bikes have got to oblige. That means different shaped tyres and much higher pegs for extra ground clearance, for a start.
There are plenty of new materials that have appeared in motorsport over the past 30 years or so, but none more prevalent than carbon fibre. Thanks to its phenomenal strength to weight ratio, it’s replaced fibreglass, steel, magnesium, and aluminium . And whilst paint covers most of the carbon on a modern GP bike, its presence is perfectly conspicuous. Take carbon brake disks, for example, which often need shielding from the wind to maintain an optimum temperature. And you’re definitely not going to miss them buggers.