Single Track Mind: Wanderin’ Brain

November 28, 2012
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Jorge Lorenzo  99  came in second at Estoril followed by Dani Pedrosa  26  in third.
Control ECU’s will kick in during the 2014 MotoGP season, as will minimum weights for rider and bike in some classes.

“I Was Born With a Wanderin’ Brain”

And what a very fine song Mr. Marvin renders if you would like to hear a real Western ballad. However, I digress. This month’s STM will cover an eclectic range of subjects including one of my favorites: MotoGP.

Now if I were a smartass, no talking at the back of the class, then I would be sitting here feeling rather smug. Instead of which…

Remember control ECUs for MotoGP? Well, despite the howls of protest from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati this is now a done deal. It had to be, for the same reason I have been advocating this move for years: costs have to be cut.

And minimum weights for rider and bike in the slower classes? Well, a few months ago this idea was derided as ludicrous. Now, it’s in the regulations. Let’s have a look at the practical implications of the new minimum weight of 215 kg (around 473 pounds) for bike and rider in Moto 2.

First, as I have repeatedly argued, there has to be a chance for a normal sized, athletic young man or woman to take part in high level motorcycle sport. Mark Marquez reportedly weighs 130 pounds which is incredibly light for an average sized male – and even for a female athlete.

A weight of 150 pounds is still demanding for a male of 5’10” – about the average height for a white American male – and clearly, if this is the median size then 49% of the population will be taller and therefore heavier.

Scott Redding is truly athletic but is tall. When weighed in full riding kit at Phillip Island recently, Redding’s total weight was 87.7 kg (193 pounds) while Marquez’s weight in full riding kit was just over 70 kg (154 pounds).

Moto 2 action at Mugello.
Minimum weights for rider and bike in Moto2 and Moto3 should help to even the playing field.

The combined weight of Redding and his Kalex bike is 227.2 kg (501 pounds), which means the British teenager will still be over 12kg (27lbs) above the minimum weight. To put this in perspective, that weight is about half a tank of fuel.

Teammate Mika Kallio’s combined weight is 208.8 kg (460 pounds), so the Finn will need to carry almost 7 kg (15.4 pounds) of ballast. Next year’s title favorite Pol Espargaro though may only have to carry around 2 or 3 kg (4-7 pounds) of ballast.

Politics have come into play here. The Spanish are still the major players in MotoGP and if a heavier minimum weight limit were imposed, even a sensible one, and this wiped out the advantage for tiny riders there would have been an outcry.

My prediction though is that the weight limit will increase to maybe 220 kg (485 pounds), or even 225 kg (496 pounds), at which point racing will become viable for many more young athletes.

With the increase in weight minima will come the introduction of a multi-use control tire. One tire, maybe in three different compounds, which will be used in wet, dry or damp and, critically, which looks like a road tire.

No-one needs the astonishing level of performance which the current Bridgestone GP tires provide and in fact they are actually counter-productive. The progression between World Supersport, Superbike and MotoGP needs to be seamless which brings me to my favorite theme at the moment – a unified World Championship.

There will, without a nano-particle of doubt, be a unified World Championship and it will consist of World Supersport, World Superbike and MotoGP. This is pellucidly clear to any sentient observer of motorcycle sport.

The reason is black and white simple: the sport has run out of money. I have been involved in motorcycle racing all my life – that’s a long, long time – and I have never seen such a dearth of sponsorship.

The Circuit of the Americas has finalized its deal to host a third USGP round in 2013  the MotoGP paddock visiting Texas on April 19-21.
Circuit owners struggle to turn a profit while hosting a MotoGP round due to the declining interest in motorcycle racing and huge franchise fees expected by Dorna.

In November 2012, I am expecting this idea to be derided as much my calls for a control ECU and increased minimum weight limits were but it will happen – and as early as 2015.

Currently, a very few people are making good money from MotoGP – and almost no-one from WSBK. Casey Stoner turned down around $16 million from Honda to stay another year in the premier class and so Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa will be on multi-million dollar packages.
My MotoGP contacts tell me that Rossi took a giant hit in his wage packet – a truly nuclear assault – but he can afford to ride for free because he is already so wealthy.

Go just one stage down from the “Aliens” and payments fall like lead balloons. The one exception is Colin Edwards who is being paid handsomely for suffering the indignity of being seen in public on the Forward Racing BMW.

If the riders are finding it hard going, manufacturer support is hanging on by a thread. Sales of sports bikes world-wide are almost non-existent and the primary benefit of racing, in terms of sales, are these very high performance machines.
So how about the circuit owners? The math is starkly simple. No-one is making a profit. Falling gates, and huge franchise fees paid to Dorna predicated on historical attendance figures when Rossi was in his pomp and glory, mean that a good outcome now is not to lose money on a MotoGP round and the idea of showing a profit is a dream.

Combine plummeting audiences with achingly dull racing for TV and you can see where this show is going.

The problem WSBK will face is not so much making money from circuit franchise fees but getting anyone at all to host a round. Lots of tracks had less than 10,000 attendances and there is no profit in running a major race with such a tiny audience.

Rossi in adoration - Qatar 2011
Valentino Rossi still draws a crowd, but unless he’s able to contend for championships again his pomp and glory days may well be behind him – new personalities will need to rise in order to recoup the fans lost by his decline.

If this sounds like an obsession with profit it is not because I have suddenly become a “Tea Party” activist and see nothing but dollar bills whenever I think of motorcycle racing. Rather, it is because I am such a hardcore, bike racing junkie that I pray for a unified motorcycling World Championship.

The premier tracks have to make a profit to be kept open. If they don’t make a profit from bikes, then they will close their doors to our sport and where will this leave us?

In fact, the situation is even worse than this. Car factories are closing all over Europe and a lot of them had really excellent test tracks attached to them. In this case, the location was perfect – near to a fine road network and population centers. A group of motorsport business people made a sound, financially driven, sales pitch to the owners to open what would have been the basis for a superb motorsports facility.

The car company’s accountants looked at the profitability of race circuits and came to an unequivocal decision. Build houses on the site. That’s how the commercial world currently views tracks.

I spend lots of time talking about MotoGP because I am a bike nut. First, last and middle I am a racing recidivist and this makes me look at motorcycling through a heavily rose tinted visor. In fact, I should devote every column to begging the bike industry to bring new riders into our beautiful sport before it is too late.

It would take the whole of MCUSA’s site to accurately describe the tortuous process but in essence, in order for a young, British rider to have the sort of bike which MotoGP sells you will need to be at least 24 years old, take numerous practical and written tests and to have paid a lot of money for professional instruction.

Contrast this to the situation with cars where, if you have rich parents, you can drive away in your 200 mph Ferrari on the day of your 17th birthday.

In the mists of time, when I learned to ride, almost everyone had a motorcycle when they were 16. A lot of these riders moved on to cars but then came back to bikes later in life. How are we going to get returning riders if they never had the joy of motorcycling as young men and women?

In order to take full advantage of the good weather  a trip with the Suzuki V-Strom was also arranged throughout the Welsh hills.
Melling found his 119 mile trip to have his V-Strom serviced a lonely one. The lack of other riders on the road during his jaunt is a dispiriting sign of the motorcycle industry’s fate.

Earlier in the week, I rode our V-Strom 119 miles to my friend Martin Crooks’ dealership in the north of England for its annual service and to have a clutch problem addressed. On the whole journey, I saw one single motorcycle until I reached my destination where there were a couple of cheap Chinese scooters on the streets. That’s two, and a bit, hours up the spine of England and not a bike in sight! And we argue over technical specifications in MotoGP! Truly, those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

When is the bike industry going to forget about trivia and bring in the new generation of riders? Probably, the plans will start the day after the last bike factory closes.

I have to confess that, although I am now a fat, bald, old wrinkly, I am at heart still a hippy wandering around in a bright pink shirt, my flower patterned velvet tie and 14-inch flares. Ah yes, those were the days…

The only bit of the hippy lifestyle I never found attractive was drugs. After all, what need is there for any mind altering substance if you are racing motorcycles?

My hippy philosophy means that I am hardwired to be tolerant. I never had a problem with other racial groups – particularly if they like fast bikes – and the homosexual thing to me always seemed to be a bit of a non-event. Personally, I have never found the prospect of having sex with a bloke an attractive idea but then I don’t like Sushi or putting up Christmas decorations either. Live and let live has always been my mantra.

For this reason, I am anti-war and against violence. I’m absolutely not a pacifist, because I would fight to defend my family and my country if attacked, but rather I am against the idea of hurting anyone. I would rather sit down with the Taliban and watch “On Any Sunday” – the greatest film ever made – than fight them. Let’s talk about racing instead of killing each other. However, there are rare exceptions to my laid back attitude. Here’s a true story from last week.

Two ancient classic motorcycle racers try to be reasonable and caring within the community. England is a small, overcrowded country so finding somewhere to do static test runs on their newly re-built classic race machines is not easy.

Back in 2000 our British correspondant got the chance to race Daytona aboard a custom Suzuki T500 Production racer.
When you don’t have access to fancy race tracks, sometimes its necessary to go out of your way to find a place to do static test runs. Just hope there’s no idealistic hikers about…

They head for the loneliest spot in the north of England – out on to the deserted, estuary mud flats way into the Irish Sea.

The wind is howling with a full blown Atlantic gale and the rain is horizontal as they bump along the stone track to what was once a fisherman’s cottage but is now derelict. In the lee of the broken wall, the first classic racer starts his Suzuki 500 Twin – a bike equipped with tip silencers on the expansion chambers and therefore not noisy at all.

Out of the driving rain come a group of hikers. The boss hiker proceeds to berate the wrinkly racers condemning them for destroying the ozone layer by frivolously using fossil fuels; causing mayhem in the environment and terrifying the wildlife – all of which is in its burrows and nests watching TV and sheltering from the storm.

The hippy racers try to do all the nice, good, kind things and explain that the 10 gallons of fuel they use during the season isn’t such a major issue and the Suzuki is really not making an offensive noise and that both are environmentalists – which happens to be true – and so on.

It’s all to no avail, so the second wrinkly racer runs his Honda 4 on to the starting roller and his friend smiles the smile of the knowing. The starter spins and the four megaphones of the utterly unsilenced Honda scream out the war cry of the just.

Mid-Atlantic, sea captains cup hands to ears and smile – while bike racing CIA operatives beam in Langley because their spy satellites in space have just recorded the noise of a racing “4” on song.

The hikers cover their ears in horror and pull appalled faces – but not nearly so much as when the wrinkly racer says to his tormentor: “If you stick your head up your ass you won’t hear the noise – so now sod off!” And they did.

On very, very rare occasions violence, well verbal violence at least, is justified!