Friday, April 15, 2011

Sympathy for the devil

I can't believe that I'm siding with Danny Pedrosa on anything, but I think the proposed combined-bike-and-rider weight minimum in MotoGP is a bad idea, for a number of reasons.

It's going to be hard to administer. Will the minimum weight be checked post-race, for both bike and rider? You'll see riders sucking back Monster Big Gulps on the way to tech in hopes of getting back up to weight. Or will riders have some official weigh-in at some prescribed point in the season or race weekend? That's going to open up a whole stupid new area for gamesmanship.

The goal of the proposed rule is presumably to cut the advantage of very small/light riders. The thought is that their teams will have to ballast their bikes to level the playing field. But it won't work as well as people hope. Soon after the rule's put into play, you'll hear heavier riders complain that smaller riders' team have too much freedom locating ballast, and thus they're gaining an advantage in locating their c.g. And teams with light riders will still save money, since the marginal cost of shaving a kilo of weight from a MotoGP bike is, I'm sure, about $20,000.

Although it's true that bigger riders are harder on brakes and tires, and are a drag, aerodynamically - and thus presumably burn more fuel, anyone who's ridden a motorcycle at the limit (or even at his/her own limits) knows that it's tiring work. At comparable fitness levels, a bigger rider has some compensatory advantages in strength and in his ability to position his weight where it improves cornering or acceleration.
Although larger riders gripe about Pedrosa's fuel mileage, Dani argues that his small size can sometimes be a disadvantage. Here, for example, he struggles to keep the Honda down.
 I admit there are limits to this, which is why it's very rare to see a top-level motorcycle racer built like a linebacker, and lots of people have, um, weighed in on this debate by saying "It's really about the 21-liter fuel capacity rule; we heavier guys have to lean our engines out too much." Maybe they have a point, but I like the fuel capacity rule. It's a useful fig leaf when our sport comes under the eye of environmentalists.

I could go on about this, but I have to get on my bike... I'm going to try to ride my corroded Triumph Bonneville to Du Quoin for the next AMA flat track event. If I make it that far, you'll read about it here. So I'll just close with my final argument, which is simple and has really nothing to do with the technical implications of the proposed rule. It's simply this: there are only a handful of sports in which size isn't an advantage. An athlete of Dani Pedrosa's size has no chance of reaching the top level in any team sport, or athletics, swimming, rowing, or even tennis. Sure there are weight-class sports like weightlifting, wrestling, and boxing but there's not a world champion in those sports, is there? There's a about sixty of them and most are completely anonymous.

MotoGP, and motorcycle racing generally, is one of the only places where little guys (or for that matter girls) get to compete with everyone else on an approximately level playing field. The people who want to impose the combined bike-rider weight rule are arguing that that field slopes ever-so-slightly down when little guys like Pedrosa are competing. Since every other field he could possibly play on slopes up at about a 45-degree angle, I say let him have it.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose you could be accused of being biased in favor of the little guy due to your own svelte frame. But that would be hugely under-valuing your quite massive, er, opinion.