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Why Don’t MotoGP Bikes Have Starters? (Explained)

MotoGP bikes are some of the most advanced motorcycles on the planet. From their seamless shift gearboxes to their super powerful engines, they are some truly incredible feats of engineering. But you may be wondering if MotoGP bikes have starters.

MotoGP bikes don’t have starters in order to save weight, which is important in any racing series. Saving even just a few pounds of weight can help a racing bike accelerate faster. Plus, MotoGP bikes only need to be started once, before the race, using a paddock starter.

This is very different to your conventional motorcycle, which will normally feature an electric starter. Below, we go into more detail about why MotoGP bikes don’t have starters and how they’re started before the race, along with a more detailed discussion of why weight is so important.

Why Don’t MotoGP Bikes Use Starters?

MotoGP bikes don’t have starters primarily to save weight, but also because they don’t need one. Like most race cars and bikes, MotoGP bikes are designed to be started once at the beginning of a session, before running non-stop until the end. In an ideal situation, the rider won’t stop from the moment they leave the grid until they get back to the pits at the end of the race.

This means the rider should never end up in a situation where they would need to use a starter outside of getting the bike going when they’re in the garage. If they crash or go off the track and the bike’s engine cuts out, they’re unlikely to get it going again or need to if the crash was severe (i.e. the bike is too damaged to continue racing).

Saving Weight 

However, along with the fact they just don’t need starters, MotoGP bikes are also designed to be as lightweight as possible. While a motorcycle starter might not weigh all that much, and you can imagine one designed for a multi-million-dollar bike would be made as light as possible, there’s no need to add extra weight to the bike if it’s not going to be used.

MotoGP bikes use lightweight but tough materials like carbon fiber for their construction, and this is all done to save as much weight as possible without losing structural integrity or performance. This is expensive, and cutting costs where possible is also important for teams. Adding a starter would increase the already huge costs of building a MotoGP bike. 

Along with the financial cost would be the research and development cost of producing a lightweight starter that would fit inside an already tight and complex structure. If a team can reduce complexity in the bike while not losing any performance, they’ll do it

Adapting The Bike

While the weight and form factor of a starter may seem insignificant for a 157 kg bike with 290 horsepower, it all adds up. Along with the starter itself, the bike would also need to be adapted, from the clutch mechanism to the battery, and a lot of these adaptations would add unnecessary weight and complexity

The batteries used in MotoGP are not like your average motorcycle battery, and they run on something called a total loss system. This basically means they’re only used to power the ECU and any other critical systems, and by the end of the race they’re usually pretty much drained.

They can then be removed and recharged, and this keeps them small, lightweight, and simple. These batteries likely wouldn’t be powerful enough to get a starter working, and so they’d likely need to be heavily redesigned, and this would add even more weight. For these reasons, MotoGP bikes are started using a fairly unique method. 

How Do MotoGP Bikes Start?

MotoGP bikes start using something called a paddock starter, found in the team garages. The bike’s rear wheel sits between two rollers that spin the wheel with the clutch disengaged. The bike is then put into gear, the clutch is reengaged, and the engine is started.

These paddock starters come in various forms, and some will utilize belts to give the tire more traction, but they operate in primarily the same way. These devices can usually be bought for a few thousand dollars, depending on the manufacturer. 

Other Options

Some teams may opt for a different starter machine that connects to the bike’s engine from the side instead of using a paddock starter. This could be seen on some Ducati bikes in recent years, but the rolling paddock starter tends to be the more popular choice. 

MotoGP bikes can also be push started, much like you could push start your own motorcycle. This is the only way a rider can get their bike started when they’re out on track if their engine cuts out, or if they crash. If you see a rider do this, you’ll also often see them bounce on the bike to get it going.

KEY POINTS

• MotoGP bikes don’t have starters because they don’t need them

• Adding a starter would add unnecessary weight and cost

• MotoGP bikes are usually started using a paddock starter

Why Do MotoGP Riders Bounce On The Bike To Start It?

MotoGP riders bounce on the bike to start it, usually if their engine cuts out when they’re on track or after a crash, to increase traction at the rear wheel when they drop the clutch. This helps avoid the back wheel skidding, and makes it easier for them to (hopefully) get the bike started again.

When the rider bounces on the rear of the bike, they load the rear tire with weight, which pushes it into the ground. This gives the rear tire traction, so that when the engine tries to fire it doesn’t just lock the wheel. This is common on race bikes such as those used in MotoGP because they have high compression ratios, making a rear lock more likely. 


Why Weight Is So Important In MotoGP

There is a famous saying motorsports, attributed to Colin Chapman of Lotus fame, that goes something like, “Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” Essentially, you can go fast in a straight line with pure power alone, but cutting weight is the only way you’ll be faster across a lap.

This applies to every motorsport, from Formula 1 to endurance racing, and of course to MotoGP as well. The bikes have a 157 kg minimum weight limit to which the teams must adhere in order to race, and so you’ll find they all stick as close to this limit as they possibly can. Why? To go faster of course!

Increased Load

With increased weight comes increased load on the engine. While the bikes can have up to 290 horsepower to play with, they can only make good use of this if the bike is reasonably lightweight. This gives it a high power to weight ratio, something all motorsport teams seek to attain.

The more power the bike has compared to its weight, the easier it is for the engine to move that weight. The easier it is for the engine to move the weight of the bike, the faster the rider can accelerate. But adding weight may also affect the bike’s top speed if by adding that weight you also add aerodynamic drag. 

Increasing The Size

When you increase the weight of a motorcycle, such as by adding a starter motor, you often have to account for this by adding bulk to the bike as well. Perhaps you need to make the body of the bike a little wider to accommodate the device. This works against the bike in a different way to just increasing the load the engine has to move.

Making the bike physically larger, even by just a tiny amount, can greatly impact the speed the bike can attain. This is a result of the drag forces the bike experiences as it pushes against the air in front of it. Drag is directly proportional to surface area, which means if you double the surface area, you double the drag.

Small Differences Add Up

Obviously adding a starter to a MotoGP bike isn’t going to double the surface area of the motorcycle, but incremental increases in the bike’s overall size add up to more drag and a slower bike. This is why MotoGP riders tend to be short, as while being short often means you’re lighter than a taller person, it also means there’s less of you to cause unwanted drag on the bike. 

A heavier bike is also less easy to maneuver, which is key when you’re traveling around corners at lean angles of up to 60 degrees or more. So, keeping the weight down boosts the bike’s performance in several important ways.

KEY POINTS

• Keeping weight down is key in all motorsports

• This is because heavier bikes don’t accelerate as quickly as light ones

• Heavier bikes are also less nimble than lighter ones

Final Thoughts

MotoGP bikes don’t have starters because they are designed to be as lightweight as possible, and adding a starter would also add unnecessary weight. MotoGP bikes only need to be started once before a session, and so adding one would simply slow the bike down for no gain.