When watching MotoGP, you may notice the peculiar height difference of the riders compared to the average person. There’s a specific reason for this, as it isn’t just a coincidence, and so it’s worth learning why MotoGP riders are so short.
MotoGP riders are so short because a smaller body offers less resistance to aerodynamic drag. Any form of friction prevents the motorcycle from going faster and affects lap times. Over the course of 20 MotoGP laps, this adds up to a substantial disadvantage, making shorter riders preferable.
Below, we go into detail on the reasons why these riders are so short and discuss how height and weight specifically factor into MotoGP. We’ll also discuss just how much of an advantage being short provided in MotoGP.
Why Are MotoGP Riders Short?
MotoGP riders are short because shorter statures usually allow for less drag when riding. Being short usually means that body weight is lower and body width is smaller as well. The average MotoGP rider is 5′ 8″ (1.72 m) tall and weighs 143 lbs (64.8 kg).
Every MotoGP bike is allotted a maximum of 22 liters (5.81 gallons) of fuel for the race. The worst thing that can happen to a rider is to run out of fuel near the end of the race.
Using Less Fuel
This has happened quite a few times, such that a bike ran out of fuel on the last or second-last lap, denying the rider a chance at the podium. Riders that weigh less use up less fuel, which means better fuel efficiency, and the bike can be filled with less fuel, further reducing weight.
A shorter rider tends to be less wide too, which is a natural advantage as drag is going to be less. You may have noticed that MotoGP riders hunch on their bikes so as to present the minimum possible area to the air in front of them. Being shorter means there is less surface area hitting the air in front, meaning less drag.
Do Short MotoGP Riders Have An Advantage?
Short MotoGP riders do have an advantage (albeit small) over taller and heavier riders. There are no minimum weight limits in place to prevent lighter riders from having an advantage over those who are heavier, as MotoGP’s 157 kg weight limit only accounts for the weight of the bike itself.
There is absolutely no doubt that engines of low capacity benefit from having lightweight riders. In the small engine, 125cc class, there is currently a minimum weight limit to prevent light riders from having an unfair advantage over the heavier competitors. Whether this is an issue for the larger engine classes has been debated at length without any satisfactory resolution.
The Advantages Of Being Smaller
Logically, a rider of lower weight and height has a double advantage, accounting for lower drag and less tire friction. Recently, there have been calls for changes in the rules for larger engine classes, asking for minimum rider weight and motorcycle weight. The current rules for MotoGP specify a minimum bike weight of 157 kg (346 lbs).
In Moto2 and Moto3, the rules specify that the combined minimum weight for both bike and rider are 217 kg (478 lbs) and 152 kg (335 lbs) respectively. The Moto2 engines are 765 cc and can output power of 112 bhp and greater, so theoretically, the rider weight shouldn’t be an issue. The combined minimum weight rule is calculated on the rider in his riding suit with a helmet.
If the combined weight of the bike and rider is below the minimum weight permitted for that class, then ballast is added to the bike to increase its weight up to the required minimum. This proves to be an unexpected advantage, as the ballast can be added in a way such that the center of gravity of the motorcycle is optimized.
Why Are Height And Weight So Important In MotoGP?
Height and weight are important in MotoGP because they are two things that slow down speed by increasing air resistance and also increasing the load that the motorcycle has to carry for the duration of the race. However, rider height and weight may be less important than many think.
MotoGP Champions By Height & Weight
|Total Race Wins
|1.81m / 5’11”
|69kg / 152lbs
|1.77m / 5’10”
|66kg / 146lbs
|1.75m / 5’9″
|60kg / 132lbs
|1.73m / 5’8″
|69kg / 152lbs
|1.71m / 5’7″
|66kg / 146lbs
|1.71m / 5’7″
|58kg / 128lbs
|1.69m / 5’7″
|65kg / 143lbs
The table above shows the heights and weights of the unique MotoGP champions since the championship became MotoGP in 2002. Clearly, there is quite a spread in terms of the heights and weights of the riders, but it’s worth noting that the most race wins go to the tallest of the bunch, Rossi, while the driver with the second most wins is Marquez, who is the shortest champion of the last 20 years.
KEY FACT: Being short and light doesn’t necessarily make you more likely to win in MotoGP
Short MotoGP riders do enjoy a few advantages that taller riders do not. A shorter rider is more likely to weigh less and has a smaller body which reduces drag. But the statistics of winners in the higher engine classes show that the number of wins is equally distributed between lightweight riders and their heavier competitors, so is there much of an advantage?
Aerodynamic Drag: How It Impedes Speed
Drag is a force that works against a body in motion to bring it to a halt. Drag is directly proportional to the area of the body and the speed it is moving at. This is where it gets difficult to understand because drag increases much faster than speed, meaning that an object moving at 1x speed will encounter 1y drag, but the same object moving at 2x speed encounters 4y drag.
In simple English, as the speed doubles, the drag quadruples. That one sentence should be enough to convince you of the huge advantage that short riders have. A motorcycle has two forces to overcome to increase speed – drag and friction. The motorcycle tire to road friction determines acceleration and speed. A general rule of thumb is that as friction increases, speed decreases.
As you have just seen, the amount of drag working against the motorcycle reduces its speed. Another force that reduces speed is the friction between the tire and the road, which is increased by weight. As friction decreases, velocity increases, so it is important to minimize it. Next, we look at how weight makes a difference.
Just How Important Is Weight?
Weight is one of the factors that can make a big difference in motorcycle racing because it increases the load that the motorcycle engine has to overcome to maintain high speed. Many people think that the life of a MotoGP rider is filled with money and glamour. The reality is that many riders live constantly denying themselves of many activities that a normal person enjoys.
Every single day they have to watch what they eat and drink and are under a lot of pressure to keep their weight constant. On the morning of the race day, if the rider finds that he weighs a few extra pounds, it can upset all the calculations of speed that the technical crew has made. Extra weight leads to loss of speed which equals lower lap timing and eventually losing the race.
In an environment where a few hundredths of a second can make a difference, as in lap timing, every little bit of weight that can be reduced counts. It is worth noting that MotoGP riders share a lot of common ground with horse jockeys who face the same weight and size problems as they do. In riding style as well, both types of riders hunch over their bikes or horses to minimize drag.
Weight vs Lap Times
So far, we have established that lightweight MotoGP riders have a clear advantage in the smaller engine classes, which is accounted for with the minimum weight rule. The smaller motorcycles also weigh less. In the case of bikes with large engine capacities, what happens to lap times when the weight increases, and is there a formula to calculate it?
Many years ago, Michelin published a study where they found that for every weight increase of 22 lbs (10 kg), the lap time increased by 0.3 seconds, or 300 milliseconds. Extrapolating those numbers means that a 4.4 lb/2 kg increase in weight equals a 60-millisecond increase per lap. Now multiply this by the roughly 20 laps of a MotoGP race, and the overall race time just increased by 1.2 seconds.
KEY POINTS• Height and weight appear to matter more in the lower engine classes of motorcycle racing
• They’re still important in MotoGP, but being shorter doesn’t guarantee success
• Valentino Rossi, the rider with the most MotoGP wins, was also one of the tallest
• Being shorter and lighter does reduce drag and friction slightly, so is still preferable
MotoGP riders are short because shorter riders can hold slight advantages over riders who are taller. This is due to the decreased aerodynamic drag they experience, alongside the lessened load placed upon the motorcycle. However, the effects are usually small for small height differences.
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