With technologies like IVR, it takes original thought to reach the next level. It’s why Steve Jobs had such an impact. But the same is true for most things, technical or otherwise—real advancements only come from original thought.
The Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP) season just concluded yesterday with the final race of the calendar in Valencia, Spain.
For those of you unfamiliar with MotoGP, it’s the pinnacle of road motorcycle racing—the guys on the Ducatis and Yamahas leaned way over with their knees touching the ground in every corner.
MotoGP riders, or ‘pilots’ as they’re called in Europe, ride the fastest race bikes on the planet. They routinely hit speeds of around 200 miles per hour in the straights. They’re incredibly talented, and also a little crazy.
In the documentary Faster, seven-time MotoGP overall champion Valentino Rossi (he’s Italian, in case you hadn’t guessed) had this to say about the 500cc MotoGP bikes—
“The 500 is another world. The bike is from another world…At the beginning when you try first the 500—Ah, fwak!”
In Faster, MotoGP journalist Julian Ryder said this of the racers—
“Anybody who could ride a 500cc GP motorcycle well enough to qualify on the Grand Prix grid is a hero. Anybody! Because these things are the most evil devices if you treat them wrong. And they will bite.”
Yeah, the racers are a little nuts all right. Listen to this…
A few years back, the bikes’ engines were beginning to outclass the tires they rode on—they went faster than the tires could handle. In the 1980s, a few of the riders came up with a new way to turn the bikes so they could run them faster.
Instead of turning with the front wheel or leaning the bike with both tires gripping the pavement, they started steering with the rear wheel spinning on the pavement. So basically drifting the rear wheel on the turns like the rally car drivers do on dirt.
Three-time MotoGP champion Wayne Rainey said it was better given the technology they were working with. The tires have subsequently improved, so riders don’t tend to drift as much these days. But at the time, the Yamaha YZR500 bike the American rode didn’t handle that great, and this was his solution.
“I could slide it where I wanted to. I was having so much fun,” he supposedly said.
Then came Australian Gary McCoy, the “Slide King.” He took drifting around corners to a whole new level. In fact, he applied oversteering to nearly every corner.
In videos, you can see McCoy come into corners with the bike countersteering (setting up a corner by steering in the opposite direction of the turn, then sliding around the correct way through the turn—exactly what rally car drivers do).
It seemed crazy and counterintuitive. Crazy because the bike was always sliding all over the place. Counterintuitive because it should have worn the tires faster.
With any motor sport, tires wear during the course of races. Conserving them is crucial. But what McCoy did actually wore the tires less. It was totally counterintuitive, but if he rode normally, the entire tire heated up, wearing it down. If he spun it, only the surface heated up, conserving the rest of the tire.
Weird, but there you have it. Whether it’s motorcycle racing, MP3 players or IVRs, evolution comes from original (and sometimes counterintuitive) thought.
Here’s McCoy in action (or, “Mac coy en accion” with name misspelled):