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The Hard Yards: Getting ready for MotoGP™ riding

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Dementor

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224391_Bradley-Smith-_-Pol-Espargaro-KTM

The Hard Yards: Getting ready for MotoGP™ riding

Red Bull KTM riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaró explain some of the demands and criteria for being in shape to cope with the rigors of MotoGPTM.

Accelerating and braking (often at more than 1.4G … fighter jet pilots can briefly withstand 8-9 when flying and maneuvering) are some of the toughest elements of throwing a 160 kg MotoGPTM bike around nineteen race tracks of the FIM World Championship. Red Bull KTM now have a full year of understanding the capabilities of the KTM RC16 and that goes for Bradley Smith (27 years old) and Pol Espargaró (26); experienced Grand Prix winners and title holders and now well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of the Austrian prototype.

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Bradley Smith (GBR, #38) & Pol Espargaró (ESP, #44) KTM RC16 Losail (QAT) 2018 © Marcin Kin

Catching a MotoGPTM star in the flesh often means seeing a small, lithe and athletic figure. The 24 riders on the grid all subject themselves to rigorous training and testing regimes to not only be light, flexible and energetic but also strong enough to hold a motorcycle that very few can handle … never mind push to the edge of physics.

Smith in particular likes to explore the scientific element of his preparation. After all, MotoGPTM athletes rarely get to gun their race bikes in anger save for the Grands Prix themselves and half a dozen tests through the year. It allows time for riders to hone their shape and skills in other ways, such as different bikes sports and training methods to optimize their personal metrics.

“I use Polar technology to measure heart rate, and then lactate as well because I feel that is a very crucial marker; it tells you biologically what is going on inside your body,” Smith reveals. “It tells you aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and you can also use Watt meters and you can be more specific with your intervals and your training zones. Most training sessions I know what is going on with my numbers but I test for new ones and work zones every six weeks.”

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Bradley Smith (GBR) KTM RC16 Losail (QAT) 2018 © Marcin Kin

Smith’s careful log and record of his physical state shed some light on the stress the body is under while racing in MotoGPTM. And it is difficult to simulate in any other way. “My highest heart rates have come on the MotoGPTM bike and I haven’t been able to replicate it in cycling or running, so that does show the level we are riding at,” he says. “Heart rate versus lactate is a little bit different and I think adrenaline plays a role as does heat dissipation with the leathers. Also a little bit with breathing because of the G-forces through bracing yourself on the bike.”

“Another thing is confidence,” he adds. “And flow and mental state. There are some days when you are not in a battle and you can be at 93% heart rate and you feel like you are dying and they are others when you’re in the flow and you’re hitting 103 and you feel like you have another step you can make. You can never quantify the mental side, and things like focus where you can be just a little bit off and things become ten times harder. So we just try to control the ‘controllables’ and work on the rest when out on the racetrack.”

When pushed for a form of exercise that comes closest to the drains of MotoGPTM Smith says a Concept2 rowing machine has its merits. “If I had to choose one then it would be Concept2 because that is the closest to what we are actually doing on the bike.”

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Bradley Smith (GBR) KTM RC16 Losail (QAT) 2018 © Marcin Kin

Pol Espargaró, much shorter than Smith, agrees but also advocates the correct use of weight training: “The rower works very well and is one of the best exercises for motorcycles because you are training all the right parts of your body. Aside from the bicycle I use this tool a lot. I do a lot of weights but low quantity and a lot of reps to keep the muscle as light but as strong as possible to stop it getting too big, heavy and avoiding things like arm-pump.”

“It is good to know your body and your heart rate as much as possible,” the Catalan says. “We use monitors and I have a trainer so we follow one line of work. It was a bit hard for me this pre-season because I didn’t have much time after the crash [in Sepang]; only one and a half weeks before going to Qatar. So I felt a bit weak for the first GP.”

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Pol Espargaró (ESP) KTM RC16 Losail (QAT) 2018 © Marcin Kin

Many Instagram images and stories will show the majority of MotoGPTM riders constantly on a bicycle or motorcycle of some sort. They keep active. But there is no generic plan or formula for peak bike fitness. Espargaró: “Every rider has a way of training and everyone feels different. It also depends on your weight and h. For example, compared to my brother Aleix, who is taller, I need to work on my muscles a lot more whereas he is on the bicycle to keep his weight low.”

Motocross professionals typically have a base training phase in the winter or early pre-season where much of the heavy cardio and fitness work is done. Do MotoGPTM riders have the same ploy or can they take advantage of a calendar that is spread from March to November and ultimately involves much less time in the saddle compared to the MX guys? “I train at more or less the same rate through the year,” Pol explains. “I always try to do some ‘moto’ on the weekend. I love Supermoto but it is hard in cold conditions. Otherwise, it is some enduro or something similar because it is very easy to get hurt with motocross. I try to do as much as I can.”

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KTM RC16 Losail (QAT) 2018 © Marcin Kin

Photos: Marcin Kin


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      Vialle family Pietramurata (ITA) 2019 © Ray Archer
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      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
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      Photos: Ray Archer | P. Haudiquert
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      John Eyre (GBR) & Adam Wheeler (GBR) © Rob Gray
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      KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      Once in the race paddock then the relationships John made, the work he performed and a particular character towards the job meant he was in a position to start moving: A role working for Paul Brown in Supersport led to a year with Steve Hislop in Superbike and then finally the opening to arrive to Grand Prix at the end of 2000. “Steve was really good and I really enjoyed working with him,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into Grand Prix and a friend was working at the Shell Advance Team and a job came up. I was thinking about it because I was 21 and it meant moving to Spain. That was 2001 and it was with Leon Haslam in the 500s.”
      As well as a mechanical mind, concentration and diligence seem to be two essential skills. Making a mistake in race bike prep can be perilous but Eyre is quite forthright about the mentality required. “A motorcycle is only nuts and bots: You just have to put it together properly. I always double check everything and was brought up to be extra sure. Then when you are in a team you bounce off each other in terms of the jobs: When that feels easy and second nature then you know you are in a good crew.”
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      At MotoGPTM level a stripped-down racing prototype looks like a complicated collection of exotic parts and tech. For Eyre and his peers it is all relative. “It is technical … but the bike still has two wheels, two handlebars, a seat! I have worked on a lot of bikes; 2-strokes and a lot of engine stripping. Nowadays you get an engine and you just place it in the chassis. Before you had to do all the maintenance yourself with the pistons, rings, cranks: That was almost a daily job. I miss working inside the engine: the gearbox, cylinders. We used to build everything but now it is just placement of the engine, there is even a specific guy just for the gearbox.”
      “When new stuff comes you have to have a little look and think about it … but generally if it is made right and properly then it should go together nicely,” he adds on the evolution of parts and ideas in MotoGPTM.
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre could be the best spannerman in the business but a crucial part of his job (and something anyone looking to reach his position should be aware of) is blending with his co-workers – around 5-6 in the immediate vicinity – and making the best team environment. “I think you have to be easy-going with everybody,” he says of the personality needed to spend so many days and hours on the road and in pitboxes. “You have to be open-minded and then you’ll warm to them and them to you. We have a new Crew Chief this year and he has been absolutely brilliant.”
      He spent more than ten years at HRC (as part of the unit around KTM’s new test rider Dani Pedrosa, “I’d worked with Mike [Leitner] for about nine years and I was looking for a different challenge”) and this was a big marker on his CV. It meant that his name and face was firmly entrenched in the MotoGPTM scene: Another boost to employment prospects. “It’s not easy,” he smiles of making contacts and the ‘networking’ element of breaking into the paddock. “I remember one guy telling me it was easier to get in the Arsenal football club first eleven than it was to get into our team in BSB!”
      Knowing the job, being good with people (thus building contacts) and having the disposition to handle a race situation: If a wannabe mechanic still believes they are suitable then the next step is persistence. “What you cannot beat is race experience,” Eyre stresses. “You can have all the qualifications under the sun but that experience counts for a lot. The group really matters as well. When you have a good group of lads then you tend to know what they want before they know themselves and vice-versa. There are a lot of shortcuts and it seems to click.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & co-workers © Rob Gray
      To achieve any goal takes sacrifice. Reaching MotoGPTM might be a promised land for many but, as with anything “you have to take the rough with the smooth,” Eyre says. Nineteen weekends of racing on five continents plus tests means a long haul of kilometers on the road and in the air, and many days away from home. Much of the work formerly done in workshops is also carried out in the pitboxes of the circuits.
      “The travelling is massive. There has to be a compromise now because if they keep putting more and more races then there won’t be an off-season. I remember when I first started Grands Prix then we didn’t begin racing until April and we’d have a test in Malaysia and Jerez and that was it. Now we start the day after the last race of the year! Testing is hard work compared to racing. The travelling can be a burden but if you want to be in the world championship then you have to deal with it. I enjoy the job when I’m here.”
      Above all – and like the riders themselves and anybody else striving for results at elite level sport – Eyre says commitment and determination is what will help you make it in the end. “If you are into it then just keep trying and don’t give up,” he insists. “You have to have a passion for it. I remember being at school and saying that I wanted to go grand prix racing. Half of the teachers said ‘you won’t do anything like that’ but if you keep your head down and carry on …”
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Photos: Rob Gray 
    • De Dementor
      Switchcraft: Ride modes for your mood
      Posted in Bikes, Riding KTM BLOG discovers more about the host of electronic rider aids on the new KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R, including the new riding modes easily operated by the push of a button.
      KTM 690 SMC R & KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      A psycho supermoto and a long-distance enduro that are both high performance, big capacity single cylinders that are hardcore and street legal. These distinctive attributes aren’t commonplace in the motorcycle market and require a certain character who wants one. And these are the characters KTM likes building bikes for.
      Creating such unique machines around the various regulations placed on manufacturers isn’t easy. But for the new KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R, both bikes didn’t just get updated for compliance but had a whole host of new features developed for them.
      A whole host of electronic systems come fitted straight out of the box – ABS with cornering sensitivity, lean-angle sensitive traction control, Quickshifter+ and two different ride modes that can be easily selected from a new bar-mounted switch. The previous versions of these models had ABS and just a switch under the seat to choose from three selectable engine maps (comfort, street, sport) and an additional “bad fuel” map; nice to have the options, but not very practical on the fly …
      ABS has been mandatory (and rightly so) on new motorcycles from 125cc and above in Europe since 2016 but KTM took the opportunity to also fit the cornering ABS function to these bikes – it allows the rider to commit to their line mid-turn and apply full braking power should the unexpected happen. Not a system to rely on at every corner but incredibly comforting to know it’s there. With a KTM PowerParts dongle, Supermoto and Offroad ABS functions are also available, allowing the rear wheel to be blocked and removing the anti-roll function. The ABS can also be completely turned off, if you’re that way inclined …
      The Quickshifter+ is purely performance orientated and makes a big difference to riding comfortable, saving time, mental effort and, of course, energy in everything from flat-out missions to gentle commutes. So, what about traction control? Is it really necessary on a single?
      KTM LC4 MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      Power wise, these bikes take advantage of the increased performance from the latest generation LC4 and, at 74hp, are the most powerful production single cylinder bikes. Very healthy indeed, but not MotoGPTM or KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R leagues. The 690s do, however, make a big punch of torque – 73.5 Nm. This is around 10 Nm less than a modern 1000cc sportsbike in a package that weighs at least a quarter less. Epic fun in the right conditions, but think about that on patchy tarmac or deep mud …
      “The KTM approach to fitting electronic systems has always been the same – to add to the riding performance of the bike and increase safety without diluting the experience,” said KTM Product Manager, Adriaan Sinke, to the world’s media in Portugal at the launch of the two bikes in February. “The ride modes are there to allow riders to get the most from the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R in all situations and conditions.”
      Indeed. The Mattighofen massive decided to implement motorcycle traction control (MTC) with cornering sensitivity to the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R. And as part of its two selectable ride modes operated by a new switch cube on the left bar, the amount of traction, anti-wheelie and the throttle response can be quickly altered to suit the riders’ ambition, ability and conditions.
      The layout of the switch is simple and is formed for easy application with gloves on the move. The ‘map’ button at the bottom allows the selection of the two ride modes, which are illuminated when active – white for ‘1’ and green for ‘2’. The map mode can be pressed at any time and after that gives the rider five seconds to close the throttle in order for the desired mode to be activated. The five seconds and chopped throttle is to cover for accidental selection.
      At the top is a ‘TC’ button and also an orange TC-LED, that flashes when the system is detecting and reacting to a slide and, when held down for 5 seconds, deactivates the traction control altogether and remains illuminated.
      Switch cube KTM LC4 MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      So, what are the modes?
      KTM 690 SMC R
      Mode 1: “Street mode” – Sporty throttle response with cornering sensitive MTC, limiting wheel slip and wheelies to a minimum for optimal street riding performance.
      Mode 2: “Sport mode” – More aggressive throttle response, cornering sensitivity remains but with reduced traction control to allow drifts and full control of the slide, aimed at track or very sporty street usage.
      KTM 690 ENDURO R
      Mode 1: “Street mode” – Sporty throttle response with cornering sensitive MTC, limiting wheel slip and wheelies to a minimum for optimal street riding performance.
      Mode 2: “Offroad mode” – More aggressive throttle response with offroad traction control, allowing wheel slip and lifting of the front wheel for offroad usage without hindering the performance.
      KTM 690 SMC R & KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      To give you an idea of the level of effort and development put into the new ride modes, this little controller is the first CAN bus related switch for a KTM and represents almost two years of work and the integration of much personnel from the KTM R&D team responsible for these new bikes. We grabbed a quick word with two of those people responsible.
      Thomas Nussbaumer, KTM R&D Team Leader Electronic Sensors/Actuators: “When we started with these new 690s, the questions we asked ourselves was how many modes are necessary. And what options do we have for changing these modes while riding. The challenge was to find an agreement between the modes, implement this in the switch cube and for the rider to be able to change between the modes without much thought. To keep it simple as possible.”
      “It’s the first time a KTM mode switch is communicating via CAN bus with the engine management control unit and ABS control unit. It’s getting data from the wheel speed sensors, lean angle (5D/6D sensor) sensor and the engine management is getting data from the ride by wire – such as requested torque – then we get the data from which map is requested. On the old versions of these bikes you couldn’t do that while riding. But with this switch we’ve been able to build up the architecture to do this when riding – even with anti-wheelie functions.”
      Daniel Esterbauer, KTM R&D Electronic Sensors/Actuators, continues: “The two ride modes we have are perfect. Take the SMC R for example, we had to focus on two different rider levels: Road riders with less track experience or aspirations and then professional riders who spend a lot of time on circuit. So, we had to find a way to get both parties satisfied and here is where Street and Sport modes deliver excitement, confidence and safety, with their unique response and TC interference.”
      “We wanted to avoid a situation where a professional rider sits on the bike and the first thing they do is deactivate the TC. The system has to perform better than OK for even the best riders – making them feel like they are not being held back. But the modes can also be used to suit the terrain and weather conditions.”
      But what are the modes like in reality? Tom Booth-Amos is a Moto3 rider for the CIP Green Power KTM Team and a former two-time British Supermoto champion. He was invited to the launch and was able to test the ride modes on a very wet Kartódromo Internacional do Algarve circuit. Check out this onboard 360-degree video to see what the conditions and fun level was like.
      “I’d never ridden using traction control before the KTM 690 SMC R but I have to say the system was incredible,” said Tom. “We were on street tires in the rain and I could see the light on the switch cube blinking to tell me the TC was working, but the system was smooth in the way it intervened. Without it, I would have just been stood at the side of the track with a sad face on and not riding, but instead – and with the Supermoto ABS on – I could push the bike hard in the conditions and still slide around.”
      Tom Booth-Amos (GBR) KTM 690 SMC R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      As for the KTM 690 ENDURO R, at the same event a very experienced, fast enduro racer and KTM employee (ED – who shall remain nameless) rode for a whole day mapping out the offroad course for the media on mud and sand, thinking he’d deactivated the traction control when he actually hadn’t. On being told this, he was amazed by the traction he’d been getting all day without ever noticing the system working. How is that for impressive? He was embarrassed …
      KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      So, do riders of these bikes need these features? Well, motorcycling has been around for a long time without them. But if ride modes coupled with a brain that thinks and acts within milliseconds means you get the most from the machine whatever the conditions while having fun and be safer, isn’t it time to make a switch?
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      Discover more about the many features on both the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R at www.ktm.com and at the nearest KTM dealer.
      Photos: Sebas Romero
      Video: Fabbegghy Studio
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