MXGP: TOO FAST, TOO FURIOUS?
Are the 450cc factory bikes of MXGP and the premier class of the FIM Motocross World Championship becoming too fast? We decided to ask…
@ Ray Archer
The stark realism that motocross is brutal and unforgiving is never far away. It took only ten months for Red Bull KTM to feel the extremes of the sport. In September 2018 Jeffrey Herlings had defeated nine times World Champion Tony Cairoli for the MXGP title after the pair had claimed all-but-one of the twenty Grands Prix. Fast-forward to June 2019 and both the Dutchman and the Sicilian are sidelined with long-term injuries and the works squad has to negotiate more than half a season without their prolific winners.
2019 has been a hard-hitting year for MXGP. At least three of the five factory teams in this dynamic and exciting motorsport have had their FIM World Championship dreams smashed because of surgical procedures.
The state of the injury list (an issue that has also afflicted AMA Supercross consistently over the years) and the knowledge that the average speed of MXGP crept up to a vivid 62 kph at Orlyonok for the Grand Prix of Russia (another half a dozen venues touch almost 60 when mid-low 50s is the norm) has reignited the old debate that the 450cc motorcycles used in the premier division are simply too strong and too fast.
@ Ray Archer
As with most sensitive and speculative discussions involving competitive sport there is no clear-cut answer. Motorcycling technology has undoubtedly advanced since the four-strokes became commonplace from the middle of the last decade but so have the ability and technical level of the riders. The standard of track preparation prompts endless commentary despite notable efforts to slow circuits through tighter turns, jumps and obstacles. Other paddock insiders also feel that factors such as the quality of suspension is another contributor that permits relentless all-out attack of the various terrain in MXGP that will eventually carry consequences among the twenty Grands Prix, forty motos and sixty races (counting the Qualification Heats).
KTM famously won their first MXGP crown with an innovative KTM 350 SX-F raced by Cairoli from 2010-2014. The motorcycle was created in response to the explosive and unwieldy generation of 450s, but it was soon rendered obsolete as a machine like the KTM 450 SX-F became far more compact and manageable and extremely close to the physics of the younger brother – the KTM 250 SX-F – but with more performance. Cairoli believes that the latest version of the 250 (raced by protégé Jorge Prado) is almost as strong as his old 350.
In an effort to gain a clearer picture we picked up some opinions from Tony (who gathered his nine titles from 2005-2017 on 250, 350 and 450cc machinery), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing MX2 Team Manager and Technical Co-ordinator Dirk Gruebel as well as WP Suspension Racing Service Manager Wilfred Van Mil. Are the bikes really too fast? And if so, what can be done about it?
Tony Cairoli @ Ray Archer
The state of play
Tony Cairoli: “Sometimes when you ride in MXGP you don’t feel out of control or too fast but when you see the races from the outside then you see the bike is very strong. You cannot make mistakes and you have to react very quickly to stuff…and that is not always the case.”
Dirk Gruebel: “I think the average speed is too high. We have to see how we get that down because you cannot hold back development of the bikes: frames have developed, suspension has developed and overall the bikes are capable of higher speed but how can you restrict it? You cannot do it if you have a 450, 250, 300… Jorge Prado is the fastest rider at a grand prix many times and that’s on a 250. The team’s job is to make the bike ‘faster’. There is no universal solution at the moment.”
Wilfred Van Mil: “Riders learn from each other. A really talented guy like Tony or Jeffrey comes along and it means all the others are looking at them and their style. If you look generally at riding styles now compared to fifteen years ago then it is very different. All the youngsters look up to the big names and try to copy.”
Dirk Gruebel: “We could pack much more speed into the 450 than the riders actually use. It is not the end of the line. If they want five horsepower more then we can give it. It’s just not necessary. A 250 is around ten horsepower less but it still goes the same speed on the track, so it is not about horsepower but how riders handle it and make the most out of it. The weight difference between our bikes from a 450 to a 250 is two kilos, that’s it. Not a hell of a difference.”
Dirk Gruebel @ Ray Archer
Tony Cairoli: “Suspension has made such a big step compared to a few years ago and it is so easy to ride the bike. I can see it in the amateur races I follow when I am in Rome or Sicily: everybody goes so fast and maybe they ride twice a month! They have a lot of power but the suspension now allows you to do crazy stuff.”
Dirk Gruebel: “There has been a lot of development suspension-wise because riders are not afraid of a jump now: they just hit them because they know the equipment will absorb it and won’t throw them off. I had a discussion with Joel [Smets] about the downhill double jump at the bottom of the hill at Loket [Grand Prix of Czech Republic] and he said in the past you’d come out of the turn, gas-it a bit but choose your line, close the throttle and then gas it on the take-off just to clear it. Now the kids don’t shut-off. The speed is down to riding technique, suspension and better preparation.”
Wilfred Van Mil: “I think development with suspension is always improving. It is not huge steps but there are always small things, and combined with frames and handling characteristics, then it all fits together. We make the riders as comfortable as possible on the bike and if that happens then they go quicker. Every year we make a small step. It is the whole team’s job to make the rider go faster. They are many people working on that.”
Dirk Gruebel: “It is all about rideability. You always want to improve the lap-time. We have our reference tracks where we test in the winter and if you bring along an improvement that allows you to shave off a second or half-a-second then you have done a good job. We’re not stopping that! Everyone is doing the same, that’s our job. You have to get the power to the ground but it also needs to be a smooth delivery so the riders can easily open and don’t be hesitant on the gas or need to pay too much attention to it. The more they can concentrate on the riding and less on the bike then the faster they can go.”
Jeffrey Herlings @ Ray Archer
Tony Cairoli: “I don’t think it is a bad idea to reduce the power of the bikes because the 450s are on a level [that is very high] especially for our tracks in Europe that are very tiny – except for Russia which is very fast – narrow and not so many lines. They dry quickly and there is a lot of hard-pack. The 250 class is very good at the moment for the world championship because the power is so strong that is almost compares to my old 350. So to reduce the power in the MXGP class is not a bad idea and would mean fewer injuries.”
Wilfred Van Mil: “Sooner or later they will downgrade the CCs. I think if development continues like this then inside ten years we’ll have a 250 that is stronger than a 450 at the moment. You cannot get a sixteen year old on a bike like that: it will kill the sport.”
Tony Cairoli: “A 450 is a strong bike lately. I think reducing the power a bit would be a good idea.”
Dirk Gruebel: “I don’t think capacity change will solve it. If they [FIM] told us next year that MXGP was down to a 300cc limit then we’d still do our best to be the fastest out there and I think it would end up being as fast as a 450 at the moment.”
Wilfred Van Mil: “For suspension development it is engineering and new techniques, small details like different pistons, shapes, overlaps and in the end it becomes a big thing. You cannot solve everything with just suspension; it has to match the frame and the engine behaviour. We do many tests where a change to the engine character has produced a change on the suspension as well. The 250 at the moment has the same amount of horsepower as a 450 from 2004.”
Dirk Gruebel: “I don’t think you cannot solve the speed issue just by the bike. We need to get average speed down and that somehow has to happen with track design. Jeffrey mentioned at one point in the U.S. you cannot go flat-out on a Sunday like in the GPs because the track has not been touched and the lines are too deep: if you hit them flat-out then you are gone. The riders know it and respect it because they get their warnings. [More] jumps don’t help because the riders hit them full-gas. We should look into corners [layout] or laden turns where it is not possible to go that fast. It needs to be tested.”
@ Ray Archer
Tony Cairoli: “The dirt is the main thing. It must be good and make a lot of bumps. That would slow the speed and also produce line choice. At the moment, if you ride somewhere like Russia or Czech Republic you really need to be aggressive to pass and being so fast [leaves less room for error].”
Wilfred Van Mil: “From hard-pack to sand there are no big setting changes; it is more a balance thing and a couple of clicks but most of the time not even that. We do a lot of testing – that’s our big job in the winter – and we end up with one base setting that works more or less on all the GP tracks. We then just play a little with the fork line and the free sag and small details each weekend. It’s another reason why the rider becomes faster because he has the same bike every week. In the past they’d had vast setting changes from one track to the other track and the rider would have to get used to the bike again and have a feeling for it. These days the base set-up is so much better and they get more and more confident.”
Tony Cairoli: “If you had a wider track with more lines and more bumps then you’d have safer riding because you’d slow down as it gets more physical. People will get tired, and you can make a difference over who is training and who is training hard. When the tracks are as flat as they are now then you don’t see the difference, as you used to before.”
Images: Ray Archer/KTM
BACKCOUNTRY DISCOVERY ROUTES: KTM BACKED US ADVENTURES ACCESSIBLE TO MORE RIDERS
Backcountry Discovery Routes® is a KTM North America supported organization that has been opening up the American wilderness to US adventure riders for nearly a decade. With a new portal coming soon, BDR are working to bring easy access to European riders too…
@ Ely Woody
Adventure riders are always looking for new challenges, new frontiers. For some years the focus has been on heading east, riding the old Silk Route to venture into the Far East or across the vast Eurasian continent to the wilds of Siberia. But after nearly a decade of development, the Backcountry Discovery Routes in the USA are elevating the ‘New World’ to the status of THE adventure motorcycling destination. And with a new initiative to make access to these routes easier than ever for European riders there’s never been a better time to discover the magnificent US backcountry.
While the US is one the world’s most developed countries, its immense size (9.9 million sq.km) has meant its highly urbanized population has left vast regions as virtual wilderness, albeit with a network of tracks – many made by pioneers, gold miners and the like – perfect for adventure motorcycling. Since 2010, Backcountry Discovery Routes®, a non-profit organization created by a group of adventure motorcycling enthusiasts (many with industry connections), has been scouting and plotting adventure routes across the US. The first was Washington, the latest – the ninth – Southern California, and there are two more in development, with many more to follow.
Each route comprises approximately a week’s ride, typically 800 – 2,000 km – ideal for the adventure rider with a career, family and limited holiday time – much of it off-road and always through that state’s most spectacular scenery. The routes are a free resource, each comes as a freely downloadable GPS track, but the BDR organization also support each route with plenty of online information, with recommendations on sights to see, places to eat and stay, as well as general advice and a series of stunning custom-made paper maps – all of which make planning a BDR ride very much easier.
@ Ely Woody
KTM R&D Street Test Coordinator Quinn Cody is a long-time supporter of BDR: “I’ve been involved with the BDRs since 2014 when Paul Guillien (BDR’s co-founder) invited me to a fundraiser and I learned all about it. I became passionate about it, principally because it makes adventure riding accessible to everyone.”
The organization is now adding to this resource a European BDR portal that will offer all the key BDR information in five languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian and English). European riders will naturally have specific concerns, from bike hire to insurance, guiding, group arrangements etc. and these will all be answered through this new portal.
Paul Guillien, co-founder BDR: “With nine existing routes, the BDR experience has become a staple of ADV riding in the US. In recent years, the BDR organization has seen an increasing number of riders coming from Europe, Asia and South America to enjoy the expansive riding areas in America. In support of this trend, the BDR organization has created a new program to make it easier for people to fly to the US and ride a Backcountry Discovery Route.”
@ Ely Woody
“I’ve raced all over Southern California yet when I rode the new BDR route there I experienced the locations and the deserts in a completely different way,” adds Quinn Cody. “Riding through it on a motorcycle with your camping equipment, you simply spend more time in the environment, you stop earlier to set up camp, cook your dinner, in the morning you’re making coffee, breakfast and all the time you’re in the environment – the desert – not a motel room. And you’ll see the different colors of the day, feel the change in the temperatures, you could call it immersive.”
KTM North America has been a long-time supporter of the BDR project. These routes are about responsible motorcycle travel, on sustainable routes, and as well as offering joy to riders they are bringing economic relief to less-advantaged rural communities, many of whom have been left behind by the technological and economic race of the last century.
KTM North America Marketing Manager Tom Moen says: “At KTM we are all about riding our motorcycles and supporting BDR for all they do to keep trails and remote roads open for motorcycling. We are thrilled to assist them where we can and encourage riders to get out and experience motorcycling in the backcountry. The BDR organization works hard to create new routes and provide GPS tracks and trip planning resources that we can all use.”
@ Ely Woody
Learn more at www.RideBDR.com
Photos: Ely Woody
A STRUGGLE FOR GLORY: THE 2019 RED BULL ROMANIACS
The Red Bull Romaniacs is renowned as one of the toughest enduro events on the planet, and the 2019 race was no exception. A struggle from start to finish, the event saw riders endure four full days of competition in the Romanian hills following the opening day’s prologue in the local town of Sibiu.
Taddy Blazusiak – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing @ Future7Media
The 16th edition of the Red Bull Romaniacs was an absolute thriller; epic by what the leading riders can achieve on a bike over what looks like unrideable terrain to the average dirtbiker, and epic in how close the race was to the closing stages. The Red Bull Romaniacs is certainly known as the ‘world’s toughest hard enduro rallye’ for a reason.
KTM supported rider Manuel Lettenbichler took an emphatic victory at the event – his first major event win in the WESS series. It was an extra-special victory for the German racer as it is 10 years since his father Andreas Lettenbichler was also crowned the winner. With a 40-second lead going into the final stages, all that stood between the 21-year-old and the win was a handful of tough, greasy climbs.
With rainfall making riding ultra difficult, as well as the battle of exhaustion after covering approximately 520 kilometres during the course of the race, Manuel held his nerve to take an outstanding victory aboard his KTM 300 EXC TPI.
KTM-supported Manuel Lettenbichler @ Future7Media
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Taddy Blazusiak had taken an early charge at the event by winning the prologue, but he had a small bike issue which ruled him out of the running for the overall win. The Polish multi-time Endurocross champion put in some strong performances to take fourth, with teammate Jonny Walker enjoying some positive results for fifth at the chequered flag.
Incredibly Josep Garcia and Nathan Watson, who are more suited to classical enduro terrain, battled the trees, climbs, ruts, rocks and roots to impressively finish in 10th and 11th positions respectively. It is a great achievement for the Spanish and British racers, as they celebrated improvements on their results from their event debut last year.
Here we share some of the best images from the 2019 Red Bull Romaniacs – a true test of skill, grit and determination.
Check out some of the action on Red Bull TV.
THE FORGOTTEN MASTERPIECE: THE RISE & FALL OF KTM’S RC8 SPORTSBIKE – PART 1
Posted in Bikes, History At the turn of the decade KTM manufactured one of the most striking and surprising superbikes on the market but in a few short years it was gone. What happened to the RC8?
Wolfgang Felber leans back in his seat. The former racer and lead technician has had a hand in many KTM projects and was a leading figure in the company’s emphatic first step back to MotoGPTM with the Moto3 KTM RC 250 GP in 2011. Talk of the RC8 – an initiative that he led and steered – brings a certain air of satisfaction to his demeanor.
KTM’s first superbike was initially (and surprisingly) unveiled as a prototype at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show. “When we fight Japan, we want to fight them in their own office,” claimed current R&D Head Philipp Habsburg upon the bikes eventual launch. “The reaction was very enthusiastic … ”
Prior to the crisis that slapped the global economy towards the end of the decade, KTM were on a firm path to expansion and diversification (something that they would eventually resume, streamline and accentuate after the financial fallout). Part of that process was creation of model that would enter a sportsbike market that was still popular and seeing motorcycles like Yamaha’s YZF-R 1, Suzuki’s GSX-R 1000 and BMW’s S1000RR inspire the fray.
Wolfgang Felber @KTM
It was a bold move for the brand that had opened eyes with the SUPER DUKE road bike in 2005 and was a significant player outside of the offroad core of the company. “We started work on the RC8 thirteen years ago and KTM was more of a niche supplier then,” explains Felber.
“I remember back in July 2005 when the project was green-lit for development,” he continues. “As with most initial new projects in KTM there was not really the in-house specialists at the company, so we developed the bike while also hiring and training the people to get it done.”
KTM allegedly sunk 10 million euros into a philosophy that a smiling Felber recalls as “a 1200 v-twin ‘moped’!” But, as with most innovations that see the light of day at Mattighofen, experimentation had started before that dramatic unveiling in Tokyo and well before a young designer (now Lead Creative at the Kiska agency and the power behind the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R and latest KTM models) by the name of Craig Dent would be awestruck by the sight of the RC8 on the front of a British weekly motorcycling newspaper.
“When we made the first 950cc V-Twin engine back in 2001-2002 we had already done a very rough Superbike prototype together with a German race bike manufacturer,” Felber recounts. “We used them as our workbench. Then there was another prototype that had even more of an RC8 design about it and was built in 2001. Then there was also the show bike built for Tokyo. During the RC8 development there were constant questions about why it was taking so long! But the bike did not officially begin life until the summer of 2005, so two-and-a-half years before it was confirmed to come into stock production.”
The RC8 was a product of ambition, and the technical architecture was advanced but it was also a victim of misfortune and, crucially, timing. “There were three unlucky things,” says Felber. “One was the sudden death of one of our chief engineers on September 2, 2006. A big shock. It was a big hurt for all of us, and of course the project and engine development. The second thing was the economic crisis in 2008; the bike was being produced at the same time that everything started to crash. The third thing was that – around that time – instead of eight or nine suppliers to the segment there were five and the market shrank dramatically from one day to the next.”
KTM were winning 125cc and 250cc Grands Prix but MotoGPTM was unstable with changes in the capacity limit between 1000cc and 800cc and eventually a CRT sub class. Superbike and the production regulations seemed a better arena for KTM’s first track weapon. Of course, the RC8 was not conceived merely as a pro racer’s tool or a rich person’s toy.
The RC8 offered a preview to the ‘slight of hand’ that the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R would eventually deliver: In other words it looked and promised to be one thing (with the SUPER DUKE it was this image of being ‘The Beast’) but ended up being something a whole lot more. “The RC8 was not designed just to be a WorldSBK base,” says Felber in the confines of a meeting room in the old Race HQ in Munderfing. “We wanted to have a perfect road bike as well. That was the beginning of the philosophy towards it and that’s why the motorcycle is roomy and adjustable. It was more of a racebike by accident finally.”
Despite the step into the unknown and the difficulties that 2007-2009 would bring KTM did not ease-off the gas (Felber: “there was always good support.”). The investment remained steadfast and apparently almost 50 engines bit the dust to get the RC8 just right. 8000 models would make it off the assembly lines, into the packing crates and the hands of curious customers.
The R&D crew funneled a stream of torque into the rider’s right hands. Even into some of the best in the business. “I was surprised how good it was as a road bike when we made a comparison test,” says former Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams. “It was able to hold its own really easily, especially with the chassis. It was one of the easiest bikes you’ll ride on the road or the track.”
There were other redeeming features. “I wanted to set a new benchmark for manufacturing quality for KTM but also in general,” says Felber. “If you look at the welding on the frame and how the wiring harness was made ‘invisible’. There is not a single piece of improvisation on that bike. We spent a lot of time on it. The other thing I’m proud of is the technical layout and how you can work on the bike. It’s not such a big deal for the average customer who will leave it in the dealer or garage for any maintenance or repair but I was a racer and I worked on all my bikes by myself. I recently changed the frame on my own RC8 from black to orange and I did it in one afternoon. I think mechanics like to work on that bike.”
And of course there were those looks. Felber: “I knew we were making something powerful. Kiska’s work is always polarizing with their styling. In fact, it is not just styling; it is a statement. If you see the RC8 nowadays it is like it’s a bike from 2025. I love that approach. It is not a bike for everyone. It was polarizing: Both for the look and the technical layout with that under-slung exhaust system that made it appear totally different, and the small and narrow tail section.”
To be continued…
PREPARING FOR ADVENTURE: 5 PRACTICAL WAYS TO PERSONALIZE YOUR KTM 790 ADVENTURE
Posted in Bikes, Parts & Accessories With over 110 KTM PowerParts available to fit straight onto the KTM 790 ADVENTURE, we look at five different ways to add practicality, fine tune comfort and increase confidence ahead of your next summer exploration…
A wide variety of KTM PowerParts has been specifically developed for the Austrian brand’s most accessible Travel bike to date, the KTM 790 ADVENTURE. With tens of thousands of possible permutations, there is something to suit every kind of rider regardless of shape or size, destination or dream.
Riders have peace of mind too, as all KTM PowerParts are developed alongside the bike. Their designs are always optimal, fitment is right first time and the wiring loom is ready to accept all plug and play electrical items – all of which means there are no surprises when it comes to your warranty.
With so much to choose from, we’ve selected a number of creature comforts to ready your KTM for its next cross-country journey.
What if I’m short?
The KTM 790 ADVENTURE has the lowest standard seat h of any KTM Travel model – but this is just the start. For those on their tip toes, extra confidence can be added in less than 10 seconds by switching out the rider and pillion seats for the single piece KTM LOW SEAT. This gives the rider an extra 10mm of reach. Should this not be enough and still leave you looking for more stable contact in those adverse camber situations, you are in luck as a further 25mm is possible. KTM and WP Suspension have worked together to produce a LOWERING KIT (Ref: 63512955044) that maintains the riding dynamics you love whilst catering for the smaller rider. The kit compromises of a new WP APEX shock and internal fork parts.
What if I’m tall?
More accessibility means more people than ever can comfortably and confidently ride a KTM, so existing fans are still catered for. The design of the seat and tank accommodate those with long legs too, but should you feel you need more space, then the KTM HIGH SEAT is the perfect solution. This adds 20mm to the seat h, raising up the rider and opening the angle of the knee, keeping you comfortable in between those spaced out fuel stops.
Finding Your Way
If you are looking to use a traditional nav set up then KTM has produced a number of solutions, the simplest being the GPS HOLDER which mounts in a damped position directly above the 5” TFT display. Suitable for many manufacturer systems including all Garmin and TomTom products, this mount is within easy reach of accessory connections for a tidy, powered set up, or the 12V accessory socket below the clocks. Combined with the Touratech-iBracket, the GPS HOLDER can accommodate the most popular Apple and Samsung devices for those that favour the use of their mobile phone. Rotatable by 90 degrees to suit the riders viewing, the iBracket securely holds the device in its aluminium chassis, perfect for securely supplementing the already detailed dash.
Lighting the Road Ahead
If you are the intrepid adventurer riding the whole day through, setting off early or arriving after dark, straying far from the comfort of street lights then we recommend the KTM AUXILIARY LAMP KIT. Two 8W, 4400 candela LED spot lights spread a wide angle of light across the road surface ahead. The kit contains all fitting brackets and wiring harnesses needed to plug straight into the KTM 790 ADVENTURE.
What’s in the Box?
It’s no secret that panniers and top boxes make it easier to carry your possessions but carrying what you need from your bike to the hotel can be a little more challenging. The KTM INNER BAGS are a simple solution to help you unload and get across the car park in one trip, spillage free. Designed to fit the irregular internal shape of the KTM TOURING CASES, the bags make the most of all available space. Complete with sturdy removable shoulder straps so you can still carry your helmet too!
Keeping Your KTM Safe
Without needing to pack or carry anything extra you can secure your KTM 790 ADVENTURE while you rest up for the next leg of your journey. Finished in anodized orange, the ROADLOK is highly visible when bolted directly to the brake calliper. Engage the high strength steel locking pin and the device locks the wheel in place stopping any movement, which also prevents those costly and embarrassing moments when you forget to remove a traditional disc lock, you know the ones…
Should you wish to add a belt to braces, you can in the form of an audible deterrent: the plug and play KTM ALARM SYSTEM. Meeting the strictest of European test methods earned this dual circuit immobilizer and alarm system Thatcham homologation status, making it one of the best systems on the market. Securing the unit with the ALARM SYSTEM MOUNTING KIT allows you to plug straight into pre-prepared connection points, meaning protecting your KTM from envious characters does not have to involve potential damage cutting into the loom.