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250cc Riders Rule: MD Reader Responses

On May 9, 2008, we observed that the fastest riders in MotoGP at the moment have a background on 250cc two-stroke GP bikes. We asked readers to tell us why the 250 riders are currently faster than the riders coming from four-strokes. Here are some of their unedited responses.

  • They possess superior track knowledge, are more accustomed to the grand prix paddock environment and team management style, and are more attuned to the finesse of grand prix bike/tyre setups. Grand Prix is simply a more competitive and demanding environment then superbike or production bike racing. Even at a club level I soon discovered that racing an old TZ was a world away from an RGV.

  • Perhaps it is because 250cc riders must learn to carry speed better through the corners, due to the lower power of their machines, in order to be successful at that level. If they were to rely solely on low to midrange power coming out of the corner they would be left way behind. Maybe these new 800cc are just “revvy” enough to make a difference.

  • I think this is more a corner speed issue…
    The guys coming off of the 1000’s are used to being able to power out of the corners with the big guns, while the 250 guys have been milking what they have (or didn’t have) for years!

    When you can ride a bike as fast as it can go, the guy with the best corner stategy is gonna win every time…IMO

  • This seems to be a pretty strong trend, but I suppose its not that surprising. The combination of less torque, peakier powerbands, and significant traction control all seem to work in favor of the 250 riders. “Backing Her In” is not a technique mastered riding 250s, as it is with big 4 strokes, and the resultant wheel-spin seems to really hurt certain riders such as Hayden when employed. He and Colin seem to be able to match the pace early but tend to consistently fall back as the tires go off.

    The other thing that seems to be the case is that with corner speed, and SPECIFICALLY corner entry speed being the premium commodity in today’s 800s, the 250 riders are already well suited to this type of riding. Furthermore, since the flattrackers go in slow and come out fast, if they lead into a corner, they will be passed during entry, and their exit speed will not be enough to compensate since they cannot run up the back of the passing rider.

    This situation reminds me of the 500cc twin 2-stroke that Honda raced in the late 90s, although perhaps in reverse. It was very fast in terms of lap times on tighter tracks, but suffered the inability to use its higher corner speed to pass in the turns (when trailing), while the fours simply jetted away on the straights while leading.

    I suspect that the biggest deal breaker for 4 stroke riders is the sophistication of modern traction control. This allows for peaky engine characteristics without fear of high siding. Without this, gentler power curves and the resulting higher torque would be an advantage for the 4 stroke riders. If 250 riders had to learn to steer with the rear wheel AND deal with the higher power, we would see them struggling to adapt as we have seen in the past.

    One final note is that 125/250 riders tend to be of a rather, er, diminutive stature. Without the excess of power seen in the 990cc bikes, power to weight is at more of a premium, and the 105 lb Pedrosa and 125 lb Stoner would seem to have a significant advantage vs. the 150+lb guys riding the big bikes coming up. 125GP racing is weight compensated, and there have been rumblings about this being adopted in the 250 class. I would doubt we will ever see it in MotoGP though. (As an aside, you may recall that some of the Indy guys complained when Danica was being so competitive at the 500, seeing as how she had a 50 lb advantage over most of the guys)

    The current trend favoring 250 riders is, I suppose, too bad for American racing fans, and the long tradition of American dirt track riders being competitive (if not dominant) in the highest form of motorcycle racing is a thing of the past.

    But change is constant, and new rules and technological development may one day tilt the balance back in the other direction. In the meantime, root for our Red Bull rookies!!!

  • Re: your article regarding the 250 GP riders stepping up to Motogp & being so successful it was always going to happen with the reduction in capacity & total change in machinery design, technology has played a huge part in the transition to a new breed of racer but along with that you have a different breed of rider their thought processes & attitude are different to the “older” riders such as Hayden ,Rossi & Melandri ,don’t get me wrong still rate them up there but, what they are racing now is the same geometry (size & weights) that the 250 GP guys have had since they entered the Grand Prix arena.

    WE are now seeing a similar trend here in Australia (see the Australian supebike championship round 2 the new Honda with an ex supersport rider on board blew the Yamaha away on debut) where the new breed of superbike rider was once the Supersport rider of the last year ,with the release of lighter .smaller more compact superbikes entering the race arena.the new superbikes emulate the supersport bikes sizes of a couple of years ago & the older rider are finding the compactness with horsepower harder to adapt to than the younger charges .

    Then again is it just the changing of the guard where the older riders find it harder to keep motivated to change & technology

  • That is the real crux: riders with recent 250 2 stroke GP machines with full adjustability ridden on the same tracks as MotoGP vs accomplished riders of production based 4 stroke machines being raced on different tracks. Seems like the only adjustments the 250 riders have to make is to the additional mass and power of the 800 MotoGP bikes. Slipper clutches/enhanced ECMs have tamed the increased engine braking. Electronics have tamed the power delivery and added levels of traction control and throttle response. They know the paddock and how the system works, and who the players are.

    The ex WSBK rider, like Toseland, or ex AMA SBK rider, like Hayden, have some larger steps to take. The rider has to learn the tracks, learn the bike and learn the system. The MotoGP machine is more sophisticated and offers increased adjustability compared to production based SBKs. The tires are un-like the spec Pirellis or the “spec Dunlops”. The circus moves around to far flung stages on other continents compared to the US based series, which will be a big personal adjustment for someone like Ben Spies, for example.

    The reverse “4 stroke” switch is interesting, too.
    Look at the performance of ex-motoGP riders in WSBK. Bayliss is an exception, since he rode SBKs both before and after his stint in MotoGP. Biaggi, Barros, Tamada, Nieto and Carlos Checa, for example. Good performances, but not great. Are they too old to learn new tricks.tracks and machines? There may be some influence due to the teams, too, since the best teams like the factory Ducati do not go for riders perceived as past their prime, although they currently have Fabrizio, ex-GP and still pretty young.

    And finally, how about Robby Rolfo? Both he and Fonsi Nieto are past winners in 250GP, yet neither has really shone in WSBK.

    Rider size and strength is also an issue, with today’s 250 stars being rather small statured. That may suit a fully electronic MotoGP ride, but not a production based race bike.

  • I didn’t know there was much to argue about on this one, I think it’s all about corner speed and smoothness. The guys who have cut their teeth on 1000cc in-line 4s are used to charging into corners, braking, and then accelerating out. The 250cc GP guys are used to maintaining as much corner speed as possible since the massive engine isn’t there to thrust them out of the corner (not that a 2 stroke 250 ain’t powerful). Lighter smaller bikes simply encourage higher corner entry speeds. With the move from 1000cc to 800cc in Moto GP, we took away some of the engine and some of the weight, bringing these bikes closer to the 250cc 2 strokes than they were previously.

    We’ve probably all noticed that we can be just as fast on a back road by focusing on smoothness rather than outright top speed in the straights. Apparently that works for the 800’s as they are lapping faster than the liter bikes used to.

  • 250GP bikes need to have the throttle wide open pretty much all the time, even in the corners. Corner speed is everything. With the amount of power they have, it is possible to do that. The riders are trained to hold it open without thinking. The 4 stroke guys on bigger bikes had to manually modulate their throttles to control the power. With the advent of traction control on the 800cc GP bikes, the 4 stroke guys are still trying to deprogram themselves to stop modulating the throttle and trust the electronics to do the work for them. The 250 2 stroke guys are a step ahead of them in this regard and can consequently concentrate on just riding.

  • I think for sure those riders bread on those tracks, racing and living the life certainly have an advantage, but based on the fact that local riders in all disciplines can typically come out and challenge the champion and even beat them makes the track knowledge and the same type bike a combo you can’t beat.

    I don’t think all the MotoGP riders would instantly come over to the US and jump on a Superbike and start winning either; different type bike and track that would really hurt their chances.

    These GP race bikes, and the tracks (more flowing) and the racer’s over all experience is something you can’t match… not even in 4-5 years. (Nicky Hayden)

    There are a few riders who could I believe if they had their current team: Rossi, Mladin, Bayliss.

  • 250cc riders seem to have an advantage only because of electronics, traction control and other engineering. I wonder how they would do without all the electronics to save their butts. You see more guys in 250 class spinning up out of corners than MotoGP.

  • I think it has more to do with all the traction control systems on the bikes now, not the 250 cc experience. The riders need much less throttle control and the bikes are much easier to ride than the 500cc and 990cc bikes of the past. Also these riders weigh next to nothing giving them an advantage also. Get rid of or limit the traction control and have a control tires and then we will see who actually has talent to ride. F1 has already shown the way it should be done.

  • I think one major reason for the 250 riders being on average a bit faster is their corner speed.

    They cut their teeth on 250’s which carry high corner speed, and when stepping up to the 990 and now 800, they try and find ways to keep that corner speed that they are used to.

  • I believe the reason the 250cc riders rule for a very simple reason. Corner entry speed.
    Because of the lack of power on the 125cc and 250cc motorcycles, the guys get braver (crazier) with their entry speeds to try and maximize the overall momentum of the bikes.
    The move from 990cc to 800cc has made the bikes easier to manhandle (much like the guys do with the 2-strokes) and the two-stroke riders obviously have more experience / know-how on higher corner entry speed.

    As simple as that.

  • The former 250cc class riders enjoy the advantages of track familiarity and better competition. I see this in all disciplines of motor sports.
    Overseas, they rally around the winners. In the USA, it’s about the hype. When I remind people that Danica Patrick hadn’t won any professional race before Motegi, they don’t believe me.

    The boys in the 250 class don’t move up unless they are winners and
    they don’t get to the 250 class if they weren’t winners in 125.
    That’s why all levels of FIM motorcycle racing is the best racing there is.

  • We could start by having a series of races first on Moto GP bikes and then on Superbikes. Use the same spec tires and identical bikes on same tracks and allow only minimal tuning for rider weight and spring rate preference, ergos etc. so as not to penalize for size differences and riding style. Then we see if whether you trained on dirt track, four stroke or two stroke makes any difference or if the answer is to be found elsewhere. Right now it’s all just speculation which is kind of pointless if there is easy physical proof available. My guess is that no one wants the real answer since the excitement of sport is the mystery of competition and science should assist the process rather than explaining it away.

  • Not to belabor the obvious, but it’s really *little* guys rule. Pedrosa, Stoner, and Lorenzo are all little guys. Valentino’s not so short but lightly built and he also hasn’t been a 250 rider for a long time. Riders successful on 250s are naturally going to be on the small side because in such close competition carrying an extra 30 to 60lbs is a big handicap.

    When Ben Spies (5′ 11″ 165lb) goes to MotoGP and doesn’t win against Dani Pedrosa (5′ 2″ 105lb) are you going to write about how AMA Superbike just doesn’t train riders for MotoGP?

  • “If there is any rhyme or reason to what is happening in MotoGP these days, it relates to the background of the fastest riders.”

    Or have you considered that the smaller 800cc bikes are more sensitive to weight than the more torque-y 990cc bikes? Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Rossi and Stoner likely weigh 25 to 30 pounds less on average than Nicky Hayden, Collin Edwards and James Toseland. Minimum combined bike/rider weights should be implemented, unless we want to see all the top riders the size of jockeys in the future. If this is incorrect, and your theory that the 250cc riders are simply superior, then they should not object to the a bike/rider weight minimum as it won’t make any difference.

  • Winning on a 250cc MotoGP bike is all about keeping your momentum and carrying speed through the corners. This translates perfectly to the 800cc MotoGP class because Rossi, Stoner and the rest of the grid spend so much time cornering and braking for corners. In most MotoGP races passing occurs while riders are braking and cornering, exactly where 250cc racers perfected their passing skills.

    American-style ‘point & shoot’ racing works well where brute acceleration and straight-line top speeds rule the track. The recent AMA Superbike race at California Speedway is a perfect example. The second race went to Ben Spies who passed Matt Mladin going top speed at the finish line to win. Yes, cornering skills were important during the race, but straight-line top speed won the day.

    Braking and cornering skills are the real test of a motorcycle roadracer. There are lots of fast bikes out there and many racers can go fast in a straight line. But they don’t win MotoGP races unless they can pass under braking and carry speed through the corners. Something learned in the 125cc and 250cc class.

  • Its all about who wants it the MOST.

  • Of course 250 cc riders currently rule.

    There are more of them getting a chance at the top level most likely because of familiarity. They are well know in the GP paddock and riders from other series don’t have that option.

    Also, the 800 cc bikes are lighter, have softer power delivery, as well traction control. They are more akin to the little bikes and the riding styles are much more similar. The attributes of the 800 cc machines were unknown on previous generations of GP bikes and they make the current machines FAR easier to ride. I’d like to see one of the current ‘Young Guns’ take on VR on one of old 2 strokes!

    Nicky’s title was an aberration, of course. Honda wanted an American to attract more interest ($$$) from the States and no one else was equally equipped that year. VR and his team struggled. So, Nicky won a title.

  • The fact is they know corner speed and thanks to electronic trickery they can open the throttle mid-corner with impunity – Traction control sucks.

  • I can only see it as psychological. Perhaps those coming up from the 250’s don’t know the beastly power of the old 990’s and therefore ride like there’s no tomorrow. Those that have ridden the 990’s may carry that with them and thus are off just a tad. There should be no physical reason for it if in fact there is a reason to begin with. Maybe it’s just the way its come about? But I think we’ve seen that the “point n’ shoot” style of riding the 800’s is less effective and that carrying fast corner speeds is key. Something the 250 riders were all about.

  • Corner speed is where 250’s live and breathe. The new 800’s are more about corner speed than the old 990’s were because they simply don’t have as much torque as the old bikes to pull them up off a corner. This combined with track knowledge of all the tracks they run on gives the 250 guys an advantage since they are used to riding fast through the same corners they are now riding on an 800. You can talk all you want about electronics making them simpler to ride but the simple fact is you have to maintain peak momentum through the corners to make it happen in MotoGP now. That and Lorenzo is the real deal! That kid is giving no room for error to his senior stable mates. About time I say!

  • It’s probably the same reason why trackday riders are better off on SV650s. Lower powered machines force the rider to maximize speed in every area, rather than rely on the bike’s power. It’s easier for these riders to then learn to utilize a higher powered machine, whereas it is more difficult for a Superbike rider learn the skills a 250cc rider already has.

    250cc riders also have the clear advantage of riding the same tracks as MotoGP, but this only has bearing over the first years versus a Superbike rider.

  • I think it’s pretty simple. The advent of traction control means the rider doesn’t have to learn how to control excess power. The electronics does it for him. Part of riding talent used to be mastering the throttle to control rear wheel spin. Now it’s more important to hire the best computer geek. In my opinion, traction control is destroying racing. I think winning races and championships should be based on rider skill rather than the best electronic download.

  • The reason probably has to do with the configuration of the new bikes. With the advent of the new 800cc rule we saw a dramatic reduction in the size of the machine alone. in th ecase of the Repsol Honda to the point that Nicky Haden was almost too big. The remedied that a bit this year but the lighter weight less engine and ever higher revs leads to bikes that maintian much higher corner speeds. Superbike riders are used to having the torque and high end power to make the bike do what they wish while 250 riders are used to using what they have and conserving the energy through out a lap. Tire technology has also probably helped to take the mass of a modern GP bike and allow it maintain corner speeds like a 250. Just speculation but it seems these small light guys on smaller overall GP bikes look a lot like energy conservation riders versus old school flat track power tamers.

  • Honestly, when I watch these racers, whether they raced 250’s or not, they are amazing and obviously have experience with the black arts, but I do believe coming from the 250’s has its advantages. How exactly they corralate to the new 800cc GP bikes I don’t know but it has to help in one way or another. My 2 cents.

  • I’ll take a stab at why 250 c.c. riders are ruling the roost. Correct me if I’m wrong or am making incorrect assumptions.

    Moto GP’s lineage is 500 GP and while the class may have moved onto 4 stroke engines the engineers still cut their teeth in 250/500 GP chassis design and development. These hard and fast entrenched rules of chassis design and the smooth flowing riding style that is required to get the best out of a 250/500GP motorcycle, a level of finesse, feel, and precision that a super bike, race spec or not, does not force a rider to explore provides the 250GP riders with a more direct connection to the Moto GP bikes requirements than any 4 stroke production based rider could ever have.

    I always think back to when Russell and Gobert were recruited into Suzuki and they led development on the 500GP bike for a few seasons. I wouldn’t say that the Suzuki program was a failure solely due to production development riders since there were some 250 GP riders present but that period of Suzuki 500GP didn’t see any success until Roberts Jr., a GP protégé who had several GP seasons under his belt, moved in and brought Suzuki its first wins in 3 or 4 seasons. I don’t think that Roberts was more talented than Gobert or Russell but his 250 lineage provided him the foundation necessary to develop the GP bike to a level of competitiveness that the production racers couldn’t.

    Hayden, among others, once remarked about the smooth style that Max Biaggi has. I think if you look at Max in WSC v. Pedrosa in Moto GP you can see the riding style differences required per series. Biaggi in WSC isn’t big enough to muscle around a super bike and a super bike chassis requires a bit of muscling around. When Max get into the mix with other riders he gets beat up pretty good because he can’t use his smooth riding style to good effect.

    It’s why Aussies like Bayliss and Mladin are so successful. Because of the physical regime and physical size they have they get the best out of a less than perfect production chassis.

    In contrast, smaller riders like Pedrosa and Stoner despite their size can get the best out of a GP chassis; its more finesse than muscle that is required in Moto GP.

  • I don’t think it’s as much 250cc bikes and riding styles as it is the familiarity with how a MotoGP team works. 250cc riders come up in teams modeled after MotoGP counterparts see how MotoGP teams work every weekend (not to mention getting to know the right people in the right circles). There’s also probably a lot of animosity towards riders from other backgrounds that make it difficult for those types to get along. Too bad, but every once and a while an outside rider gets to break through and take some wins and an odd championship (but then he’s given unofficial second rider status to a young new rider from 250s).

  • “HIGH CORNER SPEED, a.k.a. ‘carrying momentum’, is a riding technique taught to ALL European riders from 125cc GP ‘rookies’ onward!”
    Watch U.S. Red Bull 125cc GP class graduates for future MotoGP champions within ALL classes.
    You already knew this …

  • First of all they are small people, (Rossi is the exception). Secondly the art of going fast on a 250 is maintaining cornering speed which they all have learned to do well. Third, the fact that the 800s now all have traction control means that using power to slide around and modulate wheel spin is of a more minor concern like a 250. This is a decided advantage for the 250 riders coming into MotoGP. I believe taking away traction control (as they have in Formula 1) would add back another dimension that has gone missing and would make the non 250 background competitors more competitive relative to the 250 skill set riders….

  • I think the guy with the most potential in my opinion is Andrea Dovizioso, put him on the same bike as Stoner or Lorenzo then you’ll see a race. He was mixing it with the new 250 Aprillia’s for years with an almost unchanged Honda.

    It’s true the guy’s from 250’s have an advantage over the guy’s moving from SuperBikes or even SuperSport, though they have the biggest advantage of knowing the tracks, they ride the same tracks week in week out in the 250 championship. SuperBike riders like James Toseland and Colin Edwards are not familiar with alot of the tracks and it takes a while to become comfortable and fast in race conditions. Toseland is a great racer he won WSB last year on a Honda largely (unchanged for 3 years) against newer machines introduced the same year. Stoner’s not going so well this year on a very quick bike, it’s still the quickest in a straight line and pulls lengths on the other bikes from a standing start or down the straights. The tyre wars stablized, normal schedule of great racing resumes.

  • It is certainly obvious that the riders who previously rode 250’s are doing tremendously well. I personally don’t think it is so much that they have experience with small displacement bikes as it is their familiarity of the tracks. You have to remember, that they have been riding the same exact tracks as the Moto GP series. Whereas, a rider coming from another series has to learn the tracks as they go and don’t the advantage of having previously raced at these tracks regardless of the displacement of the bikes they ride.

  • Yes, the 250 riders are doing well this year. But I would ask: what is their average weight? What is the average weight of the “4 stroke riders”? Then I wouls ask, what percentage of the the total bike and rider weight is the weight of these groups of riders when comparing bith the 800 cc bikes and the 990s.

    The other question to ask is how much further out of the wind are downsized riders compared to ordinary sized riders?

    And one other factor to be considered is what effect is the different torque characteristics of the different bikes having on corner exit speeds?

    Without some hard numbers in at least these three areas, it is difficult to decide if it is just a matter of riding styles or something else.

  • I think it has to do with the 4 stroke guys having somewhat of an easy ride to the top,if they get onto a good team in thier countries superbike class they would be almost unbeatable as only a few bikes get the no expense spared treatment The 2 stroke guys came from 250’s and before that 125’s where there is so much competition in europe to get those rides The guys that came from europe background just have more determination to succeed , if you spoke to the others they would not agree but what about asking them with 10 laps to go in the race where they settle for whatever they have,good qualifying shows they can do the lap time,but they cant do it for 25 laps.
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