Ride height device technology has been around for decades but is only a recent addition to MotoGP.
Starting with Ducati in 2018 it is now a common feature on the grid.
This addition has divided the paddock so much that a rule change will see front ride height devices banned in 2023.
But why so much controversy?
Do the devices go too far in controlling the bike?
And are they making MotoGP boring?
To answer these questions, we need to understand what is a ride height device and why manufacturers are keen to use them.
What is a Ride Height Device?
This device is designed to lower the centre of gravity on the bike therefore allowing the rider to accelerate faster without as much risk of a wheelie in any section they feel is a wheelie phase.
This term refers to where they are accelerating hard in low gear – most commonly on take-off and exiting a slow corner.
But there is more to it than that and to understand the full story we must go back to the beginning.
Ride height devices have been around for decades.
If you are a fan of Motocross, you will be familiar with holeshot devices, which inspired the latest technology being debated in MotoGP.
Let’s look at the holeshot device first.
This device is simply a device connected to the front forks, when the rider is approaching the grid they are able to engage this system, this is done by using the front brakes to make the front forks compress and a pin locks them in place.
This will hold the forks in that compressed position meaning the rider does not have to exert as much force to keep the front wheel down while trying to take off from the line.
Once the rider approaches the first corner the braking will disengage the device (the forks will compress below the device holding pin and disengage) and the bike will operate like normal for the duration of the race.
This can only be used at the start.
There is no way to reuse this device during the race and holds no further benefit than at the start line.
Holeshot vs Rear Ride Height Device
In 2019 we saw Aprilia begin to use the traditional holeshot device while Jack Miller began to use Ducati’s rear ride height device and it didn’t take long to notice it was being engaged during the race not only on the start line.
Now we had a race among manufacturers to develop their own.
Over 2020 and 2021 we saw manufacturers begin to install both traditional holeshot and rear ride height devices.
By the end of 2021 we see all manufacturers with both holeshot and rear ride height devices with Suzuki being the last to attach a rear ride height device in 2021.
Interestingly for much of 2020 and 2021 Yamaha had neither while others had both holeshot and rear ride height.
In 2022 Ducati is seen during pre-season testing with a front ride height device that is repeatable – in other words it is more like the rear ride height device than a holeshot and can be utilised during racing while the bike is in motion.
Ducati were also the first to develop a way to make this device automatic.
Hang on I hear you say MotoGP does not allow electronic interference – and you would be correct.
Due to the tough rules on electronics in MotoGP manufacturers must limit their technological advances to mechanical or hydraulic controlled – they cannot be electronically controlled in any way and the rider must still have control over the system.
This term is confusing because really neither are automatic and both need the rider to engage them by pushing a button…it simply changes when the rider activates the system.
Let’s put aside the holeshot device – the device that is only used at the start.
The automatic versus manual issue only applies to the ride height devices which are used during racing.
To understand why they need an automatic one we need to understand what occurs when the rider is using a ride height device whether it be on the front or the back.
Using a new piece of technology comes with many problems for riders, mechanics, and engineers alike. As well as the rulemaking bodies.
Any change to the running and performance of the bike will ultimately impact the rider’s style – either the changes to the bike will not be a good fit for the rider or the rider may need to alter their style of braking or cornering for example.
A ride height device is by design changing how the bike operates during braking, cornering hard and accelerating.
It can malfunction and release too fast or too slow both causing huge problems for the rider even causing them to crash.
It may not engage quickly enough and again huge problems.
Because of this, there is the need to allow the rider to engage or arm the device prior to being on the actual corner.
With all the stress to both bike and rider that occurs during cornering it is wise to limit any additional requirements.
So, Ducati developed the automatic engagement – it can be engaged prior to the corner so it armed and ready as the rider begins to come out of the corner the bike will lower the bike.
This brings with it another set of issues – when to engage it, how early to push that automated system – too early and problems, too late and problems.
It really is a fine art for the riders to get it right and of those riders who have tried it, some prefer the manual and others the auto. Of course this is optional and riders can have them removed if they feel the bike performs better without it.
Other Issues arising from the use of Ride Height Devices
Weight – no one wants extra weight on a race bike so this must be weighed up against the benefits of the device.
At this point in MotoGP the need to be better by tenths of a second has never been more important with all the unification of software.
The question must be asked if the risk of malfunction (which seems high) and the added weight is worth it.
Tyres and brakes – provided by Michelin and Brembo respectively, are both having to make some changes to deal with the changes in heat and pressure caused by the ride height devices.
Many riders are finding the front tyre is more difficult to keep cool and the changes in pressure and force are adding extra wear to the tyres.
Dirty Air – the way in which the ride height device operates changes the heat built up in the tyres, this hot air or dirty air is then dispersed by the aerodynamics of the bike in such a way it interferes with bikes immediately nearby.
This includes heating up their front tyre making it even more difficult for them to keep that tyre lasting a whole race. It also impacts slips streaming – further reducing the chances of overtakes – and fans have noticed this reduction in the famous Ducati slipstream power down the straights.
The Opinion Side of the Argument
So here we have a way for riders and teams to steal back a few tenths of a second from other riders and this is huge for the manufacturers since the unification of software and electronics back in 2016.
Following that we saw Ducati try to fit aerodynamics to the bikes (which were ultimately banned) to achieve the edge over others, now they have developed this system.
However, many feel this is making MotoGP boring and taking away the ability for exciting overtakes and battles for leadership during a race.
In my personal opinion take them away bring me wheelies on the start line, spinning back tyres on a corner exit and spectacular overtakes as promised in every MotoGP promo since forever.
However a logical and factual debate often doesn’t pay much attention to our personal opinions.
We need to look at it from both sides – the manufacturers have one goal – to make the fastest race bike on track to cross the finish line in one piece – that’s it. That’s their goal.
Technically they are not concerned with fan excitement levels, viewer appreciation or how many times someone overtook someone else.
In fact, a manufacturer’s dream is to have their bike be on pole and lead the entire race without fault to take the chequered flag.
Simple really when you think about it.
And any device which can achieve that and fits within MotoGP’s tough anti-electronics rule and unification will be utilised.
And the faster they make the bikes go the more they must consider safety so I think it’s unrealistic to believe they will never develop things to provide wheelie control etc. – they still don’t have ABS so let’s keep that in mind.
However, I will agree that in the past couple of seasons the last lap battles and the rates of overtaking have decreased a little.
Can we blame Ride Height entirely?
To be fair we cannot blame it entirely.
We do see it is making a difference off the start line especially. Where fans are not seeing any wheelie action at all these days.
However, there is still overtaking.
There are still battles taking place between talented riders.
We must also consider riders themselves, their style and ability.
To a degree, the battles many talk of between Marquez and Rossi are not simply because of the bike but the riders themselves.
Riders such as Rossi and Marquez, Casey Stoner and the like are not your everyday MotoGP champions – they are once in a decade type of riders, and we cannot expect that all the time so when we do have them it’s really something special.
However, there have been some great races in this season with surprising wins, shock crashes throwing the championship into the air some weeks.
We have seen rookies perform outstanding results, first time podiums for satellite teams and rookies.
It’s not always about specifically overtaking and last lap battles for first.
Interesting and exciting races come in many forms.
When it goes wrong
As with anything new or mechanical it can break down or glitch.
Over the few seasons with ride height devices, you may have seen bikes kind of popping up or down in a sudden and jerky way, tossing riders around in the process. This is the ride height malfunctioning, and it can cause all sorts of problems.
Recently in Germany we saw two rides retire as their RHD were stuck in the closed position – in other words they are now riding a drag racing bike on a MotoGP track with 20 other guys – not good!
So, the argument is then with the number of times these are malfunctioning either causing riders to crash or retire are they really of benefit to the sport. Or simply asking for them to be removed.
What now for MotoGP?
While many are calling for a total ban of all ride height device, some want both holeshot and repeatable ride height devices banned.
However, the Grand Prix Commission has made a rule change stating only front ride height devices that can be used while the bike is in motion are banned from 2023.
Will this pave the way for all ride height devices to be banned and fans will see a return of slipstreaming and wheelies off the start line or will a middle road be found?
For those of us old enough to remember, many didn’t like the change from two stroke 500cc to 1000cc four strokes back in the day and swore up and down it would be the end of the sport but here we are exactly two decades later.
Are we as fans jumping ahead, caught up remembering the heydays of Rossi and Stoner and not giving new technology and riders a chance to prove themselves?
It is certainly possible.