At the recent MotoGP event in Austin, Tex., Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez became the youngest-ever rider to win a premier-class Grand Prix race, displacing Freddie Spencer from the record he had held for more than 30 years. It was the young Spaniard’s second MotoGP race, and after two rounds he is tied with reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo atop the point standings.
Marquez’s riding style is noticeably different from the other riders in the class. While elbow-dragging has become increasingly common over the past few years, Marquez has taken it to the extreme and drags his elbow for a considerable distance in every corner – not just at the apex or on the curbing of the occasional turn. And even with that exaggerated body position, he reaches dizzying angles of lean compared with the other riders. It is a distinct style and he has used it to good effect so far this year with the win in Austin and a podium finish at the first round in Qatar.
Like most top riders exploring the outer limits of riding skill and technique, Marquez himself is not able to fully explain his riding style. Talking about his extreme lean angles in an Alpinestars video recorded at the Austin test earlier this year, he says, “Basically, I don’t know. Just I try to ride the bike. I think that is the best riding style, but in the end sometimes I try to be more smooth or try to copy the style of Lorenzo, Dani…but I can’t. When I concentrate, when I try to push, I start to go with my elbow, my knee on the floor.”
The situation is reminiscent of another young rider rocking the established stars of the Grand Prix circus in his first few events: Kenny Roberts. When Roberts first went to Europe in the late ’70s, his style of hanging off the side of the bike and dragging his knee was distinctly different from the conventional (at the time) upright, tidy body position. In his book “Techniques of Motorcycle Road Racing,” Roberts wrote: “‘Sheene used to say to me, ‘Why the hell do you move around on that bike so much?’ I’d just say, ‘Hey, I don’t know. I’m just trying to find out how to do it right.'”
Roberts went on to win three 500cc Grand Prix World Championships, and the future looks equally bright for Marquez. As I pointed out in my earlier blog on https://www.insidemotorcycles.com/component/k2/item/1088-the-motogp-leg-dangle.html“>the MotoGP leg dangle, new and extreme techniques, if successfully used, generally trickle down from the top riders using those techniques and become more common. That being the case, we will most likely see more of the MotoGP riders experiment with similar extreme body positioning as the year goes on.
It’s somewhat ironic and prophetic today to read Roberts’ comments on Randy Mamola’s riding position, which was considered extreme at the time his book was written: “There is no set limit to how far you should lean off, though I think that sometimes Randy goes too far. Who knows where the limit might be? Five years from now everyone might be leaning off like Randy.” Perhaps five years from now everyone will be leaning off like Marc.