Does Size Matter? How MotoGP Riders Measure Up

PedrosaSo how does the age-old size question relate to MotoGP riders?  Simply put, there is an ongoing debate as to whether smaller riders have an advantage in MotoGP racing.  A little web search will reveal that a lot of race fans get more than a little heated in the discussion.

In some other forms of racing – specifically horse racing and many forms of auto racing – rider/driver weight is part of the calculation as to permissible vehicle weight.  This is not the case in MotoGP.

What really got me thinking about this size thing was getting to meet Dani Pedrosa at the Laguna Seca MotoGP.  It struck me that he is an amazingly small man.  At 5’3” and 112 pounds, I felt like I could have taken him home in my tank bag (not that I’d want to).  The fact is, most of the European and Asian MotoGP riders are quite small.  They average about 5’5” and 140 pounds.

The Americans tend to be a bit bigger. Colin Edwards is 5’10” and 146, Nicky Hayden is 5’8” and 152, and Ben Spies is 5’11” and 157.

So what is the possible advantage of being small?  Let’s look at three areas.


In the straights, flat out speed is primarily a product of horsepower.  However, aerodynamics, in the form of a tight rider tuck, is also a big factor.  Obviously, someone like Pedrosa who is only a hint over 5 feet can more fully tuck behind the bodywork and shield. Someone like Spies will have more exposed body which will reduce effective aerodynamics.

Power to Weight

This one may be obvious.  In a sport when carbon fiber, titanium, and creative drilling reduce every extra ounce of weight, an additional 40 pounds of rider is a really big factor.  It’s all about inertia.  Remember, that stuff you learned in high school physics?  More mass means less effective breaking and less dynamic acceleration.  This makes weight a factor in both the entrance and exit of a corner.

Fuel Consumption

This is a factor that I had not thought of until I read the concerns of MotoGP’s biggest rider, Marco Simoncelli.  The Italian is over 6 feet tall and weighs in at 160 pounds.  He revealed before the Qatar GP that he had concerns about fuel consumption because of his size and weight.  Obviously, it takes more fuel to push Simoncelli’s frame around a MotoGP course than someone like Pedrosa.

So is size a factor? Simply put, yes. However, we must remember that the most dominate modern MotoGP rider, Valentio Rossi, is at the upper end of the size spectrum at 5’11” and 147 pounds. So maybe the old adage is true – it’s more about technique than size.

Courtesy of

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