Paul Trevathan Interview: Red Bull KTM Crew Chief On Riding Position, Changing Riders, The Influence Of Ride-Height Devices, And Developing A MotoGP Bike

There are a lot of elements to racing a motorcycle, and as the racing in MotoGP gets closer, every detail counts. When you are chasing thousandths of a second instead of tenths, then even the smallest details matter.

Paul Trevathan, experienced MotoGP crew chief with the Red Bull KTM Factory Team, understands this all too well. After switching from motocross, Trevathan took some of the skills he learned in the dirt to help MotoGP riders go faster. With success: he helped Pol Espargaro develop the KTM RC16 to the point where Espargaro racked up six podiums, including five in 2020. With Miguel Oliveira taking Espargaro's place in 2021, Trevathan and Oliveira teamed up for a victory and two more podiums.

At Valencia, I sat down with Trevathan to dig into the nitty gritty of bike set up, in terms of position on the bike, and how that has changed over the years. We talked how handlebar positions have shifted, how riding styles affect peg, lever, and seat positions, and the process of adapting a rider to a bike. Trevathan talks about how he has adapted to work with Miguel Oliveira, a very different personality to his previous rider, Pol Espargaro. And he discusses how aerodynamics and ride-height devices have changed MotoGP, and the effect they have for a crew chief, and on rider safety.

Q: First, I want to talk about the position on a bike. We see this is something, it seems also like it has gotten more and more important over the past years. Riders are so finicky about their position. Even though you swapped from Pol to Miguel, who are more or less the same sort of height and build, how much work was it for you to change the bike to suit Miguel?

PT: It’s an interesting subject because my background was motocross. So, coming from motocross and every rider having their own bend of bars, their own seat. Now you see it even more extreme, how they have their own seat shapes and everything else. I was a little bit shocked when I came to this world where nobody at that time was really paying that much attention to it.

You sort of think like motocross, this is a massive issue, for example. So, you have this going on. Of course, the hand grip size, the diameter, the angles of your wrist and everything else. I played a very big part in this in motocross. So to be comfortable is very important.

So, I found it quite interesting here that people didn’t pay that much attention. As long as they fit on the bike, it was pretty much sweet, it was okay. But as you say, over the generations now the way the riders are riding, the way the riders hang off the bike, they use their legs a lot more to maneuver themselves. It’s become a much bigger art. Then you still see the arm pump problems that riders have now.

So, a lot of this also can be helped by these different setup issues and stuff that we do. For me, fundamentally first there's the hand grip. Some like a soft one, some like a harder one. Then you have something like the ribs, depending on what leather the gloves use. All these elements come into it.

Then the size of it. Not every rider has the same size palm or the same size hand. One glove is thicker. So, to get that feel really connected to the motorcycle is super important.

Then going from there, you’ve got the levers. Everyone’s fingers are a different shape. Everyone, how much power they have, and who wants to brake with one finger, who wants to brake with two fingers. Clutch is only for the start, but you’ve got to keep it out of the way. Now we’ve got ride height device levers.

So, all these little things are becoming quite a nightmare to deal with, but it’s something that the sport has evolved.

Then you have handlebar offsets, where the rider wants to be. Is he a guy who wants to put his head forward? Is he a guy that just wants to hang off the side? So, all these elements play a massive part in how the motorcycle will work in the end.

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Comments

Wonderful, David, thank you so much for this interview. I was struck by Trevathan's still-warm feelings for Pol Espargaro, gone to Honda. And all the differences among the guys...for lap times spread by half a second. Amazing... 

Cool article! Re body position and ergonomics evolving, can't help but think some of what is happening is about the bike and rider balance to match the Michelin tires. Plus, aero. Things are getting more physical and dynamic again. You can't just be a rear wheel pivot blaster nor a front wheel planted 250 rider. The new style is between them, and hanging far off the bike to do so. Also re tires, not sure that the "these tires aren't giving riders feel, rather they demand faith" thing applies to them relative to the Bridgestones that proceeded. That was THEIR hallmark. I have Pirelli race tires on a Triumph 675R that has geometry and ergonomics quite close to a Moto2 bike, and that would likely be a "feel, front and feedback" rich comparison. I wonder what Paul is comparing with for reference? 

Pol was an extreme of hanging it all out there indeed! One look at him and you see it. He looks like an octopus on a trampoline trying to catch a rabbit. Not doing badly on the Honda. If there is disappointment to be pinned on anything this past season, it would be the KTM bike. Perhaps "guys sending the engineers off on the wrong path...for 6 months to a year" is frank confession? And is the who the communication from rider to garage, then Team to factory engineers? We all wonder what is going on over there. And of course the new Italian Team Manager change. Interesting?

Having very different riders seems tough. Yes, it provides diverse feedback and many options, but it also has diverse feedback and many options. Sometimes Factory Teams have REALLY similar riders and it just coalesces everything into clear focus. The strongest example of that I remember in the 4 stroke era was Edwards and Rossi. Eerily similar in every way re what bike and set up they ride! Great for the program. 

Contrast B.Binder and Oliveira? In a program seeking their first clear path forward here, by unique means, it can't be good to have the huge array of riders. Early on to discover how their new bike can be ridden? Sure, throw diverse riders on it and see which one finds a way. Look at who they've had on it, and how it has gone. Very mixed bag. It may be nice to have riders more alike in their style as a fit for THIS bike. I think Pol was good btw, their older bike needed to be overridden right? (He is not a Yamaha buttery rails guy). Ponderance of course, but really hoping Brad AND Miguel AAAND the two fantastic new kids all come together with this bike moving forward. Brad has impressed on Sundays this year. I have faith. Do you? We should given all the ingredients and general progress right?

Ducati is still in a growth advancement stage. You think it is difficult to pass a Ducati? Try EIGHT of the same bike (2020-2022 base)! Not just making a pass on track, but passing their juggernaut top bike spot. Suzuki is continuing moderate careful slow improvement. Honda looks to be in a huge pivot of redirection and reinvention, and most are expecting very good things soon, but they have been SO far off the mark (and Marc off bike) that patience is called for. Yamaha? Stagnant. KTM is a huge question mark. Aprilia on the move, no longer off the pace. 

Orange odd in house wasp-beast of mystery, how you entertain and entice. 

I’ve been wondering how much attention is being paid to the bike/rider interface since the Lorenzo/Ducati fuel tank days. This excellent interview indicates the adaptations from motocross and flat track to MotoGP haven’t been fully considered. In the world of cycling, bike fit is a complex area of study. You may be a certain physical size that might suggest you should fit a certain frame, but your physiology on the bicycle is much more nuanced than that. For example, if you can’t rotate your pelvis forward enough, due to restriction in hip flexion, you tend to engage your quadriceps more than your gluteal muscles. You might have more spinal flexion. These things can have short term and long term consequences in how you perform. Of course, there are no direct comparisons between a MotoGP bike and a bicycle, but Pol is a keen cyclist. What if he engages different lower body muscle groups compared to Miguel? Are some riders able to position themselves on the bike differently due to their personal physiology? I wouldn’t be surprised. Why are some riders plagued with arm pump, but others are not? You read passing references to fitness and bike setup, but it seems to be a thing no one really understands. As the gains in other areas become increasingly marginal, the right rider/bike dynamic could be key. Many styles are fast, but some styles may offer more potential than others. It’s a fascinating subject.

Race Day

2018 Thailand GP. Excellent full coverage. Let's watch a race! Not everyone has paid MotoGP dot com coverage. Even if you do, join in on a good rewatch to bring the joy back into the darkness of off season? We can chat about it if you'd like. Grab the snacks, it is time.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_Cu0UpgcfJo

2017 and 2018 have been rewatch favorites for me. First time at the brand new Chang circuit in Thailand. The track isn't highly technical. Flat as a pancake. Tarmac is taking a toll on rear tires but offers good grip for the high temps. Front tires overheat within the tight crowd. There are not a lot of passing opportunities. But we are not stuck with a processional. It is HOT.

(Don't read on without watching, it will just spoil it. Come back and share thoughts though eh?)

Lines are often clearly defensive. Still there are dives and scuffles. The pace at this new track improves in the early stages.

Halfway through the leading group is EIGHT bikes. A certain Italian rider on an Italian bike clearly displays strategy. Some bikes (Blue) have not just less motor but less consistent electronics sorting drive grip. Down the order several battles ensue.

After halfway 3 more bikes catch the front pack. A chess game is played. AD04 keeps the pace down until about 11 laps to go. 

It is the finish of this race that offers particular deliciousness. If you have bladder or bowel continence concerns visit the loo before the last laps. No spoilers here yet about the end stage even though 3 yrs past. Go watch, great stuff.

Be sure to watch the slow mo replay just after the flag. P1 and P3 battles are both nearly wrecks.

Three very different bikes and riders on display last laps. Worth several watches.

Maverick was RIGHT there at the pointy end to finish. Strong! Nearly clipped by his team mate last corners. Immediately off the bike Vinales speaks with a Yamaha brass saying "need more weight put on the rear of the bike." Should you tell them what needs to happen to the bike Mav? Or should you say what you feel the bike not DOING that it should? Might go over better. But just after in interview, even though coursing with adrenaline, he is VERY gracious and says he needs to be more competitive. Interesting to see the Mav-Blue tangle churning. Within him, he is CLEARLY struggling with an internal conflict and steam is filling him.

Dovisioso is so gracious. What a good human being! Non verbal and verbal displays never veering from that. Playful warmth towards Marc. Genuine smiles. Thoughtful analytic responses. 

Marquez, what an aggressive and loose gladiator! So excited and joyful. Little extra there besides (what word suffices? Fookin beast) racer. He is simple. In a way, nothing extra can be seen as elegant? If it isn't about racing a motorcycle, it just isn't there. This may at times also include considering others and even rules. But, damn. Amazing.

Do NOT miss the re-play highlights of the closing stage fights after interviews (1:10:35) - brilliant!

Dovi was tight into turn 3, Marc wide setting up the exit. Maybe that was a mistake. Could Dovi afford leaving the door open into 3 ? The run from 3 to 4 on that Ducati, could have had him back. Instead he gave Marc some tow all the way to 4, fast turn, Ducati not a fan of fast turns that year. Took it in 5 and i think that would leave only the last turn for Dovi. 7 to 8 not enough of a squirt.

Having said all that, he managed it a lap before...or was that pass accepted by MM ? Not much point being passed by a Ducati which is towing a Yamaha from T1 to T3 on the last lap. That was good race.

 

^ Right? Dovi lost a little bit of drive too before he got it squirted out.

The move depends on disruption of Marc's line. When Marc does some of these moves he is inside and moving right through the side of Dovi. AD04 was SO focused and brave when allowing Marc to basically take out his front but JUST miss, and immediately power back inside. I think that had happened at the previous battles? Before this Thai GP the Dovi vs Marc bout scorecard? 3 - 0 Dovi. Two 2017, one opening 2018. Marc HAS to dig in. And dig in he does. 

Dovi was much cleaner. And, while he may have been guiding the dance when in front, he was for sure being studied. Tires were saved a bit. Then when the final inevitable knifing starts in the dark alley of final corners? Dovi is responding more than dictating usually. Really interesting. 

Would you hold your line with that waggling and bucking crossed up Honda arriving on your inside leg approaching apex?! Sheezus! (Referring to the previous encounter in which Dovi prevailed in the mirrored situation). This time, it is Dovi on the offense last corner. They both look REALLY good!

Heart pounding. Nice to be in the virtual Motomatters race parlor with you Wavey! Dig the slow highlights with new angles at the very end of coverage? How many times?

D E S S E R T : DOVI VS MARQUEZ LAST LAPS

11min chronological order 2017 and 2018 Dovi vs Marquez last lap toe to toe beatings...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bn8TJA09gP8

I think it's the easiest thing in the world....afterwards. At the time i didn't even notice Dovi's line through T3. It's always nice to look back.

I think MM knows he needs to try. Not much chance of success but a better chance than not trying at all. Motegi and Austria look crazy, no chance....but there is A chance. Also worth noting that on both occasions he passes to pass without risking contact too much. Dovi learnt that...and with the look of that last turn in 2019 he did it in a more polished fashion. Love or hate MM, he's spectacular.

He has passed off nearly everyone at one point or another, hasn't he. (Funny, autocorrect "fixed" pissed off, and maybe birthed a fun phrase). 

Just a couple of us watching a race on a December Sunday, eh? Huh. Thought there might be more needing a fix. 

I have another lined up for next Sunday. A title decider. A tad older.

Great battle by the leading protagonists from three years ago. What is most interesting to me is how much has changed in just over three years. Thirteen riders from that race will not be lining up on the grid at Qatar next March. Of the remaining ten, the majority have changed bikes and/or teams. 

Haven't watched it on screen yet. Didn't watch this one on the tele at the time, for a reason...

 

I was there, smug smile, it was awesome at the track. We stayed in Surin, a long long bus ride from the circuit.

As I recall it was an entertaining race. Even Buddha smiled at the last lap antics.

Hoping to watch un-interupted, with some fish cakes and dipping sauce.

SBK had been to Buriram before MotoGp went to Thailand. It was a good, well run event.

I will watch, maybe Xmas morning. Mebbe Friday night after the missus heads off on her road trip on her Monster.

Thanks for the link Motoshrink.

That was fun, Saturday morning after spreadsheet, viewing. With seaweed salty snax.

Was nice to see Zarco on the Yamaha & Iannone racing. When JZ5 passed Mav on the factory jamjar I was excited. Not for long. Mav went forward, Zarco went backwards!

Valentino passed 93 on the straight! MM was late on the brakes and turning in later. When Marc made a mistake & ran deep it looked like Mav was going to have a go. To my eyes it looked like Maverick eased off a bit and let Marquez have it!?

Marc Marquez versus Dovi. They were cruising mid-race & let some catch up. When Dovizioso picked-up the pace I hardly noticed. Conversely MM93 was pushing the front, sliding the rear on throttle and while braking! I could tell he was pushing.

It has all come back to me now. We were in the last hospo tent, before the last corner. 

How good was it?

Good start, Jack Miller in a decent possition early on. He could have been a contender.

Exciting opening laps.

Interesting tactics mid-race, the front group was growing in numbers.

Pace picked up with 10 laps to go. Hectic last few laps, Wild last lap that came down to the final corner.

Right in front of me the race was decided. The inaugural Thai MotoGp was a success!

I was easier to leave Chang circuit Buriram after the Gp compared to Sepang Malaysia.