Review: MotoGP Technology, By Neil Spalding

There are a few books which every MotoGP fan should have on their bookshelves. As many editions of Motocourse as you can afford, of course, for a review of each year, as it was seen at the time. Michael Scott's MotoGP, The Illustrated History, for a grand overview of the history of Grand Prix racing. Mat Oxley's Age of Superheroes, for a closer look at the previous golden age of GPs, if you can get your hands on a copy. And Rick Broadbent's Ring of Fire, a look at the heady days at the end of the 990cc era in MotoGP.

Neil Spalding's MotoGP Technology belongs in that list. Part history and part technical reference work, MotoGP Technology takes a detailed and in depth look, not just at the current batch of MotoGP bikes and how they work, but also why they work. It is, if you like, a work on the engineering theory behind the design of a racing motorcycle, but also a guide to how the manufacturers racing in MotoGP have put that theory into practice.

The book is organized logically, into a number of sections. It starts off with a very brief history of Grand Prix racing, or at least the technical development, in terms of rules and technological advances. Then, a quick general summary of the MotoGP rules, to outline the framework within which the factories have to work. The rules explained only cover MotoGP, as this book is very much about the four-stroke MotoGP era which came into being from 2002, rather than the two-stroke era which preceded it.

After the introduction, the book is split into two major parts, defining praxis and principle. The first part covers all of the manufacturers who have participated in the MotoGP era, and how their bikes have developed through their years of participate. Naturally enough, the longer a manufacturer has been in MotoGP, the more there is to tell, so that Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati get a lot more pages than Aprilia, Suzuki, and KTM. There are also sections on the CRT and Open bikes, as well as the manufacturers no longer in MotoGP: Kawasaki, Team Roberts, and Ilmor.

The history of each manufacturer's bikes is described in some technical detail, and illustrated with the photos from Spalding's extensive and meticulously documented archive. Laid out in both words and pictures, the tale of bike development adds an extra dimension to the purely results-based history we know from watching the races. The tale of how Honda took a wrong turning with their 800cc bike, and then took three seasons to get it back in line again, puts the results of Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, and Nicky Hayden on that bike into perspective. The saga of how Ducati went from the peaks of a world championship to the depths of what Spalding describes as 'The Rossi misadventure', and all the way back again is fascinating, set out as a photo essay.

It is here where Spalding's photographic archive comes into its own. By being able to compare photographs of bikes taken at each race and test he attends, he is able to measure and document the changes over time. Laid out over the space of several years makes the changes starkly clear, and tells a fascinating tale of how different factories reacted to the competition and rule changes over the years.

Throughout the section documenting the bikes, Spalding makes constant references to the various physical and engineering principles which dictate their design. How the direction of the crankshaft affects the handling of the bike, for example, how chassis stiffness interacts with tires, or how geometry and weight distribution interact with engine character, as well as how electronics affects just about every aspect of the motorcycle.

In the second half of the book, Spalding dives into the theory behind all these aspects. There is an introductory section on the fundamentals, explaining the effect of aerodynamics, gyroscopic effect, rake and trail, geometry, chassis flex, etc. This is then followed by much more in depth chapters detailing concepts such as engine layout, crankshaft rotation, firing intervals, and seamless gearboxes. Then Spalding explains chassis design, suspension, and braking.

Naturally, there is a chapter on electronics, in which Spalding lays out the importance of both hardware and software, showing the vast and growing array of sensors being used in MotoGP. There is also a very useful couple of pages with examples of the data traces used by the electronics specialists to analyze the behavior of the bike, with explanations of what the various different lines mean, and giving the reader an idea of how to interpret them. When riders and teams talk of having to "look at the data", this is what they are doing, though they have a couple of hundred channels (that is, inputs from sensors) to examine.

Overall, MotoGP Technology is an indispensable guide to, well, the technology used in MotoGP and its development. It is written clearly and in language simple enough for most people with good English comprehension and a basic understanding of the technical side of a motorcycle to understand and enjoy. Neil Spalding may not have the concise elegance of motorcycle engineering guru Kevin Cameron, but he sets the ideas in the book out clearly. The vast number of photos help a lot in that respect, as do the numerous diagrams, but on occasion, I felt that an additional diagram would have made things even clearer, particularly in the section on fundamentals. The relationship between rake, trail, and offset is more easily shown in a diagram than in words.

This is, above all, a reference book. That has advantages over a narrative history, as it means that it does not have to be read consecutively. You can dip in and out of chapters, or select a subject which you are interested in. You can go back and reread sections to refresh your memory or gain a deeper understanding after reading an article or watching a race or practice session. Or you can just browse through the photos and read the captions. Whichever option you choose, you will still come away having learned something.

As the title suggests, this is very much a book about MotoGP technology. It does not cover the changes to Moto2 or Moto3, or the technological developments in World Superbikes at all. This is a book about the bikes in MotoGP, how they work, and how they have developed. To the extent that all motorcycles must fundamentally work according to the same principles, that is no real issue. The fact that MotoGP has the greatest freedom in engineering also makes it the most interesting from the perspective of technology.

There are of course two dangers with a reference book about the technology used in MotoGP. The first is that the book is out of date as soon as it is published. Then again, you could go so far as to say that anything written about the state of MotoGP technology is likely to be out of date within 24 hours of the race weekend the photos were taken and the notes were made for it. This book circumvents that problem by giving such a detailed and in-depth assessment of the current state of technology that it makes it easier to understand what has happened since the end of the 2017 season, when this book was compiled.

The second danger is that the book is not comprehensive. That, too, is an impossible objective: the only people with a full and comprehensive understanding of MotoGP are currently employed in Borgo Panigale, Noale, Mattighofen, and in various cities around Japan. But MotoGP Technology is as comprehensive on the technical side of motorcycle racing's premier class as it is possible to be. The fact that it is eminently readable and a beautiful thing to look at is a bonus.

MotoGP Technology by Neil Spalding
304 pages. £39.95 plus P&P, available from the publisher's website,

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Neil is a class act. I still miss his interjections during MotoGP commentary on Eurosport.

I have a copy of it sitting on my coffee table.  I pick out sections to reread through the long Minnesota winter.