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Tom Cruise, Motorcycle Racing, and How You Can ride

Author: Jean Claude Ted Isidor

Editors: Angela Pan and He-HansonXuan

Artist: Serena Yung

Fans and nonfans alike have been amazed by the recent film, Top Gun: Maverick. The exhilarating jet scenes and the slick air force jackets had movie watchers feeling the rush from their seats. One scene in particular ‒ Cruise riding a motorcycle with a fighter ‒ references back to a popular sports motorcycle scene in the first Top Gun movie. If one were asked to list a couple of car races, common answers would be Nascar, Formula 1, and 24 Hours at Le Mans. But if asked to do the same for motorcycles, many might not know what to say. In Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing (MotoGP), similar to the rules of Formula 1, racers battle it out on tracks across the globe to earn points to win the championships. One of the most impressive aspects is how drivers are able to angle their bikes at extremely sharp angles around corners, past extents to which people normally expect a crash. Even more amazing is how close riders get to each other while avoiding collisions.

To ride a bike, you would simply turn the handlebar either left or right, allowing the front wheel to position where you want to go. Turning becomes significantly more difficult for MotoGP riders who travel at speeds of between 160 and 185 Km/h. When a motorcyclist goes around a corner, they only turn the handlebar but also lean in the direction of the turn. During a motorcycle turn, it is acted upon by a plethora of forces: gravity keeps the motorcycle on the ground, while friction with the ground makes the motorcycle rotate towards the outside of the turn. As such, riders have to intentionally lean their centers of gravity towards the inside of the turn to counteract the torque of friction.

However, at higher speeds, countersteering is used to allow for faster turns. For example, to go around a left bend on the road, you would turn the handlebar to the right and refrain from leaning the motorcycle. This turn causes the torque to make the bike fall outwards. One would turn the handlebar left when the bike begins to fall outwards. The bike is now going around the left bend. Compared to conventional turning, countersteering allows riders to go around bends at faster speeds. As a result, it has been accredited with saving lives in certain motorcycle accidents. MotoGP is a staple for racers to use countersteering mid-race, whether not to lose too much speed or pass another racer.

As with many other sports, MotoGP has many brilliant aspects. This is a sport unlike any other, combining technology, technique, and talent. With the words of the greatest MotoGP racers to have ever lived, Valentino Rossi: “Riding a bike is like an art, something you do because you feel something inside.”

 

Citations:

Allain, Rhett. “How Do Motorcycles Lean so Far without Tipping over?” Wired, Conde Nast,

12 Aug. 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/08/motorcycles-lean-far-without-tipping/.

Carter, Sarah. “The Physics of Motorcycle Roadracing.” Countersteering, http://ffden

2.phys.uaf.edu/211_fall2002.web.dir/Sarah_Carter/countersteer.html.

Counter Steering | The Interesting Physics behind It, Lesics, 31 Dec. 2019,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpV2Bg-WX0w&t=227s. Accessed 27 July 2022.

“The Unseen Speeds of Motogp.” Box Repsol, 5 Nov. 2020,

https://www.boxrepsol.com/en/motogp-en/the-unseen-speeds-of-motogp/.

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