"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Problem solving

The forward by "King Kenny" does a good job of capturing why I liked racing so much.
Problem solving, and you are never finished

The Grand Prix Motorcycle: The Official Technical History (Hardcover)
By Kenny Roberts Sr.

I’ve been involved in motorcycle Grand Prix racing for more than half of my life. In racing you live day to day, season to season. You work all the time to solve problems – if you gear for turn three it’s wrong for turn eight. Which one will cost you more time? The bike is pushing or we have chatter. The crew can’t make the carburetion right. Because you can’t fix everything, you go to the starting line with problems, and you work through them in the race.

Afterwards, win or lose, you talk about it with the crew, the tire people, the engineers. Can we fix this before next race? When – and especially where – can we test this new front tire? Racing isn’t a fairytale with a happy ending – it’s a stream of problems, half answers, and coping with the rest. The team and rider that copes best has some chance of winning. It’s all about confidence – if your front tire starts to push, that stops you psychologically. You have to fix it.
After I’d been 500 champion a couple of times someone asked me if racing had become just a job for me. I said no. No one pays you enough money to do this if you’re miserable. We were based in Amsterdam then, where the North Sea makes the weather dark and rainy. I wanted to go testing even if it was raining and cold. I wanted to race.

Since then I’ve a team owner and then a “constructor” – we built our own three-cylinder 500 and then a four-stroke 990cc V5. Doing that gave me new perspectives on racing – and a lot more problems. Riders have personalities. When are those castings coming? Why does it have to be the welder who’s sick? They’re doing what to the rules?

This book is a history of the top-class Grand Prix motorcycle, 1949 to now. It shows that riders, crew, and the engineers have struggled with the same basic familiar problems (and each other) for 60 years – making tires grip and last, making bikes that do what the riders wants them to, making reliable power that the rider can use. Methods and materials change and computers get a lot of press now, but riders of the 1950’s would recognize the some old problems in their new clothing. The result of all those years of work on those problems is today’s much more capable race bikes and production bikes.

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