The Dwindling Innovation In Moto2 Chassis Technology

As competition has tightened the bikes have become less diverse. So where to next?

Moto2 chassis design
Moto2 has created great racing, but as competition has tightened the bikes have become less diverse. Why can't we have both?©Motorcyclist

When the Moto2 world championship racing category took off in 2010, many people predicted that it would bring on a flowering of new and innovative chassis technology. The reason for the optimism was easy to see: Moto2 required a spec engine. But the chassis was open; you could use virtually any chassis tech you could dream up. Improved chassis tech, not engine power, would give savvy competitors that critical edge over the rest of the field.

So how has it worked out? In Moto2’s first year there was indeed a flowering, with 14 different designs entered in the 38-bike field. It’s true that the designs didn’t look too innovative, but there was plenty of diversity, and the door seemed open for some truly original, inventive stuff.

But it’s been downhill from there, with only eight chassis in 2011 and 2012, five in 2013, then down to four chassis in 2014–’15. In 2016 there were to have been four chassis makes again, but the Swiss company Suter, after dominating the series’ early years, announced its withdrawal. In the provisional entry list for 2016 there were to have been three Suter entries, and we don’t yet know what bikes will replace those entries, but we do know that there will be at least 26 Kalexes, three Speed-Ups, and two Tech3s. Thus for 2016 we might even see 29 Kalexes in the 34-bike field. It’s almost certain that a Kalex will win every event in 2016.

What happened here? Basically, the decimation of diversity is a product of the brutal conservatism that dominates racing. Teams must raise money—serious money in the millions of dollars. A team can hire a good rider, but Moto2 riders are young, on the way up, and at least relatively untested. The most direct way to convince sponsors of success is to say, “We have the winning bike. Our equipment is the best out there.” And since a Kalex won 17 out of 18 races in 2015 it would be pretty hard to make that argument about any other chassis. Racers also want the best. “Give me equal equipment and I can beat these guys.” It’s not hard to figure that, for this year at least, the only equipment that you could be sure was “equal” would be Kalex.

Where, then, does Moto2 go from here? There has been talk over the years of dropping the spec Honda engine, but that would raise costs. There is a direct example of increased engine cost in Moto3, where three manufacturers compete; top-level bikes in Moto3 reportedly cost twice what a typical Moto2 bike costs. Dorna's contract with Honda ends in 2018, and Dorna has started consulting with manufacturers to secure a new engine for at least the next six years. The new engine could be a racing engine but probably will end up being a street-based production piece like the current Honda CBR600 engine.

If a spec engine has cost benefits, and if the majority of the teams are basically voting with their wallets for a spec chassis, perhaps the experience of Moto2 is pointing toward making Moto2 a spec series, with all the competitors on identical bikes. An added equalizer would be for Dorna to make sure that all the teams get equipment upgrades at the same time (a complaint in the past has been that some teams using the same chassis didn’t get the same upgrade service).

Is there any way to promote the technical variety seen in the first Moto2 seasons? I don’t see it. It’s a somewhat sad irony that the beginner class (Moto3) fields true racing motorcycles (engine and chassis), as does the ultimate class (MotoGP), while the intermediate class (Moto2) is composed of bikes that would not look out of place in a World Supersport grid.

I started writing this piece thinking that perhaps I'd have an "Aha!" moment and come up with a previously unseen solution to the Moto2 blahs. But every solution seems to require one basic thing: more money. So Moto2 will continue to be the poor orphan child until a real Daddy Warbucks comes along. Dream on.