MotoGP is a race weekend like no other. The bikes are amazing, and the talent level of the riders is otherworldly. Out of all the top-level motorsports I've been to, however, MotoGP is unique because of its ever-present reminder that you, too, could ride a motorcycle.
Yes, you. Random fan over there. Come sit on this bike. Tinker with the controls. Maybe ride it down this infield sidewalk to get a feel for it. Have kids? We have kids' bikes, too. Let them putter around this nice grassy patch over here on these sweet little minibikes. We'll even show them how.
Everywhere you turn at MotoGP, you get the feeling that this is a show by the riders, for the riders, all the way down to the overarching reminders that everyone here would like to see you on a motorbike. Few if any of the four-wheel events I've been to place quite as much emphasis on "try this vehicle; you'll like it" as MotoGP. I've only ever seen fan opportunities to drive a car at the X Games and at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Most of the cars that are brought to auto races are just for show, often on a stand or behind a rope if they're too pricey.
MotoGP, though? Nope. You could walk right up to the most expensive Ducati on display and look all over. Honda brought a whole line of demo bikes, too. Sit on it. Touch it. Start it up. Tinker. Play.
Perhaps the fact that cars are ubiquitous is the reason for this cultural difference between bike and car races. Cars are something you're practically expected to have, especially in America. You don't need to be sold on that experience. You already live it every day. Auto racing, on the other hand, feels like more of an aspirational display to many people.
Some series, like Pirelli World Challenge's B-Spec, break that mold and actually make average folks think twice about throwing a roll cage into their kid's Fiesta. ("No, Susie, I'm afraid I'm going to have to take this car back and race it.") For the most part, though, you're watching six-figure exotics or purpose-built race cars that you could never dream of racing without winning the lottery first, and the corresponding example car in the paddock is locked up and under the watchful eye of several handlers. We're here at a race because we know and love cars, and we love being around them. We're already hooked for life, regardless of how unobtainable the cars on track seem.
Bikes, on the other hand, are much more accessible to the average dude, yet most of us (self included) are too chicken to try it out. They're a simpler, less expensive machine. Many owners claim they're easier to work on, especially compared with today's modern tech-loaded cars.
Moreover, though, they're exponentially less expensive to take on track. According to Craig Gleason at the Texas Motorcycle Academy, a good track bike can run somewhere around $2,000. You'll spend $400-600 on a nice set of leathers with all the hard pucks in all the right places, $300ish on a nice helmet, and around $150 for one of their track days, which feature one-on-one instruction for folks who are new to the sport. Compare that with, say, the numbers for a crapcan racing build (numbers which I never, ever want to think about again) and that few thousand bucks for a decent trackable motorcycle looks like a bargain. It's tough even finding a Miata in that price range anymore.
The addition of MotoAmerica to this weekend even further drives home that you should be on a motorcycle, for America. MotoAmerica is a new series aimed at developing talent in this chunk of the world. The founders looked at the lack of American talent coming up through the ranks of motorcycle racing and decided it was time to add a better showcase to develop up-and-coming talent here.
There's the catch, though: the idea of a motorcycle even as a vehicle for commuting has to be sold to most Americans. It's not the default mode of transportation. Yes, they're more efficient, easier to maintain machines, but they also lack that protective cage around your body and your stuff. There's a trade-off in safety and comfort that you get for that much nicer power-to-weight ratio.
Hence the change in atmosphere. Those fans already on a bike are here to be celebrated, with track rides, parking corrals and all manner of exhibits geared towards their interests. Those fans who aren't, well, can we interest you in a bike? The overwhelming sense of enthusiasm for two-wheeled motorsports at a motorcycle race weekend is contagious.
MotoGP isn't just a race weekend. It's a celebration of all things with two wheels and a motor.
Enjoy these photos from a weekend full of fast bikes and changing weather at Circuit of the Americas.
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