How I ride: Cal Crutchlowby Mat Oxley on 5th March 2019
Five days before the first race of 2019, Britain’s most successful rider since Barry Sheene tells us his secrets
This interview was conducted last season, before Crutchlow had his monster crash at Phillip Island, but everything still holds true…
MotoGP is three seasons into its technical new regulations, so how has your technique changed?
The biggest change for me was coming from Superbikes to MotoGP, but within that the biggest thing was the tyres, going from Pirelli to Bridgestones, which were so not what I was used to, you can’t even imagine. I still think I have a superbike style, the way I hang off the bike. I don’t put my elbow on the ground, which is the new MotoGP style. You see some idiots sticking out their elbow in the middle of the corner to get it on the floor, [Marc] Márquez style. There’s absolutely no need, it’s just because Marc does it. It’s ridiculous to watch.
We all set up our bikes to our riding styles – we set the brake lever to our style, the handlebars to our style and so on. But it’s very difficult to change the style you use to ride the bike. Sure, you change your style during a race: you start picking up the bike more on the exit when the grip goes and you start braking in a different way when the fuel load goes down – we know what lap we can start braking with more angle.
But as for your actual style, when I look at photos of me 15 years ago I look the same as I do now. Honestly, I’ve tried to change. For years I’ve tried to learn to brake with my two biggest fingers, but I can’t do it, it never happens. I still brake with my outer three fingers and I keep the index finger on the handlebar to start opening the throttle.
Some of the guys hang off a lot more because the bikes have changed so much. Randy Mamola always says that your head is like a stone: it’s the heaviest part of your body, especially with a helmet, so if you move your head out it helps drag the bike around the corner. Remember Colin Edwards? He used to stick his head out miles but he never moved off the bike. Marc hardly moves his head at all, because he moves his body so much.
With regards to the MotoGP rules changing, riding style changed a lot when we went from 800s to 1000s. We had to pick up the bike more to use the fatter part of the tyre because the engines had so much more torque, and we started to use less corner speed, but not massively less.
And it changed again when we went to the Michelins. I think lean angles are more now, because of the rear tyre’s edge grip, but then we see a lot more crashes from the front.
I’ve ridden for three different manufacturers and you have to adapt your style to that as well. The Honda took the longest to get right and even now I’m learning every day. I change my technique according to the conditions, according to the situation and according to the tyres, but my natural instinct is my natural instinct, so my position on the bike and so on is always the same.
Look at Dani [Pedrosa], he was the complete king of pick-up when everyone was on Bridgestones. Watch him now and he does the exact same thing, he’s in the exact same position even if the bike looks different because the tyres are different and so the bike geometry is different. He was the only one doing it with the Bridgestones, but now everyone is doing it.
It’s ridiculous how close it is. The thing is one bike is faster into corners, another is faster in the middle and another in the exit, but it all equals out.
How has corner entry changed?
I don’t think we brake any earlier than we did with the Bridgestones; it’s just that we brake in a different way, because you get a lot of movement in the braking zone from the front Michelin, so you brake with the bike upright a lot more. With the Bridgestone front we braked with a lot more angle and braking to the absolute maximum, so you could scrub speed off into the corner. I remember sometimes 50 degrees of lean angle with the rear tyre off the ground! Marc is the only guy who still brakes into corners with quite a lot of angle. That’s just the way he is – he floats the bike.
Now we lock the front nearly every time we brake in a straight line, so sometimes we are locking the front at over 300kph [190mph] as soon as we touch the brake. It’s a scary, scary thing, so we need to play with the lever all the way into the corner.
The Honda is amazing in braking, so we have to take advantage of that, but we have to use either of the harder front options and even then we sometimes crash because we brake so hard that we overheat the front and it doesn’t hold out.
There are positives: the Michelins are less heavy and they turn better. They’re doing a good job. And we still f**king hammer the front brake, like gripping a tennis ball as hard as you can.
Now it seems when the rear tyre goes off a little bit I can brake better with the front, because I haven’t got the rear tyre pushing the front tyre, so I can release the brake and turn the bike. And now we’re laying rubber into the turns with the front – but that’s not because we’re locking the front, it’s more a case of opening the gas, then the rear is pushing the front.
Do you have to use the rear tyre more to stop the bike now?
Yes, you need the rear tyre on the floor a lot more. With the Bridgestone you needed the rear on the floor a lot less, because the front tyre stopped the bike better.
How has your mid-corner and the exit changed?
If you’re on a bike that turns, the Michelins will turn very, very well. On the exit you have to be a lot more patient with the throttle than with the Bridgestones, because if you get on the gas too soon you’ll lift the front tyre and it’s likely to fold, just because you’ve got a lot of rear grip.
The carcass of the Michelins seems soft compared to the Bridgestones, which is why we get all that exit grip, but you also get a lot of pumping with the rear on the exit. From mid-corner to the exit we’re trying to get as much power as we can to the ground without losing any drive.
Some people brake a lot differently than others. With the Honda we make more of a vee of the corner, we don’t make the corner so round as some of the other bikes, so maybe we have a lot more stress on the tyres in one part of the corner, but then the others have more stress in another part of the corner. The Michelins do have more corner speed and I think that now the Honda is getting better for that.
Why is the Honda so much better this year?
We always try to change what we do to be able to ride the bike to the best of bike’s and tyres’ ability, and the tyres have changed a little since last year, which has helped us be more competitive. But the big reason we are going better is that our engine is stronger, nothing much else has changed on the bike.
How much you look at Márquez and Pedrosa’s data?
As much as they look at mine, which is probably most days. The strange thing you can look at it all day long and it’s nearly always the same as the last few years, because your riding style is your riding style. My style is more like Marc’s than Dani’s, a lot more. Dani is a very, very special rider. You can learn stuff from everyone but his height and the way he rides is so different to everyone else, so his data isn’t much use to me or Marc.
Some riders say the Michelin front doesn’t turn as well as the Bridgestone…
You see a lot more tyre smoke nowadays, because we’re trying to turn the bike with the rear. Even though the rear has got a lot of grip, it will spin and still drive, to an extent. That’s why you see these tyres drop faster and riders being more trouble with the tyres because riders are burning them up trying to turn the bike.
Is the lower-tech traction control also responsible for that?
We do use the TC and we play with it a lot more in the race than what we used to, changing the settings. But I play with the engine management more than with the TC. In some races I might change the power setting four or five times. You can be clever with the power management. If you want to overtake someone and you need a bit more power, you can go to a more powerful setting, or if the other guy’s bike is better than yours in one area, maybe you can use something in your mapping that will make your bike better in that area.
What about engine-braking control?
I play with that the most. It depends on how much grip there is. We race after Moto2 and you can work out after three laps what you need to change with the engine-braking and so on. Maybe the grip isn’t so good, but you leave the button alone and the grip gets better, or you might change it immediately, which makes things worse, so then you have to go back. You have to constantly assess the situation.
If you change the engine-braking for one corner, you’ve got to give it two laps at that one corner to know whether it’s better or worse. Then maybe I’ve got no problems at turns one, four and five and so on, but it’s shit engine-braking at the last corner, so we’ll set it up for that corner and. We can pre-set it for that one corner, so I can make it more or less engine-braking: A for the most engine-braking, B for less and then C for less again. Normally you go with the most at the beginning of the race when you’ve got the most grip, then you go freer and freer as the grip goes down. But then sometimes you leave it, or sometimes you need more as the race goes on!
If the Moto2 rubber a big thing on race day?
You have no idea – most times it’s like a completely new track!
Everyone is so close on lap times now, which must make things tough?
At one point in practice today [Friday at the Sachsenring] there were seven riders on 1min 21.7sec. Can you tell me how that works, because I’ve no f**king idea! It’s ridiculous how close it is. The thing is one bike is faster into corners, another is faster in the middle and another in the exit, but it all equals out.
It doesn’t seem so easy to find the right tyres for the race…
Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I run a front tyre that I’ve never, ever raced and it’s been fine. But then you go to the next track and you think you’ll be able to use that tyre again and you can’t, so it’s a challenge.
You’re fairly short and stocky – is that the perfect stature for MotoGP?
At the start of the year my weight was perfect – 65 to 66kg, but now I’m 68 or 69 kilos, just through muscle growth. I think the optimum weight is 66 kilos and the taller you are the better, up to a point.