Tech Talk: Body Position On A MotoAmerica Superbike

With legs akimbo, Mathew Scholtz’s riding position is a good example of modern Superbike-racing technique. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
At the 2015 preseason test, the hump in the middle of the seat on Hayes’s #1 Superbike was almost imperceptible.

After the revised version of the Yamaha YZF-R1 Superbike debuted in 2015, Josh Hayes’s chassis man Steve Rounds seemingly spent every spare moment of his time (at least while at the racetrack) working on the seat on Hayes’s #1 machine during the 2015 season. Shaving, gluing, and clamping down the neoprene on countless iterations of the seat, Rounds focused tirelessly on revising a small, but slightly expanding hump in the middle portion of seat. By the end of that 2015 season, Rounds had done so many, um, “rounds” on Hayes’s seat that it looked noticeably different from the way it looked when the bike was rolled out of the truck at the COTA preseason test in March of that year.

A little more than a year later, and Steve Rounds had made a mountain out of a molehill, which was a very good thing. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Precisely where the rider sits on a Superbike is a critical ergonomic factor, and it’s something that is taken seriously by the MotoAmerica teams and riders. Just this past season, JD Beach’s Attack Performance Estenson Racing Yamaha Superbike developed a debilitating midseason chatter that directly and adversely affected Beach’s results. A redesign of the seat section and fuel tank on Beach’s bike moved him forward and put more of his body weight over the front-end of the bike. The result? No more chatter.

Most Superbike racers try to keep their bodies as far forward in the saddle as possible, in order to counteract the natural rearward shift in weight as the 200-plus-horsepower machines accelerate. And that was the reason for the small, but highly effective hump in the seat on Hayes’ Superbike. It needed to provide just enough leverage to keep Hayes over the front-end of the machine without preventing him from moving around on the bike and sliding back to get into a tuck on the straightaways.

Toni Elias’s seat is designed to push him forward and into the winner’s circle. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Every rider is different, though, and you need look no further than the seat on Toni Elias’ Suzuki GSX-R1000R Superbike for evidence of that. The prodigious padding on the rear section of Elias’s seat is obviously there to keep the diminutive Spaniard as far forward as he can get without doing a handstand on his Suzuki’s clip-ons. And, given his stature, he really doesn’t need to slide back very far on the seat in order to get into a more aerodynamic position on the straightaways.

When you sit as far forward as you can get on a Superbike, it can and does have an adverse effect on your ability to hang off the bike in the turns. There is a tendency for the rider to rotate around the gas tank instead of just sliding sideways off the seat. Your inside knee will slide forward and alongside the fairing, rather than sticking out away from the bike as it should. And, if you try to slide over too much when you’re right up against the gas tank, your outside leg may lose too much contact with the bike. In other words, trying to slide off the seat when sitting close to the tank tends to lever the outside leg off the bike, compromising lower body stability. Anyone who watched Miguel Duhamel race will probably remember how the French-Canadian used to hook his outside leg over the seat in the turns, and his outside foot wouldn’t even be touching the footpeg. It was unorthodox, but far be it for anyone, especially this author, to criticize the 1995 Superbike Champ and legendary rider.

If that’s the way a five-time 500cc GP World Champ wants to ride, who are we to be critical?
The Worm turns, and it works for him.

We also won’t criticize five-time-consecutive 500cc Grand Prix World Champion Michael Doohan or racer-of-just-about-anything-on-two-wheels Larry Pegram for their similar riding styles that had them sitting almost sidesaddle in the turns.

So, let’s go back to what four-time Superbike Champion Josh Hayes was trying to do on his 2015 Yamaha Superbike, as facilitated by the ever-industrious Mr. Rounds.

Hayes: “Good job, Steve-o. That seat looks just about right. Let’s see what my ass thinks.” Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Hayes wanted to be able to sit about three or four inches away from the gas tank on his Superbike. That way, he could easily slide sideways off the seat and enable his outside leg to maintain solid contact with the bike. With his hips square and not rotated around the tank, he could maintain a neutral upper body position with his spine running parallel to the bike. By modern Superbike-racing standards, that seems to be the preferred body position: close to the gas tank, but not too close.

We cannot emphasize enough, however, that seating position on a Superbike comes down to personal preference and “what works for the rider.” If a rider is hella-fast and almost literally busts his balls against the gas tank, or conversely, is baby-jeebus-fast and sits half a foot or so off the tank, then who’s to argue?

Certainly not us. We’ll just take a seat over here.