You look at a MotoGP motorcycle and it’s a feat of innovation and engineering. Everything has been designed and maintained to within a nanometer’s tolerance, and there’s not a single thing out of place. Perfection distilled into a raw racer. 

But if you listen to the Red Bull’s engineers, it feels like a very different story. 

I sat down with Red Bull KTM’s Sebastian Risse—the team’s technical director—at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas ahead of the COTA round of MotoGP, and we talked about what goes into a race bike. But our talk turned incredibly interesting midway through as he walked me through the level of compromise that actually goes into building out a championship-contending race bike. 

“The bike is a complex thing. Everything has to work together,” says Risse, “When we were developing the setup and concept of the bike [we] focused on lap times, on a running lap, and we ended up on a setup that was also good for wheelie limit. But then you have these options to alter this just for the start… It means you also have to make a compromise.”

KTM Team Members_Red Bull KTM_MotoGP_Circuito de Jerez - Ángel Nieto (ESP)-26

The idea of a compromise on a top-spec MotoGP bike intrigued me, so I pressed Risse for more, and to my surprise, he added far more context and pretty much said they compromise a lot. 

“I mean, life is a compromise. Motorcycles are even more complex compromises usually,” he told me with a tort laugh, adding, “You cannot make it perfect for this and perfect for that. But with these [new tech systems] it’s much easier to make an acceptable compromise for each. So usually with the bike geometry, the setup, you only focus on the flying lap (quali-setup). You try to make the best compromise, let’s say the least damage, to the perfect race start and straight-line performance.” 

From an outsider’s perspective looking in, this feels like heresy. MotoGP bikes are supposed to be scalpel-sharp instruments of certain doom. Power projectors in the same vein as an F-22 Raptor. No weak links. And they still are, but the amount of compromise actually makes that machine you watch on TV do all the sorts of insanely technical riding you see. 

Get the RideApart Newsletter
Sign Up Today

Risse continued, saying, “And also the rider has a huge effect. How he can do it or not. It’s a personal thing. Some guys struggle to get on the front tire, some others are very happy to have more contact on the rear and pay whatever price to have that. And that means that you cannot have the same solution for everyone.”

Risse continued that thought, adding “We know what would be technically, theoretically best, and you try and bring it with each rider as close as possible to that until he struggles with something. Then you try and fix this something that’s limiting him, for example more ride height, and see how far you can take it.”

KTM Team Members_Red Bull KTM_MotoGP_Circuito de Jerez - Ángel Nieto (ESP)-25

I then asked Risse how they communicate what the engineers see as technically possible from the setup to the riders and how they get the riders to that theoretical apex, to which he replied, “On some tracks, we already know from the data from previous years what the limitations will be. And if you don’t see a limitation as a particular concern, you go for the maximum and then you face the problems the rider explains to you. But of course, when a rider hits this limit in five races and every time again, you will not do the same thing. You start to compromise.”

That’s all to say that Risse and his team do start with the best setup from an engineering perspective. His final words to me were, “[We] try and make the maximum usable [performance] first.” But they aren’t going to pound the definition of insanity into the ground. If that peak isn’t working for the riders or track, they iterate in conjunction with the riders and the other engineers, and the two parties compromise to get the most of out the bikes. 

And, hopefully, it turns into a race-winning formula.

Got a tip for us? Email: