Brakes may not be the most visceral and exciting part of a race car or a racing motorcycle, but they’re probably the most important (after tires). They’re also fascinating if you dig a little into the technology behind them, particularly at the highest levels of motorsport.
People talk a lot about Formula 1, and of course, the cars are a technological marvel. Still, for my dollar, MotoGP is the most extreme and most interesting of on-road sports, and the engineering and physics on show there are pretty wild. How wild? Check out this video from series brake supplier Brembo, published on Tuesday, on what the bikes are subjected to at the upcoming Qatar Grand Prix, which isn’t even the most demanding braking circuit in the season.
Unless you’re a motorcycle nerd, you probably didn’t know that MotoGP uses carbon ceramic brakes on all of its bikes. This is especially neat because, unlike cars, that tech hasn’t really trickled down to production motorcycles because the temperatures required to make the brakes work correctly can’t reliably be maintained on the street. The materials and design are similar to what you’d see on an exotic car, with a finned forged aluminum four-piston monobloc caliper and a carbon rotor, but Brembo offers two different masses of rotor as well as multiple sizes for race bike use.
The reason for all the choices? Optimizing for an individual rider’s preferences and as well as the demands of different circuits while also minimizing weight. For 2022, for example, Brembo added a 355-millimeter vented carbon rotor to its offerings specifically for use on circuits like Motegi in Japan and the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Riders on those tracks can opt for a solid or vented 340mm disc instead, and in all the other races, they can go down further to a 320mm rotor. For some perspective, the largest rotor that Brembo supplies for a road-going motorcycle is 330mm and is fitted to the Ducati Panigale.
The calipers have some interesting technology going for them too. In addition to being finned to help keep fluid temperatures in check, the calipers feature an anti-pad-drag system that actively forces the brake pads away from the rotor to reduce unwanted drag, improve acceleration and keep pad temperatures from going through the roof.
On the Losail circuit, MotoGP bikes will spend approximately fifteen minutes out of the race under braking. The brakes get hot enough there to glow at night, particularly in the braking zone for turn one, which sees the bikes dropping from around 216 mph to about 60 mph in approximately 850 feet while experiencing a force of 1.5 g over 5.5 seconds. That’s roughly the equivalent force of a Bugatti Veyron accelerating to 60 mph, but the riders are experiencing that in reverse without being strapped to anything.
If the braking systems are this awesome in MotoGP, just imagine how wild the rest of the series is. Do yourself a favor, and even if you’re not into bikes, watch a race.
Measuring your car’s brakes to tell if you need a brake…
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