Saturday, January 08, 2011

In conversation with MotoGP lensman, Martin Heath

"Trying to shoot hungover, with a 130db racebike invading your eardrums, is not a good idea," says Martin Heath, who travels the world shooting MotoGP pics. Below is a small selection of his work...
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Martin Heath, who’s been a professional photographer since 1998, specialises in our most favourite sport in the world – MotoGP. For the last three years, Martin has been travelling to every single MotoGP race around the globe to shoot pics, and his list of clients includes many leading motorcycle publications worldwide.

Martin, who’s now about 30 years old, got started with cameras when he was just nine years old. ‘Always been quite arty and creative at school, so rather than become a painter or sculptor etc., I got into photography. As a kid, I thought it was way cooler to have a gadget than a paintbrush or a pencil,’ he says.

We thought anyone who travels the world shooting pics in the high-speed, high-stakes world of MotoGP would definitely have some interesting tales to tell. So we caught up with Martin for a brief chat. Here are some excerpts from what he had to say:

On how he got started with shooting motorcycle racing pics

Started with British Superbikes back in 2000. Then started attending the odd MotoGP race, starting with the British GP and Donington Park from 2002. From there, mainly all the European MotoGPs, and then for the last three years, every MotoGP race. Why bikes? Because I was born into a family of motorcycles. My Dad had two when I was born and I remember going to Brands Hatch when I was four or five years old, in his sidecar.

On the unique challenges of shooting pics in MotoGP

Very little can be controlled and 95% of the time you are shooting with what’s given, i.e., a set time, place, weather etc. So, generally, you have to deliver – you can't go back and just redo it all like working in a studio.

On the photographic equipment he uses to shoot his pics

All Canon EOS1D mk2n bodies, as I still believe that for what I do it's the best body Canon have made. 500/4 IS USM is the main workhorse lens, along with 70-200/2.8 IS mk1, but looking at upgrading to the new mk2. 16-35/2.8, 14/2.8 and x1.4mk2 converter. Also use a 15/2.8 fisheye. Canon flashes, 580ex.

On the experience of travelling to every MotoGP race every year

I do every MotoGP race in a year – eighteen. And between March and November, I probably spend more time in the paddock at a racetrack than anywhere else. It’s like my second family, so it's always good to catch up with everyone.

On the best and the worst tracks for shooting pics

For atmosphere, the best tracks are those with the biggest crowds on race days, so Mugello (Italy) for the Rossi factor. Next year will be off the chart as he's on a Ducati now! And Spain – Jerez and Valencia. Shooting wise, Mugello and Jerez are high up there as my favourites, but also probably Phillip Island in Australia (we go there in their springtime, so it can be freezing!), because the air is so pure and unpolluted there, it gives a really nice, crisp, saturated image.

The worst are probably Silverstone and Indianapolis, just because of the lack of access and how far the track is away from where you shoot from.

Best experiences? Probably being there when Rossi won his first race for Yamaha at Welkom, in South Africa, in 2004. Also, any Rossi victory at Mugello!

On what’s the best place for having a wild time, and what place has the hottest women and the best food, parties etc!

I'd imagine most of the fans get the ‘wild time' rather than us, who work there! Trying to shoot hungover, with a 130db racebike invading your eardrums, is not a good idea! Best food? Italy, without question! Women? Spain, Italy and USA. Parties? Only really have one big organised party for the whole paddock, after the last race at Valencia, which starts at midnight and runs to about seven in the morning. With a free bar. That can get interesting! Dullest? Hmm..., not very fair but probably Qatar, as there is generally an alcohol ban, there is no crowd there and the food is not great.

On which racers are the most cooperative and fun to shoot with

Usually the most cooperative rider is the one that has been told you are shooting them by their team or sponsors! But the easiest and friendliest are ones that you probably have the best relationship with. Nicky Hayden is great and he’s always funny and amusing to be around. And all the Brits, so Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danny Webb and Danny Kent. There are some prima donnas, but my lips are sealed – I will have to work with them again after they read this!

On whether sports photography is a good way to make tons of money

No, it's definitely not a good way to make tons of money! Nobody who works regularly at MotoGP is ‘rich,’ and that includes most of the riders! However, I have no real regrets apart from the fact I would have liked to have started earlier.

On whether he loves bikes

Yes, the majority of people that work full time at MotoGP, I would say have a real passion for it. You need to! That's the main perk! It's not always as glamorous as it sounds though. I started riding bikes at five. Did some trials riding and motocross, then started roadracing at 16. I did a few years racing production 250s, but ran out of money pretty quickly. Now I prefer to go motocross or enduro. In fact I've just got back from spending new years, riding Suzuki's 2011 RMZ250 and RMX450 dirtbikes, and I would like to get a new trials bike this year.

On what’s the fastest he’s ever ridden

On a bike, I've been up to about 240km/h, but I'm not telling whether that was street or track!

On his favourite MotoGP title contender for 2011

My head says Casey Stoner on the Honda. I was there at Valencia at the end of last year, when Casey was just completely drifting the RCV through the long left that leads into the last corner, after only about six or seven laps on that Honda. My heart says Rossi on the Ducati, because it will be the final piece of the jigsaw for his amazing MotoGP career. But I also think Lorenzo will be as tough or tougher defending his crown, and Ben Spies will win races. But ultimately it will boil down to consistency and who avoids injury. On paper, it could be the most exciting season since we moved to MotoGP!

We thank Martin for taking the time to speak to Faster and Faster, and we wish him all the best for his MotoGP photography. For more about the man and his work, please visit Martin’s website here and his Facebook page here

Andrew Wheeler owns the copyright to Martin Heath's photograph (used on top)


Update: Limited Edition VR46 MotoGP Prints available

Martin Heath is now releasing a series of limited prints in the run-up to the lights going out for the start of the 2011 MotoGP season.

First up in the series is this double-whammy of stunning shots of Valentino Rossi during his last season on a Yamaha. One print is from Laguna Seca’s Rainey Curve, with Rossi and his M1 draped in the special one-off Fiat 500 ‘Fans Faces’ livery. The second crystal clear image hails from Phillip Island, showing Rossi’s commitment as he peels into the infamous Lukey Hieghts.

Available as large format A3 (11.5”x16.5”) prints on either gloss or museum etching quality paper, using Canon pro inks and Canon pro paper. The VR46 prints will be limited to just 46 copies worldwide, so don’t hang around and get your order in sharpish!

Price: Gloss $110 inc p&p, Museum etching $130 inc p&p
Size: 11.5”x16.5”
t: +44 (0)7977 596 164
f: Martin Heath

Friday, January 07, 2011

Keith Code: The evolution of the art of cornering

Keith Code says that the art of cornering a motorcycle has already evolved through four complete phases, and phase five is now upon us. It certainly makes for interesting reading...
Mike Hailwood Barry Sheene Eddie Lawson Norick Abe Mick Doohan

Motorcyclists love corners, right? Doing 300km/h in a straight line on a ZZR1400 is all very well, but riding a properly sorted NSR/RGV/TZ/RS250 through a set of mountain twisties produces a rush of adrenaline like nothing else on the planet. Some time back, Keith Code wrote a piece on the evolution of the art of cornering, which we thought was quite interesting. Here are some excerpts:

The evolution of the art of cornering has had four complete phases so far. The neat, tidy, knees-to-tank, stretched-out-on-the-bike style of the 19-teens through the 1960s was handed down as the path of least resistance. You could say it was the ‘natural’ style of riding.

Phase two. Mike Hailwood let his inside knee come off the tank in the 1960s and practically created a stock market panic in the riding style etiquette market – it was a huge departure from tradition. Paul Smart, Barry Sheene and others followed. Then, phase three, Jarno Saarinen actually moved his butt off the seat a bit, which was emulated by many.

The fourth phase is credited to and was pioneered by Kenny Roberts Sr’s knee-down, hang-off style in the 1970s. Initially this earth-shattering look was quite personal to the rider, each having his own iteration of the new form. Cal Rayborn and Kel Carruthers were halfway guys, still clinging a bit to phase two. Some others had lots of bum off, some with lots of leg and knee off, some rotated around the tank a la Mick Doohan. A few went head and body way down and on the inside of the tank, Randy Mamola style. Some hung-off but remained sitting more upright, like Kevin Schwantz.

The torso positions for the 500cc world champs of the era; Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Wayne Rainey, were half way between – on the tank but not inside it. Most of the originals also tended to ride forward on the tank and finally everyone was stationary in their hung-off position once in the corner. The neat part of that era, with all these splinter groups, was that a fan could have instant recognition of the individual’s style and look. Not so today, when phase five is upon us.

Conceptually, hanging off couldn’t be simpler. Lower the combined Center-of-Gravity (CG) of the bike/rider combination and you go through the same corner at the same speed, on the same line with less lean angle – a brilliantly utilitarian racer’s tool with huge residual benefits, chief among them being an accurate, on-board gauge for lean angle. And true to most evolutionary progressions, function now rules the new look and style of road racers.

Take a look – riders are low and inside of their bikes. More and more we see them perfectly in line with the machine, not twisted or rotated in the saddle. The bum off/body twisted back across the top of the bike positioning, which many phase four riders had been doing, was and still is an interesting piece of self-deception. With their torso mass on the higher side of the bike, it not only neutralizes the mass of the hips being off the bike but actually is a negative, raising the combined bike and rider CG, defeating the technique’s main function and purpose.

Other notable changes in phase five include not being so stretched out as before, but not always with the family jewels on the tank either. The one new variable in phase five riders is coming further off the bike mid-corner to exit. You’ll see it on the bum-cam position next time you watch riders like Rossi in MotoGP. That and the fore/aft in the saddle differences appear to be the only options available to phase five evolution racers.

We have five choices now in how we can look and relate to our bikes. If you keep your eye on the style’s function and do some limbering exercises, all the benefits of phase five will become apparent as you become comfortable with it. Is it easy? My experience says it is not a natural style at all and riders are hard pressed to assume the new form. If it is your desire to do it, I suggest taking your time and, step by step, experimenting with each of the stages through which it has evolved. Good luck!

For more of Keith Code’s motorcycle wisdom, you could order a copy of his new Twist of the Wrist II DVD and/or enroll for classes in the famous California Superbike School

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

MotoMorphic JaFM: It’s about ‘standout,’ not ‘speed’
Think the MotoMorphic JaFM is cool? You can have one, provided you're willing to shell out at least US$100,000 and above for the bike...
Pics: William Ross

We wrote about the MotoMorphic JaFM back in June 2008, when we published the first few pics of Jim Davis’ radical custom bike on Faster and Faster. Now, MotoMorphic have released more pics of the JaFM, which, with its outsized tyres and comically outlandish chassis, looks as over-the-top as ever.

Davis says the ‘inspiration’ for the JaFM came from streetfighters, fat tyres, American muscle cars and fighter planes. ‘Along with the massive visual impact of the MotoMorphic JaFM, there is a balance and congruity to the overall design. Overall, the bike functions exceptionally well, as a radical yet eminently rideable motorcycle that makes an undeniable statement about its owner and his/her individuality,’ claims the bike’s creator.

Oh, well, there’s more to the JaFM than its styling. The engine, for one. It’s a 998cc DOHC 8-valve Rotax V-twin, mated to a six-speed gearbox with a slipper clutch. The engine produces about 110bhp and 90Nm of torque, which we suppose should be just about adequate for a bike that weighs close to 250 kilos. Top speed is in excess of 160km/h and MotoMorphic admit that the JaFM is more about getting attention rather than going very fast. They also claim that the bike’s fully adjustable ergonomics make it quite comfortable to ride.

If you want a JaFM, MotoMorphic will tailor make one for you, though with a base price of US$100,000 you’d have to want one pretty bad. The bike comes with high-spec components: fully adjustable Ohlins fork and Penske shock, Brembo brakes, Dynojet Power Commander III with optimised mapping and optional bits like carbonfibre bodywork and components, Ostrich or Stingray hide upholstery, various CNC-machined aluminium bits, stainless steel brake and clutch lines, wave rotors, a rear-view camera system and many other toys.

Here's a video of the JaFM in action...

For more details, visit the MotoMorphic website here

Monday, January 03, 2011

Münch TTE-1.2: Son of the Mammut

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The Münch TTE-1.2 won the 2010 TTXGP world championship and the manufacturer's title in the 2010 FIM e-Power race series. They are now preparing for the 2011 season...

Those who’ve been following the electric bike racing scene would probably know that in 2010, a legendary German company won the 2010 TTXGP world championship and the manufacturer’s title in FIM’s newly set up e-Power series. That company is none other than Münch, which was established in the mid-1960s by one Friedel Münch, who went on to build the absolutely outrageous Mammut TTS-E and, later, along with Thomas Petsch, the equally outlandish Mammut 2000.

You can read about the old Münch Mammut here, but this story is about Münch’s comeback vehicle – the TTE-1.2 racebike. The old Mammut was a pretty radical machine for its time, and by eschewing the internal-combustion engine in favour of an electric motor, the TTE-1.2 follows in its footsteps. The TTE-1.2 is fitted with a lithium-ion battery pack that powers its three-phase synchronous motor, which produces 90kW (120 horsepower), which is sufficient to push the 220-kilo bike to a top speed of more than 200km/h. The TTE-1.2’s range, depending on how hard the bike is ridden, is between 40-150km.

Münch have engineered the bike to exacting standards and they’ve fitted top-spec components to ensure the bike delivers very high levels of performance on the track. The TTE’s Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes and steel-aluminium spaceframe chassis (with 52/48 front/rear weight distribution) have all been extensively tested and optimised for high-speed performance.

The 40-year-old Matthias Himmelmann, the man who raced the Münch TTE-1.2 in the TTXGP and FIM’s e-Power series in 2010, is probably no Valentino Rossi. But he does having about 20 years of motorcycle racing experience. And he had some very capable people supporting his efforts on the track. In 2010, the Münch team consisted of Thomas Schuricht (automotive electrician), Marko Werner (automotive electrician and mechatronic engineer), Thomas Petsch (Friedel Münch’s erstwhile partner, hardcore motorcycle enthusiast, entrepreneur and owner of Münch Motorrad Technik GmbH), Ralf Ernst (handles administration, organisation, sales and marketing for Münch) and Stefan Stepputtis (finance). By winning the manufacturer’s title in the e-Power series, this small team was able to keep the Münch name alive.

Today, the TTE-1.2 is a pure racebike but with fast-paced developments in battery and electric motor technology, Münch just might be able to do a street-legal version of the TTE in the not-too-distant future. And then, in deference to the Mammut heritage, they’ll probably build an electric bike with a dozen lithium-ion batteries, six electric motors (with each motor producing at least 100bhp), two-wheel-drive, computer-controlled air-suspension and hubless wheels... :-)

Welcome back, Münch!

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For more on Friedel Münch and the old Münch Mammut, see here and here
Some Mammut pics: The Vintagent