It seems lately all anyone is talking about is this idea of “Set up” and that it’s a bunch of gobbledygook. I’ve never really thought too deeply on the issue but looking specifically at the vast difference from Moto 1 to Moto 2 this week in High Point for Ken Roczen; it peaked my interest and I decided I would brainstorm it a bit to determine which side of the fence I fall on.
Firstly, you can’t approach complex questions like this and land upon a “black or white” answer. As the Dude would say in The Big Lebowski, “there’s lots of ins n outs, a lotta-what-have-you’s”. Let’s keep in mind, who we are watching on these Saturday’s from May to August in the United States, are the less than 1 percenters. They are the best there is and although even the 36th quickest qualifier is likely going to wax the field in most events he enters, within this 1 percenters group, the differences and abilities span great chasms from 36th to 1st. Just like the widely ranging abilities and skill sets of these riders, setup spans even greater divides. A motorcycle is an inanimate object until piloted. It’s skill set and abilities are a mathematical equation whose answer can only be tallied when the sum of it’s parts are combined with those of the pilot.
Bikes are incredible these days, all are capable of attaining a win on any given Saturday. It’s the combination of rider ability and preparation with the bikes preparation that will make the difference in which color machine is graced with champagne and the W. There is the never-ending discussion on which ratio of bike:rider is most accurate in the sport but in most cases those ratios fall with the higher number being levied to the rider. With bikes as good as they are in this day and age, that mostly agreed upon but not entirely accurate and I think I can persuade you to agree with a pretty simple example.
Look at Cooper Webb in 2019 compared to 2017 and 2018. Same guy, different setup. I’ll give you that perhaps this isn’t as simple as I like to make it sound because even Cooper himself said he changed EVERYTHING about his program as well for 2019 but across the board, Cooper Webb’s setup is changed and he is a different guy. I’d also like to add that I think you’d be a fool to count him out of the running for this outdoor title as well.
Back to this most recent weekend at High Point and Ken Roczen. Recent confounding lime-related medical status not withstanding, Ken Roczen has been pretty consistent since the first gate drop at Hangtown. To see his first Moto at High Point go the way it did, I think we were all worried that those medical issues had again reared their head. But then the second Moto happened. We all went slack-jawed and watched in bewilderment at Teddy Parks— I kid I kid… Ken Roczen’s second Moto at Hight Point was like poetry. He sliced his way through the deteriorating track like water rushing downhill. In basketball terms, he was Wet. So fluid it reminded all of us why we fell in love with Ken Roczen in the first place. To compare M1 KRocz with M2 was senseless. It had to be a different dude, right?! Well, no.
In Ken’s own words, a simple explanation brought the confusion to a quick end, “we went back to my base setup from last week”. In one sentence, following two absurdly different Moto expositions, Ken lended as much credence to the “Setup” argument as I’ve ever seen in this sport. Ken is well known for being honest and forthcoming regarding most things related to him so I’m inclined to take this response at face value.
The most swaying aspect of Ken’s statement in regard to this persistent argument is he’s not blaming his setup for an inability to compete or match another racer’s pace, he’s comparing one of his 30+2’s (yeah yeah yeah 25+2) to another of his 30+2’s an hour later. Perhaps the most honest exercise in setup comparison there could be proposed. Essentially a race day test session… hmm where have I heard that before? This unintended test session worked out far better than it did for the green team a week earlier though.
So there it is, I have my answer. I’m not gonna be the guy who rolls my eyes when a rider cries “setup was off”. It could very well be a bullshit excuse in other instances but Ken Roczen proved without question in my mind that setup can indeed be the deciding factor on a given weekend or in a given Moto.