MotoGP (Short for Grand Prix.) represents the very best of motorcycle racing, and the most exciting of all motorsports to its many fans around the world. The bikes themselves also cost more than any others on the planet, with some reaching prices up to $3 million.
As of 2020, the cost of building up a bike can include up to $425,000 for the custom 1,000 cc engines, $15,000 for the tyres (Which is how they spell it in the sport), and $25,000 to $100,000 for crash repair, according to a recent article by Money, Inc. The same article noted that performance street bikes can be had for around $150,000.
So why the exotic price tag? And what do you get for that much money? Let’s take a look.
Each MotoGP bike is essentially a prototype. They are all hand built and modified through constant testing. These bikes aren’t street legal, and they must be built to exact specifications to comply with ever increasing regulations designed to keep the sport competitive. Every competition season, a new bike has to be built from the ground up, so carrying over parts isn’t an option. The majority of the bikes are built by manufacturers either for their own teams, or under highly specific contracts for the satellite teams. (Satellite teams are independent of the manufacturer and are often seen as the underdog of the racing world since they compete without the resources of the manufacturer.)
Bleeding Edge Technology
These bikes represent the literal bleeding edge of motorcycle and motor technology, and often push that limit. All bikes contain Inertial Measurement Units that monitor every aspect of the bike’s operation. This data can be downloaded and consulted later. The bikes also all contain an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) that manages things like operational breaking control, acceleration, traction and launch control. Think of these bikes as being akin to fly-by-wire fighter jets like the F-35 Lightning II.
It isn’t often that computer programmers and motorcycle mechanics play together, but it happens in MotoGP. These ECU modules often have custom software created specifically for a bike for one specific season. The top talent in technology doesn’t come cheap, and these programmers often work exclusively on MotoGP projects.
Then you also have the engineers, mechanics and technicians needed to build, test, and maintain the bikes. This all is included in the overall cost.
The good news is that MotoGP bikes are sometimes the testing bed for new technologies that will eventually find their way into street legal production bikes. Some companies like Ducati and Yamaha have produced street legal versions of their racing bikes of various quantities after the racing season is over.
No Economies of Scale
With only around 25 teams competing in each racing season, there is an extremely limited customer base. Recently, the sport has gone to official suppliers for things like Electronic Control Units programmed by Dorna, all the spark plugs provided by NGK, and all the tyres produced by Michelin.
With such a limited customer base, each component is essentially a custom order. Without any way to defray costs, each item is going to be expensive already. With exclusive providers, there is no competition to bring costs down.
These bikes have custom tyres designed for dry surfaces (called slicks) or wet conditions. Tyres are rated at three levels from hard to soft. Soft tyres will give better traction and acceleration but might not last a race. Harder tyres have better durability but won’t catapult anyone to the front position of the pack. Maintaining tyre survivability is a hallmark skill of MotoGP riders.
How customized are these tyres? Michelin makes special combination tyres for specific tracks. Tyres for tracks with a lot of right turns will have firmer material on the right to prevent wear, and softer material on the left to help with acceleration. Different tyres are used on the front and the back. In fact, tyre selection is considered one of the key decisions in formulating a winning strategy. Other parts of the bikes can be similarly fine-tuned as the race and/or conditions require.
To create the previously mentioned tyres, material composites beyond standard rubber have to be used. To save weight, many parts are made from titanium and custom polymers. The bottom line is the parts are often expensive because what they are made of is so expensive. And these bikes need a lot of parts replaced during the season.
Wear and Tear
Any machine that can propel you at up to 225 mph riding with your knees mere inches above the asphalt is, by definition, an extreme machine. And extreme machines, be they space shuttles or MotoGP bikes, go through a lot of wear and tear very quickly. Most bikes barely last a season, and that’s why you don’t see the same rider on the same back two seasons in a row. High wear and tear is one of the reasons so many replacement parts are needed. It also means the price of the bike may have to include the talent to fix such a finely tuned machine.
So that’s why these bikes cost so much. Manufacturers and satellite teams bear those costs for not only the prize money, but the glory and fame that comes with them. Rabid fans will travel the globe to see their favorite riders and teams compete. The thrill of speed, strategy, high and low crashes, all create an experience that keep people coming back for more. While MotoGP may not be the best-known motorsport, to its fans nothing else will satisfy them.
If you’d like to speed down the highway, lean into the turns, or ride off into the sunset on a bike of your own, start browsing the hundreds of motorcycles we have available at our weekly online auction.