(This was written some years ago)
I saw Nick Hayden at Daytona when he and I sat down alone in a DIS radio room to record his recent Soupkast audio column. Sitting there, looking at one another, we played a familiar little game.
I looked at him, saw how thin and compact he is, looking like he wears 26-inch waist set of Levis, saw that there is not one ounce of extra fat on his frame, and asked him, “How much do you weigh?”.
I ask him this every time I see him.
Hayden just grinned in response, said nothing. After a few moments he changed the subject, “How the family, Deano? How them boys doin’? Keepin you busy?”.
He sat there and grinned.
“You know, if all you’re currently eating is Styrofoam shipping peanuts,” I offered as a lame retort, “I have two big boxes of them at my office. I could ship them down to OWB and you could eat for like a month,”
“Come on, how much do you weigh?”
Hayden weighed somewhere in the region of 165 pounds when he won the AMA Superbike title in 2002. He was fleshy back then, and racing a part-time dirt track schedule.
More smiling came from Hayden.
“How about that weather this winter up there in Minnesota? Was it cold?, he asked.
The former MotoGP world champ knows that a sure way to Midwestern eternal damnation is to ask anyone who lives north of Illinois how cold it’s been lately. As I have the past several times we’ve played this, I quickly broke, gave him a two word expletive ending in “you” and moved on to the next subject.
I’d seen his older brother, Tom, at the Chris Carter radio show the night before and noticed that he, too, had dropped a few pounds in the off-season. I asked him what he weighed. He said to guess. I said 156 pounds; to which he replied that I was very high. Which I took as my guess was way off.
Most of these guys are getting smaller. After an off-season bicycle race in Texas, one in which Ben Spies raced in, reports filtered through that Spies, too, had lost considerable weight in the off-season. And in these circles, when riders are already considered svelte, “considerable” means a few pounds.
A few years ago I had a set of Nick Hayden’s leathers in my office for a few weeks. These were from the 2006 MotoGP season and smelled of champagne, so I assume he had worn them in a race and on the podium somewhere that year. They lay on the floor by my desk, after they fell off their hanger, which was hooked over the door.
As with most world championship-level skins, these were beautiful, immaculate, hand-sewn in places. Large portions of the Hayden’s Repsol Honda leathers were made from single piece of leather. AlpineStars called them leathers but in reality they were a work of art.
My 15 year old son, John, who is, admittedly, quite tall and muscular, decided to try on nick’s leathers. He’s slept for most of his life with a Nick Hayden Repsol Honda poster in his bedroom so it was going to be a bit of a thrill for him to try on a set of leathers worn by one of his heroes.
Only, they wouldn’t fit. And by wouldn’t fit, I don’t mean that they were a little too small in the shoulders.
He was unable to wear them because they were too small everywhere. He was unable to even get his calves into them. Okay he had played ninth-grade football that year and was in decent shape—but he could not slide into the lower leg section of Nick’s leathers without fear of tearing the liner.
Later, his younger brother, Kipp, then age ten, tried them on. Other than being very long in the arms and legs, how well they fit him was surprising.
So what is this; what’s happening here? Is it the Pedrosa/Stoner Syndrome where all riders are now trying to shave their body size down to the absolute minimum possible in order to not give up any advantage to the bone-thin Australian or near freakishly abbreviated stature of the Spanish rider?
Or is this a byproduct of nearly all top level riders having a hobby career of if not racing bicycles then using one to train on?
My sense of it is that it’s a racer thing. These guys use the definition of ultra-competitive as a baseline for how they feel about competition. They don’t want to wave off anything that could conceivably give them an advantage, or better yet put them on a level field with the guys who are wining races. Rossi cannot be described as svelte, but he’s a special case. Lorenzo, still not as much a daily threat to the others as his race wins and run at the 2009 title would indicate, looks very normal for an adult human male in his early 20s.
Stoner, though. He’s fast and he’s back. And he weighs 127 pounds. So that shows the other riders that they don’t necessarily need to be the biggest or the strongest or have superior grip or shoulder strength to run at the front. Moreover, Pedrosa, (112 pounds) can walk the MotoGP grid in a way that almost brings to mind memories of Wayne Rainey. And he’s not large–anywhere.
I thought about calling Colin Edwards II and asking him what he currently weighs, but didn’t. He looks the same as he did in 2002 at Imola when he won the World Superbike title. And I don’t really have to ask him what he thinks of this minimum form MotoGP rider trend. Not from a guy who very seriously once said that if they ever added beer to the FIM’s banned substance list, he’d retire the next day.
Getting back to the question, though, of what’s it all mean? Probably nothing. The skinniest motorcycle racer I’ve ever seen was Kevin Schwantz, who, in his late 1980s glory, wore a size medium Yosh t-shirt and it would flap loosely against his torso when the wind blew.
It wasn’t amazing to me that Schwantz frequently broke his tiny wrists in crashes, it was amazing that he didn’t break them—so thin they looked like porcelain—in everyday life.