If I could ride a motorcycle like any person in the world, in any time period, I would hands down want the riding abilities of Malcolm Stewart.
I know, I know. Everyone’s got a bit of Mookie Fever lately, as his fast laps in practice and podium finishes have warranted the spread of this virus. I like to watch Malcolm on the bike not necessarily because of his whoop speed nor because of the luscious floating locks that extend beyond his helmet. For me, it’s how he’s able to extend the life of his motorcycle. Of course Malcolm isn’t a mechanic, but he does things on a bike that makes life easier for mechanics, suspension techs, as well as engine builders.
Back in 2013, I was hired by Big James Stewart to be Malcolm’s practice mechanic. Now, you can say what you want about Malcolm crashing often in his early pro years, but at the Stewart Compound I saw first hand the effort that the entire family put into their success. I’ll always remember Big James consistently reminding both Little James and Malcolm of simple things like riding technique, entry speed, and clutch usage.
He once told me stories about how he would remove the seat and make them both do laps standing up, as well as removing the clutch lever. Needless to say, I was extremely surprised when I opened Malcolm’s clutch cover on his JDR KTM in 2013. After our first day of two 30 minute motos, his clutches looked brand new. No smell, and no discolored steel plates. To be honest, Malcolm went 2 or 3 days of riding on the same clutch pack.
If you Google photos or watch video of Malcolm on the entry of a whoops section, something you may notice is that he DOES NOT usually have a finger on the clutch. A lot of times you’ll see other racers leaving their index finger over the lever as insurance for not having the necessary entry speed and commitment going into the whoops. However, when you grow up riding with the intention to NOT use the clutch, you’re able to learn how to create and maintain momentum on the track without abusing the clutch. The more a rider uses the clutch, the more friction they create. The more friction, the more heat, and heat is the last thing you want in the summer during a hot Southwick National. Heat is detrimental to the longevity of any motorcycle engine, and by limiting clutch usage, you’re able to reduce the chances of detonation or complete engine failure during long motos.
Another way that Malcolm saves the bike is by using his strong legs and core to control the motorcycle. He’s very good at gripping the bike with his legs and riding on the balls of his feet. There have been countless occasions where I’ve seen Malcolm get a little out of control in a whoops section; hence, when the tire catches the edge of a whoop, it can throw the rear end of the motorcycle in one direction unexpectedly. Of course Malcolm was already blessed by the moto gods with a strong core and legs. But I believe that by spending those early years riding without a seat, it helped Malcolm to use more of his legs and body to control the bike in many challenging situations on the track.
Obviously strong legs won’t save a motorcycle engine from over-heating, but they definitely will save the bike from being destroyed when the tire catches an edge in the whoops.
I was so fortunate to see Malcolm’s speed and riding ability first hand, and I was able to witness all of the good habits that he’s created on the bike. You can literally hit pause on a video of Malcolm at any point on the track, and he would be in the most efficient position for that particular section at that moment. This helped me realize how important it is for anyone who rides on two wheels to be mindful of what their body is doing on a motorcycle, which can increase or decrease the efficiency of that particular motorcycle (it’s not always the bike).
Of course, we all aren’t blessed with a complete race team at our every beck and call; but, we can all learn the above techniques (and others) that will allow us to be better riders, and spend a lot less money maintaining our motorcycles.