Five minutes with: Jeremy McWilliams
“You kind of know when it’s going to break away, and nine times out of 10 you can catch it.” KTM development rider Jeremy McWilliams explains what goes in to creating one of the world’s most powerful naked bikes… Jeremy McWilliams is a road racer from Belfast – until Scott Redding’s win at the 2008 125 British Grand Prix, he was the only rider from the British Isles to win a race – or pole – in a motorcycle Grand Prix class in the 2000s.
He’s raced in the North West 200, 500 and 250cc GP and in MotoGP. He’s a hugely influential development rider for KTM, and a very nice bloke. Worthy of five minutes of anyone's time.
MCM: How does developing a road bike compare with riding a MotoGP race machine?
Jeremy McWilliams: There’s a huge gulf between road and race bikes, but everything that a manufacturer learns through racing helps them develop new technologies for road bikes; you’ll see that in the models to come – KTM is now using quickshifters, blipper systems… in the future the new range will have those options.
But first things first, a bike has to work – everywhere under any conditions with any level of rider. Road development is all about developing a bike around every kind of user. Coming from my background in racing to road bike development is quite a different thing, but I’ve always had a road bike, so I don’t just get on one and go at a million miles an hour – I ride like a sensible road user.
MCM: Do you have to test up to a point where it goes wrong?
JM: I also worked on the traction control system of the Adventure with the same R&D team and Bosch. We went off to a facility in Japan where we kind of tested that until basically we crashed it.
We have a team with us, and my job there was to show at what point we could get breakaway.
I’m totally at ease with that – that’s really what we would have been doing when I was racing. You kind of know when it’s going to break away, and nine times out of 10 you can catch it.
We take a whole team of different level test riders… we had one or two that basically tested it beyond the lean angle that a tyre can physically keep grip at, so we had some fun doing that. Nobody was hurt though – it’s a controlled environment.
MCM: Some bikers think that technology is taking control and skill away from them. Do you think there’s a point where tech becomes too much?
JM: It’s down to implementation – it’s down to how good the test team are. Of course you can produce an ABS system that in a straight line doesn’t brake as well as an experienced rider, but we had to test it against my very, very best braking capabilities. I’m being really honest when I say I can’t beat the ABS system. I believe I can, but we put a marker out to measure it exactly, and I really can’t; in dry, wet gravel… everything.
I don’t think you can beat technology, but you can get it wrong – you can kind of miss the trick with it, but as long as you’ve got a very high quality R&D and test team – as KTM has – then you usually get it spot on.
MCM: Some riders have said that they need to turn the ABS off on track, but surely that’s only really an issue when you get to your level? JM: We raced this bike in an endurance championship with the ABS on. I’ve tried it back to back to see if I can go quicker but I really can’t. When you put a really good set of race tyres on, and then you use the traction control system on the correct profile tyre, lap times are every bit as quick as without it.
MCM: Of all the bikes you’ve ridden, what’s been the best, and what’s been the most terrifying?
JM: You change with time, but right now if I could choose any bike to ride on the road I’d take a 1290 Super Adventure, because I can cruise along in Germany at 180mph with one hand on the bar for many, many miles. Then on the B-roads I’m able to have as much fun as I could on a sports bike.
Recently I had to ride a sports bike for quite a long distance and I really struggled with it – it was annoying. Most of us ride for enjoyment, but I didn’t enjoy it – I didn’t want to be there.
When I was racing I still think the little KR3 Kenny Roberts bike [500cc V3 two-stroke] was the most ideal little race bike I’ve ever sat on; you could ride it out of the pits like you were riding to the shops. It didn’t feel like a race bike until you were riding at 98% on it.
The worst bike was probably the three-cylinder Aprilia Cube MotoGP bike in 2004 – I think it nearly killed Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga before it had a go at me. I had a torrid time with that, but no regrets – I had a lot of fun trying to make things work, but the project stopped. Thankfully. I could have had a two-year contract, but they stopped it because it wasn’t going anywhere. They’ve produced some great race bikes since…
“A bike has to work – everywhere under any conditions with any level of rider. Road development is all about developing a bike around every kind of user.”