I got the opportunity to visit several factory race pits during MotoGP this year, and each manufacturer stressed the same thing: the race bikes share no parts with the production bikes that you and I get to buy. The folks over at Shoei sing a very different tune – the helmets they provide their MotoGP riders are functionally the exact same as the X-Fourteen available at your favorite retailer.
I’ve recently switched my daily helmet to a Shoei X-Fourteen in Matte Black (as seen in the Super Cub, Z400, or Niken GT reviews), so when I visited Circuit of the Americas I was curious to see what the company does for the racers that they support.
I pinged Matthias Beier, Shoei USA’s Marketing Coordinator, and asked if I could take a little tour of Shoei’s service center. He told me that he wouldn’t be able to attend this race but he suggested I stop by anyway and find a gentleman named Michaël Rivoire. Mr. Rivoire goes by Mica, and he runs Shoei’s Racing Service. He’s been with Shoei for 21 years, and this is his 11th season on the MotoGP circuit. You’ll find him at every MotoGP race as well as the World Superbike races at Imola and Phillip Island.
As a reminder, MotoGP track time starts on Friday morning and rolls on through the race on Sunday afternoon. The traveling roadshow obviously comes into town earlier to get set up – Mica usually arrives into Austin on Wednesday and gets settled in. On Thursday morning he spends 4 to 5 hours setting up his workspace in the paddock, with an additional hour to unpack all the materials he will need to use over the next few days. By Thursday evening, he’s got all his prep work done and every rider has the helmets they’ll be competing with that weekend.
This is in stark contrast compared to his setup for MotoGP races in Europe. Mica’s home base is a couple of hours outside of Paris, so he has a semi truck that’s “one third workshop, two thirds my home”. It enables him to sleep at the paddock and it gives him more time to work.
But that’s Europe, and Mica can’t drive a truck across the Atlantic. During this specific race weekend in Austin, Shoei was supporting 8 riders: 2 in MotoGP, 4 in Moto2, and 2 in Moto3. For now, let’s just focus on Marc Marquez in this race. Mica didn’t touch Marc’s helmet until Thursday because Marc’s helmets went to a painter first. This week, as he often does, Marc got a special livery for the specific track he was racing at:
MM RODEO NINETY-THREE, special helmet for the #AmericasGP. Created from the Rodeo tradition, inspired by the wooden signs of American ranches. Together with the number 93 and without forgetting the lines of the Circuit of the Americas, we have designed this special helmet pic.twitter.com/WTLdQAeD4K
— Marc Márquez (@marcmarquez93) April 11, 2019
The painter only works with the naked shell, so Mica has to install the visors, tear-offs, and pads when he receives it at the track. Assembly of each helmet takes approximately one hour as he has to prep the interior and glue everything together. Other riders bring approximately 3 helmets in person for Mica to assemble. He has notes on every single rider which include details such as sponsor sticker logo placement or pad sizing, but he doesn’t need them as he’s got it all memorized.
At a corporate level, Shoei has a database of riders all over the world as part of their Personal Fitting System (PFS). PFS is available at all Shoei retailers in Japan, but they’ve been tentative about rolling it out in the US due to the sheer size of our country. At this point, I think that PFS in the US is only available at certain trade shows and at Shoei’s US headquarters in Tustin, California. I went through it when I got my X-Fourteen, and it’s well worth the (free) cost and time. I’ll try to get you a detailed story on PFS in the near future.
After every session, Mica goes out to each team’s pit and grabs the rider’s helmet. He’ll then clean/dry the helmet and replace the visor and tear-offs. If a session was in the rain, he’ll replace the pads, too.
There’s a TV in Mica’s workshop so that he can monitor if a Shoei-equipped rider goes down. If that happens, he turns into a lightning bolt that streaks out of the temporary office en route to the rider’s pit. He’ll inspect the helmet for damage and deal with it as necessary. A common occurrence when a rider crashes is that the shell gets some deep scratches but the helmet is structurally sound. When that happens, the helmet is deemed too ugly to be shown on TV and it’s replaced. The first few times that a rider ruins a helmet, there’s a general pattern:
The 1st helmet goes to Shoei’s headquarters in Japan
The 2nd helmet goes to Shoei’s headquarters in Europe
The 3rd helmet goes to the rider, and he can give it away to a team member/friend/sponsor/lucky stranger, etc.
With that said, all of Marc’s helmets go back to Japan so that HQ can keep track of them.
This weekend’s MotoGP race ended by 3pm local time, and Mica was completely packed up by the afternoon. MotoGP is contracted with two shipping companies that handle the bulk of cargo that goes between races. Mica typically has everything packed up into 3 large crates, two of which go back to Shoei and one of which stays with him as he circumnavigates the world. Every year, he’ll cover over 100,000 miles by plane.
The next MotoGP race is May 5th at Jerez, and Mica’s probably getting his truck set up as you read this so that he’s ready to drive out to southern Spain to support some of your favorite riders. Look for him the next time you’re in the MotoGP paddock!