Last month was the 15th anniversary of Red Bull X-Fighters – and as the action gets more and more spectacular, so does the technology driving it.
At Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid, Spain, the crowd cheered as Levi Sherwood nailed a massive 13.7-metre high Indian Air Kiss of Death Back Flip, and three-time Red Bull X-Fighters champion, Thomas Pagés smacked his face into the handlebars while landing a 10.8-metre high bike flip.
Real-time performance data was captured this year thanks to a new partnership between Red Bull Media House and Intel. Their tiny, low-powered sensors were mounted to each of the 12 participating bikes – meaning that vital statistics and usable, understandable metrics could be shared to the Red Bull TV audience, judges, and riders on the spot.
Red Bull X-Fighters judge and expert Ronnie Renner said of the new tech advance: "This is the real first I’ve heard of data acquisition being added into freestyle motocross and the more I wrap my head around it, the more I realise that there’s some serious potential there from all sides of the sport, not just our riding but the judging possibly, definitely the connection with the fans.
"That’s really important, but also our safety, how our bikes perform, which also directly connects with our safety. There’s a lot of learning to do and being that this is one of the first events that we’re all working together, I think there’s a big future with it and it’s cool to see how the fans are going to be able to see the live data acquisition on the TV screen."
Once we learn and once we start using it then we’re going to get a better understanding of what we can actually do with it. Yeah, it’s endless. What we can use it for is endless.Levi Sherwood
Renner added: "You know in ’04, we were just focused on getting to the show, enjoying the countries we were travelling to, putting on a show for all these people, and riding our motorcycles. We didn’t even think technology and the high tech world was going to be a part of what we did.
"We always say the sky is the limit. Every time we think freestyle’s plateaued, some new trick comes along or some new rider comes in and the bikes get better, you know. Now guys are riding four strokes and using bike technology, so why not, you know, integrate data acquisition and technology to the mix. It’s… it’s going to get out of hand."
Intel engineer Lakshmi Krishnamurthy explained: "We have four sensors on the bike. There’s one on the mudguard, there’s one in the helmet, and then the athletes are wearing two on their legs. So, with these sensors, with the one on the mudguard on the bike, we can tell the speed, we can tell where they are, which ramp they came from, when they jump, what height was the jump, how long did the jump take, what is the air time, and then the one with the body. We are trying to do something new.
"One of the things that Red Bull wanted was they wanted to know how long are their bikers are hanging off the bike, and that’s an interesting statistic because it impacts the way you judge, the quality of the trick."
With fans expecting to see new tricks and innovations, what impact do the riders think of the Intel partnership?
Sherwood of New Zealand, who was fourth this year, explained: "It’s a new technology that we can use on our bike to study what we do whether it’s speed, g-forces, where we’re landing, how far away we might be from our bike, all sorts of stuff that we’ve only been able to know by feel – things that we’ve never really been able to describe to someone else very well.
"It’s a technology that we can help to learn, help to kind of communicate with the event organisers on how we like the jumps and what works for us. It’s going to help us communicate with the fans, with the people watching."
He added: "I’m excited to be able to just learn from the data we get, I think. Once we learn and once we start using it then we’re going to get a better understanding of what we can actually do with it. Yeah, it’s endless. What we can use it for is endless."
Spanish rider Dany Torres, who finished ninth this year, said: "I think it will be better because if we can practice with this system, with Intel, we’ll be better at home were we can practice with this – we can know everything, such as how high or the speed.
"I think this will be good for next tricks, for new tricks and for new jumps, for everything."
Get closer to FMX at the Red Bull X-Fighters official site.