Photos and Words By Mike Emery | @emeryphoto
Team Honda HRC’s Rich Simmons
Hometown: Ithaca, NY
Years Wrenching: 12
Rider: Cole Seely
Past Riders: Steve Hatch, Blake Wharton, Tommy Weeck, Jacob Hayes, Justin Brayton
With roots in upstate New York, Team Honda HRC’s Rich Simmons grew up around dirt bikes but never lined up to race. “I just rode, never well though,” Rich says with a laugh. Introduced to dirt bikes through his childhood friend and New York legend Paul Carpenter, Rich almost strayed away from the sport for good until he got the bug again and decided to pursue a career in motocross. “I kind of got out of it for about four years and then I realized how much I missed it, so I went to MMI out in Arizona,” he says. Flash-forward to graduation, and Rich linked up with off-road racer Steve Hatch while working at a dealership in Arizona. That was his first step in what has been a stellar career as a race mechanic.
After learning the ropes on Hatch’s team, he was hired next by KTM to wrench for their KJSC program and amateur team racers. This introduced him to riders like Blake Wharton, Tommy Weeck, and Jacob Hayes, all with whom he further honed his skills as a mechanic. The next job came at MDK Racing where he wrenched for Justin Brayton in 2008 and 2009, solidifying his journey to the big show as a professional mechanic. After Brayton landed a ride on Team JGR, Rich received a call from David Pingree–then manager the Troy Lee Designs Honda team—asking if he wanted to wrench for a young Cole Seely. He took the job, and since then has worked directly with Cole through his climb to Team HRC Honda. Rich mentioned he would have never envisioned his current job: “To be here—I can’t even say it’s a dream come true because it was a goal of mine to just be in the industry, so to be here is just a huge plus!” He was also kind enough to break down the details of Cole Seely’s number-14 race bike for us.
Electric Start: We have Honda’s electric start system with the button on the handlebar, and we run a little extra piece on that as well so it’s flush and you can’t rip off the button if it gets hit. Underneath the shroud we run a spare start button in case of a first-turn pileup or something. If you had to take something else away from Cole just so he could have the electric start, he would take it—he loves it! In the past he was in third and stalled the bike, then ended up finishing 10th. This year he stalled the bike at Anaheim II while in second and only lost one position. It’s a big deal for him.
Exhaust: We have a good relationship with Yoshimura, and that’s one thing we can work with to tune it—it’s great to have them on board. The full system is all titanium with carbon fiber endcaps. Obviously sound requirements are a big deal, but different header pipes and muffler options also help us out with the power. You can even change just one muffler, switch muffler tips, and all of those options help with tuning the bike.
Rollers and Gearing: We run the D.I.D STX rims, the hubs are a works part from Japan, and we use the Dunlop spec tire based off the MX31. It’s kind of cool for Cole and Kenny [Roczen] to have their signature logos on the bike with the hub stickers. We also run Renthal sprockets and chains. Cole and Kenny run the same gearing, but that’s a rider-to-rider preference; it’s not something we force them to run.
Suspension: We run KYB factory suspension, and he’s on air forks. KYB’s John Yamada and Ricky Gilmore are our suspension guys, and they’ve been working with us here since before I’ve been here. The settings change a lot from Supercross to outdoors—obviously we want it softer for outdoors. It’s still the same external fork tubes but the valve settings and air pressure all changes to rider preference. The rear shock is works KYB, and the red spring is a cool-looking feature that they add with a coating—that has nothing to do with spring rate.
Engine: For our engines we work with HRC and our engine guy, Bob Reichman. They’ve got it dialed in this year, and this engine is really good. The power it made to begin with this year was a plus, but they’re always trying to find something better. When we were building up to the season he wanted more, more, and more bottom-end power. Then once we started racing he wanted to smooth it out, but keep the bottom-end power. They do a lot of that with mapping, and that can be race to race, so depending on the track, Cole likes his bike to be mellower sometimes and have more power other times. The right-side engine cover is magnesium, and that coating is added because if it were raw magnesium, it wouldn’t look nearly that nice. The power is delivered through a Hinson clutch system.
Details and HRC Assets: HRC has so many resources at their fingertips and can either make us one-off parts or let us know they’ve already tried it and it’s not going to work. The foot pegs are works titanium. The front brake is a works Nissen caliper. The brake line is actually a works line, but the stock line is very similar. He runs the Renthal 996 handlebar with Renthal half-waffle grips, and I could run the waffle way down or way up on the front and he wouldn’t care. Most all of the nuts and bolts are titanium, too.
Reading The Bike: He’s a really smooth rider, and this year he’s been a little bit harder on things. His training regimen went up and he’s a little stronger, so he’s beating things up a little more than he has been in the past. When he’s riding really well he might tear up the plastics more, and if he’s uncomfortable, I’ll see a lot more wear on the clutch, and if he’s comfortable, it will last all day.
Front Brake Precision: Cole is the least picky rider that I’ve ever worked with, except when it comes to the front brake. He wants it close to his hand, but doesn’t want it super touchy. He actually has really long fingers, which is weird because he likes the lever super close. He also drags the front brake—when he scrubs he drags it off the lip sometimes. He’s kind of hard on the front brake when he lands and will keep it on slightly as he rolls through corners. He also asks me not to bleed it sometimes, but obviously I have to. He’s also asked me to put air in it, but I’m not going to do that! [Laughs]