Mike Leitner Interview: "You Never Hear Dani Complaining He Is Too Small"

The weight controversy rumbles on in MotoGP, with the taller and heavier riders - most notably Marco Simoncelli - complaining about the unfair advantages that lighter riders have. Our earlier analysis suggested that if such an advantage did exist, it was hard to see it in the results the riders had obtained, despite the intuitively obvious advantage that lighter weight would appear to convey. That in itself suggested that any advantages that a smaller, lighter rider may have are offset by the disadvantages, and so at Estoril, we went in search of answers.

The obvious place to start when looking for answers as to whether lighter riders have an advantage or a disadvantage is the crew chief of the lightest rider on the grid, Mike Leitner of the Repsol Honda team, chief mechanic to Dani Pedrosa. We spent fifteen minutes at Estoril questioning him about the reality behind being a lighter rider in MotoGP, and his answers were very enlightening. Here's what Leitner had to say.

MotoMatters: There's been a lot of talk recently about rider weight and the advantages that lighter riders, with Marco Simoncelli complaining that Dani has an advantage in acceleration because he is lighter. Do you think that lighter riders have an advantage?

Mike Leitner: I think we should start by speaking generally. I think in MotoGP we are looking mainly for traction. I think that one big issue for bikes with 250 horsepower is to put the power on the ground. So for me, I would wish Dani is 15 cm taller and I would wish he is 10 kilos heavier!

These calculations are for me more car thinking, not bike thinking. I mean, in a car I agree, this is really a good thing. On a bike – I ride races myself, and I understand a little what is going on on a bike. On a bike, the thing is, going into the corner, sure you control the weight, the total weight, but the big issue is the balance.

So the guy who can sit 15, 20 cm further back, he can control the lifting of the rear tire much better than a guy whose arm limitation [with shorter arms] is there, and he cannot move further back. This is mainly the point why the bigger riders are always strong on braking. So they have also advantage.

From the moment you flick the bike into the corner I think it is quite neutral. In places where you flick from left to right to left, I think again the relationship between bike weight and rider is helping more a rider who is more powerful. Because it is like you sit a small boy on a 1000 cc street bike or you sit a man on a 1000 cc street bike. So in corners where you just flick one time, I think it is not a big difference. But really changing high speed directions...

MM: For example the chicane here at Estoril?

ML: No, this place they can handle maybe, because the speed is not so high. But places where you have to change direction in fourth or fifth gear, other places like Assen and Mugello I think there is no help for a smaller rider. This is clear for me.

And anyway this discussion is for nothing, because people are like they are. I mean, if I want to be a tennis player, nobody in tennis says we must now make a shorter racket for the 1.80 or 1.90 cm people because the one with 1.60 cm has no chance in our sport any more, or move the net or that kind of thing.

You have positive and negative points. Sure the guy always see the positive points on the other. That is what I think. The negative, he never sees his own positive points.

MM: As we say in English, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence...

ML: Exactly! I mean, from the first moment of traction, and controlling the spinning, it's different. I read a comment from Casey, who said it clearly, that Dani will have no advantage there. Sure, he is lighter, but if you cannot put the tire on the ground and it is spinning, it is not the same drive. After that, when you are getting up to speed, in fourth, fifth, sixth, then maybe. It is the point where I see he has an advantage.

MM: Wilco Zeelenberg said that people are complaining now if Dani has 10 kilos extra ballast to carry, they would complain because he would be at advantage because he would put the weight on the back to get the traction.

ML: Yes, yes. You can take away the glory of everybody, you know what I mean? I mean, Valentino Rossi won so many races, so now I can say yes of course, Valentino won because his body size fit the 500 and the MotoGP bikes so much better, and that's why, he was so well balanced and he was the best guy, Biaggi had so much of a handicap [because he was smaller]. In the end, people are like they are, and they have, let's say, they have to fight against these bikes. And these bikes, there is a set of rules and this is the bike. And everything you put in or out, change on the bike, is just making it more efficient.

MM: What do you have to do to Dani's bike to get rear traction? Are you shifting more weight further backward than you would?

ML: The thing is a small rider has a limitation of moving on the bike. It is not only his weight or his size, it is the movement he can do, that is the big thing. So, you have, I mean, you can use your arm length to move forward and backward, and say you have 10-15 cm shorter arms you move less for that, you have less length to move your weight on the bike.

And this is why small riders are always very, very sensitive to every small change on the bike. Looking at Dani's bike balance, I worked with other riders, also in 250, they were much less sensitive, you know? You change let's say preload on the bike or you change positions on the bike, and others really didn't feel it. For Dani, sometimes very small changes, just one click could have an unbelievable effect.

In the beginning you don't believe it. You think it is not possible, but the reality is, it's not because he is such a sensitive rider, it's the weight. I mean the same problems we also had with Kato. He was a brilliant 250 rider, the bike and him, the relationship between weight and him meant he was less sensitive to changes. But you go to 500s and this relationship changes, the ratio between rider and bike changes so much. So I think this is one big point. And Dani is similar. It's not because he's such a sensitive rider, no, it is because he cannot do the same things that other riders can do.

MM: So a single change can make a huge difference because he can't compensate for it by moving his body

ML: Yes. I mean, other riders also feel the changes, but a little less, they can compensate more. The thing is, in all his years of riding, you never hear Dani complaining, "I'm so small, I have so much trouble controlling the bike under braking..." So I get tired already of reading all these things and from all those clever people outside talking about it. I just say "pffft" [shrugs shoulders].

MM: I heard that he also has problems with the rear shock because it's so difficult for him to get movement in the shock.

ML: Of course! But, a problem? You can call it a problem, or you can call it different. You have to set up a bike for Dani differently than you would for Marco Simoncelli, or for Valentino Rossi. But I don't say, they don't have problems. I don't say this. They have problems also. But other problems. They just have problems at other points.

But in the end, when you look at the lap times, the top riders are within 2-3 tenths of each other most of the time. So with all the problems of everybody, in the end, it must be a balance.

MM: Will the 1000cc bikes next year make any difference? Was there any difference between the 990s and the 800s?

ML: I mean, the first year, Dani did well. So, I don't know right now. I really don't know. But I mean we have the four top riders and we have some more coming up, we have to see if they can make the final step, but to work with each of them is anyway a challenge, but you have to work with everybody on their weakest points, on their handicaps. And sure, Valentino will sometimes say "f***, when I'm behind Dani, he accelerates so fast I cannot follow him. But on braking I'm strong." Sure, some riders will think "Ah, I'm a stronger braker." Maybe they are also, but it is also in part because of their physique. These things happen. One person is like this, another one like that ...

MM: Does that make motorcycle racing more interesting for you, because the rider is a bigger part of the equation?

ML: I mean, in a car, you put six kilos less and you know you are faster. Because they are static, fixed in the car, you don't move from left to right. It's just the weight you accelerate and the weight you stop. You don't move your body to the front or rear, to left or right. It's just, you are in the car, you are a passenger. With the bike, you are not a passenger. You are really an actor. Again, bike and rider is one piece.

MM: Coming back to setup, there's nothing specific you do for Dani, you just have to set the bike up around ...

ML: Him! [Laughs] That's what we do! And I think Mr Burgess will set up the bike around Valentino. And the others will do the same, Ramon [Forcada] for Lorenzo, and so on. I mean, that's our job. Sure, I think the way we do that is sometimes quite a lot different. But finally, all are very difficult to beat and all are competitive.

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Much needed expert input for what is essentially a futile discussion, as he rightly pointed out.
Excellent interview, as always. *thumbs up*

I say thank you to someone in the sport for clearing this up. About a week ago I posted about lighter riders having a harder time and some people posted saying I was completly wrong.

Excellent stuff. I love hearing experts talk on such things.

Guaranteed the "armchair engineers" will still bring up the "inertia this" and "fuel consumption that" arguments till the end of time but let them at it I suppose..

You should try get more Crew interviews,oftentimes they seem to talk more sense than the riders

Great interview. More please! I entirely accept that it's swings and roundabouts as far as rider size is concerned. And that fuel consumption is more about riding style than weight in racing. But I would be interested to know how the amount of fuel left in Dani's tank at the end of a race compares with that of Casey and Marco.

Thanks for the interview.
I think your first question was vague and slightly off mark.
The complaint from larger riders seems to be that the acceleration is effected as a result of differences in fuel mapping between large and small riders.
Not as a result of traction limitations resulting from rider size and weight differences.
Engine mapping is the largest tuning variable at the level of motorcycle racing we are discussing.
This is where the teams spend the time and money.
If you have an advantage in this area, it is a big advantage.
Especially when compared to a rider on a similar machine.
For all you guys who want to get crazy on me , I am not saying that rider weight or size should be compensated for in the regulations.
Just that when asking a question of a man who has the knowledge, get the question on point so we can get the most appropriate answer.
Something like,
"Do you think that lighter riders have an advantage in the tuning of engine mapping and fuel consumption?"
Thanks again.

My first question is completely rephrased from what I actually asked (which made less sense on the page because we had been chatting about the subject before I started recording). However, I would like to point out 2 things, 1 in my defense, and 1 to my detriment.

Firstly, the first question was phrased the way it was because I did not want to focus on fuel consumption only. I was more interested in hearing the other side of the argument, as that was something we have not heard. Here was a man with first-hand experience of what it takes to set up a bike for a light rider, and where the light rider loses out. The advantages have been laid out elsewhere, the disadvantages not so much. I was interested in hearing that answer.

Secondly, I did ask about giving the riders extra fuel, but Mike did not understand my question, thinking it had something to do with the weight. Unfortunately, I did not explain what I meant, as I was a little confused by his answer to my question. That is an omission on my part. However, I'll try to run into him at Barcelona and ask him there.

I think that riding a motorcycle quickly is such a dynamic activity that it would be impossible to enforce a static total weight and to do so fairly.

But let's be honest - even the GP rider we would call "big" is by no means a big person in the real world. 6' tall and 160 lbs. is no better than an average person in real life, and among athletes that is still pretty small stature. The bulk of GP riders, really, are small guys. So there must be something to it, even if it's just a perception. I know that not all the guys who aspire to be racers are this small, but it seems that most of the good ones are. Coincidence only? I honestly don't know.

Comparing any athlete to "normal" people is perilous. 6' and 160lbs (1.80 meters and 67kg) is tiny for an offensive lineman or a basketball guard, average or a little tall for a soccer midfielder, a little on the short and light side for a soccer defender, too large for a professional cyclist, too short for a high jumper and vastly overweight for a long distance runner. None of these athletes are either normal or within the average, healthy range of size and weight, so it's not really a valid comparison to make.

Actually that's sort of my point - GP riders are on the main shorter and less weighty than normal people - from which one can draw the conclusion that there is an advantage to being smaller and riding a racing motorcycle quickly. If the ability to transfer weight was such a great advantage, then why don't we see 6'4" 200 lb. GP riders?

Every sport (and even different positions within that sport) have their ideal physical makeup. In GP this tends to be smaller and lighter. If, as has been argued, that size/weight make no difference then why are the bulk of GP riders the same general physical makeup - 5'4" to 5'9" or so, and between 120 and 140 lbs? They are, in the main, whether compared to "normal" people or other athletes, small. Why is that? Honest question.

And in response to the title of your article, I'm sure Rossi's response would be "Exactly."

The few times I have stepped into this discussion, this is exactly as I have tried to point out. The empirical data clearly shows that smaller riders have the advantage. I guess the only argument that is left is, "is there such a thing as too small?" Not sure we will ever know that. But I think that without a doubt, too big is a real problem for being a competitive rider at this level.

If Pedrosa went to WSBK and was winning regularly with his body like it is now, that would impress me more than being an alien in GP.

It's clear that the biggest riders only crash when in the lead and dominate the weekends practices to only crash on the first lap. These results are without a doubt a question of rider size.

If you read his post, it is quite obvious what he is saying. The dimensions of a Grand Prix rider are considerably less than the dimensions of the average male. The primary difference is weight; however, I suspect that shoulder, hip, and foot measurements would also be considerably less than the average male due to the size of the bikes.

As Ed points out, the question is not IF smaller riders have an advantage. The question is "how small is too small?". I think of the problem differently, but within the same vein of reason. Is MotoGP representing a large enough portion of the male population to ensure that rider competitiveness is at its peak?

Discovering what people can do is the essence of competition. If large portions of the population are not able to participate, skill will not be developed in accordance with humanity's potential. In stick-and-ball sports, the exceptional size of the participants is somewhat unavoidable, but motorsports is a much different contest.

I did read his post. That is why I replied to it. I was asking about the empirical evidence he was referring to that was the basis for his question that how small is too small. I am unaware of any empirical evidence that shows lighter riders have an advantage. You posted several comments on an article on this site that is a great summary of exactly the opposite.

As DE mentioned, comparing a professional athlete to an average male really makes no sense. These guys carry no body fat at all and are in top shape for whatever their body height/shape is. They look anorexic because we're all completely out of shape compared to them! Its a normal result of being in good enough shape to rider one of these bikes at the limit for 45 min. Rossi isn't short, neither is Spies, Simonchelli, Edwards, etc. They just have 1% body fat and optimal muscle mass. "Bulking up' may sound good but it hurts cardiovascular endurance and it doesn't matter how strong or talented you are if you run out of breath before the race is over. Ever see a weight lifter run a marathon?

Who said anything about motogp riders representing a large portion of the population? There are no Chinese or Indian riders which together represent almost 1/2 of humanity, so that idea doesn't go far. Then, if you family isn't rich enough to start you racing from 5years old in an insanely expensive sport, you're out. But I am impressed with the resulting variation in size among the 17, let alone the top 4 and the next couple knocking on that door which covers the biggest to the smallest.

This entire discussion ignores Tony Elias. He's only slightly bigger than Pedrosa, obviously has talent- he won a dry race vs Rossi while on a satellite bike- yet is nowhere. If low weight is such an advantage with 800s and 21liters shouldn't he at least be able to power by on the straight due to his richer maps? Or have rocket ship starts just like Pedrosa? But he doesn't because he has a problem getting his tires warm, even though he is heaver and taller than Pedrosa and uses the same tires as they all now do. Weird. The more I think about this discussion the more my respect for Pedrosa as a rider goes up.


hangs his arse too far off the seat and on the inside of the machine to weight the rear tyre properly to get the damn thing to generate heat and work.

Adapt or die as they say......

Thank you Phoenix, it seems I left too much to the imagination but you figured it out.

A. I still respect Dani and know he is an alien regardless of his position in order of size/weight in comparison to other riders in MotoGP.

B. When i say bigger/heavier riders being at a disadvantage, I mean all riders, not just MotoGP riders. The biggest riders in GP are still small (or on the smaller side) in comparison to population of people they represent for their countries IMHO.

I think there are a few reasons why riders are not bigger.

1. Heavier riders have much higher forces placed on their skeletal structure and musculature. Simply put, extra muscle mass can actually make it more difficult to hold onto the bike.

2. Bigger riders have bad aerodynamics. Camier is the most obvious example. He can't put his head behind the bubble and put his stomach flat on the tank (his torso is too long). As a result, his back sticks out into the wind.

3. Extra mass reduces performance

Nothing can be done about number #1. Increasing the minimum dimensions can alleviate the problems with #2, but the manufacturers probably have no interest in building machines with SBK dimensions. The third point is the point of contention b/c the fuel limit is certainly part of the problem for larger riders. The fuel limit undesirable for everyone other than the MSMA so bickering over the effects of the fuel limit will probably persist until all of the bigger riders have gone to SBK or until MotoGP has eliminated the fuel limit.

You can't really compare MotoGP riders to normal people. For a start off, the majority of people in the west today are overweight, while top-level racers generally are healthy weights - and today they tend to be very very fit. If you think they're light compared to normal athletes, then I suggest you may be watching sports where steroid use is common (at least in the atheletes' earlier development, if not when they reach top-levels) and/or mass (and being overweight) is a clear advantage.

Mechanical grip under braking is where most race passes are made. Heavier rider with more leverage controlling the front has always been where its at.
The lower mass,smaller stature rider has to negate the disadvantage by skidding the thing and maintaining momentum. Dani is brilliant in this area.The smaller rider has to maintain precision lap in and lap out.
A really enjoyable article and thanks.
No final offramp on this issue,but,no doubt,the hard biting and stable front end is paramount over race distance wet or dry. Valentino always owned that space.
King of the late brakers this past era. Physical advantage to him.
I always believed the most powerfull part within the mechanics of my bikes were the brakes coupled to the tire grip.
Afterthought. On a half decent bike,how long does it take you to get from 0 to 200 compared with how long it takes to do the reverse ?
Acceleration captures the eye like nothing else,but decelleration holds sway.

Lets not forget that although smaller rider has less mass and muscle to control a braking motorcycle, he also has less mass to slow down.

It seems clear that there is an optimum size range for racing motorcycles, with the sweet spot being somewhere around 1.72m and 63 kg (at a guess). Of course, that does not mean that being smaller or larger means you will not be competitive. The careers of Simoncelli and Pedrosa demonstrate that. What is clear is that both Pedrosa and Simoncelli are about at the limit of the viable range of riding weights. Pedrosa has an advantage in acceleration and fuel consumption, and a disadvantage in braking and turning the bike. Simoncelli's advantages and disadvantages are the mirror image of that.

I would suggest that any rider smaller and lighter than Pedrosa would struggle on a MotoGP bike, as would any rider taller and heavier than Simoncelli (though Camier would appear to be fractionally larger and therefore a better edge case). 

Looking at the results, the only clear correlation is between talent and results. The taller riders (Rossi and Lorenzo) have more wins than the smaller riders (Stoner and Pedrosa), but the differences are marginal. Comparisons with any other riders are meaningless, as those four so vastly outscore everyone else on the grid that size is irrelevant.

What seems clear to me is that size is a factor, and weighing up the pros and cons, lighter riders may have an advantage. But was is equally clear is that even if size is a factor, at best it plays a negligible role in results. And as so many others have pointed out, if we got rid of the fuel limits, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

>>But was is equally clear is that even if size is a factor, at best it
>>plays a negligible role in results.

If size plays a negligible role at best in results than by the definition of negligible size does not play a factor.

neg·li·gi·ble/ˈneglijəbəl/ Adjective: So small or unimportant as to be not worth considering; insignificant:


Have to say, having only seen him in the flesh every year during Donington's Day Of Champions since 2005, it has shocked me how much weight Nicky Hayden has lost since that year. At Silverstone last year he looked positively ill! (although no doubt super-fit). Even my partner (a huge Nicky fan) commented in 2010 when he took to the stage "wow, he looks like Kate Moss!"

Is this down to any pressure he feels to be as light and skinny as possible? Is it his own pressure or outside?

I doubt Karl "Bomber" Harris would fare too well, as quick as he once was!

I wasn't much of a fan of Dani when he moved up to the MotoGP class, but over the years the work he has done to resolve his initial deficiencies has been well above any other rider in the class IMO and for some of those riders now to just point at his size as the sole reason is insulting.

I remember thinking that anyone that small that let others catch up whenever he tried to turn the bike, got easily overtaken under brakes into corners, and just disappeared backwards in wet races stood no chance whatsoever. but each year he has overcome every deficiency I can remember him having.

He's still not my favourite rider, but I probably respect him more than any other current rider, which scares me a little :-)

If they felt weight alone would be an advantage, wouldn't they add it where they wanted to? DP's man didn't want to admit he had an advantage.

Earl Hayden told me a few years ago that Nick had to work very hard at staying light to help him compete with his competitors - Dani in particular.

If upper body strength was that important, all of these guys would be hitting the free weights instead of their bicycles........

I didn't read much more than a suggestion that strength was central but rather size, and in particular, arm length was what was important.

This entire discussion about making everything 'fair' seems like the product of very young, idealistic and unsophisticated minds. Experience usually teaches one that life is complicated, full of uncontrollable variables and rarely 'fair'. If anyone, large or small, complains that they are at an unfair disadvantage, I would respectfully suggest that they should find a new sport where they think they'll be competitive.

Players with smaller fingers would be able to move the pieces faster, hit the clock faster etc Thus, in 5-min blitz games they wouldn't have as much time trouble..

Of course the stronger-handed players could give a firmer handshake at the start..

Make them all weigh in their hands beforehand and have lead rings and wristbands for lighter players. I could probably make up some empirical data to show they have an unfair advantage as it is..


I'm not sure I want to get into the argument of bigger vs smaller, which is perhaps of more consequence than heavier vs lighter - I'm not enough of a scientist to appreciate all of the physics involved.

I do think weight and larger size lends more advantages in traction and weight transfer than a smaller weight and size does in acceleration. but that's just my personal opinion.

The weight and size never seemed to do DJ any harm round the Island. He sure could wrestle a bike... he used to bend footrests, levers and handlebars! I know he wasn't much cop on the tracks, but I'm not sure whether that was a function of his weight and size or his riding style/ability.

Lavilla isn't small (whatever happened to him?) - neither is Xaus, or Camier. Hell, Spies isn't small either and I'm sure he'll do OK.

I'm not sure that there's a preponderance of lighter/smaller race winners than more average sized ones. if there was, I'm pretty sure we'd all have noticed by now.

Whatever your opinion on this might be, I'm equally certain that any advantages for the light could be more than compensated for by removing the farcical fuel limitations. This is racing for petrol heads. if you want eco, start an electric series... i won't be watching it, that's for sure.

It would be interesting to know if there's a more obvious correlation between rider weight / height and success in 125/250/Moto2. In these classes the lower power of the bikes and their lower weight should penalise heavy riders more. Various TV commentators have commented on riders such as Scott Reading and Bradley Smith needing to stup up a class to regain their competitiveness as they "outgrow" a smaller one. Still, Simoncelli wasn't too shabby as a 250 rider.....

Remove the rider entirely and of course set the suspension and geometry for no rider weight and the bike alone...............then, could it lap alone, would accelerate more quickly, have a higher top speed, slow down more quickly, change direction more quickly.......inertia

Extreme examples help make the point.

Let's all go race Yamaha YSR50s...........who would have an advantage given equal/nearly equal skills???


There is a lot of assumption in that. An extreme example that isn't applicable. In changing direction. Force must be applied to the bike so there is no point in considering an example where there is no rider to apply force in the quickest and most accurate manner.

That leaves the example with acceleration and braking. As was discussed in the interviewed, the physic of a bike give an advantage to being able to get more weight over the rear - and conversely, less on the front. A bike without a rider is at a disadvantage here.

So, the riderless bike has one advantage: acceleration. If this was drag racing, this might be critical but I think the previous factors outweigh this single advantage.

the extra weight of the rider isnt static. larger riders with more reach can position their weight better than smaller riders.
lets say we're all racing ysr50's in a stop to stop drag race. the smaller riders would accelerate marginally better than heavier ones, whereas the larger heavier ones would be able to stop quicker on the brakes.

Sic was complaining mainly that the lighter riders had the advantage in that as the race progressed because of his weight his Honda was leaning off to try to make it to the end of the race with the fuel limitation when lighter riders like Dani had the advantage of using less fuel and less tyre wear.

Some commentators have conveniently chosen not to mention this part of his complaint but are only focusing on the advantage of acceleration of smaller riders and disadvantage of braking.

What a tangled web some commentators weave, that whole article dealt with acceleration and braking but that was not the main complaint.

David i'm usually with u but this time u didn't deal with main issue, i'm disappointed.

I thought Simo and Val said that there should be a minimum weight including rider.
Havent read anywhere where they have asked for more fuel.
If they had said we should up the fuel limit so no one has to lean out their bikes, I would welcome it.

1. I don't want to see a combined rider/bike weight minimum rules in MotoGP.
2. I wish they would get rid of the fuel limit.

But I would be extremely interested in knowing what Mike Leitner thought about the first 800 Honda that rolled out in 2007 that could not cover Hayden's knees & elbows. Clearly Honda (the NASA of motorcycle racing) thought smaller was better... do they still believe in this philosophy in general?

If you put ballast on Dani's bike in order to add extra weight, he will not be able to move it around to shift the bike's center of mass like heavier riders do with their extra body mass, so it would not be fair. He would just have a static extra weight, while heavier riders would have a mobile extra weight that they can move around to shift the bike's center of mass while riding.

Rossi's leg is so long and he uses it on the braking as an extra weight. You cannot put ballast on Dani's leg, so that he brakes better. You can only put ballast inside the bike, and that will upset the motorcycle a lot. You cannot move that ballast back and forth to have an advantage while accelerating or braking. The ohter riders will have a lighter bike. It is simply not fair.

Unfortunately, when Rossi says something, FIM takes action and rules are changed.

...they could always add 10kg of ballast to Dani's helmet, then he can move it around as he pleases. Or perhaps some weighted prosthetic limb extensions...nice and fair for everyone!

my thinking from the start was that if they were to mandate a minimum bike and rider weight then the smaller riders would want to wear the weights in the suit. 2kg of lead pallets embedded in the knee armour or some weighty butt cushioning would work a treat