Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fabulous Five: The racing bikes I love!

Manx Norton 500
With its ‘Featherbed’ frame, designed by the McCandless brothers, the early 1950s Manx Norton earned most of its glory at the Isle of Man TT races. Geoff Duke’s riding talent and the Manx Norton’s handling prowess was an unbeatable combination, and for years, the Italians and the Japanese had no answer to the winning ways of this British machine.

Pepsi Suzuki RGV500
In 1989, Lawson was champ, Rainey was trying hard, and Schwantz was god, for he made the number 34 Pepsi Suzuki do things which I still remember after more than fifteen years. The RGV has given me enduring images of Kevin on the bike, with the rear wheel going sideways and the front two feet off the deck - all at the same time. The best ever.

Cagiva 500 grand prix racer
GP bikes don’t need to look beautiful - going extremely fast would suffice. The Cagiva 500, raced by the likes of Lawson and Mamola, looked achingly gorgeous anyway. It didn’t win too many races (Lawson gave it its first GP win in 1992, and got a Ferrari from Cagiva for his efforts…), but when you look like this, you’re forgiven anything.

Honda NS/NSR500
In 1983, the ‘Sultan of Slide’, Freddie Spencer won the 500cc motorcycle GP racing championship on the V3 (three-cylinder) NS500. Then, in 1985, riding a V4 NSR500, he not only won the 500cc championship, but also picked up the 250cc crown in the same year. Honda released the MVX 250 in celebration of the NS500, and Fast Freddie’s 1985 double-crown feat remains unequalled ever since, though Honda NSRs kept notching up countless victories in top-flight GP racing, right until Valentino Rossi's last 500cc crown in 2001. (Of course, the Honda RC211V proved to be a worthy successor to the mighty NSR500 after that...)

Britten V1000
Some of my best early 1990s memories are those of watching, on television, Britten V1000s thundering past Ducati 851s in various BoTT races. Those strange-looking Brittens, with their Hossack-design frontends and pink/blue paintwork, wouldn’t so much overtake the Fast by Ferracci Ducatis as completely blow them into the weeds. John Britten, of New Zealand, the man who designed this bike from scratch, passed away about ten years ago - a terrible loss for the world of very fast, very unique motorcycles.


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