Category Archives: Motorcycle Racing

Vale Nicholas Patrick Hayden

 

2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden has passed away following an incident with a car while out training on his bicycle along the Riviera di Rimini on the Adriatic coast. He had competed at the nearby Imola circuit the previous weekend in the World Superbike Championship. On Wednesday the 17th of May he sustained severe head and chest injuries when he was hit by the car.  Hayden was treated at the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena. “The medical team has verified the death of the patient Nicholas Patrick Hayden, who has been undergoing care in the intensive care unit following a very serious polytrauma, ” the hospital said in a statement.

The 35-year-old from Owensboro Kentucky started out racing dirt track in his native USA before switching to the tarmac and was crowned AMA Supersport Champion in 1999.  This was followed by the AMA Superbike crown in 2002 making Hayden the youngest rider to win the title before moving to the MotoGP World Championship for 2003. As a rookie, he took two podiums that year, at Motegi in Japan and Phillip Island in Australia.  More podiums followed in 2004 before Hayden took his first pole and Grand Prix victory at Laguna Seca in 2005. The following year, the “Kentucky Kid” became the MotoGP World Champion beating Valentino Rossi to the premier class crown, only securing the title at the last round of the year at Valencia in Spain.

Statement from Tommy Hayden, on behalf of the Hayden family:

“On behalf of the whole Hayden family and Nicky’s fiancée Jackie I would like to thank everyone for their messages of support – it has been a great comfort to us all knowing that Nicky has touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way.

“Although this is obviously a sad time, we would like everyone to remember Nicky at his happiest – riding a motorcycle. He dreamed as a kid of being a pro rider and not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport in becoming World Champion. We are all so proud of that.

“Apart from these ‘public’ memories, we will also have many great and happy memories of Nicky at home in Kentucky, in the heart of the family. We will all miss him terribly.

“It is also important for us to thank all the hospital staff for their incredible support – they have been very kind. With the further support of the authorities in the coming days, we hope to have Nicky home soon.”

Words (C) Geoff Dawes. Image courtesy http://www.topspeed.com.

Archives: A Special Classic Racer

 

From humble 250cc road going street bike to 500cc championship winning classic racer.

I penned this article in 1984 for Bike Australia, and over the thirty years since, Jerry Kooistra built Honda CB72 based 350cc, and 500cc classic racers have been winning championships and breaking lap records.

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Classic racing in Australia has become one of the most popular and fast-growing sections of motorcycle road racing, a trend that’s also sweeping many other parts of the world. The class in Australia caters for motorcycles manufactured between 1931 to 1962, giving a new lease of life to many famous, but previously idle, racing machines. It has also lured former world and national champions out of retirement to compete; recreating an era of motorcycle racing that was missed by many of today’s racing enthusiasts.

At any classic meeting, it’s not unusual to see pristine examples of pure classic racing machinery such as the 500cc Manx Norton or 350cc 7R AJS. However, it is rare to find a Concours condition racing special built from a road bike that would do any factory’s racing department proud. The racing bike in question is the Graham Besson, and Jerry Kooistra owned and built Honda 500cc twin that started its life as a road going 1962 250cc CB72 Super Sport.

The 500cc and its older 350cc brother have made the team a force to be reckoned with in Australian classic racing. The teams racing debut was at the September 1981 classic meeting in South Australia. Using the 350cc CB72, they won all four heats against machines of up to 1000cc capacity and in the process broke the lap record. Since that successful debut, the 500cc version has been developed and holds lap records at all four venues in South Australia and recently won the 1983 Historic Twin Cylinder Championships at Mallala Motorsport Park.

The 350cc version of the Honda CB72 based racer.

Graham and Jerry modestly suggest this is due to their professional approach to racing that has been complimented by having top riders such as Wayne Gardner and former Australian Champions Otto Mueller and Bill Horsman riding their machinery. The team has been so encouraged by their results that they’re building a new 500cc bike for Bill Horsman to ride at Daytona in the Classic Race and Battle of the Twins. The target is Daytona 1985 due to business commitments and the need to find sponsorship to fund the project.

But success for the CB72 racers did not happen overnight, and it has taken many years of development to make them competitive machinery. Graham started modifying Honda CB72’s with mechanic and racer Terry Dennehey back in the early sixties when Besson was a budding road racer living in Sydney. Their bike in 350cc form was officially timed at 136mph (223kph) at Longford in Tasmania, which Graham believes is still the record for a 350cc four-stroke. In 1970 with the motor stretched to 500cc, it was measured at 142mph (228kph) at Bathurst.

It’s worth noting that “Pops” Yoshimura (who was virtually unknown outside of Japan at that time) was developing the CB72 engine along the same lines.   A data sheet put out by Yoshimura and distributed by Honda compared favourably with Besson and Dennehey’s development work. Eventually, Graham pulled out of the project and Dennehey sold the bike to the Honda Racing Team of Tasmania who Kooistra was involved with as a rider/mechanic. Graham later moved to South Australia with his family, which by chance is where Jerry Kooistra moved some years later. It was after meeting again that they decided to build the current generation of CB72 racers to meet classic racing requirements as a “hobby”.

To say their CB72 racer is highly modified would be something of an understatement and would probably not do justice to the many parts that Jerry Kooistra (who is a toolmaker by trade) has fabricated for the bikes. On the 500cc engine, they’ve used their own specially built crankshaft to increase the engine’s stroke from 54mm to 64.8mm, which required the use of a spacer between the barrels and the crankcase. The bore has been increased from a humble 54mm to a whopping 70mm by using new liners. These took so much “meat” out of the barrels that the cooling fins had to be welded together! Many hours were spent optimising the cylinder heads gas flow with the resultant increase in inlet and exhaust valve size of 27mm to 32mm and 32mm to 37mm respectively. Compression has also gone up from 9.5:1 to 10.5:1.

The 500cc version of the Honda CB72 racer. Note the mufflers on the end of the megaphones.

Although Graham developed a lumpier camshaft for the CB72 in the sixties, they have found it necessary to design a new profile for the particular requirements of the larger engines. Jerry has also slotted the camshaft sprocket and can adjust the degree of cam timing independent of the crankshaft and individually for each cylinder. Kooistra will even grind the cam followers in the quest for a perfect set-up. The original neoprene guides for the cam-chain have been retired so steel items can be used in the pursuit of reliability.

A pair of 31mm Keihins, that replace the standard 22mm units, supply the air-fuel mixture. These were acquired from the Honda Racing Services Centre and were at one time offered as part of a race kit for the CB72. They are replicas of the carburettors on the factory’s first 125cc Grand Prix racers from 1959 except they are die-cast instead of sand-cast. All that effort to get more air-fuel into the combustion chamber to create a bigger “bang” would be partially lost if the exhaust system didn’t allow the engine to exhale correctly. Over a hundred hours were spent developing exhaust megaphones to achieve the correct power characteristics only to find the exhaust note was over the allowed decibel limit. In desperation, some mufflers were made from automatic transmission parts and tacked on the end of the megaphones. To their surprise not only did the mufflers put the exhaust noise under the decibel limit but also increased the racers horsepower. Jerry believes the engine is making approximately 60bhp at 10,000rpm, a jump of 36bhp over the stock 250cc engine that produced 24bhp at 9,000rpm.

Lengthening the stroke of the engine required some particular thought to increase the oil supply and to improve crankcase breathing. The standard 250cc CB72 sump was small capacity and only carried 1.4 litres of oil so an extra oil tank was fitted directly above the crankshaft relieving oil pressure and allowing it to flow back into the crankcases. Breather hoses run from this tank to a catch-tank which doubles as the seat bum-stop. A VW oil cooler is also fitted under the engine to utilise cool air scooped up by a lip in the fairing.

The ignition has been modified from the usual battery coil set-up to a more suitable magneto system, which Kooistra made. With the increased torque of the 500cc motor, the primary drive chain was seen as a possible weak link due to difficulties experienced earlier with the 350cc engine. Jerry attacked this problem by replacing the chain with his own gear drive system between the crankshaft and the clutch, resulting in an entirely reliable primary drive. Problems did occur with the race kits $1,200 five-speed transmission. The five-speed racing transmission was designed to fit in the space vacated by the standard four-speed gearbox and was designed to handle only 28 reasonably tame racing horsepower. Unfortunately, the full torque of the 500cc engine at 9,000rpm usually resulted in stripped gears. One solution was to increase the speed of the gearbox to the crankshaft by changing the gear ratio between them. The other was to switch to a cush gear drive by installing a Honda dream rear hub, the both of which have eradicated the gearbox woes. The clutch has also been beefed up with the addition of three more plates making a total of eight.

Bill Horsman in action on the Honda at Mallala Motorsport Park.

No matter how much horsepower is extricated from a racing engine that alone will not win races. A lot of innovation and clear thinking has gone into transforming the CB72 from an adequate road bike into an excellent racetrack performer. The CB72 is well known for dragging its engine cases under racing conditions which can result in oil leaking from the main oil feed gallery that runs to the gearbox on the primary side. To improve ground clearance the spine tube type frame was cut into half a dozen pieces and then reassembled with extra bracing around the main backbone tube and the standard length swingarm. The opportunity was also taken to change the steering heads rake and trail to angles more suited to racing.

The net result is an incredibly rigid frame with more ground clearance than available tread. The front forks are standard items with the primary development being different weight fork oil. Earlier experience with the race kits stiff fork springs only resulted in producing the world’s first 140mph (225kph) pogo stick! At the rear Koni hydraulic shocks are used but re-valved by Jerry to his specification.

Some problems were encountered with the standard twin leading shoe front brake that under racing conditions were cracking the hub due to excessive heat build-up. The solution to this came in the form of a specially cast hub Graham had made by his father-in-law in the early sixties. A new hub was made from the pattern of the original to give the bike a twin leading shoe arrangement. But it wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds. To get identical braking on each side Jerry took the backing plate of a CB72 front brake and cut it into seven pieces. He then re-arranged the parts so he had a mirror image of the original and welded them together. It’s almost impossible to detect the welds as the whole thing is so well executed it looks like a factory component.

A Honda Dream rear brake unit with competition linings adequately handles the rear braking duties. Kooistra also crafted the tank and seat unit from aluminium as well as the fairing of their first bike, the 350, from which fibreglass replicas were moulded. Jerry’s five-year cadetship in mechanical instrument and tool making shines through again in the execution of the hollow footpegs, brake and gear lever, which have an almost clinical precision to them. The overall effect of this high level of craftsmanship is a racer that looks as though it just rolled out of the factory’s racing department and good enough to win the Best Competition Bike and Best Bike trophy at the 1983 Adelaide M.R.A. Bike Show.

Note the replica carburettor patterned on the Grand Prix units used by Honda in 1959.

To Graham Besson, the Honda CB72 based racers are a realisation of how he would like to have gone racing 20 years ago. For Jerry Kooistra, they have been an outlet for an inquisitive mind and an enormous creative talent. With 8 times Australian Champion, Bill Horsman, riding them you have an irresistible force in Australian Classic Racing that with the required sponsorship can only do well at Daytona in 1985.

 

Words and photographs © Geoff Dawes 1984. Published in the March 1984 issue of Bike Australia.

Vale John Surtees

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

John Surtees has passed away in hospital on the 10th of March 2017 at the age of 83. Surtees was the only person to win World Championships in both the premier Formula 1 car and the 500cc (MotoGP) motorcycle Grand Prix categories.

The Surtees family announced the news in a statement, which read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our husband and father, John Surtees CBE.”

“John, ‪83, was admitted to St Georges Hospital, London in February with an existing respiratory condition and after a short period in intensive care he passed away peacefully this afternoon.”

“His wife, Jane and daughters, Leonora and Edwina were by his side.”

“John was a loving husband, father, brother and friend.”

“He was also one of the true greats of motorsport and continued to work tirelessly up until recently with The Henry Surtees Foundation and Buckmore Park Kart Circuit.”

“We deeply mourn the loss of such an incredible, kind and loving man as well as celebrate his amazing life.”

“He has set a very real example of someone who kept pushing himself at his peak and one who continued fighting until the very end.”

“We would like to thank all the staff at St George’s Hospital and The East Surrey Hospital for their professionalism and support during this difficult time for us.”

“Thank you also to all of those who have sent their kind messages in recent weeks.”

Below is a piece I published on MotoVue in 2014 celebrating the 50th anniversary of John’s outstanding achievement.

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Fifty years ago, on the 25th of October in 1964, John Surtees secured the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari, becoming the first and only man to win a Grand Prix World Championships on two wheels and four. Surtees had already won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three occasions (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels. He then went on to achieve the impossible by clinching the Formula One title in 1964 at the last race of the season in Mexico.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

It’s interesting to note that Surtees won his World Championships on two wheels and four with Italian racing royalty, MV Agusta and Ferrari. But remarkably, Surtees had never raced a car until a non-championship meeting at Goodwood in 1960. Surtees put his F2 Cooper-Climax on pole and finished an incredible second to Jim Clark in a Lotus. In only his second F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone, Surtees, driving a Lotus, finished second to World Champion Jack Brabham. It was just his eighth car race.

At the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix, he put the Lotus on pole giving the team their very first pole position. This was all in 1960 while he was on his way to winning both the 500cc and 350cc World Championship on two wheels with MV Agusta.

Other examples of John’s versatility was to win the inaugural 1966 Can-Am SportsCar Championship in America driving a Lola T70 while another was taking Honda’s second F1 win in 1967 by driving the Honda Racing RA 300 to a fantastic victory on its debut at Monza in Italy.

In today’s world of specialisation in Motorsport this type of versatility is unheard of. Surtees, like most riders in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also rode in more than one Grand Prix class during a championship race meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

Surtees also became a racing car manufacturer in 1970 forming the Surtees Racing Organisation with his cars competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1. Surtees most significant success as a manufacturer came with another former motorcycle multi-world champion, Mike Hailwood, who won the European F2 championship for Surtees in 1972.

 The prodigious talents of John Surtees have created a unique chapter in the history of Motorsport and one that is unlikely to be repeated. Although Surtees has already been awarded an M.B.E. and O.B.E. (in 2016 he was also awarded a C.B.E.) in the Queen’s honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man’s contribution to Motorsport and charity.

© Words Geoff Dawes 2014/2016. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com

Two Titans

With Christmas 2016 upon us here are two books which any motorcycle racing enthusiast would like to find under the Christmas tree.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and these two photo-autobiographies “GIACOMO AGOSTINI A LIFE IN PICTURES” and “JOHN SURTEES MY INCREDIBLE LIFE ON TWO WHEELS AND FOUR” certainly do that.  Both are primarily photographic accounts of the lives of these two motor racing giants, beautifully presented on high-quality glossy paper as hardback coffee table size publications.

9788879115841

Agostini’s book is co-authored by Italian Mario Donnino, a long-serving reporter for well-known motorsport magazine Autosprint, Donino’s almost poetic narrative is combined with quotes provided by Agostini that reveal his highly competitive nature and a search for perfection in his racing.  This is hardly surprising for a man who has won eight 500cc (MotoGP) and seven 350cc World Championships accumulating along the way 122 Grand Prix victories.

It is the photographs, however, most of which are from Agostini’s own collection, that enrich this book so much,. It allows the reader to look back in time, from the late 1950’s to the mid 1970”s, to an era considered to be “Golden” in the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and sometimes also deadly to its participants.

The photographs, such as the MV Agusta mechanics working in the factory workshop, and those of Giacomo socialising with his racing rivals are priceless.

Highly recommended.

9780992820923_1024x1024

John Surtees’ book is co-authored by well-known journalist Mike Nicks who has contributed to specialist magazines such as MCN, Classic Bike among many others. The format is very similar to Agostini’s tome with the photographs accompanied by Surtee’s own description that gives an intimate voice to the book.

Surtees, of course, is the only man to ever win both the 500cc (MotoGP) World Championship (four times) and the F1 World Championship with Ferrari in 1964.  Surtees also won the inaugural CAN-AM series in 1966 and later became an F1 car constructor in 1970 with his cars winning the European Formula 2 title with Mike Hailwood in 1972.  But these are just headlines of a long and enduring career, and this book reveals so much more.

Highly recommended.

Royalties from “JOHN SURTEES MY INCREDIBLE LIFE ON TWO WHEELS AND FOUR” go to the  Henry Surtees Foundation which was set up to honour the memory of John’s son Henry, who was killed in a freak accident at Brands Hatch in 2009.

The above books are available from the Book Depository.

Review by Geoff Dawes (C) 2016

2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera

Casey Stoner and Claudio Domenicali introduce the 2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggra.

Casey Stoner and Claudio Domenicali introduce the 2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera.

In 2014 Ducati introduced a very special version of its Panigale with the beautifully executed 1199 Superleggera (or Superlight). It was the logical progression from the World Superbike homologation special, the Panigale R, and it certainly lived up to its moniker with the liberal use of magnesium for the monocoque chassis and forged Marchesini wheels. There was also carbon fibre for the subframe and bodywork with a sprinkling of titanium for the exhaust system, the engines connecting rods and valves, plus various fasteners. The 1199 was enhanced even further with latest suite of electronic acronyms, and with over 200hp on tap, the Superleggera boasted an outrageous power to weight ratio reputed to be the best of any production motorcycle. Only 500 of these works of art were made.

So how do you take the Superlight concept to the next level? Ducati revealed the answer just recently at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan with the unveiling of the 1299 Superleggera. Understandably it is the search for even lighter weight and more power from the Superquadro engine that makes this motorcycle intriguing, especially with the extensive use of carbon fibre not only for the monocoque chassis and subframe but also the wheels.

As a matter of point, when the Panigale was first released in 2011 its aluminium monocoque chassis could trace its DNA back to the Desmosedici MotoGP racers, starting with the 2009 GP9,  which used carbon fibre for the monocoque chassis and subframe (and at different times the swingarm). Like the Panigale, it also utilised the engine as a fully stressed member. Casey Stoner tasted a number of victories with the carbon fibre frame, but it was scrapped after Valentino Rossi joined the Ducati MotoGP team in 2011, reverting to a more familiar aluminium twin-spar configuration. Stoner still believes there were benefits with the carbon fibre chassis on the Desmosedici and with the release of the 1299 Superleggera it appears Ducati still have faith in the technology as well. As such, it was appropriate that the Ducati brand ambassador, and MotoGP test rider, rode the new model Superleggera onto the stage in Milan. Again only 500 units will be built.

Below is the Ducati press kit, which details this fantastic motorcycle.

1299 Superleggera

With the 1299 Superleggera, Ducati takes the world of road Supersport bikes to levels that were unheard of until now: the Superleggera is the first ever factory bike to be equipped with a carbon fibre frame, swingarm, subframe and wheels. The 1299 Superleggera is a gem of engineering, technology and performance. No motorcycle manufacturer has ever produced a factory bike quite like it.

With the 1299 Superleggera, Ducati has achieved off-the-scale style, sophistication and performance. Frame and swingarm, made entirely of carbon fibre just like the high-spec wheels, are unique to the 1299 Superleggera. The fairing – also made of carbon fibre – is another key element: but only one of many in an astounding bike that could only ever have been built by Ducati – a manufacturer with racing DNA.

And underneath that carbon fibre skin lies the highest-performing version of the Superquadro. Thanks to its 215 hp, the desmodromic engine on the 1299 Superleggera is the most powerful factory twin-cylinder ever built; it incorporates the ultimate levels of Ducati technology.

What makes the 1299 Superleggera even more exclusive is the new electronics package which uses a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (6D IMU) to manage the incomparable array of electronic controls. This system has allowed us to improve the Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO) presented on the 1299 Panigale S Anniversario thanks to the introduction of Ducati Slide Control (DSC), which ensures even higher out-of-the-corner performance. The 1299 Superleggera is also the first ever Ducati Superbike to be equipped with Ducati Power Launch (DPL) and also features the Engine Brake Control (EBC) seen on previous versions.

Keeping the explosive performance of the 1299 Superleggera under control is also a newly calibrated Bosch Cornering ABS system that ensures matchless braking in complete safety.

The 1299 Superleggera has the word ‘exclusive’ written all over it, even when it comes to the number being made: only 500 such bikes are to be built. Together with the motorcycle, purchasers get a track kit which includes a complete Akrapovič titanium racing exhaust, a racing screen, plate holder removal kit, kickstand removal kit, machined-from-solid mirror replacement plugs, front and rear paddock stands and a bike cover.

Carbon fibre monocoque chassis uses the engine as a stressed member.

Carbon fibre monocoque chassis uses the engine as a stressed member.

Ducati 1299 Superleggera: unique features

Frame

 Carbon fibre monocoque

 Carbon fibre single-sided swingarm

 Carbon fibre wheels with aluminium hubs

 Carbon fibre rear subframe

 Aluminium tank

 Carbon fibre fairing

 Multi-adjustable Öhlins FL936 upside down 43 mm fork

 Multi-adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock absorber with titanium spring

 Brembo MCS 19.21 radial front pump

 Brembo TT29OP1 brake pads with an increased friction coefficient

 ID number on top yoke: 1/500

Engine

 Superquadro engine with 215 hp at 11,000 rpm and 14.9 kgm at 9,000 rpm

 2-segment pistons with a diameter of 116 mm to boost the compression ratio    and aluminium cylinder liners to reduce weight

 Lighter crankshaft with tungsten balancing pads

 Titanium conrods

 Sand-cast crankcase

 Increased-diameter titanium intake and exhaust valves

 Cylinder head with specially developed intake and exhaust ducts

 Camshafts with increased lift

 Complete all-titanium Akrapovič exhaust with high-mount dual silencer*

Superleggra looks great for any angle.

Superleggera looks great from any angle.

Electronics

 6D Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) by Bosch

 Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO)

 Ducati Slide Control (DSC)

 Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO)

 Engine Brake Control (EBC)

 Bosch Cornering ABS

 Ducati Power Launch (DPL)

 Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down

 Dedicated switchgear controls to adjust DTC, DSC, DWC and EBC during on-track use ad DPL activation

 Ducati Data Analyser + (DDA+)

 Lithium-ion battery

Race Kit

 Complete titanium Akrapovič racing exhaust with high dual silencer*

 Bike cover

 Front and rear paddock stand

 Plate holder removal kit

 Racing screen

 Kickstand removal kit

 Machined-from solid mirror replacement plugs

*Country-specific

The lightness of carbon fibre

Every step of the design of the frame and swingarm was handled internally by Ducati, making full use of Ducati Corse experience in terms of calculation methods, material selection and test methods. During development, components underwent stringent final tests to ensure integrity under all possible conditions and each item underwent a quality control process similar to that used in MotoGP.

The Monocoque chassis double as the airbox.

The Monocoque chassis doubles as the airbox.

Carbon fibre component structural quality is ensured by three different NDI (Non-Destructive Inspection) methods used in the aerospace industry:

 Active Transient Thermography is a leading edge NDI (Non-Destructive Inspection) technology commonly used in Aerospace. It allows for continuous inspection of a given area ensuring 100% inspection coverage and is used especially along complex shapes and edges

 Ultrasonic Phased Array is based on Pulse Echo technique that has the advantage of bi-dimensional visualisation. It is more detailed than standard testing procedures thanks to higher coverage and higher sensitivity

 Computed Axial Tomography is the most reliable NDI technique and consists of X-ray 3D inspection that ensures 100% volumetric analysis

These checks are made on every single manufactured part to verify their constructive quality.

The monocoque frame, made of high-strength carbon fibre and a resin system resistant to high temperatures, also has 7075 aluminium alloy inserts that are co-laminated into the composite structure. This construction technology has resulted in weight savings of 40% (-1.7 kg / -3.7 lbs) compared to the monocoque frame on the 1299 Panigale.

The single-sided swingarm – again made of high-strength carbon fibre and a resin system resistant to high temperatures with 7075 aluminium alloy inserts co-laminated into the composite structure – provides an 18% weight saving (-0.9 kg / -2 lbs) compared to its aluminium counterpart on the 1299 Panigale.

Moreover, the 1299 Superleggera features a carbon fibre rear subframe, similar to the one used on the 1199 Superleggera, plus carbon fibre fairing, front mudguard, rear mudguard and exhaust heat guard.

The cutting-edge wheels of the 1299 Superleggera are also made of high-strength carbon fibre, with aluminium hubs screwed into the composite structure. Compared to their forged aluminium counterparts, these wheels lighten the bike by a total of 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs) and offer 26% less rolling resistance at the front and 44% less at the rear, resulting in nimbler handling. The 1299 Superleggera wheels mount Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres.

 Superbike suspension and brakes

The refined chassis set-up of the 1299 Superleggera is completed by Öhlins suspension and true Superbike-calibre Brembo brakes. The multi-adjustable 43 mm Öhlins FL936 upside-down fork on the 1299 Superleggera weighs 1.35 kg (3 lbs) less than the Öhlins fork on the Panigale R. At the rear, instead, the multi-adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock absorber has a titanium spring that shaves off another 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) with respect to the steel unit fitted on the Panigale R.

A look at the braking system reveals two 330 mm Brembo discs up front, gripped by Brembo M50 monobloc calipers, with new TT29OP1 brake pads, controlled by a Brembo MCS 19.21 radial pump. At the back, instead, is a single 245 mm disc.

Light lithe and radical.

Light lithe and radical.

 The most powerful Superquadro ever

A whopping 215 hp at 11,000 rpm and 14.9 kgm at 9,000 rpm. These are the incredible power and torque values delivered by the Superquadro twin cylinder engine that powers the 1299 Superleggera. To achieve such performance, Ducati engineers have made profound changes to some of the main engine components, starting with the lightened crankshaft which has a larger crank pin and tungsten balancing pads. The con-rods, in titanium, are new, as are the 116 mm diameter pistons – now with just two segments as on Superbike engines – with machined crowns that raise the compression ratio to 13:1. Another important new development concerns the cylinder liners, in aluminium as opposed to steel as seen on the 1299 Panigale. With the addition of a lighter flywheel, the “engine core” (crankshaft, con-rods, pistons, cylinder liner, flywheel) is about 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs) lighter than its counterpart assembly on the 1299 Panigale (-21.5%).

The cylinder heads have also been given an overhaul. The diameters of the valves, both in titanium, have been increased; they are now even wider than those used on Superbike competition bikes. The intake valves have a diameter of 48 mm as opposed to the 46.8 mm on the 1299 Panigale; the exhaust valves have a diameter of 39.5 mm (against 38.2 mm on the 1299 Panigale). Consequently, intake and exhaust ducts have also undergone development, improving fluid dynamics thanks also to new camshafts that offer both improved profiles and increased valve lift. This model has been the focus of intense performance, and weight reduction research and the cylinder heads are no exceptions: their weight has been cut by about 0.4 kg (0.9 lbs).

The 1299 Superleggera features a clutch with a new slipper and self-servo system, giving heightened ‘feel’ and ride stability thanks also to the use of a new forged aluminium clutch basket.

Increased performance has, naturally, required the adoption of technical solutions to ensure reliability and compliance with noise emissions standards. Numerous parts of the twin-cylinder engine have been modified: for example, the crankcase is now sand-cast, and the new timing system features a “silent” chain.

Overall, then, in terms of weight, the Superquadro, is 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs) lighter than the engine on the 1299 Panigale.

The intake system on the 1299 Superleggera has also been revised. It mounts a high-permeability, larger-surface P08 Sprint Filter of SBK derivation. The throttle body features new aerodynamic throttle openings with a profile designed to improve airflow while intake horn heights have been optimised for each cylinder head, unlike the 1299 Panigale which has horns of the same length.

Lastly, the 1299 Superleggera has a complete all-titanium Akrapovič exhaust with a high dual silencer, just like the one on the official Panigale that competes in the World Superbike championship*.

The Superquadro that powers the 1299 Superleggera is not just the most powerful twin-cylinder road engine built by Ducati in its entire history: it’s also perfectly EURO 4 compliant and delivers 10 hp (+ 4.9%) and 0.2 kgm (+ 1.5%) more than the engine on the 1299 Panigale.

Moreover, the ultra-light lithium battery on the 1299 Superleggera saves 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs) compared to the unit on the 1299 Panigale.

For those aiming to use the bike only on the track, the 1299 Superleggera comes with a track kit that, as regards the engine, includes a complete Akrapovič titanium exhaust. This exhaust is 4 kg** (8.8 lbs) lighter than its road counterpart and boosts power by 5 hp.

*Country-specific

**2 kg (4.4 lbs) for the OEM USA version

MotoGP electronics

The 1299 Superleggera is the first Bologna-built bike to be equipped with the new electronic package, which makes full use of the 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (6D IMU). This electronic package includes DTC EVO, DSC, DWC and EVO and provides the rider with a bike control experience that comes extremely close to that of a MotoGP bike.HyperFocal: 0

 Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO)

The DTC EVO on the 1299 Superleggera derives from the system already presented on the 1299 Panigale S Anniversario and is based on an all-new algorithm that ensures faster, more precise intervention. The DTC EVO interfaces with the Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), constantly measuring the motorcycle’s lean angle and using it to accurately calculate the degree of intervention needed to ensure suitable rear wheel spin (according to the DTC EVO level setting) and so provide better handling.

Moreover, the DTC EVO also acts on the throttle body valves and controls spark and injection advance. In all situations in which fast intervention of the DTC EVO is not required, use of the throttle body valves ensures maintenance of optimal combustion parameters, ensuring more fluid engine response and intervention.

With simpler types of traction control, detection of rear wheelspin sees the system intervene to hold it in check. When optimal grip is re-established the system reduces intervention until spin reoccurs, and the cycle repeats. This produces a graph that shows intervention oscillating around a theoretical “ideal intervention line” that represents the traction limit. DTC EVO reduces the magnitude of those oscillations, making the system operate closer to the perfect intervention line. This is particularly advantageous in situations where grip changes, such as when the rear tyre becomes worn.

In addition to this enhanced intervention precision, when set to “1” or “2”, the DTC EVO adds a new function that lets the user ride the motorcycle at a level that would previously only have been possible for experts or pros. Now, when the bike is leant over, the rider can use the throttle to request more wheel spin than that obtained with the normal intervention level, allowing the motorcycle to pivot around its front wheel and complete the cornering line. DTC EVO allows riders to do this while keeping safety parameters under control, effectively letting then ‘close’ the taken line with the rear wheel.

Ducati Slide Control (DSC)

The introduction of the 6D IMU has allowed Ducati Slide Control (DSC) – developed jointly with Ducati Corse – to be added to Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO). This new system provides the rider with further support by controlling the torque delivered by the engine as a function of the slide angle; its goal is to improve out-of-the-corner performance by preventing slide angles that might otherwise be difficult to handle. The DSC relies on the 6D IMU that provides the vehicle control unit with crucial information about motorcycle dynamics (such as lean angle, acceleration and much more). Thanks to this data – and depending on the user-selected level – the DSC extends the performance range of the bike for everyone, providing improved assistance under extreme riding conditions.

Like the DTC EVO, the DSC controls torque reduction by acting on the throttle body valves, decreasing spark advance and reducing injection. In every situation in which fast intervention of the DSC is not required, use of the throttle body valves ensures maintenance of optimal combustion parameters, ensuring more fluid engine response and intervention.

DSC has three different settings: switching from level 1 to level 3 results in easier control of slide angles that would otherwise be difficult to handle. DSC intervention levels can be changed by going to the menu, from where you can also set the DTC EVO and DWC EVO values. It’s also possible to set direct DSC control via the Up and Down keys on the left handlebar. The DSC setting is always shown on the display.

 Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO)

The 1299 Superleggera also comes equipped with the latest version of Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC). This system – again with the EVO tag – has been overhauled in terms of both controller structure and algorithm, providing a closer link with the rider’s needs. This is an evolution of the system that equips the 1299 Anniversario.

 Ducati Power Launch (DPL)

Another new feature on the 1299 Superleggera is Ducati Power Launch (DPL), the first time it has appeared on a Panigale. This 3-level system ensures lightning-fast starts, letting the rider focus on releasing the clutch. Once set, the rider simply engages first gear and opens the throttle. During the first stage of moving off, while the rider is modulating clutch release, the DPL stabilises the engine at optimal revs as a function of the selected level. In the second phase, when the clutch has been fully released, the DPL controls torque delivery to give acceleration that matches the chosen level. The DPL makes use of the DWC functions and always keeps DTC active to ensure complete safety at all times.

Automatic disengagement of the system occurs above the end-of-start speed, or once third gear is selected. To protect the clutch, a specially developed algorithm allows only a limited number of consecutive starts. The number of ‘launches left’ returns to its normal status once the user rides the bike normally.

The DPL has three different levels, set by simultaneously pressing the Up and Down keys on the left handlebar. Level 1 favours high-performance starts, level 3 is safer and more stable.

Bosch Cornering ABS

The 1299 Superleggera also features a revised Bosch Cornering ABS system. First of all, it has been recalibrated to take into account the new revolving mass represented by the ultra-light carbon fibre wheels; secondly, it has been equipped with a new operating logic that ensures safer, more effective braking when cornering. This latest system version offers improved ABS control when the motorcycle is leant over, ensuring better performance in terms of both attainable deceleration and safety.

 Engine Brake Control (EBC)

The EBC (Engine Brake Control) system has been developed to help riders optimise vehicle stability under extreme turn-in conditions in MotoGP and Superbike championship races by balancing the forces applied to the rear tyre under severe engine-braking conditions. The EBC monitors the throttle position, selected gear and crankshaft deceleration rate under heavy braking and administers precise Ride-by-Wire throttle openings to balance the torque forces acting on the tyre. There are three EBC levels. Set via the 1299 Superleggera control panel, they are automatically integrated into its three Riding Modes to provide riders with even more incredibly efficient assistance.

 Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA+ GPS)

Lastly, the 1299 Superleggera is equipped with the Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA+ GPS) as a standard feature. This system, which includes software (also for Mac users) and a USB-ready data retrieval card, allows assessment of both motorcycle and rider performance by showing specific info channels in graph form. The DDA+ GPS is a latest-generation Ducati Data Analyser system with a GPS function that automatically records lap times when the bike crosses a circuit start/finish line. As the rider crosses the finish line, he presses the beam flasher button and the highly innovative system logs the coordinates of that position and then automatically logs each lap time as the motorcycle completes the lap.

An essential piece of equipment for track use, the DDA+ records numerous channels of data including throttle opening, vehicle speed, engine rpm, gear selection, engine temperature, distance travelled, laps and lap times. There is also a dedicated channel to record the torque reduction – depicted in graph form – requested by the systems that make up the new electronics package. At the end of a ride or track session, the data can be downloaded for comparison and in-depth analysis of rider and motorcycle performance.

2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera vital statistics.

Dry weight
156 kg (343.9 lb)

Kerb weight
167 kg (368.2 lb)

Power
158.1 kW (215 hp) @ 11,000 rpm

Torque
146.5 Nm (108,0 lb-ft) @ 9,000 rpm

Words Geoff Dawes and Ducati Motor Holdings spa © 2016. Images and Video courtesy Ducati Motor Holdings spa.

 

Honda Celebrates 50 Years Of MotoGP

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V.

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V at Motegi in Japan.

It was perhaps fitting that Marc Marquez collected his third MotoGP World Championship at Honda’s own circuit at Motegi in Japan, as 2016 celebrates 50 years since Honda first entered the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

What is also appropriate is the fact that Marquez achieved this on the recalcitrant 2016 RC213V. Although an improvement over the 2015 edition, a change to the new Michelin control tyres as well as the new control software, tossed in, even more, variables for the Repsol Honda team to equate. But the key this year to Marquez’s success has been his determination to finish every race and has shown the kind of maturity, at just 23 years of age, that no doubt is worrying to his rivals. Honda’s first foray into the 500cc (MotoGP) class with the RC181, coincidentally suffered handling issues as well.

Honda's weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda’s weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda, of course, was the first Japanese motorcycle manufacturer to enter into the Grands Prix in 1959 at the Isle of Man TT in the 125cc category. After considerable success in the lower capacity classes, Honda then took the plunge by entering a 500cc machine in the premier class for 1966. Although rumours in the paddock suggested that like the multi-cylinder four-strokes Honda had produced in the smaller capacity classes, the 500cc machine could potentially have a six-cylinder or even a V-8 power plant.

However, it was a more conventional transverse air-cooled four-cylinder engine, with twin overhead camshafts and four-valves per cylinder, that fronted the grid. The RC181 boasted a very competitive 85hp at 12,000rpm and weighed in at 154kg using the engine as a stressed member. It was entrusted to Rhodesian, Jim Redman, Honda’s six times world champion (two 250cc and four 350cc class titles) to take on the might of MV Agusta and the talents of its rising star Giacomo Agostini.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Redman took the RC181 to a stunning victory on debut at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and followed that up with a win at the next round in Holland at the Dutch TT. Honda had also enticed its former 250cc World Champion, Mike Hailwood, back to the fold, and although his priority was to be the 250cc and 350cc categories, Hailwood rode the new machine for the first time in Holland and was leading the race when a false neutral caused him to crash. Nonetheless, it appeared MV Agusta’s monopoly on the class was about to end.

The RC181 though flattered to deceive, and Redman crashed in atrocious conditions during the next round at Spa in Belgium. He badly broke his arm and promptly retired from racing, leaving Hailwood to try and retrieve the championship challenge. Although Hailwood notched up three wins in Czechoslovakia, Ulster and the Isle of Man and a second place in Finland, mechanical problems at the other four rounds handed the riders title to Agostini and the new three-cylinder MV Agusta. Honda was left with the consolation of winning the manufacturer’s trophy with a motorcycle that Hailwood could only describe the handling as, “Bloody awful!”

Hailwood's Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Hailwood’s Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Both Honda and Hailwood returned for the 1967 season with an updated RC181. The off-season saw the Honda now developing a healthy 93bhp at 12,650rpm with its weight reduced 13kg to 141kg with the extensive use of magnesium in the engine. Mike had flown to Japan during the off-season to test the 1967 machines and was horrified to discover the promised new chassis for the RC181 was non-existent and demanded to take an engine back to England to have a chassis built in Europe that might solve the severe handling problems.

The Japanese though refused to let Hailwood race the new chassis in the Grands Prix, but instead “beefed up” the existing RC181 frame which used the engine as a stressed member. Mike did enter the HRS (Hailwood Racing Special) at some non-championship races and even practiced on it for the first Grand Prix of the season at Hockenheim but reverted to the factory RC181 for the race and was leading when the crankshaft broke handing Agostini the win.

Hailwood (left) and "Ago" prepare to do battle on the starting grid.

Hailwood (left) and “Ago” on the starting grid as they prepare to do battle.

The next race was the TT at the Isle Of Man, a race that became one of the all-time classics in Grand Prix racing history. During their titanic struggle, the lead swapped back and forth for five of the six laps of the 37.5mile course (60.3km) until the chain broke on Agostini’s MV. Hailwood cruised to victory and had set a new outright lap record of 108.77mph (175kph), which stood for almost a decade.

The next weekend Agostini and the improving MV outpaced Hailwood and the Honda at Spa in Belgium, and at the Sachsenring in East Germany, gearbox problems forced Mike to retire with Agostini claiming victory. The Brno circuit in Czechoslovakia was next with Hailwood finishing 17.8 seconds ahead of his nemesis on the MV Agusta triple. But a fall at Imatra in Finland on a wet track shifted momentum once more to Agostini.

The roles were reversed again at the Dundrod circuit in Ulster with ‘Ago” retiring and Hailwood winning. The whole season now pivoted on the penultimate race of the season at the Nations Grand Prix in MV Agusta’s own backyard at Monza in Italy. At last, it looked like Honda would achieve their ambition as Hailwood led Agostini by 16 seconds with three laps to go only to have certain victory stolen from him by a gearbox that became stuck in top gear. Agostini flashed by to win by 13.2 seconds and take the title a second year in a row.

Although Hailwood won again at the final round at Mosport in Canada, beating “Ago” home by a massive 37.7 seconds, it was of no avail. Both riders had accumulated five wins apiece, but “Ago” took the title due to three-second place finishes to Hailwood’s two. There was no consolation prize for Honda either as MV Agusta also took home the manufacturers title.

Hailwood chases "Ago" in 1967.

Hailwood chases “Ago” at the Dutch TT in 1967.

Honda withdrew from the Grands Prix at the end of 1967, but this was just a prelude of what was to come. The Japanese company returned to the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979 with the ill-fated NR500 four-stroke racer and won the first of their many rider’s titles in 1983 with Freddie Spencer and the NS500 two-stroke.

Those frustrating seasons of 1966 and 1967 for Honda, must now seem a lifetime away. As this is written, the Japanese manufacturer has accrued a staggering 279 race victories and 39 riders and Constructors World Championships.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016.Images courtesy of Honda and http://www.formulamoto.es.

YouTube Video courtesy of Pathe.

 

A Herd Of Goats

Valentino Rossi on his way to pole position at Jerez.

Valentino Rossi about to claim pole position at Jerez.

The recent return to form by Valentino Rossi since re-joining his former team at Yamaha has been quite extraordinary. After two seasons in the wilderness with Ducati (2012-2013) and a change of crew chief from Jeremy Burgess to fellow Italian Silvan Galbusera, Rossi is back once more to his winning ways. A single win and four third-place podiums helped Valentino clinch fourth place in the 2014 MotoGP World Championship, which by anyone’s standards was a great achievement. The momentum continued into the 2015 season with four wins and Rossi finishing off the podium only three times to take second place in the championship by a mere 5 points, in what became a contentious world title win for Jorge Lorenzo.

What makes Rossi’s performance even more remarkable is his age. Valentino turned 37 years old earlier this year showing his hunger for victory and love of the sport has not waned.   Yamaha must think so as they have agreed to a two-year extension of Rossi’s contract keeping him with the factory team until 2018.

Nonetheless, Rossi’s renewed competitiveness has swung the spotlight of public attention once more onto the subject of who is the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

There are of course the cold facts that statistics tend to present. The great Giacomo Agostini is still the most prolific Grand Prix winner with 122 wins to his credit while Rossi is still chipping away on 114 with the potential to equal or beat this record. Agostini has also won 8 MotoGP (formerly 500cc) world titles to Rossi’s 7 so far. “Ago” has also won 7 350cc world championships giving him a total of 15 world titles to Valentino’s 9 (a 125cc title in 1997 and 250cc title in 1999 with Aprilia). Agostini has also won 10 Isle of Mann TT’s, the only non-British rider to do so. Rossi though has won world titles in three capacity classes to ‘”Ago’s” two.

Detractors of Agostini’s accomplishments like to point out that during his domination of the Grand Prix that he had superior multi-cylinder four-stroke machinery of the MV Agusta factory team at his disposal with mainly outdated British four-stroke singles to contend with. That is to a degree is true but ‘Ago” still had to deal with the likes of Mike Hailwood, Jim Redman and Phil Read as either teammates or factory supported Honda riders along the way as well as the ever-improving Japanese two-strokes that were gaining traction in both the 350cc and 500cc class during his career. And indeed it was Agostini in 1974 that won the first MotoGP (500cc) riders title on a four-cylinder two-stroke; a first also for Yamaha and Japan. Interestingly it was Rossi that won the last two-stroke World Championship and the first for the new 990cc four-strokes with Honda in 2001 and 2002.

Both “Ago” and Valentino have similarly won championships in the premier class with two different manufacturers and are part of an elite group of five that have done so in the sixty-seven-year history of the championship. The others are Geoff Duke, Eddie Lawson and Casey Stoner.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

It should also be pointed out that Giacomo’s 122 Grand Prix wins were accrued over thirteen years from 186 starts, while Rossi has been in the Grand Prix for twenty years and accumulated his 114 (as this is written) wins from 341 starts.

Another relevant point is the danger factor. Grand Prix motorcycle racing has always been a hazardous sport, and even this year the paddock grieved another fatality when Luis Salom suffered a fatal crash in free practice for the Moto2 race in Catalunya. But during Agostini’s career in the 1960’s and early 1970’s fatalities were commonplace and many of the circuits were considered deadly. Surprisingly “Ago” was quoted as saying that his favourite tracks were the Isle of Man TT, the old Nurburgring, the old Spa, Opatija and the old Brno circuit, the five most deadly tracks in Grand Prix motorcycle racing history. Remember too, that it was during this period that the “pudding basin” helmet was considered standard “safety equipment”.

Greatness though is not necessarily statistics but perhaps the perception of the groups of fans who love the sport and have lived through different eras. Take Geoff Duke, for example, a six-time World Champion (two 350cc and four 500cc titles) during the sports infancy in the 1950’s, notching up a number of firsts. He was the first man to win two titles (350cc and 500cc) in the same season (1951), the first to win 3 consecutive 500cc titles (1953, 1954 and 1955) and also the first to win MotoGP (500c) titles with two different manufacturers (Norton and Gilera).

And what of John Surtees? Surtees won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions, (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One car title at the last race in Mexico in 1964, the only person ever to win the premier class on two wheels and four.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

Surtees rides his MV Augusta to victory at the Isle of Man.

But to many Mike Hailwood remains a true icon of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Equal to Rossi with 9 world championships in three different classes (three 250cc, two 350cc and four 500cc) during a ten-year career with 76 wins from 152 starts in the late 1950’s and 1960’s that included 14 Isle of Man TT victories. Remarkably after an 11-year break from motorcycle racing, Hailwood returned to the Island and won the F1 TT in 1978 and the Senior TT in 1979.

The list goes on with names like Phil Read. A 7 times world champion in three classes (the 125cc in 1968, the 250cc in 1964, 65, 68 and 1971, and the 500cc 1973 and 1974) he accumulated 52 wins from 152 starts, again during the dangerous days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

But if dominance was the criteria for being a G.O.A.T., then one needs to look no further than Mick Doohan. During a 10-year career between 1989 and 1999, Doohan won 54 500cc Grand Prix and achieved 95 podiums from 137 starts with five consecutive World Championships (equalled only by Rossi).  In 1997 Doohan amassed an astounding 12 wins and 2-second places from 15 races. This has only been surpassed by the youngest rider to win a MotoGP World Championship, Marq Marquez, with 13 wins, but from 18 races, on the way to his second World title in 2014. Add to this the fact that Doohan’s superiority occurred after he had sustained debilitating injuries to his left leg during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen during what should have been a dominant season and a convincing first world title.

So indeed the argument for the greatest of all time will continue between fans and journalists alike, on the Internet, in pubs and at racetracks around the world, revealing the genuine passion we all have for what is the greatest of all motorsports.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016 Images courtesy http://www.crash.net, http://www.metzeler.com, http://www.theguardian.com.

The 1982 NS500 and 1984 NSR500 Grand Prix Racers.

 

The Honda NS500 V3.

The Honda NS500 V3.

When Honda made the decision to return to the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1975, it did so with a great deal of optimism. The Japanese company had withdrawn in 1967 for numerous reasons (see the Honda NR500 story) yet when it officially announced its return in 1977 the 500cc Grand Prix landscape had shifted dramatically. The two-stroke racing engine reigned supreme; even the four-stroke Grand Prix racers of the mighty MV Agusta team had withdrawn in 1976 leaving a two-stroke monopoly on the class. Honda’s Japanese rivals, Yamaha and Suzuki, had by now both won 500cc world titles, Yamaha winning Japan’s first 500cc World Championship with the great Giacomo Agostini in 1975 and Suzuki winning titles in 1976 and 1977 with the talented Barry Sheene. This must have been a severe “loss of face” for Honda who pioneered Japan’s first foray into Grand Prix racing.

And the decision by Honda to build a four-stroke racing engine within the limitations of the regulations was a bold one. Honda’s approach reflected the philosophy of the companies’ founder, Soichiro Honda, a stalwart of the four-stroke design. However, the plan documents for Honda’s “New Racing” engineers stipulated three years to win the world championship. By 1982 it was clear that the four-stroke racer was unlikely to get on even terms with the two-strokes. In a racing sense the oval piston eight-valve NR500 V4 was indeed a failure, but as a technical exercise, it was an outstanding achievement.

But regardless of Honda’s aversion to the two-stroke engine, it did have experience with the concept going back to 1974 with the release of the highly successful Honda Elsinore CR125 and CR250 motocross racers. Veteran engineer Shinichi Miyakoshi, who had designed four-stroke GP machines for Honda that dominated Grand Prix racing in the 1960’s, was assigned to the task of developing Honda’s first two-stroke GP racer. The experienced Miyakoshi had been designing two-stroke engines for the motocross group within Honda, which proved to be invaluable to the gestation of the new two-stroke NS500 Grand Prix racer.

Spencer in action on the NS500 V3.

Spencer in action on the NS500 V3.

In June 1981 Miyakoshi visited the Dutch TT at Assen in Holland. There he noted that the fastest of the 350cc GP machines would have qualified on the second row of the grid for the 500cc race. Hence the concept for the NS500 became one of a compact and light machine with a small frontal area of a 350cc GP racer. The engine would be designed for usable power and optimum control, not top speed. A compact V3 layout was chosen using reed valves for smoother power delivery and easier starting (push starts were mandatory at that time). The idea was to have a machine with total balance, and again Honda would utilise its motocross experience for the suspension of the NS500. Interestingly the V3 engine configuration had been used before. German manufacturer DKW had employed it in the 1950’s for its 350cc GP racer. The NS500 also used similar engine architecture to the DKW with two upright cylinders, but unlike the DKW the third cylinder pointed downwards at 112 degrees instead of the more conventional 90 degrees of the DKW.

DKW's air-cooled 350cc V3 two-stroke engine.

DKW’s air-cooled 350cc V3 two-stroke engine.

Another significant part of the NS500’s rationale would be its ability to maximise its tyre wear. Racing slicks at this time were still using bias belt construction, and the harsher power characteristics of, the more powerful rotary valve engines from Yamaha and Suzuki punished the tyres, particularly towards the end of a Grand Prix. The more agile Honda would be able to maintain higher corners speeds for longer, which would negate to a certain degree its lower top speed down the straights.

The NS500 debuted in 1982 in the hands of reigning 1981 World Champion, Italian Marco Lucchinelli, whom Honda had lured away from Suzuki. Korean born Japanese Takazumi Katayama was again part of Honda’s 500cc rider line-up alongside the promising 20-year-old American Freddie Spencer who was promoted full-time to the Grand Prix squad.

It was not until the seventh race of the season in Belgium at the Spa Francorchamps circuit that Honda tasted victory. The win was Honda’s first in15 years and remarkably it was at a circuit renowned for its high speed. And it was “Fast” Freddie Spencer that had ridden the NS500 to victory, his main opposition suffering tyre and mechanical problems. By the end of the season, Spencer had won two races (Belgium and San Marino) and achieved three podiums. Katayama also won the Swedish Grand Prix, but this was just a taste of what was to come.

Spencer chases Takazumi both on the NS500.

Spencer chases Takazumi both on the NS500.

The 1983 season saw an epic battle between “King” Kenny Roberts and “Fast” Freddie Spencer. At the penultimate round in Sweden Spencer had claimed a forceful victory with Roberts running off the track before finishing in second place. In the twelve round race series, it was Spencer that had accumulated six race wins to Robert’s five. If Roberts won at the last round in San Marino Spencer would have to finish second to claim the championship. Indeed Roberts won in Italy, but despite slowing tactics by “King” Kenny in an attempt to put his teammate Eddie Lawson between them, Spencer was still able to finish in second place claiming Honda’s first 500cc World Championship by two points.

Although the lateral thinking behind the V3 triple had borne the fruit of victory, it was clear to Honda that with the introduction of radial racing slicks and the limitations of the Honda’s V3 engine architecture that a V4 would be needed against the more powerful opposition from Yamaha and Suzuki for the 1984 season. Honda decided to enter the power war, but again in typical Honda fashion.

In contrast to the twin crankshaft OW76 Yamaha V4 and the twin crankshaft Suzuki RG500 XR45 square four, the 1984 Honda NSR500’s 90-degree V4 used a single crankshaft as this design reduces frictional losses to maximise horsepower. But if anything it was the chassis of the ’84 NSR500 that pushed the envelope.

Honda had been supplying its four-stroke RSC1000 endurance-racing engine to the avant-garde ELFe endurance racer. With the financial backing of the French oil company ELF and Honda itself, Andre de Cortanze and his team had devised a radical alternative to the conventional motorcycle chassis. Using a single-sided swingarm at the rear for quick wheel changes, the front also boasted twin swingarms utilising a steering system that could loosely be described as hub centre steering that again allowed the front wheel to be removed from one side. The objectives of the ELFe were “reduced weight, lower centre of gravity, improved anti-dive under braking and elimination of a conventional chassis”.

Freddie Spencer and the innovative NSR500 Honda.

Freddie Spencer and the innovative V4 NSR500 Honda.

The lower centre of gravity of the ELFe was achieved by mounting the fuel tank under the engine with the exhaust exiting over the top of the engine. It should also be noted that English endurance race team Mead and Tompkinson preceded the ELFe with their creation nicknamed “Nessie” in the mid-1970’s which used Difazio hub centre steering and the same under engine fuel tank and above engine exhaust layout. But it was the ELFe that the Honda engineers took inspiration from. Although retaining a conventional suspension layout, the lower centre of gravity of the ELFe underslung fuel tank was deemed a desirable asset.

The NSR500 first appeared at the 1984 Daytona 200 in Florida, and the initial result was promising with Freddie Spencer setting a lap record of 116.87mph (188.08kph) in qualifying to take pole position. During the race though, tyre problems and a slipping clutch relegated Spencer to second place behind Kenny Roberts. But two weeks later at the opening round of the 500cc World Championship at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa disaster struck. During practice, another innovation of the NSR500 V4, its carbon fibre composite rear wheel, collapsed causing Spencer to crash and sit out the race.

The reigning World Champion bounced back, however, to win the Italian Grand Prix at Misano on the V4. This was then followed by another crash while leading the fifth leg of Trans-Atlantic Challenge races at Donnington. This forced Spencer to miss the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, returning to compete at the Austrian Grand Prix at the Salzburgring. It was apparent to the spectators watching the race that the NSR500 V4 had handling issues, especially under power exiting the esses onto the main straight. Indeed Randy Mamola on the factory Honda NS500 V3 allowed his team leader through to take second place behind championship leader Eddie Lawson infuriating the crowd who showed their dislike by booing Spencer and Mamola on the slow down lap.

Spencer's chief engineer Erv Kanemoto and mechanic George Vukmanovich walk the V4 NSR500 back from the pits in Austria.

Spencer’s chief engineer Erv Kanemoto and mechanic George Vukmanovich walk the V4 NSR500 back from the pits in Austria.

Freddie by now was getting desperate to bridge the points gap to Eddie Lawson and demanded the NS500 V3 for the next race at the Nurburgring. A mad dash was made to take Marco Lucchinelli’s NS500 out of mothballs in time for the race which Spencer duly won on the V3. This was a bitter pill for Honda to swallow and an embarrassment to a company where new is seen as better. The problem lay with the underslung fuel tank, which by lowering the centre of gravity also affected weight transfer under braking and acceleration which was not generating enough force onto the front and rear tyre, thereby reducing grip. Heat build up from the over the engine exhaust system was also a problem as it heated the air going into the carburettors. The positioning of the expansion chambers themselves also made it difficult to check and change spark plugs and to undertake fine-tuning of the carburation, all crucial to a two-stroke racing engine within the time limitations of the practice sessions.

Spencer somehow went on to win the next two Grand Prix on the V4 at Paul Ricard in France and Rijeka in Yugoslavia. The next race was the Dutch TT at Assen. After practicing on the V4, Spencer decided to switch to the V3 for the race after practice had finished. This was scuppered by the supplementary regulations, and Freddie was forced to start on the V4. A broken spark plug cap put an end to Freddie’s race as the title began to slip further from his grasp. Again Spencer opted for the V3 for the Belgium GP at Spa and won the race. Then once more fate played a hand with Freddie crashing at an international meeting at Laguna Seca in California. The crash re-broke an old fracture Spencer had suffered two years before so the reigning World Champion would miss the three final races of the season at Silverstone in Britain, Anderstorp in Sweden and the San Marino GP at Mugello in Italy. This effectively handed the riders World Championship to Honda’s arch-rival Yamaha and gave Eddie Lawson his first world title. Honda did have the consolation of winning the manufacturer’s trophy, but this was more due to the number of factory supported and privateer riders competing on the NS500 V3.

Randy Mammal on the NS500 V3 leatds Eddie Lawson on the Yamaha V4 Yamaha, Ron Haslam V3 Honda and Spencer V4 Honda.

Randy Mamola on the Honda NS500 V3 leads Eddie Lawson on the Yamaha OW76 V4 , Ron Haslam Honda NS500 V3 and Spencer on the Honda NSR500 V4 in Austria.

It would be unfair to say the 1984 NSR500 was a disappointment; the V4 did win three GP’s and a podium second place. Considering Spencer only contested 6 of the 12 rounds (missing 2 races through mechanical problems and a further four races through injury) fourth place in the rider’s championship was quite a remarkable achievement for Freddie.

Spencer also won 2 GP’s on the NS500 V3 while Randy Mammola won 3 GP’s and accumulated 5 podiums also on the V3 Honda. Which begs the question, would Spencer have defended his title had he campaigned the proven NS500 V3? Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing, and one has to admire Honda for empowering its engineers to look for new solutions with the 1984 NSR500. The single crankshaft V4 engine, however, more than lived up to Honda’s high expectations and the NSR500’s that followed, utilising a more conventional chassis, became the most successful 500cc machines in Grand Prix racing history.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016. Photographs © Geoff Dawes 1984 and courtesy of http://www.blogs.yahoo.co.jp, http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.s307.photobucket.com, http://www.southbayriders.com.

Below is a short documentary about the NS & NSR 500 Grand Prix racers courtesy of Honda.

Ewald Kluge, DKW and the Lobethal TT

I’ve published this article from February 2014 again as I recently found an excellent documentary on the Lobethal races by Tony Parkinson produced in 2008. Tony has been kind enough to allow me to embed the video at the bottom of the page. Many thanks, Tony. 

In August 2013 that most famous of road racing circuits, the Isle of Man, celebrated its first Classic TT as part of the Festival of Motorcycling. With a burgeoning number of classic events around Europe, it was perhaps a long time coming to this historic racing venue. The event featured racing machinery from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, but perhaps more interesting was the presence of a pre World War Two German DKW SS 250 supercharged two-stroke, that was ridden on a parade lap by former 250cc Grand Prix winner Ralph Waldmann.

Two time European Champion Elwad Kluge.

Two time European Champion Ewald Kluge.

Brought to the Island by Audi Heritage to celebrate its historic victory in 1938, it was a recreation of the machine that Ewald Kluge used to become the first German, and only the second foreigner, to win a TT.  DKW was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world during the 1930’s with a research and development department that boasted 150 employees.  DKW also produced cars and in 1932 merged with three other German car manufacturers Audi, Horch and Wanderer to become part of Auto Union, which was represented by the four linked circle insignia that the Audi brand still uses today.

DKW’s only produced two-stroke motorcycles at that time, and in the 1930’s the technology was still in its infancy. But thanks to the innovative genius of Ing Zoller, DKW came up with a unique design that used a split single layout with tandem piston bores that utilised a common combustion chamber and articulated connecting rods. A third piston was housed in a pumping chamber or ladepumpe (supercharger) mounted horizontally to the front of the engine crankcases.  This forced the air and fuel from the Amal TT carburettors, which was inducted via a rotary valve, to be pressurised in the main crankcases. The end result was a big jump in power and also fuel consumption. With the megaphone style exhaust fitted it also had a reputation as one of the loudest racers of its era.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 two-stroke engine.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 ladepumpe (supercharged) two-stroke engine.

There is no doubt about the Nazi influence on the German Automotive industry prior to the Second World War.  Hitler bankrolled the racing efforts of the Silver Arrows, supporting Mercedes and Auto Unions dominance of Grand Prix motor racing.  It was all part of Hitler’s plan to show the world the technological superiority of Nazi Germany. The Nazi’s had infiltrated most aspects of German life and in 1932 set up the N.S.K.K. or the Nationalist Socialist Drivers Corps which “Nazified” the driving associations and clubs. It made it almost impossible for the national racing heroes of the era not to be associated with the Nazi’s.

Ewald Kluge was a member of the N.S.K.K. and became the Lightweight (250cc) European Champion in both 1938 and 1939 (which was the forerunner of the Moto2 world championship). From 1936 to 1939 Kluge was also a four-time German National Champion. But 1938 was his most successful year taking the European crown and the German road racing and Hillclimb titles. Out of fourteen events he entered, he won 12 and was second twice attaining the “Champion of Champions “ accolade that was only granted to those who achieved the highest possible number of points.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

But Europe was not the only place that Kluge and DKW were to compete.   In 1937 the sleepy Adelaide Hills town of Lobethal in South Australia hosted the inaugural South Australian TT on a road circuit that compared favourably with those in Europe.  Enticed by the Lobethal Carnival Committee the DKW team was to tour Australia taking in events in other States as well. Officially it was called a cultural and sporting exchange. It may also have helped that there was a strong German influence in the area with immigrants settling in Lobethal and nearby Handorf in the mid-1800’s.

The circuit itself was on sealed public roads and eight and three-quarter miles in length (14.082 km) running in a clockwise direction and took in the towns of both Lobethal and Charleston. It was almost triangular in shape and featured hairpins, s-bends, fast sweepers and flat out straights with changes in elevation that ranked it as one of the best road courses of the time anywhere in the world.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988 at the  Lobethal  TT recreation.

Baron Claus Von Oertzen managed the DKW team and his vivacious wife Baroness Irene Von Oertzen also accompanied him to Australia.  It was quite a shock to the locals when the teams van, plastered in swastikas, arrived in the township.  There were also rumours that a British Special Intelligence Service agent was shadowing the team as pre-war tensions began to rise.

The Baron had chosen a local rider, Les Friedrichs, to be Kluge’s co-rider and although this would be Friedrichs first road race he had outstanding credentials in other motorcycle sports. The choice was a good one and in the Lightweight (250cc) TT, Friedrichs followed home his team leader Kluge for a stunning 1-2 victory.  Kluge then went on to win the Junior TT (350cc) with his 250cc machine; such was the technical advantage of the German racer.

The grid lines up for the start of the 1988 Lobethal TT recreation.

The grid lines up in the main street of Lobethal for the start of the 1988 TT recreation.

Because of the success of the races, the following year the Auto Cycle Council of Australia endorsed the Lobethal event to be run as the Australian TT.  Racing car events were also held on the circuit, and the popular road course hosted the Australian Grand Prix in 1939. The Lobethal TT was held on the December Boxing Day holiday and the DKW team, as part of their tour, contested several interstate events in early 1938.

The team had planned to return again at the end of 1938 and Kluge left behind his practice bike. This was a 1936 model works URe 250, which was left in the care of the Victorian DKW importer who was waiting for the arrival of a 1938 SS 250 production version of the factory machines. DKW was the first manufacturer to sell a production version of their “works” racers to the public.  However, the team did not return due to the onset of the Second World War.

Kluge was called up for military service in 1940 and was captured by the Russians and not released until 1949 due to his association with the Nazi’s.  At the age of 44, he returned to competition but suffered a serious high-speed accident at the 1953 Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring, which ended his career.  Ewald Kluge was only 55 years old when he passed away in 1964, leaving a remarkable racing legacy.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

After the war road races were held at nearby Woodside and in 1948 racing returned once more to Lobethal until the South Australian State Government banned racing on public roads and brought to an end any thoughts of resurrecting the Lobethal TT.

The ex Kluge machine was discovered again by Eric Williams in 1960 who retrieved it from the side of a house in St. Peters in Adelaide where it was found lying and slowly rusting away. The engine had blown up in a big way at the Sellicks Beach races.

Williams then spent 17 years restoring the machine, and it made an appearance in 1988 at TT88, which recreated the Lobethal TT as part of South Australia’s sesquicentennial. The TT reunited the DKW racer with a 78-year-old Les Friedrichs who performed a parade lap of the circuit stunning the onlookers with a cacophony of ear-shattering sound emitted by the exotic little racer.

Jewel like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Jewel-like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Williams sold the DKW in 1992 for $50,000 (Aus), a record for a vintage machine in Australia. Steve Hazelton outbid the American Barber Museum to keep the rare works racer in Australia, but 20 years later decided to put the DKW up for sale again.  Hazelton was extremely disappointed to receive very little interest from within Australia for this exotic ex-works racer.

It would no doubt be reassuring to Kluge, that Audi Tradition continues to honour his racing achievements and that of the DKW works team.  And although the roads around Lobethal are no longer used as a racing circuit, motorcyclist from all over Adelaide ride the course regularly to enjoy what was once one of the worlds great road racing circuits.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Photographs Geoff Dawes (C) 1988. Images courtesy of http://www.audimediaservices.com. Diagram www.motorradonline.de.

Below is a link to a map of the Lobethal TT course. https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=201984503616328999196.0004d09b2905e2b5ca5e4

A Motorcycling Legacy

Rex Tilbrook 's stand at the 1947 Royal Adelaide Exhibition.

Rex Tilbrook ‘s stand at the 1947 Royal Adelaide Exhibition.

Over one hundred years ago, on the 2nd of May 1915, Rex Patterson Tilbrook was born in Prospect South Australia. He would grow up to become an innovative engineer, designer and fabricator, who produced high-quality motorcycle accessories, motorcycle sidecars and eventually his own pioneering range of motorcycles and racing machines.

But surprisingly it was the motorcar that played a significant role in his early life. After leaving school at the age of 16, Rex found work at a local garage where he made a close study of his customer’s vehicles. Being mechanically gifted, he decided to build a car of his own from an old G.N. cyclecar chassis fitted with an 8h.p. air-cooled V-twin engine that he bought for $6. When the car was completed Tilbrook decided it was time to further his mechanical education. The then 19-year old put the G.N. up for sale to help fund a ticket to sail to England. In 1935 Rex arrived at the world famous Brooklands motor racing circuit in Surrey and quickly established himself as a skilled engine tuner and fabricator. It didn’t take long for his services to be so much in demand that he was able to open his own workshop where his specialist exhaust systems were highly sort after.

In November 1938 after four successful years at Brooklands, Tilbrook returned home to Australia. The papers described him at the time as an “experimental engineer and driver”, and he had brought something rather special back with him from the UK. It was Maserati 6CM 1.5 supercharged monoposto which he intended to use at the Australian Grand Prix to be held at Lobethal in South Australia on January the 2nd 1939. Unfortunately, he was unable to have the car released from customs in time, although Tilbrook did plan to return to race the car in the European Grands Prix. In the meantime, the storm clouds of World War 2 gathered.

One of the Tilbrook sidecar designs outside the Kensington factory.

One of the Tilbrook sidecar designs outside the Kensington factory.

When war broke out later that year Tilbrook became involved in the munitions industry, but his creative mind did not rest, and he built an electric scooter in 1941 which could travel at over 40kph and recharge the batteries when free-wheeling down hills. Rex also came up with the first of his innovative motorcycle accessories, a universal pillion footpeg. By 1947 Tilbrook had moved into a new workshop at Bridge Street in Kensington where he produced a greater range of accessories and spare parts often sought after to restore war-damaged army surplus motorcycles and the first of his beautifully made sidecars.

It was also in 1947 that Tilbrook took up a stand at the Royal Adelaide Exhibition, held by the South Australian Chamber of Manufacturers to encourage a post-war business recovery. Rex had come up with the novel idea of building a complete running 250cc motorcycle, of his own design, on the stand inside the 54 days the exhibition was open. Starting with the engine, which was based on a pre-war two-stroke Zundapp design, Tilbrook had the engine castings made locally and machined them on his stand. The engine was completed in 28 days. Only a handful of items, such as primary chains, tyres and spark plugs, were not manufactured on the spot. The bike featured a 20amp generator that enabled starting with a flat battery, while other innovations included hydraulically damped telescopic front forks with air caps.

The 250cc machine though was never put into production, with Rex turning later to the more readily available British Villiers 125cc and 197cc two-stroke engine units. Tilbrook would also first try out his many futuristic ideas in competition by building several 125cc racing machines in 1949.

The 125cc racing bikes were loosely based on the Villiers engine with the bore and stroke being changed to 52x58mm. Methanol fuel was used and delivered through a two-stage system utilising Amal TT carburettors. A smaller 1inch carby was fully opened at half throttle with a 1 3/16inch unit taking over until full throttle was reached. The cylinder head was designed and cast by Tilbrook and a heavily revised barrel sporting two inlet, two exhaust and four transfer ports brought about combustion with the help of a BTH magneto running at half engine speed to provide the spark. The original three-speed gearbox was replaced with a four-speed unit also developed by Rex. Useful power was made between 5,500 and 8,400rpm, which was sufficient for a top speed of around 90mph (145kph).

Alan Wallis, the Tilbrook mechanics and Rex Tilbrook with 125cc racers.

Alan Wallis, the Tilbrook mechanics and Rex Tilbrook with the 125cc racers.

The well-presented Tilbrook race team consisted of Rex and Alan Wallis as riders with two mechanics suitably dressed in blue overalls that gave an air of professionalism. Over the ten years, the racers were developed, they accrued numerous race victories in South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW, with many of the ideas and innovations developed being carried over to the road going models.

When the Tilbrook roadsters finally started to trickle into production in 1952, what set them apart from other Australian produced machines was (with the exception of the engine/gearbox and Lucas lighting set) that everything else was made in South Australia. Also, the Tilbrook had a unique appearance utilising a combination of features that were best suited to Australian conditions. This in many ways made the Tilbrook radically different.

A key feature was an 18lt fuel tank for extended distance Australian touring, a large flared front mudguard and a combined rear mudguard and seat assembly to protect a rider from mud and dust of the many unsealed roads. At a time when few motorcycles had rear suspension, and lightweight machines had primitive, limited travel telescopic front forks, Rex used a rear cantilever swingarm with twin underhung springs below the gearbox and a radial front suspension that provided superior handling to a comparable imported model.

But the innovation didn’t stop there; the front and rear wheels were interchangeable and sported full width finned aluminium hubs with 37mm wide brake shoes working against shrunk in cast iron linings. This provided a superior coefficient of friction when braking and the finned hubs made brake cooling more efficient without a hint of brake fade that plagued the more commonly used steel drums of other manufacturers. All models had steering dampers as standard, which generally was an option on larger machines of the day. A useful chrome tank rack was also provided, and the Tilbrook used a round 80mph (128.7kph) speedometer with odometer and trip meter mounted above the headlight compared to the more common D shaped gauge of other lightweights.

The beautifully made Tilbrook roadster.

The beautifully made Tilbrook roadster.

A comprehensive tool roll was provided in a large compartment under the press-stud fixed seat and was extensive enough to totally disassemble the whole motorcycle. There was also a puncture repair kit with plenty of room for any other spares an owner might feel necessary. A tyre pump was also provided and this fit under the seat mudguard assembly. At a time when black was a predominant colour, the Tilbrook was a striking red with lashings of cadmium and chrome plating presenting a high-quality standard of finish.

It’s believed that around sixty of the 125cc and 197cc roadsters were produced before motorcycle production stopped in the late 1950’s. The market was shrinking with cars becoming cheaper, and motorcycle production became the least profitable part of the business. The accessory, spare parts and sidecars continued although in later years Tilbrook survived by concentrating on contract work, making special manufacturing machines and general engineering. The factory finally closed its doors in 1976. Rex Patterson Tilbrook passed away in 1997 leaving behind a quite remarkable motorcycling legacy.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015 Images courtesy http://www.therisingsun.com.au, http://www.dropbears.com, http://www.ma.org.au