Category Archives: Motorcycling

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 Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum

Museum Hall

There is something reassuring about museums, be they public or private collections, as they offer an open window into another time that can be shared by all. The curators and private collectors are the gatekeepers of worlds past, and this is never more true when it comes to motorcycle collections.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum recently, which is situated in the mid-north of South Australia. Peterborough is approximately 260km north of the city of Adelaide and a pleasant three-hour drive on the A32, which is part of the Barrier Hwy to Broken Hill.

1962 50cc Malanca made in Italy.

1962 50cc Malanca made in Italy.

Located on the comer of Kitchener and Jervois street, just off the main road, the museum is housed in a former historic Baptist Church and offers bed and breakfast accommodation in the separate Tennyson Hall, which was built in 1913 as a men’s prayer room.

Ian and Belinda Spooner opened the museum in 2008, and as well as housing numerous interesting antiques, the majority of space is taken up by Ian’s collection of motorcycles, many of which have never been seen or heard of in Australia.

Ian started buying motorcycles in his teens, and although the word “collector” was not mentioned, he simply admitted that he “couldn’t get rid of anything”. And Ian continues to add to his inventory to the point where the church hall is putting some constraint on how much can be displayed.

The 1927 France GP racer.

The 1927 France GP racer.

The first thing that is noticeable about the exhibits is the large number of impressive small capacity European made two-strokes from the 50’s, 60’s, and 1970’s. This is offset, to a degree, by machines like the 1981 1000cc Laverda Jota triple and a 1971 Honda 750 automatic, which was sold in the U.S. but never made its way to Australia. Ian also has on display several French vintage racing motorcycles in the shape of a very rare 1921 Yvels with a 250cc Villiers racing engine and a France which used a 350cc Jap engine.

Another fascinating machine is a recreation of a 1939 water-cooled and supercharged 250cc Benelli Grand Prix racer. The replica was literally hand built by a nautical engineer over 15 years, using a four-cylinder 250cc Yamaha engine as the basis for the powerplant.

1939 Supercharged 250cc Benelli GP replica.

1939 Supercharged 250cc Benelli GP replica.

Also on display is a collection of motorcycle memorabilia in the shape of photo’s, posters and signs. But one item that did catch my eye was a set of white leathers hanging on the wall. I recognised these as belonging to 5 times 500c Grand Prix winner Dutch rider Wil Hartog.

Hartog came to Australia for the Swan International Series in the late 1970’s bringing with him the daunting Suzuki RG680cc racer. A round of the series was held at the Adelaide International Raceway, and during unofficial practice I witnessed Hartog lose the front on the approach to the speedbowl, which unfortunately broke his collarbone and ended his series campaign. Hartog gave the leathers to a friend of Ian’s with whom Hartog had stayed while in Adelaide.

Grand Prix star Wil Hartog's leathers, complete with scuff marks on the left shoulder.

Grand Prix star Wil Hartog’s
leathers, complete with scuff marks on the left shoulder.

Ian’s enthusiasm for his motorcycles and displays is contagious, and he takes the time to talk to his visitors about the many exhibits on show.   For me, the museum was well worth the trip alone, but the town and surrounding area also have a lot to offer.

Peterborough was once an important regional railway hub and the Steamtown Heritage Museum displays steam trains and carriages of this bygone era with the added attraction of a sound and light show. At Hallet on the A32, there is the opportunity to visit Sir Hubert Wilkins birthplace. The Famous South Australian was a celebrated war photographer, aviator and polar explorer and there is, of course, the historic former copper mining town of Burra to explore while just thirty minutes away is Clare with its world-class wineries and excellent food.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Photographs Geoff Dawes © 2015.

Below is a link to the Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum website and to google maps for the Adelaide to Peterborough route.

http://www.pbmcm.com.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/Adelaide+SA/Peterborough+SA/@-33.9337835,137.6770105,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x6ab735c7c526b33f:0x4033654628ec640!2m2!1d138.5999594!2d-34.9286212!1m5!1m1!1s0x6abe88d93d6470cb:0x4033654628edc10!2m2!1d138.8375877!2d-32.9733335!3e0

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

60 Shades Of Black, will the passion last?

IMG_2531

There are only two other pursuits that a motorcyclist enjoys almost as much as riding motorcycles, and that is modifying them and talking about them. So I hope to now combine the latter two pursuits with an update on my 2006 Suzuki SV1000S.

Having owned a number of heavy air-cooled Japanese four-cylinder motorcycles (Kawasaki Z1A, Honda 750 F1, Honda 900 Bol d’Or, Honda CB1100RC), it was a conscious decision to go for something more compact and light that handled well. It was also important that it was easy to ride in my renewed acquaintance with large capacity motorcycles. Price was also a factor, so after scanning the bike adds the SV looked like it fulfilled all the criteria. The clincher though was I had never owned a big V-twin before.

In the two and a half years and 10,000km I’ve owned the Suzuki I haven’t been disappointed. The previous owner had embellished the SV with some tasteful modifications and also retained all the original parts, which also came with the Suzuki. I’ve also added on to this, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

BLING.

Machined billet clutch and brake reservoir with SV logo.

Machined billet clutch and brake reservoir with SV logo.

The previous owner had cleaned up the rear of the bike with a tail tidy, which gives the rear end a much neater look. He also fitted a chrome radiator guard, and oil-cooler guard with an SV logo cut into each. A Puig carbon fibre looks double bubble windscreen replaced the clear original, which not only looks good but also gives quite effective protection for the rider. The black paint of the SV has a small blue metal flake in it, and a blue Keiti SV Series tank pad enhances this, which is something I’ve carried over to other mods on the bike. I changed the petrol cap bolts to blue anodised replacements from Pro-bolt, and I also replaced the clutch and front brake reservoir with machined billet ones with an SV logo. These were procured from eBay. Reflective blue rim tape was attached to the wheels and is available at most motorcycle shops. The air caps on the wheels were replaced with blue anodised units from Cheap as Chips ($4 for a pack of four). To carry the carbon fibre look a bit further a pair of Bestem side covers were purchased from the States and fitted. Another small touch was the fitment of a pair of chrome Suzuki “S” logo rear number plate bolts also bought on eBay.

PRACTICALITY.

Blue anodised Pro Bolt.s

Blue anodised Pro-Bolt’s

The original SV clip-on handlebars put a lot of pressure on the rider’s wrists, lower back and neck, so I replaced these with a pair of American HeliBars which make the riding position much more comfortable. Doing minor maintenance on the motorcycle was made easier with the purchase of a Suzuki rear paddock stand which came with blue anodised spindles for the swing-arm (Kessner Suzuki) and an Alchemy front stand (Third Gear).

PERFORMANCE.

The previous owner had also fitted Hel blue braided steel brake lines, which not only look good but also increase initial brake bite and also “feel”. Australian made Staintune polished stainless steel slip-on mufflers had been fitted, and apart from being lighter than stock, they bring some horsepower gains and fantastic exhaust note. I replaced the standard paper air filter with a K&N hi-flow unit, which should also help the engine breath better giving some small power/torque gains. A timing retard eliminator was bought from R rated parts which stop the bikes ECU from retarding the ignition in the first four gears until 4500rpm is reached. Suzuki (and other Japanese manufacturers) use this as a safety feature in case too much throttle is applied in the lower gears. The T.R.E. has made acceleration crisper and the engine smoother at lower revs. I can now comfortably use the lower revs in, the lower gears instead trying to keep the engine feeling more responsive by staying above 4,500rpm.

SUSPENSION.

Blue Hel braided steel brake lines.

Blue Hel braided steel brake lines.

The suspension settings on the SV were too soft at the front and also firm on the rear when I took ownership. I returned the fully adjustable front and rear suspension to the manufacturer’s settings, which I found for my weight, was spot on. The bike feels planted on the road and tracks beautifully through fast sweeping bends and handles the tight stuff pretty well. My only reservation is the oversized 190/50/17 rear tyre, which was fitted to the bike. It does look great, exposed in all its glory by the tail tidy, but a standard size 180/55/17 should enhance the low-speed handling in the tight stuff.

WHAT NEXT?

The consensus is the standard SV1000S puts out about 105-106 rear wheel horsepower. Taking into account the slip on Staintune mufflers and the hi-flow air filter, I guestimate the SV is making 107 to 108bhp. I hope to have the bike put on the dyno later this year and have a power commander fitted to take any minor wrinkles out of the powerband. I’m hoping to see around 110bhp, which for the type of riding I do, should be more than adequate. There is still the removal of the airbox snorkel to experiment with which could also help engine breathing.

DOWNSIDES?

Keiti SV Series tank pad.

Keiti SV Series tank pad.

Some earlier models in the SV’s lifespan (2003 to 2007) suffered from a green electric connector failure, which did cause, naturally enough, electrical problems. All models do suffer from a clutch noise affectionately known as “chudder” which pervades itself while riding with low revs at low speed and is also noticeable with the SV in neutral at traffic lights. Its severity varies from bike to bike and to be honest I hardly notice it as I ride mostly on country roads. There is a fix, which involves a modified clutch basket and spring retainers but at the moment it really is not an issue. The SV1000S is suited to sports touring with its effective half fairing but is limited to a degree by its fuel capacity of 17lt. This translates to around 225km-230km before the fuel light comes on, so forward planning is needed to ensure the availability of service stations on long interstate rides.

THE LAST WORD.

Although its predecessors, the notorious TL1000s and the more desirable TL1000R have overshadowed the SV1000, during its time, it was probably a superior package to the Ducati’s of the day and more reliable. It was also more than a match for the Honda Firestorm. I have been told by a Suzuki technician that valve adjustment is rarely called for at major service interval’s (every 24,0000km) and I was informed by a fellow owner whose SV had covered 75,00km that he was yet to need a valve adjustment. This was backed up by the first major service performed on my own SV at 24,000km. Pretty remarkable for a V-twin that pulls an 11,000rpm redline.

And although I will not rule out buying another motorcycle, I know for sure I will not part with my SV1000S.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images Geoff Dawes © 2015.

Vale Geoffrey Ernest Duke, 29th of March 1923 to the 1st of May 2015.

In this modern world of instant access to 24-hour news services and an almost inescapable saturation of the latest events from around the globe, it’s not unusual for those in the public eye to quickly achieve the status of celebrity or even “Superstar”. But to accomplish this level of fame during the 1950’s, in what could only be described at that time as a minority sport, is truly extraordinary.

Born in St. Helens, Lancashire on the 29th of March 1923, Geoff Duke OBE became a household name during this period in Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth. A four times World Champion in the 500cc (MotoGP) class and twice in the 350cc category of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, Duke also became the first rider to win three consecutive 500cc (MotoGP) World Championships between1953 and1955. Geoff would have been in contention for a fourth title had the FIM not imposed a six-month ban for supporting a privateers strike for more start money at the 1955 Dutch TT. Duke also became the first rider to win two World Championships in the same year, taking the 350cc and 500cc titles in 1951.

Duke on the Norton.

Duke on the Norton single.

Duke’s background in motorcycling had started at the age of 10, when unbeknown to his parents he bought a belt drive Raleigh of the same vintage. While still a teenager at the start of the Second World War, Duke trained dispatch riders in the Royal Signals Corps. He subsequently competed for the first time in military trials events and also achieved the status of Team Sergeant in the Royal Signals Motorcycle Team, the famous “White Helmets”.

An exceptional trials rider, Duke was employed in Norton’s trials department after the war. However, he already had his sights set on something faster. With Norton’s backing, he made his road-racing debut in 1948, starting out on the most dangerous racetrack of them all, the Isle of Man TT course.

World Champion Geoff Duke at Hesketh1 - Copy

Duke on the technically advanced Gilera.

His initial World Championship titles in 1951 had come on Norton singles but a reluctance by Norton management to pay Duke what he was worth led him to change to the technically advanced, but unruly, Italian four-cylinder Gilera. Duke helped develop the advanced machines to take a hat-trick of 500cc titles. He also became the first rider to win 500cc world titles on two different brands of motorcycles, a feat that has only been emulated by a handful of riders. Geoff also set new standards off the motorcycle, with a polite manner, good looks and smart clothes.

Another first for Duke was the use of a close-fitting one-piece leather racing suit, which no doubt came about by trying to reduce wind resistance on the underpowered Norton singles. Duke also dabbled in car racing and became an Aston Martin “works driver” during in 1952 and 1953.

Another win for .Duke

Another win for Duke.

After 33 Grand Prix wins from 89 starts and 50 podiums, which included 6 wins at the Isle of Man TT, Duke retired from GP motorcycle racing, ending an illustrious 10-year road racing career. A short-lived and unsuccessful return to car racing resulted in a major crash in Sweden after which Geoff became a Hotelier in the Isle of Man, which by then was his home.

As well as receiving an Order of the British Empire in 1953, Duke was voted BBC Sportsman of the year and awarded the prestigious RAC Seagrave Trophy, both in 1951.

Duke passed away at his home on the Isle Of Man on the 1st of May 2015. He was 92 years old.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images courtesy http://www.theguardian.com, http://www.members.boardhost.com. Video courtesy http://www.dukevideo.com.

The NR500 Honda

There is an age-old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention”, which is an apt description of the challenge that the Honda Motor Company faced on its return to the 500cc class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979.

Honda had withdrawn from motorcycle Grands Prix at the end of 1967 for a variety of reasons. The Japanese company had prioritised the R&D department to concentrate on its venture into road cars, while also supplying racing engines to the Brabham Formula 2 team and entering its own car into Formula 1 with a former motorcycle and F1 world champion John Surtees at the wheel. The company’s resources were being stretched to the very limit.

And there were also changes in the wind for Grand Pix motorcycle racing with new regulations being introduced by the F.I.M. at the end 1969 season. These would limit the number of cylinders and gears for the different Grand Prix classes, in an attempt to reduce costs, which also played a part in the decision by Honda to withdraw.

During the mid-sixties Honda, a stoic champion of the four-stroke engine, had been fighting a rearguard action against the ever-improving two-stroke engines of its Japanese and European rivals, particularly in the smaller capacity classes. To overcome the more frequent power strokes the two-stroke engine design, Honda could only improve the four-stroke engines volumetric efficiency with more cylinders, higher engine rev’s and more gears, which were effectively to be outlawed by the FIM in 1969.

How could Honda respond to this technical conundrum? The answer is one of the most technically innovative motorcycle engine designs of all time.

The NR500's revolutionary engine.

The NR500’s innovative engine.

The decision to return to the Grand’s Prix was officially announced in December 1977 by the President of Honda, Koyoshi Kawashima. In true Honda tradition, the group of young engineers brought together to develop a winning machine had little if any racing experience. This “clean sheet” approach was indeed a risky one. No four-stroke had competed in the 500cc class since 1976 when the mighty MV Agusta team withdrew, conceding to the supremacy of the two-stroke engine.

With the official title of “New Racing”, the development team came together in 1978 at the Asaka R&D Center. Takeo Fukui, who would later become director of R&D and president of Honda Racing Corporation, would lead the team, while Soichiro Irimajiri, the man who was the father of the CBX road bike and the legendary RC166 250cc six-cylinder GP racer would help guide the group. It soon became apparent to the young engineers that, within the limitation of four cylinders, to get on a competitive footing with the two-strokes they needed to double the number of engine revs and improve intake efficiency by increasing the number of inlet valves and exhaust valves from four to eight. To accommodate eight valves, the team decided to free themselves from the traditional round piston and use a revolutionary oval design. In effect, a V8 with 4 sets of two cylinders fused together. According to their calculations, an estimated output of 130hp at 23,000rpm was possible.

Cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

A cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

To prove the potential of this design a single cylinder “slave” engine was built, initially with two valves, which showed the engine would rev. The number of valves was then increased step by step from two to eight. This was not without teething problems with the engine self destructing at anything over 10,000rpm. The problem was with the two connecting rods the oval piston design required, which distorted and pulled the piston pins out of position. Sealing of the piston rings, not unexpectedly, was also a significant problem.

However, it was the persistence of the team that one by one identified and found solutions to these problems. The achievement of effectively sealing of the piston ring, in particular, was a considerable boost to the feasibility of the overall design. With that, the test target moved from the single-cylinder ‘slave” engines to a full four-cylinder engine.

Toshimitsu Yoshimura was responsible for designing the 100-degree V-four, and bench testing of the revolutionary engine began in April 1979. The Grand Prix season was already well underway. But the 0X engine was still giving the team problems, from a damaged gear train to broken valves. Nevertheless, the engine was producing around 110 horsepower, and the engineers knew that to understand its real-world potential it needed to be assessed in the white heat of competition. “We wanted to identify the weaknesses in our new engine by seeing how it performed in an actual race,” remembered Yoshimura.

Oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

The oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

However, it was not just the engine of the NR500 that was innovative, the chassis was as well. Designed by research engineer, Tadahashi Kamiya, it was constructed as a true monocoque. The engine, with swingarm, attached, slotted into the stressed skin of the fairing, tank and seat unit. Radiators for the liquid cooled engine were mounted on the sides of the fairing, utilising the air funnelling through the front of the “fairing” to flow onto the engine and out the sides of the fairing through the cooling radiators. Although the rear suspension was a more conventional monoshock system, the front forks were unusual by using an “upside down” design in which the triple clamps held the fork tubes and the stanchions held the front wheel axle. The Honda design used external fork springs to enable quick changes of spring rates and a higher volume of fork oil and larger damping components in the fork tube.

Oddly the disk calipers where mounted in front of the forks, which to a degree was offset by an unusual trailing front axle. Again the team of engineers pushed the envelope by opting to use 16inch Comstar wheels with tyres developed by Dunlop as opposed to the commonly used 18inch rims with Michelin tyres in search of lower unsprung weight and a smaller frontal area for the NR500.

The revolutionary NR500 Honda of 1979.

The ground breaking NR500 Honda of 1979.

It was at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the 11th World Championship race of the season that the NR500 made its debut. Veteran English rider Mick Grant, an Isle of Man Senior TT and 250cc Grand Prix winner, along with Takazumi Katayama, a Korean born Japanese rider and 1977 350cc World Champion, had been recruited to race the groundbreaking machine. Both had tested the bike in Japan, and Grant, in particular, understood the frustration of developing the avant-garde Honda.

“By that time I knew what to expect.” Commented Grant. “They had open practice, and on the straight, a 250cc Yamaha was pulling away from me – not a lot, but pulling away and that was enough to show me the scale of the problem. I had never ridden harder.”

Even with Grant and Katayama’s best efforts, they qualified on the last row of the grid. Grand Prix racing in those days required a push start by the rider to fire up the engine when the starter’s flag was dropped. The Honda at that stage would only idle at 7000rpm and making the engine fire up was a hit and miss affair. Katayama caught his engine but waited for Grant’s engine to fire so they could circulate together around the circuit. It took several embarrassing seconds before Grant could get away. With his weight too far back on the saddle the Honda pulled wheelies through the gears. As he approached the first corner, the NR500 slid out beneath him and started to catch fire. The wheelie had caused oil to spill out the carburettors and onto the rear tyre. Katayama retired several laps later with engine problems.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The next race was the French Grand Prix at Le Mans where the Honda team suffered the humiliation of not even qualifying for the race. It was the last race of the year, and Yoshimura was moved to tears, “I felt miserable, just miserable,” he said. “Tears welled up in my eyes. Except for ours, all the bikes were using two-stroke engines. To be honest, I’d been hoping they would go to the final race and give us a really good run, even if it meant trailing at the very end. After the race, they asked me to watch the video, but I couldn’t bring myself to see it.” If anything it underlined how long the road would be for the NR500.

In fact, the plan documents for the “New Racing” team had stipulated, “Become World Champion within three years.” Time was of the essence, and the vast amount of new technology and innovation would take to long to perfect.

At the beginning of the 1980 season, the team had returned to a conventional tube type frame and 18inch wheels. The focus could then be put into developing the engine, which in many ways was the fundamental problem. Due to the V4’s extreme engine breaking which caused the rear wheel to hop on downshifts in the lower gears, a back torque-limiting clutch was developed to cure the problem. By now the 1X engine was producing 115ps, but acceleration and throttle response in corners was still a problem. And as reliability improved so did the engines weight by around 20kg requiring the use of exotic materials such as magnesium and titanium to maintain the status quo.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The 1980 Grand Prix season, however, did not see much reward for a lot of hard work. Although Katayama had managed, take a third place podium at an international meeting in Italy, in the World Championship his best results were fifteenth place at the British Grand Prix (the first finish for the NR500 in a GP), and twelfth place at the German Grand Prix. This did not stop the motorcycle media from harshly criticising the NR500 Honda, tagging it as “Never Ready”.

The oval piston engine was further refined for the 1981 season in order to reduce weight, improve durability and increase power. The 100-degree V of the engine was narrowed to 90 creating a more compact unit, but just as importantly it was now producing 130ps at 19,000rpm in its 2X configuration.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Honda had decided it would enter machines in the All-Japan Championship to help speed up development of the NR500. A fifth place at the second round of the championship saw the NR500 starting to compete on more equal terms with two-strokes. This was backed up with the NR500’s first win at the Suzuka 200 kilometre race where the four-strokes better fuel consumption was pivotal to the victory. Then in July Honda’s new rider signing, Freddie Spencer, scored a victory over 500cc Grand Prix World Champion “King” Kenny Roberts in a heat race for the final in an international meeting at Laguna Seca.

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 500-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 200-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The competitiveness did not follow the Honda to Europe. Katayama managed a thirteenth place in the first round of the 500cc World Championship in Austria, but retirement from the subsequent races resulted in no points for the team that season.

For the 1982 season, after finally accepting that the rules favoured the two-stroke engine, Honda introduced the NS500 two-stroke Grand Prix racer. Although race appearances became fewer for the NR500, bench testing of the remarkable engine continued.

The technology continued to be developed resulting with the gestation of the NR750 to race at the 1987 Le Mans endurance race in France. Although not expected to win, (that was the job of the more “conventional “ Honda RVF’s of Honda France) and with two of rider line-up who were motorcycle journalists, it was up to two times Australian Superbike Champion, Malcolm “Wally” Campbell, to qualify for the race. Someone forgot to tell Campbell that for Honda it was more about publicity than racing and he put NR750 in second place on the grid behind the factory Honda RVF. Unreliability again put the NR out at the 22hour mark, but it did emphasise how far the technology had come. Campbell would give the NR750 its first win in a heat of the Swan Insurance International Series at Calder Park in December that year.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

In 1992, thirteen years after the NR500’s debut in the World Championship Grands Prix, Honda unveiled a production version of the NR750. Around 300 of these machines are believed to have been made with an extremely high price tag of around US$50,000. Recently an example was placed on eBay with an asking price of approximately US$100,000.

There is also a certain amount of irony that Formula 1 banned both oval piston and two-stroke technology for use in an F1 engine.

Perhaps a quote by an unnamed engineer that worked on the project best sums up the NR.        “ The true value of the engine lay in its remarkable potential”.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images courtesy of Honda Worldwide. Video courtesy Honda Worldwide, MCN and Youtube.

A Legendary Champion

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Perhaps the only surprise surrounding World Champion Marc Marquez securing his second MotoGP championship was the fact that he did not accomplish it with a win at Honda’s own circuit of Motegi. After dominating the class from the opening round in Qatar to notch up ten consecutive wins by Indianapolis, which equalled the great Giacomo Agostini, it was quite clear that the 2014 championship trophy already had his name partially engraved upon it.

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Marquez celebrates his back to back MotoGP World Championships.

The 21-year-old became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Premier class championships since Mike Hailwood achieved it as a 23-year-old in1964. Marquez is also the first Spaniard to accomplish this feat. After finishing fourth in Czechoslovakia to the winner and Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, Marquez won again in England at the British Grand Prix. But mistakes at Mugello in Italy and Aragon in Spain kept the title tantalisingly out of reach until a tactical 2nd place to Jorge Lorenzo in Motegi secured the crown.

After a crash in Australia, Marquez still has two more races, in Malaysia and Valencia, to equal or beat Australian Mick Doohan’s record of 12 victories in a premier class season.

But although Marquez continues to set and break records, there is, maybe, one record he will be unable to achieve.

Fifty years ago on the 25th of October this year, John Surtees O.B.E. 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 times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One title at the last race in Mexico in 1964.

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

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, Ferrari and MV Agusta. 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 Sports Car 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.

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

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

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 meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

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.

Surtees in discussion with "Il commendatore" Enzo Ferrari.

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

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 an O.B.E. in the Queen’s honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man and his ongoing contribution to Motorsport. Surtees turned 80 this year.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com and the Repsol Honda Team.

50 Years of Grand Prix Legacy

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) Phil Read and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing)

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima President of Yamaha Motor Racing, Phil Read and Marco Riva General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing.

Saturday the 13th of September represented a significant milestone for Yamaha Factory Racing. Precisely fifty years had passed since the Iwata based company attained its first world championship with the two-stroke 250cc RD56 when English motorcycle legend Phil Read won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza.

Read was on hand at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli to present Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing) with his original 1964 F.I.M. World Championship certificate. The certificate will now take pride of place at Yamaha’s Hall Of Fame in Japan. A copy of the document has been made that will be signed by all those present to mark the occasion and in return will be presented to Read.

Phil Read went on to win a total of eight world titles across four classes, 125GP, 250GP, 500GP and TTF1. His career is littered with impressive achievements, including eight IOM TT race, wins, 121 Grand Prix podiums and four 250cc world titles which have only ever been equalled by Max Biaggi. Alongside Mike Hailwood and fellow Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, Phil is one of only three riders to have won road-racing world championships in three or more classes.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read was quoted as saying, “This special evening to celebrate my bringing Yamaha’s first world title to them after 50 years is like coming home to the happy team, the reception has been fantastic, it’s overwhelming for me to see I get this recognition. I’m lucky to be here after fifty years of racing! It’s also thrilling to be here in Misano with Jorge on pole and Valentino so close on the front row too. It’s a little different now, from 1964; I came to Monza with two factory 250 Yamaha RD56s in the back of my car with one English mechanic and a Japanese mechanic who came over for the race in Monza. I think we had our carburettor settings written on a postcard! I still feel as much part of the Yamaha family today as I did then, and feel privileged to have started a run of world championship success that has continued to this day.”

Marco Riva, Yamaha Motor Racing, General Manager responded, “Our success with the RD56 wrote a page in motorcycle history. It was very competitive for many years and is still, in my opinion, the best race bike. Our aim has always been to have the rider at the centre of our racing project, Phil and other Yamaha icons such as Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are all still the most important factor. We are the only manufacturer that raced from the beginning of the world championship to now, we’ve never stopped, and this is something very special. We are honoured to have Phil here with us to celebrate this anniversary. He is an icon in motorcycle racing, fourth in the all-time world rankings with eight world titles. We hold riders such as Phil in a special place in our hearts over these years for allowing us to win these titles together.”

Yamaha followed Japanese rivals Honda and Suzuki into the World Championship Motorcycle Road Racing Grands Prix in 1961. Since the inception of the F.I.M. World Championship Grands Prix in 1949, Yamaha has won 38 manufacturers titles and 37 riders titles that cover 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and MotoGP.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images courtesy Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing.