Tag Archives: Honda

From Russia With Love – The Vostok Racers

Endel Kiisa aboard the 500cc Vostok four-cylinder S-565.

At the end of the Second World War former allies, the United States of America and the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entered into a period that was aptly described as “the cold war”. Both superpowers, armed with ideological distrust and a large arsenal of atomic weapons, knew that a direct confrontation would only bring about mutually assured destruction.

Each side fought the other indirectly by trying to influence foreign countries politically and economically while also aspiring to claim global prestige on the high ground of advanced technology – in particular, what became known in the 1960s as the “Space Race”.

It was no doubt a rude shock to America when in 1961 the Soviets put the first man into space to orbit the earth in the spacecraft Vostok 1. Vostok (meaning Orient or East) became a household name around the world and one that was adopted by the communists for a little-known foray into World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Although the former eastern block countries of Czechoslovakia and East Germany are better recognised for their motorcycle production and Grand Prix prowess, thanks to CZ, Jawa and MZ, it was in the town of Serpukhov 99km south of Moscow that these not so widely known Russian racers were built.

In 1942 the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau were established in Serpukhov with the aim of providing research and development for the numerous mass production motorcycle factories dotted around the USSR, in a bid to help the Soviet war effort during the Second World War.

Single cylinder engine of a 125cc S-157 racer.

At the end of the conflict German motorcycle manufacturer, DKW fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the1930’s DKW had been the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. The Russians plundered the Zschopau factory confiscating its technology and taking it to the Serpukhov Bureau,

Unsurprisingly this spawned blatant copies of the two-stroke DKW racers. The S1B, the S2B and the S3B were all reproductions of pre-war DKW’s with capacities of 125cc, 250cc and 350cc while the “S” (sometimes referred to as “C” which translated from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet stands for “S”) in the acronym stood for the town of Serpukhov.

Motorcycle competition and record-breaking took place post-war in the USSR but there was no participation in international events. The Soviet motorsport governing body the URSS was not affiliated with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), but by 1954 the communists became interested in competing on the international stage. The Central Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of Moscow joined the FIM two years later on the 1st of January 1956.

But in 1954, in preparation for entry into international road racing, the Serpukhov Bureau designed (believed to be by Evgenij Mathiushin) a new series of four-stroke racers simply designated “S” for Serpukhov. The classification of these racers was quite simple. The S-154 had a 125cc capacity represented by the “1” and “54” was merely the year it was designed.

Its architecture was double overhead camshaft driven by shaft and gears on the right-hand side. The single cylinder was slightly inclined with a “square” bore and stroke of 54 x 54mm giving a capacity of 123cc and an output of 12.5hp. The chassis resembled a smaller version of the Norton Featherbed frame while the overall weight was approximately 80kgs with a top speed around 140kph.

S-254 was designed as a 250cc twin cylinder four-stroke racer with the same “square” dimensions of 54 x 54mm as the S-154 and also used double overhead camshafts, this time driven by an inclined shaft on the right hand side of the engine to the inlet camshaft which in turn on its left hand end used gears and a pinion to turn the exhaust camshaft. Ignition was by coil while twin carburettors supplied the fuel and final drive was by a five-speed gearbox. Weight was 126kg, and with 23bhp available, at 8,200rpm it boasted a top speed of 150kmh. For the chassis, a Featherbed type frame with earls type front forks was utilised, and initially, it was equipped with a dustbin fairing.

Serpukhov’s 350cc machine was the S-354 and of the same design as the S-254 but with the bore and stroke taken out to 60 x 61mm for 348cc. Power was initially 33bhp at 8,200rpm and with a weight of 144kg was capable of 165kph. It used a duplex cradle frame was best described as a cross between a Manx Norton and a BSA Gold Star design and utilised earls type fork. A “bikini” fairing provided the aerodynamics.

The twin cylinder engine of the S-254 250cc racer.

Then came the S-555, a bored out version of the 350cc S-354 with a bore and stroke of 72 x 61mm giving the short stroke engine a capacity of 498cc with a claimed power output of 47bhp at 7,400rpm and a top speed of 190kph.

There was also a 175cc machine simply designated the S-175. This was not a bored out S-154 or half of the 350 twin and had a bore and stroke of 64 x 54mm for 174cc. It utilised a vertical cylinder like the later version of S-154, the S-157, and also boasted a twin-plug cylinder head, which became a feature of the S range in 1960. Although it was not an eligible capacity for international racing, a 175cc category was introduced into Soviet national competition.

With no official factory based team running on a permanent basis the Bureau loaned the “S” racers to preferred motorcycle clubs in the major cities. These machines were made accessible to promising road racers as they were well in advance of the out-dated two-strokes and altered road bikes that were available to the majority of competitors in national events.

Although these machines competed with a certain amount of success in race meetings mainly in the USSR, it was the Czechoslovakian manufacturer Jawa that in 1957 appeared to have a Grand Prix machine capable of competing at an international level bringing a halt to the development of the Serpukhov factories middleweight DOHC racers the S-257 and S-358. Czech racer Franta Stastny had ridden a Jawa 250cc racer to 12th place in the 1957 Lightweight TT on the demanding Isle of Man Mountain Course. This brought about a closer collaboration between the Serpukhov Bureau and Jawa. It effectively saw replicas of the Jawa 250cc, and 350cc racers re-badged as S-259 and S-360 Serpukhov machines, although a number of components were made in Russia.

These two “S” racers used twin overhead camshafts driven by a vertical bevel shaft positioned behind the two cylinders, driving the inlet camshaft and a horizontal shaft across the top of the engine to drive the exhaust camshaft. The cylinders were inclined at 10 degrees, and a heavily finned wet sump held the engine oil. The cylinder head sported two valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs with a battery and coil ignition. A pair of Amal carburettors provided the fuel and final drive was via a six-speed gearbox.

The frame for the two racers was conventional tubular construction either diamond or Featherbed with 19-inch wheels. The 248cc version had a bore and stroke of 55 x 52 mm and produced 38bhp at 11,000rpm. With a weight of 128kgs, a top speed of 190 km/h could be reached. It’s thought the 350cc version had a bore and stroke of 62 x 57.6mm and approximately 46bhp 10,300 rpm with a weight of 130kgs. 210 km/h was believed to be the top speed.

Endel Kiisa aboard the S-360 350cc racer.

The Jawa replicas were a step in the right direction for the Serpukhov Bureau. Russian rider Nikolai Sevostianov on the S-360 claimed third place in May 1961 at the Djurgardslopper international race meeting held at Helsinki in Finland.

It should be noted that the Jawa 350cc “version” did considerably well over the course of the 1961 Grand Prix season with factory riders Franta Statsny and Gustav Havel claiming a double 1st and 2nd places in the German and Swedish Grand Prix’ eventually finishing 2nd and 3rd in the 350cc World Championship

More progress came when the Soviet team made their debut in the World Championships at the East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in August 1962. By now the “S” racers were sometimes entered as CKB or on occasion as CKEB in reference to the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau in Serpukhov. Again it was Russian rider Sevostianov that provided the results finishing fifth in the 250cc class and in the 350cc category a fine sixth place.

The team returned in 1963 to the East German Grand Prix taking fifth place for Sevostianov riding the S-360 in the 350cc class. Sevostianov accomplished an even better result at the Finnish G.P. held at the Tampere circuit coming home in fourth in the 350cc category, although there is a side story to this result as the outcome may have been a Podium. The following is the doyen of motorcycle journalists Chris Carter’s recollection of the event published in his book “Chris Carter at Large.”

Carter, “Mike Hailwood was there on his 350cc and 500cc MV Agusta’s, and there was a Russian guy on one of these Russian four-cylinder Vostoks (authors note: it was in fact a twin cylinder S-360). Down the straight, he kept looking across at Hailwood, and he wouldn’t brake for the first-right hander until Hailwood did. Hailwood became furious with this man, so in the end, quite deliberately, he didn’t brake at all. They both shot up the slip road, and then Hailwood … put his foot on this man’s petrol tank and shoved. The poor Russian and his Vostok went crashing to the ground.” Hailwood went on to win the race. Sevostianov was also entered in the 500cc class and took sixth place on a bored out S -360 twin.

A cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 350cc four.

As the results of the “S” racers in the World Championship improved, the head of the Serpukhov Bureau, Ing. Ivanitsky, and the Deputy Director of Laboratories at the Vniimotopram Institute, V Kuznetsov, decided it was time to take on the European and Japanese factories at their own game with a completely new design. The 1964 S-364 was a 350cc four-cylinder four stroke and the first from the Serpukhov Bureau to be entered as a Vostok. The ambitious project also included a 500cc version to challenge for the blue riband class but was still on the drawing board.

The Vostok’s engine architecture took its design cues from the Italian multi’s and the Honda’s with double overhead camshafts being driven by a central gear train. Bore and stroke were oversquare with dimensions of 49 x 46mm for a capacity of 347cc. Ignition was by magneto and coil while four 30mm carburettors supplied the fuel and the final drive was via a dry clutch and six-speed gearbox. The first Vostoks used the frame and suspension units of the Jawa/CKB racers. Weight was around 130Kgs with a top speed of 230km/h.

It was at the East German Grand Prix in July 1964 that the Vostok S-364 made its international debut, creating a flurry of interest, as these were the most technically advanced Grand Prix racers to come out of the Soviet Union. It was not to be the introduction though that the Serpukhov Bureau would have hoped for as both the entries of Sevostianov and Estonian rider Endel Kiisa retired with mechanical problems after holding third and fourth place behind Jim Redman on a Honda and Gustav Havel on a Jawa. Sevostianov also raced in the 500cc class on a bored out version of the CKB S-360 twin and managed a fourth-place finish.

In August at the Finnish Grand Prix Endel Kiisa recorded the Surpokhov racers best result in the World Championship so far with a podium third place behind Redman and Beale on Honda’s. But it was not on the Vostok four but the CKB S-360 twin cylinder.

However, the Vostok four did appear again in September at Monza in the Nation’s Grand Prix. Unfortunately Sevostianov and Kiisa both retired with mechanical problems, which was said to be with the ignition, but in reality, the S-364 was destroying its pistons as it had done on debut in East Germany.

A cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 crank conrod pistons and overhead camshafts.

The four-cylinder reappeared again in 1965 at the first round of the championship, the West German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The Soviet team arrived a day late and Endel Kiisa could only manage one practice session. On the starting grid for the mandatory push start the Vostok refused to fire, but once he got on his way, Kiisa managed to fight his way through a pack of privateers to finish in fifth place. In a field that included riders of the calibre of Agostini and Hailwood on factory MV Agusta’s, it was a promising result. Only a week later at the non-championship Austrian Grand Prix, he very nearly gave the Vostok its maiden international triumph only to retire a just a kilometre short of victory.

Before the East German Grand Prix later that year significant changes were made to the Vostok S-364. A new frame based on the Norton Featherbed design was employed, and the power unit was improved with a new cylinder head and an oil cooler mounted in front of the engine.

Unfortunately, both Vostoks retired from the East German race, but only a week later, at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix in Brno, Sevostianov took the honour of a 3rd place podium behind Jim Redman on a works Honda and Derek Woodman on an MZ. It was the best result so far for a Russian rider on a Russian designed and built racer in the classics.

The Vostok did compete at the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy in September with Kiisa finishing in eight spot, and again later that month for a meeting organised by the Automobile Club of Milan as an Italy vs USSR match race series. Italian riders filled the first six places of both races, and sadly this was also the last international event for the Vostok S-364.

Endel Kiisa at the 1965 Austrian Grand Prix on the Vostok S-364 four.

There was to be however one last hurrah for the Vostok racers. A 500cc version of the four-cylinder machine had been built with the designation S-565 presumably making it a1965 design although it was based on the 350cc model. With a bore and stroke 55 x 52mm for a capacity of 494cc the engine produced a reputed 80bhp at 12,400 rpm. Weighing in at 155kgs it was good for 250 km/h. There were some minor visual differences to the 350cc version with more fins to the cylinders a deeper sump and more fins on the front of the crankcases.

In 1968 the Vostok team turned up for the Finnish Grand Prix just over the Soviet border at Imatra. With Honda and Mike Hailwwod’s withdrawal from the World Championship, it was assumed the race would be a cakewalk for Agostini and the MV Agusta triple. As expected “Ago” took the lead with Kiisa and the Vostok glued to the back wheel of the MV. Three laps in, and to the amazement of the crowd, the Vostok accelerated past the 500cc World Champions out of a slow corner. This was the first time a Soviet machine had led a 500cc Grand Prix. It was not to last with Kiisa experiencing ignition problems and retiring from the race. Sevostianov saved some face for the Vostok team by finishing in fourth place.

For 1969 some improvements were made to the S-565 Vostok, with a new four-valve head and huge drum brakes fitted that were developed originally for the Jawa V-four 350cc two-stroke.

Jewel-like Russian engineering on Vostok S-365 four.

The upgraded machines were entered in the East German Grand Prix at the Saschenring. It was not to be a good meeting for the Vostoks. During the wet race, Kiisa returned to the pits to change a spark plug finally managing tenth place, while his teammate fellow Estonian Juri Randla had held third place but a misfire and carburettor problems forced him to retire. Seven days later at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, both Vostoks retired on the second lap. It was a humiliating conclusion to an endeavour that held so much promise but was defeated by lack of an adequate budget to fully develop these fascinating Grand Prix racers.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2018. Images courtesy http://www.b-cozz.com, http://www.cold-war-racers.com, http://www.fim-live.com, Twitter.

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 Legendary Champion

Marq03

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.

Life Without Rossi

It was not that long ago that the very thought of MotoGP without Valentino Rossi was almost heresy.  Although Rossi’s eventual retirement was an inevitable reality, there was some consternation about the future popularity of the sport and its existence as a saleable commodity without him.  Rossi’s ability to engage such a broad demographic of fans, from children to retirees has given Grand Prix motorcycle racing the kind of exposure that other forms of motorsport would dearly love to have had. His post-race antics, charm and humility, coupled with an amazing ability to push a Grand Prix racing motorcycle to the very limit, using racecraft so ruthless it enabled him to regularly outwit his many opponents is legendary.

Rossi on his 2001 Championship winning NSR500 two-stroke.

Rossi on his 2001 Championship winning NSR500 two-stroke.

Rossi is arguably the greatest rider of all time, having won a record 80 MotoGP compared to the 68 of the great Giacomo Agostini.  But next month, on February 16th Valentino will celebrate his 35th birthday, and after three years with only one win, Rossi has given himself six races before he decides whether he will continue in MotoGP in 2015.  That sixth race will be his “home” Grand Prix at Mugello a race he has won a record seven times.

The surprise sacking of longtime crew chief, Jeremy Burgess, at the 2013 season-ending race in Valencia, sent shock waves through the paddock.  As Burgess pointed out at a pre-race press conference “I’ve read many sports biographies and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.” But is there more to Valentino’s lack of form since his last championship in 2009?

Valentino on the 990cc RC211V Honda 5 cylinder four-stroke.

Valentino on the 990cc RC211V Honda 5 cylinder four-stroke.

Burgess has also mentioned the “survival gene” that kicks in when a rider reaches their thirties and can erode a competitor’s ability to push to the absolute limits on a Grand Prix motorcycle.  Micheal Scott, a longtime Grand Prix journalist and the editor of the authoritative annual Motocourse, had previously noted in his column, that during his long career Rossi had always possessed that bit of luck which saved him from serious injury when involved in a practice or race crash.  That was not the case however in 2010. Rossi suffered a pre-season Motocross accident that severely affected his right shoulder and was not rectified until after the season had finished. But more tellingly a practice crash at Mugello, a circuit that Rossi had so much success on, bit back, giving the Italian a broken leg and for the first a time in his career caused him to miss not just one race, but three. Was the magic waning?

Rossi after winning the 2010 Malaysian GP aboard his beloved 800cc four-stroke Yamaha YZR-M1.

Rossi after winning the 2010 Malaysian GP aboard his beloved 800cc four-stroke Yamaha YZR-M1.

Dealing with a recalcitrant Ducati in 2011 and 2012 did little to admonish the growing number of doubters that believed Rossi’s star was on the decline. Perhaps more tragically though was the effect that Valentino’s innocent involvement in Marco Simoncelli’s fatal accident in Malaysia may have had.  I for one cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been for Valentino to deal with.

The most reassuring thing about Rossi though is his love of racing and commitment to the sport. As the owner of a new Team Sky- VR46 Moto3 team, which he formed in a bid to help cultivate young Italian talent for the Grand Prix, there is no doubt that Rossi’s presence and star quality will thankfully be around the paddock for many years to come.

Words Geoff Dawes ©2013. Images http://www.sportrider.us, http://www.hdwallres.com and http://www.yamaharacing.com

The Honda CB1100R Series

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

It ‘s an understatement to suggest that racing success helped build the very foundations of the Honda Motor Company.  It was the driving force to win, instilled by corporation founder Soichiro Honda that the company’s engineering capabilities be proven in the white heat of competition. The forays, starting in 1959 to the Isle of Man TT, to take on the best in the world in Grand Prix racing, proved pivotal to the success of the fledgeling motorcycle manufacturer.

But in 1970’s production racing, and in particular the prestigious Australian Castrol Six Hour production race, this philosophy was faltering. In a class of racing that pitted showroom floor models against each other under racing conditions, Honda had tasted success but once, in the 1971 event, with the venerable CB750.

The unfaired CB1100RB explicitly built for the 1980 Australian Castrol Six Hour race.

The Castrol Six-Hour had become the jewel in the crown of endurance production racing that enjoyed live television coverage in Australia and immense media exposure all over the world.  It was a class of racing with a huge following as it allowed motorcycle owners to see how “their” bike performed against machines from the other manufacturers.  And in an era of unprecedented motorcycle sales, the old adage, “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday”, had never been more true.

Honda held great hope for success in 1979 with the RCB endurance racer inspired CB900FZ, but it was unable to be fully competitive against its larger capacity rivals from Suzuki and Yamaha. Although claiming a creditable third place the previous year, Honda’s own CBX1000 six-cylinder flagship did not have the success that Honda desired.

And the war for production racing supremacy was not just being waged in Australia, but also South Africa, New Zealand and the U.K which was also a part of Honda’s dilemma.  This required contemplation and a new approach to the race, or rather, the regulations.

The 1979 CB900FZ

The CB1100R series of motorcycles was created out of production racing necessity.  Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to build a production homologation special for the road,  manufacturing enough road-registerable models to stay within the rules.

In a clever bit of reverse engineering Honda looked to its CB900FZ road bike, which had been based on the highly successful RCB1000 endurance racer.  It used lessons learnt from the RCB to transform the CB900F into a specialist endurance production racer. There was some irony here as Honda was also developing in parallel the RSC1000, by necessity based on the CB900F, to meet the regulations for the new prototype World Endurance Championship of 1980.

Honda Australia rider Dennis Neil was recruited by Honda Japan to develop the new machine and was responsible for testing it in both Australia and Japan. One hundred of the CB1100RB were fast-tracked and registered by Honda to make the September cut off deadline for entry into the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  This was an unfaired version of the bike, which was unique to the R series.  European models and those released in most other markets were fitted with a half fairing.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The evolution of the CB900F to transform it into the CB1100R, though, was quite extensive.

Although the engine shared the same 69mm stroke of the CB900F, the bore was increased from 64.5mm to 70mm to give an engine capacity of 1062cc, the same as variants of both the RCB and RSC endurance racers. The cylinder block was solid, doing away with the air gap between the two outer and two inside cylinders. The compression ratio was increased, up from 8.8:1 to 10:1, and many of the engine internals were beefed up, including a wider primary drive chain, strengthened clutch, conrods, big end bearings and gudgeon pins while the pistons became semi-forged items and the camshafts had sportier profiles. The standard gearbox was retained, although final overall gearing was raised by ten percent, and carburation also remained the same as the CB900F using four constant velocity Keihin VB 32mm units. This resulted in CB1100RB producing 115hp (85kw) at 9000rpm and 72ft.lb  (98N-m) of torque at 7,500rpm, compared to 95hp (69.8kw) at 9000rpm and 57ft.lb (77.4N-m) at 8000rpm of the CB900FZ.

The chassis was strengthened with extra gusseting and the detachable lower frame rail of the CB900F, designed for ease of engine removal, now became a solid part of the frame.  The front engine mounts were also heavy-duty alloy items, which no doubt all helped to improve the rigidity of the chassis.  The 35mm CB900F front forks were replaced with new 38mm units that used air assistance to adjust the spring rate via a linked hose from each fork and the rear shock absorbers carried a finned piggyback reservoir to help cool the damping oil.  Honda reverse Comstar wheels were fitted although the diameters remained the same as the CB900F, with an 18inch rear wheel and a 19inch front. But the rim widths were wider, up from 2.15 inches for both the front and rear of CB900F to a 2.75 inch rear and a 2.5 inch front for the CB1100RB. This was to accommodate the new generation tyres developed for the race due to the intense competition between tyre manufacturers. Honda also introduced for the first time their dual twin-piston floating calipers that gripped solid 296mm disks.

A single fibreglass seat unit that also housed the toolkit took the place of the CB900F’s dual seat. The fuel capacity was increased from 20 litres to 26 litres with a massive alloy fuel tank.  The instruments and switchgear were taken straight off the CB900F, but the duralumin handlebars were changed to multi-adjustable items that could be replaced quickly in the event of a crash. The exhaust system was visually similar to the CB900F, being a four into two, but on the CB1100RB it was freer flowing and utilised a balance pipe just ahead of the two mufflers. It was also finished in matt black as opposed to chrome and was well tucked in. The pulse generator and ignition cover on either end of the crankshaft were reduced in size and chamfered to also help improve ground clearance.  The foot pegs were rear-set and raised slightly on new lighter alloy castings. Honda was quite proud of achieving a fifty-degree angle of lean for the RB without anything touching down. This was extremely important at such a tight circuit as Amaroo Park where the Castrol Six Hour was held.

Single seat unit housed the toolkit.

Single seat unit of the RB housed the toolkit.

However, the Willoughby District Motorcycle Club did not welcome the appearance of the CB1100RB at the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  The organisers of the event argued that the CB100RB did not conform to the rules for a touring motorcycle, as it had no provision to carry a pillion passenger. Honda quite rightly pointed out that this was not written into the supplementary regulations for the event and indeed the organisers had to yield. It should also be pointed out that the organisers had turned a blind eye in previous years to entries such as the 750 and 900 SS Ducati’s that also could not carry a pillion passenger.

It’s history now that Wayne Gardner and Andrew Johnson on the privately entered Mentor Motorcycles CB1100RB won the race, held in wet conditions, ahead of the Honda Australia entry of Dennis Neil and Roger Heyes.  But it was a controversial win and not the clear-cut victory Honda would have hoped for. Suzuki Australia claimed that a lap scoring error had taken the win away from John Pace and Neil Chivas on a GSX1100.  After three appeals the Suzuki team were eventually awarded the win, only for Mentor Motorcycles to appeal against the ruling and be reinstated just four weeks before the 1981 race. To top all this off, the WDMC released the supplementary regulations for the race, which specifically banned solo seats.  Honda turned its back on the 1981 race and once again studied the rules.  Some solace was sought when the CB1100RB won all of the eight 1981 MCN Streetbike series in the UK, with seven victories going to series winner Ron Haslam.

The end result of all of the above culminated in the 1982 CB1100RC, which came equipped with a dual seat and rear footpegs – and also a full fairing. A removable cover was used to give the appearance of a single seat, while the tools were moved to a lockable toolbox that was hung off the seat subframe just behind the left rear shock absorber.  The rear suspension units were now inverted reservoir gas charged FVQ units with four-way compression damping and three-way adjustable extension damping with five spring preloads.  Front fork diameter was increased from 38mm to 39mm with separate air adjustment on the top of each fork leg.  The forks also boasted a new innovation from Honda, Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control or TRAC. This was a mechanical four-way adjustable system that utilised the pivoting torque of the brake calipers to close a valve in the fork leg, under braking, to increase compression damping which limited front end nose-dive.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The front brake disks now became ventilated while 18-inch “boomerang” spoked Comstar wheels graced both ends of the RC.  The rear rim width was now 3.0 inches, up from 2.75 on the RB, while the front rim width remained 2.5 inches but on an 18 instead of 19-inch wheel.  Steering rake was increased by half a degree to 28 degrees and trail was shortened from 121mm to 113mm mainly to accommodate the effects of the new 18-inch front wheel.  The wheelbase also became slightly longer from 1488mm of the RB to 1490mm for the RC but still 25mm shorter than the CB900F.

The instrument “pod” now was now mounted in the nose of the full fairing, and the tachometer became electronic as opposed to the cable driven item of the RB.  There was also the inclusion of an oil temperature gauge mounted with the warning lights on the top steering yoke.  The full fairing was lightweight fibreglass, reinforced with carbon fibre, and its lower half was quickly removable utilising six Dzus type fasteners and two screws.  In the engine department, the only significant mechanical change was a stronger cam chain tensioner and 1mm larger Keihin VB 33mm CV carburettors. Claimed horsepower and torque remained the same as the CB1100RB, although South African and New Zealand models were recorded as giving 120hp.

Honda dominated the 1982 Castrol Six Hour even though Suzuki unleashed its 1100 Katana with special wider wire wheels.  Wayne Gardner and Wayne Clarke took the top place on the podium with three other CB1100RC’s finishing behind them.  The nearest Suzuki Katana was a lap down in fifth. Honda again dominated the British MCN Streetbike series winning all the races with Ron Haslam and Wayne Gardner sharing the spoils and series title. For 1983 new restrictions were put in place for production racing, which limited engine capacity to 1000cc and effectively made the CB1100RC redundant.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

Honda still produced one more model in the series, the 1983 CB1100RD, the main differences from the RC being a rectangular tube swingarm, which was slightly wider for the new fatter tyres, and it also carried upgraded rear shock absorbers. The nose of the fairing was also pulled back to be in line with the front axle to meet racing regulations.  Aesthetically the blue stripe ran up the sides of the headlight and not underneath it while the blue and red paintwork appeared almost metallic in its finish. The Honda winged transfer on the tank was grey, black and white as opposed to yellow and white of the RB and RC.

The overall finish of the RD appeared a notch above the RB and RC, and it was suggested that Honda did not have the capacity on its production line to cope with the limited number run required to homologate these two models.  Honda’s Racing Services Centre (which became the Honda Racing Corporation in 1982) was said to have been responsible for assembling both the RB and RC.  An upgraded production line in 1983 enabled Honda to accommodate the RD.  This does make sense and a good reason for the better quality of finish of the RD. It also makes the RB and RC somewhat unique as they would have been assembled by Honda’s racing department.

How limited in numbers was the CB1100R series?  1,050 of the 1981 RB were reported to have been built, although whether this figure includes the 100 fast -racked unfaired machines for the 1980 Castrol Six Hour is unclear.  It seems that 1,500 of both the RC and RD were made, giving a number of 4,050 in total.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2013. Photograph Geoff Dawes (C)1982. Images http://www.nirvanamotorcycles.com, http://www.mctrader.com.au, http://www.worldhonda.com, http://www.carandclassic.co.uk, http://www.flkr.com.

The Changing Of An Era For MotoGP ?

Honda’s new “Open Class” production racer the RCV1000R.

The final MotoGP of the 2013 season at Valencia brought with it a remarkable conclusion to the championship, with Marc Marquez clinching the title to become the youngest ever MotoGP World Champion and the first “rookie” to do so in 35years.

There were, however, a number of other events surrounding the race that also announced the changing of an era.

Honda unveiled its RCV1000R “Open Class” racer (formerly CRT), and it is the first production racer to be sold to private teams by Honda since the NSR 500V two-stroke V-twin in 2001.  That in itself is a boost for the category, but when HRC revealed that Casey Stoner tested both bikes at Motegi on the same day, on the same tyres, and the difference between the production racer and full factory RC213V was only 0.3s,  it shone a spotlight onto what may be the future of MotoGP. More significant though, was the time set on the softer compound rear tyre only available to the ‘open’ class riders, dropping the gap down to just 0.17s!

Hiroshi Aoyama on the RCV1000R at the Valencia tests.

The production racer is a “toned down” version of the full factory RC213V. The main differences being steel sprung rather than pneumatically operated valves, and a conventional rather than seamless shift gearbox. The 1000cc 90 degree V4 engine will still produce ‘over 175KW’ (235hp) at 16,000rpm with Öhlins suspension and Nissin brakes fitted as standard.

The price tag to buy the Honda is believed to be around 1.2million euros. However, an upgrade package for 2015 means that the cost, when spread over two seasons, is likely to be approximately 800,000 euros a year, which is more in keeping with Dorna’s policy on pricing for the newly named category.

Four machines so far have been purchased; two earmarked for the Aspar Team to be ridden by 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. MotoGP rookie Scott Redding at the Gresini Team and Karel Abraham of the Cardion AB Team will ride the other two machines.

Nicly Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer in testing at Velencia.

Nicky Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer testing at Valencia.

Yamaha will also supply “Open Class” machinery to the NGM Forward Racing Team for both Colin Edwards and Aleix Espargaro.  This is the first time since the early 1990’s that Yamaha has offered competitive machinery for sale to private teams in MotoGP.  At that time Yamaha supplied complete engines and technical information to specialist chassis manufacturers Harris and ROC.  For the new “Open Class” Yamaha is supplying the MI engine, frame and swingarm.

Not to be left out, Ducati will also supply a complete “Open Class “ machine to the Pramac Ducati Team.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

All of these production racers will have the benefit of 12 engines per season as opposed to 5 for the full factory prototypes and four litres more fuel, 24 compared to 20 for 2014, and there is also a greater choice of tyres for the riders as well.  All of these machines will use the officially supplied MotoGP ECU and software.

The other major event at Valencia was the “sacking” by Valentino Rossi of long-serving Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess.  The announcement was made at a press conference held on the Thursday before the Valencia MotoGP at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Valentino Rossi' Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

Valentino Rossi’ Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

“It was my decision because we had already spoken with the team about next year,” explained Rossi. “Jeremy said that he wanted to stay. [But] Jeremy had some question marks for the future [beyond 2014], and he didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just that he wanted to wait for next year [to decide].

“I also want to wait until next year, and I will decide after the first races if I want to continue. So it was more my decision and yesterday we spoke together to explain that I needed to make a change and try something different. It’s a new boost to get more motivation, so we decided to do this.

“The level now has raised a lot with the top three riders, and they are able to ride these bikes very fast and the lap time has improved a lot. It’s a great challenge for me and for us, and we know that it is difficult, but I don’t have any regrets or problems with how the team has worked and especially with Jeremy.

I know that this is a key moment because I have in mind that I want to try one time in another way and that this is the moment for that.”

After Rossi had given his reasons for the parting of ways the 60-year-old Burgess commented, “It blindsided me, and I didn’t expect it whatsoever,” he said. “I knew yesterday afternoon when Valentino invited me into his trailer that we weren’t going in there for the Christmas bonus!”

“I haven’t made any plans for the future at this stage. My intention originally was to continue next year and depending on results and desire I would make a call. We’ve been chasing rainbows for four years and haven’t nailed anything decent, and these are long periods in racing, and it becomes more difficult [to win].

“I’ve read many sports biographies, and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, but I understand that some change was necessary and only history will determine the outcome of this adjustment. It’s an adjustment to improve the package for Valentino and if this does it then it’s been a success.”

Burgess added: “I prefer how this happened and think that it was a far better way to do it rather than showing up on Sunday night and just saying ‘Ciao it’s all over’.”

During their 14 seasons together Rossi and Burgess have won a record 80 Grand Prix races, using 500cc Honda, 990cc Honda, 990cc Yamaha, 800cc Yamaha and 1000cc Yamaha machinery. As a Crew Chief Burgess has won 13 MotoGP World Championships, 1 with Wayne Gardner, 5 with Mick Doohan, and 7 with Valentino Rossi since starting his career as a mechanic in the 500cc Grand Prix class with Heron Suzuki in 1980.

Indeed the end of an era.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda and MotoGp.com

Going Seamless

When Casey Stoner won the final 800cc MotoGP World Championship for Honda in 2011, many a finger was pointed at the seamless gearbox Honda had developed as being a significant factor in the RC212V’s reinvigorated performance.  Shuhei Nakamoto, vice-president of Honda Racing Corporation,  believed it was more a matter of refinement in many areas of RC212V that had brought about the championship winning performance.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto.

But the seamless gearbox did raise the ire of the MotoGP commercial rights holder Dorna, who with the FIM, was on a crusade to cut costs and to close the performance inequity between the CRT teams and the factory prototypes.

Yamaha, however, is the last of the factory teams to adopt the technology as Ducati had already introduced their version of the seamless gearbox in late 2011. To the delight of its Grand Prix World Champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the M1 went seamless at Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was a concerted effort by Yamaha to try and bridge the technology gap to Honda and to help Jorge Lorenzo claw back lost ground in the MotoGP World Championship battle.

So what are the benefits of this new technology? According to Valentino Rossi, “The bike is more stable in acceleration so it’s less demanding, so you can be more consistent and more precise, with less effort,” he added. “The only difference in setup is the electronics: you get less wheelie, so you need less wheelie control [which means more horsepower and more acceleration].”

Rossi and Lorenzo were glad to have the seamless gearbox at Misano

Rossi and Lorenzo were delighted to have the seamless gearbox at Misano.

The fact that gears can be shifted without the split second loss of torque through the transmission that occurs with a racing speed shifter,  which momentarily cuts the ignition as another gear is engaged,  is the primary benefit.  With a conventional gearbox when the torque is reintroduced, it can load up the rear tyre and cause wheelspin or wheelies. which may also unsettle the front end of the bike. Also with a seamless gearbox down, changes are smoother helping engine braking with a more controlled front end under brakes.  Greater stability while changing gears mid-corner is another big benefit of the system.

How does it work? To put it in simple terms two gears are engaged simultaneously.  The torque is transmitted through the lower ratio, but as engine torque rises, the higher gear ratio is gradually engaged. When the higher gear is selected, the torque is transferred seamlessly to it.  The reverse is true of down changes. There are many subtle benefits of the gearbox.  Shorter gear change time, Improved tyre wear, more precise handling and less fatigue on the rider.

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano.

The cost of developing the seamless gearbox is a mute point with Dorna who thought that they had all the bases covered when they outlawed automatic, CVT and twin-clutch transmissions, which is also the case in F1.  There is a certain amount of irony here concerning F1 which I will refer to shortly.

Lin Jarvis Managing Director of Yamaha Factory Racing towed the Dorna line initially saying that Yamaha would not have invested in the technology if Honda had not.  This in some ways is a strange approach as most manufacturers justification to go racing is to develop new technology that can eventually filter down to their production motorcycles.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Honda has quite openly been accused of spending a vast amount of money on their seamless system. But is this purely speculation?  This brings us back to Formula One.  The FIA outlawed automatic, CVT and twin clutch transmissions in the 1990’s, but for the 2005 season, the governing body deemed seamless gearboxes legal. One of the first cabs of the rank was the BAR Honda Formula One team who promptly announced they had developed such a gearbox for an introduction that season.

So seamless gearbox technology is not new to Honda having introduced it in F1 some six years before it appeared on the RC212V of the Repsol Honda Team in 2011.  It would, therefore, be safe to suggest that the cost to Honda for using existing technology would not have been as extreme as some would have us believe.

Considering Dorna’s close links with F1, it’s a surprising oversight that the move to seamless technology by Honda was not anticipated.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda Team and Yamaha Factory Racing.

Archives: Blue Bolide

 

The Suzuki holds its line and changes direction easily.

The scene is the final hour of 1988 24 Heures De Leige at Spa in Belgium.  Suzuki France lead rider, Herve Moineau, waits nervously in the pit, quietly preparing himself for his final session on the GSX-R750.  After 23 hours of racing his teammate, Thierry Crine is leading by just 15 seconds from the Honda France entry.  But it’s not just the race that’s being decided on the track it’s also the World Endurance Championship.

The Honda pits first, Bouheben climbing exhausted off the ’87 model RVF that team manager, Jean-Louis Guillou, has entered in preference to the less reliable ’88 version.  Alex Vieira mounts the Honda to the clak-clak-clak of chief mechanic Coulon’s air gun as the rear wheel is changed.  Only 11.5 seconds have passed when Vieira blasts out of the pits.

A lap later Moineau is staring intently down pit lane waiting for Crine to come in.  The blue overalled mechanics ready themselves as they know the slightest mistake can cost them the Championship.  Crine dives into pit lane and hands the GSX-R750 Suzuki to Moineau who is refuelled and out the pit in 6.27 seconds.  Suzuki Team Manager, Domonique Meliand, stands by the pit wall, stop- watch in hand, ready to time the split as Moineau flashes by on his first flying lap, before flicking left then right through Eau Rouge and out of sight – but where’s the Honda!

45 seconds later Vieira’s Honda drones past. Word spreads down pit lane that on the last lap of his stint, Bouheben, who had heroically made up 13 seconds on the Suzuki, dropped the Honda at the bus-stop chicane before handing the RVF750 to Vieira.

The race and the championship are Suzuki’s, beating their great adversary, Honda, in the last year before the series loses its World Championship status.

*          *          *

Later that month half a world away, at Sugo in Japan, Suzuki scores its first win in a new production based World Championship, the World Superbike Series, with its new J model GSX-R750.  Yoshimura pilot, Gary Goodfellow’s win, however, is put down to luck, as the first leg victory was more the result of a tyre gamble, and in the second leg, an oil spill affects the outcome of the race.  Suzuki know they are in trouble as the privateers complain about the F.I.M.’s stock carburettor ruling, bemoaning the J models 36mm slingshot CV carburettors that won’t let the engine run cleanly at the top end, and even Yoshimura is having trouble getting horsepower from the new short stroke motor!

*          *          *

It was the culmination of these significant events that prompted Suzuki to produce a more competitive motorcycle for Superbike racing in 1989.   Taking a leaf out of Honda and Yamaha’s book, Suzuki has released the GSX-R750R, built specifically for Superbike homologation, and basically a road-going replica of Suzuki’s Endurance World Championship winning machine and its F1 racer.  Suzuki Australia brought 50 of these $19,950 beauties into Australia last September, with six earmarked purely for racing (no A.D.R. compliance and $500 cheaper) while the other 44 are fully road registrable.

Jeff Zammit, the owner of Adelaide’s Suzuki South, was kind enough to let Bike Australia borrow his personal GSX-R750R for a ride impression.  Jeff’s RR (I will refer to Jeff’s bike as the RR so as not to cause confusion with the standard RK model) had 800km on it when I picked it up but was fully run in after some careful kilometres on the road and a bit of stick on the race track.  But before we go any further let’s have a look at what makes the RR cost $11,000 more than its similar looking stablemate.

Suzuki looks purposeful but "pretty".

Suzuki looks purposeful but “pretty”.

The heart of the RR is its engine, and there are plenty of changes.  The carburettors are new BST 40mm CV items, up 4mm from the RK model and big enough to swallow birds and small dogs!  They feature easier resetting for race conditions and have a high-speed power jet which allows a leaner main jet for better mid-range throttle response.  Also improving throttle response is the atmospheric venting of the lower side of the carburettor diaphragm.  On the RK this is vented to the air-box where intake pulses can affect the pressure under the diaphragm and in turn throttle response.

A magnesium cover graces the factory-racer spec cylinder head, which features a valve system identical to the works racer and uses titanium nuts for valve adjustment.  Spark plugs are a new cold-type dual-electrode design by either NGK or ND with a smaller thread size of 10mm.  One reason for the change to a smaller thread size was to eliminate cracking in the combustion chamber that had occurred on RJ and some RK models used for Superbike competition.  The RR also returns to the four-into-one exhaust system of the earlier models but with a lightweight stainless steel design that uses an aluminium muffler.

Another significant change is the return to the old bore and stroke dimensions of 70.0mm x 48.7mm of the G and H model as opposed to the 73.0mm x 44.7mm of the shorter stroke J and K model.  One of the benefits the longer stroke provides is more time regarding crankshaft degrees for the cylinder to charge, which in turn increases port velocity.   The crankshaft is a high-rigidity lightweight unit, identical to factory racer, as are the conrods, which spins to the same 13,000rpm redline as the short-stroke RK model.  Horsepower has increased over the RK by 8ps  to 120ps at the same 11,000rpm and torque has improved from 7.9kg.m to 8.3kg.m again at the same 9,500rpm. The clutch has received an extra drive plate and the cooling system now features a curved radiator from the GSX-R1100 with a sub-cooler for the cylinder head to help deal with the increased thermal loads the optional $17,000 full race kit can create.

The chassis looks the same as the RK but has been strengthened around the steering head, and the swingarm is also heavily braced.  The front forks are of the inner- cartridge type, with beefy 43mm stanchion tubes that provide step-less spring preload and 12 positions for both rebound and compression damping.  A Showa remote gas shock is used at the rear with preload varied by screwing the spring collar up or down while a knob on the remote reservoir handles the compression damping and extension damping can be adjusted from the bottom of the shocker.  Wheel travel is 120mm for the front and 136mm at the rear, which is about par for the course for a serious sports bike these days.  Steering head rake is 30 degrees with 102mm of trail which is a bit slower than the RK’s 24 degrees 50 minutes and 99mm trail although the RR has a 5mm shorter wheelbase.

Racing riding position necessitates regular stops.

Racing riding position necessitates regular stops.

The Nissin four spot calipers of the RK set a high standard for its class and are retained at the front, but utilise slit-type floating disks from the GSX-R1100.  These are 5mm thicker than the RK’s and do a better job of drawing heat away from the pads, thereby reducing heat transfer into the calipers.  Wheels remain 17inches in diameter with the front the same 3.5inch width, while the rear is a massive 5.5inch job that takes advantage of Michelin’s latest fat low-profile road going radial and more obviously the current crop of racing slicks.  Tyre sizes are, up front an A59X 130/60 ZR17 and at the rear an M59X 170/60 ZR17.

The fairing is a quick-fastening two-piece affair of high cooling efficiency and low aerodynamic drag.  Suzuki has special sand-cast engine casings like those of the endurance racer to help reduce frontal area and give the RR a higher angle of lean.  The front fender and seat cowling are identical to the factory bike, and all the bodywork is made from fibre reinforced plastic that’s suitable for racing conditions.

The seat rear subframe is of aluminium/steel construction and for solo use only.  A nice touch is the maintenance free battery that resides under the seat and is canted back at about 45 degrees so it will fit the confined space.  It no doubt helps, in some small way, the centre of mass of the bike.  Also, the seat bum pad is removable and can be unlocked with the ignition key.  This reveals two small storage spaces, one of which houses the toolkit.  The fuel tank holds 19 litres – 2 less than the RK and is styled after the F1 and endurance bikes.

Visually the RR is quite stunning – purposeful, but with a rounded shape and curved lines that to my mind can only be described as “pretty”. It’s also very compact and weighs just 187kg dry (8kg less than the RK) which makes the RR seem smaller than its capacity suggests.

My first impression when riding the RR was of discomfort, as the seating position is pure G.P. racer.  The clip-on handlebars are slightly lower than the RK’s while the footpegs are mounted more rearward – that combined with the angled seat force the rider to assume a serious racing crouch.  That’s not a complaint, the whole purpose of the RR is to win races not cruise the main street. But while riding home from Suzuki South, along Adelaide’s bumpy Main South Road, the RR was telegraphing subtle messages that were all very positive.

Form and function.

Form and function.

Getting off the line takes a deft hand as the throttle is very light which makes it easy to feed in more revs than necessary, as the engine has minimal flywheel effect and responds instantly.  This is offset to a certain extent by the cable operated clutch which is smooth and progressive in its take up.  The tacho starts at 3000rpm, but the RR will take off with about 1000rpm less than this no problem, even though it runs a very high first gear.  Using the close ratio six-speed gearbox was a pleasure – even with only 800km of use.  The engine spins very freely with little vibration just a faint rumble at around 4000rpm in the higher gears that are felt through the footpegs and seat.  The RR will sit happily on 80kmh at just under 4000 revs in sixth gear and felt as though it would pull cleanly right up to its 13,000rpm redline.  In this sort of stop-start city riding the dual electrode spark, plugs showed their mettle, allowing the RR to pull away from traffic lights with only the occasional slight trace of a stumble.  I was quite surprised that the RR would tolerate such low revs and yet carburated so cleanly.

Another pleasant surprise was the suspension, which had been set-up by Jeff for fast road work yet handled the bumpy conditions well by giving a firm but compliant ride.  Two fingers were all that was required on the front brake as they are very powerful and combine with the riding position to make the rider feel sure the rear wheel is going to lift off the ground.  The fairing did quite an excellent job in the warm conditions too, managing to get the hot air from the engine away without scorching the rider. Some hot air is deflected by heat shielding under the fuel tank, however, onto the riders forearms when stopped at traffic lights.  I have to compliment Suzuki on the RR’s mirrors.  They are slightly convex, and an elongated oval in shape that gives a good view of the following traffic – not the riders elbows, nice one Suzuki.

It’s an understatement that the RR was not designed for the hostile environment of city commuting, but the Suzuki accredited itself surprisingly well (apart from the riding position), but to really get to know the RR better necessitates a more appropriate habitat.

The Adelaide Hills are crisscrossed with a great variety of scratchers roads, that vary from tight twisting turns to long sweeping curves – a natural place to head for with the RR.  In these conditions, the RR is in its element.  The Suzuki is so compact the rider can sense the centre of mass is just right, as the RR is so easy to flick into a corner, fast or slow, without any sign of top-heaviness that can affect an inline four in a double cradle loop frame.  The steering is razor sharp too, and it’s easy to place the Suzuki on the right line into a bend or change it mid-corner for that matter.

GSXR 750R in its natural habitat.

GSXR 750R in its natural habitat.

The engine is a real gem, it just loves to rev and gives such a linear power delivery that there is no real jump in performance.  On several occasion, when I managed to forget this was somebody else’s $20,000 motorcycle, my throttle hand got the better of me, and I ventured into this higher plateau of the RR’s performance.  Apart from the feeling that somebody had put the scenery on fast forward the RR handled up-rushing bends in exactly the same. way  A quick two-fingered squeeze of the powerful front disc brakes washed of excess speed, at the same time snicking down a couple of gears, tip the RR into the corner on the chosen line clip the apex and back on the power accelerating out.  No protests from the chassis or tyres just rapid progress.

On a couple of occasions, I did manage to get into a few corners a bit too hot and found that hauling on the brakes in a turn caused the RR to stand up and run wide, which on one particular off-camber corner caused the front-end to chatter.  However I put this down to a suspension set-up for someone else, and a too tentative response to the situation from yours truly.  High-speed stability was impressive also, the RR feeling rock steady in a straight line almost giving the impression of squatting down on the road as speed increased. The very effective fairing had a lot to do with this and made sustaining high speeds easy, helped no doubt by the tiny perspex screen which deflected the brunt of on-rushing air past the rider’s helmet with minimal buffeting.

Feeling at one with the exotic Suzuki GSXR 750R.

Feeling at one with the exotic Suzuki GSXR 750R.

Is it worth $20,000?  In my opinion, yes, it is that good. Suzuki has taken the evolutionary genes of their World Championship winning endurance racer and combined them with the DNA of their GSXR production model to create a racing thoroughbred.  But perhaps just as importantly it shows what good value for the money its slightly less race orientated stablemate the Suzuki GSX-R750K is.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 1990. Photographs Geoff Dawes and Steve Frampton (C)1990. Published in Bike Australia May/June 1990.

Archives: Basic Instinct

Duncan Harrington and “Instinct”.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, “instinct” is an inborn intuitive power.  It’s also the name of the project that Duncan Harrington undertook in his final year as an Industrial Design student, and from which came the innovative motorcycle you see on these pages.  Duncan readily admits that it’s perhaps a misnomer when applied to his well thought out and engineered creation, but it does say something about his own intuition when it comes to questioning the primary and secondary safety of today’s motorcycle designs. But more of that later.

It was at the beginning of the year when 26-year-old Duncan proposed, as just one of his final year’s projects, to produce a motorcycle that would improve upon conventional chassis design and safety.  Unfortunately, the powers to be at the Underdale Campus of the University of South Australia needed a fair bit of persuasion, so the first half of the year was taken up with a research paper into roots and origins of motorcycle culture, which Duncan then used to help justify the project.  This was followed by a whole range of concept designs that were drawn up and presented before one was finally chosen.

Duncan then had to convince the University that he had the technical skills and know-how to complete the project in the time allowed.  Not an easy task with only six months left to do it in.  Fortunately, Duncan had completed an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with CSR Softwoods in his hometown of Mt. Gambier before going to University and also had quite a few years experience restoring cars and motorcycles at home.

“Instinct oozes quality workmanship.

There was still, however, one more hurdle – finding the money to pay for the materials and components to construct the bike.  A sad farewell was said to Duncan’s bevel drive, square case 750SS Ducati,  when it was sold to help finance the project, followed later in the year by his rebuilt Suzuki Katana. Only the time factor remained, and as Duncan succinctly put it to me, ” I haven’t had a holiday all year!”

But after watching Duncan work meticulously on “Instinct” and listening to him talk about the ideas that went into the bike, I got the distinct impression that this was more than just a final year project. Which is quite understandable considering a large proportion of the bike had been handmade, polished and painted by Duncan.

The first impression of the bike is its high quality of workmanship, and a feeling of familiarity with its layout – the white chrome-moly steel trellis frame, single-sided swingarm and exhaust exiting under the seat is reminiscent of the Ducati 916. Even the exotic double wishbone front suspension has been tried before on other motorcycles like Kiwi John Britten’s V-twin, and the American Hossack (it’s also been experimented with by expatriate South Aussie Tony Foale who by coincidence is distantly related to Duncan).

The under engine fuel tank is also not new and has appeared on some racing motorcycles in the search for a lower centre of gravity – bikes like the Mead and Tompkinson endurance racer, and the French Elf endurance and 500cc G.P. racers.  But perhaps more importantly, it’s the sum of “Instincts” parts and the thinking behind them that makes this motorcycle special – particularly when it comes to selling new ideas to a very conservative bunch of consumers.

Twin wishbone front end is a primary safety feature.

Twin wishbone front end is a primary safety feature.

For example, the use of a more traditional engine design, in the shape of Honda’s venerable big single NSX 650cc motor, is not just merely to keep costs down.  Like most contemporary big singles, the dry-dumped Honda engine is designed to sit high in the frame and “Instinct” utilises this characteristic to enable the fuel tank to be easily mounted underneath it.  The chrome-moly trellis frame was another natural choice, as Duncan has designed it to be made in a kit form to suit most big single-cylinder engines that generally have their mounting point at the cylinder head and above or below the gearbox.  Just as important though, is that this type of frame offers good mounting points for the front wishbone suspension, and it’s also more visually acceptable in the eyes of purists.

The solid looking front “fork” is also made from chrome-moly steel and is encased in carbon-fibre for added torsional stiffness.  This is attached to the two alloy wishbones by a 14mm upper and 16mm lower ball joint that can be adjusted by thread and lock nut to vary the forks rake from a fairly standard 25 degrees to a very steep 18 degrees.  The front suspension also makes use of car type polyurethane bushes, while the double wishbones move on plain bearings in order to keep costs down.

The clip-on style handlebars and top yoke pivot in what looks like a conventional steering head (the lower part of which doubles as the top mounting point for the front shock absorber) and uses two rods with eyeball joints at both ends to attach the steering yoke to the fork. The bottom of the front shock absorber is angled out onto a mount at the front of the lower wishbone.

The shock absorber itself is an American car racing A.V.O. unit, with infinitely adjustable rebound and compression damping.  Duncan found the A.V.O. shock absorbers specification to be very good, and apart from being a lot cheaper than the “name” brand motorcycle type, it can also be purchased as a single unit with the added bonus of different rate springs being available for a mere $30.

The fuel tank is a carbon fibre, glass fibre and kevlar composite, wrapped around aluminium side panels and inner bulkheads that also act as baffles to stop the 18 litres of fuel sloshing around.  A reliable solid state Facet electric pump is mounted down by the petrol tank and takes care of the fuel supply to the carby.

The dummy tank and seat unit are made from injected high-density polystyrene that incorporates aluminium plates for strength at its mounting points and is wrapped in overlapping layers of carbon and glass fibre, again to add strength.  The whole thing pivots upwards at the front for good access to the battery, cylinder head and oil tank, although the oil tank cap is also easily accessible even with the dummy tank unit in place.

The seat and dummy fuel tank pivot forward for good access to the battery cylinder head and oil tank.

The seat and dummy fuel tank pivot forward for good access to the battery cylinder head and oil tank.

The seat itself is sculptured from a thin rubber base and covered in vinyl before being glued in place.  Another interesting feature of the dummy tank/seat unit is its single rear mounting point.  This is directly below the seat and uses urethane bush to help the thinly padded perch absorb some of the road shocks.  The paint job is also a local product called Two-pack Pro-Tech polyurethane and is used by HSV on the Commodore.

Duncan also made the stainless steel exhaust system, (apart from two one hundred and eighty-degree bands in the header pipes just after they exit the twin-port head, courtesy of Pace Maker Exhausts) and the aluminium muffler.  When viewed from the rear the muffler combines with the seats tail-piece to look uncannily like a snakes head!

Underseat exhaust is neat and tidy.

Underseat exhaust is neat and tidy.

As mentioned earlier the bike was designed to be built in a kit form and can use a variety of single cylinder engines, rear suspension, swing arms, wheels and brakes.  On Duncan’s prototype, these were cannibalised from a 400cc V-Four Honda NC 30.  A special thanks has to go to Alan Rigby Motorcycle Service in Mt. Gambier who supplied the wheels and tyres for just $300, including the cost of sending them to Adelaide.

This brings us to how Duncan Harrington’s design has improved primary and secondary safety over the latest motorcycle designs from the worlds largest manufacturers.  Well, not surprisingly, there first came an intensive study of motorcycle design, followed by extensive research into motorcycle accidents, which included material supplied by Adelaide Universities renowned Road Accident Research Unit.

To improve primary safety ,two things had to be accomplished that in general terms are contrary to each other – manoeuvrability and stability, which in most modern motorcycle designs is at best a compromise.  Duncan got his design off to a good start in the manoeuvrability stakes with a wheelbase of just 1380mm, helped by a light weight of 140kg with oil but no fuel.  This compares well with the likes of Suzuki’s 250cc RGV two-stroke (they also share similar power to weight ratio’s), but where “Instinct” shines is with its lower centre of gravity, thanks to the underslung fuel tank, and also by keeping the centre of mass as close to the middle of the bike as possible.

The other innovation that Duncan’s bike has over conventional designs is the improved stability achieved by taking advantage of mechanical characteristics of a twin-wishbone front suspension.  With a conventional telescopic front fork even normal braking will cause them to compress and effectively shorten the wheelbase.  Combine this with turning into a corner, which rolls the contact patch across the curved tread away from the centre crown of the tyre to the smaller diameter shoulder, and you reduce the wheelbase further to undermine stability even more.

"Instinct" looks good from any angle.

“Instinct” looks good from any angle.

When “Instinct’s” front suspension system is compressed under braking (or over bumps), the twin-wishbones move through an arc which slightly increases the wheelbase and also helps compensate for the decreasing diameter of the tyres when leant over in a corner.  Another safety benefit with the twin-wishbone front end is that it rides over bumps a lot better as there is none of the stiction associated with a conventional telescopic fork, and the inbuilt stability of the system makes it more difficult for large bumps and potholes in the road to unsettle the motorcycle.  Duncan is still in the process of getting “Instinct” road registered (mudguards, lights and a speedo are all that’s needed), but has managed to put in some exploratory laps at the Mallala race track, and these have more than confirmed his faith in the design.

Just as impressive though are the secondary safety features of Duncan’s design.  From his research, he found that the front end t-bone was one of the most common accidents happening to motorcyclists and that there was a marked increase in the number of injuries to the lower abdominal region of the rider, whom according to the statistics are mainly males under 25.  Not good for the family jewels.  It was discovered that the increasing size of air boxes on motorcycles to help manufacturers meet noise pollution and performance requirements, were also increasing the height and width of fuel tanks with the aforementioned consequences.

By using an underslung fuel tank on “Instinct”, Duncan was able to go “organic” with the design of the dummy tank and seat unit, allowing it to be made lower in height and narrower in width as it is purely for styling.  The next problem our poor crash victim faces once he makes it past the fuel tank are the handlebars.  These have a nasty habit of shattering parts of the lower leg, which most definitely is not something to look forward to while holding onto one’s crotch.

Shear pins are used to secure the handlebars in place.

Shear pins are used to secure the handlebars in place.

Duncan has solved this problem by using shear pins through the steering yoke to lock “Instinct’s” handlebars in place.  As the name suggests the pins will shear when hit with a reasonable force, causing the handlebars to pivot forward and away, thereby saving the rider from a more serious leg injury.  While we’re on the subject of lower legs, Duncan has also made the foot pegs solid and mounted them at bumper bar height as he believes this offers better protection from errant car drivers than the swivel up type, which are more likely to cause the riders lower leg to be squashed in an accident.

Perhaps more than anything Duncan’s design project highlights how almost laughingly obvious some of the solutions are to the inherent problems built into the traditional motorcycle, and just as equally, how conservative motorcyclists are when it comes to accepting new technology.  Ask anyone at Yamaha involved with the GTS 1000.  Even the successful BMW R1100RS incorporates a sliding fork un its single wishbone front-end, not only as a necessary part of the design but also, no doubt, so as not to scare away too many traditionalists.

Will weever see it in production.

Will we ever see it in production?

In Duncan’s case, he has taken a step backwards to go forward by basing his design on a simple, reliable, single cylinder engine, and of course, a tubular steel frame to help package his concepts.  Although “Instinct” is designed to be built in a kit form, it, unfortunately, is beyond Duncan’s means to manufacture and market the design in any realistic numbers.  Let’s just hope there’s a manufacturer out there with enough foresight to prevent such an interesting and practical design becoming more than just another one off special.

Words and photographs Geoff Dawes (c) 1994. Published in Streetbike  April/May 1995.

Archives: Kawasaki Z1 Super 4

The Z1 had a majestic presence

When Honda unveiled the CB750 at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1968, it immediately captured the imagination of the motorcycling public.  It would become the first mass-produced, large capacity, across the frame, O.H.C. four-cylinder motorcycle.  And it also boasted another motorcycling first, a front disc brake.  But just as importantly, it would be affordable for the general public to buy.

The CB750 was a technological tour de force that set a new benchmark for the other manufacturers to match.  When it hit the showroom floor a year later, it set a precedent in large capacity motorcycle design that has lasted to this day.

But if the Honda “four” captured the public’s imagination, then the Kawasaki Z1 super4 stole it.

Conceived in 1967 after intensive research by Japanese-American Sam Tanegashima into the needs of the world’s most important motorcycle market, the United States, Kawasaki set its design parameters for a new large capacity motorcycle.  Its heart was to be a compact D.O.H.C. 750cc four-cylinder engine that placed emphasis on lower exhaust emissions and running noise.  The project had reached wooden mock-up stage by September of 1968 only to be still-born when Honda revealed the similar in concept CB750.  But although this blow initially shelved the project, code-named “New York Steak”, it also proved useful to Kawasaki.  They could now gauge market reaction to the big Honda, and in 1969 another intensive survey of the U.S. was undertaken.

Z1 final mockup courtesy Kawasaki Australia

Later that year the final decision was made.  The small team involved in the project, Mr Inamura and Mr Togashi, (chief engineers for the engine and chassis) and Mr Tada, (chief designer) were told “New York Steak” would go ahead.  But Kawasaki’s re-evaluation had concluded that the engine capacity should be 900cc.  This created a new niche in the large capacity motorcycle market, and Kawasaki would regain the mantle, formerly held by its W series 650cc twin, as the largest capacity motorcycle on offer from Japan.

The real challenge for the engineering and design team, however, was to meet Kawasaki’s ultimatum to have the new bike ready for final testing within 24 months.  Although a lot of groundwork had already been done, with over $800,000 invested in development costs for the 750cc version, the timetable was still a tough one.

In the Japanese spring of 1970 the first prototype hit the demanding Yatabe test course, and in the hands of its American test rider lapped at an incredible average speed of 200kph.  There were problems though, the crankcase breather system let oil out instead of keeping it in, and piston crowns succumbed to the intense heat of combustion.  But the issues were rectified, and rewarded, with one prototype recording 95bhp and a top speed run of 225kph.

Z1 final prototype (curtesy Kawasaki Australia)

Z1 final prototype (courtesy Kawasaki Australia)

In January 1972 pre-productions models were shipped to Los Angeles for testing on public roads.  On a round trip to Daytona in Florida, they covered over 20,000km which included endurance testing on road race circuits.  Apart from some minor chain and tyre problems, they proved the reliability of Kawasaki’s design.  Not content with this, Kawasaki returned to the States three months later for more extensive tests.   The results even surpassed Kawasaki’s own expectations.

It was time to go public, and in June 1972 the worlds motorcycle press were invited to Japan by Kawasaki.  The Z1 super4 was officially announced and opinions of the motorcycle, both good and bad, were eagerly sought – if Kawasaki were to beat Honda at their own game everything had to be right.  By August the production lines were readied, now it was up to the marketing men.

Press release from Mr. Yamada (courtesy Kawasaki Australia)

Press release from Mr Yamada (courtesy Kawasaki Australia)

In September 1972 the Z1 was launched at the Cologne Motor Show while in Japan the production lines started to roll, building a conservative 1500 units per month. The Kawasaki design team held their collective breath while they waited to gauge market reaction to the new model.  There was no need to worry, the Z1 super4 took the show by storm, as it did the other European shows that followed.  By 1975 Kawasaki would be building 5000 units per month.

It was the demands of the tough American market that had fathered the Z1, and something special was in store to underline the muscle-bound roadsters capabilities.  In March 1973 a team of riders, mechanics and officials, arrived at Daytona Motor Speedway.  Their aim, to set new speed and endurance records for a production motorcycle.  Three days later they had established 46 F.I.M. and A.M.A. records including a new 24-hour record for a production motorcycle of 176.412km/h.

Paul Cawthorne on the Bolton's Z1

Paul Cawthorne on the Bolton’s Kawasaki Z1.

Later that year, at its first attempt, the Kawasaki Z1 came second, fourth and fifth in the gruelling Bol d’Or 24 hour endurance race, while in Australia, after an epic solo ride, Kenny Blake won the prestigious Castrol Six-Hour production race.  The opening chapter of a legend had been written.

Z1 Technical File

“You can design the most beautiful motorcycle in the world, but if it doesn’t have the right engine, there’s no way you can make a complete package.  Therefore, in all our bike development, the first consideration is the engine.” – Mr Inamura Chief Engineer Four-Stroke Engines, responsible for the Z1.

In the four years before the launch of the Z1, the Honda CB750 had established itself as the yardstick that other large capacity “sports tourers” were judged by.  But although the contemporary Honda engine set the trend for an across-the-frame four, the technical specification between it and the Z1 was poles apart.

The CB750 boasted a single overhead camshaft with the valves actuated by rocker arms and adjusted by screw and lock nut.  It had a bore and stroke of 61mm x 63mm with two-piece connecting rods that bolted together on a forged one-piece crankshaft which was supported by five plain main bearings.  The primary drive was by dual sprockets and two single row chains, while the engine oil was supplied from a separate oil tank mounted under the frames side cover to a “dry” sump.  It produced a maximum of 67bhp at 8,000rpm and 6.1kg-m of torque at 7,000rpm.

Bullet proof.

Bullet-proof.

The Z1, on the other hand, featured twin overhead camshafts that operated directly onto the valve via a “bucket” which used different thickness metal shims located on the top of it to adjust valve clearance.  It had a “square” bore and stroke of 66mm x 66mm, while the crankshaft was a pressed up five-piece unit that allowed the use of one-piece connecting rods.  The crankshaft was supported by six caged roller main bearings that required only low oil pressure to spin freely.  The lubrication system was by wet sump, while the primary drive used a straight cut gear on the crankshaft web and turned directly on the clutch.  The Z1 produced a whopping 82bhp at 8,500rpm and 7.5kg-m at 7000rpm.  It was also a very compact design – over 7.6cm narrower than the Honda.

Both engines were sound designs and relatively under-stressed, and both responded well to tuning, but it was the D.O.H.C. design of the big Kawasaki that had the edge.  During Kawasaki’s record-breaking blitz at Daytona, a stock Z1 with slightly modified camshafts and cylinder head, different carburettors and a four into one exhaust system, produced 105bhp at 10,500rpm.  French Canadian road racer, Yvonne Du Hamel, used this bike (fitted with full fairing, race seat, clip-ons and slicks) to set a new closed course flying one lap record of 257.9km/h.  Its top speed on the straight was 280km/h!

Factory dynometer readings for the Z1 9courtesy Kawasaki Australia0

Factory dynometer readings for the Z1 (courtesy Kawasaki Australia)

But the outright performance was not the only consideration that had to be made by the engine team.  The tightening pollution regulations in the US, particularly in California, required contemplation.  Mr Inamura and his group took a leaf out of the auto industries book and came up with PCV, Positive Crankcase Ventilation.  This was a means of recirculating “blow-by gasses”, mainly unburnt fuel that passes the piston rings and enters the crankcase.  These gasses can contaminate engine oil and were usually vented by a crankcase breather into the atmosphere.  The PVC valve allowed the gasses to be separated and vented from the crankcase back into the airbox to be re-burned, bringing about a claimed 40% reduction in hydrocarbon emissions.

Another feature of the engine design was hardened valve seats and phosphor bronze valve guides, which allowed the Z1 to run on unleaded fuel.  The valve guides, however, were found to wear rapidly enough for the factory to replace them in later models with iron items.

The Z1 engine quickly became the favourite of performance tuners around the world and established itself as the engine to beat.  From endurance racing to drag racing the Z1 engine proved almost unbreakable.  Perhaps the greatest form of flattery is imitation, a compliment paid by Suzuki when it introduced its first large capacity multi-cylinder four-stroke street bike with the GS range that featured an engine configuration almost identical to the Z1.

MEMORIES OF A ZED

In the early seventies, Australia was in the grip of the worldwide boom in motorcycle sales.  Two-wheeled transport became so popular that car dealers took on motorcycle franchises as a sideline to their passenger car sales.  It was into this buoyant environment that Kawasaki launched its new “super4”, and with their first shot, they hit the bullseye.

Author and his 1973 Z1A.

Author and his 1973 Z1A.

Never had a motorcycle been more anticipated in Australia than the Z1.  The American magazines were full of superlatives about the big new muscle bike before it arrived on Australian shores, and when it did, it received the same kind of acclaim from the local press.  There were some reservations about the big Kawasaki’s handling under duress, but remember, this was the most powerful production motorcycle in the world!  Not only could it cut the standing 400 metres in 12 seconds flat, but it had an amazing (for 1972) top speed of 217km/h.

Bolton’s, the South Australian distributor for Kawasaki, displayed the Z1 in the window of its Greenhill Road showroom with a sign that was in keeping with factory publicity, and boldly stated, “for experienced riders only”.  That sign did little to deter would-be purchasers, if anything, it just underlined the performance of the big Kawasaki.

It should be remembered though, that in 1972 it was not unusual for Japanese motorcycles to have some “interesting” handling traits.  Most Oriental motorcycles were fitted with home brand tyres that quickly qualified for the title “rim protectors” as they were good for little else.  Japanese suspension manufacturers had yet to master the art of effective compression and rebound damping, especially on the new breed of heavy big bore motorcycles coming from the land of the rising sun.

IMG_0006

A superbike superstar.

All of the above though was pretty academic.  It was the outright performance of these new machines that were all important and the engine technology that provided it.  Plus a build quality, finish and reliability that made the minuses much easier to live with. And there was nothing quite like the sound of a Honda CB750 with all four baffles out, that is until the Z1 came along…

The big Kawasaki exasperated problems with the chassis technology of the day, simply because it was heavy (209kg dry) and so powerful.  It should be noted that even the European tyre manufacturers were not prepared for the Z1 and it soon started a race to produce more suitable rubber.  English tyre manufacturer, Avon, was one of the first with their “Roadrunner” range and quickly developed a presence in production racing, which was by then dominated by the Z1.

For the average owner to improve a Z1, it merely meant replacing the standard rubber for a set of Avon’s, trading the original shocks for some Koni’s, plus experimenting with different front fork oil. Fitting an adjustable Kawasaki steering damper also helped.  All the above made an improvement and it was possible to use up more of the Kawasaki’s good ground clearance during a Sunday blast.  But somewhere along the way, the Z1 would always remind you that it was still one big heavy motorcycle.

Kawasaki’s publicity called the Z1 super4 a super sports tourer, and it was ably suited to that role.  With two-up and luggage onboard the bike could eat up the miles effortlessly, with 4500rpm in top equating to 110km/h and returning around 6 litres per 100km fuel consumption.  The Z1 did suffer some shortcomings – the standard handlebars were too high and wide, making the rider a wind sock at speed.  At cruising speeds secondary engine vibration could be felt, although on its own it was not really a problem, but combined with the hard plastic hand-grips, it became hand numbing after a while.  Also, the seat was too narrow at the front and a bit too firm over long distances.

Another gripe was the front disk brake.  It had a high content of the stainless steel, which prevented it from rusting – unfortunately when it rained and the brakes were applied nothing much happened!  A makeshift solution was to drill holes in the disk which helped dissipate the water more quickly.  It was a problem that sent Kawasaki on a search for better brake pad material and is responsible for the superior sintered metal pads we enjoy today.

Twin disk brake was an option.

Twin disk brake was an option.

General maintenance of the big Kawasaki was pretty straightforward and well within reach of the home mechanic.  A relatively inexpensive special tool was required to allow shims to be changed for valve clearance, and a set of vacuum gauges made synchronising the carburettors easier.  Unlike the CB750, Kawasaki had designed the Z1 so the cylinder head and barrels could be removed with the engine still in the frame, in fact, it was only in the rare occurrence of the crankshaft or gearbox needing attention that the engine had to be removed.

Although the Z1 was fitted with the heaviest duty chain available (630), an adjustable automatic chain oiler was fitted to help extend its life.  An oil tank under the left side cover fed a plunger type oil pump that ran off the gearbox output shaft and lubricated the chain from small holes above the gearbox sprocket.  It was fitted to the Z1-Z1A before a lower maintenance Hatta o-ring chain became standard on the Z1B.

The Z1 was a good looking machine, and it was interesting to read the policy notes of Mr Tada, chief designer of the Z1, as they sum up the appeal of the Kawasaki at the time.  They read as follows ” a: a gallant and inspiring leader of Kawasaki’s street line, b: originality in styling, to be different to any other bike on the street (anti-Honda styling), c: a better look and higher quality than those of other competitive machines”.

The Z1 had a majestic presence about it and some good detail design innovations.  The faired automotive type mirrors were a  first, and not only looked good but functioned well.  The bullet-shaped gauges blended well with the overall styling and featured yet another first – a “dashboard” for the warning lights that also incorporated the ignition switch.  Pretty hot stuff in 1972.  Also, the reflectors fitted to the front fork and rear shockers were not just for style – side on visibility of motorcycles at night was of some concern in the United States, so reflectors were a practical response.

The Z1 incorporated a first in having the ignition an "idiot lights" between the gauges.

The Z1 incorporated a first in having the ignition and “idiot lights” between the gauges.

It may be hard to imagine now, with all the Japanese manufacturers offering ballistic big bore models as front-line weapons in the battle for street bike supremacy, but from the Z1 of 1972, through to Z900 of 1976, the Kawasaki reigned supreme as the all-round performance King of production motorcycles.  In 1967 when Japanese-American Sam Tanegashima researched the kind of large capacity motorcycle that Americans would buy, he envisioned a super cruiser, a machine that was equally at home in city traffic, or cruising lazily down country roads, to running flat out on America’s superhighways. A motorcycle that could stand proudly alongside the legendary Vincent HRD of yesteryear.  From those of us that owned a Z1, Sam, you got it right.

Words and photographs Geoff Dawes. (C) 1997. Photograph Viv Dawes (C) 1984. Published April 1998 in Two Wheels