Greatest motorcyclists of all time? You could ask that question to a dozen people and get a confusing array of results. Some would answer, perhaps remembering what their own father had said out loud, marvelling as he watched a race on the curved black and white T.V. screen in the early and mid-sixties, “That “Ago” sure can ride a bike” “Ago” of course referring to the omnipotent Italian super ace Giacomo Agostini, the Italian stallion who could ride almost faultlessly. He had notable success too, all in all 122 Grand Prix first places to his credit, an unbeaten record, achieved with a mixture of pure innate riding talent, choice of the best machinery available and an out and out desire never to lose, like all competitors anything other than first place, was coming last, an unacceptable option for those whose glory and fame was always enhanced by standing on the first place podium, holding up the magnificent trophy whilst being squirted with liquid gold champagne. Like many riders before and after him, his “rides”, the fully faired motorcycles were usually the result of the latest engine and frame technology.
The constructors were equally as determined to have an audience of potential bike owners purchase their brand. Suzuki, Kawasaki, Triumph, Honda, Ducati, Mv Agusta, Laverda, Norton, they all took the sport very seriously, but each taking a back stage to each other especially if one was to make a breakthrough in the endless search for more horsepower. Suzuki made such a leap in the 1970’s with their RG500, an incredible machine in the 500cc class. When combined with the unique skill set of Barry Sheene they were something to behold. Widely considered to be one of the best of his generation, Sheene not only rode to many victories but his flamboyant style, articulate and numerous assessments in post-race press junkets helped him to add to his ever-growing fan base. Fame and glory though came at a high price. Sheene was to break numerous bones during his charismatic career, in one race he crashed at 175 miles an hour, despite a very long list of fractures and other injuries he was to continue racing after a rapid recovery, which some considered miraculous. A giant in the annuls of motor racing, Sheene died a premature death at the age of 52 from throat cancer. The number seven as attached to his racing machines was to become synonymous with the man.
Talking of numbers what about 46? These well recognized numerals belong, without reservation to the renowned Italian two wheeled virtuoso of Valentino Rossi who, without a doubt has come to represent to ultimate as the fastest man on two wheels. Since his earliest days as a very young rider Rossi has become the ultimate racing hybrid. Part man, part machine, a perfect ratio of lightning quick responses, the ability to see and drive the racing line, the nerve to break at the last possible nano second and the audacity to twist open the throttle in just the right amount and right time to rocket to the finish line. Combine that with Yamaha’s cross plane crankshaft layout and computer aided fuel metering and you have a recipe for world beating performance.
Does this fusion of man and machine in any way detract from the visual spectacle? Many would dispute that, this is after all a spectator sport, technically you’re not involved, yet to watch someone with such daring and elegance weave his way through the contenders and not be involved, is impossible, you’re body leans into corners with him, you hang your leg out as you watch him compensate going into a turn, you marvel at the lean angle and still wonder how he keeps the machine in a viable stance when both tires are only in contact with the road surface the area of a credit card on each wheel, what trust, in the machine, in your team and in yourself.