Showing posts with label MotoGP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MotoGP. Show all posts

Honda RC166

Honda RC166 1960s Japanese MotoGP bike

6-cylinder bikes - like the Honda RC166 - are a rarity on the road. Even more so at the racetrack. Motorcycles are suckers for straight lines. To the motorbike mindset, corners are burdensome things - involving the manipulation of mass. And, the more mass there is, the less keen on cornering the bike becomes. More cylinders mean more mass - which means more meandering through the twisty bits. Well, according to the standard laws of physics, that is. The Honda RC166, however, obviously did not do things by the book. Having half a dozen cylinders strapped across its frame did not seem to bother it one jot. Numerous race wins - and world championships - were testament to that.

The writing was on the wall back in '59. That was the year in which the Japanese first took part in the Isle of Man TT road races. As it turned out, that season brought Honda only modest success. Subsequent visits to the island, though, saw them decimate all-comers. The Sixties were a heyday for Honda. In '66, Mike Hailwood won 10 out of 12 GPs - on the 250 RC166. On top of that, he took the 350 title - on a bored-out 297cc bike. The following year - in '67 - he did the same again!

As befitted a bike with a 'six-pack', the RC166 was enviably slim. Its fuel-tank was vintage-style slender. It had clearly been designed with 'flickability' in mind. A dry weight of just 264lb was perfectly aligned with that. As well as its petite proportions, the RC166 brought raw power to the table. 24 small valves - 4 per cylinder, by my maths - spun up 18,000rpm. 60bhp was the much-cherished result. Certainly - combined with its skinny physique - it was more than enough to get the job done. Throw a rider like Mike Hailwood into the mix, and it was a cinch. To the racing cognoscenti, the bike's exhaust note was a six-cylinder symphony, no less. For many fans, old school shots of 'Mike the Bike' Hailwood on an RC166 are as good as it gets. Hurrah for Honda and its high-speed six-pot ... bike racing had moved up a gear!

MV Agusta 500 Four

MV Agusta 500 Four 1970s MotoGP bike

Atop a monument to motorcycle racing might well sit MV Agusta - and their 500 Four. MV is a mythical marque in the annals of the sport. Between '58 and '74, for example, MV won no less than seventeen 500cc world championships. On the spin!

Over the years, MV Agusta's rider roster featured some of the most famous names in bike racing. Among them, Agostini, Surtees, Hailwood, Read. It all began at the back end of the Second World War. Count Domenico Agusta founded Meccanica Verghera - Verghera being the Italian village in which his new firm was based. MV would go on to become the ultimate in red-blooded racing style.

Another great marque, though, was key to MV's success. Their chief engineer/manager Arturo Magni had previously been at Gilera. What he learned there was key to him later creating a twin-cam 500cc four-cylinder motor. That engine would be the bedrock upon which MV was built. The bike racing world will always be in awe of MV Agusta. They excelled so much - and for so long - in such a hostile environment. The 500 Four - both bike and engine - was an integral part of the MV legend!

Mondial 250 GP

Mondial 250 GP 1950s MotoGP bike

The Mondial 250 GP was a unique piece of performance kit. Motorcycle manufacturer FB Mondial was run on a shoestring, compared with some of its more mainstream rivals. They included MV Agusta and Ducati. But it had entrepreneurial spirit by the bucketload. Bespoke to the core, its products were masterpieces of creative engineering. Founded in '29 - by five Boselli brothers - Mondial Moto was based in Lombardy, Italy. Bike racing was in its blood!

Though small, the Mondial race team was a serious player. After all, the great Mike Hailwood successfully campaigned Mondial 250s - in '59 and '60. A decade or so before that, Mondial machines won the first three 125cc World Championships. The opener was in '49. In '57, Mondial won both 125 and 250cc GP series. So, no slouches, for a relatively underfunded équipe!

Such motorsport feats, of course, do not come cheap. Ultimately, Mondial were unable to sell enough roadsters to foot the competition bill. Sadly, therefore, they were forced to retire early from racing. Mondial, as was, ceased trading in '79. Since then, they have enjoyed something of a renaissance - and, indeed, are back in business at this point. And their classic bikes - resplendent in silver and blue livery - still circulate around racetracks. After all, the Mondial 250 GP harks back to a time when beauty was built to last!

Honda NSR 500

Honda NSR 500 1980s MotoGP bike

Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner. Four of the finest riders ever to have straddled a race bike. And they all grappled with the Honda NSR 500, at some point. I say 'grappled with', because the NSR was never the best-handling bike out there. Its one-of-a-kind V4 engine, though, more than made up for any deficiencies through the twisty bits. Numerous race wins - and indeed, world championships - are the strongest testament to that.

So, the NSR's staggering straight-line speed was never in doubt. Shinichi Itoh - aboard an NSR 500 - was the first rider to top 200mph. That was at Hockenheim, in '93. Itoh had a neck-wrenching 185bhp at his disposal that day. The NSR's performance stats were eclipsed only by its success rate. By the time Valentino Rossi signed off the GP 2-stroke era - on an NSR, in 2001 - it had won 10 'blue riband' titles in 18 years. Mick Doohan took five of them - on the spin! Back in '85, 'Fast Freddie' Spencer had won the 500 and 250cc World Championships ... both on Honda NSRs!

Visually, too, the 'Rothmans' Honda impressed. While tobacco sponsorship has fallen from favour, there is no denying it inspired some superb paint-jobs. The NSR's was among the most lustrous. A satisfying blend of hues and graphics, so to speak! A true legend of the race-track, then, the NSR 500 has to be one of the most iconic bikes the 'Honda Racing Corporation' has ever created!

Britten V1000

Britten V1000 1990s MotoGP bike

At top velocity, the Britten V1000 was a glorious sight. Race bikes are not normally considered style classics. As the name suggests, they are built to win races - not design awards!

The Britten, though, was an exception to that rule. Pop Art on wheels, its sleek curves were dual-purpose. Visually stunning, they were aerodynamic, too. Proof of that was the V1000's top speed - a cool 185mph.

The Britten's technical virtuosity went beyond aerodynamics. Its fuel-injected engine was highly innovative. Take, for example, its computerised management system. Heady stuff, in '95. All this racing research and development was by New Zealander John Britten - and his small team of mechanical engineers. Tragically, Britten lost his battle with cancer at the age of just 45. Bike racing will never know what further visions - and composite materials - he would have dreamed up. The Britten V1000, at least, stands as testament to his avant-garde skills.