The video we posted a few days ago of Kenny Roberts at the Indy Mile earlier this year aboard the legendary TZ750 two-stroke flat-tracker brought back quite a few memories. The video is simply amazing, of course, when you think about Roberts’ age (late 50s), the violence of that two-stroke machine he was aboard, and the way he rode it virtually flat-out.
Several years ago, I saw American motocross legend Jeff Ward show up for his first supermoto race aboard a borrowed bike. Wardy had been retired for several years from motorcycle racing, but wanted to give supermoto a try. He was my hero when he was younger, and I always wondered how he would fare against the modern talent. Were the new guys really better? They weren’t. Ward proceeded to win the race (defeating the likes of the much younger Jeremy McGrath in the process), and went on to win several Supermoto championships . . . riding well into his 40s.
Ward answered my question. He was every bit the equal of the current off-road motorcycle stars, if not superior. Competition was keen when Ward rode, and, arguably, the riders had more passion and guts (there was relatively little money at stake back then).
The Kenny Roberts’ video made me think about Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. In the late 70s and early 80s, these two dominated road racing and battled each other with a fiercensss rarely seen in any sport. Did they have the skill to compete with the current crop of superstar riders? If you have any doubts at all, take another look at the video of Kenny Roberts aboard that TZ750. These guys were incredibly talented, fast, and . . . well, I’ll just go ahead and say it, they had balls the size of a house. They made pretty decent money in their prime, but they were raised in an era where motorcycle racing required a boat-load of passion, because there was not much promise for fame and fortune.
In that video of Roberts, you can see why he was the man to see when you wanted to learn how to slide a motorbike. Alex Criville, and other Europeans, sought out Roberts when winning on a 500 required spinning up the rear tire. No one was more comfortable sideways than Kenny Roberts.
So here’s to Kenny Roberts, the late Barry Sheene and the other greats from the past. With young healthy bodies, and modern equipment, you can bet these guys would give fits to Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and company. They wouldn’t be complaining about their bike set-up, either. Ride as hard as you can and find a way to win . . . that’s all they knew.
MD Readers Respond:
- Interesting article Dirck. As Roberts said after the ride at Indy this year the big difference was the tires now.
I was at Indy in 1975. King Kenny was not the only guy on a dirt track framed 2 stroke. If memory serves me correctly Don Castro and Scott Brelford were on Kawasaki H2 motors, Canadian Steve Baker was on a TZ just like Roberts and there were others too. But that day Roberts was the only one who was getting the most out of the setup. Even so from the pits and inside of the track you could see he was spinning the tire all the way down the straightaway. I’d seen many Goodyears shagged after a National but never like his was. I still am amazed it didn’t blow. It was truly a race I’ll never forget. Les
- Your note on Kenny and Barry brought back a singular memory of attending the British Grand Prix (cars) in 1978. I had cajoled a pit pass from BP, and linked up with a Peruvian racer, Jorge Koechlin von Stein (no, it doesn’t sound Peruvian) whom I had known when I had worked in London, and raced a bit, earlier in the decade. The first person we ran into in the Formula 1 paddock was Barry Sheene, who knew Jorge (as did everyone). We ended up hanging out with Barry all day, and a lovelier man I have never met; he was treated like a god by everyone, including Mick Jagger, and yet he was just a guy named Barry, one of the lads, out for a day of fun watching the races. I had seen film of his Daytona crash (1975, I think),, and yes, his courage units were as big as a house, and they clanked, to boot. Thanks for helping me recall that wonderful day. Michael
- Hear! Hear! I wholeheartedly agree! I grew up watching Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Barry Sheene and the like battle it out on wicked fast bikes with no traction control other than their wrist. I also loved watching F1 car racing where they would control 1300bhp cars, 1 handed while shifting with the other hand trying to squeeze out that last 1/100th of a second. No paddle shifters, no traction control, just pure skill. Granted, the current crop of superstars have more talent than most mere mortals could wish for but how much do they rely on modern technology? I sometimes wish they would revert back to bikes and cars that don’t have all the technology for technologies sake and let the rider and drivers talent shine thru. Mark
- Very well said in your article. Keep up the great work on your web site, and my condolences again for your recent loss. Mark