Monday, October 09, 2006
As we approach the next paradigm shift in GP racing, a look back seems appropriate
My first lasting mental impression of bigtime motorcycle roadracing harkens from the summer of 1979 when I took a trip to see family on the Gulf Coast of Texas. On a balmy, lazy afternoon of that visit, as I rummaged through a pile of old periodicals in my uncle's ham radio room, I happened upon one of the popular motorcycle magazines of the day. I can't remember if it was Motorcycle or Bike or what, but I do remember that within its pages was the first place I ever saw a fully faired, race-ready GP bike: Kenny Roberts' bright yellow Yamaha YZR500.
The bike looked like some sort of alien spacecraft to my young eyes, seeming so imposing and fantastic as to possibly have it's own sentience. I imagined that it might even be able to fly like a jet had its rider required it to do so. I brought that magazine home to West Texas a few days later and showed it to my friends. We all agreed, in our highly developed 8 year-old wisdom, that nothing on wheels would ever be able to surpass its speed.
Some 27 years later, technology has proven that gaggle of wide-eyed youngsters quite wrong. Over the past three decades, GP engineering reached the pinnacle of two-stroke design, eventually abandoning its violent power delivery and oily fuel mixtures for four-stroke powerplants that, despite their critics, soon surpassed anything previously raced. In recent years, the faster the bikes went, the more the sanctioning bodies tried to slow them down through redesigns and displacement reductions. So far it hasn't worked. GP bikes are quicker than ever, and next year's bikes -- even with their smaller 800cc engines -- will likely show once again that you can't keep a good engineer down. The initial test results reported by Honda alone seem to bolster that prediction. It is on historical cusps such as these that I most enjoy looking back on the history of GP racing through young memories and wonder how we might view the current era of racing in the distant future. Time will tell.
I kept that magazine within my immediate reach for the rest of the summer and into the fall of 1979. That school year -- its pages by then tattered and worn -- my sacred tome of treasured two-wheeled images was stolen from my homeroom desk, never to be seen again. I was very angry at the time, but I think the frustration of having it taken away is one of the reasons I have never forgotten about it. Nor did I lose the amped-up fascination it supplied, which undoubtedly helped fuel my passion for motorcycles as an adult. That, dear friends, is a true blessing.
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