Sheene and the Suzuki RG500

Certain bike-and-rider combinations seem made for each other, to the point where it’s hard to mention one without thinking of the other. Carl Fogarty and the Ducati 916; Mick Doohan and the Honda NSR500; Valentino Rossi and the Yamaha M1.

Although he also rode Yamahas for several years at Grand Prix level, Barry Sheene will always be thought of as a Suzuki man.

And that’s because he not only developed the firm’s seminal RG500, he also won 18 races and two world titles on it and paved the way for the bike to become one of the most successful 500cc GP racing motorcycles of all time.

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Just look at the crowd at the 1976 Race of the Year at Mallory Park. Having won the race the previous two years, on this occasion Barry had to give best to American Steve Baker. It wasn’t the RG500 but the TR was still on song and Barry was really into his stride in making motorcycles fast.

“It was a frightening machine at the time. Along the mile-and-a-half main straight on the test track, the bike would stand up on its back wheel all of the time as it sailed over the gentle rises in fifth gear. Put it into sixth gear and it would rear up again and veer from side to side. It was a real beast that was almost impossible to ride in that state.”

Barry Sheene had travelled to Japan inearly 1974 to be shown Suzuki’s latest prototype Grand Prix racer. It was a 497.7cc water-cooled, square-four, two-stroke with rotary-valve induction that would soon become known to the world as the RG500.

It wasn’t a revolutionary machine; it was based on Suzuki’s 250cc RZ63 square-four of the mid-1960s, but it was powerful and, in 1974, power was everything, as Sheene’s former Suzuki team-mate, Steve Parrish explains: “In those days you weren’t looking for much else other than horsepower.

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As far as chassis stiffness was concerned, anything did the job, because you had no grip and no brakes. So all you needed from a chassis was something to hold the engine, forks and swingarm in place. Horsepower was everything.”

Read more and view more images in the March/April 2019 issue of CR – on sale now!

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