Cycle News - Archive Issues - 1990's

Cycle News 1996 03 27

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 62 of 63

IN THE PADDOCK .By Michael Scott t may co me as a surprise to suggest that Honda's latest grand prix bike is just an updated Manx Norton, but the pretty, littl e, lightweight tw o-stroke has more in common with th e cabby British thumper th an the es tablished SODcc grid. Brother s under th e sk in. This ha s littl e to d o wi th engineering and everything to d o wi th int ention. The good o ld d ays a re ba ck, no m istake: Edgar Jessop would be lining u p wi th his money . Nortons and th e o ther works-b ike clon es of th e '50s we re series-prod uced, sold by th e h undred s, an d formed th e backb one of GP raci ng for many years (slippin g almost immediately into th e role of backbon e of clas sic raci ng) . Th ey wer e sta ndard eq ui pment for the very tal ented an d th e m er el y en th u s iastic alike . You could buy s pare p arts fo r them th rough m ain dealer s, and as ofte n as not ge t th em serviced and tuned up there as welL H ond a ' s N SR 500 V is m ean t to b e mu ch the sa me - even to target production number s . HRC m ean s not o nly to pr ovide the bulk of th e 500cc field, but to re- establish th e GP two-stroke 500 class at national and continental ch ampionship level in places w he re SODs ha ve n ousted by Su perbike or other street ike classes. Norm ally, a GP bik e firs t ap pears in ublic as so methi ng of a ro ug h prot ope. Fini sh is less important th an ge tting it finis hed. Bits are lopped off her e nd add ed th ere; abu n dan t tie -wra ps ope with tr ail s of w ir ing . Beautifully one, bu t it takes a year or tw o before a in e of d evel opment settles d own to chieve that all-of-a- piece look so exernli fied by the tidy han d le ba r le vers, witches and covers o n Doohan's NSR. Ease of se rv icing d oesn 't come until uch later. As when H onda was search' n g for a fo r m u la that mov ed them oward the current generation of big Vours. The single-cra nk NSR motor came I in '84 in th e notorious " u pside-down" bike, ca rrying fuel in its belly pan an d looping four expansion chambers over th e top, under a flims y cover. The overh e ated rid er la y up on thi s on th e straights; m ech anics changing sparking plugs had to reach in bene ath the pipes. Even wi th asbes tos gloves they sti ll got burned every time. The NSRSO coul d hardly be mo re OV d ifferen t. Ease of servicing, ra tionalizatio n of spare parts and controlled running costs we re pl anned on the drawing board - H onda recko ns th at th e bik e will need one less mech anic th an a V-fou r. M anx Norton not w ithstandin g, this is the m ost ratio nal and p rodu cti oni zed r acin g bi ke eve r, created rather th a n evolved . We were surpr ised and impressed by all th is w he n th e bi ke was ann ou nced las t year. How much m ore so w he n the d a n g th in g, ri d den by the s toli d Tadayuki Okad a, ou tpaced Doohan ' s NSR at th e first joint IRTA tests at Shah A la m . Lau gh in g Bo y also s ma s hed Kocinski's lap record into th e bargain so methi ng non e of the V-fours has been able to m an age in four years. Cl early HRC had d on e their po w er-to- w eight su ms ri ght, as we ll as e nsu ri ng the spare-part packs would stack ne atl y for sto rage. Th e twin wen t well a month or so later in Australia also, wi th Okada be at en only by Doohan and Beattie; m eanwhile th e Jerez test (adm itte dly with the t w o A us t ralians a bsen t) saw Doz z a Romboni' s Aprili a twin likewise beat the Yamaha V-fours. Cynics point ou t th at the H onda has excelled only at one slow track; and the qu esti on abo ut the V-twins and V-fou rs remains so far u nanswered - su re, th e lightweights can put up a good lap tim e, bu t can th ey remain fast in close comba t with the V-fours? Anywhere with a reasonably long straight clearly hands th e advan tage to the bi g b ikes; explo si ve acceleration out of the preceding comer and a higher top end all th e w ay along mean th ey sho uld sim ply outru n th e littl e fellers, then get in to a p osition to bl ock their smoo ther, faster cornering lines. The battle opened in Malaysia, the Vtwins' best sh ot. Or is it ? Although th e tr ack is ti ght, th e m ain passing m o ve comes at th e end of th e lon g straigh t. O r there is a do-or-die last chan ce of stuffing it insi de so meone at th e fina l hairpi n . O n b a lance, b attl e adv antage sho ul d lie with a well-rid de n V-four. A sterner test w ill come in race three, a t Su zuk a a t the e n d of A p ril. This unique circui t of pred ominat ely m iddles peed co rners sho u ld suit the ligh tweights we ll. Th e b ack straight is fairly lo n g, bu t is a p p roa che d v ia a lo op where it is no toriou sly hard for a V-fou r to get the power on ea rly, es pecially in the we t. Th e loop is also interrupted by a very fas t left kink . There remai ns only the chicane , w he re a lightw eight bi ke can make very fast p rogress in a last-l ap scramble to th e line. But the new bike d oesn 't have to w in a nyth in g to p ro ve a p oint . Okad a is capab le bu t not brilli ant, a nd if h e is merely up among th e V-fours th at wi ll be enough. Imagine w ha t th e bike might not do in the hands of a Capirossi , Biaggi , Harada or (p e rish the t ho ug h t) Doohan . It w ould certainly be fu n if Mick d id jump onto a twin for the occasional race on suitable circuits, but it is loo kin g increasingly less like ly as the season a p p roach es . Li ke m ost riders w ho h ave a lready found a successful co m bi natio n, Mi ck ' s h ardl y eager to switch. Ind eed, his response to being beaten in Ma lays ia was a typically forth rig h t blast of hostility . If th e twins take over, he ass erte d, racing w ould lose th e tailslidi ng thrills of the cu rrent V-fours and be ruined. It would be (that w ord aga in) bo rin g. This poin t is arguabl e . Any se r ie s on closely m a tched and relativ el y easy- to-ri de m otorcycles tends to be thrillingly close. As wi th the 125s and 250s, not to mention Thunderbi kes. And Wo rld Superbikes . Yet anyone w ho d oes remember th e era of the Manx Nort ons can hardly for get th e s tu pefying effect of a fie ld of identical-lookin g, id entical-so und in g bangers d roning ar ound ad infi ni tum. It may be easier to loo k after a Manx, but the bikes th at are remembered fro m th at time are the handful of multis, fro m the likes of Mo to Guz zi, MV Agusta a nd Bene lli. As the year develops, I ex pect the Vfours will put u p a spirited resistance . Their performance h as been stagnant since the weight limit was increased in 1992, but th er e has been plenty of work going on, in th e form of a few wrong turns in to ov er-stiff chas sis ex perime nts fro m all th ree Japanese manufacturers. The current thrust of development is toward ever more so phisticated control of chassis flex, to regain h armon y with th e ti res and suspension an d take th e next step forward in harnessing more of those h uge h orsepow er n umbers m o re of th e time. If th is is su ccessful, th e V-twins may find th at th ey h ave me re ly ca ught up w ith th e cu rrent gen eration of bikes just before they've moved on. Th en aga in, is it HR C' s in te nti o n to challenge th e V- fo urs? Th e real aim of th e exercise is to se ll sufficient number s of a ne w m odel to m ake a decen t pro fi t - a no t her simila rity w it h th e Manx Norto n . Afte r all, th e firm m ay h a ve b e en swa m ped b y Ja pa n In c., but th ey were certainly ca nny eno ug h to keep their d om in ant wo rks bikes o ne s te p ah ead of th e p r odu ct i on m odel s. C~ .LOOKING BACK. II 5YEARS AGO.•. PRIL 6,1971 n an y Sunda y a qu art er en tury ag o yo u igh t exp ect to J.N. Roberts .. in n ing a esert race, and w h at I&.~!ii!!i;; h at ' s app en ed at ',;;~ '>'" he Vic to rs .~-Ji..i.}" are a nd ~~ ;.. ou nd in Lu cerne Valley, ali fornia . Bruce Brown and h is fil m rew shot some footage to enhance th eir pcoming m otorcycle flick.. . Cal Ra yam was the first to fini sh in a 3.5-mil e exhib ition race in Ontario, California, ollowed by Ralph White and Kel Carthers, Other star parti cipan ts included ene Romero, D ave Aldana, Don Casro ... Motocross ers in Lawrence, Kansas, eren' t goi ng to let a little thing lik e a Iindin g sn o w s to r m s to p th em . Ron edell rod e fu ll -thro ttle th ro u gh th e urns, p roducing spec tacular roosts of he w hi te stuff on his way to the 250cclass win. . Q 5YEAR SAGO... P IL1, 1981 R ictu red ridi ng through th e trees n e a r Tul s a, Okl ah om a , Frank Stacy was the overall w inner a t P round one of the 1H'I'l~~IIM~'!"!'o=~ AMA Two-Day Qualifier Series . Jeff Fredette w as seco n d, while Larry Roeseler was third overa ll a nd fi rs t in the 5 0 0cc class ... Brent Wallingsford was le ad in g th e SC O RE Mexicali 250 w hen his rear tire went flat 12 miles fro m the finish. H e kept going a nd th e tire eventually came a part, ca u sing th e b ik e to crash and destroy th e wheel. Wallingsford pushed th e wreck half a mi le to claim se co n d ... Ron T i ch en or a n d Co lin Ed wa rd s II showed early promise at the GNC International Finals in the Houston Astrod ome . Ti ch en or w on in th e 50c c clas s, while J:T"""'~_ Ed w a rd s top pe d iT:-.-.,..,._..1 th e "Te e n v Min i" division. . Prairi e Ci ty OHV Park during round tw o o f th e N ati on al Ch ampi on ship 125 /250cc Mot ocross Seri es, but p rivateers Doug Henry and John Dowd had no com p laints . Henry became th e firstever p riva tee r t o win in th e 125cc Nationa ls, w hile Dowd to ppe d th e 250cc class... Jeff Russell was the overall wi nner at th e Great Piney Woods Na tional Enduro. On e se ctio n of the r out e through Kisat chi e Natio na l Forest in Loui siana featured fera l d ogs sna p ping at riders' heels... Damon Huffman and Donald Upton trad ed 125cc You th mot o wins in round eight of th e National Cha mp ionship A mateur Supercross Series in Ari zona's Sun Devil Sta dium. Upton too k the overall . .~ 5YEARS AGO... APRIL 3, 1991 M any factor v rid e rs g ripe d about th e floode d co urse a t _ _ C a l ifo rnia 's = Desert racer Dick Vlck flies his Triumph through the California sand. Photo from the Cycle News archives .

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