Despite Suzuki’s recent proposed withdrawal from MotoGP at the end of this 2022 season, truth is that the Japanese factory is steeped in premier-class world championship roadracing, and always will be.Even before the storied Kevin Schwantz era in the early 1990s, Suzuki actually reached the pinnacle of the blue-riband 500cc class world championship in the mid-’70s.In those halcyon days, all the racebikes used two-stroke powerplants. The ring-ding of a two-stroke motor and the smell of burning Castrol R oil are incredibly evocative to anyone that witnessed racing from that era.
The power produced by these simple machines was extraordinary, and relatively simply obtained. Because of that relative simplicity, the motorcycles were also very light. Due to the radical tuning necessary to win, the powerbands in those motors were very narrow and very high in the rev range. So, the racebikes of the mid-’70s through to the 2002 start of the current four-stroke MotoGP era had light-switch-like, all-or-nothing power deliveries. There were no electronic aids, so the bikes were extremely hard to ride fast. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of high side crashes.Barry Sheene was a true Suzuki legend. Born in central London in 1950, Barry’s father Frank was a racebike tuner. When Barry tried his hand at racing, he proved to be a natural. He became a proper household name in England. If you were pulled over for speeding in those days on a motorcycle, the cop was more than likely to ask, “Who do you think you are then? Barry Sheene?”An infamous 178 mph get-off on the high bank at Daytona in 1975 almost saw Sheene killed. Yet, despite career-threatening injuries, he was back racing again at Cadwell Park some six weeks later.The following year, Suzuki came up with a genuinely radical concept that up-ended the dominance of the Yamaha inline-four in the 500 class—the square-four Suzuki RG500. The all-new Suzuki had amazing power with a nice, tractable delivery. It also handled superbly and, in the hands of Sheene, it ran away with the World Championship.Not satisfied with complete dominance, Sheene followed it up in 1977 with the same result. Sadly, for Suzuki and Sheene fans, 1978 saw the appearance of Kenny Roberts on the 500cc World Championship scene riding for Yamaha. Indeed, King Kenny took the next three titles on a Yamaha YZR500, although not without some serious fighting with Sheene on his Suzuki RG500.Sheene’s career finally drew to a close in 1984, and he passed away from throat cancer in 2003 at the too-young age of 52. Nevertheless, the legend of Barry Sheene and the Suzuki RG500 lives on.To its credit, Suzuki has restored several of the Sheene-era RG500s to working order by Suzuki’s Vintage Parts Programme. The racebikes will be displayed at the 2022 Suzuki Live event, which will take place on June 10 at Cadwell Park Circuit in Lincolnshire, England, 125 miles due north of London, near the North Sea coast.Barry Sheene’s son Freddie and Suzuki racing legend Stuart Graham will lead the Barry Sheene tribute laps riding the five iconic Sheene Grand Prix racing motorcycles at 2022 Suzuki Live. They aren’t all 500s. The Suzuki RT67 raced in the 125cc world championship by Stuart Graham in 1967, before being bought by Sheene in 1970 and raced in Grand Prix in 1971, will also run.Freddie Sheene will ride the last Suzuki Grand Prix motorcycle raced by his father—the famous DAF Trucks liveried 1984 XR45. The parade will be completed by the 1976 and 1977 world championship-winning Heron Suzuki RG500s, plus a big-bore RG500 that Sheene raced in the Transatlantic Trophy series each year.If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself at Cadwell Park on June 10 at the 2022 Suzuki Live event, not only will you be able to witness the aforementioned spectacular parade lap, but you will also be able to participate in track sessions for bikes of all ages, test rides of new Suzuki models, chat with special guests, and check out the classic bike displays.Celebrity special guests will include three-time British Superbike champion John Reynolds and Sylvain Guintoli, who has World Superbike and World Endurance championship titles to his credit, as well as being a Suzuki MotoGP test rider. Danny Webb will be out on the RG500 he campaigned at the Classic TT for Team Classic Suzuki on the Isle of Man.Suzuki’s new GSX-S1000GT, GSX-S1000, and third-generation Hayabusa will be available to test ride on the day on the splendid roads surrounding Cadwell Park. You’ll need a valid license, and a DVLA check code or National Insurance number to get in the saddle.Classic bikes on display include a 1985 GSX-R750F, a 1991 GSX-R1100L, the TL1000s built in 2014 by the Vintage Parts Programme, and the Team Classic Suzuki Katana endurance racer.There are 111 track day spaces available on the day, costing £135 per person. There will be three on-track group levels based on experience and equipment. Access is free to those wishing to watch the action and the parades, or take a test ride.Sadly, Ultimate Motorcycling will not be attending this cool event—but we wish we could be there!
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!