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In 2001, Mark Gardiner gave up his career in advertising, and confused to the Isle of Man to alive out his adolescence dream of antagonism in the TT. After abiding to the U.S., he wrote a account of that experience, Riding Man, which is now in development as a affection film. His column, Backmarker, looks at aggregate from the motorcycle industry as a able to acutely claimed ‘inside stories.’



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The aboriginal chase of the 2015 Grand National Championship is beneath than two months away. Collapsed clue admirers wonder, how continued will it be afore a non-Harley addition wins the championship (again)? Aftermost season, Bryan Smith and his Kawasaki were in the alive until the aftermost banderole fell, but over the advance of the division Jared Mees and his Harley-Davidson were a little bit better.



Kawasaki and Ducati – and to a bottom admeasurement Suzuki, KTM, and Triumph – are advancing on strong. I’ve got aerial hopes for the new Yamaha MT Twin, too. But, 2015 will be the 21st after year in which the cardinal one plate’s been added to an XR750. Moral: It ain’t accessible to displace the admirable XR750, abnormally if you’re starting with a artery bike motor. Aback in the ‘80s, alike bang-up Honda approved and failed.

As Tolstoy said, “All blessed families are the same, but every black ancestors is black in its own way.” With that in mind, belief of abortion can be added absorbing than belief of success.



Herewith, the account of the Honda NS750 collapsed tracker…

Best of Honda’s atomic sales advance in the U.S. market, through the ’60s and ’70s, was able after a concerted or absolute AMA antagonism program. There were abrupt periods of official interest, but somehow American Honda seemed allowed to the antagonism bug, at atomic by allegory to the U.K. and European subsidiaries, and RSC (Racing Services Corporation, the antecedent to today’s HRC) aback in Japan.

But by the backward ‘70s, American Honda had to accept that a Grand National Championship would be a business boon. That meant architecture a aggressive collapsed tracker. Harley-Davidson had formed the bugs out of the XR750 over the antecedent decade, and apparent that V-Twin ability was the way to go.

It was accessible to antecedent a accurate anatomy from one of the indie anatomy shops, like C&J. That all fabricated sense. What didn’t accomplish any faculty at all was anyone at Honda attractive at their CX500 and saying, “We’ve already got a V-Twin, let’s chase it.”

Yes, they absolutely absitively to chase an underpowered, shaft-drive, transverse-V driver bike – a archetypal London motorcycle couriers alleged ‘the Plastic Maggot’ – in AMA Grand Nationals.

It was a bit like Motorcycle USA signing me up to action in the UFC. Of advance to accept any adventitious of actuality competitive, they had to bite it out to the 750cc displacement limit. That was a bit like putting me on a abundant dosage of steroids; it sounds kinda’ fun but there were apprenticed be complications.

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According to AMA homologation rules, Honda had to body genitalia for 25 motors, but alone bristles or six Honda NS750s were anytime assembled. Privateers hardly clamored for them, aback it wasn’t a acceptable bike.

The accustomed acumen has continued been that the NS was a flop, and that Honda’s riders had their asses handed to them by guys on Harley-Davidson’s XR750; the one barring was Scott Pearson’s win on the Louisville half-mile.

A few years ago, I approved out Jerry Griffith, who chopped and angry that CX500 motor to actualize the actual aboriginal NS750 prototype. Jerry was the hub of all of Honda’s branch efforts in Grand National collapsed track. He did aggregate from architecture motors to managing teams. He conceived the NS, and afresh assertive Honda to body the RS – which was a winner. After talking to him, I accomplished that the NS’ acceptability as a also-ran was an oversimplification…

Already again, a archetypal American antagonism adventure goes aback to Kenny Roberts. The King and Jerry were ally in a motorcycle anatomy business. Aloof afore Kenny went to Europe, they congenital a little TZ250 collapsed tracker for Kenny to ride in Houston. After Kenny left, Jerry let Jeff Haney ride it at Ascot, and he started acceptable on it and aloof kept winning. He won every chase that year.

Despite Haney’s absorbing season, Yamaha didn’t appetite annihilation to do with them the abutting year, so they got an XR500 Honda clay bike motor through Dave Bird – he was a banker and alive in collapsed track, architecture and affairs genitalia like exhausts.

Well, why don’t I aloof let Jerry aces up the adventure from there…

“The anatomy was aloof a one-off anatomy I congenital for Jeff, with that 500 Single motor. Jeff raced that in the Junior chic at Ascot, adjoin Harleys and everything. And he won every chase he entered. So Honda started allowance us. It was amid us or Mickey Fay. He’d won Houston on a Honda, but we got advantageous and they best us. Honda additionally sponsored a appropriate chase for Singles, and either Jeff or Mickey won every one of those. I’m activity to say that was ’78 or ’79.

“Dennis McKay, Honda’s chase bang-up at the time, was absolutely a clay clue fan, and he was absent to get Honda into clay track. We knew we couldn’t attempt with the Harleys if we alone had that Single, but Honda didn’t accept a 750 Twin; they alone had Fours. So that [the CX500] was all we had to assignment with, it was a apologetic deal. He gave me a CX500 motor. We angry it about alongside and grafted a sprocket on it.

“We couldn’t about-face the heads, so the guy’s leg had to go amid the carburetors. It wasn’t absolute comfortable. Initially we didn’t change the displacement. Honda was already authoritative a turbocharged 600cc version, but they didn’t accept one of those to accord us. We anticipation that if we could at atomic get the 600, we’d get a little closer. The 500 had no power, it was at atomic 10 mph bottomward on top speed; it absolutely wasn’t aggressive at all.

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“Mr. Irimajiri [the allegorical HRC architect who created the oval-piston NR500–MG] came to the San Jose Mile, in ’79 or ’80, and watched it run; he absolutely admired it and got his account taken sitting on it. The aboriginal affair you apperceive he built – well, we got assassin by them—and he congenital bristles or ten of those engines. [By ‘those engines’, he agency a apathetic and stroked CX500 agent displacing 750cc, adapted from shaft to alternation drive–MG].

“We congenital the frames for them. We approved absolutely a few frames, the aboriginal ones had accompanying shocks afresh we approved a monoshock. Already we got the anatomy working, we beatific it to C&J and they made, like, bristles of them.

“It was a abiding accord aggravating to win with that thing. The two guys that helped the best to advance it were Ted Boody and Hank Scott. We’d go aback east and run all those non-National afar from Kansas to Ohio. “At first, I was the mechanic, the pit boss, barter driver… as it got bigger, I couldn’t handle all that stuff. They capital me to be the aggregation chief, but afresh they wouldn’t accept let me assignment on the bikes, so I talked them into hiring Gene Romero to be our aggregation chief.

“The mechanics that formed on the bikes with me were Dan Murrell, Dennis Jones, Dave Bird.

“We started from scratch. Aback I raced, bikes didn’t alike accept shocks, so I abstruse from Kenny. I didn’t apperceive nothin’, but I knew abundant to accumulate Jeff happy. I abstruse a lot from Hank and Ted Booty, they helped me a lot. Mike Kidd had a lot of input, so did Terry Poovey and Mike Pearson. Best of them didn’t like it!

“The botheration wasn’t a abridgement of power. In the end, we got 90-92 application out of it. We were spending money aggravating to win. I did a lot of dyno assignment with it myself, but lots of added bodies helped too; I had Jimmy Dour at Megacycle, Jerry Branch congenital heads, Kenny Augustine… But its bigger botheration was that they’d apathetic it out so big, it didn’t accept abundant allowance [in the baptize jacket] about the sleeves. It would get beef pockets in it, and overheat and apathetic down. We couldn’t run anti-freeze; if we could’a run anti-freeze it wouldn’t accept above it out. But it was a rocket for four or bristles laps.

“I mean, Hank already told me it was the best administration bike he’d anytime ridden, but… I anticipate it broke Jeff Haney’s career. He had bags of talent, but he got to the point area he had no aplomb in it. I kept cogent Jeff, ‘have patience,’ but he was aloof a adolescent kid.

“Mike Kidd took added of a able approach. He had won the cardinal one bowl on a Harley the year before, and he approached it like a job. Mikey was at the end of his career, and he’d already been there and done it all. But he got a lot done; we fabricated a lot of finals. Anybody who was complex capital to win, but to alpha out and exhausted them Harleys was not easy. They’d been acceptable forever.

“The one time we won [a National, at the Louisville half-mile] it aloof fell into our hands. Scott Pearson won the aftermost adventitious qualifier, and they lined anybody up on the advanced row. Anybody got to aces afore Scott, but there was a little aperture appropriate on the inside, on the pole, and Scott lined up there.

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“The canal at Louisville was alone about three anxiety wide. If you approved to canyon on the outside, you absent about bristles spots. Scott was such a holeshot guy that I said, ‘If you can get to the front, there’s no way they can canyon you.’ He aloof had that affair alongside for about 25 laps, and every time addition approved to canyon him, they’d cull out and aloof go backwards. It was Scott Pearson that won the race, not the motorcycle.”

So, I angle corrected. The NS750 wasn’t an base loser. It handled able-bodied and was fast, aloof not fast abundant for continued enough. To accomplish aggressive power, Irimajiri had to bore the cylinders apple-pie out of it and fit abundant beyond sleeves. There were attenuated spots area the sleeve attenuated the breeze of baptize in the baptize jacket, and beef formed there. As the temperature went up during the races, the bike went slower and slower.

“The aftermost chase we anytime did was San Jose, and we accomplished third and fourth with it [the best accomplishment anytime for the NS at a National on a Mile track–MG.] That was aloof blind in the draft; the affair was fast – until about half-way through the race. You could see them go off the pace, it was aloof awful!

“We could see the agent lose ability as it got hot, aloof alive on the dyno. We knew we had problems we couldn’t solve. By then, Honda was developing a big artery engine, a V-Twin article like the old Yamaha Virago. [The VT750C Shadow cruiser was appear in 1983–MG] They beatific us one of those motors, and we approved to accomplish a anatomy for it, but it was hopeless. It had a abundant big sump, it was wide, it dragged. It wasn’t activity to cut it.

“I said, ‘we’re bigger off with what they got.’ Gene Romero and I flew over to Japan to allocution to them. We told them we bare to alpha from scratch, but they wouldn’t do it. Finally, we happened to see an agent they’d congenital for a Paris-Dakar racer [presumably the NXR750–MG]. It was two-valve motor, but it was perfect. I said, ‘we charge this one here, with a full-circle crank and a four-valve head.’

“They said, ‘It’s not possible,’ but that’s how they congenital the aboriginal RS.”

The Honda RS750 was a purpose-built assembly racer, advised with one affair in mind: advance the Harley-Davidson XR750 abreast on American clay tracks. It worked, but that’s addition story.

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