Motorcycle racing has never been the most popular of sports, as a fan there are many times that I have been watching a race in front of my Dakota TV Unit only for it to be cut short for another sporting event. As much as I don’t like to admit it, non-dedicated channels are likely to prioritise more popular sporting events, despite the fact that bike racing has never been more popular.
However cast yourself back to the mid 70’s and it was much worse state of affairs. Unlike F1 which was bubbling on the verge of its popularity explosion, motorcycle racing was a very niche sport which received very little TV coverage.
However it took one rider to change all that, his name Barry Sheene arguably the most influential and iconic motorcycle racer of all time.
A fast rider in his own right, Sheene would emerge in the mid 70’s as a title contender, claiming 2 back to back world titles in 1976 and 1977. After this he continued to captivate fans for years with his tenacious riding style battling with arch rival Kenny Roberts into the 80’s determined to regain his crown.
However it was much more than his riding which made him the iconic figure he is today. With a charismatic personality and much like his F1 contemporary James Hunt, Sheene was the first of his kind in a way.
A motorcycle racer who embraced the limelight his sport generated, unlike a lot of his contemporaries who shunned the limelight. Yet Sheene embraced the limelight and given his charisma knack for self promotion, exposed the sport to a whole new audience. Suddenly into the late 70s TV coverage became more prominent backed by a vehicle that could display the excitement and danger of his sport like no one before.
This all culminated on August 12th1979 with the British grand prix, which showed the world exactly what grand prix motorcycle racing was all about, with the two biggest stars in the sport sharing the stage.
Yes as Sheene lined up alongside arch rival (and seemingly indomitable at the time) Kenny Roberts, the lights went out and one of the greatest races ever on the legendary Silverstone tarmac.
With viewers captivated In front of their Dakota TV Stands the world over, those of you lucky enough witnessed an exhilarating 28 lap duel between the two fastest men on 2 wheels in the world.
Running together for pretty much the entirety of the race (despite Roberts having mechanical issues leading up to the race and a bad start), the two riders traded places over and over again in a race which was only decided on the last corner by only 3/100th of a second, yes it really was that close.
Yet despite coming out the runner up in the duel the iconic number 7 fighting tooth and nail to claim victory captured the imagination of the world and set the stage for GP motorcycle racings explosion in popularity fuelled by Valentino Rossi.
Even as todays stars continue to carry the torch and bring million to their Mango Wood TV Units every weekend, they all owe a debt of thanks to one rider.
The iconic number 7 of Barry Sheene.