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23rd June 2005

Sheene Race Machines Return

Barry's bikes come back to Blighty, take a trip round Rugby, and then find a new base at Beaulieu...

Decades after his glory years, the late Barry Sheene's name is still a big draw to motorcyclists of all ages. A memorial run; a track parade, a special show - if there's a Sheene connection then it's bound to pull a crowd. The latest attraction to hit the headlines will be arriving in the UK this month, after months of 'delicate negotiations'. The organisers of Motor Cycle World (which takes place annually at the National Motor Museum, in Beaulieu), together with MCW sponsors the ACU, and the Barry Sheene Memorial Run, are all pleased to announce the arrival of two new motorcycle exhibits for the Museum.

The new exhibits are two Suzuki RG500 machines - the bikes ridden by Barry Sheene in his world championship years of 1976 and 1977. In privateer form, these 90bhp two-stroke racers made a huge impact on the Grand Prix results, and Barry's factory-prepared, 'square four' bikes ran away with the championship for two years on the trot.

Three men and only two bikes. Tears before bedtime.

These factory machines were tweaked to produce 103bhp @ 11,250rpm in 1976 and then 118bhp in '77. Weight was reduced by 8kg, compared to the privateer bikes, to just 135kg - in part by using magnesium crankcases instead aluminium ones. Handling was improved with air-assisted Kayaba front forks, while cycle parts were thinned (or junked) and the fairing re-designed to produce a slimmer, smoother profile which significantly reduced drag. Later RG500 fairing panels even sprouted little wings, designed to keep the front wheel in contact with the ground at high speeds - although these inevitably affected the tyre temperatures.

The RG500s remained in Barry's possession since their triumphal championship season and have been out of the UK for 21 years since Barry emigrated to Australia in 1984. Following Barry's death from cancer in 2003, they have been shipped to the UK with the exclusive permission of Stephanie, Barry's widow.

As the RGs having been dry stored for many years, Barry's mechanic and engine guru, Nigel Everett, will give the bikes a thorough examination to get them running again in time for the summer's events. They will then be on show at Motor Cycle World at Beaulieu on the weekend of the 18th-19th June 2005, prior to being seen at the Sheene Memorial Run in Rugby on the 3rd July. The bikes will subsequently go on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, for the forseeable future.

After it had stood for twenty years in the shed, Barry realised the restored Suzuki felt somehow... different.
Random Sheene Stuff on

One of motorsports' heroes, Sheene was riding motorcycles by the time he was five years old. The son of a GP mechanic, he made his professional racing debut at 18 and won the British 750 title just two years later. Then in 1975 he suffered his first major crash - a terrifying off at 175mph at Daytona, which broke his thigh, wrist and collarbone. Yet one year later he rode one of these RG500s to victory for Suzuki in the 500cc world championship - and then repeated the feat in 1977, taking six wins from nine races.

Sheene was awarded his MBE in 1978, winning more 500 and 750 GP races than any other rider. Then came another major incident when he hit a bike at Silverstone during practice for the British GP. This time, it took metal plates and 27 screws to rebuild his shattered legs. Barry continued racing despite the pain, until his retirement and relocation to the kinder climate of Australia. He died in March 2003.

The man behind the Sheene Memorial Run, the ACU's Neil Hellings said: 'Bringing the bikes back is fantastic and I am extremely grateful to Stephanie for agreeing to it.

'I, like most people in the their late thirties or over, remember Barry as an icon and to once more see and hopefully hear and smell the bikes again is going to be magical.'

Barry Sheene or Mick Grant: A nation divided?


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