Legendary Bikes: Barry Sheene’s Suzuki RG500 1976-77
Barry Sheene’s Suzuki 500 holds the record for the fastest motorcycle GP race ever.
On July 3, 1977 Sheene averaged 217.37 km/h to win the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, compared with fastest MotoGP race averages of around 175km/h.
The cheeky Londoner took the title in 1976 and ’77, winning 11 GPs, reward for often painful times with the first Suzuki 500 square-four “XR14” racer in 1974.
Its rotary disc-valve engine had four separate crankshafts, geared together. Gear breakages were a hazard for Sheene and Jack Findlay in ’74.
Even the infamous 175mph crash at Daytona in March 1975 couldn’t stop Sheene. In late June 1975 he beat Giacomo Agostini (Yamaha) in a photo finish at Assen. Sheene won again in Sweden.
Agostini won the 1975 championship, but a now a reliable Suzuki and a fit Sheene posed a clear threat for ’76.
However, with funds needed to develop four-stroke roadsters, Suzuki folded the works team and instead sold replicas of the Assen-winning racer. Suzuki GB executives funded a new-look GP team.
Sheene gained another ace when Suzuki built three XR14s with 54 by 54mm bore and stroke dimensions, compared with the 56 x 50.6mm figures. These machines had more mid-range power and were exclusively Sheene’s. He won five GPs, while teammates John Williams and John Newbold scored a win each, and Pat Hennen won in Finland on the production RG500.
In 1977, works riders Sheene, Hennen and Steve Parrish all had the 54 x 54 engines. Claimed power was 119hp at 10,800rpm, weight was around 135kg and top speed a staggering 296km/h.
Sheene claimed six victories and Hennen one. Findlay won the boycott-affected Austrian GP and Wil Hartog was the home-town Assen hero.
Suzuki built the XR22 racer for 1978, but Yamaha had a new bike and rider…Kenny Roberts.
Below is a video of Barry after winning at Assen in 1976.
by Don Cox