Sunday, December 07, 2008

Memorable: Graeme Crosby and his bikes…

Graeme Crosby finished second in the 500cc world championship in 1982

Pics: Highsider

Now 53 years old, Graeme Crosby was one of the most versatile and accomplished motorcycle grand prix racers of his time. Born in New Zealand in 1955, Crosby went on to race around the world, winning the Daytona 200, Imola 200 and the Suzuka 8 Hours races. He also raced at the Isle of Man, winning the Senior TT in 1980.

Crosby ultimately went on to race in the 500cc class, racing with Suzuki on an RG500 in 1980 and 1981. He finished eighth in the 500cc world championship in 1980, and fifth in 1981, also winning the British TT F1 championship in the same year.

Crosby moved to Yamaha for the 1982 season, and finished second in the 500cc world championship that year, behind Franco Uncini. Crosby retired from motorcycle road racing at the end of 1982, and though he never won a race in the 500cc class, he did take 10 podium finishes between 1980-1982.

Crosby rode in the 500cc class with Suzuki, in 1980 and 81

‘No one ever told Crosby what to do. Croz liked to ride motorcycles insanely fast and he liked a drink. And sometimes, he combined the two, even on the Isle of Man,’ says Mat Oxley, who recently mentioned Graeme in a story he did on maverick motorcycle racers.

‘When he first hit Europe in 1979, the British TT F1 championship was all about mega-trick Honda RCB1000s with lightweight racing frames and aerodynamic bodywork,’ says Oxley. ‘So Croz rocked up at Brands on the rattiest heap of a Moriwaki Z1000 streetbike, and gave Ron Haslam the fright of his life. The fans loved Croz, and a legend was born,’ concludes Oxley.

Graeme rode this GSX-R1000 in the parade of champions, at the Isle of Man races in 2007

So what’s the fast Kiwi doing now, you might wonder? Well, he’s still riding – Crosby rode a GSX-R1000 in the parade of champions during the Isle of Man races last year. And he seems to have kept up with technology, so he even has a website. Among other things on his site, Crosby talks about some of the bikes he’s raced in the past, and here are some excerpts from what he has to say about some of those bikes:

'I loved it. It had style,' says Crosby, about the Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1 and H1R

If there was a bike that caused so many broken bones and gravel rash and skin grafts then this is it. Totally responsible for undertakers massive bottom line profit. What a shocker! The engine was a very wide three cylinder, two stroke unit designed by a psychotic Kamikaze teacher. This bike was a bad handler and a real beast to ride.

The engine sat too high, the chassis lacked strength. The brakes were virtually non existent, unless you fitted green linings, and even then it was at best marginal. To tame this monster required balls the size of a hot air balloon and a total disregard for ones own safety. It was hellishly fast and handled like a roller skate in a gravel pit. But I loved it. It had style, it had presence and everyone admired it. Sadly, most of these end their life with crumpled up front ends laying in wrecker’s yards.

The 500 Factory racer version of this beast was a HIR-A and it was the only bike I rode that caused me to break a bone. A collarbone! What a bastard of a bike!

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You had to ride the wheels off these things to get them to perform, says Croz

Kawasaki Z1 and Z1R

The best big bike made, ever. This was an engineering feat that put Kawasaki into the big league. Lots of innovative technical refinements with this bike, DOHC, bucket valve gear etc.... a real strong engine that would go like a raped ape and had plenty of horsepower, but at the same time as strong as an oxen.

This bike formed the backbone of four stroke racing for many years. The engine was fitted to various chassis’s and performed really well. I used this base Z1 production bike to win the Castrol 6 Hour race in NZ, which I rode on my own for the full 6 hours. I even stopped for ‘pee’ during re-fuelling at one of the scheduled stops.

We then began modifying the production Z1s and ‘Superbikes’ were born. We used the standard Z1, Z1000, Z1R models and modified the engines and tuned the chassis. We did lots of work on the engine by using Pop Yoshimura’s racing parts to make good amounts of horsepower. We then tried to tame it by slightly modifying the chassis. Bracing it here and there and fitting wider wheels and soft slick tyres.

Then came the fun part – I would throw a leg over it and set off down pit lane not knowing what to expect! Well, we generally got them steering OK but looking back it was still just a modified rode bike that you had to ride the wheels off to get it to perform.

The Yamaha YZR500 OW60, the bike Crosby rode to a second place finish in the 1982 500cc motorcycle grand prix racing world championship

Yamaha OW60

I joined Yamaha with the Agostini Marlboro Team in 1982 and was faced with an extraordinary situation. Kenny Roberts had convinced Yamaha to build the 82 GP bike with unconventional steering geometry. I tested the bike in Japan and was disappointed with its performance.

We decided to make our own modifications and I used Suzuki geometry from the 81 XR35 bike, and it transformed this OW60 into a weapon. An alloy chassis and power valves made it a delight to ride. It had very similar performance to the 82 Suzuki’s but I liked its colour scheme much better!

Anyway, I rode this to a 2nd place in the 500cc World Championship. I felt though it was an intermediate bike made in 82 as a stop gap measurement while waiting for the V4 to be produced.

For more of Graeme Crosby and his bikes, visit his website here

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