Call me filthy lucky if you like, but somehow I’ve managed to blag rides on all kinds of Honda 500 GP bikes since the company first started racing
two-strokes in the early 1980s. I’ve bought my own plane ticket to fly to Suzuka to ride Micky D’s legendary 1992 " Big Bang " NSR and I’ve ridden up the M1 in pouring rain to test the factory’s original two-stroke 500, the NS triple, at an ice-like Donington Park.
That 1984 Donington outing was my first ever go on a 500 GP bike. I was a green MCN road tester at the time, feeling like Mr Big at the prospect of riding what was then the greatest bike in the world, but at the same time terrified of crashing the thing. And I felt just the same before climbing aboard Rossi’s bike last week.
The 1984 NS, the final incarnation of the bike that took Freddie Spencer to Honda’s first 500 crown in 1983, introduced me to a world of riding possibilities I never even knew existed. A 130bhp, 115kg (253lb) motorcycle was serious stuff back then, still is now.
Three years later I spent a day bouncing around the gorgeous Paul Ricard circuit on the hub-centre-steered Elf NSR500 V4, burning gas down the 1.1-mile Mistral straight and hooning through the Double Droite de Beausset, one of the world’s most brain-teasing corners. Paradise, followed by a huge dinner just a few feet from the Med, discussing the ins and outs of game poaching with Ron Haslam.
But I was soon to realise the value of your life experiences can go down as well as up. The Rothmans NSR500 Eddie Lawson miraculously wrestled to the 1989 500 title is one of the worst steering motorcycles I’ve ever ridden. The 1991 NSR was better, but it didn’t feel any nicer in a mid-winter monsoon at Suzuka. Sixth gear wheelspin and big-time tankslappers, at the same time. I still get the shivers thinking about that ride.
Back at Suzuka the following year everything was different – autumn sunshine and the Big Bang NSR that changed 500 racing forever. If riding the 1991 version rates as one of my nastiest motorcycling memories, the 1992 bike gave me one of my best.
Over the next few years the NSR barely changed, but I did, I got older, and an I’m-about-to-die moment with Doohan’s 1996 V4 convinced me to give up testing race bikes forever. The NSR’s carbon brakes grabbed harder than I’d expected, throwing me over the bars at 140mph, until I was face to face with Micky D’s No1 plate. Upside down. Somehow I survived that moment, ending the session swearing my Charlie Big Potatoes days were over. But I just had say goodbye to the NSR500 at Jerez – GP racing will never be the same once its banshee wail is gone forever.