The 10 greatest scams, cheats and hoaxes in motorcycling - part 2

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The history of motorcycling is littered with shady dealings…

These are our favourites:     


5 – 191mph at the TT in ’77
Seven-time TT winner Mick Grant was racing Kawasaki’s fearsome two-stroke triple, the KR750, when he clocked 191mph between Creg and Brandish in 1977. Kawasaki’s Martin Lambert remembers: “The speed trap was 200 yards before the first braking marker into Brandish. Granty clocked it whereas most riders were already rolling off or braking by then – a brave man indeed!” Only problem? It would be over 20 years before bikes actually hit that speed at the TT. Speed traps weren’t in common usage at the TT at the time, and this one had been set up not by an expert, but journalist Ian Beacham, editor of Motorcycle Mechanics magazine. In spite of his mag’s title, Beacham was a technical numpty who once seized a test bike by putting gearbox oil in it instead of two-stroke oil. Motorcycle Mechanics’ technical expert John Robinson himself never credited the figure, confirming to friends the bike couldn’t have hit the speed. Rupert Paul expands: “John told me the figure was achieved using a timing light system developed for show jumping. Even with perfect gearing, the most you could expect from a tall, wide KR750 making 120bhp is 170mph, and I suspect it was really a lot less. Even in 1992, when I accurately speed trapped every bike in the Senior at Sulby Kink, only one bike – Hislop’s Norton – managed a true 170. I’d guess that the first time a bike did a genuine 190mph at the TT was between 2001 and 2005. It takes at least 180bhp, not to mention the right conditions, to get up to that speed on the TT course.”
Verdict: mistaken


4 – Suzuki’s supertuned launch bikes
It’s 1985 and Suzuki wants to give its brand new RG500 Gamma the best start in life. Like any proud manufacturer, it gives the bikes the UK press will ride a polish. And new expansion chambers. And modified carbs. And a rebore. No wonder the reviews were good – the bike revved 3000rpm higher and had 26bhp more than those punters would actually buy. Tuner Stan Stephens says: “It was the last GP race rep to launch and the Japanese being the Japanese, it had to be the fastest. But all Suzuki’s press bikes at the time were tuned, very much so. On the mark three Gamma they bored the engine 2mm oversize, modded the carbs and fitted special expansion chambers. When I pointed it out to them they said someone must’ve got carried away in the PDI department!” Suzuki’s Martyn Ogbourne was willing to make a partial admission: “Only one RG did 150mph. To do that speed it was slightly different. It wasn’t a cheat, the secret was that it had different exhaust port timing. The cylinders were slightly different with raised exhaust ports. It was easy to do, and they jetted them different too, leaner, which made a night and day difference. That’s the only time I know that Suzuki have provided a test bike that was different to what they sold. They don’t do it anymore, it’s too risky.”
Verdict: guilty


3 – The Chernobyl bike tour
In 2004 a Russian woman’s account of a bike tour of Chernobyl’s ‘dead zone’ briefly became one of the most visited webpages in the world. In it Elena Filatova described a dangerous and disquieting solo adventure into the ‘Ghost Town’ on what had to have become a highly-irradiated ZZR-1100. The descriptions and bleak snaps of her ride to the reactor, protected from the radiation only by her leather jacket, made her an overnight icon for a certain type of outsider rider. Then a Ukrainian academic paid Elena a visit to check a few facts. Turns out Elena embroidered the tale a little. The academic said: “She did not travel around the zone by herself on a motorcycle. Motorcycles are banned in the zone, as is wandering around alone. She made one trip there with her husband and a friend. They travelled in a ‘Chernobyl taxi’ and were given the same standard excursion that most Chernobyl tourists receive. She did, however, bring a motorcycle helmet…” Later it was claimed Elena couldn’t even ride a bike, while she admitted her account was “more poetry” than actual, like, fact.
Verdict: guilty


2 – Foggy’s vanishing superbike
Race on Sunday, sell on Monday, that’s the mantra of the production-based World Superbike series. So where are all the Foggy Petronas bikes that should have been sold to make the FP1 eligible for racing? Not exactly clogging the pages of Bikemart are they? FIM inspector Steve Whitelock confirmed half the required 150 bikes had been manufactured in a visit to the UK manufacturing facility in January 2003. Six months later (about the time it takes the average cargo container to make a lap of the planet) another FIM inspection confirmed the existence of 75 FP1s in Malaysia, at Petronas’ manufacturing partner Modenas. Two years later and still no British dealers could be found to sell what must have been a quite dusty collection of 75 UK-built FP1s in Panache Green, Exotic Black and Misty Grey. One dealer did eventually did get appointed though – NAZA Bikers Dream. Based in? Malaysia.
Verdict: not proven


1 – The Norton Nemesis
The culmination of what was now clearly an era of jaw-dropping fantasy, Norton’s Nemesis prototype boasted a 1479cc V8 capable of 235bhp and 200mph – but not lasting more than a few miles based on our exclusive 1999 test. Most amazing of all would be its ability to go from mock-up to production in a matter of months, as engine designer Al Melling and the firm’s then-American backers promised when the bike was presented at the Dorchester Hotel in London. “The stuff they came out with, from the perimeter brakes to the V8, was ridiculous given the timeframe” says Roland Brown. “Everyone bought it but in retrospect it looks like a deliberate attempt to deceive”. In our enthusiasm for a world-beating return for the Norton brand, MCN fanned the flames of excitement. But Melling – who once boasted of having no interest in the bikes or cars that surrounded his engines – was a false prophet. “In ten years all the big manufacturers will have V8s” he said. Oh dear.
Verdict: hoax


<< Click here for the greatest scams, cheats and hoaxes part 1

Guy Procter

By Guy Procter