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When Bike Swaps Go Bad. No 5: Barry Sheene

Published: 26 May 2016

Updated: 03 May 2016

1979 Suzuki RG500 to 1980 Yamaha TZ500G

arry was champion in 1976 and 1977 on a Suzuki. Then Roberts turned up and beat him on a Yamaha. The atmosphere soured, then big-time Barry played hardball in contract negotiations. His demands must be met, or else he’d go to Yamaha. “I think he was genuinely surprised when we turned him down,” Maurice Knight, head of Heron Suzuki, told me.

Barry’s ‘or else’ turned out to be way over-confident. The Yamaha factory wasn’t interested: he ended up with a production TZ500G. He told me not long before his death: “It was the ideal anchor for anybody’s boat. A complete piece of shit. The frame was too weak, it didn’t have enough power.”

He’d taken the bike as Hobson’s choice, on a vague promise of factory bikes the next year. “I was used to Suzuki, where the production bikes were as good as, sometimes better than, the factory bikes. The TZ750 was a production bike, and it was fabulous, and bloody quick. I thought Yamaha would make a good production 500. I was wrong.”

Struggling to make up for it cost Barry his little finger in crash in France and led directly to that huge crash at Silverstone in 1981 that effectively ended it all.

“If he’d stayed at Suzuki, he’d have been champion again,” is what Roberts believes.

Words Michael Scott  Photos 2Snap, Gold and Goose

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