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My life in bikes; Roger Marshall

Published: 23 May 2016

Updated: 23 May 2016

‘The stuff we got up to, you’d never get away with it now’

Ex-factory rider now BSB rider representative Roger Marshall on crashing, riding with Joey and being MCN Man of the Year

How did you get into bikes?

My dad took me to Cadwell Park when I was about seven and I was absolutely smitten. From that day onwards all I ever dreamt about was being a racer.

What was your first bike?

You could ride on the road at 15 back then so I saved my wages from being an apprentice electrician and bought a 250cc BSA C10 as soon as I turned 15.

Can you remember your first crash?

Yes, it was the very first time I rode a bike on my 15th birthday! My dad watched me as I rode off down our street and disappeared from sight but at the very first corner I came to I didn’t even know to shut the throttle and I went over a kerb, through a hedge, and all I could see was sky, grass, hedge, sky, grass, hedge... That was less than a mile from my house. I pushed the bike home and both it and me were pretty beaten up. My dad was waiting for me and he just looked at me and said “Hmm, didn’t take you long, did it?”

1984 Ulster GP
Rivalry with Dunlop
‘We had some titanic battles’

Why did you start racing?

I was poorly paid as an apprentice so me and my mates used to marshal at Cadwell to get a free packed lunch. One day the travelling marshal didn’t turn up. I had a 600 Norton Dominator Featherbed so they asked me to do it. As the riders went past on their final lap I was supposed to follow them at a respectable distance to check that the track was clear for the next race. But I overtook three riders and the circuit commentator didn’t know what the hell was going on. I didn’t get that job again.

What was your first year in racing?

I couldn’t afford to race on my own so I went 50/50 with a mate and we bought a sidecar outfit. I did a full season as a passenger in 1970, sharing all the expenses. It was the only way I could afford to go racing.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in racing?

I’m proud that I came from a council house in the Grimsby area and ended up as a factory rider with Heron Suzuki. Once I got that ride in 1982 there was no way they were going to take it away from me. I won the British championship, I won the Formula 1 championship, I won the Ulster Grand Prix – MCN was calling me ‘win-a-week Marshall’ at the time and it was brilliant. But my proudest moment was being voted MCN Man of the Year by the fans ahead of Ron Haslam and Barry Sheene. To go to the Lyceum Ballroom in London, in front of 2000 people and have the trophy presented to me by David Essex? That was just an amazing year.

Friends and rivals
Sheene and Marshall
‘Leave off Bazza – it’s mine!’

You were team-mates with Joey Dunlop – how hard was he to beat?

We had some titanic battles. I felt I had the upper hand on the short circuits but Joey took his riding to another level on the roads. The stuff we got up to, you simply wouldn’t get away with now!

Did you always ride road bikes?

I did promo work with Suzuki and Honda but Honda stopped it because I used to fall off too often! They’d get me and Wayne Gardner and Ron Haslam and Joey to turn up and do stuff for magazines but it always turned into a race. Road bikes all had left-hand gear-changes and I was still a right-hooker so if I got excited I’d stomp on the back brake and fall off!

What bikes do you own now?

I did own my 1982 factory Suzuki XR69 but had to sell it. Lots of people say they’ve got XR69s but they haven’t – they’ve got replicas. I’d say there’s only two or three real ones out there. Mick Grant’s got one but I sold mine to a collector. I know he’s been offered almost £100,000 for it but says he’ll never sell it.

Words: Stuart Barker Photos: Double Red/Bauer archive

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