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MCN Plus - Rossi isn’t bad but was Hailwood better?

Published: 10 September 2015

Updated: 10 September 2015

July 1965, Mike Hailwood wins his last 500cc world title

Mike Hailwood’s name is always at the forefront of any discussion about who is the greatest bike racer of all time. Usually it’s between Hailwood and Valentino Rossi, but people who have seen both men race are unanimous in their conviction that Hailwood is the greatest the world has ever seen. Between 1961 and 1967 he won nine world titles on 250s, 350s and 500s. He was renowned for his ability to get the best out of any motorcycle in any conditions, even if he had just hopped off a 125 and onto a 500. Hailwood lost his life in a road accident in 1981.


Ralph Bryans ‘Mike was blindingly quick through the corners and on the throttle very early. His lines were good too – if you put a postage stamp on the road he’d run over it every lap. And you knew when he was behind you that he was going to come past – there were no two ways about it.’ 

Peter Williams ‘His style was very smooth and he was so good to watch. He had a certain economy of movement, just enough and not too much. I think Rossi is similar – very smooth and stylish, and he doesn’t manhandle the bike. Mike was a great rider and an incredibly brave man.’

Bryans ‘If you cobbled something together and gave it to him he’d wring its neck right away without thinking about it. Most riders want the bike to be right before they can do their best, but Mike didn’t seem to bother that much. He had an extraordinary talent for riding practically anything.’

Williams ‘He automatically made allowances for any disadvantage the bike was giving him. In 1967 he won the Senior TT, even though his Honda had a loose throttle. I mean, how on earth to you win a TT with a loose throttle? Just absolutely mind-blowing.’

Bryans ‘His mechanical knowledge was practically zero – he didn’t have the remotest idea. I was there when he jumped aboard the 250 six for the first time at Suzuka. He came back in and they asked him what it was like and he said ‘bloody awful’. But as for what was it doing and what could they do to fix it – absolutely no feedback whatsoever. It was lucky there wasn’t much set-up to do in those days – there was only one tyre choice and we’d set the suspension at the start of the year and never touch it again.’

Giacomo Agostini ‘Mike was like Casey Stoner. If the bike is good or not so good, for him it was about the same. I remember in ’65 when we both rode MV 500s. I tried his bike and it was a sh*t bike. Then he tried my bike and he said ‘oh Ago, it’s fantastic’. The bikes were the same, only my settings were better. But for him the lap time was the same with both. Mike was very, very fast and very honest. He liked to win with his own power, not with other things like some other riders. It was nice to battle very close with him. Riding very close can be very dangerous, but not with him.’

Bryans ‘Mike took his racing very, very seriously. When he was duelling with Ago for the 1966 500 title, his bike broke at the East German GP and Ago was running away with the race when, lo and behold, he crashed on the last lap. Mike was in his caravan in a foul mood. I went in and said ‘hey Mike, Ago just crashed’. And what did Mike say to that? ‘F***ing good!’ Not ‘is he all right?’ or anything. But anybody from that time would say Mike was the boss. Ago would admit that, Phil Read would, anybody would.’

Agostini ‘It’s difficult to say who was the best because every rider thinks they are better than the others. It’s the same now with Valentino, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. I don’t want to say I was better than Mike but I don’t want to say I was worse. I think we were equal. Mike had one thing that Valentino doesn’t. On one day he can race a 125 and win, he can race a 250 and win, a 350 and win, a 500 and win. Not so many riders can do this. Why was he so good? I don’t know. I think talent is something our mothers or God gives us, like Cassius Clay in boxing, Eddy Merckx in cycling and Bobby Charlton in football.’

 


The Eyewitnesses

Ralph Bryans
Honda’s only 50cc world champ and Hailwood’s team-mate. Passed away last year.

Peter Williams
Another biking genius of the 1960s, Hailwood wanted him as his team-mate at Honda.

Giacomo Agostini
Hailwood’s greatest rival during his Grand Prix years. Ago won three more world titles.

 

 



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