Five inspirational motorcyclists – and five we could have done without

Like any grand old pantomime, motorcycle history of full of good people but also those we could have done without

barry sheene

WITH a history that stretches back over 100 years, the story of the people who helped to make our pastime what it is today is wide and varied. Be them designers, racers, TV presenters or CEOs, there are names in history that constantly get mentioned when talking about bikes.

But like any great panto, there’s always a baddie, the person that spoilt the fun for everyone else and becomes a name we would really rather forget…

Let’s take a look at five people who helped shape the motorcycle world, and five that did their level best to ruin it!

Five inspirational motorcyclists

Soichiro Honda

You may be thinking that starting this list with the founder of a now multi-billion-dollar corporation as a bit of a strange choice but, bear with me on this one.

Soichiro Honda began life working in his dad’s blacksmith shop, making money by on the side selling fake family seal stamps to his friends. The plot was to help his academically underachieving mates from having to disclose meagre exam results to their parents, something Honda had already done.

From these beginnings as a perennial under achiever, it’s hard to imagine that the man would go on to set up one of the global superpowers in the engineering world. A company that makes everything from cars to bikes, lawnmowers to private jets.

The slogan for Honda is ‘The Power of Dreams’, if anyone is proof that if you can dream it, you can build it, it’s the kid working in his dad’s blacksmith shop in the early 1900s, who would go on rule the automotive world.

Barry Sheene MBE

Another significant name in two-wheeled history is that of Mr Barry Sheene. And another rider that grew from relatively humble beginnings. Sheene’s early life saw him working as a motorcycle dispatch rider, running messages and deliveries through London’s narrow streets.

While Sheene’s racing exploits are well known and the records he held very long-lasting, it’s almost as if he didn’t need any of them to capture the heart of the global motorcycle fraternity. Barry was the archetypal playboy, capturing the hearts of the public much like his good friend James Hunt had in the world of Formula 1.

Sheene left such an indelible mark on the motorcycle world, a certain Valentino Rossi, who was at the height of his powers when Sheene died in 2003, rode the cooldown lap at Philip Island carrying a number seven flag and dedicating the win to his friend.

Massimo Tamburini

Massimo Tamburini

Few motorcycle designers reach the level that Massimo Tamburini did before his untimely passing in 2014. The list of great bikes and companies that Tamburini had a hand in creating is long and extremely varied, but you cannot deny that the man had a knack of making a quick motorcycle look like it was travelling at 100mph while it was sat in the showroom.

Possibly one of Tamburini’s most famous bikes is the Ducati 916. The poster bike of the 1990s that most bike mad teens, adults had hanging somewhere in their house – myself included!

But it wasn’t just the styling that Tamburini was good at, he was a talented engineer and businessman too, being the driving force at Bimota before moving onto Cagiva, Ducati and MV Agusta.

Will we ever see another designer who goes on to create so many two-wheeled icons?

Don’t bet on it…

John Bloor

You’d think that taking a motorcycle manufacturer from bust to boom is just the done thing and may be asking why we’re applauding the chap for it – he’s probably been paid pretty well for it after all? But the Triumph and John Bloor story is much more than just a man with a building empire buying motorcycle brand because he fancied getting his hands dirty.

Bloor bought Triumph at a time when the UK motorcycle manufacturing market was, well, it was a bit shit. BSA had fallen by the wayside, Norton was pretty much where it is today (more on that later) and the only brand that was just about clinging on was Triumph. And the strangest part is, he didn’t really want to buy the brand. He only really wanted the land the factory was on to build houses! After a period of sub-licencing the name out, Bloor took the helm in the late 80s and opened the new Hinckley plant in 1991.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Triumph name is known around the globe, making and selling bikes in the UK and Asia, and selling them across the globe. In the wake of the Norton Motorcycles debacle, it’s good to see that if you can afford to invest in a company or a brand that people love, good things can happen.

Burt Munro

Born in 1899, Burt Munro was a New Zealand-based motorcycle builder, racer, tinkerer and engineer. He was also the worst (or best) kind of die-hard speed freak – the kind that has a dream of going to Bonneville for Speed Week!

The story behind his first visit to Bonneville, one in which he drives most of the way, was so compelling it even caught the eyes of Hollywood producers. They cast Anthony Hopkins in the 2005 movie, the World’s Fastest Indian.

And here's five who haven’t always led by example…

Norton Garner.jpg

Stuart Garner

Yes, you knew that was coming but, the ex-Norton boss must be the face that, more than any other, is adorning the dartboards of motorcyclists up and down the country.

The story of the demise of Norton wouldn’t be so bad if it was purely down to bad management and a bungling CEO alone. Add to that the greed, (alleged!) lying and cheating and generally underhand skulduggery of the man and it really does make our blood boil.

Romano Fenati

Crashing on a racetrack while riding a high-performance GP motorcycle is a risk that comes with the territory for a racer. Almost crashing on track because a competitor has given your brake lever a tug while travelling at over 150mph is just totally inexcusable.

But as they say, time is a great healer as Romano Fenati is back racing again this season in Moto3, or at least when it all starts again. He’s done his time and paid his price, let's just hope the only brake lever he grabs this year is his own!

Jason Lawrence

American motocross and Supercross star Jason Lawrence was no stranger to controversy when he appeared before a judge in 2009 charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery with serious bodily injury, and one count of mayhem. He had already been suspended from racing and fined heavily for both on and off-track misdemeanors.

Anthony Gobert

Anthony Gobert was the one most naturally gifted riders to ever throw a leg over a motorcycle. But the thrill of racing a factory Suzuki in 500cc Grands Prix, or of winning World Superbike races on factory Kawasakis and Bimotas, was never enough to content the wayward Australian.

33-year-old Gobert was charged with two counts of stealing after taking two $20 bills from the hand of a 70-year-old man at a Coles supermarket in Surfers Paradise on 13 May 2008 and stealing a woman's purse the following day. He was granted bail on condition that he surrender his passport, report to police five times a week and not enter central Surfers Paradise.

Juan Garriga

He won three 250cc Grand Prix races and finished second in the 1988 world championship, was a factory rider in the 500cc class, and has competed in WSB on a semi-factory Ducati. But when his racing career was over, Spaniard Juan Garriga found even more excitement amidst an underground world of drugs and guns.