Mackenzie dreams of Sheene

Our Niall's teenage dreams come true when he gets to ride two ex-Barry Sheene machines - a Suzuki XR45 and a Walmsley Manx Norton

Princess Diana's death, The Twin Towers collapsing or one's first sexual disease, these are all events that you can probably recall your exact whereabouts when you received the sad news.

Back in the summer of 1980 and without a care in the world, I was driving down the Spine Road in Denny in my Electricity Board Leyland Sherpa Van when Newsbeat came on Radio One just after Peter Powell's afternoon show.

The top story was Barry Sheene had crashed at the French GP and may have a finger amputated. Being a race fan I had been following his turbulent season as a privateer on an Akai Yamaha, so consequently the news immediately stuck in my memory. Looking back it was almost as newsworthy as the David Beckham broken foot before the last World Cup. As a youth I was beginning to realise just how big the name Barry Sheene really was, so recently I felt especially privileged to ride two of the last race bikes that the late Bazza rode. As it turned out he kept the finger and attempted to unsuccessfully race at the next GP in Assen.

The Suzuki XR 45 is currently owned by George Beale and, on the day, looked after by Colin Davies, the ex GP mechanic who amongst many others has spannered for Kevin Schwantz at Lucky Strike Suzuki, Noriyuki Haga at Red Bull Yamaha and even during one lean year for a certain Mackenzie at Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha Team.

Times have changed and four-cylinder two-strokes are now all but in the annals of history, but being part of that great era I still get a lump in my throat on the rare occasions that I hear one nowadays.

My very first impression of the Suzuki is that it's petite. It sits really low on its 16in wheels and obsolete tyres. Its weight is in proportion to its size. When sitting on it, it feels engineless and at 115kg you could almost carry it under your arm to the grid!

Jumping on board I was pleased to find the riding position - which is similar to the new Honda CBR 600RR with a short tank - fitted me perfectly, although you are more in the XR45 than on top of it.

After burbling off down the Donington pit lane and completing a few laps of the circuit the Suzuki reminded me of the last two stroke race bike I rode, which was a 2000 TZM 250 Yamaha that weighed around 102kg and made 86bhp. To have any decent power the Suzuki's revs have to be over 10,000 and a high corner speed has to be maintained as there is no torque to punch you out of turns with low revs. The brakes felt comparable to most modern bikes, which surprised me as this bike is almost 20 years old. The front forks worked well although the rear shock needed a trip to the nearest Kayaba dealer for a quick service and gas recharge.

I found the carburation quite rich all the way through the rev range, which is understandable as parts are scarce and expensive - so seizures could not be an option. I also must confess this is the first time I have tested a bike and not pushed it hard. There are seventy five thousand reasons for this, it's also a one off so I don't want to be living in my car. At the end of my sessions she developed a mis-fire due to an oiled plug which didn't upset me too much as it was nice to finisn with everything in one piece.

This was a truly nostalgic trip for me to ride the last GP bike raced by the biggest ever name in British biking. As a teenager this would have been an impossible dream for me but it came true. Now normally I'm totally against beautiful bikes being locked up in glass cases but I think it's much more satisfying given its cost and age just to admire this immaculate machine's clean lines and good looks and reminisce that legendary combination with BS in full flight back in 1984.