MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Duke, Sheene and Dunlop: three great British bikers
Sheene, Dunlop, Duke… it would be difficult to find three more different motorcycle racers, let alone three more different human beings.
We all know the iconic images of these three late, great Britons: Duke waving a jolly hello, his hair painstakingly groomed and Brylcreemed; Sheene topless and in cut-off jeans, sucking on a filter-less Gitanes, one arm around Stephanie MacLean; Joey nursing a pint and puffing on a fag from under that lank thatch of hair.
Duke came from a different age, not only of motorcycles but also of society and culture. He surely would’ve been mortified if he had stumbled into one of Joey’s ale-fuelled lock-ins at The Saddle pub in Douglas, even more so if he had mistakenly walked into Sheene’s hotel bedroom.
Duke – who died last May at the age of 92 – raced at a time when people were still figuring out many of the engineering basics of racing. He was the first rider to adopt Rex McCandless’s featherbed frame, the granddaddy of the modern motorcycle chassis. Until he did so bike racing had been all about engines and horsepower. The penny dropped when Duke’s featherbed Norton single defeated Gilera’s four to win the 1951 500cc world championship: a fine-handling chassis was worth as much, if not more, than a powerful engine.
When Duke joined Gilera in 1953 and applied his technical knowhow to the across-the-frame four, he made the template for the modern grand prix motorcycle. At the same time he became the first man to win the premier-class title on different makes of machinery. Even now, only two other men have managed that feat: Eddie Lawson and Valentino Rossi.
Duke’s riding was intelligent and silky smooth, as it had to be because the tyres, suspension and metallurgy of the time allowed nothing else. His talent and dedication to perfection made him the first giant of motorcycling’s world championships: he was the first rider to score a world title double, the first to successfully defend a crown and the first to score a title hat trick.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.