The term GOAT - Greatest of all Time - is bandied around rather a lot these days. I have always found it a rather unsatisfying phrase, as the radical changes in every aspect of motorcycle racing make it impossible to compare the achievements of the riders who raced in very different eras. How do you compare riders who won on 15 kilometer tree-lined street circuits to riders who spent all their time racing on the ultrasafe short circuits, replete with run off and air fence? How do you compare victory on a 500cc single cylinder Norton or a four-cylinder MV Agusta or Gilera housed in a frame that was little more than some steel tubing connecting the wheels via rudimentary suspension, to the screaming two strokes of the late nineties, or the fire-breathing 990cc four strokes barely tamed by electronics, or the ultra-finicky and precise 800cc four strokes which required a deep understanding of extracting potential for electronic management? How do you compare the ability to manage the rock-hard rubber of grooved cross-ply tires to the pursuit of 64° lean angles on fat modern radials made of exotic blends of silicon and rubber?
It is impossible, yet there are some names whose achievements are so profound that they rise above the rest, regardless of circumstances, and set themselves apart in the annals of history. If they use of the phrase GOAT is questionable, there are some riders who are obviously among the most significant of all time. They made the biggest impact.
John Surtees, who died to day aged 83, was just such a rider. Others, with a greater grasp of racing history, can do his legacy much greater justice than I can - if you read just one obituary of Surtees, then make it this dual profile of the man on Motor Sport Magazine, by Mat Oxley and top F1 journalist Mark Hughes.