Best ever Kawasaki over­take? We think so

Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: GEZ KANE. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ADAM DUCK­WORTH AND NICK HASKELL.

Skill and brav­ery cre­ated this shot – one of the iconic mo­tocross im­ages. We re­veal the bike that made the jump

Kawasaki might have missed out on top hon­ours in the glory days of two-stroke-dom­i­nated mo­tocross GP rac­ing, but it wasn’t for lack of try­ing – or tal­ent. Their first top three championship fin­ish came cour­tesy of Swede Tor­leif Hansen’s sec­ond in the 1978 250 ti­tle race. A cou­ple of years later, in 1980, Amer­i­can ace Brad Lackey mus­cled his green 500 into sec­ond place in the blue riband class, but a world ti­tle would have to wait un­til Ste­fan Everts’ 250 class ti­tle in 1995. In be­tween, Kawasaki never stopped try­ing – and one of their best re­mem­bered fac­tory rid­ers was Bel­gian hard man Ge­orges Jobe.

In the early 80s, the big guns of the mo­tocross world were start­ing to flex their mus­cles as the tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the bikes leapt for­ward in the post-twin­shock era. And one of the leaps that lit­er­ally – as well as fig­u­ra­tively – took the sport into a new era is this one, cap­tured by Nick Haskell at the Bri­tish Grand Prix at Hawk­stone Park in 1984. Kawasaki’s new works sign­ing Ge­orges Jobe – who had al­ready won two world 250 ti­tles for Suzuki in 1980 and 1983 (fin­ish­ing run­ner up in 1981 and 1982) – stunned the mas­sive crowd at the Shrop­shire cir­cuit by pulling off prob­a­bly the most au­da­cious pass­ing move ever seen. Honda’s An­dre Mal­herbe was on the re­ceiv­ing end as Jobe

hurled his bright green, works SR500 into the heav­ens, clear­ing a mas­sive dou­ble as Mal­herbe rode through the bot­tom of the dip.

In fair­ness to Mal­herbe, the spot where Jobe made that jump was never in­tended as a dou­ble. The Hawk­stone or­gan­is­ers orig­i­nally con­ceived the two huge mounds sep­a­rated by a deep dip as a way to slow rid­ers down as they sped down from the bomb hole and tack­led the ‘Gir­ling Leap’ just be­fore the fin­ish line. A num­ber of rid­ers at­tempted the dou­ble in prac­tice and the first rider to clear it was Amer­i­can Phil Lar­son. Many of those who had at­tempted it opted for cau­tion in the race it­self (in­clud­ing win­ner of both mo­tos, Dave Thorpe) but in the sec­ond moto Jobe de­cided to give it a go – and the rest is his­tory.

Jobe later ad­mit­ted that he was prob­a­bly bet­ter re­mem­bered for that aerial pass than for any of the five world ti­tles he landed (two 250 crowns for Suzuki in 1980 and 1983 and three 500 wins on Hon­das in 1987, 1991 and 1992). Jobe didn’t win the ti­tle in 1984 – that went to the man he passed at Hawk­stone. He didn’t even win that race (the sec­ond moto). But it re­mains a defin­ing mo­ment – and im­age – in mo­tocross his­tory.

Kawasaki were still rel­a­tive min­nows in the mo­tocross pond in 1984. Just as Suzuki had dom­i­nated the 500 class in the 70s, Honda put a stran­gle­hold on the class in the 80s. Save for Brad Lackey’s se­ries win for Suzuki in 1982 and Hakan Car­lqvist forc­ing his Yamaha ahead of the works Hon­das the fol­low­ing year, 1980s 500 mo­tocross was red. But Kawasaki came close to up­set­ting Honda with their works SR500.

De­vel­oped in US, Bri­tish and Euro­pean na­tional rac­ing – and by Brad Lackey in the world cham­pi­onships from 1980 – the SR500 was Kawasaki’s fac­tory ma­chine re­served for their top rid­ers. But Jobe’s 1984 works bike re­mains a blend of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and rus­tic­ity. This is the very bike on which Jobe made that leap of faith back in 1984. Now re­sid­ing in a pri­vate col­lec­tion, the ex-jobe SR500 re­mains an iconic ma­chine to the mo­tocross faith­ful. Up un­til 1983, SR500S had been based heav­ily on pro­duc­tion ma­chines but, for 1984, all that went out the win­dow and the 1984 SR was a real step up in de­vel­op­ment.

For a start, it was the light­est bike on the 500 GP cir­cuit, weigh­ing in at 225lb – a mas­sive 16½ lb lighter than the pre­vi­ous year’s SR. And it was a fully

‘THE CRANKCASES ARE MAG­NE­SIUM AND MOST EN­GINE PARTS ARE HAND MA­CHINED ’

hand-built one-off rather than the blend of stock and mod­i­fied pro­duc­tion parts used on the 1983 SR. Yet, ex­actly as it was left af­ter be­ing pre­pared for its next out­ing at the end of the 1984 sea­son, the re­mote reser­voir for the rear shock on Jobe’s bike is held onto the frame by ca­ble ties and a hose clip. In con­trast, the shock it­self fea­tures a body ma­chined from solid bil­let with a heat com­pen­sator to re­duce fade in gru­elling 45-minute mo­tos, and preload and two-stage com­pres­sion damp­ing ad­just­ment. Ride height can be ad­justed by us­ing dif­fer­ent length links for the Uni-trak sys­tem. It was state of the art stuff in 1984.

The rest of the bike re­veals the lengths Kawasaki went to in or­der to give Jobe the best chance of bring­ing home the ti­tle they craved. The frame and swing­ing arm might look a tad spindly com­pared to mod­ern beam frames, but the hand welded tube­work re­mains a mas­ter­class in pro­vid­ing strength and light­ness. No less work has gone into the hand crafted al­loy fuel tank. In 1983, Kawasaki suf­fered some em­bar­rass­ing in­ci­dents as SRS ran out of fuel in longer races. So, for Jobe’s 1984 ma­chine, a larger tank – care­fully fab­ri­cated to lower the cen­tre of grav­ity and to al­low the rider to move fur­ther for­ward on the bike – was spec­i­fied.

The front suspension is ev­ery bit as ex­otic as the rear. Fork slid­ers are ma­chined from solid, while the yokes are a com­bi­na­tion of ex­truded and bil­let al­loy com­po­nents welded by hand. And there were a va­ri­ety of yokes with dif­fer­ent off­sets through­out the sea­son, to fine-tune han­dling to suit in­di­vid­ual tracks and rid­ers.

The ex­haust is hand-crafted – though for some rea­son fit­ted with a stock KX si­lencer that still bears the scru­ti­neers’ marks from the bike’s fi­nal GP. Hubs and the rear brake plate are sand-cast mag­ne­sium. Jobe did ex­per­i­ment with a disc rear that sea­son, but pre­ferred the feel of the drum and re­verted to that. Even the plas­tics, though look­ing at first like KX125 parts, are unique to the works SR – though, sadly, the front disc guard Jobe used at Hawk­stone has not sur­vived.

If the cy­cle parts are state of the art, so too is the brute of an en­gine. While the 1983 SR en­gine was ba­si­cally an air-cooled KX bot­tom-end mod­i­fied to ac­cept a wa­ter­cooled bar­rel and head, the 1984 unit is an all-new de­sign. The crankcases are mag­ne­sium (as are the outer cases) and just about ev­ery in­ter­nal en­gine com­po­nent is hand ma­chined. De­signed from the bot­tom up as a wa­ter-cooled unit, the 1984 SR500 would pave the way for the pro­duc­tion KX500 in 1985. It’s an im­mensely pow­er­ful unit – but one that took a rider of the cal­i­bre of Jobe to get the best from it. The next year a power-valve would make the SR more user-friendly, but Jobe had to live with the all or noth­ing hit from the ’84 model.

Not that that seemed to af­fect the Bel­gian too much. Sure, he might not have won the ti­tle – but sec­ond be­hind Honda’s An­dre Mal­herbe isn’t a bad re­turn for a new rider/bike com­bi­na­tion at the top level. A brace of early sea­son wins at the first two championship rounds in Aus­tria and Switzer­land were backed up by an­other over­all vic­tory in Canada be­fore in­jury wrecked Jobe’s sea­son. That he came back to win nine out of the last 10 mo­tos of the sea­son and lost the ti­tle by a mere 10 points speaks vol­umes for the man – and the ma­chine.

And, af­ter all, there was that pass at Hawk­stone.

3

ABOVE: Swingarm looks dainty by mod­ern stan­dards but crafts­man­ship is ex­quis­ite LEFT: Al­loy tank bears scars of Jobe’s last out­ing BE­LOW: Bike weighed an im­pres­sive 16.5lb less than the pre­vi­ous year’s ma­chine

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