Best ever Kawasaki overtake? We think so
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.
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