‘It’s the most amaz­ing mo­tor­cy­cle that I have ever rid­den’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - By Stephen Dav­i­son & Phil West MCN CON­TRIB­U­TORS

Some peo­ple like to think Guy Martin is a bit daft. How­ever, his rev­er­ence, knowl­edge and pas­sion for the RC174 Hon­daSix proves he’s any­thing but. Honda’s leg­endary, near-myth­i­caleven, six-cylin­der GP rac­ers of the mid1960s are among the most fan­tas­tic, exotic and al­lur­ing mo­tor­cy­cles ever built. Mind-blowing tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vels in their own right with pis­tons the size of thim­bles, 24 valves and an 18,000rpm rev-ceil­ing, they not only sound like ab­so­lutely noth­ing else, they worked bril­liantly, even­tu­ally dom­i­nat­ing 250 and 350 GPS (in­deed win­ning 1966’s 250 crown by the sea­son’s mid­way point); be­com­ing in­ex­tri­ca­bly as­so­ci­ated with ar­guably the great­est racer of all time, Mike Hail­wood – who rated it the best bike he ever rode.

And Guy doesn’t dis­agree. “That’s the most amaz­ing mo­tor­bike I have ever rid­den,” was his ver­dict af­ter eight laps of the Cas­tle Combe cir­cuit on an ex­act replica of the 50-year-old 296cc RC174 on Sun­day.

The prod­uct of an era when the Ja­panese cor­po­ra­tion wanted to flex their engi­neer­ing mus­cles, Hail­wood won the 1967 350cc world champi- on­ship on the in­fa­mous six-cylin­der ma­chine – and his son, David, was at Cas­tle Combe to celebrate his fa­ther’s achieve­ments. Martin ful­filled a life­time’s am­bi­tion by rid­ing the exotic ma­chine in a se­ries of trib­ute laps to the nine-times world cham­pion dur­ing Cas­tle Combe’s an­nual (and only) two wheeled meet­ing, the Grand Na­tional, on Sun­day. The big­gest crowd in over a decade flocked to the Wilt­shire venue to watch the spec­ta­cle that also in­cluded an ap­pear­ance by three-time Grand Prix world cham­pion, Fred­die Spencer.

“Ge­orge [the bike’s builder] told me not to do more than 16,000 revs but I had to roll off every­where just to keep it to 16 be­cause it just wants to go!” laughed the Lin­colnshire ace af­ter his stint aboard the scream­ing 250. “I was ex­pect­ing it to be a night­mare to keep sing­ing, but although it isn’t the most us­able bike, it was al­right. It is half us­able and it re­ally goes.”

Guy is fa­mil­iar with the Cas­tle Combe

‘I had to roll off just to keep it to 16,000rpm be­cause it just wants to go!’

cir­cuit, hav­ing tested his su­per-bike­spec Honda Fire­blade there ear­lier in the year. His big­gest strug­gle with the vin­tage Honda lay with the gear­box, which in­volves very close ra­tios on the high-revving multi and has a shift lever on the op­po­site side to Guy’s usual set-up.

“You are go­ing up and down the gear­box like a fid­dler’s el­bow,” was Guy’s de­scrip­tion. “At Tower bend you are go­ing back two gears on a su­per­bike but on that bike you are go­ing back five.”

The per­fect mar­riage

If the Six was a car, it was a Fer­rari 250 GTO mixed with a Ford GT; if it was a movie star it was James Dean mar­ried to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. If it was a crea­ture, it was a uni­corn. In fact bet­ter: it ex­isted. No ma­chine demon­strates Honda’s abil­i­ties bet­ter.

The Six was the cul­mi­na­tion of Honda’s dream for GP dom­i­nance dur­ing a pe­riod of both an in­ex­orable rise of the Ja­panese fac­to­ries and (vir­tu­ally) un­lim­ited GP tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions.

By its very def­i­ni­tion, the magic of the Honda Six is all about the en­gine and even the bare num­bers are as­ton­ish­ing. It’s a four-stroke, DOHC, 24-valve, in­line six pro­duc­ing peak power at 18,000rpm, a speed that wouldn’t be re­peated un­til F1 be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with pneu­matic valves in the mid-1990s. In RC166 form each cylin­der had a bore of just 41mm, stroke of 31mm and was fed by valves the size of a rub­ber on the end of a pen­cil. The crank­shaft was as­sem­bled from 13 in­di­vid­ual parts each no big­ger than a

‘You are go­ing up and down the gear­box like a fid­dler’s el­bow’

domino, and six tiny, 22mm Kei­hin round-slide car­bu­ret­tors fed the six cylinders via five tiny jets.

TT dream­ing

Hail­wood came to de­fine the Honda Six, and Guy was de­lighted to take part in the week­end’s trib­ute to ‘Mike the Bike’.

“Hear­ing about how good Mike Hail­wood was, was what I grew up with,” he ex­plained. “That was all I ever heard from my Dad, and Neil Tuxworth says the same. All the cur­rent rid­ers are good but they aren’t Mike Hail­wood. He is the mea­sure and he was an amaz­ing bloke. He didn’t worry too much about set-up, he just got on and rode it.

“A lap of the TT on that would be bloody amaz­ing,” he added with a long­ing look in the RC174’S di­rec­tion.

The bike is one of eight su­per ex­pen­sive RC174 repli­cas built by Ge­orge Beale. John Mcguin­ness has rid­den one of Beale’s bikes in the past but the for­mer phar­ma­cist and spon­sor ad­mit­ted he was ner­vous as Guy Martin threw his leg over the £450,000 ma­chine at Cas­tle Combe.

“I’m al­ways ner­vous when they go out,” smiled Beale wryly. “Guy is such a char­ac­ter and I have been very im­pressed by his me­chan­i­cal knowl­edge. I think the com­bi­na­tion of Guy and the Honda Six is the best you could imag­ine to at­tract the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion. He has achieved his am­bi­tion now, and so have I.”

Guy had pro­claimed that hav­ing the chance to ride the Honda Six was one of the main rea­sons he was com­ing out of re­tire­ment when he signed to re­turn to the roads for Honda Rac­ing in Jan­uary. Per­haps the 31-yearold imag­ined it would have been the swan­song to a vic­to­ri­ous Moun­tain cam­paign. In­stead it felt more like a con­so­la­tion prize af­ter his dis­as­trous TT on the new Fire­blade. He clearly en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence nonethe­less.

“It was the most ner­vous I’ve ever been,” Guy said as he ex­plained how he felt about the out­ing. “I went to sleep ner­vous and I woke up ner­vous. There have only been three bikes in his­tory I have re­ally wanted to ride, the Brit­ten and my Pikes Peak Suzuki, which I’ve rid­den – and now the Honda Six. And it was bet­ter than I ever thought it would be.”

‘Hail­wood was an amaz­ing bloke. He didn’t worry about set up, he just rode’

Yes it’s loud, very loud but it’s an oh, so glo­ri­ous ca­coph­ony

Guy is in awe as Ge­orge Beale fires up the Six

Guy gets the lowdown from David Hail­woood

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