“The most dan­ger­ous ride of my life”

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Special Brew -

Kenny Roberts tells PS: “Yamaha had me riding an XS750 four-stroke twin and you didn’t win on that thing, you just fended off as many Har­leys as you could. You weren’t go­ing to win a mile on a Yamaha. So I told Kel [Car­ruthers, his crew chief and 1969 250cc world cham­pion] to build me some­thing faster. First time I saw the TZ was when we turned up for the Indy Mile in Au­gust 1975. I took it out for prac­tice, gassed it up and it was pretty crazy. They’d stuck a kill switch on the thing that cut the spark on one cylin­der, so if I couldn’t find any trac­tion I’d hit the switch and I’d be on three cylin­ders and the tyre would try to hook up again. If you could’ve cut two cylin­ders it would’ve been about right.

“We had it geared for 150mph on the straight. In the main event I was run­ning it into the fence in turns two and three be­cause I was look­ing for some grip. There were a cou­ple of Har­leys ahead of me. Com­ing out of the fi­nal turn I got some good drive, the tyre stopped spin­ning and I won the race by a wheel.

“Look­ing back, it was prob­a­bly the most dan­ger­ous ride of my life. In fact, it was a real night­mare. I mean, if I saw one of my kids do­ing that I’d try to stop the race. Af­ter I’d won I could see my me­chan­ics were re­mov­ing bits of wire from the side of the bike, from where I’d been catch­ing the hay bales mid-cor­ner, sim­ply be­cause that was the only place where I was find­ing the grip.”

“Af­ter that the AMA were pretty quick to ban the TZ and it was the right thing to do, be­cause I could see some­one get­ting hurt. The prob­lem was that it was 20mph faster than the Har­leys down the straight­aways, so it was just dan­ger­ous, plus you had to throw it side­ways to get it slowed for the corners and there weren’t a lot of rid­ers who could throw it side­ways at 150mph”.

“That was the only bike I re­quested from that era. The Yamaha rac­ing man­ager said there’s been a big mistake, that bike got crushed. In fact he pushed it out the back of the build­ing and sold it.”

Roberts was one of the very few rid­ers who stood a chance of sur­viv­ing the TZ750 ex­pe­ri­ence on dirt

Smokey – and they banned it. Rightly so, says Kenny

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