Some folks follow MotoGP racing because of the personalities involved, others, and I have a hunch that would be many of you, are more interested in the tech side of things, it’s not who is riding what, it’s what are they riding. If you count yourself among the latter group, Kevin Cameron’s new book, The Grand Prix Motorcycle: The Official Technical History, is something you’ll want to read. Although the large format and glossy pages make you think it’s one of those coffee table books soon forgotten, in reality, this is a complete history of the top level of motorcycle racing from the FIM World Championships beginning in 1949 right up to the present day motorcycles in MotoGP.
The championship motorcycle for each year is presented with a color illustration and full technical details above a timeline with all of the year’s races and how the bike fared. Each bike has an accompanying one page essay with a description of the engineering involved and discussing technical and development issues along with competitive developments from the other manufacturers. There are also a series of longer essays detailing the various eras from the early British development to Gilera and MV, when competition from Honda first challenged the MV, the Kenny Roberts years, Rainey, Doohan, the return of 4 strokes and much more.
Kevin Cameron, who most of you know from his many Cycle World and earlier Cycle articles, covers the entire history from the perspective of someone with a deep technical understanding of the motorcycles who enjoys telling us what he knows.
It’s striking how, in the early years, MV Agusta dominated the series, with a first win in 1956, then after Gilera won in 1957, MV Agusta returned with an uninterrupted series of championships from 1958 through 1974!
Cameron also points out the inherent power delivery issues of the 2 strokes and how the machines in that era, though incredibly powerful, could hardly be ridden by the best racers, making the transition back to 4 strokes a welcome change for many, followed by decreasing lap times as the riders could better control the power through and out of the turns.
If I have an issue with the book, it’s the availability, or rather lack of it. The book is just out and on Amazon it immediately went on back order, then it’s been in and out of stock since. It looks like you can also order through Cycle World magazine, though Amazon should be getting more very soon so an order will likely be filled before long.
If you want to get a good sense of the entire technical history of racing at the premier level, how engines, tires, suspension and every other detail, evolved as experience and knowledge increased, this is the book you’ll want. Definitely recommended.