Classic Superbikes Are Coming To Town
The 2016 Penrite Broadford Bike Bonanza is featuring superbikes from the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and Mick Hone is in the middle of the action…
There was a time when superbikes didn’t exist. Racing was for race bikes and some classes were available for production bike racing. ‘Improved Production’ hinted at the future but never really grasped it.
In Australia, events like the 1972 Pan Pacific series (US/NZ/Aus), the Chesterfield series (1973) and the Castrol Six-Hour (1970 to 1987) suggested a class of racing (in the case of the Six-Hour, largely through the level of cheating) that was affordable, spectacular and had the potential to draw big crowds.
Mick Hone, boss of Melbourne’s Mick Hone Motorcycles, saw the potential of superbike racing almost as soon as he started racing himself – back in 1969 on a Yamaha 125 when he was in his last year of high school.
Development of superbike racing, he says, was frustrated by the structure of the controlling body of motorcycle racing at the time, the Auto Cycle Council of Australia (ACCA).
This was the national body of various state organisations called State Controlling Bodies (SCB) and Mick says it could take up to three years to get a good idea up as national meetings were only held once a year. The ACCA eventually morphed into what we know today as Motorcycling Australia.
Internet gossip says Australia was instrumental in initiating international superbike racing but Mick claims it wasn’t until 1979, when he, Warren Tapner (advertising manager for REVS magazine), Graeme Laing (Melbourne Suzuki and, later, Milledge Yamaha and Yamaha Australia), Neil Bird, Mick Ralph and Mike Hanlon (owner of AMCN) got a Victorian series up, that superbike racing gained traction. The Americans, he says, were already making superbikes from 1976 out of the likes of the Suzuki GS750 and racing them at Daytona and in events like the Suzuka Eight-Hour.
Victoria initiated a superbike series in 1979 and it was a precursor to the fully fledged Australian Superbike Series, which ran from 1980 to 1987. It was replaced for a short period, from 1987 to ’88, by what was called the Australian Endurance Championships in 1989before becoming the Australian Superbike Championship we know today.
Andrew Johnson on the Syndicate Kawasaki
AND THEY’RE RACING
Mick Hone raced in the ’70s and is modest about his ability although he’s widely respected by his generation. “The best way to see the best riders was to race against them and try to keep them in sight for a few laps.”
He beat Graeme Crosby at Hume Weir and has other special memories from his career.
“I rode a Yamaha 250 at Bathurst in 1974 and broke the lap record for B-grade riders. I know I’m permanently associated with Suzuki but I also raced a Moto Guzzi LeMans MkI at Phillip Island in 1976 and broke the class lap record by six seconds. Some of the racing I enjoyed most was against Jeremy Burgess when we were both on Suzuki RG500s. I still vividly remember how tight it was at the Victorian TT at Calder in 1976. It was always a fierce contest.”
Mick mixed it with the best of his peers: Dennis Neil, Alan Decker, Mick Cole, Rob Phillis, Andrew Johnson and Jim Budd.
“Regardless of results, I was content when I was comfortable on a bike, it was running well and when I felt I couldn’t have ridden any better.”
Mick rode a Suzuki GS1000 in the first year of the Australian Superbike Series which was won by Andrew (AJ) Johnson on the legendary Syndicate Kawasaki. Mystery still surrounds this bike but a key player in the ‘syndicate’ was Graeme ‘Gyro’ Carless from Ecco Engineering and the bike remains a legend for its sheer power and AJ’s incredible riding.
Team Honda’s Mal Campbell leads Mick Hone Suzuki’s Robbie Phillis, 1984 Swann Series
Mick stopped racing in 1980 but invested his knowledge in building a team for the Australian Superbike Series based around a young Robbie Phillis and support from Suzuki. The Mick Hone Suzuki team dominated the series from 1981 to ’85, winning every single year.
While acknowledging Phillis’ skill on the GSX1100, Mick says the foundation of their success was the way they worked together.
“It was essentially four of us and we clicked: Alan Pickering, Dragman, Robbie and myself. There were no ego problems and we all got a buzz out of how exciting the racing was. I’d often look at the first couple of rows of the grid and realise that any one of the top dozen could win on the day. Yes, we were successful, but we worked very hard and had our act together.”
Among the stars of the day were Johnson, Mal Campbell, Scott Stephens and Neville Hiscock.
Campbell finally broke the Mick Hone Suzuki spell in 1986 with a series win for Honda Australia on his VFR750 but, by then, life was starting to catch up with Mick, who had a young family to consider along with the responsibility of running Mick Hone Motorcycles in the Box Hill area of Melbourne.
He remained heavily involved in Superbike racing, though, building bikes and assisting various up-and-comers through his links with Suzuki and Yoshimura including Troy Corser, Kirk McCarthy, Steve Martin, Marty Craggill and MT’s Cam Donald.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Underlining his respect for the history of Superbike racing, Mick still has a number of the original bikes used, including the Wes Cooley Replica GS1000 on which he raced himself.
The 1984 Katana on which Phillis won the Australian Superbike Series still gets an outing at classic meets and he still has the EFE Superbike on which Phillis broke lap records at every circuit on which they raced.
While Mick admires the talent on show in the current Superbike scene, he misses the raw thrills and companionship of the early days.
“The competition was intense but if I ran out of tyres during a meeting, I’d think nothing of borrowing some from Clyde Wolfenden (boss of the Honda team) and he’d think nothing of lending them to me.
“I borrowed a whole bike once for the ’83 Arai 500. Our bike was out of action and Clyde had a CR750 endurance racer with no rider. He let Robbie ride it on the condition we didn’t put Mick Hone Racing stickers on it.
When the bike was on the grid and Clyde was otherwise occupied, we plastered it with stickers anyway. Robbie led from the third lap and won convincingly. I doubt things like that would happen today. People helped each other then – that was the difference.”
The 2016 Penrite Broadford Bike Bonanza to be held over the Easter weekend March 25-28 at the Victorian State Motorcycle Complex, Broadford will present a mouth-watering collection of Australia’s best Superbikes and their riders.
Among the earliest will be the Yoshimura Kawasaki Z1R Ross Hannan built for Graeme Crosby which launched Croz’s international career. Garry Thomas will have his Kawasaki H2 on which he won the 1973 Chesterfield Series. Gyro’s Syndicate Kawasaki will be there, along with the full-factory Honda VF750 specials ridden by Mal Campbell and Andrew Johnson.
Kevin Magee will display his Yamaha 0W01 in Winfield colours and you’ll also get to see Peter Doyle’s take on the Kawasaki GPX750 on which Robbie Phillis won an Australian Endurance Championship.
You want more? In an extraordinary act of generosity, Suzuki Australia recently gave its collection of race bikes to the people who rode them in the day, so Shawn Giles (Superbike champion 2000/2001/2002) and Craig Coxhell (2003) will be exercising their superbikes on the Broadford road circuit.
For more information on the PBBB, go to www.ma.org.au and click on the PBBB icon.
This article appears in Motorcycle Trader #304