Slow Burn – The growth of Superbikes and Superbike racing 1970 to 1988

by MotoGusto Editor

Following on from his excellent hardback work ‘Racing Line’ (published by Veloce) on the golden age of the big singles in the British racing scene, author Bob Guntrip turns his attention to the growth of Superbike racing on the world stage. 

Arguably now World Superbikes is more popular than Moto GP due to the close resemblance of the bikes on the starting grid to those that sit in the motorcycle dealerships on sale to the public.

Certainly the manufacturers did — and still do — use Superbike racing to test their street-bike designs helping themselves, distributors and dealers develop and improve their motorcycles with the mantra of ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ still being very relevant.

It has been a highly competitive training ground for grand prix riders, but, amazingly, riders who excel in Superbikes do not always do well in Moto GP and likewise riders of the pure racing factory machines do not always do well on Superbikes.

Simply look at the history of World Superbikes and you see a world championship that started in 1988, won by American Fred Merkel on a Honda.

It was to go on and make household names of the likes of Carl Fogarty, Colin Edwards, Troy Corser and James Toseland, to name just a few of the World Champions it has produced.

But, what Guntrip has done is go back in time and look at how the series came about, how several different series around the world – all using similar machinery but with different rules – were combined into one which captured the racing fans imagination in every country.

As he quite rightly points out, it was an eighteen year slow burn that all started in California with a rider by the name of Steve McLaughlin (whose father had a Honda and Ducati dealership) who was, in fact, racing two-strokes, but noticed the fans were more interested in watching Ducatis, Moto Guzzis and Honda CB750s at a race he was at.

Whilst that race might have sown the seed in his mind, it was not until the 1980’s when, having retired from racing, that he was lured back from the TV industry by Daytona track owner Jim France to pull together into one the various series that were taking place in UK, America, Australia and Europe.

Based in Paris, France, he eventually got the FIM and everyone to work to the same set of rules, as well as getting the factories to agree to support the racing – the rest, as they say, is history.

By contacting the team managers, riders and mechanics who were part of the various championships – as well as those journalists reporting on the various series – Guntrip has pieced together an insight as to how the various elements of each combined to produce the race series that we know today. Eight chapters take the reader through the various different aspects that combined to produce the bikes and racing that power-slide their way around the world’s tracks today.

As one expects these days the quality and layout of this latest Veloce publication is excellent and it is easy to dip in and out of. Contained within the 256 pages are all the great riders of the period and the epic battles that took place as they fought for supremacy, along with some good colour action shots from the races.

You can read about the rapid growth of technology, from pushrods to twin cams, carburation to fuel injection, and the evolution of the motorcycle frame as it moved from steel to alloy as all the manufacturers like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, Ducati and Aprilia have used the series to test and improve road bikes for their customers.

You do not need to be a pure racing fan to get something from this book, anybody that was and is riding many of the bikes of the era will find it just as fascinating as the race enthusiast. Like his previous work, it is well written and entertaining and whilst imparting a lot of information, it does not bore with the minutia.

Certainly if you have read the few books written about the actual series then you definitely need this to explain where it originated and the people responsible. But, whatever your interest — be it road or race — is well worth a read and well worth the competitive cover price of £25.00.

Available from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher Veloce at

ISBN: 9781787113169

Author of this review: Ian Kerr MBE

#superbikeracing #bobguntrip #Superbikes #motorcyclesport #veloce #motogusto

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