It is impossible to tell who the most talented motorcycle racer of all times was – the most common names vehiculated in such tops are Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood, and Valentino Rossi. However, it is hard to decide which of the three was the most talented because these men rode in different areas and each one had a different bike and other rivals. Skill requirements also evolved from one era to another, and without the same set of criteria for measuring one’s performance while lacking a common context, nobody can tell who was the greatest. However, let’s see what made these three motorcycle racers famous and also discover other big names in the history of motorcycle racing.
1. Kenny Roberts
Roberts is best known for being the first American to win a Grand Prix motorcycle racing world championship. Born in 1951 in Modesto, California, Kenny Roberts was also a racing team owner and a motorcycle engine and chassis constructor. This role has enabled him to advocate for increased motorcycle racing standards. Other changes that Roberts has generated in the world of motorcycle racing was increasing the influence and power of Grand Prix races and imposing a new era of professionalism in this sport. Although he broke the hegemony of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme in the late 70s, the same organization named him a Grand Prix legend in 2000.
2. Mike Hailwood
Mile Hailwood (1940-1941) is considered by many one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all times and his nickname was “Mike the Bike”. Aside from competing at a Grand Prix level in motorcycles, he also got involved with car racing and performed at a very high level in this sport as well. Active between 1958 and 1967, the British motorcycle racer has remained in the history of bikes for having won the most dramatic Isle of Man race of all time, the 1967 Senior TT. This is where he managed to establish a lap record of 175.05 km/h on the Honda RC181, which was not beaten for the next 8 years, and defeated rival Giacomo Agostini. The irony is that Hailwood died in a car accident, but not during a race. A truck making an illegal turn killed Hailwood and his daughter when he was just 40 years old while he was driving his kids to pick up some fish and chips.
3. Valentino Rossi
Another highly successful motorcycle racer, who has won nine Grand Prix World Championships, is the Italian Valentino Rossi. His career has been on an ascending trend since 2000 and he began racing as a kid by taking part to regional kart championships. In 2002, the inaugural year for the MotoGP bikes, Rossi was the winner of the first race in wet conditions at Suzuka. He won 8 of the first 9 races of the season and obtained the next title at Rio De Janeiro. Other victories for the bike no. 46 obtained in the 2000s were winning eight Grand Prix in the 2004 season, winning his 7th World Championship in 2005, and winning the first place in Shanghai in 2008. In 2011 and 2012, Rossi switched to Ducati and eventually returned to Honda in 2013 to stay loyal to the Japanese bike to this day.
4. Joey Dunlop
Born William Joseph Dunlop in 1952, he was voted the second greatest motorcycling icon ever, just after Valentino Rossi, by Motorcycle News. Dunlop’s bike had the number 3 and helped him win 26 TT races at the Isle of Man – this record has not been beaten yet. In 1979 Dunlop won the first Ulster Grand Prix in Northern Ireland and over his career he won it 23 times. His average speed per lap in that race was 100 mph, which is impressive on a bike that is not as advanced as the models being used today, and on narrow Irish roads. He has received numerous distinctions, both for his motorcycle racing contributions and for his humanitarian work (helping orphanages in Romania, Albania, and Bosnia-Hercegovina with food and clothing). His life ended on the circuit, in a race in Tallin, Estonia, in 2000, where he lost control in wet conditions and was killed on impact with trees.
5. Mick Doohan
The Australian former Grand Prix motorcycle racer has been active between 1989 and 1999 and is best known for having won five consecutive 500 cc World Championships. Throughout the entire decade of professional motorcycle racing, Doohan has rode Hondas of the 500cc class, after using a Yamaha just for the 1988 racing year. His first win came in 1990, at the 500cc Hungarian Grand Prix. The early 1990s were very successful for Doohan, until he had an accident during a practice before the 1992 Dutch TT – due to medical complications he risked amputation of his right foot at one stage. He had to switch to a left thumb-operated rear brake because his right foot was no longer able to perform this action. His retirement was announced in 1999 after another accident which again broke his leg in several places.
What other motorcycle racers would you include in a short list of most famous bikers in racing history?