For those who were fortunate enough to witness the great man in action, and for many more who didn’t, Mike Hailwood will always be regarded as the greatest motorcycle racer of all time.
Known simply as ‘Mike the Bike’ he was a rider of supreme natural ability who went on to be 10 times a World Champion (3 x 250cc 1961, ‘66, ‘67. 2 x 350cc ‘66, ‘67. 4 x 500cc ‘62, ‘63, ‘64, ‘65. and TT F1 in 1978). His was a different era to the one we know today. Multi cylinder Honda & MV Agusta machines. A single tyre for all seasons. Pretty basic suspension & tracks that were just about as unsafe as they could have been. Rider safety was definitely not a priority!!! But that’s the way it was. With little left to achieve on two wheels, Mike turned to car racing. Successes included winning the Formula Two European championship. He also competed in Formula One Grand Prix, driving for Lotus, Lola, Surtees & McLaren.
In 1973 he was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s highest award for civilian bravery, for his rescue of Clay Regazzoni who was trapped & unconscious in his burning car during the South African Grand Prix. Mike’s own Formula One career ended the following year after he sustained severe leg & foot injuries in a crash at the Nurburgring. But perhaps his most famous victories and finest hours came from his final visits to the Isle of Man. Already a twelve time TT winner and following an eleven year ‘retirement’ from racing, the then 38 year old, amazed the motorcycle racing fraternity by returning to the Island in 1978, to win the Formula1 race on a modified 900SS Ducati. He returned the following June armed with a 4 cylinder two stroke RG500Suzuki, to win in the Senior event and bring his career total to 14 TT wins, before again hanging up his leathers.
Tragically, Mike along with his young daughter Michelle were to lose their lives in a road traffic accident in March 1981. ‘Mike the Bike’ may be gone, but his legend will live on for a long time to come.