Restoring Barry Sheene's 1976 Suzuki RG500
This is a ‘works’ 1976 Suzuki RG500 square four two-stroke, code name XR14 – the actual bike that won Barry Sheene the first of his two premier-class world titles. Since then, however, it has been on display – and nothing harms a performance machine of any kind worse than standing still.
In this case, the Suzuki was left standing for at least a decade with coolant in the radiator, which not only caused severe corrosion of the magnesium crankcases, but also got into the gearbox when the water-pump seal failed from exposure to the UV wavelengths in sunlight and formed a thick, gooey emulsion with the gearbox oil.
In this video, the first of a two-part series from Suzuki GB, you’ll meet Martyn Ogborne, who was Sheene’s technician during his world championship years, and who remembers this bike well.
Now retired, Ogborne has been asked by Suzuki to restore the bike to as-new running condition so that it can be ridden in historic parades and demonstration laps in honour of its original owner, who still enjoys cult status in Britain and Australia.
In Part 1, Ogborne takes us through the strip-down, sharing with us what’s wrong and, surprisingly, how much of this highly-strung screamer has survived four decades of standing still.
The 1976 XR14 had a 497cc four-cylinder engine with disc valves and carburettors facing outwards, delivering 75kW at 11 500rpm, with a power band, to quote Sheene himself, “as wide as the genitalia on a chocolate mouse”, driving through a gearbox limited to class rules to only six speeds.
Yet with its spindly steel-tube frame and swing-arm it weighed in at just 135kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 750kW/ton and a top speed of 280km/h on long circuits such as Spa Francorchamps and Assen. Respect.