Book Learnin' & Cypherin' & Such Paid Off For Roberts
by dean adams
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
'I never had to bow to you when we began ...'. Roberts predicted he would beat Sheene for the world title before the 1978 season began.
image by knock off nikon

Perhaps one of the very best Kenny Roberts stories I've heard about his first world championship in 1978 is the one regarding when he felt he could win the 500cc world championship.

Roberts had only raced one GP before 1978, a 250 race at Assen in 1974. He had no real frame of reference for Grand Prix, the tracks or—outside of the old British vs American Match races or the odd Daytona—what his new competitors were capable of in terms of performance.

Motocourse, the old GP annual book beloved by enthusiasts, was just in its infancy in 1977. Less than a couple of hundred copies of the early editions were shipped to the US and sold by distributor Tom Warth.

Somehow Roberts got his hands on the 1977 edition around the same times that he and his Yamaha US team were preparing to race as rookies in Europe in 1978. Roberts studied the track maps and the photos in that Motocourse like he was going to have to take a test on it one day.

The story goes that Roberts, after he pulled his face out of that Motocourse, told friends that he felt he could win the world title. He'd looked at the track maps, and more importantly, the photos of then world champion Barry Sheene. He'd studied them closely.

"I said then, 'If he runs the bike like that we will smoke him."
Roberts, it is said, didn't think that Sheene looked like he was riding all that hard in the photos. He deduced this by how far the back of Sheene's Suzuki was torqued down exiting the corners, his racing lines and how far Sheene actually wasn't leaned over.

"I remember looking at the photos in Motocourse from the '77 season and seeing pictures of Sheene on the Suzuki. He had the gas and oil shocks then, with no spring. I reckoned the swing arm was sagging too much and he was losing traction. I said then, 'If he runs the bike like that we will smoke him," Roberts said.


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