How Did Barry Sheene’s Livery Look So Fast?
In a distant time long, long, ago, there was a number that existed before 46. It may be somewhat smaller, but it held an equally big part in motorcycle racing fans’ hearts. I am, of course talking about number 7, and the incredible Barry Sheene.
Sheene was to motorcycling what Ali was to boxing, Best was to football, and McEnroe to tennis; all gifted with personality and character as large as their talent, and an inspiration to generations of kids, me included. I’ve never heard of anyone not liking him, unlike his partner in crime, Grand Prix driver James Hunt.
With 2016 being the 40th anniversary of Barry’s first World Championship title–and the fact that he was one of my childhood heros–it’s only fitting that I focus on his colorful race bikes of the mid-’70s. Sheene’s number 7 adorned some truly iconic racing liveries during this era, with many of them replicated on modern-day Suzuki anniversary editions. Most notably and fondly remembered are the red and yellow outlined Heron Suzuki colours, both on white or red/black bodywork.
This design in particular made the transition from bike-to-leathers with perfect synchronisation. The way the stripes follow the contours of the ‘curvy’ bodywork, perfectly match the affect his leathers design has around Barry’s bodywork! He was so ‘at one’ with riding a bike, and in this case, even more so with the design. It is sometimes hard to see where the bike ends and Barry starts, so perfectly matched together as they were. Definitely not an easy feat to reach: for two very different shapes that constantly move, to come together as one must be saluted.
Talking of numbers, there is another big player on a motorcycle: the number plate, or number board. Be it a traditional white circle, yellow oval or matte black square, they all play an integral part of the overall livery, either as a way to merge/finish stripes or simply to add a break in to the design to give some distraction. From childhood BMXs to motorbikes, I have always added numberboards to them, and even if it hasn’t been a Suzuki, I’d still put in a number 7!
My other—not so usual—reason for picking Barry to write about is down to a new project I’ve started working on. In the depths of Hackney in East London, a mere 2-3 miles away from where Barry was born, I am creating a motorcycling shrine. In a super-cool motorbike shop called Bolt Motorcycles London, I will be filling a huge window space with an art-work based on the front cover of Motor Cycling ’76 magazine. It features the multi-coloured-stripe design of Suzuki GB, and is therefore perfect to take on the essence of a stained glass window.
We are back in the land of big ‘phat’ stripes running all over and along racing bikes and cars, but with the way bikes are seen—or not as it may be—at different angles and with the rider moving around, we only ever see sections of the full design and that’s where these stripes take on the form of blocks of colour, creating abstract shapes that all feed the viewers eyes with excitement and speed (forgive me if I’ve gone a little too ‘poncy artist’ on you, but this is simply the affect such imagery had on me when conceiving the stained glass idea).
Even though this article turns out to be as much a ‘Barryfest’ as it is ‘bikefest’, I hope it demonstrates how far and wide inspiration can travel. So if you ever find yourself in East London and want to see the ‘Sheeneshine’, go along and pay homage to such a great racing livery…and Barry, of course.
What do you find striking about Sheene’s ’70s livery?