Mike Hailwood : motorcycling as a blood sport

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I come across lots of interesting photos of racers in my research. Motorcycle racing has always been very popular and features prominently in period magazines and sport yearbooks. One such magazine in my collection from 1958 has a great article about a promising young newcomer to racing, a teenager called Mike Hailwood. “Mike The Bike” went on to have a phenomenally successful career including an impressive comeback IOM TT win in 1978 after leaving the sport for eleven years.

I like this photo because it shows how far he could lean a bike over in the corners – so far that his leather boots would scrape on the track or road surface and wear away. Often Hailwood would end a race with the boots worn completely through and his feet bleeding. It takes a particular dedication to winning to be prepared to wear away first tough leather and then skin to be fastest through the corners. Similarly it must have taken a lot of skill to know just how far to go to ensure toes weren’t removed in the bends. No wonder modern race boots have removable sliders on the outer part of the toe section of the boot…

One aspect of the interviews I’m doing with riders active in the 1960s will be finding out how young motorcyclists were influenced by successful British racers like Geoff Duke and Hailwood. They raced at a time when riders wore only black leather, sometimes with just a motorcycle manufacturer logo on their helmets. Contrast that with the suits of today’s racers – whilst their talent is undeniable, they also exist as vessels to transport sponsors’ logos round a circuit, witnessed by attendees and television viewers all over the world. I’ll post something related to this about the death of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli and the images used when it was reported by the BBC.

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