Building a new motorcycle tire is not easy. As the only two contact points your motorcycle has to the ground, there’s a lot of responsibility involved. In the case of a racing tire, the demands become that much greater; not only does the tire need to remain consistent throughout its life, but it also needs to be better than its predecessor. Sure, this can be said about practically any motorcycle tire, but with racing tires there’s an actual gauge to measure old and new: the stopwatch.
Robb Talbott is late. We agreed to meet at the site of his forthcoming motorcycle museum in Carmel Valley, but the guy is nowhere in sight. Just then, a late-model pickup comes rattling up the drive, towing a trailer. On the back is something you just don’t see everyday: a single-cylinder, brakeless, fire-breathing, on/off switch of a motorcycle that looks like it could pitch you into the grandstands faster than you could say “JAP.” The owner, a former European speedway champ, now in his 80s, just gave him the damn thing, along with all his trophies and memorabilia. After all, what was he going to do with the stuff? Robb might as well have it.
History has a funny way of repeating itself, and as long as you wait long enough, what’s old will eventually become new again. Right now, we’re seeing that trend in motorcycling, as models like the Yamaha SR400, Royal Enfield Continental GT, BMW R nineT and Ducati Scrambler all pay homage to days gone by. Then, of course, you’ve got those who simply refuse to let go of the past, buying 30-plus year-old motorcycles and making them their own. Hell, even the verbiage is making a comeback. Cafe Racer, anyone? Vintage motorcycling may be popular these days, but there’s one aspect of the past that should remain in the history books: safety gear. Helmets, specifically.