Mike Hailwood, the greatest motorcycle racer ever, at LiveToRide

He is still considered one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time, especially at the Isle of Man TT.

In fact, Mike Hailwood is regarded by many as the greatest ever.

He was worshipped by fans the world over, and he never disappointed, always giving them something to admire in what was an awe-inspiring career.

He soon became known as Mike The Bike due to his uncanny ability to race any size powered motorcycle with sheer precision and speed.

And during his incredible reign at the top he was victorious at the IoM TT on 14 occasions along with securing an amazing 9 World Championship titles.

A Brief Bio about Mike The Bike

Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood was born in Oxfordshire on the 2nd April 1940.

His father, who also raced in the pre-World War II era was a successful motorcycle dealer and as a result Hailwood had a comfortable upbringing.

And years before the Japanese industry had even invented the minibike, he was given a hand-made minibike by his millionaire father which he rode for hours on end in a field near his home honing his skills.

He saw his first ever motorcycle race at the age of 10, and when he was sixteen enjoyed his first taste of the Isle Of Man TT when he went to spectate with his father.

It wasn’t long later that he began racing himself, starting a career that would eventually become legendary.

Legend’s Racing Career Begins!

He first raced on 22nd April 1957 at Oulton Park. He was barely 17 and finished in 11th place.

Although it wasn’t long before he was posting some impressive results.

The following year he won ACU Stars at 125cc, 250cc and 350cc classes, earning him the Pinhard Prize, an accolade awarded yearly to a young motorcyclist under 21.

This of course was just a slight taste of what was to come. He continued racing for the next couple of years, but it was in 1961 when he took on the Mountain Course for the first time where he truly made a name for himself, and gave Honda their first TT victories.

First Motorcycle Rider In History To Win Four Straight 500cc World Championships

It was on the morning of June 12th 1961 when Mike the Bike rode a Honda RC143 125 twin to victory in the Lightweight TT.

It was his first ever win in the world’s greatest motorcycle racing event.

A few hours later, the 21 year old climbed aboard the Honda RC 162 four-cylinder 250 and won the Junior TT.

Then at the end of the week he rode his Bill Lacey-tuned Manx Norton to victory in the Senior TT and in doing so became the first ever rider to win three races in TT week.

In fact it probably should have been four until a broken gudgeon pin forced him out of the race while leading on his 350 AJS.

In 1962, Hailwood shocked a few people when he signed with MV Agusta, although the critics were soon silenced when he went on to become the first ever rider to win four consecutive 500cc World Championships.

In February 1964 during preparations for the US Grand Prix, Hailwood also set a new one-hour speed record on the MV 500cc recording an average speed of 144.8 mph (233.0 km/h) on the oval-shaped, banked speed-bowl at the Daytona circuit.

The previous record of 143mph (230 km/h) was set by Bob McIntyre on a 350cc Gilera at Monza in 1957.

Hailwood then went on to win the GP race that same afternoon.

His unwavering dedication to motorbike racing

His sheer determination as a motorcycle racer was clearly illustrated the following year when he crashed at Sarah’s Cottage in the 1965 Senior TT.

In front of dumfounded spectators, Mike picked up his bike, kicked it back over, and rode it back to the pits with a broken screen, flattened exhaust and of course a bleeding nose along with a few scratches and bruises.

After rolling into the pits he did his best to straighten his bent handlebars before roaring off to win the race.

It truly was a masterclass performance, and one that would be remembered in history.

Fierce Competitor Who Set Records In Motorcycle Racing

After his successes with MV Agusta, Hailwood went back to Honda and won four more world titles in 1966 and 1967 in the 250 cc and 350 cc categories, although not everything went to plan in the 500cc class:

“The two seasons in which I rode the best of all were those in which I did not win the 500cc world championship: 1966 and 1967.

The Honda’s gearbox let me down two years in succession at the same circuit [Monza] and both times it cost me the title.

However, ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ have no place in motorsport and the fact was that Agostini had been more successful over those two seasons than I had. His era was just beginning while mine was at an end.

When the Honda was performing as it should I could get away from anyone.”

And that was a true statement, because Mike could ride the tits off just about anything, overcoming problems on the go by simply adapting his riding style.

A great example of this was when he won the 1967 Senior TT riding the evil handling Honda RC181to victory with a loose throttle.

He won three races in total that year in 1967, the Junior, Lightweight, and probably the best of all the Senior event on the previously mentioned RC181, where he was pitched in a battle with his great rival Giacomo Agostini.

In that race Hailwood set a lap record of 108.77 mph (175.05 km/h), a record that stood for the next eight years.

Most riders find it hard enough to even win at the IoM, let alone with a loose throttle – but that’s just the way he was, determine and fiercely competitive.

Did Mike’s Motorcycle Racing Pause?

On the Grand Prix front, not everything was proving to be as rosy, especially after suffering so many breakdowns on the Honda.

With that in mind, Hailwood had intended to re-sign for Honda provided the 1968 machinery was to his satisfaction, and had relocated to South Africa where he started a building business with former motorcycle Grand Prix rider Frank Perris, completing their first house in October 1967.

It was around this time that Hailwood stated to Motorcycle Mechanics that even without suitable machinery from Honda he would not go elsewhere, preferring to retire prematurely and he would in any case finish at the end of the 1968 season.

Continued To Race For Honda While Keeping A Low Profile

For 1968, Honda pulled out of Grand Prix racing altogether, but still paid Hailwood £50,000 (equivalent to over £720,000 or US$1.5m at today’s prices) not to ride for another team, in expectation of keeping him as its rider upon their return to competition.

Hailwood obliged and continued to ride Hondas during 1968 and 1969 in selected race meetings without World Championship status, including European events in the Temporada Romagnola (Adriatic Season of street-circuits), sometimes wearing an unfamiliar plain-silver helmet.

Hailwood also appeared in selected UK events, in 1968 appearing in the post-TT race at Mallory Park on a Honda.

In 1969 he participated in the Mallory Park Race of the Year riding a Seeley.

Also Excelled at Formula Car Racing!

Feeling a little lost, it was in early 1970 that Mike turned his attention towards car racing, F1 to be precise.

He’d actually first tried his hand at F1 back in 1964 when he drove a Parnell Racing Lotus 25 fitted with a BRM engine.

His only championship point came with a sixth place at Monaco.

But when he stormed into fourth place in the 1971 Italian GP behind the wheel of a Surtees, people started to take notice.

In 1972 he won the European F2 Championship and was poised to take the lead of the South African GP at Kyalami.

Seemed Like Time For Retirement

It was unfortunate that same year when a rear suspension failure forced him into a spin and led to his retirement from the race.

He did remain with Surtees for another year but frustration from lack of success soon drove him to join McLaren in 1974 where he drove the single Yardley-backed M23.

There were early signs of success, but Mike’s time with McLaren, along with his racing career quickly ended after he crashed heavily at the Nurburgring during the German GP sustaining serious leg injuries.

The Legend Is Back on the Motorbike Track!

It seemed that the world had seen the last of Mike the Bike on both two wheels or four, but little did we know that the legend from Oxfordshire had one more amazing chapter to write.

He returned to the hallowed mountain course in 1978 after an 11-year hiatus from mainstream motorcycling to embark on one of the greatest comeback’s in sporting history.

Wanting to get himself race-fit, Mike gingerly limped out of retirement.

First he rode a vintage Manx Norton in a few classic races here in Australia, where he soon admitted to friends that he longed to return to the TT.

The problem was, even Mike the Bike was unsure of his ability to handle the Mountain Course after such a prolonged absence, which is why he concocted a plan to get in a few laps during the late-summer Manx Grand Prix.

Disguised Himself For The Love Of Motorcycle Racing

Peter Padgett offered to let Mike take a TZ750 out in practice, but there was a catch: the Manx GP was for amateurs only, which meant Hailwood was actually technically forbidden from signing up.

So he and the Padgett’s cooked up a cover story.

They told everyone that Mike (in plain leathers with no name or sponsorship) was an American documentary filmmaker.

And indeed, Mike did lap the course with a film camera mounted to the TZ and a Dictaphone microphone wired into his helmet.

He had to stop a couple of times on his lap to reload the camera – just to make it look authentic of course.

And although Mike found the TZ’s power slightly terrifying on such a fast course, he took the film back to New Zealand to study over the winter.

Encouraged by not only his results but also the rush of blood racing brought back to his veins, he agreed to co-ride on a two-man team in the 1977 Castrol Six-Hour Race.

It was a big deal too, being one of the highest-profile motorcycle races in Australia. He shared a Ducati 750SS; he needed a bike with a left-side shift because of his previous auto-racing injury.

They didn’t win, but Hailwood loved the Ducati which he described as the kind of old-fashioned bike he could get on with.

With the prospect of racing at the 1978 IoM TT, he was now feeling more prepared, although much of his brief return to racing had been kept quiet, so few people believed the 38-year old would even be able to complete the mountain course, let alone be competitive after such a long absence from racing.

There Is No End To The Passion For Motorbike Racing

Because of this many thought it was just a finale for his career – a chance for spectators and fellow racers at the IoM to pay their respects to the legendary motorcycle racer.

Of course Mike had other ideas, which his good friend and then Chief Sports Feature Writer for the Daily Mirror Ted Macauley stated, “When I took him back to the TT in 1978 and was driving him from the hotel to the grandstand, he was sat in his leathers and seemed to be getting smaller and tighter as he withdrew into himself.

Right from the outset we’d had an agreement that I would only take him back to the TT if he would treat it as fun and just go out and have a steady ride and enjoy himself, without sticking his neck out.

But when I saw him withdrawing I said, “You’ve been lying to me, haven’t you?” He was like, “What do you mean?” and I replied, “You’re going to try to win, aren’t you?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said “Too fucking right I am. I can’t be any other way!”

So the scene was set to once again for Hailwood to once again ride the infamous roads of the Isle of Man, and he would be joined by two other racers that year on their three race-prepared Ducati 900SS motorcycles sponsored by Manchester dealership Sports Motorcycles.

The first was Roger Nicholls, who was supposedly their best hope of victory along with fellow legendary Australian and Mike’s lifelong friend Jim Scaysbrook, who interestingly was the one mainly responsible for persuading Mike to take up racing again.

It was an amazing race, and one that would reinforce to the world that Mike The Bike was one of the best of all time. His very first lap on the Ducati was his fastest-ever lap on the TT-course, a whisker under 110mph.

He quickly closed the gap on Honda-mounted Phil Read, who had started ahead of him on the road, and when the announcement was made around the course that Hailwood had passed him, the fans went wild with excitement.

As it turns out, Read’s Honda broke down on the fifth lap while Hailwood went on to record one of his best victories ever in the TT Formula One.

Teammate and good friend Jim Scaysbrook finished third.

Motorcycle Racing Continued..

Mike didn’t fare too well in any of the other races he competed in that year, but that really didn’t matter, his comeback had already been etched in history.

He returned to race the following year too, riding a two-stroke Suzuki RG 500 to victory in the Senior TT, yet again another notch on an already amazingly long belt.

He also used that same 500cc Suzuki in the Unlimited Classic and found himself dicing for the lead with Alex George on his 1100cc Honda for all six laps in what is considered as yet another TT epic.

A minute or two apart on the road for the entire race, they were rarely a few seconds apart on time each lap, with Hailwood eventually losing by just two seconds.

It was again a memorable year for Mike The Bike, and the one that would see him finally retire for good at the age of 39.

Following his retirement from motor racing, in late 1979 Hailwood established a Honda-based retail motorcycle dealership in Birmingham named Hailwood and Gould, in partnership with former motorcycle racer Rodney Gould.

The World Lost The Fiery Motorcycle Racer

Although sadly his life wasn’t to end the way it should have, especially after surviving such a dangerous racing career.

Not even two years later on the 23rd March 1981, Mike was on his way to get some fish and chips with his son David and daughter Michelle when their Rover Saloon collided with a truck that was performing an illegal u-turn on the motorway.

Tragically Michelle was killed instantly while the legend Mike The Bike Hailwood devastatingly succumb to his injuries two days later. His son David survived.

The world was in shock!

Nobody could believe the news.

And probably the most unnerving fact about the incident is that Hailwood had claimed earlier that he had been told by a fortune teller in South Africa that he would not live to 40 and would be killed by a truck.

The story was repeated by Elizabeth McCarthy in a 1981 memoir, while recounting her relationship with Hailwood, whom she had met at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1967.

Apparently when he asked for her hand in marriage, she replied that she was hesitant to marry someone who could die at any weekend race. He then told her his story and said, “So you see, it won’t happen on a track!”

Hailwood and his daughter Michelle were buried together at St Mary Magdalene church in Tamworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire on what was a very sad and sombre day.

The pallbearers at Mike’s funeral included John Surtees, Luigi Taveri, James Hunt, Geoff Duke and Giacomo Agostini.

Mike The Bike Can Never Be Forgotten

It may seem remarkable that half a century later Hailwood is still rated by many as the greatest racer of all time, but it seems a valid argument.

Hailwood retired with 76 Grand Prix victories overall, 112 Grand Prix podiums, 14 Isle of Man TT wins and 9 World Championships, (only matched by Valentino Rossi), including four in the 500cc class which included 37 victories, 48 podiums, and 6 Isle of Man TT wins.

This was all recognised when the FIM named him a Grand Prix Legend in 2000 while the same year he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame followed by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001.

Now sure we’ve seen some brilliant motorcycle racers since Hailwood dominated the world on two wheels, in both Grand Prix racing and the infamous IoM TT.

Racers like previously mentioned nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Michael Dunlop or our very own Casey Stoner, but even they will tip their hat in respect of what Mike The Bike achieved in his illustrious career.

He had what a lot of racers strive for – a level of daring and a supreme sense of balance, along with the bravery and balls to match.

But above all, Mike Hailwood had the uncanny ability of getting the most out of any bike when it counted most – and was a racer that truly possessed the X-factor!

His Victories!

Box This At End
Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood
Grand Prix World Championships
9 titles; 76 race wins
500cc — 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 — 37 race wins
350cc — 1966, 1967 — 16 race wins
250cc — 1961, 1966, 1967 — 22 race wins
125cc — 2 race wins

Isle of Man TT Races – 14 Race Wins
Senior — 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1979
Junior — 1962, 1967
Lightweight 250 — 1962, 1966, 1967
Lightweight 125 – 1962
TT Formula One – 1978
TT Formula One World Championship – 1 title 1978

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