History of Motorcycle Racing

History of Motorcycle Racing

Motorcycle racing seems to have been around for an eternity, and although Japanese manufactured bikes now dominate scene, the first motorcycle ever sold was in fact built in Germany. This bike was built in 1894 and was the forerunner of all racing bikes that we see around the world today. One of the first and most famous races took place in Great Britain in 1906 under the banner of Tourist Trophy, and it was an event that is still going strong, the Isle of Man TT. During the pre-war days motorcycling became really popular in Europe and grew from strength to strength, four years after WWII the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme) was formed that laid down the rules and regulations for racing on the roads, some still applicable in World GP today. The first race to be held under this new format was the Isle of Man TT in 1949.

European Racing

During the early years of motorcycle racing it was a sport for the Europeans, and the French, German, Italian and British manufacturers dominated world racing. It was not until 1959 that a Japanese team entered into the fray, and it was at the World GP Series. Four 125cc bikes from Honda competed and their best position was a credible 6th with also a Manufacturer’s Team Award. Then in 1960 bolstered by their first success, Honda entered the full-blown GP.

Japanese Bikes

In 1961, Honda entered teams of 125cc and 250cc in the Spanish GP. It proved to be a great decision as Tom Phillis won the 125cc class, and a Japanese manufacturer had finally won a GP. This was followed up by a Japanese rider winning a first GP event in Germany, when Kunimitsu Takahashi took his 250cc Honda to the winner’s rostrum. Also, during 1961, Honda was declared double World Champion, winning the 125cc and the 250cc categories.

Mike Hailwood

No blog on the history of motorcycle racing would be complete without a mention of the British Grand Prix driver Mike Hailwood who is widely regarded one of the sport’s greatest ever racers. His natural racing style enabled Hailwood to ride any size of bike, and this highly talented sportsman even went into F1 racing later on in his career. This left Hailwood with the distinction of being one of the few men to compete in both sports.


The 1960’s was a major year concerning motorcycle racing as a further invasion by Japan came in force. Following the great early successes by Honda, the other major Japanese manufacturers entered the fray in the World GP scene. The new Japanese bikes had six-cylinder engines and gearboxes which now offered the capacity of up to ten speeds. These new bikes bought controversy to the industry where the definitions between race and road bikes were not made clear.

Now in world GP it is the Japanese manufacturers who dominate the sport, and if you look around the world at the roads, they now also dominate the sale of road bikes as well. This is not coincidental as one usually goes hand in hand with the other, and it is difficult to see what nation can compete against these titans of Japan.