The 50cc Motorcycle World Championship

I don't know what it was that first drew me to 50cc Grand Prix racing although I suspect it was something to do with a rather fanciful idea that I once had of connecting several model airplane engines together to produce a very noisy 50cc V-12. I found the thought of trying to extract the absolute maximum from the absolute minimum irresistible and when I read that these bikes were capable of speeds of well over 100mph, I was hooked.

For me in the UK, actually keeping tabs on any 50cc Grand Prix 's proved to be rather difficult as even in the dedicated motorcycle press the races were usually summed up in a single sentence and sometimes were ignored altogether.  (Even today, it is very difficult to find any official records from these races like fastest lap, race distance etc) Nevertheless, through an avid study of The Motorcycle News each week, I soon came to respect the skills of one man in particular - Spaniard Angel Nieto, the undoubted King of the tiddlers.

At the time, Nieto had just won the 1972 World Championship on his works Derbi beating Dutchman Jan De Vries on the Van Veen Kreidler by one of the closest margins in any motorsport championship.  De Vries won at Imola, Anderstorp and at the Nurburgring, Nieto at Spa, Assen and at Spain's Montijuich Park and there were some titanic battles along the way with both riders banging fairings on several occasions and Nieto almost coming to blows with another rider after an incident on the last lap at Imola where he finished second just a few yards behind De Vries. At the end of the season both riders were tied with equal points, an equal number of wins and an equal number of second place finishes and so the championship was decided by adding together and comparing the times for the five races in which the pair had been placed. When all the sums were done, Nieto was calculated to have won the title by a mere 21 seconds from his rival.

When Nieto retired at the end of the 1986 season he had won 90 Grand Prix's in the 50, 80 and 125cc categories and a total of 13 World championships and many top riders from around the world acknowledge him as the greatest rider that there has ever been.

Some of Nieto's bikes and trophies can be seen at the Museo de Angel Nieto in Madrid. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a web-site for that yet, so here are some links to a few other 50cc racing sites that may be of interest.

The Racing 50 Enthusiasts Club

50cc Racing in the US

The Jamathi Club Website

The Kreidler Museum

McAllan Racing Kreidler

A great pic of Rudolf Kunz at Imatra in 1974. This comes from - Kake's Motorcycle home page - and this whole site is worth exploring for loads of great vintage M/C photos. Rudolf held the 50cc world land speed record from 1965 to 1977 in this extraordinary machine until it was beaten by 1974 50cc World Champion Henk van Kessel in another Kreidler powered machine built by Piet Plompen - The Black Arrow.

Riccardo Tormo - The natural successor to Nieto's crown, Spaniard Riccardo was another superbly talented rider who won the 50cc World Championship twice in 1978 and 1981 on a Bultaco and a further seven national titles on 125's. Sadly his racing career was cut short by a dreadful accident whilst testing a new works Derbi racer on public roads near the factory in 1984 and the damage to his legs was such that he could never race again. Riccardo was dedicated to motorcycling and a new circuit near his place of birth in Valencia -  The Circuito Comunidad Valenciana Ricardo Tormo - was named in his honor before his untimely death from leukaemia in 1998.

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