The Man Who Rides Them All – Alan Cathcart

Assembly Alan Cathcart on the annual Workforce Out of date Christmas Celebration was a thrill. He’s had fairly a profession. We have now a number of mutual mates and that opened the door for straightforward dialog. It didn’t harm that I wore my FB Mondial jacket, as Alan famously owned an ex-Mike Hailwood 250 Mondial, that he ultimately offered to purchase a Ducati Supermono…as one does. The next is an edited transcript of my chat with Alan Cathcart on December 9, 2023:

Alan Cathcart on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2013. [Paul d’Orléans]

John Lawless (JL): Alan, you’ve been a high moto journalist for over 30 years. In that point, you’ve ridden all the pieces from 50cc Grand Prix racers to the most recent electrical bikes. You’ve travelled the globe sampling among the most fascinating bikes of our time. How did this wonderful journey get began?

Alan Cathcart (AC): I’m a reader who determined that I’d exit and try to discover the bikes that I’ve examine, and write about them. I’m very lucky to be any individual who made his pastime his livelihood.  It started whereas I used to be within the journey enterprise. I used to be a accomplice in a wholesale group journey firm and traveled lots within the USA. Due to that I used to be in a position to dig up some fairly fascinating bikes and take them again to Britain. I began racing in Britain within the mid 70s due to an American good friend of mine, Jeff Craig. Jeff had come over to England with a tour group from his faculty and he’d come to get elements for his 1937 MG TA.  Once I rolled up on the at his lodge to oversee their half-day tour of London, he noticed my vibrant pink MGA and determined we had been bosom buddies – and that I’d have the ability to him get elements for his TA.  I did and we turned excellent mates. He then determined, having graduated, to return to England and discover ways to race bikes that turned proper in addition to left. He was a flat tracker! We shared an residence in central London and began racing. Actually, I used to be racing automobiles again then and simply the considered going into Paddock Hill bend at Manufacturers Hatch on motorbike stuffed me with dread.

Alan Cathcart on his very first race at Silverstone in 1973, aboard a Suzuki GT750 ‘kettle’. [Alan Cathcart Archive]

Jeff ordered a set of Lewis Leathers, which arrived whereas he was within the states for Christmas. I hung them up in his room and left the door open. Each time I walked previous I caught that scent of latest leathers (sniffs). I assumed, properly if he’s going do that, I can.  By the point he got here again I had a Ducati 250 and a set of Lewis Leathers, and that’s how I began racing. I then began shopping for historic bikes –  future collectables which had been then merely old-fashioned. I purchased a Manx Norton for £500 and a Matchless G50 (that I nonetheless have at this time) for £750 kilos.

Basic Bike did an article about all of the British System 750 BSAs and Triumphs with Rob North frames and 3-cylinder engines, however they missed mine as a result of I’d discovered it in Houston TX. I wrote in to say they’d forgotten about mine, and by the best way, why didn’t they embrace some racer exams within the journal like they did in Basic Sports activities Automobile with Willie Inexperienced?  Editor Mike Nicks mentioned that’s a terrific concept: we’ll point out your BSA within the subsequent challenge, and why don’t you do the racer exams? Me?  Have a look at a web page of clean paper in a typewriter?  He ultimately satisfied me, and the primary article I ever did was about my G50 Matchless.  I examined a few bikes from my very own assortment and the readers response was nice – ‘Would you prefer to experience my bike?’ And that’s the way it all took off.

Alan Cathcart using his Matchless G50 to his first race win, at Kemble airfield in 1975. [Alan Cathcart archive]

JL: That’s wonderful!  Generally the passion that the readers give is all you must transfer you on to the subsequent journey. You’ve ridden among the most well-known tracks and highway programs together with the Isle of Man. Do you might have a favourite observe?

AC: Yep, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium when it’s dry. Sadly, Ardennes climate means you steadily get all 4 seasons in someday, however I’ve all the time favored large circuits. I like Monza as properly as a result of you possibly can acquire seconds in quick corners not solely by being courageous but additionally by ensuring you get your strains proper – Spa rewards that in spades. It’s a terrific, nice circuit.

Alan Cathcart racing ‘Trixie’, his Yamaha TRX850. [Alan Cathcart Archive]

JL: Inform me about “Trixie,” the one that you love racer.

AC: My woman Trixie is sitting in my storage and appears at me each time I open the door. This was a stunning story as a result of it took place when Yamaha produced this bike for the Japanese fanatic. The concept was you get a base mannequin sports activities bike utilizing their present Tremendous Tenere engine designed for African races and so they produced a used to sports activities bike. They’d no concept it was going to achieve success in Europe, so earlier than taking resolution to order it, Lin Jarvis,  at this time the Moto GP head of racing had the concept , let’s see if we will discover a journalist who wish to race it within the few Professional Twins races to see what the general public thinks of it. So he requested me and I mentioned sure! So he commissions Over Racing, which is the again door of the Yamaha race store, an impartial tuning store in the identical manner that Morawaki is the again door of Honda and Yoshimura is the again door for Suzuki. Over Racing produced Trixie and I received my first race on it within the pouring rain at Assen by 20 seconds and had an enormous quantity of success with the bike that was a phenomenal, stunning experience and nonetheless is at this time. I’m glad to say that Yamaha Europe thought it was so profitable they imported it for the second 12 months.  It turned a cult motorbike.

JL: And also you took Trixie to Daytona?

AC: Nicely, my reward for successful so many races on it the primary 12 months was that Yamaha Europe paid to take it to Daytona. No person had seen one earlier than, as a result of the TRX was by no means imported to America. Yamaha USA guess all their bucks on a V4 cruiser, which was a bomb. I received the Battle of the Twins race at Daytona, coming from the again of the grid as a result of I didn’t have any races the 12 months earlier than. I beat all of the Ducati Superbikes.  No person fairly knew what this factor was: I bear in mind Richard Chambers, the announcer, grabbing me as I got here into victory lane and saying, “Alan Cathcart, how the hell did you guys make this motorbike out of a dust bike?” I didn’t do it, Over Racing did.

Alan Cathcart together with his 1975 Ducati ‘inexperienced body’ 750ss racer. [Alan Cathcart Archive]

JL: What are the distinctive challenges and hazards of being a moto journalist in comparison with different writing endeavors?

AC: I’m very lucky that manufacturing facility race groups enable me to trace check their designs, one 12 months after one other: meaning I went quick sufficient to reveal I knew what I used to be doing, might consider the bike correctly, and by no means tried to point out them I must be racing the bike subsequent week, as a substitute of their present rider.  Secondly, my articles had been very lengthy. I used to be sorry for my editors, but it surely’s my responsibility to report all the pieces that anybody would ever need to learn about that exact bike. The engineers actually did admire it: I informed their tales, even when it was a nasty season. Full marks to Honda, they let me experience bikes even once they had been basically flawed.  That was the important thing to being allowed to check these bikes. Within the case of Superbikes, the time got here that I couldn’t register a qualifying lap time, so I ended racer exams in 2015.

JL: And in 2009 you had been awarded Journalist of the 12 months by the Guild of Motoring Writers based mostly in your evaluating ten of the most effective GP bikes and World Tremendous Bike racers.   This was the period of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Danny Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.  How did you persuade the manufacturing facility groups to help you check them that season?

AC: Nicely, it bought to the purpose that I didn’t should ask, they’d come to me to experience the bikes. “Are you free to return to Suzuka on such and such a date?” I’ve, dare I say, confirmed my bona fides and my capabilities by the articles that I’ve accomplished.

Alan Cathcart talking with Ing. Fabio Taglioni and Ducati race crew supervisor Reno Leoni. [Alan Cathcart Archive]

JL: Did your reporting the reality a few motorbike’s efficiency ever jeopardize your relationship with the producer?

AC: That was Eddie Lawson’s 1989 500cc World Championship successful NSR 500 Honda V4. Eddie was the primary individual ever to cross from one Japanese producer to a different with the primary, in 1989, having received it on a Yamaha in 1988. I had watched the evolution of that bike, so I had my annual invitation to return to Suzuka in October on the finish of the season to experience the bike. In these days we didn’t have tire heaters so we needed to do a gradual lap, step by step rushing up earlier than giving it the berries on lap two.  I got here out of the chicane at Suzuka earlier than the end line and it’s a protracted, lengthy third gear right-hander previous the pits. I bought on the throttle onerous and the bike tried to kill me.  It bought into an enormous tank-slapper and by nice, success I stayed on.  I can’t say it was something I did. I used to be certain that one thing had damaged so I toured ‘spherical slowly and got here again to the pits. As I got here down pit lane from mechanics had been all bowing very, very low which Japanese manner of claiming “I’m sorry, I apologize”.  So I ended and I mentioned “you noticed what occurred”. “Alan san, we’re very sorry, we forgot to tighten the steering damper that on eradicating it from the truck.  Okay, so my fault. I ought to have checked.  They tightened it up and  then, okay now I mentioned, “I can’t steer it, the steering is stable, I mentioned.  “Sure”, they mentioned. If I’ve a slide I can’t appropriate it. “Eddie san all the time experience like this”.  Oh, so I went out and I can’t declare this was a correct check, this was showbiz.  I used to be getting some images, getting expertise of what the engine and chassis wasn’t actually… I’m looking for a well mannered phrase, prepared? Clearly, Honda knew this. So I wrote the article and I defined what occurred.  By the best way, it was all the time a situation of my exams that the producer would strip the bike for images and allow us to take photos of what it was like behind the fairing, with the gas tank off.  That’s once I noticed what I actually famous within the Grand Prix’s how the the welding across the steering head on the Honda was so constructed up, about three or 4 totally different ranges of metallic degree.  Anyway, I wrote the article and bear in mind seeing Eddie on the Bologna present on the Tremendous Moto race sitting on the again of this Transit van and I walked in the direction of him. Each step I bought nearer we bought one other 10mm of Eddie Lawson’s smile.  As I got here up, he mentioned “I hear you rode my bike”.  I mentioned sure, it tried to kill me.  “Be a part of the membership”, Eddie mentioned.  So,  subsequent 12 months I get my annual invitation the article is printed all on the planet. My invitation comes from the Head of HRC. He mentioned, “Alan san, first can we meet on the railway station restaurant in Tokyo earlier than you come out to Suzuka?” Went to a pleasant Italian restaurant, had a really good lunch and chat after which the espresso arrived.  Two arms on the on the desk and Alan san, I have to let you know that this 12 months we had some problem to persuade Honda public relations workers you ought to be allowed to check our bike.  I mentioned, Oh what, final 12 months’s check of the Eddie Lawson bike? He mentioned, “Precisely.  And I informed them Alan Cathcart all the time writes the reality,  he’ll check our bike once more this 12 months as a result of he all the time writes the reality,  and by the best way it was not a great motorbike.” That was a pleasant vote of confidence.

Alan Cathcart with Ing. Fabio Taglioni and racer Marco Lucchinelli in 1996. [Alan Cathcart Archive]

JL: That’s nice.  Generally telling the reality can produce other, much less nice penalties. I’m glad to see they revered your expertise and opinion on that bike.  What do you make of the present state of Ducati domination in Moto GP?

AC: Nicely, Ducati has been working at it and it’s precisely 20 years. Humorous,  I’ve simply republished my article on the 2003 Ducati Desmosedici GP3.  That was their first try at going Moto GP racing with an electronics gentle, doubled-up Superbike: That was basically what it was clearly scaled down in plastic. However I’d favored to be a fly on the ceiling of a Honda Board room on the finish of the primary lap of the primary race final 12 months and Suzuka. When Loris Capaossi got here spherical within the lead on the finish of the primary lap on the Ducati. The very first lap of its whole Moto GP profession. And the twond, and the threerd, and the 4th, and the 5th,  with all of the title successful Honda RC211 V5 cylinders behind it together with Valentino Rossi’s. Ultimately, the lay bought handed however Loris nonetheless completed third and he received the sixth race at Catalonia. Completed third within the championship his teammate Troy Baylis fourth. That was the start of a course of that has adopted that administration and since 2010 with their homeowners Audi/VW.  They’ve stored religion with the entire challenge.  They did have the success of Casey Stoner in 2007, the primary 12 months of the Honda-inspired 800cc formulation however no it’s not the identical as dominating the grid and the outcomes as we’ve accomplished this 12 months.

JL: They got here to be taught Valentino Rossi desperately needed a seat on what he thought was the key weapon of Casey Stoner, but it surely wasn’t the Ducati, it was Casey Stoner.  It’s totally different this time.

AC: It’s totally different now as a result of there have been seven totally different winners on Ducati’s this 12 months and that exhibits what a terrific bike it’s. Come on, properly accomplished Ducati! Now it’s as much as the others to try to match them.

Alan Cathcart highway testing a 1916 Harley-Davidson 8-Valve board observe racer. [Motorcyclist]

JL: Your work typically combines technical insights and interesting storytelling.  How do you select the main target of an article to create a stability for the reader?

AC: That’s a tricky one. I suppose to a sure extent it relies on the bike specification. Is the specification or fascinating? Is it uncommon?  To what extent do I would like to clarify that to the reader? Each bike has its personal hook, its personal cause to be written about and it’s simply as much as me to try to get that over to the reader within the first paragraph; that’s essentially the most tough a part of each story. Write that first paragraph and hopefully I’ve hooked you and also you need to learn the remainder of it.

JL: So that you’ve seen motorbike journalism evolve through the years. What are the notable adjustments or developments you discover most vital and the way would you outline your model of journalism?

AC: Mine’s an outdated model of journalism as a result of I write prolonged articles. That’s the single greatest distinction between now and 40 years in the past once I began. Reader retention, the reader by some means or different doesn’t have, allegedly, have the eye span they’d 40 years again. They need shorter articles which is unusual in a manner as a result of print is more and more being changed by on-line, by digital there’s no area limitations on digital. I nonetheless write lengthy as a result of it’s as much as me to let you know, the reader all the pieces you may presumably need to learn about that exact motorbike.

Alan Cathcart discussing an ex-works Benelli 4 GP with Kenny Cummings (NYC Norton) at Workforce Out of date HQ in December 2023. [John Lawless]

JL: Within the final decade, you’ve ridden many of the new electrical bikes, many earlier than they arrive to market. Motorcyclists are usually conservative of their decisions and lots of outright dislike electrical bikes. After all, there’s potential for hydrogen and inner combustion engine (ICE) hybrids, too.  The place do you see the market shifting within the subsequent 10 years?

AC: I imagine that there shall be coexistence. The purpose is web zero.  Okay, it’s a really legitimate purpose.  However we’ve got to consider how this electrical energy is produced.  Electrical autos are zero emission on the level of use. Regularly it has been an enormous quantity of carbon created by the manufacture of the present, notably in nations like China and India which appear to be constructing a coal-fired energy station each week.  Nice if it’s nuclear, however nuclear has its personal dangers. In any case, the European Union which in the mean time is without doubt one of the key drivers of product improvement on two wheels. The European Union underneath strain from the European motor automotive trade has modified dictate there ought to be no new ICE inner combustion engine autos offered and registered within the European Union after 2035.  Any more it will likely be both be zero emissions on the level of use or else there shall be ICE autos permitted as long as they’re powered by digital gas, E- gas.  So gas isn’t manufactured by fossils elements. I imagine that there shall be a coexistence sooner or later between the 2 varieties of merchandise. Electrical autos will develop into cheaper to fabricate than IC ones just by the economies of scale.  However on the level that’s firm like BMW Motorrad, BMW bikes the most important status producer on the planet of two wheels, they’ve said that they’ll proceed to make IC fashions after 2035 which shall be clearly powered by digital gas. It does give the patron a selection. This notably will apply for sure sorts of mannequin which they’ve said via an interview I did with the just lately retired CEO Marcus Schramm. He said that we imagine that there are specific functions for bikes which may by no means be electrical powered and a great instance of that’s journey touring. Nicely since that represents the most important single mannequin phase at second in mature markets that’s a fairly vital assertion. So we’ll nonetheless have the ability to purchase an Africa Twin we hope or BMW R 1300GS by 2035. That’s a really rational coverage.

JL: So you are feeling that the market remains to be going to be receptive to it so long as there may be some offset of the carbon footprint?

AC: On the finish of the day what issues is the carbon footprint. In the event you keep in mind the components represented by the manufacture of the gas, whether or not it’s electrical gas or whether or not it’s liquid combustion gas that’s nonetheless a very powerful finish outcome. Individuals who experience bikes are usually fairly conservative and oh, it doesn’t make a pleasant noise, so I don’t need it. Nicely, I can let you know there are some electrical bikes that are thrilling to experience merely due to their sound fairly other than this the fabulous acceleration you get. The most effective instance I may give is the MotoCzysz which received the Isle of Man Zero TT Electrical race 4 years in a row and beat Honda, in any other case generally known as Mugen every time.  The MotoCzysz, which I used to be lucky to experience at Portland Raceway screamed at you as a result of it had direct, straight minimize major gears. And it was a thrill to experience! It dealt with very well and MotoCzysz actually knew chassis and suspension design so properly.

Alan Cathcart diving into the main points of the DOHC four-cylinder engine of the Benelli racer. [John Lawless]

JL:  If they’ll carry that pleasure to the mass market I’d prefer to assume folks shall be receptive to that. What does Alan Cathcart have deliberate for 2024?

AC: We personal a home in Western Australia and so we go there every year, my spouse Stella and I for 3 months in January – March to flee the British winter which isn’t essentially chilly but it surely’s so true we get lots of uninteresting moist days. Whereas I’m in Australia there’s an enormous variety of thrilling and fascinating bikes constructed on the market, just like the Drysdale V8 to the Motoinno TS2 Triumph Moto 2 bike. I’ll go and experience these and write about them.  I’ll come again to Europe as a rule for the Goodwood members assembly on April the fifteenth weekend once I’ll be marking the fiftieth anniversary of my inexperienced body Ducati 750SS by racing it within the formulation 750 race. We’ll give her a pleasant birthday celebration. I’ve simply printed the second of my two books about Ducati Superbikes 1988- 2019.  The identical writer in Italy has requested me to provide a ebook on a really well-known American. His title is ‘Physician John’, the story of the John Wittner Moto Guzzi V-Twins and his rider, Doug Brauneck. Lastly, I’d prefer to say on the market to readers thanks for all of your assist down the years and please simply carry on studying my work, I hope you get pleasure from studying them as a lot as I get pleasure from writing them.


John Lawless is a contract motorbike author. Try his web site right here, and his Instagram right here.