To obtain performance increases in modern bikes, for the most part; it seems to mainly involve buying bolt-on goodies from specialist sources from around the world with perhaps less personal innovation to get that all-important boost or edge.
However, I have a (maybe half-baked) theory! Less money and lack of easy access to tuning equipment or expertise may have driven greater self-reliance and an innovative approach in the past. Nosing through some bike photographs I took a few decades ago, I thought I'd post a few of them and comment on some of the innovative features on these bikes. With one exception, they're drag bikes, partly because I was campaigning a short-stroke Triumph drag bike called Icarus at the time (see: Growing up a bit) but also because they're a great example of interesting ways of pursuing outrageous performance!
His persistence in continuously improving Super Nero was legendary and his tenacity was further demonstrated by taking on the international motorcycling body, the FIM. The FIM had an arbitrary age limit of 55 for international competitors and George had already exceeded this whilst he was still chasing international records. His persistence paid off and the age limit was lifted, allowing George to set his 182 mph record at the age of 58! Truly innovative and inspirational.
Alf Hagon's JAP
Alf didn't rest on his laurels though. In 1968, he took his bike with higher gearing to a British air base with a 9000ft runway. On what was essentially an unfaired bike with minimal suspension, he clocked a staggering 206.54 mph; becoming the first Englishman to exceed 200 mph.
It's funny how innovation seems prevalent with V twin motors! As well as Englishmen George Brown and Alf Hagon, Kiwis Burt Munro and John Britten also enjoyed considerable success on the international stage with their V twins; albeit some decades apart!
Pete Allan's Twin Triumph
Twin-engined bikes are still on the drag race scene but are arguably more of an oddity than performing right at the top. Probably the most famous and successful twin drag bike of all was The Hobbit, campaigned by John Hobbs from 1975 to 1979. It had twin superchargers fed with nitromethane and at its peak, was covering the standing quarter mile in a fraction over 8 seconds with terminal speeds of around 180mph. All this from engines which had their roots as early British road bikes!
Vic Phillip's Impulse drag bike
Money sure helps, but it's sheer hard work and clever thinking which carries the day!
Ag's Barra (Angus McPhails Barrow translated from Scottish English!)
I'm a bit hazy on exactly how fast the bike was but if I remember correctly, it set a number of British records over several distances. However, the main point was that it was yet another example of ingenuity rather than money yielding good results.
The next photo is of Icarus, my ultra-short stroke supercharged Triumph. Details HERE
(photo taken by Pete Miller)
The final example of ingenuity is not a drag bike, it's a circuit racer developed by the Triumph Factory. The name has been proudly carried forward nearly 4 decades to grace Triumph's current 675cc sports bike:
The 1960's 500cc Triumph Daytona Factory Racer.
The photo taken at Mallory Park in the UK shows a works Daytona raced by chief tester Percy Tait. Note the huge amount of tread on the race tyres and the foam-lined brackets to isolate the carburettors from vibration and fuel foaming. The bike's light weight and superb handling gave Percy many short circuit victories against the likes of Agostini on the MV Augusta 500 as well as other aces on factory machinery. In 1969, it was even entered into the Belgian GP as a one-off which Percy led for several laps; eventually finishing second to Giacomo Agostini.
Well, there we are - money undoubtedly helps, but it's smart thinking (REAL engineering!) which can win the day when the money isn't there!