Rider Of The Week looks at the life of an influential motorbike rider and the legacy they’ve left behind. Barry Sheene was one of the most famous riders in history, winning multiple championships and having a medal created in his honour. The Barry Sheene Medal is awarded to the ‘best and fairest’ driver in the V8 Supercars season. Sheene had a legendary reputation in the motorcycle community, and we take a look back at his career.
Sheene grew up in Queen Square, Holborn, London. His father Frank was a former motorbike racer who retired in 1956 and became a motorcycle mechanic. Before he started racing professionally, Sheene was a messenger and delivery driver.
Sheene started his career in 1968, riding his dad’s 125cc and 250cc Bultacos at Brands Hatch. In 1970, he captured his first title by winning the British 125cc championship. Sheene was only 20-years-old at the time. His success continued when he won the MCN Superbike and Shellsport 500 titles in 1974.
In 1975, Sheene was involved in a violent crash at the Daytona 200. The speed of his vehicle reached 175 mph, becoming the fastest bike racing crash on record. It was a miracle Sheene survived and he ended up breaking his left thigh, right arm, collarbone and two ribs. Despite this, Sheene recovered quickly. He was walking on crutches a week after his operation and back on a GP bike after seven weeks.
During this time, a TV crew had captured the crash and documented Sheene’s road to recovery. When it was aired on television, it gave him the opportunity to become a star. Sheene came back better than ever from the Daytona crash and in the 1976 season he won five 500cc Grand Prix.
Sheene’s race with Kenny Roberts at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was considered one of the greatest bike Grand Prix races in history. It was a fierce competition of cat and mouse, with each pulling ahead of the other. The race was close, though Roberts ultimately took the victory.
In 1982, the motorcycle legend suffered another crash after colliding with French 250 racer Patrick Igoa at Silverstone. Again, Sheene survived, but needed several plates and screws during surgery. Five months later he was out riding again, though he retired in 1984.
Sheene moved to Australia with his family, hoping the warm weather would help to relieve the pain of his injury-induced arthritis. He became a property developer and motor sport commentator. He also regularly returned to England, racing at Donington Park and even ran with the Queen’s Baton during the run-up to the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
At the age of 51, Sheene was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He refused chemotherapy, opting for natural remedies. He died peacefully surrounded by his family in 2003.
Sheene was a fighter to the end, an icon whose charisma made him the first British motorbike celebrity. He loved life and there will never be another like him.