Rider Of The Week looks into the career of a famous motorcyclist. Tommy Robb definitely had a noteworthy career, winning the 1962 250 cc Ulster Grand Prix and being a five-time winner of the North West 200. He was also one of first non-Japanese riders to be hired by the Honda factory racing team, where he enjoyed plenty of success. For example, he did well at the inaugural Japanese Grand Prix in Tokyo.
Born in 1934, Robb started riding early on, competing in trials during the 1950s. His first event happened to be a road-time trial and he used a 197 cc James. Then, he competed on Irish grasstracks, going on to win six national titles between 1954 and 1956. In 1957, Robb competed in his first road race at Lurgan Park, where he gained the attention of Belfast sponsor Terry Hill. He provided Robb with a 173 MV and a 250 cc NSU Sportmax, and Robb finished third in the 1957 Ulster Grand Prix.
Then, Robb was sponsored by tuners Geoff Monty and Allen Dudley-Ward. He stayed with them until he joined the works Honda team in 1962 and won his first world championship at the Ulster Grand Prix. As part of Honda he finished second in the 1962 350 cc world championship. In 1973, Robb won the Lightweight 125 TT while riding a Yamaha.
Robb has spoken on the experience of riding in the 1960s, pointing out how dangerous and thrilling it was. “The one thing which strikes me every time I watch MotoGP on TV is how riders can walk away from crashes. Most of the circuits we raced on were public roads and if you crashed then there was a high risk of serious injury – and a fair chance of dying. Racing was dangerous. We were also expected to look after ourselves.”
At the end of his racing career, Robb set up a road-race school with former The Motor Cycle magazine journalist David Dixon. He used Yoshimura-equipped CB250 and CB450 Hondas, while Dixon acted as the UK importer and distributor of Yoshimura tuning equipment.
Even after he retired, Robb continued to ride for pleasure. In 2012, he was injured in a crash during the Festival of 1000 Bikes. The 83-year-old suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and hand injuries, but managed to recover. It goes to show that no matter how old a motorcyclist becomes, the excitement of the road always calls them back.