A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Going through one of my scrap books on the 50cc racing motorcycles, I came across this entry from a magazine, but do not have the authors name as it was just a cutting from the pages. Age had not been kind to the printing and it would not copy, resulting in the re-typing of it for this web page. 

Where possible I have made additions to the content and added photographs to point readers, who would not have been around during this period, towards the on-going developments of 50cc racing.  The article is from the Motorsport Magazine of 1967 and is towards the end of the period of involvement of the 'Wasps' with being involved with the Isle of Man TT but they did continue through until 1983 as a GP class.  I have also included a small Obit for Yoshimi Katayama. 1940—2016, may he enjoy his new journey.

'At a meeting in Assen during race week, it was decided that the F.I.M. should devise means of encouraging flagging interest in the 50c.c. class rather than let it die altogether. The news may not be of much interest to British ears, but it makes sense in many Continental countries where fifties are the mainstay, in a very big way, of the two-wheeler market'.

The development of the 50c.c. racer is a classic example of how racing has not improved the breed, indeed, how it has almost strangled it.

Effective power bands of no more than 500 r.p.m. which necessitate the use of 14-speed gearboxes, which in themselves are twice the size of the power unit, has stifled any competitive efforts in the class, till only Suzuki remain as serious factory entries, with Derbi a gallant second.

The new proposals aim to discourage narrow power hands and a probable ban will be placed on the use of any more than six gears. This will, of course, slow up racing, but only temporarily. It will force development engineers to find ways of increasing the effective power band without the aid of a useless multiplicity of gears. 

It was not suggested at the meeting, but a further means of improving the class would be to require manufacturers to guarantee that they would make replicas available to the public, within (say) two years of the model being introduced, of their actual racing fifty.

This should sell within a price limit laid down by the F.I.M. for argument’s sake, say £500. A proviso such as this would ensure that manufacturers from the outset would have to bear production costs in mind and a ready supply of production 50 c.c. machines, which bore a close similarity to the factory mounts, would do more than anything to ensure the revival of the class. One does not like to dictate terms to designers for fear of hindering progress but in the 50c.c. class the “progress” has gone completely out of hand and stringent measures are necessary to bring it under control again.

Added by the Editor: The following paragraph is taken from Phil Aynsley's catalogue of albums.  Spurred on by Angel Nieto's long history with the company (1964-1972 for 5 World Championships & 2 runner up spots) Derbi released the Angel Nieto Replica in 1973 as a privateer racer. The disc valve single put out 15.5hp at 15,000rpm and used a Mahle piston and 24mm Irz carburettor. As most of these bikes were heavily modified over the years it is unusual to find one in original condition as here. Photographed at the Museu de la Moto, Spain. September 2010.


Added by the Editor: This paragraph is from the sales blurb advertising the sale of this Kreidler Van Veen  1978 50cc classic production racer Built in a limited number, this is machine is stamped No17. All history is known from when it was brought to the UK in 1981. The person who was selling this machine had owned and raced it for 20 years. It was fitted with, necessary for its authenticity, of the period and always sought after, a Hans Hummel cylinder kit. The cylinder is newly ceramic plated and with a new Mahle piston. Paintwork is in good order. Fully working. New race tyres are also fitted. Falcon race rear shocks have been fitted but the owner  had the correct original ones.

Intelligent thinking

At the Dutch T.T. was a superb example of how intelligent thinking by a keen engineering mind can provide food for the minds of the big factories. This took the form of a superbly made water-cooled disc-valve 50 c.c. single with some ingenious yet simple features to save weight which would not cost the earth to produce. This little model, the latest Jamathi racing mount -made locally- has a straightforward design on the lines mentioned, with a seven-speed gearbox, external (air-cooled) clutch and magneto ignition. Peak power, not disclosed, is developed around 13,000 r.p.m. The unit is fast, it finished seventh in the race, simple and straightforward in conception and is just what the private owner needs.

An ingenious feature, aimed at weight-saving, is a single rubber-in-compression suspension unit at the rear. A tiny telescopic unit provides hydraulic damping. Further weight saving is effected by using a simple calliper, bicycle-type, brake acting on the light alloy wheel rim. The entire machine had the stamp of a professional upon it and it could have served as a prototype for a new class of racing fifty. It is to be hoped that members of the C.S.I. of the F.I.M. saw it and took note . . .

Open secret: PRIOR to the 1967 T.T., it was an open secret that Suzuki wanted Yoshimi Katayama to win not only the 50c.c. T.T. but also the world 50 c.c. championship. Then, in the Island, he did an unforgivable thing and ran off the road through lack of concentration. Suzuki policy now would seem to have been influenced by that error of Katayama’s for in Belgium the little Japanese pulled to one side and let Georg Anscheidt through to win, though the Japanese had led all the way, putting in the first-ever over 100 m.p.h. lap by a fifty on any circuit anywhere. This truly staggering achievement underlines the phenomenal growth of mini-two-stroke development, though whether in the right direction is arguable. Production fifties cannot even approach 100 m.p.h., never mind average it! And in the Island, the new production Suzuki TR50, air-cooled single ridden by Tommy Robb, who at 88 m.p.h. was fastest non-factory rider, was averaging in the region of 35 m.p.g.! Progress? Think again.

Yoshimi Katayama, was born on May 15, 1940 and died on March 26, 2016). He was a Japanese professional Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and car racer.

Born in the Hyogo Prefecture , Katayama began his Grand Prix career in 1964 with Suzuki He enjoyed his best season in 1967 when he won two races, including the French Grand Prix held at the challenging Circuit de Charade.  He finished the season in second place behind his Suzuki teammate, Hans-Georg Anscheidt in the 50cc world championship. He also finished the 1967 season in fourth place in the 125cc championship. Katayama won four Grand Prix races in his career.

Katayama would later switch to cars, competing in domestic series mainly as Mazda 's factory driver until he retired at the end of 1990. He finished second in the 1983 James Hardie 1000 , held at the Mount Panorama Circuit Bathurst Australia co-driving with four-times winner Allan Moffat in a factory supported Mazda RX-7. His previous visits to the race were in 1977 when he spectacularly rolled his Mazda RX-3 at Murray's Corner on lap 103, and in 1982 where he finished in 6th place again partnering Moffat.

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