Opinion: Old guys rule?

Steve Rose


Will someone please buy Troy Bayliss a drum kit. Or a sports car, or a bottle of cask-aged unicorn-flavour beard oil and a brat-style Ducati Supersport 600?

Bayliss announced yesterday that, aged 49, he’s making a return to full time racing in 2018 to contest the Australian Superbike championship. Funnily enough I read this news moments after also reading an interview with Aaron Slight where he talked in depth about the physical challenges of racing a motorcycle and how it was all about being physically fit enough to get enough oxygen to the brain to allow a rider to make those make-or-break decisions 35 minutes into a 40 minute race.

Eleven years ago, Mr Bayliss made a wild card appearance at the last round of Moto GP in Valencia, in his late 30s, having not been on the GP bike all season… and won. That was impressive enough in a field full of children (even Valentino was only 26 at that point), but this is an inspiration. As someone of a similar age, frankly I’m surprised he can even contemplate riding at that level without having to stop for a piddle by lap 10.

Of course what we are really hoping is that, assuming he gets through next season in good shape and gets his hand back in, assuming he still has that level of fitness to carry enough oxygen upstairs to win races (and you’d be a fool to bet against it), then wouldn’t it be lovely to see him back in World Superbike, as development rider for Ducati’s new V4 in 2019, aged 50 and almost certainly still faster than most of the field. Pinch me, cos that would be a reason to watch it again.

Yes, there will be those that’ll say Mr B is sitting in a seat that should be the home of some up-and-coming hotshot, but, and this is important, motorcycling is an old man’s game right now. The average age of riders in many countries is north of 45 and, for many of us, there would be nothing better than watching someone who really ought to be helping out in B&Q, giving it the berries on a Sunday afternoon.

And let’s not forget that there is some kind of precedent here. A certain Mr Anstey, from the next parish to Bayliss is a similar age and shows no signs of getting slower – this year he averaged 131mph on his touring holidays around the Isle of Man backed by a Padgetts team who love him all the more because of who he is.

Eerily, a few months back BikeSocial suggested that one of the things that might save WSB would be to make it a nippers v old-timers championship – wouldn’t it be great if this were the start of that. Failing that, there’s rumoured to be a spare seat going on the Norton for the TT next year. I wonder what Mr Fogarty’s doing in June?