Barry Sheene is a legend, and a new bike does his legacy proud. Kevin Hackett finds the motorcycle, like the man, is a thing of beauty.
The Icon Sheen is as dynamic and classy as its namesake
Few names in motorsport conjure feel-good memories quite like Barry Sheene. The man was - is - a legend. In the 1970s, he became a household name, and not just in his native Britain, and to this day remains one of motorcycle racing's true greats. Good looking, good humoured, courageous and immensely talented on a bike; women wanted him and men wanted to be him. He was a hero and, to use a cliché, they don't make them like him anymore.
Sheene dominated bike racing in the 1970s and early 80s and was one of the first sports personalities to embrace the world of product endorsement, which is one of the reasons he's so fondly remembered.
Never far from controversy, he made sure he was noticed from the outset by having Daffy Duck painted on his helmet and, if you're in any doubt as to what his personality was like, he drilled a hole into the chin-piece of his helmet so he could smoke while he sat on the grid.
He had so many crashes, broke so many bones, that there's not enough room here to list them all. But whatever tumble he took, he fought his way back, and the world fought with him. Sheene was also famous for having a great deal of metal in his body after surgery - he was basically held together by pins and braces - and he'd carry copies of his X-rays when travelling through airport security because the metal detectors would go into a frenzy.
As a result, he also fought hard to improve the safety of his sport, and was outspoken about certain circuits, such as the Isle of Man TT and Silverstone. He invented the back protector by making a prototype from old visors so that they curved in only one direction.
And what could be a more fitting tribute than to have the world's greatest, most expensive production motorcycle developed in his honour? The Icon Sheene is that bike. You probably haven't heard of Icon motorcycles before now, and there's good reason for that: it's a new company with no previous products, no heritage and no track record. But don't let that cloud your judgement - after all, who had heard of Pagani before that company launched its stunning Zonda supercar? Icon may be a new enterprise, but the breadth of talent within it is formidable.
Andrew Morris, the Icon founder and a Sheene fan, is a successful entrepreneur in the shipping industry, and the bike was an idea that came to him, of all places, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He was rowing across it at the time, raising money for charity, and started thinking about the ultimate motorcycle - a dream that refused to go away.
For 18 months after his transatlantic trip, the concept remained, literally, on the drawing board. Then Morris met up with a company called Spondon Engineering. It was explained to him that they used to build Barry's race-bike frames, and the Sheene idea was born.
Morris showed the plans to Steve Parrish, who was a close friend of Sheene's and also the 500cc world motorcycle champion in 1976, and this, in turn, led to his making contact with 20 or so individuals who were determined to bring the project to fruition.
However, for Barry's closest friends and family to get behind it, the concept had to be right. So rather than build a high-tech reproduction of the bikes Sheene raced in his career, the Icon Sheene was to be the kind of bike that the famous racer would have had a hand in designing had he still been alive. Modern in every respect, utilising the very best in technology and racing know-how, this "ultrabike" was set to be the Bugatti Veyron of two-wheeled machinery.
Five years since the idea came to Morris, the first production Icon Sheene has been revealed, and it really is an incredible piece of work. It is entirely bespoke, and there are Sheene references wherever you care to look. For instance, Sheene was once out-braked by another rider who was using ISR stoppers, so he went to the manufacturer and asked them to supply him with a similar set-up; his request was denied because Suzuki was contracted to another supplier. So the Icon Sheene has ISR carbon racing brakes; it goes without saying that the bike's handcrafted tubular chassis was designed and fabricated by Spondon.
The engine is from Suzuki, because Sheene rode for them in his heyday, but the handmade GSX motor has been extensively reworked. It's been bored out to 1.4L and has strong, lightweight internals.
Power delivery is helped by a Garrett turbocharger; the problem with turbocharged bikes is that often the turbo cuts in with little warning and riders can be unceremoniously dumped mid-corner. To counteract this effect, the Icon Sheene has been tuned so that the power delivery is much more linear, with the turbo coming into play much further down the rev range. Power is rated at a formidable 257hp, and torque at 180Nm - that's plenty in a car, but for a bike weighing just 200kg it's nothing short of terrifying.
The lightweight carbon-fibre racing wheels are supplied by Dymag, which - you guessed it - used to supply Barry with his, and even the bike's handmade carbon body panels are painted by Mike Fairholme, the man responsible for the artwork on Sheene's helmets. Barry's signature, along with his wife, Stephanie's, features on the solid silver handlebar yokes, and even the pressure of the original's pen has been replicated. An enormous amount of attention has been paid to even the smallest, least significant detail.
Joss Nicholas is the project manager for Icon Sheene, and he says that Barry's influence was hard to ignore. "Part of Barry's extraordinary charm," he says, "was that he brought out the best in people, and this uplifting spirit infused everyone associated with the Icon Sheene through its development; as a consequence, it has exceeded all of our expectations. When we call this the world's first ultrabike, we do so with good reason."
The bike takes a staggering eight months to build, with every one tailored for its owner. Even the fuel tank, moulded from the side pods of one of Jenson Button's F1 cars and handmade from aluminium, takes an entire month to form. Visually the bike is startling, with its massive engine proudly on show, and it's loud, too, thanks to its hydroformed exhaust, itself a product of F1 know-how. Morris is keen to point out, though, that the sound is "rorty, not illegal".
Any vehicle as extraordinary and exclusive as this is bound to be expensive and, at Dh613,733, the Icon Sheene is reassuringly so. It's the world's most expensive bike, but it's also potentially the world's fastest, too, with a top speed in excess of 320kph. And, as if there weren't enough Sheene connections already, only 52 of these bikes will ever be built. Why? Well, that's the number of years that Barry lived, before his battle with cancer claimed his life in 2003.
For a man who lived life on the edge and brought happiness to millions, there really could be no more fitting tribute than this incredible motorcycle. Barry Sheene was, and still is, an icon, and the Icon Sheene could, in years to come, be viewed as the ultimate bike built in memory of the ultimate rider. It's what he would have wanted, and you can see the bike for yourself at Gulf Bike Week this weekend - form an orderly queue, please.