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Mike Sinclair, King Kenny’s Spanner-man, by Kerry Swanson | Other | Tested

“I was the original schoolboy dreamer who got to live it all.” That’s New Zealand’s Mike Sinclair reflecting on a technical career that spanned the last 25 years of the 500 GP era, from 1976 with private entrant Stu Avant to the works Yamaha team with Max Biaggi.

Sinclair prepared works Suzukis for Pat Hennen, Wil Hartog, Randy Mamola and Virginio Ferrari. By 1988 he was with Team Roberts Yamaha, as crew chief for Kevin Magee and then Wayne Rainey. Rainey won three consecutive world 500 championships and sadly, like Hennen, had his career ruined by injury.

Team Roberts became a hot-bed of innovation, pioneering on-board data acquisition and featuring the combined nous of Sinclair, Australian Warren Willing, American Bud Aksland and another Kiwi, Paul Treacy. And then the boss decided they would build their own three-cylinder 500 racebike – in just six months. It nearly killed them.

Sinclair was well used to working crazy shifts, once staying up 64 hours straight to repair Avant’s Suzuki RG500 after it went backwards through a catchfence at Mugello.

Inspired at age 12 by receiving a plastic model kit of Mike Hailwood’s Manx Norton, Sinclair started racing a BSA 350 at age 15. He financed his racing by selling spare parts in Tommy McCleary’s Christchurch Suzuki dealership and stayed back after work turning Suzuki roadsters into pukka racers. In 1972, aged 20, he won the New Zealand 250 Championship and built a 500 that took teenager John Boote to his first major GP victory.

By this stage Sinclair realised he was not going to be an international-level rider. In 1974 he travelled the US with Dale Wylie from Christchurch, preparing one of the newly released Yamaha TZ750A four-cylinder racers.

Two years later he was with Avant in Europe and the following year he joined Hennen, then newly installed in the factory Suzuki team alongside Barry Sheene.

With a couple of exceptions, like the monocoque-frame Heron project, he fettled factory bikes for the remainder of his career, and then immersed himself in windsurfing, crafting his own boards, making regular visits to Hawaii and chasing speed records. 

Sinclair was equally skilled at the psychology of racing, once advising Carlos Checa to take up golf to improve his concentration.

One of his favourite stories (though not in the book) is from 1990, when Rainey and defending world champion Eddie Lawson were both in Team Roberts. Lawson reckoned Rainey was receiving better equipment, so Sinclair put Lawson’s handlebars, footpegs and fairing on one of Rainey’s bikes and let him ride that.

Read this book, you’ll learn heaps! It’s a different perspective – from someone who was at the coalface for decades – on creating racebikes, racer psychology, the unique New Zealand domestic scene of the early 1970s, and world championship 500 racing.

By Don Cox