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Valentino Rossi won premier-class races and world championships on three different motorcycles: Honda’s NSR500 and RC211V and Yamaha’s YZR-M1. This is what made them – and him – so damn good

During his 20 seasons in the 500cc and MotoGP classes Valentino Rossi has won seven world titles and a record 89 races, and all but the last nine victories with long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess. He spent four years with Honda, taking 13 victories in two seasons with the two-stoke NSR500 and another 20 in the next two seasons with the four-stroke RC211V, plus three titles. He has enjoyed the most success in his 14 years by far with the YZR-M1: 56 race wins and four world titles.

The NSR, RC211V and YZR-M1 perfectly track the development curve of grand prix motorcycles over the past two decades, as engineers increased their knowledge of power delivery, chassis behaviour and electronic rider aides.

Valentino Rossi last raced an NSR500 in November 2001, but he still rates the 500cc V4 as the best motorcycle he’s ever ridden.

“The simple truth is that no bike in the world can match a two-stroke 500,” he says. “I loved its violent character – the front tyre never on the ground and the rear tyre all over the place. Either you rode her or she punished you. There was no middle ground.”

Honda made everyone else look a bit stupid at the start of the four-stroke MotoGP era. While Japanese rivals Suzuki and Yamaha built 990cc four-stroke engines and crammed them into revised 500 chassis, HRC designed an entirely new motorcycle. No wonder it won 29 of the 32 races that comprised the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Yamaha’s YZR-M1 is the bike that transformed Rossi from man to superman. Ruling MotoGP on the best bike was one thing, but dominating on what had been the worst bike was something altogether different.

Rossi agreed on terms with Yamaha in August 2003, a few weeks before he wrapped up his third-consecutive premier-class crown with Honda. At that time the M1 was a disaster. The bike didn’t score a single victory during 2003 and took just one podium. During the same time the RC211V took 15 wins and a total of 39 podiums. This was the scale of the challenge facing Rossi, crew chief Jeremy Burgess and Yamaha’s racing chief Masao Furusawa.

Check out the latest issue of AMCN for the full story on Rossi’s winners