Key People

Al Roberts

I have been extremely lucky over recent years in that business has regularly taken me to Houston and that means I been a regular visitor to Al Roberts. His collection really does measure up. In between a collection that includes some very rare bikes and some factory prototype parts lives some real treasures.

In the attached photo’s are some gems. How about Ronny Mathews original ISDT Sonic that was originally called a Sabre, before Honda laid claim to the name? The bike competed in France as a factory prototype in the 1980 ISDT. Or how about Tony Mathews original 250 GP bike, including the original swing arm fabricated by his father?

Al’s collection also includes some very models. How about Can-Am #1? Believed to be the factory prototype that was used by Jeff Smith in local races around Quebec when the first MX was being developed.  Or how about one of only 60 Cross-Country models ever made? And that MX 50o propped up against the wall isn’t restored. Its an original never-been-started zero mile bike.

I could go on. Including the factory prototype parts, original clothing, signed memorabilia. And trust me he is no slouch of a racer either. If you ever get the chance to go to Texas, give him a call. He is a very generous and amiable guy and it was a pleasure to have a peek in his garage.

Tony Murphy – Journalist, Can-Am Supporter and the man for Rotax

Anybody that has waved a tool at a Rotax engine will know of Tony Murphy. But fewer people know of his involvement and support for Can-Am. Tony tells all:

My history with Can-Am goes way back. In fact back to the days when it was just an idea. Bombardier/Canada had hired Gary Robison to put a plan together. Gary had previously owned Harmon and Collins, a camshaft company catering to Southern California’s hot rod and motorcycle community, and was just beginning to develop items for the Honda Super Hawk 250 and 305 machines that had just been introduced. I was then working for American Honda and racing the new Hawk, which was fitted with Gary’s camshaft and larger bore ForgedTrue pistons to make the engine a full 350.

By 1968 I had moved to Petersen Publishing, working on the staff of Motorcyclist magazine. By about 1970, or 1971, Gary called me and filled me in on his arrangement with Bombardier. He wanted some technicians who would move to Quebec to help build the new, revolutionary Can-Am motorcycles. I supplied him with several names, among them an old friend, Bob Barker, who moved to the frozen north and had a good record with Can-Am, riding their 125 to a 138mph record at Bonneville.

Bob then heading up the design team that built the 500cc two stroke street bike that only made it to the development stage. Pending emission regulations, which actually did not come to pass, forced the cancellation of what was a wonderful bike. I participated in some testing at the Talledega Speedway and it was a brilliant design, surpassing the 750 Honda, Norton Commando and other selected bikes of the day. They built two bikes, both of which I think Gary Robison still owns. Barker now calls Gainesville, Florida home, and has a large collection of very desirable bikes. Manx Norton, AJS 7R, Indian twins and fours, you name it. Some 1930′s AJS V-twins, but sadly, none of the early Can-Ams. They were all destroyed, including the Bonneville 125, although several people claim to own it.

As the Can-Am’s performance became obvious to the marketplace, I approached Canada about operating a road test fleet that would have each and every motorcycle magazine testing a Can-Am each month. I knew all the magazine guys, and knew they were a bunch of lazy bastards, so I left Petersen and set up my own business in 1976, expanding it to Rotax racing engines in 1979. I’d supply the bikes and ride along with them and end the day with a splash in a Jacuzzi with a bottle or two of red wine. I haven’t had a real job since.

I’ve built two desert play bikes with Rotax tandem-twin engines and I’ll attempt to send you some photos. I’m not always successful at this but I’ll keep trying. One of the bikes is based on a 486 Can-Am and the other one is chassis from an ATK that had a 600 Rotax four-stroke. The Rotax tandem twin was produced in the 80′s and Rotax would not ship an engine that made less than 75bhp. So, 75bhp in a 220 pound chassis should give one a good ride. I call them the “world’s fastest play bikes”. They are lots of fun and I have yet to come across anyone who would disagree.

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