ISSUE 1
    


"Of course I don't ache," Thorleif Hansen looks almost confused by our question.

He may be 63 years old but despite today being his first time back on a bike in over a year since having a serious knee operation, when you are a six times Swedish MX Champion and have finished runner-up in the 250cc World Championship you don't let a little ache get in the way of a day's motocross testing. A point his thoroughly worn out looking, and considerably younger, colleagues may argue…


As one of the main motocross test-riders for Öhlins for over three decades, you'd be forgiven for thinking the man who was raised a mere tabletop jump from the factory might be due a rest, "I love my job so why stop? Maybe in four or five years time when my wife retires so will I, we'll see. I think hanging around young guys keeps you on your toes, so that's good," reasons Thorleif. Two of those younger guys are his sons Terje and Robin who also work at the impressive Öhlins factory at Upper Vasby near Stockholm, so maybe he also wants to keep them on their toes.

"For sure it's great that my boys work here but I try and let them go their own way.

My middle son Tom is a producer on Swedish radio so it's good that one of us does something different and has a life outside of suspension!"

Eldest son Terje followed his father's footsteps into motocross GPs and then to the US race scene as a suspension technician whilst Robin has chosen a totally different route and now works in the automotive division.

One can't help thinking that Thorleif is an inspirational character to more than just his two offspring in the Öhlins HQ.

His story goes back as far as that of his friend and employer Kenth Öhlin, who he raced against in the fiercely contested Swedish MX series in the late 1960s. Although a talented rider in his own right, Kenth recognised Thorleif's impressive skills and instead of competing against him, using his engineering ability he first modified then made new suspension units for Hansen's factory Kawasaki to great effect.

Thorleif raced in the World 250cc Championship from 1968-78 with impressive results but is also renowned in America as he raced each winter over there after the International series finished.

"It was a never ending season, we'd finish up the World Championship then head out to the States to do twelve American races all over the country. I realised America is a big place but it's even bigger if you have to travel by car! It was such a great experience, I was based out of California and it was a fantastic time to be there.



"The races were actually tougher in the States as there was only one class for Pros; the 500cc division and those bikes were animals. You have to remember that the factory 500 two-strokes of the 1980s had maybe 15bhp more than a 450F bike of today - but none of the handling! I think the three biggest innovations that helped us riders were long travel suspension, water-cooling and then disc brakes, which made suspension, power and braking so much more consistent."

When Thorleif finished his GP career in 1978 after a brilliant second place series finish in his favoured 250cc class, he went to work at Öhlins until 1987 when he decided he should try his hand at something else, in this case the construction industry. However before long he got a call from Kenth saying 'it has been ten years, it's time to come back'. A part-time test riding job soon turned into full-time and he's still there now, enjoying his days making a difference at the factory.

In 2008 Thorleif visited California again – not on holiday, to race. He won the Veterans World Championship (+60 class) at the prestigious Glen Helen circuit. Will he always be this competitive? "My wife has always said 'life goes on, even if you aren't winning' – it has taken me a long time to start to understand this though…"

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