Three time World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss has ridden on Öhlins equipment for the vast majority of his long and distinguished career through his domestic Australian series, American and British Superbikes, WSB and MotoGP. We managed to track down the likeable Aussie to a 24 hour moped enduro (!) on the Gold Coast, to find out more about his relationship with the brand and what he’s up to now...
“I’ve been with Öhlins since ‘96 and only ridden with another manufacturer for a single season, and honestly I didn’t get on with it at all!”
Troy didn’t have the opportunity to beat the now well trodden path of small capacity lightweight bikes with steady progression through the classes, in fact as a late starter in his mid 20’s he threw himself straight into the Australian Supersport followed by the Superbike series! The hard-charging rider from New South Wales had his first taste of a professional team and “something just clicked” as he rode for Team Kawasaki and Suzuki Australia. He then attracted global attention when he took a 250GP wildcard at Assen to pick up a coveted British Superbike ride on a factory Ducati.
“Britain in 1998 was a struggle – the tracks are really different, we had crashes and mechanicals... then the following year everything went right and this was the start of my relationship with Ducati.”
2000 saw Troy move to the Vance and Hines team in AMA Superbike in the States, before being drafted into the factory WSB team to replace the injured Carl Fogarty. He took two race wins in his debut season and then cemented his relationship with the Bologna brand taking the 2001 World Superbike Championship. The next season would witness a titanic battle between Troy and Colin Edwards with the American having an almost perfect second half of the season to win the title. Both men then moved to MotoGP together.
Troy explains, “I had some fantastic times with Ducati and it’s fair to say that there was a trio of us that really had something special – me, Ernesto Marinelli (Ducati crew chief) and Byron Draper (Öhlins technician) . We got to the point that we knew what worked for me and the bike, and they could just say to me ‘Troy- it’s in your head mate’ and I would just get on with it! The way I see it not everyone can win but if you can supply a good base bike and have good guys around you have all the right ingredients.
“The two guys from Öhlins who I knew the best were Corndog (John Cornwell) and Byron. Byron is an ex Aussie MX rider like me so we had some mutual stuff to focus on but he was always such a switched on guy, even from an early age, and great to have around.”
Bayliss moved back to WSB, taking two more crowns (in 2006 and 2008). However he may be most revered for his spectacular one-off ride at the ’06 Valencia MotoGP which he won, “It was amazing. I got to take the right guys with me, in fact I took most of the Superbike crew with me… and of course we all walked away very happy!”
Troy is famous for his ‘never say die’ spirit but who does he consider his toughest rivals? “I’ve had some really hard battles with some tough characters; Britain was actually really tough, swapping paint with Chris Walker, Niall Mackenzie and Neil Hodgson. Of course everyone remembers the battles with Colin (Edwards) and Haga, but you know what- we never knocked each other off and we enjoyed a pizza together at every round. I can’t imagine the current MotoGP guys doing the same thing!”
Troy was racing in a golden era for Australians with many of his countrymen both racing and working in the paddock, “I guess we’re pretty easy-going folk so maybe that helps in a tense environment. Also I think it’s fair to say that both riders and mechanics have to make a big effort to get to Europe, so we need to make it work once we’re here.”
After retiring from racing, Troy shocked the paddock with a comeback ride at the first round of the 2015 WSB series with his old team, the factory Ducati Racing squad. “It was a strange situation to be honest. I was going to Phillip Island as a spectator but when Giugliano was injured I got the chance to ride. I wasn’t really ready but I thought it would be cool to get the old band back together. At the end of the day, it was just a great experience and I’m really grateful for it.”
So how had things changed in the 20 years of his Superbike racing career? “Of course things have changed but so much remains the same.
This year the kit was totally different and there was a lot to take in. Suspension set up is the same black art though; lots of trial and error. When I was racing full-time, I tried to keep it simple. We had spring rate changes at the rear and just two sets of valving for the forks. The funny thing was, I had just one setting on the shock for the wet; it felt so good and I just used to leave it alone.
”Despite retiring from the tarmac Troy returned to his first love, Dirt Track, resulting in some big crashes and injuries this year, “Yeah, I’ve had more injuries in the last few months than in my whole racing career, three crashes and I hit the wall three times. I love Dirt Track and we have our own event in January (The Troy Bayliss Classic). It’s in my home town, it’s great to help the local club and bring over the top international racers.
“My son Ollie (12 years old) is riding really well and I think he’ll be as fast as me in two years. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world in a big circus with an air con garage but now I’m back in the dirt riding with my lad, I couldn’t be happier!”