The final 2002 iteration of the KR3 was a thing of great beauty and very effective. However, it had to race against MotoGP’s new 990cc four-strokes, including Honda’s awesome RC211V. That didn’t stop Jeremy McWilliams from putting the bike on pole at the 2002 Australian GP, despite giving away 50bhp.
Next Roberts built a four-stroke, with his own V5 engine. The machine was a masterpiece, but doomed to failure due to lack of budget.
“The bike I’m most proud of technically was the last V5 we made in 2004 with John Barnard. It was so nice, every piece was made just for that motorcycle.”
In 2006 Roberts switched to Honda power, which took his eldest son, Kenny Junior, to within 0.178sec of victory in the Portuguese GP. Six years earlier KRJR had won the 500cc world title on a Suzuki RGV500 that had been largely engineered by Team Roberts, unbeknown to Suzuki management.
The money finally ran out at the end of 2007. Many of Roberts’ staff had been with him since the 1980s. Most moved to rival MotoGP teams. The Banbury operation shut down, a huge blow for motorcycle racing, because this small, independent centre of innovation and excellence was unique in the sport.
In 1975, Roberts’s XS650 was outgunned on the dirt by the ubiquitous Harley Davidsons. This didn’t stop him from regularly defeating them, but he did need more power, so someone had the bright idea of replacing the 70bhp four-stroke XS motor with a 120bhp engine taken from Yamaha’s TZ750 road racer, which was already frightening riders on the asphalt, let alone the dirt. Madness, but worth a go.
Roberts rode the bike for the first time at the Indy Mile in 1975. “It freaked everybody out. We had it geared for 150mph and they put a cut-out switch on the handlebar to kill one cylinder, for when I needed more traction.”