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Ron Bishop: Baja Legend - Hourglass

Posted in Features on April 3, 2015
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Photographers: Dave King

Ron Bishop was a racer, a master mechanic, and an inventor.

Besides being named to numerous Halls of Fame, he had raced in every Baja 1000 from 1967 until his retirement in 2012, a record that will probably never be broken, He and co-rider Don Bohannon took a second overall in the 1972 1000.

Bishop was also a mentor to many past and present motorcycle racers while operating his bike-race shop near San Diego. “Ron always had the patience to work with customers and up-and-coming racers. He would share his ‘how-to’ insights—how to prepare your mind for the race kind of thing,” said Dick Hansen, who raced with Ron in the early ’70s. “He also had a photographic memory about who was entered in each race and where the race course went.”

RB was born in Woodland, Washington, and his family moved to Southern California when he was 10. His first ride was a Cushman Eagle scooter, which he naturally took off-road. He eventually became involved in off-road motorcycle racing, and entered his first race in 1960.

“I’d race a TT event every Friday night at Cajon Speedway, then I’d put knobbies on the bike and go scrambles racing that weekend,” Ron said, during an interview for his induction into the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) Hall of Fame in 2001. He made the switch to off-road racing because he’d wait too long between races at the TT and scrambles events.

Enduros and long-distance events became his passion. So he entered and did well in the major races of the day—Barstow to Vegas, the Mint 400, and the Baja 1000. He earned a factory ride with Kawasaki and racked up numerous class wins.

In the mid ’70s he was twice invited on the American team for the International Six Days Trial, an event that many off-road racers have said was the toughest and most fulfilling of their career.

Time: November 1976. Place: just south of the Pine Forest on the Baja 1000 course. Ron Bishop purposely crashed his Suzuki to avoid going into a huge ditch that lurked around a blind turn on the course. By this race, “RB,” as his pals called him, was a Baja veteran, having entered every Baja 1000 from its inception in 1967 until this race.

RB by now was a factory Rokon rider, and that experience gave him insight on one of the most unique and unusual motorcycles in the history of off-road racing, In 1975, on the Isle of Man, halfway through the Six Day Trials, he took a nasty spill and broke some ribs, once again putting him out of the race.

“The Rokon (with its automatic transmission) would freewheel down hills so you had to go against your instincts and give it throttle to control the back of the bike,” Bishop said. “One good thing about it was you couldn’t kill the engine. If you fell off the thing, it would just lie there and idle. Going up hills, if the rear tire started to break loose it would just gear up until it quit spinning. It was a great concept, but it was probably 60 pounds heavier than other bikes of that era and that extra weight would wear on you.”

Besides being an expert mechanic (some dealership owners like Bill Rogers credit Bishop for keeping their business afloat while he was working for them in their service department), Bishop acquired his own race shop in the ’80s in Escondido and sold and race-prepped bikes for hundreds of customers.

Ron was a tinkerer. He saw the need for decent lighting for Baja competitors like the four-wheelers had, so he started experimenting at night with batteries, switches, relays, and bulbs, and came up with a solution that stunned the racers. This was at the time when all sorts of novel solutions were being tried, including taping flashlights to one’s helmet to get them to the finish line in Baja. “He put a battery and lights on a Kawasaki, and turned on his lights at the start line without the motor running. It was quite a sensation,” said fellow racer Bill Rogers.

Bishop, who was named the Grand Marshall of the Baja 1000 race in 2007, died of natural causes at his Escondido home in late September 2014, at the age of 71.

Vaya con Dios
from the staff of Dirt Sports

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