John Hobbs

Following a couple of years watching sprinting events, John Hobbs’ racing career began in 1966 at a sprint, where he rode a home built 500cc Triumph. He also competed at the first drag bike event held at the newly opened Santa Pod Raceway. Although this first bike, built with his friend Jonathan Braund, was not a big success, it set John on a road to ever quicker times in the years to follow. He set out on his own, building the first machine to carry the Olympus name. This normally aspirated 500 Triumph, built for the 1967 season, was soon updated with a supercharger for the following year – when the name John Hobbs made many headlines. Rapid advancements were made, as the young fuel technology student experimented with nitro combinations. The blue bike made its mark as the year progressed, and John won the 1968 Drag Bike Championship. To cap an excellent year, he set a number of official world sprint records at Elvington, which was headline news. With a redesigned supercharger layout, Olympus would become the quickest under 750cc bike in the world in 1971, as John recorded 9.68s on his 500cc machine.

1972 marked the switch to John’s first twin-engined bike – the first of three versions of Olympus II – powered by a pair of 500cc motors. This bike hit the first official 160mph terminal speed in Europe. An increase in the maximum capacity limit saw John racing a 1500cc Triumph in 1973, which proved to be a handful, as it was fitted with a wider car slick. The final version of Olympus, sponsored by Castrol, became the quickest accelerating bike in Europe, as it clocked a best of 9.16s/155mph. Twin-engined bikes were now becoming very popular, despite the much increased workload needed to keep them running.

Now the race for the first 8 second bike in Europe was on. For 1975, John received backing from Motor Cycle Weekly and Weslake to build a state of the art challenger to achieve this milestone in the competitive Top Bike class. John was frustratingly beaten to that prize due to engine delays. His response was swift, as the new bike, called the Hobbit, immediately set a new benchmark for European performance when the bike made its competitive UK debut at Santa Pod against one of the top US racers. For the second half of the 70s, John was the rider everybody wanted to beat – and his duels with Dutch rider Henk Vink were a special highlight. His best elapsed time was 8.07s, which was tantalisingly close to a 7 second run. At the end of the 1979 season, John announced his retirement, due to work pressures. However, he did form the John Hobbs Racing team, with Jonny Munn in the hot seat. John himself still had one or two outing a year until the bike was retired from full time competition in 1983 – and he was always right on the pace.

John dusted off the Hobbit in the early 90s, as he came back to perform in the Classic Bike sprints. When Dragstalgia beckoned, he became its leading participant in the historic bike class, the NSA Shootout. He also built a replica of his successful 1968 version of the 500cc Olympus. Both bikes put in top performances, and proved to be a popular attraction – right up to John’s last ride in July 2022, when he finally retired from racing.

Profile By Keith Lee

Portrait by Mark Hobbs

John at the London City Airport sprint
Photo: Ian Messenger