On Yer Bike: Greg Albertyn

FMM Curator Wayne Harley gets all crossed up with memories of another South African motorcycling hero…

I often think of the names in South African motocross that I used to follow back in the day: Russell Campbell, Wayne Smith and a local Witbank boy I went to school with, Gary Nel. I would ride out on my bicycle or 50cc to the local MX track known as Mimosa Park, just outside Witbank, to watch the chaps racing. MX was and still is a family sport, and families would load up the VW Kombi, hook up the bikes and head out to the circuits scattered around South Africa, places such as Brickor, Back of the Moon and Syringa Spa. It was just such an amazing atmosphere; sounds of revving single-cylinder two-strokes and the smell of boerewors on a braai, methanol, two-stroke oil and dust. And it was at one of these many venues that a young South African boy by the name of Greg Albertyn most likely started his racing journey.

Greg was born in Johannesburg in 1973 and by the age of 12 had won his first title as 1985 National Mini-Cross Champion, a feat he would repeat in 1986 and 1987. In 1989, Greg had no sooner won the South African 125cc Junior Championship, when he packed his bags and moved to Europe to break into the European motocross scene. But he found it very difficult, and suffered a number of injuries as he battled to come to terms with how things worked abroad. However, Greg never lost faith in his goal and believed he could win every GP. Belief in himself finally prevailed when he won the 125cc World Championship riding for a private Honda team.

In 1993 he progressed to the 250cc class and at the end of that season was crowned champion. Greg was still racing in Europe in 1994 and wanted a factory ride with Honda, but the company felt it was not necessary as he was already riding for them as a privateer – and winning! This led to Greg switching from Honda to Suzuki to get factory backing, a decision he would regret in the early season of 1994 as the Suzuki was a terrible bike to ride, and he could not come to terms with it. It took Greg six rounds of the championship and endless development time before he scored his first win, which turned his season around in dramatic fashion because he went on to win the 250cc World Championship.

This allowed Greg to pursue his original dream of heading to the USA to race in the AMA motocross series. He now had the backing of Suzuki to accomplish this dream. As world champ, Greg used his influence to set up a team in the USA, which included Roger da Costa and Ian Harrison. But the dream was not sweet – his campaign started off badly and Supercross proved to be a bigger mountain to climb than he thought. Things did not go well. Greg also found the 1996 Suzuki RM250 to be one of the worst machines he had encountered and he had to push himself to keep up with the competition, often overdoing it, which accounted for a large number of accidents, falls and injuries. Later that year he finally won his first event, which restored his confidence.

At the start of the 1997 season he won the LA Supercross Opener, one of his fondest memories, which further boosted his confidence. This would be his only win during the year but at least he had five podium finishes, making it one of his better years. In 1998, Greg felt the opportunity to win that series was lost by having to race against the monstrous power of Doug Henry’s Yamaha YZM400 4-stroke, which raced against their 250cc 2-strokes.  The unbelievable power and torque of Doug’s machine was definitely an advantage, but Greg is quoted as saying, “There were no hard feelings”.

In 1999, Greg believed it was his season and he was determined to give it his all, but after the first two rounds, he was lying 8th due to accidents. He was very close to giving it all up but at the High Point GP everything clicked, and in Greg’s own words, “It was the turning point of the season” as he went on to win the 1999 AMA 250cc National Championship.

Greg Albertyn remains one of South Africa’s motorcycling legends and is credited with three international World Championships, one USA AMA National Championship and four South African National Championships. Today, you can find Greg running a real estate development company in California, and periodically he still participates in selected events. And in true motocross spirit, every Sunday I’m sure you will find Greg riding along with friends and family.