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15th September 2014

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'Motorcycling in the 1970s' by Richard Skelton

This sprawling subject extends to five extensive volumes. Ieish Gamah gets to grips with an encyclopaedic miscellany of Seventies' motorcycling...

The author of these five extensive volumes is very specific as to their purpose, in that they are '…in some respects a love letter to motorcycling… certainly written from the heart.' This labour of love, for the books are surely that, are a panegyric to the topic, for 'Motorcycling in the 1970s' exudes the writer's passion for all things two (and occasionally three) wheeled, written in a formal, yet engaging style. No soundbites here!

However, 'Motorcycling in the 1970s' as a title is somewhat misleading. For whilst these five volumes do deal with motorcycling per se, they cover so much more than a simple historical account of marques and models. Social history, contemporary happenings, and even pop culture are not exempted from the author's review of a decade, which he himself calls 'a golden age' of motorcycling; even though the people who were involved at the time were not aware of it being such.

Motorcycling in the 1970s by Richard Skelton

Such calculated prescience though is rare, and with the benefits of hindsight, come some highly entertaining views and revelations through the many pages (some 1600-plus of text), from a myriad of sources; writers, journalists, racers, builders and bikers. There are anecdotes galore, factual overviews of the industry (both in the UK and abroad), humour and pathos, along with a considered running commentary and observations from the author.

The content of these books is wide-ranging, from tragic reminders of the 'one minute here, the next gone' knife-edge existence of racers, to the head-in-the-sand opulence of a roast lunch served by maids in a leather armchaired dining room that looked out onto the moribund remnants of the British motorcycling tradition, at the Hall Green Works.

If you lived through motorcycling in the 1970s, these books will bring back half (or wholly) forgotten experiences, facts, attitudes and situations. If you did not, and are a relative newcomer to the total immersion experience that motorcycling can be, then this will bring you closer to life - awheel - over thirty years ago.

Facts and information come thick and fast, and if I were to have a comment on the overall style of the books (though others may not find this an issue at all), it would be that much of what is cited, in terms of production numbers etc, must be taken as fact, as references and sources for same were not always apparent.

Motorcycling in the 1970s by Richard Skelton
70s bikes on Now...

'Motorcycling in the 1970s' minutely catalogues a world so nearly extinct in these days of computer controlled machines and Kevlar-clad pilots. It also casts a wry eye over the new found status (and nostalgia), associated with classic motorcycling, and with the growing fondness for bikes manufactured with the 1970s. The irony that the bowel-loosening handling (as well as the appalling reliability of many machines), are now viewed with rosy affection by some is not lost on the author!

'Motorcycling in the 1970s' is certainly not an easy set of books to categorise, for its range is vast, almost sprawling, in its coverage. It almost appears that the author was intent on detailing as many of the disparate and diverse universes that encompass 1970s' motorcycling, as completely as possible in one attempt. This is not necessarily a criticism, merely an observation as to the huge variety found within the (digital) covers. A compendium this extensive could be further sub-divided into standalone volumes covering social history, labour and industry relations and beyond, and would not suffer from it. That it is not, and that each volume is as involved and as interwoven as it is, makes for an absorbing read, whether you choose to dip into the pages, or indulge in a marathon of nostalgia, and memory laning.

In my case, the three tests of any book are whether I would:
a) feel I had been well served by my purchase (in terms of enjoyment and interest),
b) be inclined to revisit that book and,
c) be happy to recommend others to do the same.

In the case of 'Motorcycling in the 1970s' (Volumes 1 - 5), all three of those criteria were amply met. A welcome addition to anyone's electronic bookshelf.

RC Reviewer: Ieish Gamah


'Motorcycling in the 1970s' by Richard Skelton comprises:

  • Volume 1: A brief history of motorcycling from 1887 to 1969 in Britain, also encompassing Europe / USA. Examines role of the UK as a centre for motorcycling: Buy a copy from

  • Volumes 2, 3, 4: A comprehensive, in-depth history of the bikes and motorcycling trends and events in the 1970s: Buy copies from

  • Volume 5: 'The magic of motorcycling' takes a sideways look at 1970s classic motorcycling scene from the perspective of the second decade of the 21st century: Buy a copy from

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