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13th February 2009


Modern 'Classics'
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What is the attraction of a modern 'classic' motorcycle? Paul "The Destroyer" sticks his neck out (and doesn't mention Triumphs once!)...

There are lots of differing views on certain brands of motorcycle which might or might not deserve the label of 'modern classic'. I found it all very intriguing from my position as a bikeaholic. To my (simple) mind currently there are a few manufacturers offering what I (just me, you don't have to agree) consider to be modern 'classics'. They are:-

  • Enfield
  • Moto Guzzi (yes really)
  • Chang Jiang
  • Ural
  • Harley-Davidson (that'll upset people)

    There might be more but this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. Let's consider the audience to whom these types of bike broadly appeal. The typical buyer is late-forties to late-sixties. They might have had a bike way-back-when and gave it up for a life of domestic bliss; you know marriage, kids, house etc. Or they weren't allowed a bike and now that Mum, Dad or both have gone they are finally realising the dream. Once more this isn't an exhaustive list and I'm sure there are other demographics (as marketing people call them) that come into it.

    Allowing for such exceptions, the general audience for classic-styled motorcycles see bikes and names from the past and shapes which they recognise. If you look at most of the above list nearly all have existed for long time, most don't have acres of plastic fairing covering the oily, whirly bits. They look like old fashioned motorcycles -- you know; two wheels, an engine, a seat and a tank. Some have appeal because they look like old bikes, some have the appeal of old manufacturers' names, some have both.

    Chang Jiang

    Imported over here by a few specialist dealers these are (to me) the real modern classic. Basically they are 1950's frames, which means you get a black six-digit number plate. It's a flat twin made by the Chinese, copied from the Russians, copied from the Germans. You get plunger rear suspension and telescopic forks and the added benefit of modernish electrics is welcome bonus. Our buying group outlined earlier see a 1950's BMW and think of quality expensive motorcycles. They like the fact that they need to fettle, tinker and generally look after it. They like the simplicity and the fact that it's not scary. They love the fact that they are backed up by small independent dealers who'll (possibly) remember their name. Some might see a second rate imitation of a copy built to a price.

    Tank full of five-star? Chang Jiang CJ750

    Moto Guzzi

    These guys trade on the name as the most reliable of the Italian manufacturers. They make a wide range of models all using essentially the same old V-twin engine mounted across the frame with a shaft drive. Some people buy them because they lusted after a Le Mans in the Seventies. The models range from the BMWish (is that a word?) Norge to the shameless retro chic of the California Vintage and the V7 Classic.

    Massive mirrors balance the bike at a standstill, removing the need for any form of stand... Moto Guzzi V7 Classic

    Our buying group like the simplicity, the independent back up and the fact they can live out their Le Mans fantasies. They like the mix of modern engineering (fuel injection, good brakes, dependable starting) with tried and trusted technology from the era they remember.

    Ural

    The attraction of these machines is pretty much the same as Chang Jiang earlier. Except that this the Russian model that the Chinese copied (I could be wrong though!). People like these mainly for the sidecar fun and it's unusual to see a solo. Much the reasons apply to buying these and they are seen as better quality than the Chang.

    Massive mirrors *and* a sidecar; belt-and-braces for the Russians... Ural Retro

    Now we come to the big two from the list, these always provoke the biggest response and the biggest difference of opinion…

    Royal Enfield

    These are Indian-made developments of the British 1950's bikes. They benefit from updates to bring them (sort of) into the Seventies. Currently Enfield are offering a new engine that's greener and nicer to the environment. Mainly because the old one wouldn't get through current emission limits.

    Enfield make do with a wall to lean the bike against... Royal Enfield Bullet

    They offer old-fashioned values with economy and reliability. I've had a conversation at a show with an Electra owner and he proudly showed me a list of 15 to 20 fill ups all in the 90mpg category. People are attracted to Enfields for much the same reasons as the others above, except the Enfield is physically smaller and easier to handle.

    Last and by no means least: Ladieeeess and Genelmen I give you the controversial…

    Harley-Davidson

    Strange addition to this list you might think but if you look at what they offer you'll see the link. H-D have a range of engines that haven't changed to the eye for many years. They are eminently customisable so your steed of choice can be individual. They are simple machines are in the same non-threatening league as the others. My Dad has recently bought one (he is in his mid-sixties) and loves it. He said that it's essentially a bike from the Sixties, even down to the Imperial fasteners used. Don't get the wrong idea though, his last bike was a Triumph Sprint ST so he knows what a modern bike is.

    A sidestand! At last... Harley Davisdson FXDX

    There are however two downsides to owning a Harley. The reaction from fellow motorcyclists is in the Marmite category. You even like them or hate them, there is no in between. The second is the dealers. A lot of them (not all) are big boutique type places that will sell you everything from a bike to a pen with Harley-Davidson on.

    So what are the conclusions of this? Are all (or any) of these bikes classics? Possibly, possibly not. They all have a few things in common, they all provoke a reaction, they all have a fairly devout following, but most all, they are all motorcycles!

    The Enfields, Changs and Urals of our world give people the opportunity to dip their toe in the water of Old-Fashioned Motorcycling (I won't call it 'classic'), feeling safe thanks to good lights, decentish brakes and modern quality standards. However a lot of the trouble starts when people expect too much from their steed. This gives a poor impression and causes the 'unhappy customer telegraph' -- you know; when a happy customer tells just one person and an unhappy customer tells ten...

    Ignored by Paul, but not by the gravity police... Kawasaki W650

    Harleys are a different pot of mackerel. A lot of the way people think of them is down to the whole 'lifestyle' thing that Harley peddle. Their marketing department must be one of the best in the world.

    If you look beyond the tassels and fake outlaw look I'm sure you'll find a nice simple bike capable of serving you well. I've only ever ridden one Harley about 12 years ago and, I'll be honest, didn't like it. But at the time I was a four-cylinder power junkie. I'm sure that now after owning a couple of twin-cylinder bikes I'd like it. I'm reserving judgment until I've tried one though.

    I'm sure a lot of people form their opinions without having experienced the object of their revulsion. I'm just as guilty in that I never used to like twin-cylinder engines because I couldn't get the riding style right. My last two bikes have been a BMW and a Guzzi, and I'm converted.

    You'll also notice that all are serviced by a network of independent dealers (mostly), that offer the sort of service these people want, little things like remembering names and offering deals that suit the customer. Possibly it's a reaction to the big impersonal megastores that sell the main stream bikes (I know; I worked in one).

    Guzzis old and new on eBay

    I guess the moral of these ramblings is… don't knock it until you've tried it!


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    Harley Davidsons on eBay today...

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