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29th June 2004

Opinion: Why? What Next?

You'll have your own reasons for being interested in classic bikes. We all do. PaulG80 asks the question: why? And what next?

A little while ago on the message board somebody asked why we are all involved in this hobby of ours. This got me thinking about my own motivation.

For me it's a mixture of lots of things. I have been nuts about bikes for as long as I can remember. While I was growing up the bikes on the street were mainly the overpowered, bad handling Japanese monsters of the 70s with a bit of European thrown in for good measure. Because of this my initial interest was British bikes. I think the reason was that my Dad and Uncles all owned these and I was exposed to them at an early age. Most of the truly great British bikes had already passed into legend - bikes like the Black Shadow, the Gold Flash, the Bonneville and the Commando to name but a few. I remember the fastest bike on the road being the Laverda Jota at 145mph. I also remember gasping at the Benelli Sei and the CBX1000.

This photo doesn't do the colour justice. Luckily.

At 16 I got a moped and British bikes passed into background as my head was filled with Z1000s and GS1000s and the like. A succession of Japanese middleweights followed over the years, turning into sports bikes. They all finally culminated in FireBlade ownership. It was while had the Blade that I bought Beatrice and the classic bug started to bite again. It was while this was in progress that I was given Matilda the Matchless and suddenly - hey presto - I had an honest to goodness RealClassic (see my other article to catch up).

So after a year of ownership I thought it was time to get all philosophical and find out why we do it. A poll posted on the message board suggested that the majority of us are between the age of 40 and 50. This ties in with British bikes of the 1950s and 60s thing. It suggests that guys who couldn't afford, or were not allowed, the bikes that their mates had are indulging themselves now with disposable income. It could be that after family and work commitments, which meant the bike had to go, it's time to take back the youthful alter ego that went with it. It could be a hobby to fill time with the family all grown up and gone. It could be that you have never been away. It might even be something else entirely... which is more likely the case.

The next big group was 30 to 40. This is my age group (just). We probably account for the sudden price rise of Japanese and Italian Superbikes of the 70s. Some of us were too young to ride but still lusted after Jotas (Joti?) and Z900s. Due to the advancing technology of the time, engines were huge and frames were hinged. The people who rode these behemoths were heroes and we worshipped them.

The engineering aspect might also come into it as well. The satisfaction from saying 'I built that!' is beyond comprehension to some. This also gives the added advantage that in the event of a breakdown you know the machine intimately (...steady!). Let me give you a couple for instances from my experiences.

Just after I finished the BMW she stopped on the way to work, just went cough and died. After a quick look I saw that the coil bracket had dropped because the nut had come loose. This in turn made one of the wires disconnect and presto, no spark. Come lunchtime when I disappeared to fix it I took exactly the right tools and the correct size lock nut, fixed it in two minutes flat and when I got back to work they all said; 'that was quick'. This comes with familiarity.

Paul's demonstration of buttock-clench-flag-carrying captivated the small crowd.The next instance is with the Matchless. The primary chain fell off and because I carry enough tools I was able to sort it at the roadside.

This is also some of the appeal of old bikes. They are simple and easy to fix (by the roadside if need be). I have also noticed that you stand out as an individual on a classic bike. I dress in modern bike gear all the time and when on the fairly modern-looking BMW nobody gives me second glance (except the other traffic, I hope). However when I'm out on the Matchless people stop and watch you go by. Children wave at you and their parents smile and encourage them. Is it because suddenly you appear a lot less threatening on an old bike? Are they trying to attract your attention to pile of bits that have vibrated loose behind you or the spray of oil all over the back of the bike? I really don't know. But I do get noticed, which in today's traffic is no bad thing surely.

So let's see; for me, it's the tinkering, the riding and the camaraderie. Oh dear we're still no nearer the answer. I feel that an answer can't simply be quantified to one thing but a combination of lots of little things all put together. I do know that one thing is important and that is the fact that while we all ride our veteran / vintage / classic (delete as appropriate) we are keeping an important piece of history alive. In the last sentence the word 'alive' is very important because while museums preserve bikes for reference and posterity they only actually live when the throttle is being twisted and the oil is warm.

The other thing to consider is where the next generation of classic bike rider is going to come from. The current generation just don't seem to be interested (there are exceptions of course). As a body of people we need to get our nearest young relatives interested. I'm talking about sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. We need to tell them our stories, get them involved with basic tinkering and just generally spark an interest. Russ Gannicott and his son are a prime example (see their story here).

If the next generation don't follow our lead then we may be the last of the dinosaurs and all our toys will be on permanent exhibition in a museum somewhere, never to live again. I don't know about you lot but to me that would be a crying shame.


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