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20th August 2004

Opinion: The Older I Get (again)

It's becoming something of a theme: eschew the modern and look back for the future. Goat Maison explains how he has taken one step at a time (backwards)...

I started my motorcycling life in the late seventies at a time when the Japs ruled, but a few enduring Brits remained commonplace. The first bike that I was aware of was a BSA Lightning which made a sound that fired up my bike lust at an early age. I was too young to buy anything at that time and had to wait a few years for my balls to drop and other formalities to fall into place.

1951 Ariel model VB 600cc

Shelf filling in Budgens Supermarket at slave labour rates meant I was able to buy a BSA 1965 C15 SS80. This was my first horse, and I learned to fall off a few times as well as to stay on a few times too. The British bike people around me were either young 'die hards' or middle-aged 'born agains'. Everything that they owned was from the 1950s upwards, and the only place that I saw older machines was at steam rallies. The 30s bikes looked the prettiest to me and I thought that I should have one some day, unlike the 20s machines which looked a bit spindly.

The next significant bike for me was a 1958 Norton Dominator 77 which I rode to Pakistan (that's another story - coming soon) and was my first 'proper' bike. I was happy in the 50s zone and thought that it was where I'd stay until I acquired a 1951 Ariel VB. This was really a 40s machine that had much less performance but was very reliable and leak free. I realised that Ariels were much underrated and that they had a real quality about them.

More importantly, I had traded performance for 'smile rating' and was beginning to understand the more soulful aspects to riding. It seems that the more racy a machine is, the more it entices the rider to thrash it which is why I was happy plodding along at 30mph on the VB whereas my next bike (a fire breathing Triton) was only happy being thrashed.

It's the same for cars, where a manual hatchback eggs us into aggressive scratching, but an automatic Jaguar XJ12 cruise liner makes us very gentlemanlike because it feels good when driving such a civilised armchair. I realised that I'd probably have a nasty accident if I kept the Triton, so I sold it and decided that I'd make the leap (backwards) to before the Second World War.

Lesson learnt: Soulful riding is an under championed gem and due to its un-measurable abstract nature, it doesn't appear on road tests along with kerb weight and torque figures, but is the most important statistic of all.

1931 Norton Model 18 500cc

Enter a 1931 Norton model 18. This was great! Lots of performance, handling and great looks with a 4-speed foot change and an engine that was as happy plodding as it was thrashing. There was no going back (or forwards, if you like) to post-war machines. Having just sold my flat I had money in the bank, so I promised myself a pre-war Ariel Red Hunter that was advertised by an old-timer whose riding days were over due to ill health. When I opened his garage to see the Ariel for sale, there was also a 1925 Royal Enfield 350 sidevalve, staring at me with a big brass gaslight eye! I was enchanted immediately and bought them both. To hell with the housing market, I'll be dead in 50 years.

Lesson learnt: You never stop moving (even if it's backwards).

So that's about where I am today. I also have a 1921 Triumph Junior and spend most of my bike dreaming in the vintage era. The Royal Enfield is one of the best bikes that I've ridden on many levels (apart from the front brake). There are no words to describe the satisfaction of riding a good flat tanker, so if you've not tried, make a note to yourself for the future.

1925 Royal Enfield 350cc

If I ever reach the beginning of time (Edwardian), where will I go then? I look forward to not arriving and to continue going backwards one step at a time.

If you'd like to see more pictures of Monsieur Maison's motorcycles then look here:

Golden Age?


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