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10th March 2006

Opinion: Why are we here? Part one of many

Why do we ride the bikes that we ride? KarlB and Graham tell us about their formative years, and why one was turning Japanese while the other played British Bulldogs...

A couple of weeks back, in a discussion on the RealClassic Message board, someone noticed that the kind of bike we ride - and consider classic - might depend on the generation we grew up in. For some "classic" means "British", while for others it can be a much wider ranging definition. In what will probably be part of a continuing discussion, two message board regulars - Karlb and Graham - tell us how their early days steered them in completely different directions.


Karl B' Story

I thought I would put things into perspective from someone who was born in 1962. Yes, that will make me 44 this summer.

When I started motorcycling in the late seventies, the Brit bike scene was on its last legs and most of my contemporaries were buying Japanese or European mopeds. The only new British moped available was the NVT and it was awful.

Speedblocks. FantasticWe still had the mopeds with silly pedals back in seventy eight, when I started serving my time as a spotty apprentice on an oil refinery. The head instructor had an elderly AJS that he propped against the workshop wall each day, but the motley crew of first year apprentices filled the parking bay (come metal store) with an assortment of bikes that included fizzies (Yamaha FS1Es), Suzuki AP50s, a Garelli, and my Yamaha V50P.

Now my Yamaha may have been pug ugly but at least it wasn't restricted. Myself and Nige on his Garelli would zip past the restricted and highly expensive restricted mopes as we trundled our way home down Oil Site Road at what then seemed like warp speed 0 but now seems dangerously slow - in amongst the cars and lorries that formed the daily traffic jam going home.

A year later and most of us had passed from our mopeds to larger 250s. I would move on to a Ducati 250, Nige would find a Kwacker triple, Lol an RD250 and others would drag in Superdreams and other assorted Jap 250s, apart from Dave who went the Suzuki GT185 route. No one went down the Brit path then, well what was there? C15s!

KarlB and 400/4. And snow. Brrrrr. We were Men in those days.

That year we seemed to go through dozens of bikes. I moved from the Ducati to the RD250E which I passed my test on. Nige dropped out of bikes as did Lol to follow the Ford path with Escorts and Capris respectively. Dave moved up to bigger and better things, or a CX500; depending on your point of view. I bagged a Honda 400/4 and Potter went from an RD250 to a 400 then a Suzuki GT750 which tried to kill him in a Lake District car park by stuffing its footpeg through his calf muscle. Hint; don't drop the clutch on a big bike on gravel. My how the girls threw up at the sight of all that blood.

I moved on to a Ducati 860 (well, if it was good enough for Mike the bike) and others went on to Suzuki GSXs, Honda CBXs and Kawasaki 900s and 1000s. It was only at this time, in the early eighties, that Potter discovered Triumphs. He rebuilt his bonny and invited us all up to Dacre Hill to watch its roll out. It fired first kick and he stormed off down the hill only to fall off at the bottom! He was a tad upset by the time we got to him. The engine had seized, probably due to the fact that he had forgotten to put any oil in it!

Why isn't the GS750 regarded as more of a classic?

The rest of us rode and bent a variety of bikes, European and Japanese. None of us could afford Harleys as these were ridiculously expensive in the mid eighties. One day I got a call from Dave. He had acquired a large BSA, bright red and very loud (I now know it was an A65 Spitfire). It was very unreliable and he soon got shut of it for a few quid. I also remember people chucking Bantams into skips as no one wanted them.

Of the forty apprentices that started out in 78 about twenty of us had mopeds and about ten of us went on to pass our bike tests. Today I know of five of us who still have bikes. Oddly enough I'm the only one to have a Brit bike in the garage, that I know of, all the others have European or Jap bikes.

And were did all the XS500s end up?
Random XS bits on

For my generation it was the access to cheap cars and the rising costs of insurance that put us off. Bikes were comparatively cheap to buy but not to own, plus we had bike shops that treated us with nothing but contempt. In the years that followed the teenagers were hit by more learner laws and even steeper insurance. I have noticed however that more teens are getting on to bikes via the scooter route, and that must be good for biking.

Now I'm not saying that this was how all of my generation saw biking; it is only my viewpoint, to help some of you see it through my generation's eyes.



Graham's Story:

I think we are influenced in our younger years by our peers, and sometimes through family. It's interesting, I'm the same generation as KarlB, but my route to motorcycling was entirely different.

My dad had an A10, my big brother also. Dad's was a rather staid Flash, but bruv's, to my adolescent eyes, was a fire breathing monster. It was a Rocket Goldie, swept back pipes etc ... I dreamed of owning one, and nothing else would do.

Both of Dad and brother were involved in a bike club, The Bulldogs, and there were a bunch of kids my age hanging around the periphery. It was a Brit Bike club, the music was Rock n' Roll, the bikes were all fifties or sixties 500s and 650s. None of us would DREAM of owning or riding a moped. Nossiree, we wuz budding well 'ard Rockers, and we went straight for Brit iron in the shape of Tiger Cubs, C15's, Starfires etc.

My first bike was a Cub, on which I passed the test, I then went for a Starfire to which I immediately welded 'Ace' bars and rearsets. Next up was a 5ta, followed by a 5t and many others...

The only advert for British bikes that I couldfind in a half a dozen copies of Bike from late '76 and early '77...

We all graduated to Bonnies, Tiger 100's, A65's, Nortons and for a couple of the more flush chaps, Vinnies. Sometime in the 80's, we gradually all got jobs, got married and scattered. To this day, most of us have stuck with the Brits, because that's what we grew up with, with very few exceptions.

It's the same story as KarlB's but with a different twist, influenced by what was going in my immediate sphere of experience during the tender teenage years.



Either of these stories strike a chord?

The adverts on this page are from Bike magazines of late 1976 and early 1977.


More Random XSs on


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