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21st February 2011

Classic Bikes at Modern Shows
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Richard Jones goes classic-hunting at two of the largest UK motorcycle exhibitions, and finds rather more to entertain him in Birmingham than in London...

For an old man like me there are three benefits from helping out at the NEC Motorcycle Show in the autumn: it makes a refreshing change from the surreal world that is my day job; I get to talk to lots of interesting people about motorcycles, and entry is free! If I get up early then I arrive before the show starts, which allows me to take photos without the annoying distraction of the public getting in the way… some people have no consideration for others!

And so - as I have for the last five or six years - I wended my way from Jones Towers to the NEC last autumn on a cold Saturday morning to do the first of three days on the VFR NZ stand, ( I have no financial link with this business; my sole interest is in helping out the proprietor, Robin Hughes.

Would there be anything at Carole Nash Motorcycle Live 2010 to catch the eye of the discerning reader of RealClassic? Well judging by the appreciative comments about my newly acquired RealClassic sweatshirt - none, zero, zip, and nada - not a lot. However there were one or two motorcycles that may conceivably have been of interest…

This is the only angle from which the Fury's seat looks as though it fits... Royal Enfield 'Fury'

The first thing I see on entering Hall 3 is the Royal Enfield stand and - lo and behold - the latest incarnation of the 500 single, the Fury, first heralded by Editor Westworth on November 25th on the RC Facebook page. The blurb from Blockley tells us that the styling comes from flat trackers of the 1970s and the bike 'looks ready to hit the dirt' (although I didn't see any dirt in the NEC - they're awfully strict about keeping things clean). The twin exhausts, fibreglass seat unit , wide handlebars and custom paint scheme will allegedly make us feel like a star from 'On Any Sunday'. Ignoring the hyperbole this is a very pretty bike in the flesh and a quick visit to the Harley-Davidson stand gives a strong pointer to where Royal Enfield found the styling cues.

XR750: Making the XR1200 look fat and bloaty... Harley Davidson XR750

The man at HD did tell me that this 1970's flat-tracker drew more attention, 'oohs' and 'aahs' than the more modern exotica on display so perhaps RE have got it right. However it does raise the question as to what the Men of Blockley will have to do next to keep things fresh - a Bullet Cruiser perhaps, replete with extended forks, footboards and a cissy bar? Heaven forfend. In my opinion, for what it's worth, they'd do better to read RealClassic issue 79 and then book plane tickets to Ohio, OH. Aniket Vardhan's Royal Enfield Musket was a delight to behold - his commitment in designing and building such a delightful V-twin is inspirational. Surely Royal Enfield should be offering him a job to get it into production - I for one would be happy to invest the hours required to persuade Mrs Jones that we must have one at Jones Towers.

Beer: Making middle aged men fat and bloaty... Royal Enfield Bullet

OK - time to get off the soapbox and back to the NEC. Before we leave the Royal Enfield stand there's time to have a look at a special edition created for Wychwood Brewery to celebrate their Hobgoblin ale ( It is possible to win this steed by visiting the Wychwood site but I am unable to provide any further information - the site assumed I was under eighteen and refused to let me enter. I was too flattered to be annoyed

Want to stand out? Don't park next to a yellow bike... Andy Clewes' Norton Model 50

Still in Hall No 3 is the Carole Nash 'Britain's Got Biking Talent' stand. Yes, I know; next it'll be Simon Cowell on a Ariel Square with Brucie on the pillion. Although they didn't win first place - this merit was awarded to a Yamakawazuki followed by lots of letters and numbers - there were a number of bolides that may appeal to the RC readership, including Keith Beachcroft's BSA Gold Star DBD34 and Andy Clewes' Norton Model 50,

Want a Goldie? Buy an Enfield... Keith Beachcroft's BSA Gold Star DBD34
Enfields on Right Now......

We then go hotfoot to the Norton Motorcycle stand where the red version (vision?!) of the 961 Commando was on show, together with the café racer. There was also this rather tasty racer which will presumably be campaigned at some point?

Desperately Seeking... a class it'll be competitive in... Norton Rotary Racer

Onward, mes braves, to Hall 4 where we find this petit example of classic French machinery in the Britannia Ferries Classic Zone. Monsieur Jean Thoman produced lightweight bikes from 1920 to 1930 and this 200cc example comes from the beginning of the manufacturing period.

Buying paint in bulk allowed Jean Thoman's bikes to be commercially viable... 200cc Jean Thoman

The oldest Harris frame in existence? ... 1974 900cc Harris Triumph

Alongside stood a 1974 900cc Harris Triumph which was raced by Glen Roberts and who decided he needed a better frame which he commissioned from Harris. The frame was only the second produced by the company and as it's believed the first was destroyed in a fire this would then be the oldest Harris frame in existence. The original three cylinder 750cc Trident engine was enlarged to 900cc by Norman Hyde in 1977.

The Joy of Six. See what they did there?... Benelli 900 Sei

As you will see this Benelli Sei was on a stand engagingly entitled Joy of Six - oh how we laughed. It was accompanied by the obligatory Honda CBX 1000, a Kawasaki and BMW's new slim(ish) inline, six cylinder. Talking of BMW the show wouldn't be complete without a visit to their stand where there was a separate display paying homage to the 30th anniversary of the GS. A rather smart 1981 example was one of those on display and, despite my best efforts, the chaps on the stand would not let me take it home - there is simply no justice in the world.

Mk3 gear linkage is a great improvement. (This is a photoshop gag, not a real modification, ok?),.. Norton 961

After discovering so many interesting old bikes among the new ones in Birmingham, the February 2011 Excel Show in London turned out to be rather less rewarding. There were a few bikes to entertain classic enthusiasts, but only a few.

The bike that moved the margins... Honda CB750K1

Norton Motorcycles were present again, as was this 1971 Honda 750 K1. It was built by Rising Sun Restorations from 'a seemingly scrap frame, swinging arm and engine from a breaker.' Half a dozen other old bikes appeared on a magazine stand, and finally I found this 1975 Suzuki XR 14 500. It's the actual bike which Barry Sheene rode to win his first 500cc GP at Assen in that year, beating Agostini and Phil Read.

The actual bike that might have been assembled from actual parts left over at the end of the season when.... 1975 Suzuki XR 14 500

So is there any place for more classic bikes in the glitz and glamour of the NEC and Excel Shows? Industry chatter makes much of the fall in bike sales and margins, the industry finally waking up to the fact that sports bikes are not quite so popular as they once were. The message was to diversify which appeared to mean charging owners of more modern bikes huge amounts for servicing - if you don't have diagnostic software then you're nothing.

With this in mind it seems to me that far more people may turn to bikes that they can service themselves or at least get serviced by mechanics without a degree in computer science and a Cray mainframe. This can only mean a greater focus on classic bikes or modern bikes that have the classic characteristics of simple but effective engineering. Who knows - a few years from now it may be the RealClassic Motorcycle Live show at the NEC with the likes of Norvil, Norman Hyde and Venture Classics joining Royal Enfield and Norton. I, for one, am looking forward to it but can we please avoid the Real Classic Strictly Come X Factor stand!


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