Wheel alignment

Sunday 7 August 2016

Were those the days???

Currently, there's a thread running on a Kiwi motorcycle forum asking members what their favourite motorcycling era was and why.  As you might expect, the answers have been heavily influenced by each contributor's age but many of the replies have been both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Consequently, I thought that I'd have a little ramble down memory lane myself and see where it goes.

There's a bit of my motorcycling history in some of the early blog posts but in a nutshell, it started in 1964 when I passed all my national school exams.  My incredulous grandparents bought me a Suzuki 50 as a well-done present.  They had correctly tagged me as not being particularly motivated at that stage and it was a surprise to both them and me that I did ok.  The Suzuki had a horsepower rating in single figures, a massive windscreen and the aerodynamics of an aircraft hangar but despite its feeble performance, it represented freedom to roam wherever I liked.  This was subsequently replaced by a 350cc Triumph Twin which leaked oil everywhere, then a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 which was my sole transport in all weathers.  It had its fair share of reliability issues but on the positive side, it taught me a lot about practical maintenance, especially when stranded on the roadside with the awful Lucas electrical system.  They didn't call Lucas the Prince of Darkness for no good reason!

At my age, I'm way past embarrassment so the photo below is of me in 1967 (I think), complete with obligatory biker hairstyle of that era.  Marlon Brando and the Wild One movie had a lot to answer for.

A complete poser with a nice Tiger 100

Subsequent engineering studies motivated me to build a drag bike principally as an engineering exercise. Performance parts weren't so readily available over the counter as they are now and I'd like to think that people had to be a lot more innovative to get a competitive edge.  Earlier blog posts describe the work done on Icarus to make it nationally competitive but if it wasn't for the engineering lab facilities and support from the tutors, it wouldn't have happened.  There are plenty of photos of the final version of Icarus in the earlier posts, but the one below is of its first ever outing with its largely standard but supercharged Triumph engine; before the short stroke conversion, nitro and sticky slick.

More balls than I have now!

Developing a career, getting married, emigrating to NZ and raising a family pushed bikes onto the back burner for a while but they were never forgotten.  By the time I returned to them in 1987, Japanese bikes had largely cornered the big bike market, they were supremely reliable, didn't leak oil all over the place and had more performance than most of us could ever use.

My old Blackbird - still outrageous performance nearly 20 years after first hitting the market

Maybe it's partially because of my age but emphasis has definitely shifted from tinkering with bikes to simply getting out and enjoying riding them and trying to ride as well as I can - a big shift.  I dunno whether it's just me but modern bikes in general seem a bit bland, perhaps because they do everything so well.  You really have to look around for a bike which has "character", whatever that word really means.

Soooo..... having had bikes spanning a period of 50 + years, what's my favourite era?  Well, it has to be the late 60's because it had such a seminal influence on me - personal freedom to travel, intertwined with my education and subsequent career as a professional engineer.  Would I go back to bikes of that era?  Not on your nelly, unless it was for just pottering about on locally.  Modern bikes are superior in almost every way, unless you like a bit of tinkering that is!

That last sentence neatly leads me to introduce one of my closest friends, Rick.  We grew up in the UK together and both got into bikes at the same time. Rick has a love of classic vehicles.  Whilst he might strongly disagree with my definition, I use the word "classic" euphemistically, really meaning old crates which need so much maintenance that they are rarely on the road.  He has a Jensen CV8 car and a very early Morgan V8, both of which are a significant drain on his wallet and occasionally, a test of  his sanity.    He used to own a Mk 2 Triumph Trident which was so unreliable that he was on first name terms with the Automobile Association recovery teams in several counties.  Even Rick's legendary fortitude was sorely tested and he ended up selling it after a decade or two of ownership.  Among other bikes, he bought a new Honda Fireblade which curiously, has only done a minimal mileage since its purchase in 1999. Perhaps it was because he actually had to ride the thing rather than constantly tinker with it in his shed.

Despite being fully aware of the reliability issues of Italian vehicles, both two-wheeled and four, he has always hankered after a Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport.   Last year or thereabouts, he bought a late model (the last year it was made was in 2000). It was immaculate and had very low mileage.  I have to admit that it is a lovely-looking bike and the design is anything but bland. 
Rick and his gorgeous Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport

Being cynical and given their reputation,  I would have wondered why it was in such good condition with such low miles since new.  I would have concluded that the then owner had so many problems that it was simply parked under a dust sheet and forgotten about.  Rick was clearly ruled by his heart and bought it.  Predictably, a number of other problems surfaced which were all apparently well-known to owners.  Some of them took quite a bit of engineering to fix, others a lot of thought and patience.  With it being summer in the northern hemisphere, I'm looking forward to tales of great rides but hope that he has retained his AA membership!  Given that Rick is the same age as me (68) and the Guzzi has low bars and high footpegs, I suspect that there will also be tales of Ibuprofen being required on anything other than shortish trips!

So there we are... despite a slightly tongue-in-cheek comparison between bikes of yesteryear and today, and a gentle poke at the difference between owners who like tinkering and those who just like riding; it's been an interesting exercise to consider which era has had the greatest influence.  However, the most important thing is that we all love bikes for whatever reason!


  1. Hmmmmm, I can't remember back as far as you Geoff...

    I reckon that even though my early years were fantastic (my little RG was fantastic, as was my GSX400X), biking got even better once it wasn't just a means of transport. All of a sudden I was "touring" and then even tackling endurance rides. So I guess that the best era for me was at the tail end of the last millennium and the start of the new one for me...

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Haha, I wonder why??

    Very pleased to see your comments. It seems to be the circumstances, not the bikes themselves which provide the best memories eh?

  3. Great post Geoff, I to think that my best riding years were in my twenties(or the late nineties) that being the time where I had no wife and kids and I would always be out riding every weekend. Sometimes me and my brother would ride down into the snowy mountains just for the heck off it, no planning just get on the bikes and go.
    As for the bikes my current bike is far superior in every way and I wouldn't swap it for any of the other bikes i've owned, thats not to say I didn't like them though, the current generation bikes are far safer than the previous making them more enjoyable and safer at the same time.

    1. Cheers Steve,
      Ah yes.... single and the freedom to do what we wanted without Executive Permission! They were certainly formative years. Actually, your R1 is one of the modern crop of bikes that is distinctive with that great exhaust note!

  4. I like your trip down memory lane, Geoff. I hope that one day I will be able to reminisce about 50+ years on two wheels.

    1. Thanks Sonja,
      On balance, I love the current time more, it's just that those early days on two wheels had so much influence on both my future riding and professional development.

  5. I expect my parents permitted me a cheapo 15th hand FS1E as it would keep off the road....they were partly correct but I did manage to get it going sufficiently well to take me across South London as a commuter. Sounds like a Triumph would have been better...

    1. Good stuff Nikos! No doubt your parents underestimated your resourcefulness! The FS1 was a much nicer looking bike than my Suzuki. My grandparents had leg shields and a monster screen fitted to protect me from the elements, bless 'em! I sort of felt obligated to leave 'em on but only hung onto the bike until I passed my test.

  6. Tarsnakes Down Under
    A really nice piece Geoff. I loved being in my teens in the 1970's when there was a huge resurgence in motorcycling. Jap bikes had just taken over, though there was still the odd Triumph Trident or Norton Commando about. I still vividly remember my first pillion ride on the back of a Honda CB750 as a 16 year old, it featured with four pipes with baffles removed - it was sublime!

    Cheers Jules

    1. Hi Jules,
      I don't know what happened with your post so I had to put it under Anonymous but never mind!! Yep, for those who got involved with bikes in our teens, it left lasting impressions, didn't it? Can understand your memories about the CB750 sound. I was exactly the same the first time I heard the sound of a factory-prepared racing Trident with an open megaphone 3 into 1. Funny how they stick with us over the decades!

  7. Love that first photo Geoff. You sir, were looking very dapper.

    1. Hahahaha! Thanks Brandy (I think!) Is that similar to calling an older person "sprightly"? ;-) . Open face helmet in those days, getting smacked by bugs and freezing in the cold weather.


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