Tuesday, 28 April 2015

"Every generation thinks it invented sex"; so which generation had it best?

Good friend and Benzina contributor Richard Skelton has published a massive tome on Motorcycling in the 1970s at a bargain price of £1.97 on Kindle. Unsurprisingly it's been well received and is selling well; more surprising is the reaction from those whose formative motorcycling years weren't in the 1970s.

The headline quote "Every generation thinks it invented sex" came from another friend who was a big cheese in the industry in the 1970s, but started out racing in the 1960s. His point is our introduction to motorcycling is always a fabulous baptism that stays with us throughout our lives. Although he has a 1970s classic, he still rides modern bikes and offers advice to the industry. As he says, just because the bikes he started out on were old British bikes in the days before hire purchase, it doesn't mean motorcycling wasn't fantastic in the 1950s and '60s: it was just slower and less reliable.

And then another well-known author got in touch with Richard claiming the 1980s were better than the '70s; and guess when his biking career started? Certainly I enjoyed the rise or the race replicas in the 1980s, but the music? Stock Aitkin and Waterman have a lot to answer for.

 I guess for me it's not just that I'm a child of the (late) 1970s, starting out on a Puch M2 in 1975 (no Hire Purchased FS1-E or Garelli Rekord for those who stayed on at school for A levels) but more than that I'm an Italian bike fan. Sure, there were some great lightweight Italian bikes in the 1950s and '60s, but they were... well, lightweights. And as they say in Top Gun, men of a certain age feel the need; the need for speed.

So from the Guzzi 750 Sport and Laverda twins of the late 1960s to the 900SS a decade later, it was - to my partisan eyes - a golden era. By the early 1980s the Mike Hailwood Replica - especially the Mille - was still a charismatic and beautiful motorcycle. But so was my Katana 1000 (the homologation special with slide carbs) and it was 30% cheaper and a good 10 mph faster to the astonishment of an MHR900 owning friend. Another reason to love that era - empty roads during early evening while the rest of the country watched the soaps and we found some interactive entertainment while waiting for the pub to open. Different times indeed.

Yes, there were some great Italian bikes in the 1980s - the Laverda RGS, Guzzi Le Mans III and Ducati Paso were my favourites - but they were just so damn expensive. The greatest one - the Laverda V6 - never even made it to the showrooms, and it's hard to see how it could have sold up against the Kawasaki GPz900R and Suzuki GSX-R1100 in an era when most bikes were still bought by guys in their 20s who relied upon them as their sole means of transport.

The 1990s looked like they would be even worse for the Italians, and Ducati came closer to shutting up shop than most folk realise until the Castiglioni's pulled the Monster and 916 out of the proverbial hat.

So I'm with Richard - the bikes, culture and music (and the weather) were at their best in the 1970s. But fascinated by other points of view that will be picked up in Benzina 14 (out when I've sold a goodly chunk of the Ducati at the TT book!).

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