Very much enjoyment from your article “When Motorcycling was Fun“. There must be a large number of car owners who also keep a direct interest and/or link with motorcycling, whether a modern machine, ageing second-hand or some superb vintage machine. More still, who owns a runabout—a light two-stroke or a semi-paddling thing? Wouldn’t it therefore be logical to include perhaps one article per month devoted to two-wheeled matters? Surely that wouldn’t incur any corn-treading, would it?
The editorial within the journal that you mentioned does sometimes come bursting out with an ever-inflated generalisation, full of the latent dangers that such things contain. I would take up a few points as such, by way of an example.
One of the truths about motorcycles today is that they have become highly specialised over the years. Each model seems to have a more limited horizon of use than the previous one. This is partly a logical progression, influenced mainly from reasons of finance-bending designers and efficiency limiting convenience. There is nothing that can be done about it, but one does at least only have to make the correct choice of model. The machines of duel personality or “multi-use” simply vanished by the end of the last war, if not the mid-thirties. War requirements no doubt hastened the onset of more specialisation of use and therefore design. However, this is a moot point since most wartime machines were merely civilian models with slight Service modifications. For example, torque replaced any other considerations for chair work, and compression ratios lagged behind for reasons of poor fuels. Alloys were on short supply and cast-iron was the great limiter.
However, today one would hardly use a Greeves scrambler for touring, any more than attempting trial work with a Honda four. Each is suited to its particular type of use and any deviation would seem to be grim, to say the least, and expensive to say a little more.
Perhaps the nearest thing today to those 350/500 multi-use machines you (quite rightly) enthuse over is the current US fad of “trail” bikes. Sufficient ground clearance, and road equipment make them appear to have many uses, though it might be said not very good at any of them. However, these are for Everyman and not for the specialist—not a bad compromise bearing in mind their cost.
It is interesting to note that the purchasing public do not appear to be averse to the added cost of fuel for the highly sophisticated two-strokes which are now appearing, the Kawasaki and Suzuki being prime examples.
With regard to the so-called “Super Bikes”, better roads, heavier traffic and the ever-increasing cost of sports cars have made this latest category of motorcycle a viable and profitable proposition to the various manufacturers. A high-performance, accelerative touring machine does have a market today, even if off-the-road use is virtually impossible.
D.S.J.’s article in last September’s issue, “Two-Wheeled E-type”, does much to explain this market/category, and it was largely responsible for my purchase of a Norton Commando as a result.
Despite some maddening teething troubles, I now find I have a machine that melts traffic problems, returns between 60 and 70 to each gallon of fuel and one which handles beautifully at circa 415 lb. A return to motorcycling after some years has brought a renewed awareness of road conditions and surfaces, refreshed one’s concentration, all of which are greatly reduced in car driving. Third party insurance over a certain age is reasonable and by no means prohibitive; the vast majority of motorcyclists do all their own maintenance and enjoy doing so, since their very lives depend directly on the standard of the work done—far more directly so than perhaps in a car.
Finally, the charge of “Status Symbol” is, of course, applicable where it fits; no doubt that this is quite true in some cases, but the sheer pleasure of motorcycling overshadows all other considerations, with the added joy of practical cheapness in operation, and perhaps ever so slightly, dare one say it, that tenuous and frail sense of— whisper it—Freedom.
The devil take that editorial and heart-felt thanks to D.S.J.
John T. Dean.