Back days of yore when yours truely rode a Malvern Star 27”and everything over the size of a BMW Isetta looked massive motorcycles seemed to me to be all about the same size. After buying my first Triumph Twenty one (350) its bulk was formidable the most fascinating thing was how wide the 325 x 19 front tyre was next to my 27” bicycle tyre as it was about 4 bicycle tyres wider, still it was low for my 6ft height and riding it 650 miles around my parents surburban back yard in a figure 8 pattern made me an expert to evaluate such things.
Like most motorcyclists I lusted for bigger, faster and more modern machines, a few trips into Elizabeth st soon made me aware of there is big and ridiculously bigger, for instance the only Harley after the famous WLA that I had ever seen was a Electra Glide in Stanco’s and at that time it was the largest motorcycle that I had ever clapped eyes on. A little time later out came a behemoth called a Suzuki 750 Gt the nick name “water buffalo” seemed fitting , of course freaks such as the Munch Mammoth existed but we’re uncommon and existed only as I could see in overseas magazines.
Around the mid 80’s things got out of hand with manufacturers thinking everyone wanted a pseudo cafe racer or that truck the Honda Leadwing hit the market and after that everyone went nuts as they unfortunately believed the sky was the limit, hugely larger bikes were produced Yamaha FJ 1100, Suzuki GSX 1100, Kawasaki 6 cylinders etc, and enthusiastic motorcyclists like me were being attracted to BMW boxers which were a large bike of the early 70”s. By the mid 80,s of course the only thing that seemed to happen as far as development was suspension and lots of plastic which on a hot engine seemed odd to me, this was brought on because the engines in big Jap bikes got very very heavy and the manufacturers decided to do something about it as with all the progress on 70’s UJMC,s (universal Japanese motorcycles) the handling progression had slipped backwards with the weight of these barges. A mate of mine at the motorcycle wreckers used to pride himself on lifting every engine in the shop including a Vincent engine but huge weight gain on modern engines even stopped him in the eighties, two people would struggle to lift some of these larger power plants.
Things altered at the turn of the century as it was getting out of hand and jokes about getting a tow truck if your bike fall off the sidestand we’re no longer a joke even a Harley was considered a average weight bike, mainly the motorcycle developed into a multi diverse machine that you could buy a purpose built machine for off-road, cruising, sports, even postie bikes all built for a single purpose unlike earlier when one bike performed all these things. The issue here was things like cruisers went ballistic in grotesque weight and middle age spread was in which suited the 40-50 yo buyers, crotch rocket cafe racers went lean and mean and you had to be a circus contortionist to ride one or a supple 25 yo, trail bikes went stupid so if you were out the back of beyond and stepped off the plastic fairings crumpled, the radiator, yes radiator collapsed and if you were alone or stuck in a bog you were going to die! Not at all like the bikes you could fix with number 8 fencing wire, a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape, the other problem was the height grew so anybody under 6’2” needed a step ladder to mount the bastard, always a problem to mount such a device on your machine.
Cruisers like the Gold Wing, Indian Chiefs, any Harley-Ferguson and the Triumph Rocket 3, Suzuki Aspensade, were a bit like Pinocchio’s nose just kept growing and unfortunately the buyers were getting older and found they could no longer ride such mammoths. They longed for simpler machines and the Royal Enfields, Triumph Bonnevilles, Kawasaki W800,and currently the BSA Goldstar are popular and selling in remarkable numbers, buyers have voted with their feet and manufactures are at last listening customers now lust for simple clean designs with reasonable weight and moderate horsepower with a easy practical engine that can be fixed at home and no body panels or fairings, talk about back to the future. Even your humble editor at 70 yo looks at bikes of 50 years ago and finds the designs more desirable than most machines available at the moment and the practicability of owning them, but I’m not looking for a 350 Triumph just yet.
Phil Pilgrim 2022