When I was young and foolish, I thought cowboy boots were cool and wanted to be Tom Cruise. If I couldn’t buzz the tower in an F14 Tomcat, a big red GPZ 900R would do nicely. I recently discovered that some of that need-for-speed stuff was faked: the bike was bungied to a trailer as he raced those jets on takeoff.Now that I’m more mature (I’ll soon have to settle for ‘veteran’ but resist ‘obsolete’) and the 1980s are somehow considered ‘vintage,’ I can appreciate simplicity and durability a bit more. I might have added authenticity, but that has come to mean ‘made by a beardy guy with a woolly hat who only rides a skateboard and whose idea of a performance enhancing drug is double espresso’.
In the 2000s, I adopted a small Perthshire town as home (the town has yet to decide if it really wants to reciprocate). When winter here finally recedes, there is a particular Saturday on which whiskery men*, even older than me, appear from all over the country astride motorcycles from a very different era. On skinny, 1960s tyres, these classics are all ridden to the meeting… trailers would be a sign of softness.
Congregating outside the Visitor Centre, there are Brough Superiors, an Excelsior, Ariels and even a Douglas: all of which have done more miles than the mind of a mechanical odometer could ever hold. One or two surviving machines were originally made as one-off attempts to mate a bicycle with an engine, using parts from a Meccano Set No. 2. Stout boot soles supplement brakes.
Somebody will be smoking a fag whilst filling his tank with a mixture from a metal jug. Is he really wearing bicycle clips? Cork helmets and gauntlets are a la mode, but these days, the odd GoreTex jacket too – gifts from a concerned but censorious younger generation.
It’s a bit like a two-wheeled London to Brighton run, but these people were never the smart set. They do their own maintenance with kit they made themselves (in sheds they made themselves) using skills they learned in a shipyard, a steelworks or a factory. Those all closed when ROI became king.
The one thing the bikes have in common (beyond a lot of pinstriping) is that they are tiny – and they have been everywhere. You can tell from the many local stickers adorning their brushed paintwork. In olden times, long before plastic became the new wood, everybody on a bike was an adventure motorcyclist.
Occasionally a few (imperial) tools, a gutta percha gasket or a leather drive belt will change hands, but for the most part people just stretch stiff legs and chat – relieved to see that the familiar bikes and their owners have survived another year. Mineral oil fumes must promote longevity. Few of the vintage motorcycles here might win a Concours d’Elegance, but they would probably get you to China, if you suddenly took a fancy to the trip (and could remember where you put those damned maps).
* And a good number of women too (rather less whiskery), as my wife irately points out.