The Whys, the Wherefores and the Surely-Not-Agains…?

Thanks for clicking on this new blog which, as it says on the home page will be a (not-so) meticulously slung–together selection of my columns from the various bike mags I’ve written for, launched, edited, and in some ill-advised cases published over almost five, count ‘em, five decades. And just to keep my hand in, and because columnists are generally now shunned in favour of more advertiser-friendly features these days, I’ll sometimes throw in a freshly scrawled tirade on matters motorcycling. Or maybe it’s just my wild rhetoric and fanciful nonsense that are these days shunned by admirably astute editors – which behoves me to explain why I started this in the first place.

I have however written about the origins of my bikey scribbling and in particular, the genesis of the first magazine I launched, Bike, quite a few times already – although that mayn’t stop me repeating myself again here – but for now I’ll just explain that since the late ‘sixties when I discovered some of the great automotive columnists in American mags like Cycle, Car & Driver, Cycle World and the British ground-breaker, Car – the latter from under whose wing I launched Bike and blagged LJK Setright as a columnist – I’ve admired how they created a sense of clanship that made those magazines much more than just a bunch of great roadtests and features. And in my own small way I thought I could do the same, especially with Bike, then WhichBike? and finally MotorCycle International, by building a crew of writers who were distinctive and identifiable with the mag concerned, and of which I was immodestly one.

Later, in columns for mags I didn’t edit or publish myself, e.g. Motorcycle Mechanics (later prefixed by ‘Classic’), TrailBike, Classic Bike Guide and MotorCycle Trader (which I proudly still write for) and a few car magazines I’ll keep quiet about, I just wrote about what was exercising me at any given time and hoped that this, too, would appeal to readers who might want to read about it every month… Which may or may not’ve been the case.

See, I love writing columns partly because they are, or were, the one place in a magazine where controversial opinions can be gotten away with, often against the publishers’ commercial interests. And in the case of motorcycling, which due to exorbitant entry costs, perceived danger and the spawning of other, cheaper recreational pursuits, has seriously and steadily diminished in popularity since I started all this, controversy and left-field views are now seriously lacking. Uncoincidentally, there are now far few younger motorcyclists which at the time I launched Bike, and then to a lesser extent WhichBike?, was a huge market largely ignored by the then specialist press.

Instead we have an ageing biking cohort, of which I’m obviously one, and which most remaining magazines and websites explicitly or tacitly cater to, ditto the manufacturers who’ve all but given up on the entry-level market. Ironically, over the last decade and thanks to the generosity of its great editor Hugo Wilson, I’ve been writing for Bike again – most recently about the inspiring and flourishing custom-bike scene – a full-circle exercise that’s evinced a steady, or okay, unsteady trickle of messages from born-again bikers who fondly remember the stuff I scribbled umpteen years ago. So it’s largely to them that I gratefully dedicate this website… plus anyone else who accidentally stumbles upon it.

And I’m kicking it all off by republishing my very first editorial in Bike, which may reflect much of what I’ve just written – period clichés and cringe-worthy jargon notwithstanding. From hereon I’ll be posting every few days or so and if you like what you read, or even don’t, do let me know via the Comment box, or click on the ‘speech bubble’ up above, and do please also click on the ‘Follow’ box in the right hand column to get your regular supply.

Bike – Spring 1971

Strange Days – The State of the Nation

ODDLY ENOUGH we British seem unable to take the latest moves in the unruly history of motorcycling with our usual cool.

Bike magazine cover

Those at the helm of our bike industry continue to churn out inestimably robust wares in ignorance, or perhaps abhorrence of many current trends, whilst brave men career round race tracks and wonder why spectator and industry support for their spectacular skills slowly disappears. And why? Well, see that beer-bellied neo-Nazi pulling away from the truck stop, his gleaming, raked Harley roaring like an amplified Bofors gun as he throttles fuel into its thousand thirsty cubes and chucking a dead beer can over his five foot sissy bar, he snorts off up the freeway with a pack of similarly mounted bike-bandits in red hot pursuit? Yes friends, choppers are here, indicating to some the ultimate decadence of the two wheel fraternity, yet to others they signpost a new direction for the industry.

For despite the fact that there’s damn-all left to chop off a stock British machine and that ape-hangers and raked frames do almost nothing aesthetically for the parallel twins and squarish frames that are the hallmark of British sickle design, accessory manufacturers encouraged by the influence of Easy Rider and the poverty of original design thought that seems to pervade our industry have jumped aboard the bandwagon and are pouring the paraphernalia of the American chopper cult (which incidentally, is a ‘fad’ that‘s flourished since the ’50s) onto a new generation of young ’bikers who feel that they have little or no choice but to adorn their Triumphs and Ajays, however inappropriately, in their quest to ride something a little different.

Rather than admit, “Hey, this shouldn’t be necessary: let’s build bikes that look good and go good in the first place,” many manufacturers have until recently hummed and hah-ed in true ostrich fashion, letting the wily Japanese grab all the action. Now, at last, we are starting to see competitive home- grown alternatives, yet they are unfortunately the prerogative of those with heavy bread. And so we’re meeting a new breed of ’biker, the hip young executive, the pop guitarist and all the other sons of the wealthy middle classes who seek something a little more practical, exciting and, yes, even somewhat cheaper than a box on wheels. These guys are frowned on even more severely by the anti-chopper brigade because, we suspect, they will pay a grand or more for an Egli-Vincent or an imported Harley-Sportster, and because they can afford to discriminate and because they ain’t satisfied with machines the like of which may’ve turned on their grandfathers but leave them stone cold.

So this magazine is dedicated to showing you some of the alternatives that are open to you and, should you not be aware of them already, the divers delights of the two-wheel trip. Notwithstanding our doomy introduction, we don’t presuppose that Britain can’t make or hasn’t made some great and utterly original motorcycles. There is a patriotism in our bosoms that fires us with hope for the future but right now things are unnecessarily dull and directionless. Even as we write there are men of vision screwing together machinery the like of which could well revive the spirit of our industry. May they prosper and multiply…


10 thoughts on “The Whys, the Wherefores and the Surely-Not-Agains…?

  1. Hiya Mark, cheer up this listless lockdown with a revisit to the acid fuelled tales of your nom de plume ‘cuz,’ Mark M. Williams………..PLEASE………….from Bike late 70’s methinks. I await with a spiked cuppa and biccie.


  2. Wow I remember that girl on the chopper vividly. Those Moto Guzzi and Ducati ads stick in my memory for some reason as well. Saw your blog advertised on SUMP Magazine – surprised you are still alive:-) Got you to blame for me buying a PE175 and the now constant crick in my neck. Write some new stuff you lazy bugger. All the best Rob


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