John Naish asks where all the 1980s Ja­panese bikes have gone

John Naish looks into the lost Eight­ies clas­sics and ponders why the gen­er­a­tion that owned them are re­gress­ing to old Bri­tish iron

Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents -


Julie Di­plock is on the trail of a clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle mys­tery – “The Case of the Miss­ing Decade”.

She runs a se­ries of big an­nual bike shows and au­to­jum­bles across the South East of Eng­land. It’s an en­deav­our she be­gan 25 years ago, with her late hus­band Steve Bur­niston.

The pair were no strangers to the world of search­ing muddy fields for rust­ing gems (Steve spe­cialised in girder-fork re­pair and pre-war spares). Spot­ting a lack of ac­tion in the bot­tom right-hand cor­ner of Eng­land, she launched the Rye Clas­sic Au­to­jum­ble in 1992.

It proved an in­stant suc­cess, and nowa­days her Elk Pro­mo­tions runs a busy cal­en­dar of events at Ardlingly in West Sus­sex, Ham­street on Rom­ney Marsh, and Ash­ford in Kent – an en­tic­ing mix of bike show and rum­mage meet.

The events fea­ture ev­ery­thing from Bri­tish vet­er­ans to gleam­ing Sev­en­ties ma­chines – and the public mo­tor­cy­cle parks are just as in­ter­est­ing as the ac­tion in­side the halls. But where are the 1980s bikes? De­mog­ra­phy and the pass­ing of time mean that right now, in­ter­est in ma­chines from this decade should be spi­ralling.

Julie cer­tainly thought so. A year ago, she launched a new sum­mer event at Ard­ingly’s South of Eng­land Show­ground near East Grin­stead, specif­i­cally to lure clas­sic ma­chines such as Yamaha 350LCS, Suzuki Katanas, Honda RC30S and var­i­ous turbo-mo­tor­cy­cles from their garages.

“The nor­mal clas­sic shows have a cut off at 1980 for the dis­play bikes. But I was get­ting guys with Yamaha LCS and the like com­plain­ing that they felt left out,” she says. “We had spring and au­tumn clas­sic events at Ard­ingly, so I thought we would add a sum­mer one – with 1980s bikes as a new and ex­cit­ing theme.”

Hail the Sus­sex Su­per­bike Show. It sounded great, but sparked re­sound­ing ap­a­thy. The nor­mally crowded dis­play halls were mu­se­umquiet. And there weren’t that many bikes ei­ther. “The re­sponse was very dis­ap­point­ing,” laments Julie. “We are nor­mally over­sub­scribed for dis­play ma­chines but the Su­per­bike show cer­tainly wasn’t.”

She won­ders if the show’s ti­tle was a hin­drance. “Su­per­bikes means to me the era of the big fourstroke fours with twin shocks. Maybe that was a mis­take. Maybe peo­ple hear ‘su­per­bike’ and think of plas­tic-clad rock­et­ships,” she says.

But surely the prob­lem goes deeper. The price­gap be­tween Sev­en­ties and Eight­ies clas­sics gen­er­ally only gets wider

as the years go by. It can only re­flect a re­sound­ing dearth of en­thu­si­asm.

And that is very strange. The young­sters who bought their first bikes new in the Eight­ies sales boom are ex­actly of the age now when they should be yearning to buy them back to re­store to show­room per­fec­tion.

That is due to what psy­chol­o­gists call the ‘rem­i­nis­cence bump’. We all have more pow­er­ful mem­o­ries of young adult­hood than we do of any other time of life, no mat­ter what ups and downs we have along the way.

This isn’t sim­ply nos­tal­gia. Brain stud­ies in­di­cate that our power to en­code last­ing mem­o­ries is strong­est at this stage of life, be­fore de­clin­ing into mid­dle age and be­yond. Our mem­o­ries of those days re­ally are more vivid – the sum­mers warmer, the bikes more thrilling.

Julie’s own bik­ing ca­reer may pro­vide a clue to the Miss­ing Eight­ies phe­nom­e­non. She started on a suc­ces­sion of Ja­panese bikes such as a 1968 Suzuki B100P and a Honda CB250, then despatched in the early Eight­ies on a CB400/4, then treated her­self to a low-mileage CB500/4.

Af­ter that, how­ever, time be­gan to run back­wards. She bought her first BSA A10 in 1985. “Since then I’ve been steadily get­ting into older bikes,” she says.

In­stead of pro­ceed­ing into the Eight­ies, clas­sic in­ter­est seems to be re­ced­ing in the other di­rec­tion, Julie be­lieves. Hence why the mar­ket in Six­ties bikes keeps get­ting stronger.

Julie sees this phe­nom­e­non even with pre-war ma­chines. “I’m in­volved with the Sun­beam Own­ers Club which, among other things, or­gan­ises the Pioneer Run. The bikes are, on av­er­age, WWI vin­tage, but there are lots of young peo­ple – even teenagers – who want to get in­volved.”

Weird. It’s nos­tal­gia for a time that peo­ple never ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced. Mean­while, there’s gold in them there Eight­ies hills.

“Eight­ies Ja­panese models are more li­able to be seen as old wrecks rather than clas­sics,” says Julie. “But that means the bikes and the parts are cheap, so maybe that’s a per­fect time to be in the mar­ket.”

For a gen­er­a­tion of young­sters who have been priced out of mod­ern-mo­tor­cy­cles, the era of Bucks Fizz, Rick Ast­ley and Wham must surely be their por­tal into af­ford­able bik­ing thrills. A thou­sand quid or so will get you 100bhp. A bit more buys a true epoch-maker such as the GPZ900R. We need to get these bikes out into the shows, raise their cred to their skies and get to­day’s 20-some­things to share our thrills.

Or will the era of clas­sics just stop, like a sty­lus stuck in the groove of a cracked LP?

1 Honda’s RC30 rep­re­sents the cream of the 1980s clas­sic crop

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