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
‘A THOUSAND QUID OR SO WILL GET YOU 100BHP. A BIT MORE BUYS A TRUE EPOCH-MAKER’
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