Beau­ti­ful English-made mo­tor­cy­cles

Iconic Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle brands are com­ing out with new mod­els for a young gen­er­a­tion with a pas­sion for the open road and a sense of free­dom few other modes of transport can de­liver.

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Icons of an ex­cit­ing en­gi­neer­ing age, when the words hand­made, crafts­man­ship and world-beater were not just used as mar­ket­ing spin, Bri­tish-de­signed and -built mo­tor­cy­cles

– or at least, Bri­tish her­itage brands – are once again rid­ing high, fu­eled by de­mand for iconic prod­ucts. Most of them may not be pro­duced in the United King­dom any­more, but their le­gacy lives on.

Mo­tor­cy­cles first cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the pub­lic when Royal Enfield pro­duced the first com­mer­cial road-ready mo­tor­cy­cle in 1901. Its ar­rival her­alded a golden age of in­no­va­tion and en­gi­neer­ing that would soon take hold of the imag­i­na­tions of mil­lions across the planet. In­deed, no one could have pos­si­bly pre­dicted the im­pact mo­tor­cy­cles would have on peo­ple’s lives. Not only were they com­pact and ver­sa­tile, they had a ro­man­ti­cism that lured new rid­ers to the open road.

As more and more mod­els were de­signed and im­proved, fac­to­ries across the Bri­tish in­dus­trial heart­land rat­tled with the soon-to-be-iconic roar that would be heard from Lon­don to Hong Kong and beyond.

In­deed, built with fine crafts­man­ship fused with a rugged sen­si­bil­ity that is equally at home in a manor house’s drive­way or the rough-and-ready docks, the Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle’s ap­peal seems to cut across class. It was a favourite of royal princes, states­men, sol­diers and Hol­ly­wood stars who wanted to look tough. In fact, dur­ing the 1950s and 60s the UK’s

mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try was the third high­est rev­enue earner (af­ter cars and whiskey) for the Bri­tish ex­che­quer.

To­day, Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cles are tak­ing cen­tre stage with some of those le­gacy names tak­ing to the roads and gath­er­ing en­thu­si­asts as they fly the flag once again.

Born to race

One such clas­sic firm, Nor­ton, a name syn­ony­mous with the world-fa­mous Isle of Man TT race, is back with its iconic Com­mando se­ries of bikes, which is once again in pro­duc­tion at the Nor­ton plant in Don­ing­ton Hall, just out­side Derby in the UK.

Nor­ton’s range of hand-built mo­tor­cy­cles has even found its way into our cul­tural land­scape with the likes of Keanu Reeves who rides a clas­sic 1970s Nor­ton Com­mando 750 or Or­lando Bloom and his Nor­ton Com­mando 961, and Billy Joel who owns a Nor­ton Com­mando and a Dom­i­na­tor.

One of the new­est Nor­ton mo­tor­cy­cles to take to the road is the Com­mando 961 Cal­i­for­nia, which was launched to com­mem­o­rate the 50 years since the first model left the fac­tory. The lat­est Com­mando 961 is de­scribed as “an easy rider, a clas­sic Bri­tish hand-built road­ster with heart, pas­sion and soul”.

How­ever, while Nor­ton bikes were mak­ing a name for them­selves at the world’s most pres­ti­gious mo­tor races, the en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers at an­other firm set out to pro­duce one of the most ex­em­plary ex­am­ples of the clas­sic Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle.

On the road again

Tri­umph, a name that for a long time was used by many in place of the word mo­tor­cy­cle, was first pro­duced in 1902 and now, over a hun­dred years later the brand is still spo­ken of with pride and pas­sion.

Tri­umph mo­tor­cy­cles such as the Thun­der­bird, Bon­neville, Tiger and Tri­dent have con­quered race­tracks, sur­vived wars, fac­tory fires, eco­nomic de­pres­sions and even Hol­ly­wood ac­tion movies. In 1941, at the height of World War II, over 50,000 mo­tor­cy­cles were de­liv­ered to the Al­lies even af­ter the Tri­umph fac­tory in Coven­try was com­pletely gut­ted dur­ing the war. Then in 1954 Mar­lon Brando rode his Tri­umph Thun­der­bird 6T into movie his­tory in The Wild One. Steve McQueen was also a big Tri­umph fan, amass­ing a col­lec­tion of over 100 mo­tor­cy­cles of all mod­els and makes. In 1963 in the clas­sic war movie The Great Es­cape, McQueen is seen rid­ing his TR6 650 Tro­phy as he at­tempts to es­cape Nazi Ger­many.

Dare­devil Evel Knievel, jumped his Tri­umph Bon­neville 650 T120 TT over the foun­tain at Cae­sars Palace in Las Ve­gas in 1967 and to­day at the Tri­umph fac­tory in Hink­ley just out­side Coven­try, the team is hand build­ing “mod­ern clas­sics” such as the Bon­neville T120 and the Thun­der­bird range of cruis­ers.

Re­li­able clas­sic

An­other clas­sic brand that has made a resurgence into a world dom­i­nated by mass-pro­duced su­per bikes is the leg­endary Royal Enfield.

First pro­duced at the Enfield fac­tory at Red­ditch in 1901, Enfield mo­tor­cy­cles soon emerged as both rugged and re­li­able, traits that have en­deared the brand to Brad Pitt, Jay Leno and former Miss In­dia Gul Panag. While still proudly main­tain­ing its Bri­tish roots, the mod­ern Royal Enfield mo­tor­cy­cles are hand­crafted at a fac­tory in Chennai, In­dia fol­low­ing the clo­sure in 1967 of the English com­pany. How­ever, its Bri­tish con­nec­tion re­mains strong as ever. Royal Enfield’s new CEO Sid­dhartha Lal has opened a new tech­nol­ogy cen­tre in Le­ices­ter­shire with a former Tri­umph prod­uct plan­ner and has also an­nounced that a new UK pro­duc­tion plant is on the way.

An icon rides again

Once known as the Rolls-Royce of mo­tor­cy­cles dur­ing its pre­war hey­day, Brough Su­pe­rior has come back from the edge of ex­tinc­tion. The iconic brand is back in pro­duc­tion af­ter a 70-year hia­tus. Lawrence of Ara­bia him­self was a fan and had his made to mea­sure. Colonel Lawrence owned seven Brough Su­pe­ri­ors all of which were named “Ge­orge”. The com­pany started pro­duc­tion of its fa­mous SS100 at a fac­tory in Not­ting­ham in 1919 and the last orig­i­nal SS100 left the same fac­tory in 1939. To­day, the SS100 rides again as the first of the new mod­els rolled off the line at the pro­duc­tion cen­tre in Toulouse, France at the end of 2016.

Back in busi­ness

It is well known that James Dean and Mar­lon Brando owned one, and many dis­cern­ing mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts were avid col­lec­tors of this clas­sic Bri­tish bike, so if there’s a ma­chine that many en­thu­si­asts would love to see, it’s this brand. One of Bri­tain’s old­est mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers is back in busi­ness with the Match­less Model X Reloaded. The Match­less Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany first be­gan pro­duc­ing mo­tor­bikes back in 1899 and now 115 years later the com­pany is back in busi­ness with new Ital­ian own­ers. The Match­less Reloaded X is a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the leg­endary Model X orig­i­nally pro­duced back in the 1920s and is equipped with a mas­sive 1916cc ca­pa­ble en­gine, and built to Match­less de­signs.

Im­ages courtesy of Brough Su­pe­rior, Nor­ton, Royal Enfield, The Match­less Com­pany and Unsplash

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