WE THE 80s

10 years of non-stop pub­lic order of­fences, or a time when two-wheeled free­dom peaked? The tales that fol­low will leave no one in any doubt it was a bit of both. A lot of both ac­tu­ally

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - Words: Kevin Ray­mond Pic­tures: Bauer Ar­chive/ps read­ers

Six pages of PS read­ers’ an­tics in the won­der­ful decade that de­fined mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cling

On one level, the ’80s are best con­signed to the his­tory books, and prefer­ably left firmly on the shelf.what with Mag­gie and the min­ers’ strike, pri­vati­sa­tions and pub bomb­ings, Bandaid in the charts and Brix­ton in flames, the Face and the Falk­lands, yup­pies in the city and mad cows in the coun­try, and... well, you get the point.and it wasn’t just grim up north, it was grim ev­ery­where.

On the plus side, there were some great bikes to be had – UK new bike sales were at an all-time high, and there were loads of tasty used bikes around at bar­gain prices. Mustn’t grum­ble, re­ally.

The early years of the decade be­longed to the Yamaha LC and YPVS, and the GSX-R ruled the mid­dle years. Honda brought sweet han­dling to the masses in 1987 with the CBR600, and world-class race-win­ning ex­cel­lence a year later for those with deeper pock­ets, in the svelte, hand-crafted form of the RC30. By the time we’d got rid of the Ber­lin wall and waved good­bye to the ’80s, 170mph was sud­denly within ev­ery­one’s reach with a new gen­er­a­tion of litre bikes and Bri­tain was on its way to be­com­ing the sports­bike cap­i­tal of the world. No won­der those of us who were there have fond memories.

For a lot of us though (in­clud­ing me) they’re not re­ally memories of all those great bikes at all. Ei­ther be­cause we needed some­thing more sen­si­ble (asandy Fry said, “I wanted a Suzuki X5 but I had to get to work ev­ery day so I put re­li­a­bil­ity over ex­citabil­ity and bought a Honda CM200...”) or be­cause we just couldn’t af­ford them. I was a pen­ni­less stu­dent for most of the ’80s, so my on­go­ing fleet was a long line of largely knack­ered ’70s Hon­das and Suzukis which did the job of get­ting me to work and col­lege but that was about it. Steve El­liott had much the same ex­pe­ri­ence grow­ing up in Cum­ber­land. “Ev­ery­one was bike mad; they had Z900s, CBXS, GSXS, all the big bikes – and I just couldn’t grow up fast enough – I wanted the same. I used to sneak out on my dad’s CB500T when I was 15.We used to go to the old in­dus­trial es­tate and do burnouts and wheel­ies. But none of us had any money.we went to one bike meet, and my mate had no tread on his back tyre, so we put it on the cen­tre­stand and revved it up to try and put a groove in it with a file so he’d be sort of le­gal. It made a lot of smoke but

didn’t work, so we fit­ted the rear knob­bly from a Maico in­stead.this was on a Z1B! It didn’t han­dle very well, but it was fun when he took it on the sand...”

That was far from the ex­tent of Steve’s penny-pinch­ing: “We went to the 1985 Bri­tish GP at Sil­ver­stone, so we spent weeks be­fore­hand mak­ing lead 50ps, so we could use them in the vend­ing ma­chines so we’d have some­thing to eat and drink. So long as they weighed the same as a 50p piece they worked – the shape didn’t re­ally mat­ter. Our jeans were hang­ing down with the weight! So we lived on pop and crisps and Marathons for a week. I reckon the cops could have fol­lowed a trail of lead 50ps right back to home... Great trip though, my Z250 wasn’t up to it so I’d gone pil­lion with a mate.an­other mate, Stan­wil­son, was that drunk af­ter the race, he couldn’t ride his bike on the Mon­day, so I got to ride his CBX1000 home.what a thrill – I was grin­ning for days af­ter­wards!”

Aside from race meet­ings, there were plenty of lo­cal (and usu­ally un­of­fi­cial) bike meets to turn up and show off at, or watch the metaphor­i­cal fire­works for an hour or two.and, of course, to bait the lo­cal hot hatch driv­ers.andy Un­der­hill grew up in the Mid­lands and there was plenty of ac­tion to be had. “Places like High­gate Com­mon and Enville, you could have 5-600 bikes there on a Sun­day – clean the bike in the morn­ing, head there for a cou­ple of hours, then off some­where else.and it was bedlam; nar­row roads, wheel­ies, lots of crashes.the po­lice tried to shut it down but they got their cars burned out.then there were a cou­ple of ring roads near us, and you’d get 10 or 12 LCS turn­ing up at the lo­cal tea/butty car­a­van at 10pm, and we’d race the XR3S and RS2000S. I was only 17 when I got the Pow­er­valve, just passed my test, so rac­ing the wrong way round the Stour­bridge ring road against XR3S, in the dark, that was al­ways in­ter­est­ing... Still, at least there was no al­co­hol in­volved!”

Rac­ing XR3S seem to be a bit of a theme. Gary John­son even had a spe­cial num­ber plate for his Pow­er­valve, with the slo­gan, ‘XR3I Dis­posal Unit’. “I’d seen an FZR with ‘Posche Dis­posal Unit’ on it, so I pinched the idea. I thought I couldn’t race Porsches but there were plenty of Xr3is to go round! That bike was a lot of fun – I’d just jump on and ride to the south coast, just for the ride,


wouldn’t even stop there, just turn round and back up the A21. I sold it to Stan Stephens later for work rea­sons. I was gut­ted, but I al­ways thought I’d move up to an RD500 later. Never did though, and I re­gret it now...” Ah re­grets, we’ve all had a few. While many of us were scrap­ing our pennnies to­gether (or mak­ing our own in Steve’s case...), those with de­cent wages could take their pick of the decade’s finest metal.theo Brookes had the ideal job, work­ing for a Kawasaki dealer: “I started in 1980 serv­ing be­hind the counter at 18, and was there 15 years, end­ing up as parts man­ager.that was how I paid for my bikes.” And a nice list they were too: Z200, Z400J, Z750L, GPZ550, GPX600, 1000RX, GPX750, ZXR750...AND which was the best? “The ZXR750H1, best bike I ever had – fast, but im­por­tantly for me it was su­per-sta­ble and had a fan­tas­tic front end. It was de­stroyed in 1992 by a Tran­sit van. I loved the RX too but I only did 1700 miles on it be­fore a lorry pulled out and to­talled it.” He also not only fi­nanced the pur­chase of a Har­ris Mag­num 3 kit, but also man­aged to build it up to a very high stan­dard: “It was quite straigh­for­ward re­ally – I bought the whole kit, with ex­haust, Mar­zoc­chi forks, Lock­heed brakes, Dy­mag wheels and White Power shock, and used a crashed 1978 Z1000 as the donor. Just had to file a few brack­ets here and there, and a friend did the electrics be­cause that’s never been my strong point.”

You’ll all be most re­lieved to hear that the


Mag­num avoided be­ing to­talled by a light trans­port goods ve­hi­cle.

The ’80s saw a huge rise in the num­bers of Brit bik­ers head­ing off to the con­ti­nent to ex­plore, of­ten the first taste of ‘abroad’ and a hell of a cul­ture shock, as Andy Fry re­mem­bers: “1982 saw us ven­ture over the chan­nel, my­self and my friend Bryan on his yel­low 400/4. We had no idea what to ex­pect, nei­ther ever hav­ing been out­side the UK be­fore. In a time be­fore sat­navs, or credit or debit cards, we stuffed what cash we had in our wal­lets and just rode onto a ferry.we got lost be­fore we even got out of Dieppe har­bour...”

That feel­ing of point­ing your front wheel out of the bow­els of the ferry, know­ing you could go where you liked, was in­tox­i­cat­ing the first time. Still is.

For hordes of rid­ers though, there was al­ways one favoured des­ti­na­tion – Ban­dol in the south of France. More specif­i­cally, Cir­cuit Paul Ri­card, home to the Bol d’or, then in its pre-pc hey­day of off-track hooli­gan­ism, sin and de­prav­ity. Lovely.

Andy re­mem­bers it well. “The first year we did the Bol the race was amaz­ing. Or at least the cir­cuit was, with rodeos and sex shows and crazy Ger­mans do­ing burnouts round the cir­cuit loop road as we sat up all night at track­side just see­ing a flash of head­lights and a roar of ex­haust, with­out ever know­ing which bike had passed. Next year we were back, and while we made our­selves at home in the camp­site, we saw a cool look­ing French biker on anafrica twin. Turned out he was wait­ing for his mate in a car to ar­rive with all his camp­ing gear. He spoke no English and we spoke no French but we could see he was in trou­ble and so agreed to dou­ble up in our tents so he could use one of ours, then went out on the piss with him and fun­nily the more drunk we all got the more we seemed to un­der­stand each other. His mate turned up the next day with his tent and a cute blonde hitch­hiker who had dis­tracted him the night be­fore – typ­i­cally French ex­cuse!”

As­sum­ing we sur­vived the road from the cir­cuit to the coast, which was a kind of rolling stunt show and crashfest all week­end (of­ten ne­go­ti­ated in shorts, flip-flops, and with no hel­met – no one seemed to care) it was back on the au­toroute to­wards the ferry, flat out as much as pos­si­ble, pulling wheel­ies away from ev­ery toll­booth – and pretty much no chance at all of get­ting stopped on the way. Happy days in­deed. To­wards the end of the decade, a new craze came along: knee slid­ing.all the rac­ers were do­ing it, all the mag­a­zine testers were do­ing it, so nat­u­rally we all wanted to do it too. Steve ‘Rambo’ Bed­nall was an early

adopter: “The Transat­lantic races in 1985 got me into bikes – within a month I had my RD125LC and I was pulling wheel­ies and try­ing to be Schwantz.then there was the 250, and then the RG500. I loved that bike. I felt like a king. I still mourn the pass­ing of the two-strokes. I lived near Mat­lock and it’s pretty no­to­ri­ous round there: crash af­ter crash. I fell off ev­ery bike I ever owned, ex­cept the 500.We used to go to Hartshay at Ri­p­ley on the A610, that’s where we’d used to go scratch­ing and take our pho­tos. There’s one of me knee down on the 500, taken by a mate.that was in ’88.We had to be care­ful though as the po­lice would give us bother.there’d al­ways be speed traps.we just rode like lu­natics and prayed you’d make it. Some didn’t, but most of us did. It was just such a spe­cial time.”

Nos­tal­gia’s a funny thing though – was it re­ally a golden decade for bik­ing, or is it just that we were young and feel­ing it all for the first time? Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion likes to think they’re the ones rid­ing the break­ing wave. Theo Brookes sums it up though: “I was just the right age (18 in 1980) and the man­u­fac­tur­ers kept bring­ing out bet­ter and bet­ter bikes.when you think we went from stuff like Z1000s in 1980 to ZXR750S in 1989, what a pro­gres­sion! Yes, I’d say the ’80s was the golden age, for me any­way.”

And me.although the ’90s were pretty good too. But that’s for an­other time...

Bikes got bet­ter, true, so did rider skill lev­els too

The apogee of Yam stro­ker par­al­lel-twins

As soon as you saw one of these it was game on

Mind-blow­ing in 1986, still quick, hard as nails

It’s an ap­peal­ing pro­pos­tion (queue out of shot)

Steve ‘Rambo’ Bed­nall: ex­cel­lent style

The lux­ury of for­eign travel

Dig the loafers (far right)

Theo Brookes: this is the life

Roger Mc­cle­naghan: if that isn’t an ’80s paint job, what is?

Phil Wood: all the gear – and plenty of idea

Alan Marsh: got a spray­gun for Xmas

Thumbs up al­right. How lucky we were

Gary John­son: back o’ yard, ready to roll

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