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
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,
"THE POLICE TRIED TO SHUT IT DOWN BUT GOT THEIR CARS BURNED. IT WAS BEDLAM"
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
"A ROLLING STUNT SHOW AND CRASHFEST IN SHORTS, FLIP-FLOPS AND WITH NO HELMETS"
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