Real Classic - - Letters -

I live in the USA and of­ten read Bri­tish mag­a­zines on clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cles. The‘ton-up boys’ are a fre­quent sub­ject and are al­ways a plea­sure to read about. It re­cently oc­curred to me that we had a very sim­i­lar fringe el­e­ment of so­ci­ety that was ac­tive here as well, and that I was part of. De­spite the fact that there was es­sen­tially no com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the youth of the two coun­tries, there are a great many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween that group of Bri­tish kids and the Amer­i­can kids of that era.

Go­ing back to the mid-1950s when it all seemed to start, we lis­tened to the same mu­sic; the rock­a­billy and roots rock of Jerry Lee, Elvis, and Ed­die Cochran among oth­ers. We wore jeans with the cuffs rolled up, engi­neer boots and air force sur­plus leather jack­ets. If we were lucky enough to have a job we might spend a month’s salary to buy a leather jacket with zip­per pock­ets all over. We were the chil­dren of the work­ing poor from the wrong side of town, so money and jobs were scarce.

We had our hang­outs just as the Bri­tish kids did. Where they had places like the Ace and the Busy Bee that served tea and cof­fee, we had our soda foun­tains and burger joints where the pre­ferred bev­er­age was cola. I would bet that the records on the juke box were nearly the same and we would rock till late hours and maybe have a dance with the girls.

One dif­fer­ence was the type of bikes that we rode. Where the Bri­tish youth had Tri­umph, BSA, Nor­ton and Ariel, most of­ten we had sur­plus V-twins that were big clumsy beasts with hand shifters and foot clutches. The end game was the same though, and that was to go as fast as we could, not crash and not get caught by the po­lice.

Most im­por­tantly, we were with our own kind – tough kids with an at­ti­tude from poor neigh­bour­hoods where we learned how to make do with what we had. Those clothes we wore, the mu­sic we lis­tened to and those mo­tor­cy­cles were all sym­bols of our in­de­pen­dence and our un­will­ing­ness to fol­low the norms of ‘proper so­ci­ety’.

Over the next 10 or 15 years things did im­prove. A build­ing boom opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties in con­struc­tion. The mu­sic had changed to the Rolling Stones, Cream and other ‘bad boys’ of the Bri­tish in­va­sion. The bikes avail­able here changed too a bit as a few more Bri­tish bikes fil­tered into this area, but our at­ti­tude was the same and it was still driven by that loud rau­cous mu­sic and the sound of noisy ex­hausts.

Then sud­denly it all changed when Mr Honda and his com­peti­tors sent us af­ford­able, de­pend­able ma­chines that were even bought by‘ the nicest peo­ple’, and which didn’t re­quire that you be a road­side me­chanic just to get from point A to point B.

Our day had lasted a re­mark­able 15 years but sud­denly it was over… ex­cept for a for­tu­nate few diehards who still ride in the old style that we knew in our youth. Even though we never met, those Bri­tish kids and Amer­i­can kids shared so much in com­mon that I be­lieve in my heart that they would have been the best of mates.

Owen Matthews

A sim­i­lar par­al­lel ex­ists to­day, of course, al­though more in the cus­tom world than in the world of im­pov­er­ished speed. Bikes are still be­ing bought and con­verted into spe­cials, and long may it con­tinue! FrankW

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