Cool Britannia

When it comes to big boy’s toys, British will always be best

There is only one kind of biker, the kind that rides bikes. It might sound obvious, but marketing directors and advertising agencies across the land would have you believe otherwise.

For years sports bikers have refused to acknowledge cruiser riders and adventure bike riders look down their noses at anyone who does not look like they are ready to hit a trail in Morocco – despite the fact they are often sat in traffic on the A3.

As one ages and one’s tastes change one can find oneself crossing the threshold between these ‘classifications’ of motorbike ownership, at which point one realises that, actually, all bikers are really cut from the same cloth.

The accepted schooling for a biker, no matter what their inclination or background, goes a little bit like this: at the earliest possible opportunity (usually 16-years-of-age) the motorbike test is passed and the young man buys a rather dreadful looking scooter.

As soon as possible the young man upgrades to the fastest motorcycle he can find. The bikes continue to get faster and faster, until his bones cry, ‘Enough!’

At this stage, he is typically 50-plus and has never had as much expendable income as he does now. Although the ‘young man’ can now afford that beautiful 200hp sports bike, it will grind his wrists to dust and his back will hate him forever.

“The bikes continue to get faster and faster, until his bones cry, ‘Enough!’”

Youth may well be wasted on the young, but there is little point being 21 if you cannot afford to insure anything other than a pizza-delivery bike!

Gentleman bikers used to be limited in the kind of motorcycles they could choose from, in that there was really only one choice for the mature modern man: Harley Davidson.

Our motorcycle and our equipment has to reflect the nature of who we are – but caution is advised – nobody wants to be seen meandering down the road looking like a well-fed extra from Easy Rider. Harleys have low seat heights, comfortable riding positions and are slower and easier to manage in general, compared to other bikes. That is what we tell our wives anyway.

LIFESTYLE OR ACCESSORY?

Owning a Harley has always been seen as a lifestyle choice. You cannot just buy the bike alone – if you have ever seen the accessory catalogue for a Harley Davidson, you will know what we are alluding to. They will not only sell you the sizzle, but also the sausage and a big stars and stripes bandana to wrap the whole thing up in. So, tasteless American ostentatiousness aside, what else is there for a red-blooded British gent to choose from?

BEST OF BRITISH

The UK motorcycle industry has developed some genuine taste, quality and style over the last decade, and not just in terms of the motorcycles that are available but also the luxury lifestyle that often surrounds them. What makes this new scene even better is the fact we can proudly buy British and be a part of something special.

Yes, believe it or not, there is once again a strong British luxury motorcycling industry.

All but dead back in 1969, thanks to government hurdles that made it too easy for the Japanese and Italians to import to the UK – British manufacturers were urged to export – and before we knew it there were Hondas on every street corner. The British motorcycle industry has since whittled itself down to a handful of resilient, and high quality, core brands.

NORTON

The Norton name has been around for 120 years. Tens of thousands were built for, and during, the Second World War and the marque became synonymous with TT and Café Racers alike.

A Featherbed Norton was the bike to have back in the early 1950s – for the motorcycle nerds, the phrase ‘Featherbed’ was coined by Isle of Man TT racer, Harold Daniel. After climbing off a new Norton he described his old bike as being like a garden gate and the new one as like riding along on a featherbed.

Unfortunately, the Norton name floundered in the following years, but since 2008 it has been under the wing of owner, Stuart Garner. Garner moved the factory to Donington Hall, overlooking the race circuit, and they are presently producing an all-new model, the 961cc Norton Commando.

“It may not be the lightest or the sharpest on the road, but it is definitely one for a fun Sunday out”

A fantastic blend of old and new, heritage and technical substance, this bike is perfectly suited to the mature modern rider. Suitable gentlemanly attire for the Norton Commando would be a good pair of Brogues, a Patek Philippe on your wrist and a too-cool-for-school rugged jacket that looks like it has just been dragged out of the loft.

However, you will not need to ride fast on the new Commando to enjoy it, but it will certainly go fast if you want it to. But, that is what this neo-retro motorcycle scene is all about, the look of speed but with the style of taking it easy.

Thinking of buying one for yourself and wondering what to liken a Norton to?

Well, why not think of it as a two-wheeled Morgan V8. It may not be the lightest or the sharpest on the road, but it is definitely one for a fun Sunday out.

As if to underpin its über-cool persona, Norton has recently opened a new store in London’s Soho, where you can buy everything from a jacket to a brand new machine and, if you are ready to explore the motorcycle lifestyle, what better way to show your support for British industry than by opting for one built within spitting distance of the famous Craner Curves at Donington?

BROUGH

Regarded by most as the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles, nothing else has the two-wheeled grace, decadence and British heritage of a Brough.

Nottingham-based in the early 1920s under the command of George Brough, Brough Motorcycles were the fastest, most stylish and elegant machines of the pre-war era. They are held in such high regard to this day that when a barn find (a 1938 BS4 model Superior) went across the block at Bonhams (bonhams.com) earlier this year, it fetched £330,000. Known as one of the ‘Bodmin Broughs’ – a barn full of rusting motorcycles was discovered in Cornwall – this four-cylinder beauty set a new record for the most expensive classic motorcycle ever to sell at auction.

Perhaps even more famous than the bike itself was the relationship that Lawrence of Arabia shared with the Brough marque. Colonel Lawrence owned eight Broughs over a period of thirteen years. Often found at the factory, he thought nothing of riding 500 miles a day on his SS100.

Now, recently revived, and faithful in design terms to the original, if you have the appetite for this exclusive flavour of British motorcycling a modern Brough SS100 can be yours for £52,999.

And yes, there may be a recent French twist in the Brough tale, what with their current HQ being located in the Pyrenees, but the levels of luxury and performance in the new machines are owed to a tiny factory in Nottingham, which first opened its doors almost 100 years ago.

TRIUMPH

One of the best ways to get a feel for true British metal is to head to Leicestershire, home of the Triumph factory, easily our most successful homegrown motorcycle manufacturer to date. In the last twelve months, Triumph has relaunched their Bonneville brand: a name and a bike that is truly synonymous with the British motorcycle scene.

Also from Triumph comes the Thruxton, which lives up to it’s café racer name, providing owners with one of the most enjoyable rides for the money that one can find. Better still, it comes in a variety of styles and each one has a level of appeal that almost guarantees you will find a bike that suits you.

Another recent addition to Triumph’s canon is the ‘Bobber’, which is one motorcycle that will surely grab your attention if you are looking for a more stylish alternative to Harley Davidson ownership.

The Bobber uses the High Torque 1200cc V-twin as found in the T120 Bonneville. Using design leads from the Bobber scene of the 1950s and 1960s, Bobbers were stripped down versions of everyday machines.

The modern version is beautiful in the flesh. The floating single seat is a work of art, as well as being adjustable and supremely comfortable. The floating swing arm hides modern suspension and somehow Triumph have managed to conceal traction control, ABS and all of the other modern luxuries that bikers expect.

This finely honed piece of pure riding experience is sure to be another success story for Triumph, a manufacturer that is seeing constant sales increases in every market it occupies.

So, if you are looking for a big boys’ toy and a taste of British heritage, a £10,500 Triumph Bonneville Bobber is likely to provide you with the perfect return on your investment.

John Hogan

Posted in Luxury

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