As a kid, I didn’t get it. Why would anyone want to ride classic motorcycles when they can have a modern bike for the same money? Or often less! Modern bikes are faster, more reliable and better handling; it’s a no-brainer. But now I’m older and wiser (or, should I say, older and slightly less stupid), I finally understand. Classic motorcycles have got an abundance of something all modern bikes strive for; but it’s something of which many are all too deficient. Character.
I’m not saying modern bikes don’t have character. A lot of them have plenty. But my issue with most modern bikes is that they’re just so ‘good’. Sometimes too good. Take the BMW S 1000 RR for example. It’s an incredible machine and it does everything you want and need a sportsbike to do. But it can sometimes feel a bit too nice. Too smooth. Too easy. It lacks a certain je sais se quoi. All because of the fact that it’s just so bloody good.
Older bikes don’t have that problem. We might have considered them close to perfection back in the day, but when we’ve got modern bikes to compare them to, dynamically speaking, they’ve all got room for improvement. The fuelling might be a bit pants and you’re not going to have a million bhp, the brakes probably won’t work and the gearbox might feel a bit agricultural. It’s easy to see these shortcomings as character flaws, but in reality, they’re the opposite.
When you’ve got to think about the way you ride just that little bit more, because the brakes aren’t as sharp, or there’s a nasty flat-spot in the power, it adds to the immersive feeling of motorcycling. Most of us ride motorbikes because we love riding, and classic motorcycles often take a whole lot more riding than modern ones. So you’re getting more bang for your buck.
And just because they’re not as fast or as sharp as modern sportsbikes, it doesn’t mean they’re not as exciting. Because any bike can be ridden in an exciting way. And if you ask me, the fact that you haven’t got a computer making a thousand decisions a second about how much power it wants to give you, or whether the brakes are about to lock up, only makes it more exciting.
In fact I think riding classic motorcycles in the 21st century, is just as exciting as it was back when they were new, but with the added element of a bit of nostalgia. And again, I think nostalgia is something that you have to be a bit older to appreciate. I wasn’t around when most of today’s classic motorcycles were in the showrooms but it doesn’t mean I don’t understand their significance. Even if I can’t remember them first hand. And when you’re riding a bike that you know has created so many memories, it’s pretty special. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the road or on the track.
So there you have it, classic motorcycles really are special, just in case you were in any doubt. If you ever get the chance to ride anything that you think is ‘yesterday’s news’, grab it with both hands. You might not break any lap records on a 40-odd year old bike, but I bet it’ll make you smile. And if you ever get the chance to buy a decent one, do it. You can always tell the wife it’s an investment. Or that she should just mind her own business.