October 2019

‘THE WAY WE WERE’

We recently received an email from an American reader complaining we had made an ethnic slur in using the term ‘Jap fours’ in a recent issue. We hold our hands up and apologise unreservedly for the slip – although the term was used as an abbreviation, and never intended as a slur.

But the gent’s vitriol got me thinking about those times before political correctness had taken over our lives – a time when my mates and I were just getting into bikes and used to gather in the Bell Inn for our weekly ‘sesh’.

Our ‘sesh’ involved under-age drinking – sitting in the corner of the bar, nursing a pint of Red Barrel all evening, having a heated conversation which always led to the most ferocious of motorcycling debates of the time: ‘Brit v Jap’. The regulars used to sit there, shaking their heads as our naive ramblings got louder and louder – because, just like most kids, we thought we knew it all.

At 16, we were all fervent Brit bike owners (C15s, Starfires, Cubs, Bantams, an Ambassador even) and derided the flashy, colourful and very powerful ‘Jap’ bikes that were slowly but surely crushing the complacent Brit manufacturers.

As we came of legal drinking age, we moved to the pub in the centre of the village, The Kings Arms, where we could finally get served. It was a Wadworths pub and the 6X and Old Timer were like syrupy nectar compared to that rough, homogenised stuff that Watneys used to call beer.

The ‘Brit v Jap’ rows continued, though – even more fervently, due to the increase in specific gravity and volume of ‘real’ ale consumed! The difference was that everyone had passed their test and those ‘Jap’ bikes we had dubbed “All Revs And Candy Colours” were gaining favour among our village troupe. Bev swapped his T120 oil-in-frame Bonnie for a Suzuki T500, then quickly moved on to a GT750; Podger and Mullet sold Norton Commandos for CB750s and then Z1s, DB got rid of his Mercury for a CB400 (he always was weird), Streetsleeper’s Triumph outfit eventually went, replaced by a GS750, and Roo bought a CB500-4. Even I, the most fervent Triumph enthusiast, got an XS650 after my T140’s crank broke.

Of course, the ‘British v Japanese’ discussions continue in classic circles – and are likely to for as long as governments are willing to sell us fuel the keep the bikes running. But I started to wonder what kids interested in motorcycles argue about in pubs nowadays. I guess it could be petrol v electric, though I’d like to think there’s still a few youngsters out there contemplating old classics, be it British or Japanese.

But then I realised: few kids do pubs anymore... And, sadly, even fewer seem to do bikes...

Gary Pinchin, Classic Bike, Editor

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