Saturday 14 December 2013

Full Throttle: The Glory Days of British Motorbikes

This is a fantastic television programme about the early days of motorcycling in the UK. One of the opening lines of this BBC television programme sets the scene…

“By the 1950’s British motorbikes were the fastest, most desirable and coolest thing on two wheels anywhere in the world.”

I recently spent time at Bonneville in Utah with Mike Jackson, who is interviewed on the programme and described as a motorcycle historian. A real gent, Mike knows more about motorcycles than anyone else I have ever known.

What I like about this programme is the old film of British motorcycles and the people interviewed. Between them, they give real character and authority to the documentary.

The story of Brough Superior motorcycles is described and the love affair T.E.Lawrence had with the bikes is described. His words are very poetic when he writes about his riding “The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.”

Of course, Lawrence was killed riding one of his Brough Supoeriors when swerving to avoid two boys on the road.

The sporting side of riding motorcycles and the communities it spawned are also featured in the programme. The short pieces of film at the Brooklands circuit are wonderful, as are those showing the early days of racing at the Isle of Man TT. The growth of Norton is discussed in the racing scene and how the rivalry between them and BMW was formed.

Just about all of the classic British manufacturers are mentioned in the programme, including the rise of Triumph and the café racers. Life at the famous Ace café is also featured.

Is it any wonder these old bikes are still lusted after?

It is a programme that must be watched!


Canajun said...

“By the 1950’s British motorbikes were the fastest, most desirable and coolest thing on two wheels anywhere in the world.”
That's very true. Everyone I know (me included) lusted after a BSA Lightning or Thunderbolt, or a Triumph Bonneville back then. Unfortunately British manufacturers kept building those same 1950's bikes well into the 70's (in the case of Norton) while the rest of the world moved beyond the dubious reliability of Lucas electrics and hinged frames. A shame really that they didn't even try to keep up until now with the latest (but still dated) Triumphs and the new Norton, which seems to incorporate some good, new design features.
But all that aside, it's a great video.

David Drouin said...

That quote by Lawrence is especially poetic. He truly captures the fun and exuberance of riding a motorcycle.

I will watch this documentary since it comes so highly recommended.

- Dave at Motorcycle Addiction