The British Are Coming (Back!)
Any British motorcyclist who lived through the dark days of the early 1970s was witness to the sad demise of a once dominant industry. It is possible there wasn’t much lamenting of said demise as, by that point, British machines were a shadow of their former self and the the Japanese were showing the way forward, no doubt to the relief of many.
However, after 50 years, is 2022 about to be the year of the British motorcycle once again? Triumph is a well-established presence in the world market and has been since 1994 but for a long time it looked as if they were going to be the only ones.
There was always Royal Enfield, of course, still producing the ancient single cylinder Bullet in 500 and 350cc form but despite being popular in India, where they are built, they were a bit of a novelty outside that market, out-retro-ing even the most retro bike on the market.
However, as we enter the second year of the 2020s, the British motorcycle industry is enjoying something of a renaissance. Actually, let’s be more accurate: British motorcycle names are enjoying a renaissance.
The saga of Norton seems to have been resolved finally, with Indian giant TVS stepping in with investment and production know-how and the company has a new sense of purpose and some pretty nice -looking new models in the pipeline which steer clear of anything retro in the way of styling or engineering.
Then came the announcement of the revived BSA brand by new owners Mahindra. The first bike to arrive will be a Triumph Bonneville-rivalling Gold Star model. A 650cc single-cylinder engine is something different, however, even if the looks are straight out of the modern-classic handbook which, as Triumph well know, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Royal Enfield might well be the oldest British manufacturer in continuous production and looked as if they were stuck in a rut but recent years have seen the company break out and consider that a market outside India is worth pursuing. The arrival of a 650cc parallel twin engine in the Interceptor roadster and the 411cc Himalayan adventure bike has breathed new life into the brand in Europe and there are promises of more to come.
So much for the big hitters but there is movement further down the evolutionary scale. Brough Superior has been in existence for a few years now, producing super high-end models that are as rare as they are desirable.
There are other names that have been revived, albeit in a low-volume ’boutique’ manner. Ariel produces a Honda V4-powered bike called the Ace and, recently, Dot and Levis have reappeared with Kawasaki 650cc parallel-twin and rumoured V6 engines respectively.
CCM, which first appeared in 1971 is still around. Off road sport specialists Clews Competition Machines was created by scrambles racer Alan Clews from the collapse of BSA’s Competition Department in 1971. Buying the works BSA parts he began making light, powerful, BSA-powered off-roaders and achieved considerable success in the early ‘70s. Clews sold the company but bought the assets back after bankruptcy in 2004 and continued with the off-road sport direction.
Matchless, Francis Barnet, Hesketh and Metisse have all been revived in one form or another over recent years. Then there’s the beautiful Langen, powered by a 2-stroke, 250cc v-twin which will be built in limited numbers.
Whether all of those brands will survive is another matter. Triumph, Norton, BSA, Enfield and Brough will, as will CCM: as for the others, well, only time will tell but overall this is something that no-one would have predicted in the cold, dark days of the early 1970s.