Choose a FireBlade. Choose a Ducati 916. Choose born-again bikers, track days, Mick Doohan and Carl Fogarty. Choose the 1990s.
Choose a FireBlade. Choose Britpop. Choose British Superbikes. Choose Carl Fogarty, Mick Doohan and Wayne Rainey. Choose the Spice Girls, Oasis and Take That. Choose a Ducati 916. Choose born-again bikers, track days, Playstations and the Simpsons. Choose Triumph, choose shell suits, choose alco-pops. Choose the 1990s.
There are just as many reasons to forget the 1990s as there are to remember the decade but as far as bikes went, it was a pretty sensational ten years.
Honda's FireBlade was launched as was Ducati's 916, Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, track days took off in a big way, Mick Doohan showed us all how a bike should be ridden and Carl Fogarty put Britain back on the world bike racing map with four World Superbike titles. And that's just for starters.So try to forget about John Major and Bill Clinton, cast Take That from your mind and don't even think about jumped up little tarts hollering 'Girl Power'. Jump on your Suzuki Bandit or Honda NR750 (as if) and ride down memory lane as it was for bikers in the naughty Nineties.
Any decade which witnesses the birth of the Honda FireBlade, Ducati's 916 and Yamaha's R1 can't be a bad one. Three of the greatest bikes known to man all released within a few years of each other sounds like a recipe for Utopia. And it was. But according to some clever geezer, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction and when firms started building bikes as good as these, it was inevitable that some bastard - or bastards - were going to try and spoil the party.
And so it came to pass that GATSO cameras, the scourge of the 90s, would watch our every gear change and twist of the throttle, thieving scum would become increasingly keen to deprive us of our beloveds and fat cat insurers decided we should pay for them to have even more holidays in the sun.
But even that trilogy of doom wasn't enough to stop us having fun. After all, in the 1990s, we were also blessed with cheap bikes after the parallel movement, big trailies provided alternative entertainment for those with too-high insurance policies, and a multitude of tricks were devised to enable us to avoid the long lens eye of the law (eg reflective plates, flip up plates, radar detectors and number-plate-scraping wheelies). So it wasn't all that bad.
If there was one cultural phenomenon that stood out amongst bikers in the 90s it was the born-again brigade. The source of many a joke and heated discussion down the boozer, almost everyone knows of someone who falls into this, admittedly rather wide, category.
The basic understanding of the phenomenon is that Joe Bloggs used to have a bike, gave it up when he got married, had 2.4 children and racked up a few grand in the Abbey National. Kids leave home, mid-life crisis kicks in and suddenly the desire to recapture youth and ride off into the sunset on a motorcycle becomes irresistible again. Another born again is born, so to speak.
Now whether that scenario is to be scorned or not, I shall leave up to you dear reader. But if the letters pages of the motorcycling press were anything to go by, then scorn him you most certainly did. Mostly because accident statistics often showed these elder bikers to be crashers which in turn pushed everyone's premiums up, and because they wobbled round roundabouts on mint new R1s and matching Daineses while the rest of us had to make do with a five year old Blade and second hand leathers.
There's a big difference in the power of an R1 compared to a Honda CX500, or old 60s or 70s Brit knacker, as too many BABs found out to their peril. But they're still bums on two wheeled seats so let's live and let live shall we? After all, we could be the born-agains of the next decade, right?
One way the old boys could have honed their rusty skills was to take part in one of the millions and billions of track days which sprung up in the 90s. Prior to the decade in question, the only way you could get on a race track was to go racing, go to one of the very few race schools which existed, or get an ACU licence and piss about on practice days getting in everyone else's way.
But that all changed as properly organised track days took off in a big way. Heavy traffic, even heavier handed coppers and their Big Brother friends the GATSO division meant it was tougher than ever to see what a FireBlade could really do on the road so thousands of us took to the track and a good thing it was too. Apart from actually learning to ride better, it gave us all the chance to play at being Foggy or Doohan round the most famous race tracks in Britain. Superb.
Talking of Britain, there was more cause for national pride in 1991 (apart from the Gulf War) when Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, Leicestershire courtesy of property developer John Bloor. All he bought in the 1980s was the rights to the name of Triumph but by 1996, he was building pretty handy bikes like the T595. You've got to hand it to the man, he didn't hang around, especially when he should have been putting up plasterboard and building houses at the time.
The first bike to roll off the Hinckley production line was a Trophy 1200 in 1991 but, being a modular bike, it shared almost every working part with the firm's other models. To keep costs down, the only difference between models was whether they had three cylinders or four and capacities were changed by altering bore and stroke. Not a recipe for making the best looking bikes around, but it gave us all something to shout about.
But the T595 and the naked T509, released in 1997, were not modular bikes and finally marked Triumph out as a force to be reckoned with. One of the most famous names in biking was back and despite drawing some bad press for allegedly cracking frames on the early models, the firm looked to be well established by the end of the decade.
Bizarrely enough, thanks to another new phenomenon in biking, you could buy a new Triumph cheaper in Spain than in Hinckley. The craze sweeping the biking nation was parallel imports.
Not to be confused with grey imports (which are bikes brought into the UK which were never intended to be released in this market), parallels were bikes bought cheaply from source and imported through unofficial channels. This obviously got up the noses of the official importers who all of a sudden had to find ways to justify charging several grand more for their 'official' bikes. Parallel buyers initially were not included in safety recalls, warranty cover, were offered no bonuses like official buyers and had little things like KPH speedos to worry about. But as the parallel business expanded, better deals were on offer and the official importers were forced to drop prices as they ran out of excuses. Yee ha! Cheap bikes for all. But for how long? The price gap between parallels and official bikes had been reduced and many people preferred to shell out a bit extra for the piece of mind that buying an official bike would provide. But as official prices start creeping up again, how long before there's another parallel boom to echo that of the late 90s?
Some major celebs got into biking too in the 1990s, chief amongst them being Trainspotting star himself Ewan McGregor. The Ducati 748-owning Scot attended track days and even backed a couple of race teams in between bouts of filming. And he still intends to run a WSB team some day. Good egg. May the Force be with him.
Prodigy's Keith Flint went one better than McGregor when he started club racing on a 916 after honing his skills on his souped-up FireBlade at track days. The nutty Braintree boy was a bit of a crasher but he was bloody quick when he stayed on the bike. And he mucked in with all the other clubbie lads, sleeping in a tent and pissing in a bottle. But then, that sounds just like a music festival anyway so he was probably well used to it.
Click here to see the motorcycles of the 90s
Posted: 10/04/2013 at 11:00
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