Modern Motorcycling | Top ten things we really miss

The motorcycle world has changed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years – but is it all for the better?

Modern Motorcycling | Top ten things we really miss

THE march of time, a relentless and never-ending (we think) cycle of years, months, weeks, and days. Where the young get older, and things are supposed to get better. But that’s not always the case, and motorcycling is a great example of that.

While motorcycles, in general, have become faster, more reliable, cleaner burning, and able to ride further than ever before, in some ways it doesn’t make the world of motorcycling any better than it was20 or 30 years ago! In fact, there is a strong argument (in the Visordown office anyway) for bringing back a few things from the past…

10. A more free-spirited motorcycle industry!

Remember a time in the mid-90s when the motorcycling industry in the UK and Europe actually had some balls? Ad campaigns were hard-hitting, magazines were edgy and rolling burnouts on open roads would regularly inhabit the front pages on the newsagent’s shelves. And if there wasn’t a stand-up wheelie in the magazine at least once, somebody was basically getting fired.

The world we live in now though is a very different place to be. Grid girls are a no-go area, mags have to be careful so they don’t insight dangerous riding, and most manufacturers' marketing campaigns are about as hard-hitting as the jelly at a kids' birthday party. All so some millennial doesn’t need a safe space to hide in if they feel offended.

the world of motorcycling is a very different place now...

9. Carburettor + Kill-switch = Backfire!

It was pretty much a legal requirement for riders on pre-fuel injected bikes to ignite an obligatory backfire when making their way through a tunnel. The process was fairly simple – as readers of a certain age will know. Ride along at a decent lick, hit the kill switch and allow the unburnt fuel to make its way down the exhaust until it ignites and explodes. Hit the kill switch again to fire the engine back up. Turn around at the next roundabout and repeat the process until you run out of fuel – simples.

8. Fieldsheer Acid Worm Leathers

Nothing says ‘I’m the mutt’s nuts and I know it’ quite like a set of Fieldsheer Acid Worm leathers. The owner of these was always the last to arrive at the local bike night – mainly to maximise the number of people there to see it. You’d hear the bike long before you’d see it, pinging the redline in every gear. He’d clutch-less shift all the way onto the pub car park and have the bike on its side stand before it had stopped rolling. After removing his FM Axe helmet with iridium visor, he’d immediately walk to ‘inspect’ rear tyre’s like he’s Freddie Spencer after a qualifying session. Everyone hated him, apart from the landlord’s wife (who had questionable morals), but there was something about that Acid Worm and FM helmet combo that made everyone else just a little jealous.

7. Street Hawk

Look, we know you watch pretty much everything on the interwebs nowadays, but you couldn’t beat dragging the cushions off the sofa, making a big bowl of Coco Pops and watching Street Hawk while the parents were still in bed.

Yes it was totally unrealistic, yes the bike was only an XL500, and yes every episode was pretty much the same. Did it put us off watching it? No! Did it prevent us from wanting to grow up to be just like Jesse Mach? No! Even the intro still gives me goosebumps – grab a bowl of Coco Pops and watch this!!

6. Kickstarts

Look, I know push-button start is, in reality, the most convenient and easiest way to fire up a bike. But it doesn’t take much effort or intelligence, does it?

My Dad’s old BSA was a great representation of what I’m trying to say. There were five stages to starting the bike: Ignition on, fuel tap on, tickle the carb, find compression, kick it all the way to the bottom of the stroke and, if you were lucky, it’d start. If you weren’t, you could be repeating this process for more than half an hour.

But when you got it right, and when the thing would fire up from cold on just the first or second kick, there really wasn’t a feeling like it. And it’s that process, bringing a lifeless lump of metal and making it live and breathe, that’s what I miss about modern bikes.

5. The simplicity of pre-2000s motorcycles

While the above seems like a complicated process by modern standards, there is a beautiful simplicity to pre-2000s motorcycles. Most modern bikes require open heart surgery for even the most minor of service tasks, and instead of picking up a screwdriver to tune and fettle it, you’ll be reaching for a laptop and USB lead – whatever one of those is!

Yes, modern motorcycles are faster, safer (in some respects), and, in most cases more capable than their forefathers. They definitely aren’t as easy or enjoyable to work on, and for me, that’s as big a part of motorcycling as actually riding is!

4. A lack of speed cameras

The first fixed speed camera to hit the UK roads was on the M40 in the early 1990s. It’s crazy to think that back then it actually used 35mm film to record the speeding motorists! Back then though, the rest of the UK was basically a playground and as long as you didn’t go too silly, there was much merriment to be had.

Compare that to today, and it’s a very different picture. Motorways are covered with average speed cameras, camera vans lurk over the brow of every hill, and volunteer speed vigilantes hide in bushes, laser gun in hand.

You really don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

3. The British GP being held at Donington Park           


Look, we know the current riders love Silverstone, but that’s only because it's another super wide, GP circuit where they can take liberties on corner exit! And anyway, none of them really know Donington Park, there is only a handful of current racers who have experienced the iconic track on MotoGP-spec machinery.

More importantly though, if you were to ask the fans, the diehard MotoGP bobble hats what they prefered. Most would opt for a grid of MotoGP bikes streaming down Craner, to some riding way off in the distance around Silverstone.

2. Kick Start – the TV show!

They really don’t make TV shows like this anymore! Kick Start was one of the week's highlights for anyone who was into bikes. It was aired between 1979 and 1988 and it had everything: bikes, trials, skills, and spills. And you could pretty much guarantee that every episode would see a VW Beetle taking a pasting!

Even the theme music takes us back to a simpler time when life was less stressful. Have a watch and a listen below and tell me I’m wrong!

1. Barry Sheene MBE

They really did break the mould when they made Barry Sheene, the cigarette smoking, beer drinking playboy of the GP paddock. Back in the heyday of Grand Prix racing, he was to the world of motorcycling what James Hunt was to Formula One. And he is still, to this day Britain’s most successful Grand Prix motorcycle racer, with the 1976 and 1977 titles to his name.

Even after his retirement from top-flight racing, Sheene was still a familiar face around the paddock, working as a TV pundit for a number of Australian TV stations. So much was the mark he left on the sport, that after his passing in 2003, reigning MotoGP champ Valentino Rossi used a specially designed Sheene helmet and later dedicated his Phillip Island victory his hero.