I was having a little rummage the other day and came across five copies of ‘The Motor Cycle’ from 1938. Although not in good condition, they are certainly readable and all the drawings/photographs are bright and clear …. so I took a jolly well earned breather and read them in depth.
The last is dated 20th October and to put things in perspective, my grandfather was 25, my grandmother 21 and would shortly receive news of her first child on the way. On Jan’s side, my father-in-law was only 9 and my mother-in-law just 1 ! …. and in ten days, Orson Wells would transmit a radio play that was to stun America …. while Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resolutely believed his piece of paper with Hitlers-still-wet signature, would stop a world war.
So in a nutshell, what do these paper time-capsules tell us about biking in late 30’s England, were things so different then, or do the same issues grip us today?
How about these for a start:-
- Looking for 100bhp from a 500cc engine (with supercharging).
- Tales of rides to Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia … and even up Vesuvius!
- Tyre & suspension technology and how to improve the design.
- The condition of English roads…potholes, tramlines and wooden blocks missing!
- Restricting events through ‘Elf’n safety’…though they didn’t call it that back then.
- …and sadly, the ‘ism’ that sees some motorcyclists discriminated against.
Hold on … this all sounds remarkably familiar – power, touring, bureaucracy and crap roads. The long and the short of it is – we don’t do anything new, yep … gran and gramps did it all long before us, even defeating forward-facing speed cameras with a ‘dummy rider’ – brilliant idea!
Even the travelling it seems was truly hardcore. A pocket full of change, a clean hanky, a tartan thermos and a nice ham & pickle sarni for the journey – Tally-Ho and see you next year! So saddle up if you’re game … no gadgets to help soothe your ego while the world follows every mile in tweetable-HD or pours over your zillionth geo-tagged digital masterpiece on Facebook. Nope …. if you want to do it right, you’ve got to go cold turkey. No electronics, no GPS, no bank cards – cash only where we’re going, right?
So I’m giving up ‘Adventure biking’ and ‘Overlanding’ … no longer dreaming of an ‘RTW’ trip with my ‘Expedition’ luggage. No. Time to drop off the grid, buy a BSA Bantam, load up the biggest dog I can find and hit the highway…maybe with a sidecar, what do you think?
Of course before I go, I’ve still got time to read the books and articles by some of these ground breaking motorcyclists. How about reading Gasoline Gypsy by Peggy Iris Thomas or Across America by C.K. Shepherd (a WW1 RAF pilot) for example, a fantastic account of crossing the USA in 1919 – while Peggy in 1953 also dipped down into Latin America.
So it seems we are indeed following in our ancestors tyre tracks …. the question is, will the next generation follow ours, or will they have adventures immersed in the womb-like safety of ‘virtual reality Google Earth 3D‘ – I know which way my money’s going. Cynical to the end, that’s me .. hey ho.