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Motorcycle Rebirth “Motorcycles are in human scale. Motorcycles are personal. Motorcycles are an attractive and manageable project. Motorcycles are simple enough to be easily understood.”

October 29, 2013 By Kevin Cameron 10 Comments

Technical Editor Kevin Cameron was asked to deliver the keynote address at the Ride For Kids live auction during the inaugural AIMExpo in Orlando, Florida. This is the transcript from that speech.

Nineteen seventy-two and 2005 were great and memorable years, but only a dreamer could think they’d last forever. When I was a dealer, we lived for those $10,000 days. After banking the cash and checks, we would take ourselves out for dinner at someplace rather good. Setup men were busy out back, rolling ’em out.

Now, we’re in the midst of a great motorcycle industry hiccup, wondering what the future will be. Fortunately for us all in this industry, 2008 was only one in a series of such hiccups, and the motorcycle remains the most versatile of vehicles. Less complex and expensive than cars, it is much quicker to change and adapt to markets and fashion.

The ’20s brought a fabulous boom, with England alone being home to 200 makes. For a manufacturer, a win at the Isle of Man TT could triple sales, week to week. For a time, English motorcycle registrations exceeded those of cars. Sports singles were hot, and Brough big twins inspired lust.

Then came the Great Depression, and famous names became history as company after company folded. Dealers and makers alike cut prices to below cost, just to keep something rattling in the cash drawer. This caused the upscale and very nicely finished Sunbeam motorcycle, formerly selling at nearly 200 pounds, to be dropped to 60. Desperation!

But when World War II ended in Europe, the fastest way to get transportation into production was in the form of motorcycles. Very quickly, Germany again became the world’s largest producer. By the ’50s, car factories had been rebuilt and retooled, but motorcycles fought back with mass production and pressed-steel structures. Remember those funny-looking NSUs?

Then came 1955, when cheap cars and higher wages chopped motorcycle sales in Europe. But not in England!

England, bankrupted by two world wars, had to export. They discovered that Americans wanted fun. Most English bikes had been singles, but suddenly, every export maker