Recently there’s been plenty of opportunities to catch up on your reading. I’ve been given a large collection of copies of The Motor Cycle, 1956-59, that I’ve been devouring, while my shelves already groaned with reference volumes and other tomes found at shows and jumbles. Books by Roy Bacon and Bob Currie are regularly perused, as are Rupert Ratio’s books on BSA Unit Singles. Then there are books that have less in the way of technical information but tell a fascinating tale – the story of the steady rise and rapid fall of the British motorcycle industry. If you haven’t got this one, you’re missing out. – Oli
The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry
UNLIKE MOST BOOKS about the subject, The Strange Death isn’t written by an insider, but by a historian, and is all the better for it.
Koerner is an excellent writer who covers all the bases, and has done his research forensically, while his distance from the subject – he’s a Norton-owning Canadian – allows him to see things rather more clearly than most.
The in-depth analysis is impressive and the book works on several levels. It can be read as an academic treatise suitable for a doctorate – there are 67 pages of footnotes and references. Or read it as a history of the British motorcycle industry from the earliest days to the apparently dying gasps and then unexpected resurrection.
There are some fascinating period photographs, some from Canada, some the US and others rarely seen from inside British factories, which reveal a lot.
Did you know, for instance that the ill-fated and poorly designed BSA Dandy scooter was built exclusively by female workers on a special production line? Or that Ariel Square Fours were built using flimsy-looking one-foot-wide wooden benches as bike ramps?
He lays some of the blame at the door of Number 10 Downing Street, pointing out that while The Japanese and Italian Industries were heavily supported by their Governments, the British Government didn’t care, leaving the industry to survive on its wits.
While other countries had protectionist policies on the import of smaller bikes, the British attitude was to just let them trade freely.
Written in 2012, Koerner also gets the chance to touch on more modern bikes – Hesketh and Hinckley Triumphs get a look-in.
He largely discounts the idea that it was the Union’s fault, and ultimately puts it down to British management’s inability to change, along with trade tariffs, the Honda Cub, and so on.
This is hardly a series of stunning revelations, but the evidence is gathered in such forensic detail, it reads like a dense thriller you know the end of, but still gets you involved in future readings as you go back to see what you missed the first time out.
■ Crucible Publishing £19.99
■ ISBN: 978 1 905472 03 1