The Story of The Rise And Fall of The British Motorcycle

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From the four stroke internal combustion engines developed in Coventry by Siegfried Bettmann for Triumph in 1883, to the present day brand new 500cc single cylinder MAC. The history of the British motorcycle tells a story of fame and glory to almost extinction.

Coventry the birthplace of the British motorcycle

Coventry was the hub of a bustling motorcycle industry producing hundreds of names some only lasting a year or two, to machines still going strong today. At one time there were dozens of names; the history includes marks such as

  1. Ajax

  2. Ariel

  3. BSA

  4. AJS Excelsior

  5. To today’s giants like

  6. Matchless

  7. Norton

  8. The Triumph Daytona 675

The limit was set, however we had the Isle of Man

In 1903 a 20mph limit was introduced on the British highways and so made racing motorbikes illegal however between the mainland of England and Ireland lays a small island called the Isle of Man, they had already got the Gordon Bennett Car Trial in 1904 and quickly saw the potential for a motorcycle race and in the following year set up a trial race, after trying several courses a route was finally agreed upon in 1911. And in that year crowds watched the first race in which the American bike, Indian took the first three places

The birth of the TT

But soon the British were winning race after race and in 1949 the TT became the World motorcycle Championship, this helped the British motorcycle industry to produce more and better bikes, Geoff Duke won his first international on a Norton making speeds in excess of 93mph all over Britain schoolboys had heroes such as

  • John Surtees

  • Mike Hailwood

  • Phil Read

  • Jim Redman

The war takes its toll

Between the 1930s and 1940s the British Motorcycle industry was the largest in the world but those glory days are long gone, slowed by the war the British motorbike started to fade it was the war in a way that helped to keep it going, and at one time over 100,000 British military bikes were Norton.

The glory years

However it did survive, the height of the British motorcycle industry reached its peak in 1959 and many machines where exported to the USA, themselves having only two companies, at that time, Indian and Harley Davidson. The states were a rich market.

Enter the Dragon

But soon the big Japanese firms who were already winning race soon became popular in Britain and the British roads were seeing more and more marks such as Honda Suzuki Kawasaki and Yamaha and less and less British bikes, and in the 1970s it almost died not because of competition but by mismanagement

The revival

Now there is a new interest in the British bike once again, with bike such as

The 132PS 1,050cc three cylinder engine Triumph Speed Triple, now in its fourteenth year as part of Triumph’s Urban Sports range. The new version features Brembo radial front calipers, black, a brand new rear sub frame anodised front forks, and it seems they are here to stay.


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