Then & Now Motorcycling


Compared with fifty years ago, what’s changed? Not a lot according to Dave Shanks our intrepid reporter! In his view two wheels are still the best thing on earth providing they have a suitable engine attached.

The Test

Dave acquired his first bike in May 1954 and took the test in September 1954 at Hendon Central in North London. All he had to do was to answer a few highway code questions and ride anti clockwise round the block for a few circuits then clockwise. The examiner then took his life in his hands by stepping out in front of Dave to test the emergency stop!

Back in the day there was no limit to size of bike; you took the test on whatever you turned up with. The test has changed out of recognition reflecting major improvements in health and safety; roads being much more congested and modern-day bikes that are much more powerful.

[Ed: Not much changed by 1966 except you had to take the solo test on a bike <250cc.]


Most riding kit back then was ex services (if you had the spare cash to afford it). Every day dress was the norm but slowly the likes of crash helmets and bike riding gear came into being as austerity from the war years eased in the Sixties. Compare that with top level kit available now. Goretex lined textile suits that keep you warm, dry and (with suitable armor) protected from spills; warm and waterproof gloves and boots; full face helmets that keep the flies out of your mouth and the rain off your specs; not to mention good wicking base layers and easily washable clothes when touring.


There is not so much maintenance to carry out on modern bikes as reliability these days is by far much better than in days of yore. No contact breaker points to check. Very rarely an oil leak. No more smoky two stroke engines with plugs that keep getting whiskered. No messy chain to lubricate and adjust. (Dave’s has a belt!)

A report for comparison with say an old Triumph…”I have run it for 5 years and done 35,000 miles. I’ve only had to rebuild the engine three times so I’m very pleased with it!” What a difference with modern machinery (and BMWs I hear you cry!)

Most BMW bike tool kits now comprise a double ended screwdriver and the plastic oil filler cap removal tool. On board computers run everything these days from fuel injection to ignition. In practice this has improved both performance and reliability so that mean time between failure is lengthy and very acceptable. Fuel consumption has also increased (especially on the F series!). It does however make the home mechanic a bit more wary of doing anything more than cleaning the bike and changing oil, filter and plugs. I suppose it gives us all more time to ride and to clean our bikes…


Back in the day the only navigation aid apart from a signpost was the trusty map. Mapping has improved over the years but the advent of the satnav has changed life for most of us, arguably for the better. A satnav can still confuse us into making errors (as Geoff knows only too well – carparks; timber yards; no through roads etc etc) but on balance they are much easier to ride with than maps. If you also have blue teeth, or an Autocom system, you can be told precisely where and when to turn – politely of course!


Perhaps on balance the motorcycle world has changed a lot over the past 50years. But two wheels still give much pleasure to rider (and where appropriate to pillion):


Filtering when traffic slows up


Seeing more of the countryside than from the seat of a car

Being one with the environment

Camaraderie of fellow bikers

Adrenaline rush…


Author: bobmack70