Historian's Notes.

August 2014

You meet the nicest people on a motorcycle. Dennis finds this is true both here in the UK and abroad.

That Sixties advertising campaign, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda,” saw to it that the UK industry’s motorcycle mantra was history. Honda’s web site:

remembers that the ad depicted housewives, a parent and child, young couples and other respectable members of society - referred to as "the nicest people" - riding Honda 50s for a variety of purposes. Meanwhile publicity from our home grown manufacturers continued a time-worn appeal to the enthusiast rider in Stormguard overcoat and boots, whose favourite weekend activity apparently was to adjust his motorcycle’s tappets.

I’ve written a lot about how in the L.E.’s early days, Veloce did much to pre-empt Honda’s ‘everyman’ (and everywoman) appeal. Advertising in Punch and Country Life magazines was certainly a step in the right direction. Why Hall Green ditched this approach in 1956 seems have been prompted in part by the retirement of George Denley their sales director and the slump in sales that year, which hit the UK motorcycle industry hard. Minutes of Veloce board meetings at the time record a decision to suspend all advertising – not something a firm facing falling sales would do today.

You still meet the nicest people when riding a motorcycle today. However I wonder if this is because – having been carved up, knocked off and shouted at by those hordes of unseeing car drivers – we sometimes feel like an oppressed minority. Sharing experiences of the latest close shave or ‘sorry I didn’t see you’ moment, certainly brings us together, whether we’re riding a Honda or a Velocette.

I met a couple of chaps the other weekend at Newlands Corner. This lovely spot high up on the North Downs in Surrey has long been a gathering point for motorcyclists, cyclists and walkers. Newlands Corner has a special place in our history too, because it was here in the summer of 1950 that Bob Reid called the first meeting of L.E. owners which led to the founding of our Club. Nick and David were keen motorcyclists: one had been riding for years, the other just starting out.

It was soon clear that we had other things in common. Like me, Nick was a civil servant, working with elected politicians. And when he told me that he once advised John Redwood MP, I had to ask him what went wrong at the 1993 Welsh Conservative Party Conference. Redwood’s embarrassing on-camera effort to sing the Welsh national anthem – this English politician, recently appointed by John Major as Secretary of State for Wales had no idea of the words – has become one of those awful political moments, and I see has been watched subsequently many times on You Tube.

For me and my fellow members of the officer class, we have wanted to know how Redwood found himself in front of hundreds of people without being briefed. Suggesting how our political masters might deal with tricky situations is what we’re paid to do. Nick had the answer. It seems that a colleague had spent hours producing a phonetic version of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) which would sound alright but without the minister having a clue what the words meant. Sadly, this gold plated briefing didn’t make it into Redwood’s red box. Perhaps the permanent secretary thought one of his staff was having a laugh.

What a marvellous story. You do meet the nicest people riding motorcycles, even when the conversation has nothing to do with our favourite hobby.

The annual family holiday is a great tonic. This year Christine, Sophie and I flew to the Greek island of Kos. In the resort of Tigaki, I spotted a stylish Kreidler, lined up with the hire bikes. This 30-year-old gem was going to be owned by someone with taste and style. Sure enough as I looked around, I noticed the deck chair attendant was returning my enquiring gaze. I pointed at the blue and cream machine, to receive a thumbs up in return. It turned out that Kostas had bought the Kreidler recently from a friend, but the German 50cc fan cooled two-stroke had been on the island from new. Racing Kreidlers can top 85mph and this one turned out to be no soggy moped. After a spin round the block, my smile once again says that you meet the nicest people on a motorcycle.


Dennis Frost