How did you first get into motorcycling? If you’re like the three British riders profiled in the documentary Motorbike Culture in the ‘80s, maybe it started with your friends. Maybe it started with your brothers. One true thing in any era is that like-minded people tend to find like-minded people, and then go off and have fun together.
This short doc (seriously, it’s under half an hour) is a brief Polaroid of what it was like growing up riding bikes in Britain in the 1980s. Now, to some degree, any coming-of-age-with-bikes story is going to have the same themes. There’s something special about that period of self-discovery and becoming an adult, and riding bikes along with it can add a unique bit of spice. After all, bikes are great fun, and an excellent means to get around and explore. Who doesn’t want to explore absolutely everything when you’re in your teens and 20s?
What sets this doc apart is both place and time. To hear these riders tell it, growing up riding bikes in the shadow of Isle of Man TT road-racing legends like Joey Dunlop meant that everyone very quickly learned how to ride fast. If you didn’t, your friends would leave you behind. With the TT just a hop, skip, and jump away from the UK every year, its presence as a driving force in UK bike culture couldn’t be overstated.
Time-wise, the ‘80s hit a sweet spot in terms of motorcycle development. Bikes were still simple enough that pretty much everyone could learn how to wrench, teach each other, and experiment with bike tuning and expect reasonable success. Modern bikes with electronic engine management systems have changed that aspect of bike culture quite a bit in the years since.
Above all, though, the bikes may be the glue that held your group together, but it’s really about the friends you made along the way. Rider Hazel Grove told one story where he’d had a bad enough crash that he was feeling hesitant about getting back on a bike. So, his friends put together a special Honda NSR250R and prepped it for a race. He hadn’t raced before, but they talked him up and got him to get on it.
They told him that the bike was headed to the scrap yard after the event, so he should give it everything he had—and he did. He credited that event and those friends with restoring his confidence in himself, and riding, and he said that he never again thought about stopping since that time. I mean, what are friends for?