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By Nik Peachey
It had the standard BSA chrome petrol tank with the BSA insignia on each side. It was already older than I was. It had been built in the early 60s at a time when the British motorcycle industry was at its peak. By the 80's though when I bought my BSA everyone else was riding Hondas, Yamahas or Kawasakis and names like Royal Enfield, Sunbeam, Norton and Matchless were a thing of the past. Triumph was the only remaining producer left to continue Britain's history of motorcycle manufacturing and it was having serious financial problems. The bikes it was producing were slow and unreliable compared to Japanese models and only die-hard British bikers were prepared to buy them.
At that time in Britain every biker's hero was Barry Sheene. He had become famous by winning the World 500cc Motor Cycle Championship two years running in 1976 and 1977, but that wasn't all. He was young and handsome and despite some terrible accidents on the track he always came back to racing. In Daytona, Florida, he crashed at 175mph. He broke his thigh, wrist and collarbone, but he was riding again within six weeks. At one point he had metal plates in both knees, 28 screws in his legs and a bolt in his left wrist, but none of this could keep him away from the sport and the motorcycles that he loved. He later had a career as a TV presenter and even managed to shrug off his biker image to sing in the opera Tosca at Covent Garden alongside Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi.
After riding my BSA to work for a few weeks I discovered why the British motorcycle industry had collapsed. It broke down almost every week and I was eventually forced to buy a Japanese bike, but, despite this, I still kept the BSA for another fifteen years, although it spent most of that time in my garage.
I haven't ridden a motorbike for many years now, but it was with real sadness that I heard that Barry Sheene had died of cancer. Within days of this I also read that there had been a fire at the Triumph factory in Leicestershire and that much of the production equipment along with many of the bikes had been destroyed. For a while I felt that something of my youth was gone forever, but like Barry Sheene Triumph keep coming back and they have now, after an absence of almost thirty years, returned to competitive road racing. I saw one of their new bikes a few weeks ago and it looked good. It had something of the old classic Boneville about it, but with a huge 900cc engine. I felt my heart begin to race again and I could almost imagine myself on the tarmac at Brands Hatch. Somehow though I don't think I have enough of my youth left to sell my comfortable car and brave the British weather on a motorbike again. Some things are better left to younger men, or women