He was 19 to my 35, a gap of 16 years, or of Geological Time for a young man. He worked for me as a carpenter when I built timber framed buildings, and he rode 'bikes with a passion'. There I was, fiddling with the carb balance on my '73  Triumph T100R Daytona (still the fastest production 500 made in the UK), he with a sandwich in one hand, cigarette in the other. "Why do you bother with such an old 'bike when Jap kit is so much more reliable?" he asked, clearly unaware of the emotion which his question stirred in an old man. I stood up slowly, trying in my turn to understand how little he understood the connection between earlier generations and their beautifully flawed machines.

Then it came to me, the killer response: "Well, tell me this: would you rather fly a Spitfire or an F15?". Check mate, I thought, tears forming in my eyes as I recalled the music of an eager Merlin engine heard recently at Duxford. Then he blew it, in one casual phrase: "Jet fighter, no contest!". I remember this discussion as the first time I felt old, but it also highlighted a watershed in the anthropology of our attitude to machinery. While Andy sought smooth, clean reliability, I lived for the noise, the smells, the foibles and the heroic achievement of arriving... well, anywhere, really.

So, as the generation of farmers who could master a tractor knew more of relevance than their father's atavistic horse-sense; or a marine engineer rendered ridiculous millennia of sailing lore, I knew I was at Point Dinosaur. It is here that the attachment to older ways can appear indulgent. We can insist, as I often do, that I'd rather have a machine I can fix than one which rarely goes wrong. But we're all glad that our shops are stocked by Scania, not Scammell. Our society runs on reliability, and it affords great benefits. So, here then is the place for old machines - now that we don't have to rely on them, we can enjoy their flaws and celebrate their artistry. And we have the opportunity to build reliable componentry into our old 'bikes. Yes, Joe Lucas, I'm talking about you. It's a source of great joy to my now 51 year old self that the demographic of old 'bikes has shifted younger, and I hope, now, that more young dudes would get the Spitfire Question right!


wHAT ARE WE losing here?

by Ed Adams (LMA Director)

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