British bike brands bounce back for 2022
This year is shaping up to be the year of the British bike, with a whole host of brands new and old bringing out models that have the power to shake up the global motorcycle market once again.
The golden era of Britain’s motorcycle industry – running from the immediate post-war period to the dawn of the 1970s – saw this country dominating the two-wheeled world with dozens of manufacturers and a host of iconic machines.
A combination of Japanese brilliance and British complacency saw most of those famous names collapse around half a century ago, but now the tempting combination of world-leading engineering expertise and evocative brand names has led to a series of revivals.
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Meanwhile, universities such as Coventry and Warwick focus on supporting the automotive and motorcycle industry with a steady stream of new talent, making Britain a particularly attractive destination for companies looking to set up development facilities.
Triumph have led the way. The company’s relaunch under John Bloor’s ownership 30 years ago almost single-handedly kept the lights on for the British bike industry.
The engineering departments of the more recently returning brands, not to mention the thriving British motorcycle R&D industry – illustrated by companies such as Ricardo who supply engineering expertise worldwide – are packed with skilled personnel who learnt the ropes at Triumph.
While Triumph’s 1990s era showed that Britain could still turn out class-leading motorcycles, it was the rebirth of the Bonneville in 2000 that showed the world that there was an interest in reliable, modern takes on classic Brit bikes, leading to a host of rivals stepping up.
BSA bounce back
The most recent returnee is BSA. Now a subsidiary of India’s Classic Legends, itself largely owned by the huge Mahindra group – parent to companies including Pininfarina and Ssangyong – the new iteration of BSA has the financial clout to be taken very seriously.
Its first product, the 650cc Gold Star, differs from the Brit bike norm (but follows its own heritage) by being a single cylinder rather than a parallel twin.
But with a DOHC, water-cooled engine designed by Rotax it promises similar performance to Royal Enfield’s 650cc Continental GT and Interceptor twins, with 45hp and 40.6lb.ft of torque on tap and a 213kg kerb weight.
Eventually, BSA plan to have British manufacturing facilities as well as a Brit-based R&D department, and want to supplement their retro offerings with modern electric bikes.
Royal Enfield on target
Unlike their main rivals, Royal Enfield never went away – becoming a cornerstone of the Indian motorcycle industry when the original British-made models disappeared at the end of the 1960s.
However, their return to the UK with a purpose-built R&D facility in Leicestershire has elevated the company to a new prominence. For years, Royal Enfields were anachronisms, stuck in the past (four-speed transmissions, right-hand shifters, kickstarts and carbs were the norm).
Now they’re serious contenders in the retro market, reflected in strong sales, particularly for the Interceptor and Continental GT 650cc twins, which offer Bonneville-style retro appeal at a lower price.
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- Dot Motorcycles return with 650 twins
- Norton V4SV superbike revealed
- The story of Norton’s new ownership
Norton build back stronger
The bumpy history of the Norton brand could fill tomes but the latest incarnation – a completely fresh operation owned by another Indian giant, TVS – puts the firm in a strong position.
Although Commandos are among the first machines to roll off the new production lines, the 1200cc V4 superbike is making a return, alongside a new café racer version, and soon they’ll be joined by the Atlas 650cc twins that promise a modern spin on the classic scrambler style.
The UK’s boutique brands
While Royal Enfield, Norton and BSA look best placed to follow Triumph into a position of world-class motorcycle making using British expertise, there’s a host of other names forming the backbone of a thriving boutique bike industry.
These include Ariel, which still offers the Honda V4-powered Ace, and more recently we’ve seen the less well-known names Dot and Levis revived, the former with a pair of Kawasaki 650 twin-powered machines, the latter with promises of a radical, expensive V6.
Elsewhere, the Brough Superior brand lives on in multi-national form with manufacturing facilities in France, turning out ultra-high-end V-twins, most recently adding the Lawrence Nefud scrambler to the range.
CCM, while not a classic 60s brand, date back to 1971 and are still going strong with today’s handmade range, while other classic Brit brands including Matchless, Francis Barnett, Hesketh and Metisse have also been subject to revivals in recent years.