Grease is the Word


1964: Boyhood dreams of Grease, rock & denim.

In my dreams I was a British Biker. I was a mod-baiting, leather wearing fetishist of all things American. That was the look anyway. But it was only English Iron that would do for my ride. Clip on bars. Pegs way back. Buffed steel tank. In my mind I nicked a featherbed frame from a greaser mate and bolted the Bonneville engine and I was away. Brilliant. The new roads of boom time Britain had me burning from caff-to-caff, round the gyratory and back again. Ton up to the bass string notes of Eddie Cochrane. That was the life in Levis and leather. Transatlantic exchange meant everything to me. In my imagination at least.

1975: Fizzy – first flights of Freedom

Then I came to consciousness. Reality check. Kenny Roberts was the hero. Forget Sheene. You could squeeze so much power and speed and noise out of the Yamaha FSIE’s 50 ccs. So it seemed to me anyway. I had a Roberts replica complete with wasp-like yellow and black paintjob. The boom time was over and there were power cuts and the three-day working week. Our estate was seething and humming and buzzing with the sound of my mates and their fizzies and the smell of two stroke and the heavy riffs of Metal. The dole money was enough to keep her going. They’re cool again now – icons of sustainability, apparently. For us, they were icons of the future.

image: thanks to [email protected]

1985: RDLC Powerbands and driving bans
The miner’s strike was over before it started. And we had scored our first licence. We never cared about politics, anyway. We were more interested in powerbands. And Elsie had a serious powerband. She kicked in hard and it was all you did to keep her lit and in the straight line. Elsie was all about first shunts, broken bones and first loves. If you tried to ride her like a fizzy you were doomed. And we were doomed alright. There was a certain feeling to the Elsie on the roads above the moors, and we were convinced it was all about the liquid.

1990s Kawasaki Ninja 600: knee dragging in middle age
By the mid nineties, you’d fallen out of love and back into lust with two wheels. The Ninja was the thing that did it. Elsie had proven too hard to live with, too riotous to handle. You had to get a job and get into four wheels. You first saw them on the road in Southern France. Well-off French kids in toothpaste leather scraping their knees in the borderlands up in the Pyrenees. All of a sudden everyone was riding sports bikes and I was a flash of green, with that slightly camp pink type on the rear. I left the Yam kink way behind. And the speed. It was the first time I’d travelled significantly over the Ton, a guilty secret which had inspired us all in the first place, but when you did it on the M1 you felt the breath of the grim reaper too keenly down the back of your neck.

2010: Back to the Future
I am a British biker. I am a Prius-baiting, Belstaff wearing, fetishist of all things British. Now it’s the clothing as well as the bike. I’ve paid Triumph and they’ve given me a recreation of the bike I dreamt of and I am away. The roads may be clogged, but I can bypass all that on the weekend. I get up early on a summer Sunday and I am back to those dreams of my youth. But now they are real. I avoid the Ace Café and all that retro nonsense. There’s nothing retro and ‘fashion’ about English-bred speed. All I need to do is twist my grip and I leave the last forty years behind. And it feels good.

Image: Deus Ex Machina

Words: Barney Morgan