Generation Gap

What does the hobby of model kit building have to do with classic bike riding? Harley Richards explains what they have in common – and suggests that we should stop worrying so much about it…

‘If we don’t get some younger faces in here soon, I don’t know how much longer this has got.’

Chances are we’ve all heard or read something similar to that statement, but I didn’t overhear it at a bike event. Rather, it was a comment about Scale Model World; one of the biggest model kit shows in the world. We’re talking about more than 10,000 paying punters through the turnstiles.

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The show has broadened its horizons in recent years by welcoming model subjects as diverse as science fiction, fantasy and cartoon characters in addition to the more traditional military fare. Yet the overwhelming demographic of attendees remains the same: white, male and late 50s upwards. Sound familiar?

It’s not as if getting someone interested in the hobby represents a major initial investment of time or money. About £30 and a few hours would be enough for a complete novice to get a feel for what’s involved. Although the manufacturers continue to produce ever more detailed and complex kits, the hobby (in the UK at least) just isn’t picking up large numbers of younger participants.

All of which makes pretty depressing reading for anyone worried about the lack of younger riders interested in what might be generically called ‘older bikes’. If a start-up cost of £30 and a few hours can’t attract new blood into model building, then what hope do we have with costs running into of thousands of pounds and a time scale potentially running into years? You might say this is comparing apples with oranges but, in simple terms, they are both hobbies which people spend their free time and cash enjoying.

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It gets worse.

Unless a young motorcyclist has a fascination with old machinery or a strong emotional attachment to older bikes (and I’m not suggesting for an instant that such folk don’t exist), then where is their incentive to splash out on an older bike when, by every measurable criteria, a more modern machine is just better? At the risk of sounding contentious, we should remind ourselves that what we see as ‘character’ is likely to be seen by a biking novice as a never ending round of unwelcome maintenance.

If you consider that somewhere around £3500 would be needed to acquire a running older bike which has any chance of keeping up with modern traffic, but which will probably still need regular attention, it’s not surprising that our biking novice is likely to plump for a machine that is quicker, better braked, (generally) more reliable and better equipped than its older cousins. Oh, and in my experience at least, these ‘youngsters’ are having every bit as much fun hooning around on their modern machines as we elder riders did when we first saddled up. Why shouldn’t they? Compared to the laughable test I imagine most of us passed back in the day, they’ve really earned their fun.

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Long story short: older bikes just don’t mean anything to them.

As if that wasn’t demoralising enough, there is a prospect that within, perhaps, twenty years or so the very idea of having a form of personal transport that spews out air borne nastiness, and that its owner wants to use for fun, will be seen as a dangerous anachronism.

Grim reading indeed. Should we care? Well, the fate of the atmosphere, and what we might be allowed to add to it in the future, rests with politicians. Of course, there are people who have a vested interest in maintaining a market for older bikes – dealers and investors – but for the rest of us it is just a hobby, after all. And that’s something I think we’re in grave danger of losing sight of.

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Yes, of course it would be lovely if more young chaps and chappesses saw old bikes in the same way that we do because, let’s be honest, a little confirmation of one’s beliefs never hurts. However, for the reasons above, and youth’s inalienable prerogative to shun their elder’s interests, I don’t believe it’s happening any time soon.

So, what are we left with? A hobby (a lifestyle for some, no doubt) that is still hugely enjoyable, sometimes on our own and sometimes with like-minded souls. Thanks to the web, we have at our disposal a wealth of information and parts to keep those old bikes running. Advances in technology mean we now have tyres, brakes, oils, suspension and clothing that are far superior to anything available in days gone by. Mobile phones mean we are unlikely to be stranded for days should the worst occur, and sat nav allows us to seek out the roads that other traffic doesn’t use.

We can wring our hands about the decline in interest in ‘our’ bikes and what we should do to solve it. But our ability, or not, to attract new blood into the fold shouldn’t have any impact on the simple joy to be had from coaxing old bikes and old bones out onto the country’s highways and byways – for as long as we can.

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Agree? Disagree? Comment below or hop over to the RC Facebook page to share your point of view…

Words by Harley Richards
Photos from the RC RChive

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