Friday, September 23, 2022

Will you admit that British bikes are bad?

 I enjoy my old Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle; everyone who reads this blog knows that.

Readers also know that I consider its flaws as just evidence of its origin as a 1949 British design manufactured as best India could manage in 1999. Reliable and competent modern Royal Enfields have little except looks in common with my old Bullet.

I've criticized its brakes, laughed at its vibration, warned that it is slow and shaken my head at the times it has let me down. I begrudge it the maintenance chores it invites, giving it only a greasy towel, a nod and the thought that "it lives in the real world now."

Now along comes an article about "confirmation bias" in Adventure Rider:

"What is confirmation bias? We tend to seek out and believe information which supports what we already think. We reach a conclusion first, then apply it to evidence, rather than looking at evidence first and using it to come to a conclusion... 

"A perfect example of induced bias is the veneration of old British motorcycles. No matter where you are, any Vincent will receive obsequious respect. The fact that these bikes need constant  wrenching, do not go, do not handle — and don’t even think of trying to stop – cannot be allowed to penetrate the fog of approval because the owner has paid a lot of money for the bike and does not want it devalued by the truth."

Veneration? Is that what I've been doing for my Royal Enfield Bullet.

No! (But, maybe, if it was a Vincent.)

The Adventure Rider article appears under the byline Harvey Mushman, Steve McQueen's pseudonym when he preferred not to race under his own name.

Mr. Mushman, the writer, not the deceased actor, typically publishes edgy, incisive items alerting motorcyclists to factors they may not have considered. 

His item explaining why safety isn't always a good thing earned a big "Opinion" label and a warning from Adventure Rider: "Remember, these are his opinions, which do not necessarily reflect ADVrider staff as a whole."

He's a rider and racer, and no doubt his skills and hours in the saddle far exceed mine. Take his advice on safety, not mine, please.

I gather Mushman, the writer, is possibly British. Again, he is no doubt better informed than I about actual British motorcycles, such as Vincents.

But as regards my own, lowly, India-made version of a British motorcycle, he may be, very naturally, mistaking my feelings and attributing them to the wrong cause.

I do not venerate my Bullet. I do not fear that criticism will reduce its already modest value. I make no apology for it.

I just happen to enjoy it.

Which doesn't make him wrong about the Honda Goldwing. Those things are all confirmation bias, if you ask me.


  1. Yes, they were that bad. Compared to something like, say, a GS500 Suzuki, a bike you can own and ride and not know anything about, an old Triumph or BSA (or Royal Enfield) is a terrible bike. Those old bikes needed owners like you, David, who learned all about them and fussed over them and did regular maintenance THEMSELVES. If those old bikes lasted 10,000 miles before they needed major work, you could alert the Vatican. You'd witnessed a miracle. There was nothing like "ride it and forget it." A British bike was not a casual possession. It was a demanding one. We loved them, many of us, but we were motorcyclists, dyed right in the wool...

  2. Anonymous9/25/2022

    Look, I already know my attitude towards my elderly Bullet is just dripping with "confirmation bias", but I'm OK with that. It's earned a little tip of the scales in its favor.

  3. I think perhaps Mr Mushman suffers from his own confirmation bias of dodgy old poorly maintained bikes and paints them all with the same brush! Well looked after and sensibly used older bikes are fairly fuss free and the majority were good products of their times. Of course if one is to compare something purely objectively on its function a newer, more developed product will invariably be better than an old one. A first generation iPhone is rubbish compared to an iPhone 14. A Vincent Black Shadow doesn't stand up well against a new model Triumph Bonneville or perhaps even against a new RE Interceptor! The point is we venerate things that were good for their time. Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile but if he could race against Usain Bolt it would be a massacre, that's not to say we shouldn't afford his achievement the greatest respect.
    It's always fun to rise to deliberately provocative column pieces 😉.


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