Shooting Star: The Rise & Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry

Author: Abe Aamidor

ECW Press; $29.95 (2009)

Outlining its influences through vignettes and mini-bios, Aamidor, formerly of the Indianapolis Star, brings to life the successes of the British motorcycle industry, when it was the third largest source of foreign exchange in the U.K. behind only automobiles and whisky. But by 1974, the landscape had changed. British-made brands held only 1 percent of the important American market and a flagging 3 percent of their home market.

With plenty of blame to go around for the decline of an industry that reigned over a motorcycle empire as surely as Britannia once ruled the waves, Aamidor carefully outlines significant causes and deficient players.

Most of the major British factories began at the turn of the 20th century, experiencing considerable growth due to military contracts during WWI. However, it appears that the industry had difficulty switching gears, as it were, to adjust for civilian leisure use, not to mention modern technology. Some claim that the British motorcycle industry's fall was due to its stubborn adherence to inefficient and outdated designs, tools, factories and methods of production, combined with a self-involved neglect of market share, trends and demands.

The impact of Honda was devastating. Not only did Japan have a large home market with which to establish itself, but the Japanese motorcycle industry invested heavily in modernization after WWII, incorporating expensive, custom-made, single-purpose machine tools and a clever advertising campaign targeting a lifestyle rather than results from the race track. Triumph and BSA fought in vain to stem the Japanese tide, but British bikes were found wanting in comparison.

Blending fresh interviews with key figures, industry insiders and living legends with hard-to-find economic studies of the industry and insights from out-of-print books, Aamidor entertains as he educates. While this book will appeal primarily to British bike enthusiasts, it has an interesting story to tell to anyone who appreciates the history of industry.

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