It’s been 40 years since the British motorcycle industry imploded with the collapse and disintegration of the BSA/Triumph Group. Once a major industrial conglomerate with interests in machine tools, auto manufacturing and armaments, BSA was easily Britain’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, and its demise effectively ended large-scale motorcycle manufacturing in Britain — although Norton did struggle on for a few more years.
The question that has exercised industry commentators and motorcycle journalists ever since is, why? Superficially, the rise of competition from Japanese makers, a lack of product innovation, managerial ineptitude and militant unions all played a part. But, argues Steve Koerner in his new book, The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry, the reasons went much deeper than that. They were fundamentally structural and systemic.
A historian and teacher, Koerner has devoted his academic career to studying Britain’s industrial history in the 20th century. Koerner’s PhD research in Social History at the University of Warwick in England gave him unprecedented access to the relevant industry files and company records. The Strange Death, while leaning heavily on Koerner’s thesis, is a fascinating read that also offers insights into the personalities that shaped the industry — and those who oversaw its collapse. Comprehensive, exhaustively researched, and fully annotated and indexed, if you were only to own one book on the demise of the British motorcycle industry, The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry is the one you must have.