Story behind funky moped book-awesome history

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Story behind funky moped book-awesome history

Postby Micronaut » Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:04 am

Recreating the sounds of the '70s!
Mar 31 2005 ... _page.html
By The Huddersfield Daily Examiner

FOUR years ago keen biker Richard Skelton, of Holmfirth, went to the internet to try to buy a model of the machine that kick-started it all for him way back in the Seventies - the Yamaha FS1-E.

Richard, 44, a sound technician in the TV industry and a freelance motorcycle journalist, found there was hardly anything available.

It was a year later in 2002 that he finally acquired the candy orange SS model that brought satisfaction.

But he did notice that six months after his first search, suddenly there were hundreds of similar machines being advertised on the Net.

He was in on the latest end of the Seventies phenomenon of the sports moped which inspired him to bring out the definitive book Funky Mopeds.

Curiously, as the book says, it was a change in the law by Transport Minister John Peyton on December 15, 1971, that started it all.

His "sixteener law", in the interests of road safety, was intended to take all 16-year-olds off the roads - until then they had been able to ride bikes up to 250cc - and force them to turn to mopeds like the grannies' 50cc shopping bike.

By definition a moped was a two-wheeler of less than 50cc with pedals which must be able to drive the machine. Historically they were slow and developed from the pedal cycle or cyclomotor with a motor on the front or rear wheel.

But from the 1940s on there was no tradition of moped riding in the UK - unlike France and the rest of mainland Europe, where 14-year-olds could drive (then and now) 20mph step-through machines.

By 1972, reports Richard, the motorcycle industry had developed the sports moped - really a motorcycle, faster than the Government had intended and with pedals as a token gesture to comply with the law.

Among the first were the Puch BS50 capable of 35-40mph and said to be "probably the nearest machine to a motorcycle" available to 16-year-olds. Garelli brought its established Rekord and the new Tiger cross with a top speed of 57mph.

By 1973 Yamaha had unleashed the budget FS1-E (E for England) with a 40mph speed and a reputation for reliability. The "Fizzy" became the best-selling sports moped of the period.

Soon, says Richard, there was a bewildering choice of about 50 models. The rule of thumb was that the Japanese were most reliable, while the Italians and the rest of Europe made the most exotic machines.

It was the era when Barry Sheene was king of the two wheels and for 16-year-olds the need was for cheap transport that would make you look "cool" and attract the girls - complete with bomber jackets, jeans with 4in turn-ups and the smell of Brut 33 or Denim - even if the bike pack was going nowhere more exciting than to the local fish shop.

Of course, the manufacturers had exercised a good deal of restraint, says Richard. They were quite capable of producing 50cc machines that could reach 110mph.

Instead with some models there were headlights, run on six-volt electrics, that were "like hot nails", some Gilera lights went out if you used the horn at night and the Fantics were the hardest to pedal.

But 16-year-olds who loved racing each other had ways of making things better. For £27 you could buy a kit that could add 18.5mph to your speed, more crudely putting Redex petrol additive in the tank created an impressive plume of smoke, injecting lighter fuel into the carburettor gave a phenomenal surge of power.

By 1974 there was a 40% jump in the number of accidents involving under 50cc machines. It was probably down to the booming numbers rather than the speed of the machines, says Richard.

In 1976 the number of two-wheel registrations had shot up to 272,761.

Naturally, the road safety lobby acted and on August 1, 1977 came new legislation to limit new 50cc machines to a top speed of 35mph.

They called the new models, the emasculated sports mopeds that complied with the new requirement the "slopeds".

There was a huge drop in sales. For a time it was still possible to buy the sports mopeds second-hand - but for the most part they had been driven hard with hardly a thought to their maintenance and by about 1981 the supply dried up and the golden era was over.

Much later, in 1996 the Sports Moped Owners Club began - today it has climbed to about 250 members. People who wanted to collect the machines of the Seventies, to restore them, to ride them and recapture again some of the magic from their youth.

Collector Eamonn Maloney called it "men behaving sadly" and it happened in Huddersfield as much as anywhere else.

Holmfirth's top scrambling star Terry Sylvester was selling the Yamahas in his shop by 1973 and impressive recordings of the bikes in action ("they howled like banshees") helped him to record sales that year.

He still sells "Fizzy" spares although stocks are naturally dwindling.

Russell and Margaret Marsden - who met when Russell was riding an FS1-E and repaired her brother's model - launched Fizzy Galore, in Halifax Road, Birkby, selling Fizzy parts from their catalogue at their premises, via shows and via mail order.

In 2002 another enthusiast, Russell Sear, started the website which he later sold and the main market place has become the internet auction site eBay.

As Richard says, today many of the lovingly restored machines have become pampered. His is seen in the book, not in a garage but is front room and he notes that the record price for an FS1-E is now £4,150.

Meanwhile his book - an A to Z of the subject with over 340 colour pictures - has obviously touched a wider nerve and has already sold some 1,200 copies, five times the Owners' Club numbers.

* Funky Mopeds. Richard Skelton/Veloce Publishing, costs £16.99. Available at Ottakar's.

Wayne from Maine
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