Rapid advances: technology takes a hold

So, technology, it’s here to stay, what’s your favourite improvement for old dirt bikes?

Rapid advances: technology takes a hold
Sometimes the absurdity of a situation comes along and slaps you metaphorically on the cheek… For instance, while wondering just how to start off the regular trawl through the classic off-road scene, which forms this column, I was electronically sending a picture of a friend taken at an enduro recently.

Or, more accurately, I was loading the image to an email and it was taking forever, the change from girder forks and belt drive to water cooled monos happened faster than this single image loaded to the email.


Apparently under such circumstances I mutter under my breath, something the other occupant of this household has come to terms with and accepted as normal behaviour for an off-road motorcyclist. Accepted, that is, along with other perfectly reasonable things such as finding bearings and bushes in the freezer or castings and flanges in the oven.

I think the rousing cheer as the image finally loaded, after a whole minute… yes I’d aged a whole minute, was maybe just too much though as I got that raised eyebrow look and it was pointed out how long it would have taken in the olden days to have a film developed, a print produced and then said print posted to said friend abroad.

It’s true, of course, the speed of communication has revolutionised not just our world in journalism but every other world too. How many of us have taken a photo with a phone or iPad and then sent it to a dealer when looking for the replacement thingummyjig fitted to the inside of the wottsit then had the reply in moments?


Such a situation happened when posting some information on a forum about IT Yamahas, no sooner had the image of our less-than-pristine crankcases gone live than a message came back, with an image on it, saying ‘got a pair of cases’ and the deal was done.

Such instant communication is almost a given these days, when my picture loading took as long as a minute I was almost at the stage of yelling at the machine in frustration.

Looked at logically though, even given where I live has a slowish internet service, it is still rapid communication as the difference between fast and slow is a few seconds. Imagine the advances in manufacturing when multi-spindle drilling machines could put all the spoke holes in a hub in one go for instance.


All of a sudden last week’s technological advance is this week’s dinosaur and so it goes on as each advancement improves on the last. Surface carburettors have been consigned to history books having been superseded by spray carbs and fuel injection while igniting the mixture is now handled by electronics.

We in the classic world have benefited from such advances in manufacturing as thanks to improved machining processes; components can be made to tighter tolerances, higher finishes and of better materials than originals.

Such technology also allows a revisit to older ideas that were dismissed in the past, ideas such as side-valve technology, which GasGas put a whole new take on for a prototype trials bike two or three years ago.


Even in the 30s when Allan Jefferies won the British Experts on a side-valve Triumph the valve arrangement was old hat but with the move towards four strokes for ecological reasons in motorcycle sport a more compact engine than an overhead valve one was needed.

Side valves were tried, the result was an engine little different in height to a two stroke and suddenly side valves were modern again.

There are all sorts of similar situations in motorcycle history when an old idea is resurrected and becomes state of the art, take monoshock suspension, now considered the norm for the rear of a motorcycle. When was it introduced? The 80s?

The 70s – when Yamaha developed a system for the YZ motocross bike and Mick Andrews tried it on his factory trials TY? Or earlier in the 60s when BSA experimented with a cantilever rear for Brian Martin’s C15? There is actually evidence of such systems as early as 1908 but it took technological advances a long time to catch up with ideas.

Here at Classic Dirt Bike we’re lucky to have an archive where we can view these technological advances and also how they were captured for posterity by whatever method was the latest advance at the time.

These days images are digitally captured, not so long ago it was slide film, before that glass plates were the way to store pictures. The file box of such images is huge yet compared with electronically stored photos it has minimal capacity.

Technology has even had an impact here as our archivist Jane has a computer programme to deal with changing a slide from a negative to a positive and saving it to a digital archive. Once that’s done then… oh, that’s my images of our IT project loaded to send to the designers… so, technology, it’s here to stay, what’s your favourite improvement for old dirt bikes?

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