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The carpark is abuzz with broad smiles, excited chatter, and gorgeous bikes. Despite the threat of rain, members of the Honda Owner’s Club (HOC) haven’t shied away from an opportunity to come together in celebration of a landmark anniversary in a fitting setting, as Sammy Miller’s motorcycle museum plays host to the Honda Owner’s Club’s Classic Show. And this year is made doubly special by coinciding with the club’s diamond jubilee.
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We enjoy the hustle and bustle of the event as old friends say hello and the best laid plans get lost in the pleasurable chaos of it all. I forge a path through the festivities to enter the museum, where I’m joined by some of club’s longest-serving members: Mike Evans, founder of the HOC; Michael Bonner, a member of the group since 1963; Vice President Graham Gull who joined in 1967; and David Andrews the secretary of the Oxford branch and himself a member for 49 years.
Gathered around a table amongst the countless museum bikes overlooking the yard, I wanted to find out more from these men about the club’s creation, although we had to battle the brutal noise from Sammy Miller and Allen Millyard, tearing around on a pair of RC race bikes.
There is one face missing, however. Pete Goodger was one of the founding fathers of the club and acted as President until he passed away in 2019, but his influence lives on. Mike Evans recalls how the group started and the circumstances that earned him the membership card No. 001.
“I saw this CB92 Benly Sport sitting in Miller’s shop in Wigan where I lived, and I walked past it every day and eventually I couldn’t resist it anymore,” starts Mike, “but I soon realised that 15 years after the war people really hated Honda.
“I can remember them standing on the street corner and shaking their fists at me. Almost everybody over 30 had been in the conflict and many had been in the Japanese war. It’s only understandable that they didn’t like Japanese products.
“So, I started writing letters to The Motor Cycle magazine and eventually decided to start a group, and we turned it into a national organisation with the help of Pete Goodger and the others in 1961.”
Mike initially founded the club in Lancashire, a year before the formation of official importer Honda UK and before his PR and journalism career kicked off. But at almost the same instant, Pete began to advertise for members as he slowly formed another branch in London. Before they knew it, they had the club together and became the first national Japanese owner’s club in the UK.
“That first Lancashire meeting was in this dingy room over a pub in Wigan,” Mike remembers. “Getting 20 people together was a massive achievement, they came from all over Lancashire! Then we discovered there were other groups around the country, so we were rapidly up into the hundreds.”
Michael Bonner fondly remembers the years where the British industry was still top of the table, and the almost insignificant impact Honda had made on the biking landscape, long before people knew how big the marque would become.
“In that era, it was quite common to be attached to your brand, so people who rode Nortons would look down on people who rode Hondas,” Michael says. “I used to wear this leather jacket with a sticker on the back saying ‘Honda’, and I found people with British bikes were always challenging me saying ‘oh, come and have a burner’.
“In the early days, people were interested in Hondas but they daren’t make the switch because all their mates rode British bikes… but gradually they came over to our side of things as the brand grew.”
Graham adds with a laugh: “I started on a little 50cc step-thru Cub, but when I was looking for a bike back in 1964 it was that or a Bantam. The BSA was basically a pre-war model, and the Honda was lovely and modern.
“It hadn’t got an electric starter, but it was so simple to ride, had an automatic clutch and was so much better than the British-built offering. I think it was about £80 to buy it!”
Honda’s superbike future
As Honda released what is largely accepted as the first superbike, the CB750 in 1969, British manufacturers like BSA and Triumph were faltering, not helped by bad publicity surrounding motorcycling at the time. When elements of the press called for bikes to be banned and riders found themselves barred from many pubs, the club got together to produce positive stories.
“Hondas took off and other manufacturers came in during the decline of the British industry,” Graham remembers. As national secretary, he also recalls that the success of the club worked in tandem with the success of Honda.
“We drifted along with 400 members in the early 70s and then it took off. I always think Honda had downtime in the early 80s when they hadn’t got much in the way of decent bikes.
“Plus, Honda UK came along with the Honda Rider’s Club and they enrolled everybody who bought a new bike. It only lasted about a year but reduced our membership to about 500.
“Then Honda brought out the VFR750 in 1986, and it all took off again. The Pan European came out in 1990 and we had an influx of members right through the 90s. We got up to nearly 5000 at the end. From about the early 2000s to date, we’ve had around 1500-2000 members at any one time.”
But the average age of the members is older than when the club was first formed, and Graham thinks this is because of the new motorcycle licensing requirements. “Nowadays, the hoops you have to jump through to get a big bike are massive, I don’t think I could face it. Which is a big problem with recruiting members, not just to our club, but to get into biking.”
Events and ride outs
Just like when it began, the HOC has always focused on being a social club. Although membership meant you had access to experts on the brand, an excuse to go riding every week and the Golden Wing magazine, the events were – and still are – the driver, and pull the group together with many lifelong friendships forged.
Michael says: “The club used to go to the Isle of Man TT races quite often and stay in the same bed and breakfast place and I used to go across when Mike Hailwood was riding Hondas. That was definitely a highlight for me.”
Whereas David remembers rallies in the early 70s. “If we had a rally somewhere it was all camping. Now, they also think about the people that don’t want to camp, if there is a B&B nearby and you can bring your families too. You know it is more orientated towards the family these days, whereas before it was just the individuals and their bikes.”
Still going strong…
So after 60 years is the love of biking still in the heart of everything the HOC does? In short, yes.
“I got introduced to the club purely by word of mouth from a fellow who worked with my father,” says David. “He took me along to the club and that was it. Otherwise, I would have been sitting at home doing nothing. Instead we could go out in a group and go for a ride and it was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s still the case now.
“An ex-girlfriend of mine said to me once she could always tell when I’d been out on my bike because I had that schoolboy grin.”
Michael adds: “If I go out for a rideout on Sunday, I almost have withdrawal symptoms when Monday morning comes. The Essex branch have just started doing Tuesday runs, so that helps overcome the symptoms!”
But aside from the bikes, although they are the foundation of the creation of the group, the fundamental appeal behind the Honda Owners Club is the social side, and that has been made evident by everything the guys have said around the table, and by the general atmosphere here today.
Michael says: “The thing for the individual in the group is that they are enlarging their circle of friends. Friends that are enthusiastic and helpful to each other. That’s why we have nearly a couple of thousand members now. It gets harder to remember who everyone is, but you’re still friendly to everybody because you’re all enthused about the same thing, whether it’s Hondas or motorcycling in general.
“Everybody is happy because they’re all doing what they really love. So that’s what we’ll keep doing as long as we love it.”