Classic British motorcycles and their enduring popularity have a similar story to British sports cars. The United Kingdom lived by the “Export or Die” mantra during the immediate postwar years, and Britain’s industries ramped up production for sale abroad, particularly across the pond in the U.S. Motorcycles actually made up one of Britain’s largest industries behind automobiles for much of the postwar period, and almost everyone who was buying a large bike that wasn’t a Harley was buying something made in the British Isles. The period from the end of World War II until the Japanese invasion of the 1970s was a golden age for British bikes.
American riders bought Vincents, Nortons, Velocettes, Ariels, Royal Enfields and more, but as far as sales and popularity go, there are two marques that stood above the rest: BSA and Triumph. This is shown in their popularity as classic motorcycles today, as measured by the number of examples insured by Hagerty.
After acquiring Triumph Motorcycles in 1951, the BSA Group quickly became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world and the majority of both Triumph and BSA production for much of the 1950s and 1960s was exported. During the 1960s, Triumph had about half of the U.S. market for large bikes. Many of the UK’s other bike manufacturers were smaller concerns, so just as you’re much more likely to see an MGB today than a Lotus Elan, you’re much more likely to see a Triumph Bonneville than a Velocette Venom.
For both Triumph and BSA, the massive number of examples built (over 28,000 Bonnevilles in 1967 alone), ample parts availability, and rich history that includes racing success and appearances in pop culture make them practical, appealing classic bikes and explains why they’re the two most ridden classic British makes today.