Like most bikers of a certain age, Eddie Hornblow was weaned on British bikes.
As a young man in the 1960s, he followed a well-ridden road, cutting his teeth on a BSA Bantam at 16 before graduating to larger Matchless and Triumphs.
But by the 1980s, most of the home-grown manufacturers had bitten the dust, unable to resist the rise of technologically more advanced Japanese bikes.
Honda’s groundbreaking VFR750F was just such a bike, driven by a heinously complex gear-driven cam V4 engine and built on a highly advanced aluminium twin-spar chassis.
Set the standard
Build quality was second to none, and the VFR has set the standard for sports tourers from its launch in 1986 right through to the current model.
Eddie, now 73, bought one new in 1988 – model designation RC24 – and still owns it more than 30 years later, despite accumulating several other bikes in the meantime including two Ducati 916s and a 2015 Triumph Bonneville.
There’s also an original Honda monkey bike, officially called a Z50, bought in 1982 as a non runner and used as a pit bike for Eddie’s son Lee, who competed in motocross at the time.
Of all the bikes, though, it’s the VFR that Eddie – and Lorraine, his wife of 50 years – feel most attached to.
“We’ve had it so long now it’s part of the family,” he says at their home in Leatherhead, Surrey. “It’s still as quick as anything else out there.
“I could upgrade the brakes, which aren’t very good, but I want to keep it original. I go into a roundabout like I would on one of the other bikes and I have to go ‘bang, bang, bang’ down through the gears. When it came out they were the best brakes you could get, but then others were improved.”
Although primarily a sports tourer, the bike’s speed and superbike-like handling were amply demonstrated when Ron Haslam pitched up on a bog standard VFR at the 1986 Transatlantic Trophy at Donington and finished a remarkable third.
For Eddie and Lorraine, the Honda came into its own on tours through the Isle of Man and Spain, with one memorable trip to the continent in 1989 a precursor to a life in the sun for the best part of 20 years.
“We went from Dover to Calais, through France and ended up in a Spanish town called Orba,” says Eddie. “I said ‘one day I would love to live somewhere like this’, and a few years later guess where we bought our first house in Spain…Orba!”
While in Spain, where Eddie was involved in property development, he treated himself to a Triumph Speed Triple and Tiger 800, plus a Honda Blackbird and the two Ducatis – but the VFR was a constant among a changing roster of bikes.
Lorraine is anything but a bike widow. With a full motorcycle licence herself, she is equally enthusiastic about the Honda, and about Eddie’s bikes in general.
“Can’t ever sell the Honda”
“I’m into the bikes, and I don’t care how many he has,” she says. “He definitely can’t ever sell the Honda, it’s such a comfortable bike.”
“If I see something that I like, she says ‘well buy it then’,” smiles Eddie, whose current collection is a far cry from that first old BSA.
Eddie, born at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, just north of Newcastle, moved south to Teddington as a boy with his family and left school at 15 to work in the warehouse for a laundry company.
On his 16th birthday he got his motorbike licence and bought the Bantam.
“It was old and I only paid a tenner for it,” he says. “The first long ride I did on that was from Teddington to Newcastle and back to see my gran, without it breaking down.”
After leaving the laundry, Eddie got a job as a hod carrier, “earning lots of money carrying bricks up and down ladders”.
At 17, a Thunderbird 650 followed the Bantam, but when Eddie came off that, breaking a couple of ribs and a couple of fingers, hod carrying became impossible and the teenager switched to a job labouring in a small furniture factory, the start of a long career in the industry.
“I told the governor I wanted to leave because I didn’t want to be labouring for the rest of my life,” he says. “He said ‘would you like to learn veneering?’ I moved from that to wood machining and ended up the general manager, travelling to Norway and Belgium sourcing wood.”
By the time he met Lorraine, Eddie had moved on to a Matchless 500 via a couple of Matchless 350s.
“Her parents would not let her on the bike, so I used to have to meet her at the top of the road,” he says, which brought its own problems. “We’d gone out for a ride and she said ‘my leg feels hot’. The oil tank was just behind her legs, and when we stopped I saw that the cap had come off.
“The wind had blown oil all down her leg, and we had to go to her friend’s to clean up before she went home.”
Two more Triumphs, a Tiger 100 and a Bonneville, followed before Eddie and Lorraine were married in 1969 and, with children Michelle and Lee coming along, there was a 10-year hiatus in Eddie’s bike ownership.
In the midst of all that, a horrific accident while driving a Ford Transit when Eddie was 24 left him fighting for his life.
“I fell out of the door of the van, which came down on top of me and took me down the road,” he remembers. “I had multiple injuries, including head injuries, a broken femur and serious leg injuries that required skin grafts. They told Lorraine I would not make the night, and I was unconscious for two weeks in hospital.”
The furniture company went into liquidation, but there was a silver lining when Eddie was contacted by one of his old bosses who had started up on his own.
“He found out about the accident, got in touch with me and said ‘I know what you can do, I want you with me’,” he says. “We built the business up to the point where the company, Hyperion, is now.”
Eddie was back on two wheels by about 1982, buying a Triumph-engined Rickman as a restoration project for £350.
“I had been without a bike for about 10 years,” he says. “The Rickman was a non runner and a I rebuilt it over a period of several years. I put a lot of effort into that, and Lorraine loved it.”
By now, Lee had embarked on a promising motocross career, and Eddie picked up the diminutive Honda Z50 for £175.
Cheap pit bike
“Lee was racing a lot and we thought it would do as a cheap pit bike,” he says. “Michelle grew up riding it in the fields.”
Known as monkey bikes because of the hunched way adults sit while riding them, they were originally created in the 1960s as a Japanese amusement park ride before Honda put them into full production for the general public.
The three-speed bike, capable of 30mph, was designed to be carried in the boot of a car, with folding handlebars, and spawned a host of mini imitators.
“I went to get some parts for the monkey bike and the bloke said ‘that’s a collectors bike now’,” says Eddie. “I found out how much it was worth – I took it off the kids then and restored it! It’s now worth about £3,500.”
A new Kawasaki GPZ600, which Lorraine could also ride, joined the Rickman in 1984 before both were sold in favour of the brand new Honda VFR, bought for £4,020 in August 1988.
“The Japanese bikes were the most reliable, and at that time the British companies were all going bust,” says Eddie. “The Honda was so comfortable for touring.”
On one trip to Spain, Eddie was joined by a friend on an identical VFR, who proved that pride does indeed come before a fall.
“On tight turns he was not quite sure why I would put my foot down,” he remembers. “Dave kept saying ‘a good rider keeps his foot up’. On the next tight turn I heard ‘crash’, and there he is on the floor.”
The bike also provided an opportunity to poke fun at another friend, who bought a VFR because, Eddie says: “He couldn’t keep up with me”.
“I dropped mine on some gravel, which made some little marks where the gravel had touched the fairing,” he adds.
“We put some extra pinstripes on the fairing to match those on the tank and then you couldn’t see the marks.
“I said to my mate Clive: ‘There’s something different between the two bikes – there’s two lines on there, you haven’t got that’.
“Off he goes to the dealer saying ‘my bike hasn’t got those lines on it’. They got the brochure out and got on the phone to Honda in Chiswick querying it. That was funny.”
By the mid 1990s, Eddie and Lorraine took the plunge and moved to Spain, buying a house in Orba, between Alicante and Valencia.
“I took my tools and did a few odd jobs to earn some money,” he says. “I then started working with builders over there, coming to England and doing exhibitions, getting clients, taking them over there and working with them and the builders.
“I would get paid commissions, and then we started buying plots with another guy and doing our own thing.”
Eventually, the couple ended up with a house in 2.5 acres of country, complete with orange groves.
“We decided to come back five years ago,” says Eddie. “We wanted to do more travelling, and if anything happened to me Lorraine would have been left over there with a big house, seven motorbikes, cars and tractors.”
Of course, the VFR came home too and, although Eddie admits it’s a little underused these days, he has no intention of selling it.
“Eventually, Lee will have it and he will look after it as well,” he says. “When he was racing I would power wash his bike and he would start moaning at me that I’d missed a bit.”
It’s been the one bike among at least 20 he’s owned that Eddie has never been able to sell, and it will stay in the family for a long time yet.
Leave a comment