Interview: James May

James May interview
You probably know James May as the genial co-host of the most popular auto show in the world, Top Gear. But May is also a certified motorcycle nut, with a delectable stable of machines including two Moto Guzzis, and he regularly features in the excellent British magazine Classic Bike. Being a good sort, he’s taken a moment out of his hectic filming schedule to tackle the traditional ten questions of the Bike EXIF interview.

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? 1974 Honda CB750/four (below), the four-pipe K-series. Not really a good first bike. Terrible brakes and so on.

James May interview

What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? In some ways the 70s Ducati 750SS (below). But in others it’s the original Honda Cub, for what it represents.

James May interview
What motorcycle do you despise? Not sure I really despise any, to be honest, but I remember thinking, back in the 90s, that the Phillipe Starck Aprilia Moto (below) existed for all the wrong reasons.

James May interview
What is your idea of perfect happiness? In motorcycling terms, a bit of a ride, a bit of a fettle in the shed, and then a beer to talk bollocks about it with a mate.

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? I’ve tried an electric fuel-cell motorcycle and a rechargeable electric scooter. I think there could be something in it, you know.

What is your favorite journey? Of those I do regularly, probably the old A40 route between my house in London and some mates who live just outside Oxford.

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? I’m a bit worried about classic biking’s future, if that makes sense. The classics of today are bikes that blokes now in their 40s lusted after or owned when they were teenagers. But today bikes are bought by blokes already in their 40s, so they will become ‘classics’ to people in their 80s, who have largely given up riding. That said, I can see the Triumph Speed Triple (below) and the BMW GS bikes being remembered very fondly. Maybe trick scooters ridden by kids are the classics of the future.

James May interview
Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? Ron Haslam for his sideburns, Keith Code for his A Twist of the Wrist book, Kevin Cameron for his technical books, the late John Robinson for his magazine articles.

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? I think people are beginning to realise the sense of it, and that motorcycling is an elevated pursuit for the progressively minded. Motorcycle riders are a great fraternity, and there are no barriers to admission. That’s how it seems to me. But we’re definitely getting older, and I’m worried that biking will end with a whimper of reminiscences between old men in bath chairs.

What is your current state of mind? Upbeat, hungry. Situation normal.

If you’re in the USA, you can catch James May and Top Gear on BBC America. And no matter where you are, the Top Gear website is worth a visit if you’re a fan of four wheels as well as two.