Steven Myatt – THE TRUE STORY OF THE GENESIS OF STREETFIGHTERS (a tale of mud, blood and beer)

Back in the early Eighties – and grief, how long ago that seems – I decided that what Britain needed was a biker lifestyle magazine. There was nothing like one available, and having been working in national magazines for … well, to be honest, not very long, I decided that I was the man to create such a thing.
The magazines I had worked for were about custom cars, but custom bikes had been my first love, back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. I decided to call the magazine Back Street Heroes, and without any external finance at all it took me about eighteen months to get it off the ground.
After a very hairy first year (in the late autumn of that year I remember warning my girlfriend that we were about to lose the house …) it suddenly, after a few very bold (or stupid, depends how you look at it) moves it call came right. By late ’87 Back Street Heroes was four years old and was really motoring, and, travelling to shows and parties, I was aware that there was something new was happening in the bike scene. Custom bikes weren’t just being built for cruising, but were being stripped down for speed – in a way, much as they had been originally. Most of these had big Japanese engines and were damn fast.
I’ve always been good at coming up with names, if I may say so, and I called them Streetfighters. In the September ’87 issue of BSH we ran the first ever feature that carried the Streetfighters tag. Our ace illustrator, Stu Garland, created the stencil typeface and added the knuckleduster, as I suggested, I believe. As it happens, he also wrote and photographed that first article – which was about a damn hot XS1100.
I wrote a few words to introduce the feature, which I intended to be a regular series, and maybe it’s worth repeating what I wrote:
‘Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street … Some ne’er do-well dipshits – and this is the only thing that unites GPz riders and Brough Superior owners – have an idea that a custom bike is a gaudy machine with far too much in the way of front forks, and far too little in the way of power; folk whose ideas about custom bikes stopped somewhere around 1972 when beach buggies and loon pants went out of fashion. Among the trad chops and the sleek street customs and the fatbob Harleys there is a breed of custom bike which not only looks terrific but goes like the soddin’ clappers. We’ve featured more than a few before now, but from here on we’re going to bring them together under a regular banner; Streetfighters.’
We ran the feature in BSH for about eighteen months, and I started to think that there was demand for a magazine about streetfighters exclusively. The name had really taken on a life of its own and we were seeing Streetfighter awards at custom shows, and bike builders were describing their own machines as such.
Since the launch of BSH I’d in fact launched half a dozen other bike magazines, and we had one title on sale in France and Germany in translation. For me that was the real thrill; seeing a demand and then coming up with the name and the concept. I’d only had one failure – Road Racer magazine – which in all honestly wasn’t really our style, and it was bought from us by its editor. That aside, things were going brilliantly well, and we had moved into new premises – an old Victorian building which had originally been built as stables but had then become a Chinese laundry!
At some point, and no, I really can’t remember when, we launched a one-off Streetfighters magazine, but that wasn’t quite right. I included fast Harleys and Triumphs, and while it sold rather well, it hadn’t hit the target. So, in 1989, we launched Streetfighters as an almost all-Jap title. The bikes were contemporary machines which had been modified to look tougher and go even faster.
I edited Streetfighters for the first few years, as well as running what had now become a sizeable business. That’s a situation I was very happy with as I loved was the day to day process of commissioned contributors, working with designers and putting the mag together. I went out and photographed a lot of the feature bikes too, finding that these guys were unlike the BSH readers in quite a few ways.
As with BSH though, we had girls on the cover of the magazine, with the bikes. There were two differences here though; the girls were professional models rather than the amateurs that I insisted on for Back Street Heroes (often recruited from a nearby lap-dancing bar), and the cover shots were done in studio rather than on location, for a ‘cleaner’ and crisper look. I always insisted on directing cover shoots as I knew exactly what I was looking for – and no, not so that I could spend the day with half-clad babes (I was always only too aware of how much the studio days cost!).
Another important aspect of the front covers were the words – the strap-lines, as we call them. I always hated magazine covers with far too many words, over-selling what was inside; I believed that the contents page should be on page three of the magazine. What was needed were good jokes which summed up what the mag was about; things like ‘It’s Bikes Like This That’ll Ruin Motorcycling For Everyone’. Great.
The magazine seemed to hit the mark very quickly, and the sales were good. As we had found with BSH, the existence of the magazine made the whole movement larger in itself. Lots of guys realised that there were other lunatics out there with the same passions as themselves, plus it was now easier to get the parts and accessories thanks to the existence of the magazine.
To my great delight we also began to get into trouble! Speed cameras were starting to appear in horrible numbers by the early Nineties and we colluded with all sorts of naughty attempts to thwart their effectiveness. Then I worried about readers who had lost their licenses as a result of getting caught too often, so I offered free subscriptions for readers who had been banned. I forget the details, but if you had been banned for something like 100mph we’d send you the magazine for six months, if for more than that then you’d get the magazine free for a year, and if you had been caught at more than 150mph (and it did happen!) then for five years.
The next thing we knew, this was all over the media. There was a bit of a frenzy for about three days, and I was quoted by several national newspapers and was interviewed by several TV and radio stations. They thought we were encouraging speeding, but as I pointed out, who was going to go out and deliberately lose their license just to get a few free magazines? Needless to say, I had as much fun as I could. One national newspaper denounced me as ‘Mr Mayhem Myatt’, and on a live Scottish radio show the Deputy Chief Constable of Clydeside said that this was the worst thing he had come across in all his thirty years as a policeman. I replied that if he’d been a cop for thirty years in Glasgow and this was the worst he’d seen then he obviously wasn’t getting out enough. He went ballistic and our readers loved it … as I did.
I took part in another live radio interview for the national BBC talk station, with a presenter and a guy from a safety organisation in London, and me on my own in a studio in Manchester, 160 miles away. It was 7.30am and at one point the safety dude, who sounded as if he was going purple with outrage, said, ‘It’s alright for you, Mr Myatt, sitting there in your black leather jacket and biker boots while your readers die in high speed accidents!’ I ignored the thrust of his argument and said, ‘I must correct you on that one point; I’m actually wearing my Peter Rabbit pyjamas and a pair of fluffy slippers.’ The presenter roared with laughter and the interview descended into complete chaos.
Again, I can’t remember when it was, but we started publishing the magazine in translation in Germany quite early on. We found a brilliant guy, Marcus Broix, to head up that operation, though he kept quiet about the fact that he actually rode a Vespa. The German speed freaks took to it as quickly as the Brits did. I went over there many times, occasionally to bike events, and those guys were just wild. I’d go over in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce (yeah, we’d made some money) and get out of it looking like the long-haired scruff I was (and still am), and that blew them away. One guy over in Germany said that seeing a Grateful Dead sticker in the back window of a Rolls-Royce was the freakiest thing he had ever seen.
In about 1995 I flew to Bilboa in northern Spain with one of our best writer/photographers – name of Clink – to cover a big Streetfighter-type event over there. It was in a very run-down part of town but, again, it was the most amazing party. Stunt riders were doing 100mph wheelies without any safety barriers down a gap in the crowd less then eight feet wide. The organisers seemed to be incredulous that we had come over, and when we arrived one guy gave each of us a pass and said, in broken English, ‘With this everything you want is free. We get you beer, food, drugs and women, yes?’ I whispered to Clink, ‘I think it would be wrong of us to accept, let alone abuse this offer’. He replied, ‘But we’re going to, aren’t we?’ ‘Oh yes’, I said.
By 1999 I had been launching, running, and buying and re-launching motorcycle magazines for sixteen years, and I was shattered. On one hand, my health was in tatters, but on the other hand I had got married for the first time, aged 41, and had become a father. It was time to take stock, and to admit that I wasn’t young enough to keep up the pace. I sold my shareholding and left the business. No regrets, not a one – except that a few months later I suffered a huge heart attack (ironically, once the pressure was off).
I’d had a huge amount of fun though, and I like to think that I left the two-wheeled world a bit of a legacy. Most of the bike magazine I launched are still on the news stands, and perhaps best of all, I’d given the world the notion of the Streetfighter. Well, some poor devil had to.

7 Responses to “Steven Myatt – THE TRUE STORY OF THE GENESIS OF STREETFIGHTERS (a tale of mud, blood and beer)”

  • nemo:

    ‘It’s Bikes Like This That’ll Ruin Motorcycling For Everyone’.

    Top article guys! This was a fantastic read!!

  • Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  • Zach:

    Great blog resurrection man. It had to be a great experience watching the movement grow and translating said growth to the world… Seeing a fighter for the first time is quite honestly a magical moment, and it doesn’t seem to lose it’s luster at all…. The beautiful bastardization of a modern day horseless rocketship… ahhh the sweet smell of burnt rubber….

  • Mark G:

    Great stuff- good to read it all laid out and to look back now from where we are, while still having both the BSH XS11 and first Streetfighters Mags in the office library next to the photo’s of the stuff I have built(and wrecked) since they enlightened this old greaser!

  • yantosh:

    every new member should be mailed this when they try to tell us where fighters came from

  • Very good post.Really thank you! Much obliged.

  • voLeBk A round of applause for your blog.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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