Earlier this year…

This year seems to have passed a bit faster than I like, as soon as I finish one deadline for Classic bike, I seem to be facing another, however…

…that’s not to say I haven’t been doing anything else, I just had much chance to put it on here. Anyway, the year sort of kicked off for us with the Snow Mann Hillclimb in April. This is a local event for us, run at BoPeep Lane, Selmerston, a beauty spot on the South Downs. Not far from Lewes, it’s run by the East Sussex VMCC and administered by Andy Marks (of The Magneto Guys). Being on a closed road, it’s not permitted to be a speed event so instead it’s a ‘machine handling’ competition involving a slalom around cones on a bumpy farmyard and a regularity hillclimb.

The day begins with some common-sense scrutineering of the machines;

Nothing too stressful – although ever since the Ramsgate Sprint I always take a pocketful of Bantam gear pedal rubbers just in case; this being the only way to get non ball-ended (or vintage inverted) levers acceptable for track events; I didn’t need them today. I had entered the Martinsyde – but also the Rex Acme, fortunately as it turned out – and Judy was riding her ’28 Flying Squirrel. There was a bit of eyebrow raising at the Martinsyde’s tiny front brake, which admittedly won’t stop the bike at pushing pace but I pointed out that was going uphill after all and honestly it is actually much better when you’re riding it – which is true, because it has Ferodo Green linings that like to be warm to work.

The slalom was a bit of a farce for me; nobody seemed to be in a hurry to be first round the course and I suggested to Judy that we take advantage of this to avoid the Scott boiling up in a queue. While she was navigating the course and I was showing off the bellowing Martinsyde to the crowd so it served me right that it fouled its rear plug just as it was my turn to go. Now, it’s one of my contentions that the worst advert for vintage/veteran bikes is nervous riders, you see them sometimes wobbling along in grim determination, criss-crossed in dayglow belts as a sort of talisman against death by primitive evil. I don’t mean to be rude and it’s great that people are riding these bikes at all but it’s a shame when their riding is so infrequent that they never really get to grips with their bike so they endure rather than enjoy the experience, to get spectators interested in old bikes it needs to look like fun not purgatory. So, with a flourish I banged my noisy mono-cylcindrico Sprinter into gear and gassed onto the rutted course. Well, spot Mr Over-Confident, I was going too fast for the first turn and had to foot my way around it only for the front wheel to drop into a rut with an almighty crash from the girder front end that provoked an extremely unpleasant noise from somewhere. I quietly retired and paddled off the course humiliated and chastened.

The tip of the front mudguard had hit the mag platform and crushed the aluminium guard onto the tyre so it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I tried swishing the very oily looking plug about in the petrol tank, air drying and giving it a brush but to no avail and like an idiot I hadn’t brought any spares. But Judy made u for it, coping well with the slalom despite her wrists protesting at the combination of a bumpy course and girder forks.

Next came the exciting bit:

The Hill. There was a wide variety of bikes there from Lambrettas to a particularly pretty Testi Telstar café racer- which went round the slalom like a trieals bikeI pulled out the Rex Acme for the hill climb since the poor old Martinsyde was hors de combat. As I said, this is not a speed event but a regularity climb. You have a timed practice run to set your speed – which you can adjust if you wish – and then you have three subsequent runs, punctuated by a quiet time lunch break, in which the aim is for each ascent to be made in the same time as the practice. On a vintage bike, even a fairly lively one, you’re not going to break a speed limit going up a steepish hill so I reasoned the best way to be consistent was to go as fast as possible. Near the top, there’s a box in which you have to stop briefly to add a little spice to the climb and this I found particularly tricky; hammering up the hill in top with the throttle lever wide open, you have very little time to close the lever, slam on the brakes and get the gear lever back into first before setting off. The first time I messed up completely and had to pull away uphill in top (apologies to Messrs Burman and Sons). I think that the clock stops for this box so I could have taken my time but I didn’t realise at the time.

     ach There goes Judy, taking it nice and steady of course… on her way to 5th place in the pre-war class.

This is a smashing day out and one of those rare events that’s great for competitors and spectators alike, it’s a lovely ride to get there and because the road cuts up the side of and through the hill it forms a gorge so you can view the action from above, like a Commanche waiting to attack.

Congratulations to Chris Pile (’28 Sunbeam), Barry Rapley (M20 BSA), Alan Ross (BB34 Goldie), David Connolly (Lamba TV175) and John Wood (Guzzi T5) who were the winners in their classes. Definitely one to look out for next year, we’ll certainly be entering again.

When I got home, I started looking into the Martinsyde’s plug failure – this isn’t the first time it’s happened; it’s not unusual for a vee twin to oil up the rear cyclinder and seize the front. The reason is the trajectory of the oil fling off the flywheels. If you picture oil fling as sparks coming off a catherine wheel, you can see that the angle of exit will throw oil from the 9 o’clock position on the wheel straight up the rear cylinder bore but the narrowness of the cylinder angle means that oil from say 11 o/clock cuts across the mouth of the front cylinder without really entering it. For this reason most early twins – even including post-war Vincents (and Panther singles – which are like the front half of a vee-twin) have a tiny oil feed to the front cylinder wall.

I decided to do a little test involving oil and petrol on plugs using my spark plug tester – given to me by my mate Will, this is an elderly BTH car magneto in a wooden box, wound by a handle that was probably originally used as a ‘Megger’ (insulation tester) in a previous life.

The plug seemed to spark okay now it had dried out properly…

Even when I tried dipping it in petrol it had a spark anough to set itself alight – you can actually see it’s still sparking through the flames.

Even dipping it in oil didn’t faze it – and In know these tests aren’t under compression but I was sirprised how difficult it was to stop it working. But then this happened…

Looks like a cracked insulator was the problem all along, still that pink Lodge is probably at least as old as me and ridden as many bikes so I can’t complain. Anyway I took the bike for a ride after fitting a new plug and it was fine, it’s actually quite brisk with its 767cc engine fitted. The engine’s previous owner Peter Adorian told me that it carried his fully-equipped Martinsyde at a 70mph cruising speed, so in my light bike it’s bound to impress. Peter was running a single Amac rather than the twin Bowdens I have fitted and these seem to work okay; There’s a noticeable flat spot but you can drive through it with more throttle and the bike forges ahead nicely. I’ve given the head a couple of re-tightenings so hopefully I won’t get another blown gasket this year.

Stafford was as enjoyable as ever; and as usual I spent more money than I intended but came back with some useful stuff including a set of 1920s BSA forks and a spare gearbox for the Rudge, just in case (see my previous Blog post!) but I also sold on a couple of bits that helped pay for them.

Here’s something you don’t see for sale too often…

It’s a basket case EMC, Dr Josef Ehrlich produced these 350cc bikes in England just after the war; they have a split single, two-stroke engine design, more commonly used by Puch. Two pistons go up and down together but on the same forked conrod, which has ne big end and two small ends, one of uppers having a sort of knee joint to make it all work. For real enthusiasts only that one, methinks. And I’m not sure whether the Allspeeds went with it…

This is a Beardmore; better check the frame number before you buy…where is it? Well on the fuel cap, obviously! Bit of an eccentricity of the marque. This is another oddball, the Cotton Dart, with a special 350cc OHC engine in place of the familiar Blackburne.

This cracking Greeves Challenger in green and white took me back to the day my Dad brought me one home – a ‘Britains’ toy one, that is.

These Vespas were rather jolly, I thought, and added a pleasing splash of colour, as did this bright blue BSA which had been left behind at Dunkirk and (probably having been deliberately ‘scuttled’) waslocally fitted with a JAP engine and various Terrot parts. Great that it has been restored that way and not just returned to original.

There was a similar sentiment expressed on Sid Ormrod’s wicked little Rudge 250, on its display card Sid explained that he bought the bike, built for sprinting in the late 50s by Den and Cliff Bowman, ‘to save it from being converted back into just another road bike’. Well done Sid!

This was another worthy effort, a rigid girder Norton Model 18 built up to the owner’s specification from autojumble parts including an engine he’d had for 15 years and a NOS 16H frame bought at Stafford last year and later more powerful brakes. It’s only done 12 miles so far but the owner is happy with it and says the next step will be to pull it all apart and repaint it. Looks great as it is to me! Still find myself drawn to Competition Goldies, part of me feels this is a road I’d like to go down with mine eventually

Lester Grant’s cracking unrestored OHV Black Ariel is a complete beauty. Black Ariels (the Val Page designed models that started in 1926) have shaken off their under-rating in recent years and are now given the respect they have always deserved. Ariels still represent one of the most sorted British singles, from these Page designs onward despite being the Cinderella of the BSA group.

Finally speaking of the over-looked, what about this cracking little James ML. As a long-term British Two Stroke fancier I love to see tricked up versions of humble two strokes. These are affordable old bikes that offer much of the experience of riding vintage machines and make an excellent entry to the world of old bikes in my opinion; my 98 Excelsior was the first bike I ever built up from a pile of bits. 

That’s actually the great thing about the big shows like Stafford, there’s such a variety; one man’s meat may be another’s poison but whatever kind of old bike you’re into, you’ll find a friend here. Right, the sun’s streaming in, I’m going out to enjoy it!

Cheers Rick

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