My Bikes

Whatever bikes you’ve owned, you’ll always have stories to tell. I’ve had quite a few bikes over the years; here’s some pictures and a bit of blarney to go with them…

BSA Beaver

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Not sure who came up with the name but I think they could have given it more thought…! The Beaver was my first road bike, highly unfashionable but it actually had a lot going for it. Despite its 30mph restriction, it would do a genuine 40 (even with my six-footer’s bulk) and the Minarelli engine was similar to those fitted to dark horses like Malagutis and Fantic Caballeros; all (so it was said) good for nearly 60mph.

Back then speed was everything. With 50cc you need all you can get and even a couple of extra MPH on road test made a difference to a bike’s appeal. Today the FS1E is the star of retrospection, it was always popular but my memory of the early 80s is that the real legends were those mid-seventies Italian 50s. Trouble was, by 1980 they were all knackered so if you got one it was unlikely to live up to the reputation. And what about things like the Casal that turned up one day in the school bike shed; was it a fast European or a sheep in wolf’s clothing like my mate’s disappointing Motobecane? The Motobecane was a pre-restriction French pedal sports moped with a chrome tank that looked the part. But it was stuck with a stupid pop-pop engine without enough power to pull your socks up. The Casal remained a mystery because the bloke didn’t involve himself in breaktime bike chat; car lessons at seventeen for him we reckoned…

The Beaver was a great handler; it’s all tubular mono-shock frame – with gas shock, no less, – was nice touch and very well made compared to the steel pressings and ugly welding on Japanese mopeds. It had Michelin tyres as standard, a weird 6v rechargeable 3x torch battery pack – first time I’d seen one of those, stainless guards, decent Paoli forks… A disc brake would have better suited the quality of the chassis but the real clanger was the horrible way the seat was sort of smeared up onto the tank. It became common on trail bikes later but in 1980 it just looked weird, like you were sitting on the tank instead of behind it.

But I’m betraying my own principles, who cared about looks, performance was all that mattered. We all thought it was utterly crap that the magazines kept raving about what a cool ‘sixteener’ (yuk!) the Honda MB5 was with its Astralite-alike wheels and JPS paint scheme (bummer if you had the red one). The bloody thing tested at 30mph; three – zero! A Puch Maxi could do better – especially my mate’s tuned one in riotous yellow…well sort of greeny-black blistered yellow after it caught alight while he was riding it. Anyway my plan was to de-restrict the Beaver; it had a full sized inlet port but a tiny carb. We picked up a suitable looking inlet stub at an autojumble and kept an eye out for a carburetter…but then all of a sudden it was my 17th birthday and none of this seemed to matter anymore. I kept the bike for a while but in the picture it’s standing outside Kawasaki Paddock Wood where dad had put it in part-ex against a brand new Triumph TR65 Thunderbird. Well, he had paid for the Beaver so I couldn’t complain. From now on I bought my own bikes…

 

BSA B40WD

 

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My dad had had various C15 BSAs, most notably an SS80 Sports Star to which he fitted a 10:1 scrambles piston that he reckoned hiked it up to 90mph…Unfortunately he met with a ‘sorry mate…’ car that pulled out in front of him and the Ceefer was a write off. My inheritance…dashed to ruins!

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One silly little story about that C15, as you see it was a cafe racer, clip ons rear sets and no kickstart. Dad was in the Police at the time and he tells me that one lunchtime he bumped it and slipped off the seat when it fired. He hit the ground, pulling the throttle open and it dragged him across the Station car park, leaving him to ride home with the knees out of his police trousers… Anyway to me at the time, a 90mph C15 sounded a much better bet than an utterly innoffensive Honda CB250N so I started scouring the classifieds. But in 1980, bikes like that were in the wilderness between classic and old junk and you either saw them advertised for more than I could afford or they rotted in back gardens; the trick being to find the back garden…Besides Dad made the point that once I’d passed my test I’d probably want something bigger than a 250 anyway. We went and looked at a white 350cc Triumph Tiger 90 with a half bathtub but turned it down…then I spotted an advert for an ex-army B40,  the 350cc incarnation of the C15, for £250. I had lately purchased a copy of the book ‘Best of British’, which, as it’s title implies, was a rather uncritical celebration of the greatness that was the British Motorcycle Industry…come on, I was 16, I lapped up every word! The book featured grainy black and white pictures of contemporary-standard restorations backed by owners’ testimonials. There I found a paean of praise to the BSA B40, backed up by BSA club stalwart (and comfortingly young geezer) Owen Wright talking about how wonderful was his own B40 SS90. Now, twenty-five years later I read his account of the real truth of this nasty bike in a BSA Club magazine but whatever, it got me on board!

When I saw the WD bike it didn’t look much like Owen’s. The frame was yellow, the tank and muguards metallic green…The tank was an early C15 eyebrow type, quite attractive but a dodgy fit and missing the all important tank badges.  But I test rode it up the private road, still sixteen remember, and was hopelessly smitten. I handed over my £250 and in return accepted a handwritten receipt, a log book and a 343cc BSA B40. Ya beauty! Never mind the Beaver, now I could wear my BSA lapel badge with true pride!

Now here you’ll have to imagine a picture of the green and yellow horror because there isn’t a real one. We bought the bike on Friday evening, I rode it around the field out the back of our house until dark. The fuel tap was some kind of domestic gas fitting that required pliers to operate so on Saturday morning I asked dad if we could find something better. Within three hours the bloody bike was in a million bits and stayed that way, funnily enough, until not long before my bike test. But I still got a few weeks to ride the Beesa illicitly around the block when the folks were out. Those were magic moments; heart in mouth, knowing that in truth you’re still just a kid, yet here you are riding a thumping great (or so it seemed) motorcycle, illegally on the highway. Fantastic.

Anyway after passing my test the B40 became my everyday bike. The ex-WD model was a lucky choice. A world apart from the C15-derived B40. It’s roller bearing bottom end is more or less 500cc B50, with one less main bearing and the least tuned top end, making it the toughest of the unit singles BSAs. It also had brilliant handling. Top speed was initially about seventy but the handling meant that on the right roads you could make up on the corners what you lost on the straights and I think that bike taught me a lot about making use of what you have, where others got into trouble with too much power, too young. The worst feature was the WD gearbox which was a sort of trials-ratio thing with a massive jump between third and top. I got the necesary gears to convert to standard and also had the port opened out to fit an SS90 inlet valve. Funny how you assume there’s some sort of manufacturers’ conspiracy to restrict all their bikes with small valves and lazy cams… Anyway after that it went much better, you could rev it to hell and back and it always held together. For a while I even had it pulling a Watsonian flat sidecar chassis. That combo gave me hours of fun, a real walk on the wild side.

Eventually I sold the B40 to my mate Phil in Edinburgh. I was 32 and I realised I had owned it half my life. Phil converted it to green lane spec and used it for a few years before selling it on. Last heard of in Essex; goodbye and God bless!

 

Norton Dominator 88

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Still 16, I’d developed a thing about Matchlesses. We used to visit B and J Spares in Ashford occasionally. It was run by a man who was neither B nor J but Reggie, a likeable sort of fella in one of those seventies acrylic vests and tinted glasses. Reggie had a lovely G80 Matchless in his shop, lustrous original black enamel paint, Jampots, the whole thing…but at £600, way over my limit. So when I saw an ad in the Kent Messenger for a ‘500cc AJS twin, £350’ it seemed right up my street. Off we went in Dad’s pick up to a largeish detached 1930s house on the outskirts of Maidstone town centre. The door was answered by a dashing looking bloke in his 60s with white hair and a matching pencil moustache. If this were a Beatrix Potter story, his part would be played by a well-groomed fox. “Come in, come in…” he said cheerfully and we were led via a side door, through a sort of garage stuffed with various motorcycles. He was Pete Harris, a wheeler-dealer who famously drove about in a Mark 2 Jag with the back converted into a pick-up truck. He’d previously run the Maple Leaf service station on the A20 and was definitely A Card. So there on the patio stood a 500 AJS twin; well, most of one. It had Triumph forks, no seat, no headlight, no exhaust and no kickstart or gear pedal. Said Pete, “See I saved all these bikes to restore when I retired but…well, had a bit of trouble with the old ticker…you know, life’s too short… thought I’d as well sell the lot and enjoy what time I have left…” “Hmmm,” said I, bluntly, “Does it turn over?” “Of course!” retorted Pete. I asked for kickstarter, he found one, it was seized solid…

“Well, hang on,” said Pete, apologetically, “While your here, why not take a look at what else I’ve got in the shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s funny so often people come here looking at one bike and leave with another…” We trooped down to the shed. Inside were about a dozen bikes lined up. I recall a B40, a 5TA, a Greeves Silverstone and at the end, this disreputably aggressive looking 500 Norton cafe racer. “Ah, ” said Peter, “The old Domi-racer, sold that bike many times to lads that worked for me but they always brought it back; too fast for them see?” Well, like I said before I was only sixteen but for goodness sake I had my legal guardian with me, he should have seen through such thin sales patter immediately. But Dad had gone all misty eyed… he had a bit of a thing about Featherbed Nortons having borrowed a 99 Dominator from my uncle once. So the next day we were back with £400 and I earned the right to buy a Norton patch at the next autojumble.

Years later, somebody came into Paul Smarts Honda shop where I worked and said he’d just been to look at a Triumph. “Yeh, ” he said, “old guy up the road, got a stack of bikes – bought them to restore but said he’d had heart trouble…” Not still using that old gag, surely!  I came to know Pete quite well over the years – he even bought me a pint once which was apparently unheard of. He was the kind of guy that makes me hope there is an afterlife because I’d love to see him again. I remember going early to a summer autojumble and while all the other stall holders were busy setting up there was Pete, sunbathing in his shorts on a sun lounger with the boot lid open and a few unpacked cardboard boxes lying about. What a star! Mind you not everybody thought so. My granddad and his brother had a petrol station in the pleasantly named hamlet of Snodland. Learning this, Pete said, “Botten Brothers?! They were going to sponsor me to race me Vincent back in the ‘fifties!” I asked my Granddad about it and his usually mild manner turned to one of extreme agitation “What! Pete Harris?!” he spluttered, “Terrible man!” There followed a stream of invective that convinced me Pete must have been mistaken…

I soon found out the real reason the boys at the Maple Leaf kept bringing it back; the mangeto was completely buggered. After ten minutes riding around the field it packed up. Still it looked the part. The frame had been modified so the engine sat lower and forward like a Commando. I didn’t really like that and also it meant you couldn’t fit a primary drive cover or a dynamo so it was a bit useless really. Out on the B40 one day, I met a bloke pushing an H2 Kawasaki. I gave him a tow home and he took me for a pint as thanks. Turned out he’d once owned the Norton and his brother had raced it so that gave me a bit of history. But even with the magneto sorted, lack of lights made it a sunny afternoon bike and because you had to pay for tax back then it only went on the road for a couple of summers.

Then a few years later my mate Jeff came up with another Dominator cafe racer. This one was £600 but less messed about.

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From the two I built one, using the frame of the new bike and the engine of the old one. Now it looked proper and I could have a primary case and lights. I’d got seriously into the 60s rocker era and wanted it to look like a proper period cafe racer, so I went for a standard tank and seat – few people could afford fancy tanks in the early sixties. Jeff came up with a wideline tank for a bargain tenner, because he said there was a lot of filler in it. Close examination proved that it was because somebody had filled two very neatly planished dents for clip ons in the front corners, perfect.

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Here it is at the 59 Club in Hackney around 1990. It was a really nice bike, I had a lot of fun tearing round London and down to the coast with the 59 Classic Section but unfortunately a couple of years later I managed to slide it under a Mini Metro,

DSCF7525It was pretty badly beaten up, one fork slider snapped and the frame 3 inches out of line. I had the original frame put back to standard and rebuilt it into that but it took a couple of years to do and by then another cafe racer had taken its place. I decided to make the Dommie more standard and eventually sold it to my old schoolmate Miles, who still uses it as daily transport in London.

The Tribsa

 

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This is dad’s old scrambler. Mum hated it because Dad highsided it and some part – the footrest we suspect – punched a hole through his lip and knocked out his bottom front teeth. So it always had an intriguing and attractive air of menace, augmented by the fact that Dad’s old scrambling mates would sometimes say, “I remember that bike, see this scar…”

So aged 13, I used to belt around the field on it, making a row. With its low gearing it could lift the front wheel in first second and third and it seemed outrageously fast. Dad decided to sell it and advertised it in the paper, I remember some bod with long hair and a beard coming round and saying, “It would make a good chopper…” but he didn’t buy it. I hid the log book and pleaded for mercy, pointing out that British bikes were already rare and by the time I was 16 there probably wouldn’t be any left…(mum regularly has reminded me of this statement ever after, especially when her garage steadily filled with my ‘collection’ in the years to come). But I won my case and when I started work gave dad £150 for it.

I put it on the road in about 1986, the autojumble T140 tank required a bit of frame modification with dad’s welder to fit but it looked good. Being an off road bike with road tyres it had a flat track look to it which was unusual at the time. I told Mum if I got killed in an accident to make sure this was the picture that went in the paper; tactless perhaps but they say you should sort out your Will early…

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A couple of years later I fitted an A10 tank and turned the bike into a cafe racer, if you ever see the early 90s Channel 4 Classic Motorcycles documentary on Channel 4, it’s there, pulling a small wheelie outside Johnson’s cafe at the end. Anyway, now it’s back to being a scrambler. That’s the great thing with British bikes, change the tyres and handlebars and you’ve got a new bike!

Triumph 5TA

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I swapped this Triumph for the XS250 I passed my test on. It was in bits but complete and although it was a bit of a mishmash of bits I always liked its looks. It had a ’65 Tiger 90 frame with 1961 registration and engine so it had obviously been in a smack. It had acquired BSA A10 forks at the same time, but the tapers didn’t match the top yoke so the forks juddered under braking. I got hold of a set of mid-sixties Triumph forks which were a great improvement. The 19″ alloy rims, chrome guards and TLS brake looked great and I painted it shell blue to mimic the Tiger 100/110 blue although on reflection it probably just made it look like a Twenty One. The notorious plain timing side main bearing (and hence big ends) failed three times although to be fair I rode it very hard and once done properly it never gave another problem. Good old bike; mind you, thinking about it in this picture it’s broken down at the side of the M20. It had been misfiring through the Dartford Tunnel (no bridge then) on the way back from Southend Show, I got the camera out as I waited for the cheap aftermarket coil to cool down…

Triumph T140E

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A man walks into a bike shop and sees the spotty youth behind the counter is wearing a Triumph tee shirt. “Know anybody looking for a 1981 Bonneville outfit?” says the man, “How much?” “£900.”

I arranged to go and see it that weekend. Checking the ‘book price’ I found that the three-year old  bike was worth £1200 on its own and the chair was another £250 or so. As it happened I had just been given notice at work but still living cheaply at home, I’d got enough saved up if the folks would lend me some. When we saw it it wasn’t quite the immaculate, catalogue-fresh bike I’d naiively assumed. Paint was falling off the frame, the headlight brackets were rusty and it had a nasty rattle. “Looks like £650 to me but it’s up to the boy.” said father crushingly to the vendor. Needless to say I was helplessly in love and after all it was still well under book price; I was happy to go for it but not wanting to look too keen said, “Well, I’ve just been made redundant…” the bloke interrupted “Okay, £650 then.”! Slightly dazed I handed over the cash and accepted the keys. Then began the most hair-raising ride of my life yet. I’d never driven a proper sidecar outfit but couldn’t resist whacking my big 750 wide open along the straights even if I did have to jam the brakes on for every corner. By the time I got home I was high as a kite with the exhilaration. Now Dad loved Triumphs and hated sidecars. “We’ll get that bloody thing off the side for a start!” said he. “Oh no we won’t!” I protested. But he won the argument, reasoning that to fix the noise – which sounded like the primary drive – it would be best to remove the chair, just for the time being. The job then got bigger as it made sense to strip it down completely to repaint the frame. The noise turned out to be an escaped gudgeon pin, carving its initials in the cylinder bore. I was still keen to replace my third wheel but after the rebore, Dad suggested I run it in before putting the sidecar back. He knew of course that I would enjoy it so much solo that the chair would be forgotten. It was; until it went on my mate’s Panther 650 for his test, after that I sold it.

I was always more into older bikes and the T140 was a bit too modern with its disc brakes, Rita ignition and Mark 2 Amals but it was a really nice bike and of course at 19, I felt like Jack the Lad on my three-year old 750. It was actually a ’79 model, not registered until ’81; Triumphs didn’t exaclty fly out of the showrooms back then. When I got the ’68 Trophy, that I still own, on the road the T140 was a bit redundant and off it went sadly – but for twice what it cost me.

COMING NEXT>>>

British Two Strokes…

Well, it all started innocently enough… When I was a nipper Dad had a couple of Greeves Scottish trials bikes but despite that he brought me up to treat two strokes with the contempt he thought they deserved. He’d been disappointed by frequent seizures on the Villiers 2T engine he fitted to a Royal Enfield Crusader and just disappointed full stop with his Bantam… There was admittedly something a bit crappy about having to mix petrol with oil, whiskered plugs and smelly exhaust fumes but when I started in my first job one of the blokes there said his dad had a Greeves for sale, not a trials one but a road bike; an East Coaster. Two stroke or not I couldn’t turn it away for £40. It was 1983 and Roy Bacon’s excellent Villiers Singles and Twins book had just come out. It ultimately had a lot to answer for, encouraging my interest in all sorts of nastiness. The Greeves was an excellent bike. It was almost completely original and unrestored, a 1965 model with a 4T 250 twin engine and just 13,000 miles on the clock. According to the book it was something like the 32nd of just 123 made, so it was rare too! It didn’t take much to put it on the road and the handling was a joy. Also Greeves positioned the anchor on the leading link fork in such a way that it acted as a mechanical anti-dive; clever people. Greeves always had very advanced ideas for their time and it is a great wrong to dismiss them as bread and butter two strokes. The East Coaster was a very nicely made machine with a superb frame compared to contemporary British 250s. Its only fault was that it needed another 10mph to make the most of its handling. It topped out around 70, eighty would have been much more like it. No wonder people fitted Triumph engines…

1965 Greeves East Coaster

1965 Greeves East Coaster

But at the same time a bloke came into work and told me he’d just dumped the remains of an Excelsior at the scrapyard up the road. Off I went in my break and handed over two quid to the toughs playing cards in the office. I then staggered back to work carrying a motorcycle part on every finger, there was the engine, tank, exhaust pipe and silencer, rear mudguard, rear wheel and toolbox. You may notice the absence of front wheel, front fork, front mudguard and frame which implied it had been in an almighty smack…but at least it was less to carry. Research in the Roy Bacon book indicated that my prize was a 98cc Consort, a low-powered model with two gears – three if you count neutral… Looked quite cute in the pictures but I’d never seen or heard of one, neither had Dad and no doubt parts were impossible. But it so happened that at the next auto jumble there was one parked in the car park. I really liked it and better still a passer-by said there was a frame in the jumble. It cost me a fiver for the plunger frame and girder forks – should have been a rigid with teles but so what. By this time I had made the acquaintance of Alan Abrahams in the British Two Stroke Club whose obituary is elsewhere here. Al was a great inspiration and his garage was stuffed into the rafters with obscure Villiers Engined Lightweights and parts. I think it was the cloud of mystery surrounding Villiers Engined Lightweights that got me hooked. I was used to needing a bit for my Bonneville or BSA and just fetching it from the nearest supplier – there were three or four British bike dealers locally then, Mitchell Motorcycles in Gillingham, GM in Maidstone, Starmount in Hawkhurst…. Or you could pick up Classic Bike and order by post from the specialists who advertised inside; but this was different. These bikes weren’t mentioned in Classic Bike and there were no dealers. You didn’t even see much stuff at autojumbles, Bantam bits, yes but not these. To get parts you had to Know People…

Anyway I bought a hub and rim from Alan got hold of spokes and built my first wheel and gradually the little bike took shape.

1957/1960 Excelsior Consort

1957/1960 Excelsior Consort

The Excelsior was So Slow I could hardly believe it. With my weight it would just about hit 30mph and pulling away was a joke. It was like having a 5 speed box with only 3rd and top. But for the first time, I started noticing all sorts of interesting things on my regular work run that I had never seen before and then I began to enjoy the practice of maintaining momentum; once wound up you try not to slow down for anything. This involved taking a good look and flying out of junctions at unabated pace, skills that have since come in useful on the Pioneer Run, thinking about it.

My mate Miles picked up a basket-case Consort and got that on the road – thanks there to our MOT tester Cyril Medgett who was known for an understanding approach. Cyril is sadly no longer with us otherwise I wouldn’t mention it but let’s say he seemed to take the view that old British bikes should be exempt from MoTs long before the Government came to the conclusion. Anyway now we could have some fun. Being bigger than Miles I tuned my Excelsior using information on Villiers 9E tuning from an old Motorcycle Mechanics. The 197cc 9E stroke was about 30% more than the little 98 so I scaled all the porting dimensions by 2/3 and it seemed to work, now it did 45 on a good day and I could keep up with Miles. We had such a laugh trying to run each other up the kerb or into the back of parked cars, slipstreaming each other, tyres about an inch apart. I’d knock him into neutral as I passed, he’d surreptitiously reach out and turn off my petroI tap. It was moped mayhem all over again and proved to me that you don’t need speed to have a real blast, plus at 40 you are less likely to get hurt if it goes wrong, so you can really play up. Besides when I got back on my Bonneville, bloody hell did it feel fast, so I reckon the 98 saved my young bacon…

Of course it didn’t end there…Seeing the 98 at work, old Perce Webb, an elderly friend (and the man who first, er, discovered the ‘Rem Fowler Norton’ now in the National Museum) offered me his Bown Autocycle.

1953 Bown Auto Roadster

1953 Bown Auto Roadster

Autocycles were the forerunner of the moped and a far more elegant thing altogether. They were effectively a single speed 98cc motorcycle engine in cross between a flat-tanker and a ladies pedal cycle. They appeared shortly before the War and disappeared in the early ‘fifties. A lot of companies made them, Francis Barnett made their ‘Powerbike’, Excelsior the Autobyk and the Bown was the Auto Roadster – they never made an Auto-Racer or an Auto-Scrambler; although mine had a go in these roles in my ownership. The thing about the Bown is that it had quite a good duplex cradle frame making it stand above the ranks of lesser Wilfrids ( ‘Wilfrid’ was the nickname given by Graham Walker as Editor of Motor Cycling to autocycles; arising from the cartoon characters Pip, Sueak and Wilfrid). Bown had made motorcycles in the ‘twenties but by 1949 the name was used for what had formerly been the Aberdale Autocycle and it was made in Tonypandy, Wales. But Bown also made two motorcycles, a 98cc 2 speed ultra lightweight and a 125cc 3 speeder delightfully named the ‘Tourist Trophy’ – although history suggests none was ever actually raced in the Island…

At a time when a flat tanker was a bit of a distant dream, an autocycle made a sort of bargain substitute to me. I think Perce wanted £30 for it, and it was up on wheels but missing a fair few bits.. Back in those heady days of autojumbling I soon managed to get a new old stock mudguard and a pedal chainguard. A cool thing really but a bit limited to use. I ended up swapping it for an 1960s  Excelsior Universal and a slimline Featherbed frame.

One day a man came into Paul Smart’s bike shop and said he had a Bown Autocycle if I knew anybody that wanted it. Thrilled at the prospect of having a collection of Bown Autocycles I jumped at the chance. Imagine my disappointment when he dumped this piece of junk in my front garden…

Bown 50 moped

Bown 50 moped

Alright, sorry, I did see a beautifully restored one of these at Stafford this year, each to his own, but expecting maybe an even better autocycle than I already had, I was less than delighted to find this tinny moped with a Sachs 50 engine. It wasn’t even a Bown, it was some European import with a different badge. Oh well, no such thing as a free lunch!

IMGP2712  I gave the Bown moped away when I sold this bike,  as a ‘deal sweetener’.

This is my first ever pre-war bike (well…I’ll come back to that). I was about 21 and a family friend into bikes offered it to me for £30 (seems they were all £30 now I think about it). He reckoned it was a 1937 Excelsior 125 but it was difficult to be sure of the year as the frame number was just three numerals; Excelsiors generally had a 2 letter prefix. The Universal was the Model O and each year was denoted by a change of letter, GO,HO, JO and these letters thus reveal the year of manufacture. But the prefix was missing from my frame. The engine seemed to be a postwar 9D unit and the pressed steel forks didn’t seem to be quite right but whatever, the only postwar 9D engined Excelsior had the gearchange lever poking through the middle of the petrol tank (duff idea if ever there was one) so it had to be pre-War. My mate Miles had paid £75 for a 1946 Francis Barnett Merlin with a similar engine, cool thing, girder forks, 3 speed hand change…so I was dead chuffed to get a similar (but pre-War) model. The extra gear over our 98s meant hills were crested with ease. When I got it, the Univeral was pretty rough – there was no original paint to save so I sort of restored it. Nothing more than Halfords rattle cans of course but it looked quite smart.

The Universal’s big day out was when Miles and I entered a British Two Stroke Club run that started in Dorking. Fair trot from our start in Maidstone and to be honest we didn’t expect to make it to the start, we called the run ‘Walking to Dorking’. Now I hadn’t had the Universal on the road for long when the day came and I’d only got about ten miles from home before the new old stock barrel I fitted seized up. Christ, I thought, this is going to be a helluva day… But it freed off and after that I kept a careful hand on the throttle. We got there, did the run and got home.

It was a good experience for a bod in his twenties and roaring about on a 750 Bonneville, the BTSC. It brought me down to earth and made me understand the concept that a run doesn’t have to be at 90mph, it can just be about actually getting there. That’s kind of what the flat tank thing is all about too…

Anyway, the Universal had a bit of a fault. The forks were wonky; one leg was higher than the other so the wheel spindle wasn’t level. This caused the bike to pull to one side rather violently. I actually put the bars upside down as in the pic because by resting your weight on them helped keep it straight. I went on a run with my then girlfriend riding my 98 Excelsior. She got a rear puncture and stopped. I said take the Universal and I’ll ride the 98. She did about 100 yards before stopping again. ‘I’ll ride the one with the puncture’ she said, coldly.

Can’t remember why I sold it, but it went for £350 (including the Bown moped). A little while later I saw a brochure for a 1947 Norman 125. Clearly that was what my bike had been all along. There must have been some tie up, where Excelsior sold their pre-war design to Norman. The frame is exactly the same but the forks aren’t – hence my bike having the ‘wrong’ ones – and of course the engine was later – hence my bike having a post-war engine. Moreover, Normans didn’t have frame number prefixes, so if you are the current owner of FSU627, better order a set of Norman tank transfers…

What next…

Triumph T10 Scooter

Triumph T10 Scooter

 

Ah yes, now steady on I hear you cry; you can’t be a young Rocker with an appreciation of scooters…

But come on it is a Triumph… We acquired this from an old friend of me Dad’s. He used to run a breakers in Birchington and goodness knows where this low mileage, unrestored T10 came from. Note I say T10, NOT Tina. The Tina was the horror-in-lilac-paint that had an easy-seize transmission to dump granny on her ample posterior. The T10 was a different fish altogether. The sad thing is, it was really quite a good runabout but the death-trap rep of the bloody Tina had meant that the words ‘Triumph Scooter’ were no longer marketable. But this little fella had a big heart; I mean, when my Greeves packed up in the snow my father (6’4″) took me (6’2″) pillion on the T10 in heavy snow (6″) to retrieve it and with its variable-gear drive it chugged along superbly, snowmobiling on its legshield where necessary. We never had a log book for FKK96D, it was one of those bikes lost in the wilderness when the DVLA went digital and declared anything not on computer had to be re-egistered. For a while you could wing it, applying for a logbook every time you taxed it. You’d then get your tax from the post office but in time a letter would arrive from the DVLA saying “This vehicle is not on the DVLA computer, return your disc and apply for an age related number!” As they say in Scotland, ‘Aye, that’ll be shiny bright.’ There was nothing they could do about it, you’d provided the details and paid your money, so you ignored it. It got a lot easier when it became possible to keep the number on a non-transferable basis. Anyway, when we sold the T10 it had to be re-registered and ended up HKRsomethingorother D. Good ol’ bike.

Out of interest, it had a clever inhibitor switch under the seat. See, a Honda Melody or similar had a switch on the rear brake lever that prevented the starter working unless it was pulled in, preventing the bike from leaping away with its auto clutch. Triumph (surprise surprise) did it in a more complicated way. A button under the seat is switched by the rider’s weight. There’s a contact on the rer drive that earths the coil when the variable drive pulley expands. The seat switch bypasses this contact so unless you are sitting on the seat the ignition cuts when the bike revs up causing a sort of misfire when you try to rev the bike on the stand. Fair enough but when my mate Jerry was an apprentice mechanic, the workshop foreman set him to repair a T10 that strangely misfired when revved on the stand but not when actually ridden… A couple of days later Jerry realised that he had experienced the equivalent of being sent to the stores for a ‘long weight’…