Motorcycle Stuff

        Motorcycles have been quite a big part of my life. I started riding or driving, really, my Dad's sidecar outfits almost as soon as I was big enough to sit in front of him and reach the handlebars. When my legs were long enough to reach the gear-change lever and brake pedal I was allowed to drive it properly. Not on the road, of course but when we went for picnics I'd drive it round whichever location we'd parked. Dad sat behind me and generally got a telling off from Mum when we'd done a lap or two. As I got older, 11 or 12 years old, I would go and fetch his outfits from the garage for him; a drive of about 300 yards or so on public roads... very naughty. By the time I was 14, I was quite an accomplished sidecar outfit driver.
I've owned and ridden all sorts of bikes; old British makes, Japanese and Italian as well... Two-stroke singles, twins and triples. Four-stroke side valve, pushrod overhead valve and overhead cam machines in single cylinder, twin cylinder and four cylinder straight and 'V' layouts. Some were fast and some weren't; some handled very well and some didn't but they were all fun, one way or another.

The 'Teagle'
        One of my earliest memories is riding on a little seat on the cross-bar of my Dad's bicycle. I could only have been three or four years old at the time, around 1949, but the memory is quite vivid. The reason I remember it so clearly is that Dad had a small engine mounted behind his seat, above the rear wheel. I can remember the red fuel tank with a name in gold painted on it. That name was 'Teagle'. Unfortunately, I have no photo of that machine... If dad ever took one, then it got lost sometime during the last 60 years. A little recent 'googling' revealed that the engine was made by a Mr W. T. Teagle, a manufacturer of small farming implements in Cornwall. It was adapted from the engine used to power a hedge trimmer and chain saw. It was, apparently, a very well engineered and well made little engine of 50cc. The link on the left will give a bit more information, if you're interested.

DML881 - Panther 600 - Dad's 1st real motorcycle.
        Dad subsequently passed his motorcycle driving test on the Teagle powered bicycle and in the early months of 1950 he bought a motorcycle and sidecar, the first of quite a few he was to own over the years. It was a Panther Model 100 'Redwing' dating from about 1936 and was attached to a child-adult sidecar.

Panther 600

        The Panther had a single cylinder o.h.v. engine of 600cc capacity. There was no rear suspension and the 'girder' front forks were just a bit basic but it was aboard this contraption that Mum, Dad, Gillian (my sister) and I went away for our first family summer holiday to Ramsgate.

Panther 600(2)

        I was probably about four years old when the photo was taken, probably in the summer of 1950... That's me, peering out of the back of the sidecar, in front of the guest-house where we'd stayed. Gillian was only about 18 months old then and travelled on Mum's lap.

HKN163 - 500cc AJS Model 18
        It must soon have become apparent that the child-adult sidecar wasn't big enough for a growing family. Gill was getting too big to travel on Mum's lap for very long so the whole plot was sold, or more likely, taken to Doug Kilby's emporium in Frederick Street Passage and part exchanged for the 500cc AJS with a double-adult sidecar that Dad owned next. I'm not sure of the exact year but it's a rigid rear end so it's earlier than 1949 when the "springer" frame became available and the model was designated 18S. For a while longer Mum had the front seat to herself while Gill and I shared the rear but even that didn't last for long. Much against Mum's wishes, I suspect, I started to ride on the pillion seat behind Dad. I acquired my first black leather jacket at the tender age of about 7 and was mightily chuffed. The little 'cutie' on the back is Gillian.

AJS M18

        My Uncle Ken (pictured below) was also running a sidecar outfit at the time; a 500cc Norton ES2 (more about ES2s later). I believe he'd been a despatch rider during the war so I suspect it was him that got Dad interested in motorcycles. I don't have any other photos of his bikes but I do know that he showed a preference for Royal Enfields. I seem to remember Dad telling me that he once had an early R.E. 'V' twin, possibly a 976cc machine that was developed in the 1920s. However, the last outfit that I remember him having was a rather nice 700cc Royal Enfield Super Meteor outfit.

Uncle Ken on his ES2

        Summer weekends would find us all out at some picnic spot or other. Mum and Aunt Margaret would sort out the food, Dad and Uncle Ken would tinker with the bikes while we four children, Gill and myself with cousins Martin and Robert, did the important stuff like climb trees, get muddy and play cricket but not necessarily in that order. It seemed a quite idyllic world for kids in the early '50s.

HMH612 - 650cc BSA A10 Golden Flash
        Tempus has Fugit'd a bit and it's now getting towards the end of the 50's. In 1956, or thereabouts, Dad swapped his outfit yet again. He was now the proud owner of an early 1950's BSA A10 Golden Flash, often erroneously called a Gold Flash. This was the machine that he always said was his favourite and he spoke of it with some pride. It was certainly the most powerful, and fastest, of all the bikes he owned, including those that were to come later. It was attached to a Watsonian double adult sidecar on a 'big wheel' chassis.

BSA Golden Flash 650

        Although it was his favourite, I don't think he owned it for very long, probably for no longer than two or three years because in November 1958, my young brother, Robert, was born. Dad had been taking car driving lessons and sometime during 1959, he sold the sidecar outfit and bought his first car, a 1949 Vauxhall 'L' type Velox with the unfortunate registration number MUG127. Mum never let him forget it! I don't believe he really enjoyed driving it though as he only owned this for about a year. The motorcycling urge overtook him again so in late 1960 or very early 1961 and with Mum's blessing, he sold the Vauxhall and bought another Panther. This time, a 650cc Model 120 dating from, I believe 1959. It was probably the newest bike he ever owned. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any photographs of it.
With the increase in family size a big sidecar was needed. Dad had always fancied an Busmar 'Astral' but, I guess, finances precluded buying one so Dad built his own. I remember him drawing it out on sheets of marine grade plywood and building it in our back garden. It was attached to a 'small wheel' Watsonian chassis, the state of the art at the time.

Dad's sidecar-1

Dad's sidecar-2

        So... it was strange that after all the hard work of building the new sidecar, he didn't keep that outfit for long, either. In late 1961 or early 1962 he changed yet again. Dad was a 'Carpenter and Joiner' and worked on building sites. He never earned a great deal of money and maybe the newish bike with a big sidecar was sold and a cheaper one bought to release a little cash. I guess I'll never know for sure but it was the sort of thing he would have done.

RUR930 - 600cc BSA M21 and OBM571 - 197cc Francis Barnet Falcon 70
        I have no idea of when the BSA M21 was manufactured but looking at the photographs, I would guess at around 1955. The M21 had been in production since 1937 and continued to be made up until 1963. The first photograph shows the bike as it was when Dad bought it; the petrol tank was chrome plated (and going rusty). That photo was taken in the Spring of 1962. It was in March that year that I'd turned 16 and bought my own first motorcycle, a 197cc Francis Barnett Falcon 70, powered by a Villiers 9E two-stroke engine; the first two-stroke I was to own but certainly not the last. Yep... that's me on the right with the aforementioned Fanny B. The others in the photo are (left to right) Phil Ward, my second cousin, with his Norton ES2. Tim "Moffy" Gray who was shortly to become my 'charioteer'. Tony Russell, a lifelong friend. My sister, Gillian, sitting on Dad's outfit and Graham "Fletch" Fletcher who owned a 250cc BSA C11G at the time. The photo was taken at a Motorcycle Scramble meeting at Clay Hall Farm, near Kensworth in Bedfordshire.

Clay Hall Farm

        Not too long after that photograph was taken, the petrol tank on Dad's M21 acquired a new coat of maroon paint. A foretaste, perhaps, of the maroon bike that was to come next in the Autumn of 1962. The photo shows me, a youthful 16 year old, sitting on the bike with it's re-sprayed tank. I rode it often after passing my motorcycle driving test, just a couple of months after my 16th birthday.

Me on the M21

        I rode my Fanny B to school for the last few months that I was there. They wouldn't let me put it in the bike sheds so it was parked in the road outside the school. I left school in the Summer of '62 and got my first job as a Lab Technician at the Technical College in Letchworth, some 10 or 11 miles away from my home in Luton. I rode the Fanny B to Letchworth and back every day and it proved remarkably trouble free. That was up until the Winter of '62-'63.

669HLI - 1957(?) 500cc Triumph 5T "Speed Twin"
        Sometime during the latter half of 1962, Dad changed his outfit yet again. This time it was a maroon coloured 500cc Triumph "Speed Twin", complete with handlebar fairing and leg shields, that occupied most of our garage. The leg shields were quickly removed as Dad thought they detracted from the 'sporty' appearance of the machine. The sidecar was a smaller child/adult model as by this time, sister was pretty independent and for the most part, it was only Mum and kid bro' who rode in it. This was to be the last motorcycle Dad ever owned although he often said he would like another one. Once a biker, always a biker.

The Speed Twin

        The Winter of '62-'63 was to become notorious. It seemed to last forever with ice and snow from Christmas until March. It became known as 'The Big Freeze' and was one of the coldest Winters on record. All through that Winter I travelled daily to Letchworth and back. On the Francis Barnett if the road conditions allowed it; sometimes on the bus and very often on Dad's Speed Twin outfit... usually without asking him! Dad rented a council 'lock-up' garage in a block just around the corner from where we lived and both his outfit and my Fanny B lived there. Dad was working for a contractor at British Aerospace in Stevenage and used the company van so if the roads looked too slippery for riding my 'solo', I'd take Dad's sidecar outfit instead. Just for safety, you understand. Yeah... right. As we both used the A505 (the main road from Letchworth to Luton) and came home from work about the same time in the evening, he would occasionally spot me riding his bike and I'd get it in the ear later but I think he was secretly a bit relieved that I'd used a bit of 'common sense' and not risked falling off the Francis Barnett in the icy conditions.

KAM309 - 1953 500cc Matchless G9
        By the Spring of 1963 I'd had enough of the little Fanny B and wanted a sidecar outfit of my own. Word came up from Doug Kilby that he'd just taken an outfit in part exchange that he thought might be suitable so Dad and I went down to Fredrick Street Passage to have a look at it. A 1953 500cc 'Jampot' Matchless G9 bolted to a child/adult sidecar stood waiting for us. It was a bit tatty but it didn't matter... I wanted it. Dad and Doug haggled for a bit and a deal was struck. I could have the outfit for £50 and Doug would give me £10 for the Fanny B in part exchange. I was earning less than £7 a week at that time and 40 quid was a considerable sum that I didn't have. I was about to enter the heady world of high finance and sign a 12 month 'Hire Purchase' agreement. The first and only time I would ever do so.

KAM309-1

        The outfit was duly 'serviced' and delivered a couple of days later. The windscreen was immediately junked and the big sidecar unbolted from the chassis. I'd already arranged to swap it for a single seat Watsonian Avon sports sidecar which was much more to my liking. The handlebars were also changed for a set of Norton straights. It was still pretty tatty and leaked oil like a sieve but it was mine... all mine!

KAM309-2

        It was around this time that my mate Moffy (that's him... on the pillion), introduced me to another group of people who were also destined to become lifelong friends. Nearly 50 years later I'm still in contact with most of them. They were all aero-modellers and flew control line 'Combat'. [Maybe I'll expand on that subject another time and in another place.] One guy in particular became a great friend... he was John "Jake" Boreham. He was the only other motorcyclist amongst the group, although there were a couple of scooters. Jake rode a 250cc BSA C15. He was also an apprentice carpenter so Dad took to him straight away. Through the Summer and Autumn of 1963 Moffy, Jake and I were inseparable; most weekends would find us either flying model aeroplanes or at one or other of the 'local' race circuits. Mallory Park, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Snetterton were all visited on a number of occasions, occasionally with my sister also coming along for the ride in the sidecar. This is Jake, myself and Gill at a cold and windy Snetterton meeting. I s'pect it was Moffy behind the camera.

Jake, me and Gill at Snetterton

        Dad and I had joined a sidecar drivers club that met at The Rifle Volunteer, a pub now long gone, at the foot of Dunstable Downs. We'd arranged to go on The Jumbo Run that year to take underprivileged children on a day's outing to Dudley Zoo. We were taking Dad's Triumph outfit as it had a larger sidecar but unfortunately, never made it out of Luton. Whilst travelling towards the M1 junction 11, the sidecar wheel stub-axle sheared and we lost the sidecar wheel. It was subsequently repaired but not too long after that, Dad sold the outfit and bought a 12 seater Bedford Dormobile. That was the last of his motorcycling. Although he did have a ride on one or two of my later bikes, he never owned another himself.
In 1964 Tim, Jake and me had a week away at Butlins, Skegness; my first holiday without my parents. The same week Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother and Sheila (my girlfriend) were holidaying at Lowestoft so we'd arranged to meet up at Kings Lynne on the Wednesday. That's where this photo was taken. Left to right... Jake on his C15, Sheila, Gill, Me (with kid bro' sitting exactly as I had on Dad's bikes years earlier) and Tim.

KAM309-3

        In 1965, tragedy struck and Jake was killed in a motorcycling accident. We never actually got to the bottom of what happened as there were no witnesses. He was discovered late one night, apparently having hit a lamp post on a very straight, well lit suburban road. There was some speculation that he'd been hit by a car and the driver didn't stop but as far as I know, nobody was ever arrested or questioned about it. Mum, in particular, took it very badly as Jake had spent a lot of time with us and been almost like another son to her. It was very obvious that she was extremely unhappy about me riding the Matchless, particularly as I'd taken the sidecar off and was now riding it 'solo'. So the bike was sold.... Ho hum. I'd passed my car driving test in December '64 and if I needed transport, Dad usually let me have the Dormobile. A fair few of my other mates had cars now so I wasn't usually stuck for a ride.

ULO568 - 1957 500cc Matchless G9
        I'm not exactly sure how much time passed before I bought my next bike, another G9 Matchless, but I suspect it was less than two years. The second photo was a colour transparency and would have been taken with a 35mm camera Mum and Dad bought for me on my 21st birthday in March 1967. Word had come down the grapevine that there was a Matchless for sale but it was in bits. I went along to have a look at it and after a bit of haggling, bought it. I paid the princely sum of seventeen pounds, ten shillings for it; fifteen pounds of which I borrowed from my sister. The various bits were loaded into the back of Dad's Dormobile and brought home. It was re-assembled in the back garden.

Second Matchless G9

        Of all the bikes that I've owned, this is the one I remember least about. As I've already said, I don't remember exactly when I bought it and nor do I recall how long I owned it but it couldn't have been more than two years as by the Summer of 1969, I'd acquired my next bike.

Second Matchless G9

        I'm not at all sure about the imitation leopard skin seat cover or the stripy socks I'm wearing in this photo but I suppose it shows a certain amount of 'style'.
One thing I do remember is that I had to replace the engine. I was travelling north on the A5, heading for Mallory Park race circuit with a couple of friends when one of the big end bearings seized causing the connecting rod to break. This in turn caused considerable damage to the rest of the engine internals. The bike was left on a garage forecourt near Stony Stratford and I carried on to Mallory Park of the back of Pete Bell's Royal Enfield Constellation. The bike was collected on the return journey and Pete towed me back home. Now it so happened that another mate, Dave, had a cousin Norman and cousin Norman also had a G9 Matchless. He'd taken the engine out of the frame and replaced it with a 650cc Triumph unit so the original Matchless engine was surplus to his requirement. A little haggling, ten quid changed hands and I came away with the engine. It was an hour or so's work to swap them and I was back on the road again.

CVV796 - 1955 500cc Norton ES2
        Sometime during the Summer of 1969 I acquired my next bike, a Norton ES2. It was a 'freebie'. It belonged to the aforementioned Pete Bell and had been quietly rusting away in his front garden ever since he'd bought the Constellation. He wanted to dispose of it and I needed another bike so I took it off his hands. To be truthful, it was a bit of a mess but we got it running and I rode it home. I had this strange notion that I could turn it into a 'Café Racer' so over the next few months the bike was completely dismantled and it's transformation began. The frame was stripped and stove-enamelled black. A new chrome wheel rim was laced onto the original rear hub and a brand new, full width, Norton Dominator front brake hub was purchased. That had a new rim laced on as well. The 'Roadholder' front forks were reconditioned and new Girling suspension units fitted to the swinging arm. Clip-on bars, a chrome headlamp, a 5 gallon black fibreglass petrol tank from a Triumph 650 and a racing seat more or less completed the rolling chassis.

Cafe Racer

        The engine modifications were a little more radical. The cylinder barrel was re-sleeved and a high compression piston fitted. The cams were sent to an engineering company in Glasgow. They were built up by having 'stellite' welded onto them and re-ground to a full-race profile. The cylinder head was gas-flowed and larger valves (from a Jaguar car engine, I believe) were installed and a larger Amal 'Monobloc' carburettor fitted. The magneto drive cover was machined to accept a tachometer drive from a Velocette Clubman. A new, stainless steel exhaust pipe and a Dunstall 'Decibel' silencer completed the transformation. They're lousy photographs but they're the only ones I have.

Cafe Racer Engine

        Oh, yeah... one last thing... all the engine and gearbox castings were sprayed with a heat dispersant matt black paint, as was the Dominator front brake hub. The pushrod tubes were chrome plated to set off the black paint. Finally, a larger gearbox final drive sprocket was fitted to raise the overall gearing. I think I spent around £350 in total.... A lot of money at that time but it was worth it. The bike performed very well with a top speed in excess of 100 m.p.h. and an exhaust note to die for! I rode the Norton until the Autumn of 1971 when I was seduced by an extremely rapid and very pretty little Japanese two-stroke.

DRK28J - 1970 250cc Yamaha YDS6
        The big ol' Norton was fun to ride and attracted a lot of attention where ever I parked it but it was a bit of a hand-full. It was heavy and the restricted steering lock made it difficult to manoeuvre at low speeds. The 'racing crouch' riding position was also uncomfortable for journeys longer than 20 miles or so. Time for a change... and what a change! I spotted the little Yamaha twin in a local dealer's showroom and fell in love with it immediately. It's metallic Burgundy paintwork and sparkling chrome grabbed my attention... to say nothing of it's reputation of being one of the fastest 250s available at that time. Yamaha claimed a true top speed of 105 m.p.h. which put it right up there with the 250 Desmo Ducati. I can't remember how much I paid for it; probably around £250 but I do remember that the dealer only gave me 80 quid for the Norton in part exchange.

Yamaha YDS6

        The engine in this bike was the last of Yamaha's piston ported two-strokes and probably the best they ever made. They changed the design to incorporate a reed valve induction system on all later models. Unlike the Francis Barnett that I'd owned in '62, which used a 20:1 petrol/oil mix in the fuel tank, this two-stroke had a separate oil reservoir and the oil was pumped directly into the induction tracts between the carburettors and the cylinders. That was to be my 'undoing' some time later. The oil pump was driven by the engine but the amount of oil delivered was controlled by the throttle twist-grip on the handlebar. I was returning home from the Hitchin Folk Club, late one Sunday evening when the oil pump failed. The engine seized suddenly while I was travelling at about 70 m.p.h. The next thing I knew, I was lying in the road with the bike some yards away in the hedge. Fortunately, I wasn't seriously hurt but the bike had taken a bit of a beating. It was all subsequently repaired but the love affair was over... It was a bit like being dumped by your girlfriend! Ho hum!

OXE81L - 1972 650cc Triumph T120R "Bonneville"
        Time for a new 'mistress'... This was the first 'brand new' bike I ever bought and the bike I kept for the longest. I'd sold the YDS6 privately and bought the Bonneville in September 1972 for the princely sum of £450. The photo shows it as it was the day I brought it home from the shop.

Bonneville T120R

        Shortly afterwards, the bike was fitted with a pair of Craven "Golden Arrow" fibreglass panniers. Despite the name, they were actually black! What can you say about the Bonneville that hasn't already been said a thousand times... The bike is a legend.
I rode it happily for 5,000 miles before it started to smoke rather badly on one cylinder. The cylinder head was removed and it was obvious that something was amiss. There was a deep groove down one cylinder bore that shouldn't have been there. The circlip that retains the gudgeon pin had come adrift (or was, perhaps never fitted as it was never found) allowing the pin to move sideways in the piston and contact the cylinder wall. It was obvious the cylinder would need to be rebored. OK... If I was to have that done, new pistons would be needed so why not tune it up a bit? The engine was removed from the frame and completely stripped. The barrels were re-bored +0.020" and oversize 11:1 compression ratio pistons were fitted. A pair of Piper racing camshafts replaced the standard E3134 cams. New main and big-end bearing were fitted. The cylinder head was modified to use central 10mm spark plugs. The ports and valves were polished. When the bike was re-assembled, a pair of Dunstall 'Decibel' silencers were fitted. The bike was awesome... it would hit 120 m.p.h. with ease and pulled like a train but it was still tractable enough to ride through town. Three times I rode it to Scotland and even took it over to Mull. It proved 100% reliable and I covered over 30,000 miles on it. Unfortunately, it was the only bike I ever owned that was involved in a road accident with another vehicle. I was on my way to work one morning in the rain. A woman drove her car straight across a cross-road junction without stopping whilst she was wiping her misted up windscreen. I saw her coming but had no time to do anything about it. She t-boned me in the right hand side; the bike mounted the kerb and slammed into a brick wall... I was rolling down the pavement. I ended up a few yards from the bus-stop where my Mum was waiting for a bus. I'm not sure who was the most upset... her or me. Fortunately, I wasn't seriously hurt, which was more than could be said for the bike. It was, however, fully repaired at the woman's insurance company's expense.
I rode it until late summer, 1976 when I traded it in for the next bike. I'll never forget the last time I saw it... I'd parked it on the dealer's forecourt. A young sales guy came out, managed to start it, grabbed a handful of throttle and dropped the clutch. There was a bellow from the exhaust and the bike took off like a scalded cat, front wheel off the ground... straight towards a brick wall at the side of the forecourt. The guy managed to stop it with inches to spare. He got off it and walked back to the showroom, white and shaking. I guess he'd only ever ridden little two-strokes!!

1976 500cc Kawasaki KH500
        If tuning up a Bonneville and cafe racing an old ES2 were to be considered a bit daft, buying a KH500 was definitely suicidal. It was a three cylinder, two-stroke, with a bad reputation. When they first appeared in the 1968 as the 60 b.h.p. "Mach III-H1", they rapidly became known as the "Green Meanie" or the Kawasaki "Kamikaze". My 1976 version was the last of the line as they were discontinued the following year. They had been "softened up" a little during the early 70s but the vicious surge in power when the engine hit 6,000 r.p.m. remained. Couple that with first generation Japanese tyres (reputedly manufactured from re-cycled banana skins) and a chassis that handled like a camel with three legs and you have a reasonable recipe for disaster. I think I only fell off of it once but I may be mistaken. In a straight line, it was superb; like riding a sewing machine on steroids. If you took it through that 6,000 r.p.m. barrier in each gear, the front wheel would lift off the road each time you hit it. If the road was wet, the back wheel would often break traction and spin; which could be just a little disconcerting.

Kawasaki KH500

        Like the Yamaha YDS6, this bike had a separate oil tank and an oil pump which fed neat oil directly to the crankshaft bearings. If the bike was used for "urban" transport for any length of time, the oil would drain down and collect in the crankcases. The next time you opened it up that oil would be carried up into the cylinders and burned. The smokescreen that followed you had to be seen to be believed! It took two or three miles of hard running to clear the excess oil. It didn't do many miles to the gallon, either. The best I ever got was about 20-22 m.p.g. All in all, it wasn't the nicest bike I ever owned and I only kept it for about a year.
There then followed a period of driving various boring cars before I bought my next bike.

JKX278V - 1979 500cc Laverda "Montjuic" Series 1
        OK... I'd done the "daft" stuff and the "suicidal" stuff. What came next was the "lunatic" stuff; but before I relate that, a little background knowledge probably won't go amiss.
In 1977, the Italian Laverda factory produced a 500cc touring bike called the "Alpino S". The bike was expensive and to be truthful, fairly un-remarkable but it had an excellent engine. It boasted 180° crank spacing with a small balance shaft to counteract vibration, twin overhead camshafts running in needle roller bearings, four valves per cylinder and two big Dell'Orto carburettors with built in accelerator pumps. To compete in an Italian national racing class for 500cc four-stroke motorcycles, the factory took 75 of the Alpino machines, stripped off everything that was un-necessary for racing... like lights, electric start, dual seat and stands. The engine was then race prepared. The compression ratio was increased to 10.5:1 and full race cams were installed. The needle roller camshaft bearings were deemed unsuitable for racing and were changed for fully foating alloy sleeves with larger oilways. Finally, a full race tuned, megaphone exhaust fitted. It produced somewhere in the region of 55 b.h.p. and the whole bike weighed less than the current 250cc Honda. It was launched as the "Formula 500" and it proved very competitive. It competed in the Isle of Man TT Formula Two races against larger 600cc machine and finished in the top 6 for two years running. It also won at Daytona in America.
The English importer of Laverda machines, one Roger Slater, thought the Formula 500 had potential as a super sport road machine so he imported a few and put back what was necessary to make them "road legal" in the UK. That amounted to the electric starter motor, lights and a side stand. The racing fairngs were unsuitable for road use as there was no way to mount a headlight so a shorter front fork mounted fairing and a seat that allowed a number plate to be mounted were made locally in the UK. Pretty much everything else was left as it was; that included the high compression pistons, full race cams, huge carburettors and tuned exhaust. Notice that there's no mention of "silencer" anywhere.... There wasn't one.

Montjuic-1

        I spotted this little machine tucked away in a corner of a motorcycle shop in Buckinghamshire. I wasn't really looking for another bike at the time... just "window shopping", really. I went in for a closer look... shouldn't have done it! A week later I'd bought it and was on my way to pick it up. To say that this bike had "character" was an understatement, she was a right bitch! Difficult to start, wouldn't run below 3,000 r.p.m (which was 30 m.p.h. in first gear), had very little power below 6,000 r.p.m. and created a din that could be heard three counties away. Put that lot together and believe me, you do NOT have a bike that's happy poodling through Wimbledon on a Saturday afternoon! To keep the engine running at all through towns meant first gear and a lot of clutch slipping; which in turn overheated the clutch and made selecting neutral almost impossible. That meant more cultch slipping... A real nightmare. Get it out onto the open road, however and it was a different bike altogether. She was a real pleasure, extremely fast with the superb handling that you'd expect from an Italian sports bike. The triple Brembo disc brakes were brilliant and well up to the bikes performance. Twice the bike went back to the shop I'd bought it from to try and sort out the starting and tick-over... but to no avail. "They're all like that. That's the way it is." they told me. I still wasn't happy and thought seriously about selling it. Then another Laverda rider told be about Cropredy... Not the Fairport Convention Folk Festival but the motorcycle workshop that prepared the Laverda Jota production racers that were winning everything at the time. I got in touch and they assured me that they would be able to "sort it out" so I made an appointment to go and see them. To cut a long story a wee bit shorter, my mate Gaz (on his 750 Bonneville) and me on the Montjuic headed off into rural Oxfordshire. We duly arrived at the workshop and I left the bike with them. Gaz and I went off to explore the village and the local pub! Some time later we returned to the workshop to find the Montjuic in bits... aarrrgh!

Montjuic-2

        Fortunately, it all went back together again and was wheeled outside for a road-test by the mechanic. The first thing that I noticed was that the bike was actually ticking over... a little fast, maybe, at about 1,200 r.p.m but that was something it had never done before. I also noticed that the worn Pirelli "Mandrake" tyres had been junked and a pair of super sticky Pirelli "Phantom" rubbers now graced the alloy wheels. We could hear the bike as it howled down the A423 trunk road, about a mile and a half away as the crow flies. It was on full chat and was probably doing well over 100 m.p.h.
The bike was declared OK and a serious amount of wedge changed hands... ouch! I don't remember all the stuff they did but amongst other things, the valves had been re-shimmed as the clearances had apparently been much too tight for the racing cam profile. The carburettor slides and jets were changed and a quick action twist grip had been fitted. New spark plugs had been fitted and the ignition timing reset.

Cropredy mechanic with the Montjuic

        It wasn't a cheap fix but it was worth every penny. The bike had been transformed. Now I could ride it through town at 1,500 r.p.m. with the clutch fully engaged and not making too much noise. On the open road it was brilliant. Throttle response was sharper and, given the conditions to do it, the engine would rev right up to the 10,200 r.pm. "red line" in 6th gear. That was a speed approaching 130 m.p.h. In 1979, that was unbelievably fast for a road going 500cc machine and faster than a good many bikes of twice the capacity. I kept the bike for another 18 months before deciding to sell it. I had some of the worst and some of the best motorcycling of my life on that little orange monster but it was to be some years before I owned another bike.

Gaz's Suzuki GS850 and my Honda CB250RS.
        It's 1985, or there-abouts. My mate, Gary, had two bikes... I had none... so I borrowed one of his, a Suzuki GS850, for a few months. He was riding a much more righteous custom "hard-tail" 750cc Triumph Bonneville at the time and the Suzi was standing idle. It was the first four cylinder machine I'd ever ridden and great fun. It had an after-market 4 into 1 exhaust system that produced and very pleasing howl when accelerating hard. Unfortunately, it was stolen from outside my house whilst Gaz and I were away for a day's fishing. It was recovered, later that night after the thief "dropped it" and ran off but I never rode it again. It was later stolen for a second time from Gary's house and as far as I know, never recovered.

        It's about 1992 or 93. I'd been married for 3 or four years and not really thought seriously about another bike so the little Honda CB250RS was a "spur-of-the-moment" buy. Another mate, Tony, had been asked by a lady if he would sell off her late husband's motorcycles for her. One of them was the 250cc Honda. I saw it and bought it. I really didn't keep it all that long, maybe a year or so. It was fun but not really big enough for me.

C540HEV - 1986 1000cc Honda VF1000F-II "Bol D'Or"
        I bought this, the last bike I've owned, from Gary in (I think) 2002. It had previously belonged to Les, another friend, for some years before Gary acquired it so it's history was well known. It was a bit tired and tatty but with over 100,000 miles on the clock it had every right to be. It wasn't serious transport for me, more a bit of fun. I rode it for about three years and eventually sold it on eBay in 2005 for £450 with over 120,000 miles on the clock.

Me with the Bol D'Or

        When it was new, this was Honda's flag-ship and brought out to celebrate their success in the Belgian "Bol D'Or" 24 hour race for production bikes. (My friend, Les, also competed in the Bol D'Or and coincidentally, was riding a Honda but not the winning bike, unfortunately. He didn't do a great deal better on the 250cc Ducati he regularly raced, either.) It was highly sophisticated with fully adjustable suspension, a water cooled V4 engine and a full fairing. Sixteen years on and it was still running smoothly. It would pull like a train, right up to about 130 m.p.h. but at that speed, I have to admit that the vibration blurred your vision and rattled your teeth!
The only work I had to do in the three years that I owned it was to replace the clutch and brake discs. It was however, just a bit too big for me to ride comfortably as I could only reach the ground with my toes so in the end, I got rid of it... with some regrets as it really was a nice bike to ride.

        That's it... we've come to the end of this chapter. Will I ever have another bike? Who knows...? I keep thinking about it and maybe I will. Then again, maybe I won't!!

UPDATE 19th August 2011
         Well... I've just bought anothe bike. A 600cc Honda CB600-F Hornet. Photos and details will follow shortly.

KY56 XKX - 2007 600cc Honda CB600F-6 "Hornet"
        This really was a 'spur of the moment' purchase. I'd been thinking of getting another bike, on and off, for quite some time. What I had in mind was an old British bike, 50's or 60's era, that I could take apart and rebuild but the right one just hadn't come along. They were either too much work or too much money.
        I'd been out with my mate Les one Tuesday and on the way home, called into his shop, the local Honda dealer where he's the chief mechanic (or technician, as Honda call them). While he was doing whatever it was he had to do, I roamed around the showroom and sat on a few bikes... as one does. One that really took my fancy was a 600 Hornet. The seat was low enough for me to put both feet on the ground and it just sort of felt, well, right! That particular example was an early one, around 1999/2000 if I remember correctly, one careful owner and in very good condition. The only drawback was the price... Steve, the shop's owner, was asking £2500 for it. I just couldn't bring myself to part with that much for an 11 year old rice grinder.

Hornet 600

        Anyway... there I was some weeks later, browsing the bikes on eBay, when I spotted a 2007 Hornet 600. It was local enough to collect, looked to be in excellent shape and the auction only had a few minutes to run. The starting price was £2500 and there had been no bidders. On the spur of the moment, I banged in a bid of £3000 with just a few seconds to go and was the only bidder. I got it for the £2500 starting price. The same price as the one I'd sat on in Les's shop previously but considerably newer. It was probably worth 4 grand.
        I met up with the owner a few days later, handed over the wedge and rode it home. It had just been serviced, had been fitted with new tyres and a new chain and sprockets. It ran like a dream and at £2500 was a steal!
        I kept the Hornet until November 2013. To be truthful, I hadn't used it much, even though we had a great summer. Somehow other stuff seemed to get in the way. I wasn't intending to ride it through the winter so I advertised it in the national motorcycle papers and on AutoTrader. I had a lot of 'time wasters' but only one serious enquiry... a young guy from Leighton Buzzard who'd just passed his test and was looking for a bike to commute to London on. We settled on a price of £2,350 and he went a way happy. I thought that the Hornet would probably be my last bike, or at least, I wouldn't get another one until the following spring. Silly thought, that.

KLM13K - 1971 650cc Triumph Bonneville T120R
        Early December 2013. What can I say? Saw this on eBay and thought "Hey... I had one of them!!" It was identical to the Bonny that I'd bought way back in 1972. This one was in good, original condition. It had matching numbers; always good that, and was going for a reasonable price (considering that old Brit Iron was usually fetching silly money). I banged in a bid of £3,800 at the last moment and won the auction with a price of £3,610. I rode it home a few days later.

Me with the latest acquisition

        So... What to do with it? From way back as a teenager on the Matchless bikes, I'd always liked the idea of building a Triton... you know, the full works... clip-ons, rear sets, alloy tank and a tuned engine. The years, however, have overtaken me and while my heart says "Yeah, go for it!" my head says "Don't be stupid... you're 67 years old with a dodgy knee and a back that wouldn't last 5 minutes in a racing crouch!" So... reality has tempered passion. It needs a little tinkering time spent balancing the carbs and I need to change the back tyre fairly soon. It will also need some work doing on the cylinder head if I'm going to really use it. The valve seats will need replacing to allow it to use the unleaded petrol we're forced to buy these day. What I currently have in mind is to run it for a while to see if I can live with it. If I can, then I'll do a full nut and bolt re-build but probably not back to it's current specification. My current idea is more of a 'flat-track' street fighter. The front brake will need up-rating, though... still thinking about that. We'll see.... Keep watching this space!
        OK... I've had it for a couple of months now and ridden it whenever the weather (which has been bloody awful) permitted. Can I live with it??... You bet your backside I can. It runs beautifully, doesn't smoke and sounds great. It does drop a little oil though and I've been banned from parking it on my sister's driveway. That will be cured in the not-too-distant future. My old wrists aren't as strong as they used to be and I'm finding the clutch a trifle heavy so I've obtained a hydraulic conversion kit and will install that in due course.

UPDATE Summer 2015
        Over the winter 2014/15 the Triumph was completely stripped and re-built. The full story can be found by following the 'Bonneville Rebuild Stuff' link on the left. This is how she looks now.

Bonneville finished

OBY584W - 1980 850cc Moto Guzzi Le Mans Series II
        Mid June, 2014. I've always had a soft spot for the LeMans. Not everybody's 'cup of tea' perhaps but you have to admit, they are pretty! This one belonged to a gent who had quite a few bikes and rarely rode them. He'd asked Nick at The Two Wheel Centre in Harpenden to sell them for him. I spotted this one out the back of the shop and felt my heart-rate go up a notch... and then another one when it winked at me. It really did, honest...! It has a few problems; not the least of which is a leaking fuel tank but Les (Nick's mechanic) assured me that it was a 'runner'. A week later I made Nick an offer for it. A little haggling and it was delivered two days later.

Le Mans being unloaded

        I still have the Bonneville, of course. This is an 'as well as' not an 'instead of' but I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do with it. I still have a lot of work to do on the Triumph before I'll be ready to start on the Guzzi. For the moment, it's locked up under a dust sheet in the garage and that's where it'll stay for a while yet. I'll take the fuel tank off when I get time and see what's needed to repair that. It maybe a simple soldering job or it may require sealing internally. It was a might grubby when it was delivered but a bucket of soapy water and a little polish and it scrubbed up really well for a old 'un...

Le Mans out back

        Move forward a couple of months... I've decided to get the Guzzi roadworthy and road legal before re-building the Bonneville, that way I'll have something to ride whilst the Triumph is off the road. So... the first thing to tackle was the tank. As it turned out, it was a simple enough job. I sanded off the paint around the offending area and discovered a few tiny pin-holes where the tank had rusted through from the inside. I cut a piece of 0.020" thick copper sheet large enough to cover the holes and soldered it over the offending area. The leak cured, the underside of the tank was resprayed and the tank refitted to the bike. Job done. Time to see if it would start, so with fuel in the tank and a fully charged battery, I hit the starter button. All a bit underwhelming, really. After a few coughs and an ear splittingly loud backfire that had my neighbour rushing out to see who had been shot, she fired up and ran... sort of. Mostly on one cylinder and not very well. It was obvious the carburettors and ignition timing needed looking at. It was at that point that I noticed the tachometer wasn't working and the voltmeter was indicating about 11 volts which meant that the battery wasn't receiving any charge either. Well, to cut a long, miserable story a little shorter, both of the huge Dellorto carbs were stripped, soda blasted and rebuilt with quite a few new parts. The floats and fuel valve needles were changed for a later type that were suitable for use with the modern petrol that contains alcohol. The tacho problem was traced to a broken 90° gearbox that fits between the cable and the instrument. That was simply a case of buying a new one. The lack of charging was a little more problematic. The alternator slip rings were cleaned and the brushes checked out ok. The problem was either the 3 phase rectifier diode pack or the Bosch regulator. Both looked old and a bit manky so I junked them and replaced the whole lot with a modern solid state rectifier/regulator unit. That meant some modifications to the original wiring harness but it all fitted in reasonably well behind the right hand side panel. Now to fire it up again... Tacho working, good... Voltmeter showing 14.5 volts at 3000 rpm, excellent... Engine running, like a dog and still mostly on one cylinder, not good. I was confident that the carburation was ok so I rechecked the ignition timing. One side was absolutely spot on, the other very close and needing just the smallest tweak. The two sets of points and the two condensers were replaced with new ones. No different, still mostly on one cylinder. I swapped the coils and HT leads from one side to the other. Still on one cylinder.... but this time, it was the other cylinder. New coils, HT leads and plug caps were sourced and fitted. This time the engine ran like a dream... yea!! A short run around the block to make sure and then over to the Two Wheel Centre for a quick MOT. She passed with flying colours. Unfortunately, my joy was short lived. The engine just wouldn't run consistently. Over the next few months I tried everything I could think of to get the engine to run cleanly. Two brand new carburettors were sourced from Germany and fitted. The ignition components were checked and re-checked. The compression was good on both cylinders and the valve timing was correct. I even stuck it in the back of a Ford Transit and took it up to the Moto Guzzi guru, Nigel Billingsley. He had it for a couple of weeks, charged me £250 and said it was running "sweet as a nut". Load of cobblers... Got it home and it was exactly the same. It's back in the garage and will stay there until I decide what to do with it.

Update - 21st March 2016
        It is with some regret that I announce the passing of the Le Mans. She was sold today to a gent from Norfolk. He will be collecting her on Good Friday, later this week. I hope he can tame her Latin temperament... I failed miserably. He knows the full story and appeared confident that he could sort it out. The good news is that I have already purchased her replacement.... I fact, I've purchased two replacements. Watch this space!!

OCG490 - 1955 500cc AJS M18S
        I'd developed a very unhealthy 'hankering' for an old British 'big single'. So I've bought one... Her story can be read by clicking this link "AJS Model 18S Stuff" or following the link on the left. It's an ongoing story. At the time of typing this (March 2018) I've owned her (she's called "Bess") for a couple of years and love her to bits. I'm not going to repeat what I've already typed so this is just a bridge to her story. Go and read it if you're interested.

KVE40G - 1968 350cc Triumph "Tiger 90"
        At roughly the same time as I bought the AJS which I thought was a fully sorted and restored bike, I decided that I needed something to keep me occupied so I started looking for another restoration project. This Triumph came up at Cheffin's Vintage Machinery Auction and, well, to cut a long story short, I ended up buying her. Like Bess, she has her own story which, if you're remotely interested, you can read by clicking this link "Tiger 90 Rebuild Stuff" or by clicking the link on the left. Two years down the line and the T90 has been fully restored. She really is a little cracker. Truth be told, she's a little short of grunt when it comes to hills but she is a delight to ride and the beautiful sound she makes would do justice to many a bigger bike. She's definitely a 'keeper'.

1954 Matchless 350cc G3/LS
        I'd pretty much finished the restoration of the T90 by the late summer of 2016 and by Christmas I was getting 'twitchy' again. I needed something to occupy my days in retirement when I wasn't riding one or other of the three bikes I owned. The problem was solved by friend Malcolm offering me a 1954 350cc Matchless G3/LS 'basket case'. As has now become the way of things, her story is also documented in some detail here... "Matchless Restoration Stuff". Whereas the two Triumph restorations were fairly straight forward, the creating of a Matchless G3 from the various boxes of assorted bits that I now owned was anything but! To quote Vinny Jones... "It's been emotional!" and bloody expensive. At the time of writing this, March 2018, the project is very nearly finished and I'm looking forward to the first ride. There's some 'red tape' to negotiate in order to get an age related registration number but that shouldn't be a problem. Time will tell if that's my last complete rebuild. I still have some work to do on the AJS before I'll be completely happy with her and that will give me something to do a little later his year. Right now, I'm just looking forward to the better weather and the chance to ride again.

Last updated 12/03/2018