A long time ago my step dads friend Stanley acquired an Ariel Square Four And for some strange reason he let me ride it. Now Stanley lived in a very remote area of Southern California where the roads were empty and all you had to contend with were deer and cows crossing the road at the most inopportune time…especially on a bike that had Fred Flintstone brakes!!!
My experience on bikes at that point had been desert racing on a Bultaco and going to and from school on a BSA 650…by the way, that BSA made me one of the cool guys pulling into the parking lot. After that the cool factor went away in about 26 seconds.
My memory of Stanleys ‘Squariel’ was that other than being a four cylinder bike that was almost as old as me, compared to my Beezer, was pretty boring. It was smooth, had a boatload of mid-range torque (which the BSA had plenty but nothing like the Ariel) and it looked pretty cool.
Here’s some basic facts…it had a whopping 40HP, some estimates put it a bit higher but my experience with bikes of that vintage…40 was probably about right. When I rode the Ariel it topped out at just over 100mph. Plenty fast enough for a bike built in 1957. The bike was really comfortable, easy to ride and the more miles I put on it that day the more I just simply enjoyed it.
The Square Four didn’t require any extraordinary riding skills (if you were used to riding older British bikes), yeah the shifting was clunky, the brakes were…well, 1950’s British drum brakes…you really had to plan ahead for a stop and the handling was nice and easy.
Ariel was in some ways going after the Vincent. A bike with speed that literally left everyone in its wake. The Vincent had speed. The Ariel had easy ride-ability. The Vincent won that war. The Ariel however had so much torque that you could start from a stop sign in top gear and never change gears all day long. I even tried that. And while not entirely true…pretty damn close.
In 1958 Ariel was part of the BSA group and the Square Four was dropped in favor of a lighter weight 2 Stroke. That didn’t last long. In 1971 the Healy brothers took over Ariel and built 28 of the Fours between then and 1977. 28, that’s all. It put out 52 HP, top speed was a bit over 125mph and was actually lighter than a Honda 250. It may have had all that going for it but it couldn’t compete with the Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Z1 or the Suzuki GT750. All the history, the mystique, the heritage…it didn’t matter.
Interestingly though, square four motors did do quite well in GP Racing? The Yamaha OW60, AKA the RZ500. Unusual, yes. Successful? Yes But it was a stop gap measure to the V-4 motors. The problem Yamaha had with the RZ was not a problem Ariel had. The Ariel was easy to ride everywhere, the RZ was only good on the race track, hence the RZ never made it to the streets of the States…other than in the grey market.
So, back to the Ariel I found on ebay this morning. Really, really nice. Very original and ready to ride. This is a bike that if I just wanted to have nice 100 mile ride on a Sunday or a casual getaway with the wife over a weekend…this motorbike would be on the short list. Actually on the long list…it ain’t cheap but for a bike with kind of heritage and cool factor…well worth it.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info.
I started my street bike life on a Lightning 650. It vibrated, it leaked oil everywhere (we called it marking it’s territory…or also remembering where you parked it), and it was a bit unreliable. Some days it would run great, others…well, not so much. But…I loved the bike. Up until the day I traded it in on a Kawasaki H2. My step dad was not all that pleased (I think he was a high priest in the British motorcycle community back then) but he did give me some sort of a blessing?
The 650 Lightning was and is a great example of British Motorcycles. It may not have the name recognition of the Triumph Bonneville but if you put them head to head or wheel to wheel the BSA is right there. Just ask Dick Mann.
BSA actually started out as a Gun Manufacturer..Birmingham Small Arms.In the later part of the 1800’s BSA started building bicycles it was just a natural expansion of their industrialization, from there it was motorcycles.By the mid 20th century BSA was the worlds largest producer of motorcycles! Also at that time BSA owned Triumph, Ariel, Sunbeam…they were huge. Busses, farm equipment weapons…an industrial giant. Then it all fell apart. But, BSA hung on until it no longer could. Most people I know in the Vintage Bike world would probably choose a Triumph over a BSA very time. The Triumph is quicker handling thats true but, the BSA is truly a roadworthy machine. A bit smoother, more comfortable and a chassis that is designed for riding distances.
I found a very nice A65 Lightning on ebay this morning that has a very good selling price and is in quite good condition. It has been gone through pretty thorouhly so should be an instant rider. Although, I would instantly get rid of those horrible ‘Buckhorn’ handlebars and put something far more appropriate, like a set of Euro Touring bars.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info about this very clean BSA Lightning
I put this in here today because I have a friend that I work with who lives in a ‘Retirement‘ community and does property management there. He likes vintage motorcycles but needs something a bit cooler than his golf cart to get around the community. I think this is the perfect vehicle.
There is a lot of strange and interesting history when it comes to Indian motorcycles, way too much to put here but I love it. At this period in time, post WW2, both Harley Davidson and Indian were trying any and everything to keep sales up. Small bikes, which both companies pretty much failed at, service vehicles (which Harley did a much better job at) and even scooters.
Indian partnered with Lowther Scooters to build up the 63D model. A three wheel service vehicle that was easy to drive, very functional and inexpensive compared to the Harley Servicar. In truth, the 63D didn’t even come close. As a matter of fact only 8 were built. The 63D had an either 4 or 6 hp motor, a centrifugal clutch, the 63D had a differential for 2 wheel drive, If you had a small farm or ranch (or a modern retirement community) it was probably just fine but as a true service vehicle…nah. However it is pretty cool.
Lowther Scooters built some of the craziest most futuristic scooters ever…check these out…
I found a 63D model on ebay this morning that is a good runner starts on the first or second kick, shifts through the gears just fine and the lights work. This particular model is the ‘high horsepower’ model….all 6 horses are there so it’s going to be quite a handful! It needs some love for sure but nothing too serious.
It ain’t cheap but it is really cool. Click on the pic’s below for a lot more info and more pictures. It is a very interesting peice of Indian history and now I’m really interested in Lowther Scooter company history. More to come.
Every now and then you find a little cool motorcycle, that well, is just a little cool motorcycle. This little Suzuki 125cc Colleda I found on ebay is exactly that. Not a whole lot of info on this bike, it was early in Suzuki’s history but it spawned one of the great bikes in their history the Colleda TT 250 which had some success in Grand Prix Roadracing.
The Colleda is a very simple motorbike, a 125cc single cyliner 2 stroke. Doesn’t get much more simple than that really. What it got when it came out was a much improved suspension (compared to earlier models, the 90cc version to be exact), a little more power and more modern styling.
I found a nice unrestored model on ebay located in Bakersfield California. It is a runner, the seller rides it all the time he says. It definitely is showing its age but that’s just fine. It’s a little bike that would be fun to ride around town, maybe trailer to a rally somewhere and have people ask you “what the hell is that?”
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures
I have always been a fan of oddball motorcycles…actually owned a lot of them, much to the bewilderment of family and friends. While doing my daily search of ebay for stuff I need and / or want, I found a bike I have never heard of before, a Junak?
In Post War Europe there were a ton of motorbike manufacturers, in Poland alone there were Twenty Eight, 28!!, between 1928 and 1972, the Junak is Polish. There is so much history in Eastern European motorcycle building its mind boggling. If you want to learn more about the Post War Eastern Europe motorcycling industry you will spend hours upon hours and days upon days at your computer and talking to motorcycle historians and then it goes back to Britain…and then….
Back to Junak. Junak was the first and only (at the time, post war) manufacturer of four stroke motorcycles in Poland. The best and most popular was the M10, a 350cc single cylinder that very closely resembled the Ariel single (with maybe a touch of BMW thrown in for good measure). Like I have said before, most of the Eastern Euro bikes had their basis on British bikes…who didn’t? Well, maybe the Italians?
The Junak M10 is a very simple 350cc single that had many uses. It was originally designed for the military (was there an Eastern European motorcycle that wasn’t??), and for touring.The Januk M10 became a very popular civilian motorbike especially with a side car, but also had good success in cross country racing
And, circuit racing (roadracing)
I found a very beautiful example of the Junak M10 on ebay this morning. It is a 1963 with just 400 miles (610 KM) on the clock. It is a first kick starter (most of the time) and good runner. Interestingly enough spare parts aren’t all that difficult to come by, there are a number of sources that can still supply you with parts to keep this bit of Post War Eastern European motorcycling culture on the road. Cosmetically it’s really nice, going to need a few things here and there but nothing to be overly concerned about if you plan on riding it. The seller is asking nearly $10K for it…is it worth that much??? You decide.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures
I love looking at antique motorcycles. I have ridden one or two over the years and loved the adventure but would I want to own one? I don’t think so. They take too much work. I like to appreciate the work that someone else did to keep a wonderful piece of history running. The love and dedication that goes into restoring and then maintaining an antique motorcycle, not to mention the money ($$$$$) is truly admirable.
A couple of years ago I toured the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh New York and was enthralled by motorcycle makes that have been long gone, makes that lasted just one or two years, makes I had never heard of. They were all there. Some beautifully restored, others rusty and dirty as the day they came out of a barn in Iowa. It was beautiful.
At the turn of the century (the 20th century) when fortunes were being made in the bicycle business a few started stuffing an engine into the bicycle frame and a new world was born. The world we love so much.
One of the company’s that was short lived also had an important part in one of motorcycling’s greatest legendary brands. Aurora Manufacturing in Aurora Illinois started making parts and tools for bicycles back in 1886, one of the companies buying these tools and parts was Hendee Manufacturing the makers of Silver King and Silver Queen bicycles…ringing a bell yet? it will.
In 1901 George Hendee sent Aurora an engine to be studied and parts and tools made for. Aurora went and produced the engine of Hendee’s design which was the basis for the beginning of the Indian Moto Cycle company. Is that cool or what? The deal was that Aurora would build the motors and sell motors to others (with a royalty paid of course) but they couldn’t build motorcycles to compete with Indian. No problem.
By 1903 Indian had its own manufacturing set up and Aurora was once again on their own. That same year Aurora founded the Aurora Moto Cycle and Bicycle Co. Thor Motorcycles was born.
At that point, Aurora/Thor was basically just a catalog company…here’s all the parts, build it yourself. Not much different from what we can do today…I build cafe racers that way.
By 1908 the Indian apron strings had been cut and Thor was complete motorcycles. Aurora/Thor built singles and then big twins under the Thor name. They had some success in racing, but nothing really of note.
Thor shut down motorcycle production somewhere between 1916 and 1918. The reason I say somewhere is that on paper, production ended in 1916 but bikes were assembled with existing parts into 1918 and rumor has it that a few bikes were sold up until 1920.
I found a really nice 1912 single on ebay today that would make a great restoration project. The reason I think this is great is because the bike is just about complete as it is! It’s not a basket case, it isn’t a rust bucket it just needs a few parts. Some you’re going to have to make yourself, some you might find on the internet. It is a 5hp single…not what you would call fast and not a bike that you could ride in the Cannonball Coast to Coast (even though it qualifies by age). The seller is not asking an unreasonable price for what you are getting. So if you have a desire to restore a very unique motorcycle with a pretty cool story behind it. Give this one a look.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
“A vintage motorbike that only an engineer should own”, is how one British magazine described the Velocette Venom. I don’t why he said that because the Velocette isn’t all that complicated, yeah its your typical British single…finnicky, requires very regular service (the old addage of ‘ride it for one day, work on it for two’ comes into play here) and parts aren’t all that easy to come by. Owning a motorcycle like the Velocette is truly love…or insanity, perhaps both.
In 1905 Veloce Ltd built its first motorbike then in 1913 built its first 250cc two stroke and called it the Velocette (‘Little Velo’) and the name stuck.
In the late 1950’s while other British bike builders were concentrating on twin cylinder bikes, Velocette continued developing the single, and why not? They could build a single that was as fast as many twins, handled better, lighter weight, cheaper to build and sell and for the owner, easier to maintain.
The Venom put out around 34 horsepower which was quite respectable at the time and just squeek over ‘the ton’, as a matter of fact, in 1961 a Venom set a world record of averaging over 100mph (just over) for a full twenty four hours. That record has yet to be broken for a motorcycle of its size.
Capitalizing on the Venom’s success in club racing, Velocette developed a higher performance version, the Thruxton. They also built an off-road model the ‘Scrambler’ which was mainly aimed at the U.S market. The Thruxton featured a full race designed head, a different carb and valve arrangement. The Thruxton is probably the motorbike people think of when they hear the name Velocette, but it was the Venom that was actually the backbone of the Velocette company.
The Venom was built from 1955 until 1970 and Velocette closed it’s doors in 1971. The days of the single cylinder bike were over. Velocette hung in there and built their singles long after every other manufacturer had moved on. Today a Velocette is one of the most treasured motorcycles to have. I found a really nice 1961 model on ebay this morning that would take so little to get it roadworthy.
The Venom I found is in really nice condition, it shows it’s age but in a very graceful way. This is a bike that is not a museum or ‘collection’ piece, it is a rider. The motor was rebuilt a few years ago but has hardly been ridden since then, it needs new tyres and it’s got a typical oil drip under the primary cover (what do you expect…it’s English?!). There are a couple of really cool things I love about the Velocette, first is the ‘fishtail’ muffler…how can you not dig that!!?? and the other thing is how to adjust the rear suspension, you loosen the top bolt and then slide the shock up or down along the curved mounting bracket, so simple and so effective. Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. It ain’t cheap but it’s also not out of the ballpark of reality.
“Just as much at home threading its way through slow traffic with two up or ‘Thunderbolting’ up a steep grade”. That is how Motorcyclist magazine described the 1968 BSA A65 Thunderbolt. Some may disagree but I think the A65T was probably BSA’s best twin ever.
The A65 twin was built from 1962 to ’72 in various versions, the high performance Lightning and Spitfire models and the ‘touring’ model Thunderbolt. I rode a ’67 Lightning for years and loved it, but I also rode a Triumph Trophy, which I tended to ride more often (much to my step fathers dismay…it was his bike).
The thing about the Trophy was that it was actually easier to ride than the Lightning. The Lightning was faster no doubt, but the Trophy had better low end power that came on earlier in the powerband, which for me, made it easier to ride fast on the canyon roads near home. The BSA Thunderbolt feels the same way.
When comparing the BSA Thunderbolt to the Lightning, it’s ‘the same girl just wearing a different dress’. Same motor (pretty much), same chassis, same brakes but it’s the small details that made the difference, mainly the change to the single carburetor. The bike was tuned to cruise comfortably at 70+mph all day and when your testosterone level is up so is the Thunderbolt…topping ‘the ton’ was easy. With the slight changes to the motor, the Thunderbolt didn’t vibrate as badly as the other BSA twins, nice for touring.
In 1968 BSA made some really good changes to the Thunderbolt. A new, longer kickstart lever took some effort out of the starting ritual but the big deal was switching from the Amal Monobloc carb to the Concentric carb. The Concentric was much less prone to flooding and combined with the longer kickstarter, the Thunderbolt became much easier to start…hot or cold.
BSA made some really good improvements to the motorcycles but had one glaring problem…poor workmanship. And truthfully, at this period in time, this is what killed the British motorcycle industry. That aside, the Thunderbolt is a wonderful motorbike. It is smooth, comfortable, fast enough for fun, excellent handling (of course, it’s a BSA!) and absolutely beautiful. As Cycle Magazine said, “One of the best designed motorcycles we have had the pleasure of testing”.
I found a beautiful 1968 Thunderbolt on ebay this morning that with some new tyres (english spelling) is ready to go. The motorbike has just 1763 miles on the clock, it is a bike that has aged quite gracefully and honestly is one of the better values I have found lately.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. And as BSA once said, “Move up to a mans motorcycle, move up to BSA”
It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s a Happy Time of year…
Those of us in the Vintage Motorcycle World always know that one of our friends needs something for some project he or she is working on. Yes, there are a lot of women working on bikes and, doing a damn fine job I might add.
Some times knowing what they need or want is easy because they have been dropping hints since July, or you have ridden with them so many times and they have always had to borrow something from somebody that you know what they need. But, there is always that one person on your moto-gift list that you really can’t think of what to get them for Christmas. They have every tool known to man, more GPS units than they have motorcycles, heated insoles for their boots and a pre-paid entry to the Iron Butt Rally. You ask their significant other, you ask their kids, you even talk to his mother-in-law and nobody is of any help.
Let’s think about this for a minute, your friend has spent hours in the garage working on a tiny little part… shaving 1000th of an inch off a cam lobe, rattling around a pound of ball bearings inside an old rusty gas tank, rebuilding a Mikuni VM34, its winter time and this what we do. It’s his love of old motorcycles that sends him out there, and now its time go inside, sit by the fire, have a dram of good Scotch and pick up a good book.
A Stephen King horror? no. Peter Egan’s Leanings? already read them. Jupiters Travels? maybe. Here is where you come in. You get your friend something completely off the radar. A book written about motorcycle travel long before we were born (well, at least most of us) that makes for entertaining reading while sitting by the fire with a good Scotch.
I found a cool book on ebay this afternoon that I think would be a great Christmas present for that friend. Written in 1912 it is a perfect sit by the fire read. And after you’re done reading it, pass it along. This should be a traveling book…traveling amongst friends for years to come.
Click on the pic below for a really cool present for somebody, even yourself.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (sp?) are just a couple of days away, people have been camping out in front of Walmart and Best Buy for days now to get the best deal on stuff that they say they are giving as presents but you and I know that most of those folks are buying up that stuff for themselves and…they actually think they are getting a great deal. However, you and I are a lot smarter than that, we use ebay and Amazon and shop in our jammies.
At this time of year we motorcycle collectors and restorers start thinking of friends that we would like to get a gift for and as we start this process we put our friends into the ‘naughty vs. nice’ list. The ‘nice’ list gets stuff out of the Aerostich/Riders Warehouse catalog, the ‘naughty’ group gets whatever piece of crap we can find at our local motorcycle boneyard or on ebay. Today I found the ultimate ‘Lump of Coal’ for someone’s Christmas stocking.
We all have a friend that we just love torturing with junk, what we actually don’t think about is the effect it has on that persons significant other (somewhat tolerant wife), Oh well. A twenty year old fruit cake that has been passed from one friend (?) to another over the years is one thing but a vehicle dropped off in the driveway is entirely something different.
For that friend (?) you believe deserves a lump of coal I present to you a 1950 Cushman 3 Wheeled Rust Bucket. No motor, no trans, you’re gonna have to push it anywhere (out to the curb I would imagine) and hope that your neighborhood organization doesn’t send you some nasty letter and a fine.
If you have a friend (?) that has a very good sense of humor or that you would like to really irritate I’d contact the seller of this fine piece of Americana and ask him how much he’ll pay you to take it off his hands.
Click on the pics below for more info and a few more pictures. Have fun thinking of the one friend (?) that deserves this more than anyone else.