I am a fan of small motorcycles, give me a 125, 250 or 350 and I am happy as can be. When I find an old one I even get happier. Bikes like this BSA have a soul that modern bikes just can’t match.
I had a BSA 350 single and I absolutely loved it. It started easy (especially compared to my step dads Gold Star) handled so easily (it’s like the bike knew where you wanted to go before you did). These classic British singles are true gems in the motorcycling world.
I found a really nice Starfire 250 on ebay today that if you have room in your garage and want a very cool and classic British single, here’s your chance.
Click on the pictures below for more info and more pictures
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1970 BSA Starfire 250</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1970+BSA+Starfire+250&item=381753776360&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
I have written many times about motorcycles I have lusted after during my 50+ years of motorcycling. Some are worthy of my lust and others are just a Thursday night at the Pub talking with my other motorcycle junkie (in some cases it’s motorcycle junk) friends. But, this particular Norton is one of my two obsessions, the Harley Davidson XLCR being the other. I know I need to be sent to an institution.
The JPN has a history…a good one. In racing, one off motorcycles were the norm and the JPN was no exception. In 1973 John Player cigarettes sponsored the Norton racing effort at the Isle Of Man , Peter Williams won the Formula One 750 on one, beating the Honda 750! Online there is a great story from Cycle magazine about the history of the John Player Special. If you like Norton’s it’s a good read.
My history with Norton is somewhat short. The man that started me in motorcycling his middle name was Norton, I have been part of a Bonneville Land Speed Record holding team (powered by Norton) for a decade, one of my closest motorcycle racing friends Scott Fabbro, took a vintage Norton to the IOM a year ago. The podcast interview, and it’s great, is at http://www.themotoworld.com.
The thing about the John Player Replica is that it is just a stone stock 850 Norton under fiberglass bodywork. Really, lift off the body work and there is the standard steel gas tank underneath, it has the standard steel frame. But you know what…who cares. It’s cool! It’s nothing special but it is very special. There were only about 200 made, mostly for the US market and at that time, that particular styling and ergonomics were not all that popular. It only had 50hp, give or take, and in the horsepower craved (or depraved?) 70’s that was almost pedestrian …but, the Norton on a twisty road could leave most all higher horsepower bikes in it’s rearview mirrors.
I found a real beauty today on ebay. It’s been gone through, some basics and some upgrades. Here’s the deal, the seller is asking $22,000. Is it worth that? No way. Is it worth around $12-15K yep!! Click on the link below for a bunch more info..a bunch! and more pics. It is a wonderful and rare motorcycle.
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1974 Norton John Player Replica</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1974+Norton+John+Player+Replica&item=121997486890&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”0
The Triumph Trophy is all in all a great motorcycle. It has a great history beginning back in the 1950’s. Over the years (it was built up until 1973) it got many improvements from frame strengthening, bigger better brakes, engine improvements and became a movie star. Everyone of us that love motorcycles and those that are stuck living with us, have watched Steve McQueen try to outrun the Germans and jump a barbed wire fence in the movie The Great Escape. All done on a Triumph Trophy.
When I started racing in the desert there were a lot of guys riding big British singles and twins. The BSA Gold Star and the Triumph Trophy being the most popular. The Trophy became well known as the ‘Desert Sled’. My step dad (who infected me with the motorcycle sickness) rode one for a couple of years and then passed it to me..looking back, I really think he didn’t like me. He first put me on a Bultaco and then a Desert Sled. Every time he thinks about those years he’s got to be laughing his ass off.
1971 brought the biggest and not necessarily the most popular changes. First we start with the ‘Oil In Frame’ . Previous models had a separate oil tank. The oil in frame design did lose some weight but also oil capacity and so the engine tended to run a bit hotter and oil usage became greater…wait a minute, my Triumphs had so much oil leaking that I never had to do an oil change…I was always putting new oil in. OK, I’m kidding here (kind of…)
The ’71 model got a better frame and it did handle quite a bit better, the one problem…the new front brake. The conical brake was really good but it did require pretty regular attention to keep it up to snuff. But here is the big part, the electrics. There is an old joke, why do the English drink warm beer? Because Lucas makes the refrigerators. Hah! The electrics were a problem but the following year upgrades became available and they got better, you didn’t have to ride home in the dark. Sadly the Trophy was discontinued the following year. The Trophy is a really good motorcycle.
I found a really nice one at a reasonable price on ebay today. This bike has only 2482 miles, not much but for some reason the top end has been rebuilt. A few upgrades made but other than that it’s a nice stock bike. Well worth a good look.
Click on the link below for more pictures and info.
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1971 Triumph Trophy</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1971+Triumph+Trophy&item=262431126188&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>1971 Triumph
In the early 1980’s the ‘Cruiser’ class was growing like crazy. The Japanese manufacturers were selling them faster than they could make them. I know because I was selling motorcycles at the time, the dealership owners even made me ride one as a demo bike for three months. I was happy I had a full face helmet, nobody knew it was me?
Harley thought they had the market cornered but the Big Four from Japan were eating away at Harleys market share like a Pit Bull with a fat juicy pork chop. Harley Davidson even got Congress to pass a tariff bill against bikes from Japan over 700cc. Those were weird times. But cruisers kept selling…even the Suzuki Madura.
Triumph was in decline and were doing everything they could to keep going so they entered the ‘Criuser’ market with the TSX. Triumph took the standard Bonneville and gave it a couple of tweaks. The main thing that was changed was lowering the bike. Change the shock angle, a 16″ rear wheel. Next was adding a stepped seat. Then for looks, they blacked out the engine cases. That’s pretty much it, instant Cruiser. This was the last hurrah for Triumph. It was a good bike, not great but good.
I found a really nice one on ebay this morning. It’s all stock (which I like), not too many miles and only one ding in the tank…oh well. If you’d like to have a classic bike that is a bit unusual (not many were exported to the US), comfortable to ride and won’t break the bank, click on the link below for more info and more pictures.
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1983 Triumph TSX 750</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1983+Triumph+TSX+750&item=361542053185&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
When most motorcycle people think of Classic British Motorcycles the first bike to come to mind is the Bonneville. Well, except for my friend Ken…who thinks Norton was far better looking and more fun to ride (he also holds two Bonneville Salt Flat Speed records on a Norton…no wonder he’s a bit biased).
By the standards of the time it was light, great handling, plenty of power and beautiful to look at. It was, and still is to this day, a wonderful motorbike. The Bonneville of the era was the perfect platform for anything you wanted it to do. The Bonnie would travel (leaving a small trail of oil along its way so you could find your way home), you could race it, turn it into a cafe racer, or if you were sick enough…a chopper..Even though I think that those that chopped Bonneville’s (some ??are pretty good looking) should be sentenced to motorcycle prison for life with no parole…but thats just me.
The Bonneville is the bike that did everything good but nothing great until you got your hands dirty…then it became close to heaven on two wheels. In 1976 Triumph got its hands dirty. The motor was upgraded with better pistons, rods,bigger oil pumps (so you can leave more on your garage floor) , electronic ignition (now you don’t have to rely on the Lucas (the Prince of Darkness) and you got a better front suspension. oh, and an electric start. For those of us that have ridden older Triumphs there was also a shift change …from the right side to the left, which had become the norm universally.
In my heart I do believe that the Triumph Bonneville is one of the few perfect motorcycles ever made, including the new generation Bonnies. When you stab the kickstarter on an older model or hit the button on a new generation version it has a soul that says “lets go and lets go fast”. It may not have the rumble and grumble of an American V-Twin but the Triumphs soul of speed is there in your right hand.
I found a great one on ebay this morning that honestly needs virtually nothing. It’s beautiful. Well I would change one thing…I really don’t like those ‘Buckhorn’ handlebars. Other than that..a wonderful piece of British motorcycling.
Click on the link below for more pictures and a more detailed description.
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1979 Triumph T140e Bonneville</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1979+Triumph+T140e+Bonneville&item=191850760027&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
I found a very interesting collection of bikes on ebay this morning…Ok, it’s just a guy clearing out his garage. We’ve all had to do that over the years either because we ran out of room for the new motorcycles we wanted or more than likely because our wives were tired of having to look at what she considered junk and couldn’t get to what she was trying to get to.
So, this guy has two interesting motorcycles and one that goes on the front bumper of a motorhome bound for Florida. First is a 1969 Triumph Tiger Cub, a simple little 250cc motorcycle. The Cub was unreliable, period. It had lubrication issues, bearing problems, a weak triple tree and of course Lucas electrics. But still an interesting little motorcycle.
Next up, a Honda VT500 Ascot. In my view this is the gem of the bunch. Truthfuly the VT500 wasn’t the most powerful bike of it’s era or genre, yet…it worked. Now I have to say, it has one of the most ugly headlight setups I have ever seen. I would instantly change it! Except the wiring harness would probably be an absolute nightmare…a good Saturday project.
The VT500 didn’t have all that much horsepower (54…That seems plenty for having a lot of fun?!) but what it did have was a nice tight chassis that gave the bike really fun handling. It was styled after the FT500 Ascot single (which I raced for years) but came with a 6 speed tranny, shaft drive and a little more comfortable ergo’s. My old friend Mike Eaton (one of the greatest surfboard builders ever!!!) had one. I got a chance to ride it on the twisty roads of Point Loma in San Diego and had way too much fun. This is a great bike.
Next is a 1972 Suzuki Rover. Put it on the front of your motorhome and hang out at the KOA’s across the country on your way to visit the Grandkids in Florida. Actually, this could be a really fun little trail bike, however, it went over like a fart in church. Didn’t sell. But hey, everybody can use something to take up space in their garage. You could probably hide this little bike behind all the other junk your wife doesn’t know about (yeah right).
It’s a pretty interesting package deal. Click on the pics for more info and pictures. And by the way, this seller is by far the worst picture taker I have ever seen! Do not let him or her come to your wedding!!!
In my almost 50 years of riding motorcycles I can honestly and truthfully say that there are only two motorcycles that I miss more than any of them all. The sad part is that they both left at the same time…stolen out of my garage while I was making a balony sandwich. No kidding, in the time it took me make a sandwich somebody came into my garage and stole 2 motorcycles. My Kawasaki H2750 and Triumph Daytona 500.
I originally bought the Daytona when living in New Mexico for my then wife to ride. She rode it a bit and decided that she really didn’t like it all that much. Lucky me! it’s now mine!!
The T100R, although smaller and less well known than the Bonneville is the better of the two. Why?
The Big (at the time) British Twins were and, still are, wonderful. Plenty of power (for the time), decent brakes (?) and precise handling (!). But the 500 had an agility and happiness feeling that the bigger bikes didn’t. The Daytona was more intuitive, it knew where you wanted to go before you did.
How did it get the name ‘Daytona’? From winning the 1966 Daytona 200. It actually started as the T100T, just a a regular old 500 but…a whole lot of work later it’s winning races. A whole new top end, tuning the bike for speed. It worked. Thanks in total to Doug Hele.
As we came into the ’70’s so did the Japanese. The Suzuki GT500, the Honda CB450, the Yamaha TX500 and the Kawasaki triples…the Brits were left in the dust…or two stroke oil smoke.
Up until 1969 not much had changed with the T100R but then it got higher performance goodies and things that would help …better bearings in the bottom end, connecting rods etc. That was the year I had. Yes it still leaked oil, it used oil like guys in the 1950’s used Brylcream (a little dab ill do you) but it was a motorbike that once you understood it it was magic. I miss that bike…a lot.
I found a beautiful one on ebay today. It’s been restored but not ‘over restored’. The Daytona comes with a very cool ‘Cafe’ style seat, different handlebars and it all works well. The even better part here is that the original stuff all comes with it, sweet. But, ride it as it is.
Honestly there is only one motorcycle that I have owned (and still do) that has given me the fun factor that my old Daytona gave me. It’s my 1989 Honda GT650 Hawk. I lock my garage nowadays.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures
There are a couple of motorcycles I regret selling or trading in for something else. One was because of youthful exuberance, the other, well I still am not quite sure why. The youthful exuberance was trading in my BSA Lightning 650 for a Kawasaki H2 750. The fastest thing on two wheels. When you’re twenty years old, you chuck the old mans bike and go for pure speed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my H2 for a lot of years, but today I wish I still had them both.
The Lightning was temperamental, leaked oil and the electrics were, well…there is a reason why Lucas Electrics were called the ‘Prince of Darkness’ and the joke “why to the English drink warm beer? Because Lucas makes the refrigerators…”
Ok, there were lots of things you could do to deal with the electric issues, the marking it’s territory…oil leaks…not so much. None of that really mattered. The British Twins… BSA, Triumph Norton and others have a certain ‘Soul’. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because my formative years were spent on Brit Bikes and I know deep down what they feel like….for better and worse. The Germans, a little (?) sterile, the Italians, maybe a touch too macho and the Americans…just plain old King Kong pound your chest brash. I love them all, but my heart and soul still say “God save the Queen” And then I ride off on my Triumph.
BSA basically designed the Thunderbolt as a ‘Touring’ model. Compared to the Lightning the Thunderbolt was rather tame but in truth that was really a good thing. A little more relaxed steering, a more comfortable seating position, and a longer kick start lever (which made starting the bike easier) made the bike really quite comfortable. But, the real differences were in the engine itself.
Take some of the performance aspects of the Lightning (the cams) and then simplify it with a single carburetor. smoother acceleration, lower maintenance (dialing in one carb is a lot easier than balancing and tuning 2!). But really, the single carb made the Thunderbolt a really easy motorcycle to ride. Plenty of power for it’s time, great handling what more could you ask for?? Well, that’s where it all falls apart.
Enter the Honda CB750. Twenty more horsepower, better braking (thanks to a disc on the front vs. the single sided drum off the older BSA Gold Star 500), electric starter…the list goes on. The Japanese manufacturers were here and way ahead of everyone else.
But still…the CB750 with all it’s attributes can’t match the soul stirring feeling of a British Twin. Bikes that move with just a thought, motorbikes that feel the road underneath you, a motor that gives you just enough vibration to let you know that it is alive. A BSA 650 is a bike that demands attention. Over the years there has been a running joke that if you ride a British twin for one hour, you have to work on it for two. It’s not true…but not too far off. But the time is well worth it
For most all of us that want a classic British motorbike, a Thunderbolt is a great choice. I really like the single carb..smoother power delivery than the twin carbs, a little less vibration but still that great feeling that a classic bike gives you.
I found a really nice one on ebay today. A 1971 that is not all original but is a runner according to the seller, looks good and the price is not too out of line in the real world. The Thunderbolt is a great bike…much easier to own than the Lightning of my youth.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pics
1971 BSA Thunderbolt
There is a lot of history when it comes to Matchless, much like all British makes. Most builders seemed to start out building bicycles then added motors. Some built their own motors, others sourced motors from outside. I have written much about Matchless here before so I’ll be brief this time.
Matchless started in 1899 and kept producing bikes through 1966 (some were sold as 1967 models). Matchless was really well known for their single cylinder machines (of which I have a great affinity for) and the last of the singles were sold in ’67. The G50, the G80…classic machines that won the Isle Of Mann TT in 1907 and then again in 1909 and 1910.
Matchless was started by Henry Collier and later his two sons started racing the machines. 1907 Charlie won the Isle of Mann TT Singles race and then brother Harry won the 1909 and 1910 TT’s.
Besides all the history around Matchless and the marriage with AJS is that Matchless supplied the V-Twin motor that powered the Morgan 3-wheeler! Cool.
I found on ebay this morning a wonderful example of the beauty of simplicity. The 1934 Matchless Sports 250. It sported a stunning 2.46 HP and had a top speed of somewhere between 50 and 55 MPH!!! My lawnmower has 10HP and could maybe go 5 MPH?! I guess its all in how you gear it and what you want it to do, but I am truly amazed at the speed that 1934 2.46 HP motorcycle can attain. Now here is the interesting thing about this motorcycle when it was new…you paid extra for the horn and the speedo. I guess at that time, you just rode past someone yelled at them, flipped them off and didn’t care how fast you were going. Ah, the beauty of simplicity.
This Matchless is truly beautiful. It looks like it has been gone over very nicely and in my guesstimation is selling at a very fair price. Click on the pics below for more pictures and some more info
My first introduction to Ducati motorcycles was in 1981 while living in New Mexico. A small dealership on Rio Grande Boulevard (yep, just across the street from the river) Rissman Motors, was just a little hole in the wall but I had to stop in just to see. In the showroom sat two of the most beautiful motorcycles I had ever seen. A Ducati 900SD Darmah and the MHR (Mike Hailwood Replica). The replica was much more expensive but I thought the Darmah was far more beautiful. Over in the corner of the shop sat a very lonely and a bit dusty copper colored 860GT.
The reason it was in the corner…it was the ugly duckling of the Ducati family. The Copper headed stepchild.The Darmah and the MHR were basically the same bike but designer Giugiaro somehow DFU’d on that particular bike. Too angular and the shape just didn’t work.
The 860 motor, a square case Bevel drive 90 degree L-Twin is a wonderful machine. I finally bought the Darmah I lusted after somewhere in the mid 90’s and became intimate with that motor thanks to help from racing friends Steve Allen (www.bevelheaven.com) and Trevor Dunne of Ducati Santa Barbara (www.ducatiofsb.com). The Square Case motor may not be the fastest in Ducati’s history but it has the torque of an Italian locomotive. Are there Italian locomotives?
Sadly, the 860GT,the GTS and the GTE were no match for the for the Big Four from Japan. The CB750, the Z1, XS650 and GT750 all were faster than the 860 and considering that America was into speed and horsepower numbers at that time…well no wonder that one old dusty 860 was sitting in the corner. The 860’s top speed was just a touch over 100mph while the others were all pushing 125mph and more. What the 860 had that it’s Japanese counterparts didn’t was handling.
The 860GT was a perfect platform for customizing. I found a beauty on ebay this morning. Tasteful in all respects. Everything about this bike is right. I love the original Euro shift pattern (means its on the right…which does take a bit of getting used to…I have had on occasion downshifted instead braked! The bike has a very Vincent look to it and the motor is unadulterated. This is a beautiful bike and should be just wonderful to ride. It actually is making me now wish I hadn’t sold my Darmah.
The owner / seller of this bike somehow took an Italian ugly duckling and transformed it into a beautiful British swan.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. And the picture at the top of this page, really makes the 860 GT look a lot better!