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”>
The Thunderbird is one of the motorcycles my step dad put me on at the beginning of motorcycling life. Well, actually after a Yamaha 80 and a Bultaco 250…he wasn’t so dumb as to put a teenager in the late 60’s on one of his treasured motorcycles. But when he did, well, life changed forever. My life was ruined…I fell in love with British motorcycles.
The Thunderbird was a variant of the 500cc Speed Twin. As Triumph was growing in the American market they realized riders wanted more power…we Americans love more power. Hell, we have lawnmowers that have more power than some motorcycles!! The Speed Twin was punched out to 650cc. The Thunderbird was the model that got all the other British builders to jump up to 650cc.
The 1950’s were the heyday of the Thunderbird but then came the Bonneville. The T-Bird was relegated to entry level status or as it was called then..the working mans bike. A commuter. The Bonnie had everything the Thunderbird didn’t. Well, the T-Bird still had Marlon Brando.The Thunderbird was of the ‘Pre-Unit’ era of bikes (1949-1962) …the engine and transmission were separate pieces, but in 1963Triumph adopted unit construction. This really was a good thing. It made it easier at the factory level, easier for you and I to maintain and the bike lost thirty pounds. All good.
In ’63 not only did the T-Bird get the new motor it also got needed chassis improvements, but as things go so did the Thunderbird by 1966. The Thunderbird was a great bike, it did everything you would want a motorcycle to do but the Bonneville was much more alluring. I also think that the Bathtub body work didn’t help the ‘Bird’. 1965 was the last year of the body work. Now I look at it and think this is very cool…for it’s time. Does it make the bike more valuable? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I found one ebay this morning that is need of some TLC. The potential is there it’s just going to need some love. The seller says it runs good. These are great bikes just don’t abuse them, take care of them and this is a bike that will give you years of fun…and oil leaks, but what the hell, the body work is worth it! You won’t see one of these everywhere you go. Oh, and check out the headlight nacelle…too cool.
Click on the link below for more pictures and a little (and I mean little) bit of info.
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1965 Triumph Thunderbird</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=1965+Triumph+Thunderbird&item=252345894051&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
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
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.
For some weird reason I apparently am on a BSA kick. I started my road riding life on a BSA, I restored a BSA C15 (which got stolen out of my garage while I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and my friend sold his BSA to another friend who then sold it to another poor unsuspecting soul. Such is the life of vintage (old) British motorbikes. BSA’s being hugely popular for some reason never reached the same level of sainthood that Triumph did???? I don’t know why.
I rode a 1969 Triumph Daytona 500, much like the BSA A50 but with better handling. Here is what I figured out about BSA motorcycles. They may have not had the quick, light, agile, quick handling of the Triumph (same company by the way) but the BSA was the sturdier of the two.
Think about this for a moment…when Triumph came out with the X75 Hurricane (which I lust for each and every day) it was the BSA motor. Craig Vetter made the perfect pairing.
So, back to the A50. This is a great motorcycle. This is a bike that I would have no problem throwing on a set of soft saddlebags, a tank bag and going for a nice long (2 weeks or more) ride. well, the saddlebags would however have to have a quart or two of Castrol in them….
500cc is plenty enough to get you anywhere you want to go. Most of the world rides around on 125cc! Your Pizza and mail in Mexico gets delivered on a 125cc motorbike! Robert Persig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…which I still think is a crappy book and I don’t understand why people hold it in such high esteem?) took a cross-country trip on a 450 cc motorcycle two up. 500cc is really plenty.
Championships were won on BSA’s…Dick Mann, Jim Rice, Keith Mashburn all winners on BSA’s yet BSA seemed to be the ugly stepchild compared to Triumph. BSA took chances that Triumph didn’t. Remember the ‘Ray Gun’ mufflers on the Rocket Three? The kinda flat gas tank and the grey frame on the Lightning? Still, BSA lead the troops but some did not follow. Too bad.
I found a really nice BSA A50 on ebay this morning. Low miles, great condition (for its age) and a bike that would be so much FUN to ride.The seat is ugly but it can be changed easily enough, other than that…buy it and ride it.
Click on the pics below for more picture and more info. This is a very cool motorcycle
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