Monday, March 31, 2008

"Borrow a Bike" - New Economic Stimulus Plan

The Department of Transportation released plans on Monday to create a new economic stimulus plan tailored to those who ride motorcycles.

Transportation Secretary, Mary Peters, an avid motorcyclist herself, has been studying the increased costs to the total economy of having motorcyclists continuing to spend money to buy expensive motorcycles and maintain them only to let them sit in garages all over America without being used much.

"The average yearly mileage on a motorcycle is 2000 miles," said Peters. "We have in mind a new economic stimulus plan geared toward helping all our motorcycle friends." read more


(okay folks, this was an April Fool's joke...please stop calling and offering to buy my collection!)

After thirty years of motorcycling - riding, wrenching, collecting, reading, writing - I've decided it's time to grow up, and give up motorcycling for good, for ever. It's taken up too many hours of my life, and now all the things I could have done are coming back to haunt me. If I had invested all the money I've spent on motorcycles and related stuff, I would be a very wealthy man right now.
My daughter is going off to college, I hardly spend time with her, now my opportunity is almost gone, and I must seize these last moments and get to know her better before she's grown up and gone. My wife is right that my motorcycles are an obsession, and really, since she asked me to choose, I choose her.
I now have 23 motorcycles for sale, an amazing collection of racing machinery, with a few roadsters thrown in for good measure (13 Velocettes, 2 Sunbeams, 2 Nortons, 2 Douglas', 1 Royal Enfield, 1 Rex Acme, 1 Scott, 1 Rudge). I'm also selling a 30 years' collection of motorcycle books, around 1500 volumes in all, just about everything published in English about motorcycles before 1950. Also, there's a big collection of vintage riding gear, helmets, posters, files, photographs, special tools, and literally tons of spare parts (rare magnetos/racing carbs/wheels/frames/ girder forks/etc.) Retail value of all this would be around $740,000. I'll sell the lot for a fraction of that - $150k - just get it out of my life, so I can do something more productive. I've got my real estate license now, and a publisher for my self-help book on addiction, 'Swamped by Stuff'. My new life is waiting, help me start it now, you'll get an absolute bargain.
Email me immediately if you're serious; We can discuss how to get all this stuff from my space to yours. No financing, no partial lots - it's all or nothing at this price. I could put it all on ebay, but that would take a year, and I don't want to change my mind. April Fools!

Clubman's All-British Show, 2008

The 21st annual Clubman's All-British show was held last Saturday in San Jose, with the ususal strong attendance and extensive lineup of show bikes and parts vendors. Ebay hasn't killed the sales of old rubbish from even older men's garages - and lots of interesting spares and rare machines were available, had you brought the cash to carry.

This year's theme was 'Greeves', which isn't a very sexy marque, but the lineup of thirty blue and silver machines held my interest. I've always had a soft spot for their Essex 250cc two-stroke twin, and of course an example in original paint was for sale... no, I didn't. For attractive dirt-bikes, you can't beat their cast-aluminum frame on the scramblers, with the Earles forks up front; almost makes me want to play in the dirt, but I don't have enough room in my life for another branch of the hobby...
My favorite Greeves on show was the 'fresh from the swamp' oxidizer special, with ancient caked mud attached (see pic, with a coveted roadster twin - note alloy frame) . I took a perverse pleasure in that bike amidst all the ultra-shiny show bikes on display; honest, filthy, and ridden.

Once again I answered the call for judging the show machines, and pulled the 'cafe/custom' class, which was fine if not ideal, as I had owned an example of every bike in the group, bar a Triumph 750cc triple (which has never sparked my fire). The Trident was horned into a rigid frame, with a 3-into-1 open pipe, and while the owner had spent lots of time making carbon fiber goodies (rear fender! saddle! coil holder! brake switch fairing!), the overall artistry didn't hold a patch on Max's bikes (yes, his are Harleys, but when you're chopping, does it matter?).

Best in Show, although I wasn't asked, was this 1961 Triumph TR6R 650cc, which was shiny yes (they all are), but it had the day's best tale. One owner from new; purchased in '61 when he was 19 years old, stolen two weeks later, retrieved in pieces, stored for 40 years, then reassembled carefully. A few bits were stolen (speedo, seat, pipes), but he found New Old Stock replacements, and painted the tank, fenders, and side panels. All else was original; parts, wires, paint, plating, and rubber (even tires and innertubes). The paint job was a little too good, it would have been perfection to have replicated the mediocre factory paint, but overall the bike is a stunner, with 1140 original miles. I want it.

Paul Adams brought along his re-restored 1923 Norton 16H 'Sports'; he originally restored it in the 1980's, after finding it (with a flat-tank ohc Velo KSS - which went to Eddie Arnold) in Colorado in absolutely original condition. I thought it looked great before, now it looks superhuman. Note the uncomfortable downturned handlebars - absolutely as per 1923 catalog, and predating the 'Ton-up Boys' by 35 years! Also note interesting headstock transfer, which is period as well (click to enlarge). The Norton will be at the Legends concours in May, with a little more space around it. The Clubman's show is a bit crowded, I would prefer more space for a walk-around, even if it meant fewer bikes.

Also very good was a Bonneville (literally) 'streamliner-ish' Triumph, with a crude hand-hammered fairing and tail section. Chris Quinn of Wheelworks has owned it for 22 years. Purchased from a salvage yard ("I'm queer for aluminum fairings", said Chris), salted away in his expansive pile of bikes and spares, he decided just this year to put the bits together and see if it made a motorcycle. Now he's trying to find some history - see photo of 1961 Bonneville scrutineer's sticker on the fairing. So odd, so cool, I love the little blast-furnace window... all you need to see is the black line on the salt!

There's always a good swap meet as well; I found 'his 'n hers Raliegh bicycles', and a KSS/TT top end, with that scavenge oil pump I needed. A good day!

Atticus Young had a good time on my '29 Rudge TT Rep, too!

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Almost by happenstance, Pete Young and I attended the very first public screening of the new film 'Brittown'. The directors were of course on hand to speak with, but they were almost shy about addressing the crowd - a refreshingly rare trait for people in the film industry. Brittown is being billed as a 'feature documentary', as it follows the real exploits of a fellow named Meatball (Jeff Tulunius), who is just crazy about old motorcycles, and 1960's Triumphs in particular. His home/compound in Pasadena has enough space for dozens of the bikes and cars which he seems to spend all his time working on. I couldn't tell if it was his business or a hobby gone mad, but his home is the sort of place where all the local Britbike enthusiasts cluster to have a beer and help assemble another bike. Interspersed with these sessions are trips to several hipster/rockabilly bars (where we see Meatball's band, Smiling Face Down - he sounds remarkably like Billy Idol in his Generation X days).
The backbone of the film is Meatball building up a '71 Triumph Bonneville (I know. I know...I've owned four of them for some reason) into a fast 60's style cafe racer; breaking down the engine, having port and polish work done on the cylinder head, etc. There isn't much time spent in the film on his cycle work (the rolling chassis magically appears towards the end of the film), but all is forgiven when my friend Mike Jongblood appears onscreen to help sort out the placement of the fenders. I would never in a million years think that Mike, the humblest and most talented metal-handler I know, would consent to a spot in a film!
The refrain in the film is 'that's enough work for the day', the cue for a spot of scrambling, flat-tracking, and roadracing on various BSAs and Triumphs.
I'll admit to having no 'distance' from this movie - it documents very well the life my friends and I lived from 1985-90, when we were all riding 60's Britbikes and 'TT' racing (Tavern to Tavern), and living together in warehouses or shared flats, with garages stuffed full of old motorcycles. Most of us survived. Amazingly, Jeff Tulinius has been living this lifestyle ever since.

(That's a photo of Jeff on his BSA scrambler)


by James Johnson

It was a fine Easter here in northern California; I awoke early, full of anticipation of what the day would hold for me. Not many folks get a chance to ride three 1920's bikes in one day, and even fewer get to motor about on three bikes from such a renowned manufacturer as Sunbeam. In the garage, I noted my fuel tank was near empty - with my gas can at the shop, I had to check the tanks on the other bikes.... all near empty. I did however drain a quart of fuel between them; why do they all seem to come home empty!! That and the "Air Fairies" had stolen about 15lbs from the front tyre, so in went some air.

My 1924 Model 5 was just a bit hesitant to roll over when the time came to depart; you would think she would be all a-fluster with the prospect of some riding, and a little TLC this am... could she have been nervous about what the day would hold? (I know I get a bit strange when I am off to visit relatives.) She did eventually spring to life and settled down nicely, as I watched for oil to start dripping at the sight glass... I slowly pushed the manual pump until I saw the first sputter of oil in the glass. This is the signal to get this show on the road, so on went the gloves and helmet and away I went.

It's a short distance from my place to Paul's, with a fine view of the ocean. A bit of a chill wind came up but nothing to dampen my spirit.... the oil was still flowing and fuel was just down the hill at the station. I was beginning to remember what a pleasure it was to ride this bike and was looking forward to mounting the 1925 Model 6 ('Longstroke') later in the day. When I arrived, my Model 5 settled down to a VERY slow idle... she can be such a show off, as if she was setting the scene for the ride to come. But when Paul fired up the Model 6 I knew this would be anything but a sedate adventure. We started comparing the two machines... very similar yet VERY different. The Model 6 has some aftermarket development inflicted upon her - I was eager to see if it was a success.

We set off to Land's End for some photos for Paul's blog. Traffic was heaver than I expected on Easter, but we managed to find our way thru the cars and gave the girls a bit of stick up the hill; that Longstroke sure pulled nicely up the grade. We broke several local ordnances by wheeling the bikes into the park for photos; folks didn't seem to mind but the area was pretty crowded so we rode to a different location for more photos and perhaps a video.

Lake Merced was a short trip, but offered a nice sprint down the Great Highway, where we diced it up a bit, and even chased some modern bikes, whose riders seemed quite impressed. I smiled within, the Model 5 fell into her old habits and steadily pulled me along. She almost drives herself, allowing me to take in the scenery. The anticipation to ride the Model 6 was welling up - that bike sure sounded like it wanted to go... that it just wanted to be opened up... but caution prevailed, as the bike was largely untested (having just came out of a box the week before).

My chance finally came to mount the Longstroke... you could have not designed a more opposite riding position to the Model 5. The controls were similarly laid out, but you have to shape yourself to the bike.... I could see that this was not a touring machine, as even the riding position felt fast.

I prodded the M6 to life, found the position she wanted in, and off we went for a lap about the golf course. The bike really wanted input, all movements made by the operator must be VERY deliberate, as opposed to the M5, on which you simply push the shifter, set the controls and let the bike take you away. This beast required you to KNOW what you were doing. In any event the parade lap was far too short for my liking and I was thrilled when Paul offered to swap bikes on the way home. Some of the aftermarket work started to rear its ugly head... over-oiling filled up the oil sight-glass and she was bucking like a Georgia Mule, so I gave some more stick, and she started to settle down a bit. I would't call it nicely, but the bucking ceased and I was now moving at quite a pace (especially for a bike with effectively no brakes ). She was eager for more throttle - this bike is a cracker. I had to resist the urge to go flat out, balls to the wall... if it was mine I would have, but I didn't want to spend my summer looking for rare bike parts! In spite of my reluctance, the bucking ceased, the bike seemed happy, the oil sight-glass cleared... too bad we were already back at Paul's garage.

I reluctantly returned the bike, but was offered a spin on his 1928 Model 90... sadly I only went around the block twice. That bike REALLY wanted to GOOOOOO; I wasn't entirely sure how Paul would feel if I disappeared for and hour or so, as that's how long I would need to get comfortable on it, so a short test ride it would be... I will have to save the longer ride for another day. All in all a nice outing on three 1920's Sunbeams. I'm eager to repeat it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What the Heck is a Balaclava?

I had a Motorcycle Glossary / Dictionary of motorcycle terms on the old site. Those motorcycle terms are also on the new site and I've just revised all 225 of them to cross-reference them and link them to additional explanatory information in some of my articles.

I've even set them up so you can also go from term to term in the dictionary without going back to the index.

The Motorcycle Dictionary has been very popular over the last half-dozen years. I've even had some other motorcycle sites use my definitions on their sites without permission. I guess that means that others find them so useful that they just take them for their own. (I have had to point out these infractions to several webmasters.)

That's also been a problem I've had with some of my more important articles such as You CAN Learn to Ride a Motorcycle and 10 Ways to Be Safe on a Motorcycle. Both those articles started out getting low usage but as time goes on, they are attracting huge numbers of readers.

Well, the Motorcycle Views Motorcycle Dictionary should be on your reading list too. If you have any motorcycle terms that you'd like to see added, just email me (include your own definition).

By the way, a Balaclava is is a thin pull-over head and neck cover with eye slits for winter usage under a motorcycle helmet. Pronunciation: Bal-A-Clav'-A • (noun). Now you only have 224 more motorcycle terms to go.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Big Bear Choppers Recalls Choppers for Frame Cracks

Big Bear Choppers has issued a recall of certain 2004-2005 Devil's Advocate and Venom Choppers and 2005 Sled Choppers.

Some motorcycles may have inadequate weld penetration between the neck, backbone, and down tubes of the frame. High loads created when riding on rough road surfaces, structural modification made to the frame by owners, and/or failure to maintain the specified torque setting of the top motor mount may cause the affected welds to crack.

351 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


by Dave Royston

The Race

Fog covered the Isle of Man on Friday June 21st, the appointed day of the 1935 Senior TT, and the race was postponed to 11 am the next day. As Saturday dawned, fog still covered the Island and many were concerned that the race could be cancelled. The start was put back half an hour to 11:30. With tension building, the clock crept towards the new deadline. Finally the fog lifted enough for the race to start; all involved looked to the event with great expectations.

With the winning tradition of Norton on his shoulders, Jimmie Guthrie, carrying number 1 as last year’s winner (pic 1 - the '35 Norton team; pic 2, Guthrie starting off), was first away and set off with fierce determination and at a pace no doubt intending to break the Moto Guzzi v-twin, or at least its rider’s spirit. Stanley Woods carrying number 30 (pic 3) started 14½ minutes later and set a steady pace. After the lap one, Guthrie was first at 26 minutes and 52 seconds; his teammate Rush was second, and Woods came by trailing by 28 seconds, and in third on corrected time. Norton must have been feeling confident, but was this part of a strategy by Woods? Perhaps a cautious lap to learn the conditions? Perhaps a top-heavy bike running with extra fuel? On the next lap the pace picked up. Jimmie Guthrie was riding the best race of his life so far and broke the lap record at 26 minutes and 31 seconds. But Woods had also picked up his pace and moved into second, but still came through 47 seconds behind on corrected time. Now that Guthrie was pushed to ride at a record pace, could it be maintained? Would his age at 38 tell over the length of this gruelling 7-lap, 3-hour race?

On the third lap, all teams took on fuel. Guthrie came into the pits after yet another lap record of 26 minutes and 28 seconds. The Norton team moved smoothly into well-practiced action and had him refuelled and out in 33 seconds, by an observing reporter’s stopwatch. Almost 15 minutes later Woods came into the pits, now 52 seconds behind and, to the surprise of onlookers, in a lightning stop, was away in 31 seconds, by the same watch. With such a short stop, there was speculation as to whether the twin had enough fuel to make the next four laps at record pace? This was especially relevant given Woods' experience with the Husqvarna (running out of fuel) the year before.

On the Fourth Lap, both Guthrie and Woods continued at near record pace. Motorcycling magazine shows pictures of both riders and their bikes coming down Bray Hill. The Norton has its front wheel in the air; the Moto Guzzi is firmly planted on the ground. It was said the sprung frame could be worth as much as 20 seconds a lap; would it? Woods closed the gap to 42 seconds.

On the fifth lap, Woods reduced the lap record to 26 minutes and 26 seconds, closing the gap to 29 seconds. He had pulled back 13 seconds on just one lap; the challenge was on.

We now come to the end of the critical sixth lap. Guthrie’s Norton went through without refueling. The Moto Guzzi team busied themselves, setting up for a fuel-stop, and the grandstand crowd expected Woods and the thirsty Guzzi to stop for fuel. Joe Craig may have thought Norton had the race won. It is said he had sent signals to his station at Glen Helen for Guthrie, almost ⅔ of a lap ahead, to ease his pace, perhaps fearing the record laps could fatigue the bike and the rider.

Stanley Woods and the Guzzi could be heard approaching the Grandstand. To the surprise of everyone but the Guzzi team, he shot through, on the tank, flat-out, now 26 seconds behind; man and machine on a mission. Could the Moto Guzzi pit-stop ploy have made a difference? Norton immediately rang through to their man in Ramsay, to signal Guthrie to speed up. It was now all up to Woods. As Mario Colombo (from a Guzzi perspective) puts it: “L’ultimo giro, il settimo, si svolge in un ’atmosfera di tormento e di sofferenza, gli occhi al cronometro, l’orecchio teso” (“The seventh and last lap unfolded in an atmosphere of suffering and torment, with all eyes on the stopwatches and all ears alert”). Reports were coming through that Woods was running fast all around the circuit: the Moto Guzzi ‘bicilindrica’ was rising to the occasion. At the base of the mountain, he had the gap down to 12 seconds; descending the mountain the bike was timed at 125mph. At Creg-Ny-Baa the gap was 6 seconds. Guthrie had come through on his seventh and final lap at near-record pace – he knew Woods well enough not to trust the signals. Colombo writes: "Guthrie arrived at the finish and silence fell like a tanigible thing; everyone had their eyes fixed on the final straight." Not 'everyone', it seems; the officials and the radio commentary, based on the times from the sixth lap, thought Guthrie had won. He was toasted and congratulated by the Governor of the Isle of Man. Motorcycling magazine has a photograph of the Guthrie and the bike surrounding by supporters as a smiling ‘winner’. An official was leading Guthrie to the microphone when, after 14½ minutes of suspense, a characteristic roar approached, and the red Guzzi with Woods “buried in the tank” flashed across the line. “A thousand stopwatches clicked and feverish calculations were made”. The official escorting Guthrie was stopped with the news that Woods had won by 4 seconds. He’d done it. Woods had ridden an outstanding last record lap (26minutes and 10 seconds, 86.53 mph). His race time was 3 hours 7 minutes and 10 seconds, an average speed of 84.68mph. The crowd understood the significance of the moment, setting aside any thoughts of the ‘foreign menace’, the grandstand rose to cheer the winning team and rider, “…spectators thronged around Guzzi, Parodi, Woods and the mechanics in a display of sporting spirit those present never forgot”.

Guthrie looked dazed by the abrupt change of fortune but took it in good grace, reflecting the depth of his character and reserved manner (off a bike!): he was amongst the first to congratulate Woods. After the race Jimmie Guthrie said; "I went as quick as I could but Stanley went quicker. I am sorry but I did the best I could." They were friends as well as rivals. Stanley Woods said years later: “I turned on everything I had on the last lap. I over-revved and beat him by 4 seconds and put up the lap record by 3-4 mph. And that (beating Norton), I think, gave me more satisfaction and more joy, the fact that I had beaten Norton. Its what I had set out to do. It was very very satisfactory”. Motorcycling magazine carried a second photograph with Stanley Woods, and his trademark grin, as the true winner of my ‘Greatest TT’.

Was the difference in those pit stops? It is possible both riders covered the ground in the same time. What about the fuel in Wood’s tank? A reporter said there was an inch in the bottom almost enough for another lap; it seems that the Guzzi did have an extra-large tank for the TT, maybe it was very full on the first slow laps. The Motorcycling magazine discusses whether the fake pit stop was sporting but accepts the tactic as legitimate (quaint considering team tactics these days). Perhaps for once 'the Fox' was just outfoxed?

What happened to these two great riders? Guthrie continued with Norton and turned the tables in the 1936 Senior TT (winning by 18 seconds over Woods now riding for Velocette). In 1937 Guthrie won the Junior but his bike broke down at ‘The Cutting’ in the Senior. He was killed later that year (at 40) while leading the German GP at the Sachsenring. Woods was slowed in that race (by broken fuel line) and saw a rider ahead too close to Guthrie. It was said the accident was a result of mechanical failure. Woods, interviewed in 1992, said he thought Guthrie had been forced off line and into the trees at the Noetzhold corner. Woods was the first on the scene and went with him to the hospital: “the surgeon came out and said that they'd revived him momentarily, but that he had died. You can imagine how I felt. We'd been friends, team-mates and rivals for ten years. I was shattered." The ‘Guthrie Memorial’ stands where he had stopped in his last TT; the ‘Guthrie Stone’ marks the accident spot at the Sachsenring.

Woods won the Junior TT for Velocette in 1938 and 1939; he was also a close second on his Velocette (behind Norton) in the Senior TTs of ’36,’37 and ’38 and just missed third (by 6 seconds) behind Freddie Frith (Norton) when the BMW supercharged bikes took first and second in 1939. Woods did not return to racing after 1945 but did test rides (including on the Guzzi V8 in’56) and demonstration rides at the TTs into his 80’s. It took Mike Hailwood to beat his ten TT wins. Stanley Woods died in 1993 aged 90, still regarded by many as the greatest rider of all

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Polaris Recalls 2008 Victory Vision for Ignition Switch Defect

Polaris/Victory has issued a recall of certain 2008 Vision motorcycles.

The electrical contact plate on the ignition switch base may not be properly secured to the ignition switch body, which can cause an unexpected loss of electrical power to the vehicle. A loss of electrical power could cause the vehicle to stall, increasing the risk of a loss of control and a vehicle crash.

1585 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


by Dave Royston


Memorable races match two top rivals of comparable skill and equal valour, driven by the need to succeed, riding machines at the leading edge of performance, backed by well-drilled and determined teams. The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy provides the perfect setting to test man and machine, with challenges of the timed interval start, the mountain climb and weather, and the ordinary rural roads. In my opinion, the “Greatest TT race”, the Senior TT of 1935, brought all this together to provide one of the epic races of all time. But the story of this race really began in 1933.

Stanley Woods, a Dubliner and rider of outstanding talent (on any form of motorcycle), began his TT career in 1922 as a precocious 17-year-old. Initially he combined riding with his work as a salesman for the sweet makers Mackintosh’s. In the following years Woods would provide boxes of toffees (from a business with his father) for the boy scouts that ran the leader board at the TT. He won his first TT (the Junior - see top pic) in 1923 on a Cotton, then moved to Norton in 1926 (see pic 2) and won the Senior TT that year (thus beginning a string of wins for Norton which included the Junior and Senior TTs in 1932 and 1933. By 1933 Norton had established such supremacy that winning a race was called “the Norton Habit”, and the team began to allocate wins to particular riders on their team. 'Team orders' did not suit Woods, who was the star rider for Norton. By the early 1930’s, motorcycling had become a professional sport and Woods, now at his peak, relied on wins and retainers to make his living; he decided to leave Norton. For the 1934 TT he was retained to ride the 500cc v-twin Husqvarna, (pic 3)designed by Folke Mannerstedt - light and powerful, but thirsty.

Jimmie Guthrie was from Hawick in Scotland, where he ran a successful motor business with his brother Archie. A survivor of the horrific 1915 Quintinshill troop train rail crash near Gretna, he served in Gallipoli and Palestine, then as a dispatch rider at the Somme and Arras. Guthrie had come into professional motorcycle racing in his late 20’s, competing in his first TT in 1923 (the year of Woods’ first win). Four years later he returned as a regular competitor on a New Hudson (see pic 4); he finally got a works ride with the Norton Team in 1931. Guthrie was well aware that he was older than other competitors, and he had a vigorous training programme to keep fit. Guthrie took over as the lead rider for Norton at the end of 1933 (after Woods left), and immediately showed he was on top of his form. He made his mark winning the 1934 Junior AND Senior TTs (pic 5). The latter after a strong challenge to the Norton team from Stanley Woods. That challenge failed on the last lap with a spill at Ramsay Hairpin followed by the Husqvarna running of fuel 8 miles from the finish. Still, ‘the foreign menace’, the feared TT success of European motorcycle manufacturers, was at the doorstep.

By 1935, the Norton team was a well-oiled TT-winning machine, with ‘the Fox’ Joe Craig (and his system of signalling riders around the course) in charge. Norton's racing bikes, based on their Models 30 and 40 International, were the best in the business. These machines were developed when Walter Moore designed a powerful ohc, single cylinder engine in 1926 (see pic 6) for Norton (Moore used Chater Lea ohc machines for reference; Stanley Woods said impishly that Moore chose the wrong engine to copy!). Though the engine was an immediate winner, it was initially unreliable, and was redesigned and improved in 1929 by Arthur Carroll and Joe Craig. (pic 7- this is Guthrie's 1935 TT bike). The 500c engine probably was developing a reliable 35-38 bhp by 1935 (sadly the year Arthur Carroll died in a crash while riding his fast ‘tweaked’ side-valve Norton). The TT Norton had excellent handling, though it still used a rigid frame with girder forks. The whole package was refined with an emphasis on lightness. Velocette was still in its wilderness years: it had pioneered the ohc single successfully at the TT in the late 1920’s but had lost its way at the top level on frame design and brakes.

The 500cc challenge in 1935 came from Moto Guzzi and their 120-degree v-twin sohc-engined bike. We again return to 1933. While successful at 250cc in ‘Lightweight’ racing, Moto Guzzi were no longer competitive in the larger classes. In 1933 Carlo Guzzi (no doubt encouraged by his partner and racing enthusiast Giorgio Parodi) had the inspiration to mate two 250cc engines to create the 'bicilindri'. The magazine MotorCycling in 1935 describes the enigine as having an even 'beat'. A cutaway drawing from 1951 (the last year of the 'bicilindri') shows, in effect, two 250cc engines, each with its own flywheels and crankpins, joined through a central main bearing (with the crankpins set 120 degrees apart, hence the even beat). Carlo really had joined together two 250cc engines! The front cylinder remained horizontal with the rear cylinder laid back and with circumferential fins added. Importantly, the bike had a sprung rear frame using springs in compression, and friction dampers that could be adjusted ‘on-the-run’, by a lever on the front left hand side (last pic - note large handwheel near the front of the tank); Brampton girder front forks were used. By 1935 the engine was reliable and able to produce 44/45 bhp at 7000rpm (in super-tuned form up to 50 bhp at 7500rpm was claimed). But like the Husqvarna, it was thirsty. Moto Guzzi were confident they had a bike that could win the TT, but required a rider with proven TT winning experience to have any chance of success. They found their man in Stanley Woods: it was rumoured he was allowed to state his own price and of course Stanley Woods had a point to make!

The final component in the equation was the TT circuit itself. For both the 1934 and 1935 races improvements had been made to the circuit to remove bottlenecks. It was now a ‘modern’ road-racing circuit allowing riders to run their bikes to the limit.

Motorcycling magazine promoted the lead-up to the TT and its prospects. With the darkest period of the depression lifting, at least in some places, there was much enthusiasm for the TT and promotion of tourist travel. The 1935 TT races were also the backdrop to the (third) George Formby film ‘No Limit’ and his heroics on the ‘Shuttleworth Snap’.

In practice for the Senior TT, Norton preparation was developed to new levels. But in the background there were reports of high speeds from the Moto Guzzi, including an unofficial lap record on the last day of practice . Then, Stanley Woods won the Lightweight TT on a 250cc horizontal single Moto Guzzi, a first for a foreign bike: the ‘foreign menace’ had arrived.

Photo Sources: 'The Keig Collection' (BMS '84), 'The Unnaproachable Norton' (B. Holliday, '79, Beaulieu Books), 'Moto Guzzi da Corsa, Vol 1' (S. Colombo, '95, NADA), 'Jimmie Guthrie' (G.Small, '97, Hawick Arch. Soc.), 'Stanley Woods' (W.F. McCleery, '87, Ulster Folk&Transport Mus.)

Monday, March 24, 2008


1924 'Model 5' vs. 1925 'Longstroke'

Since the 1925 Sunbeam Longstroke arrived two weeks ago, I've been curious to compare its character to that of James Johnson's 1924 Model 5. They're both sidevalvers from the mid-20's, with very similar running gear and mechanical configurations, from the same esteemed manufacturer; how different could they be?

The Longstroke was developed from Alec Bennett's 1922 TT-winning (at 58.31mph) machine, and was initially known as the 'Model 6'. The 'Longstroke' name was added for 1925, to what would have been the 'Sports' model in that year, but a 'TT Replica' in 1923. How quickly things changed in those critical years between 1923-25, where the Longstroke dropped in esteem from TT Replica, to a 'Sports' model in just 2 years. Sunbeam added an overhead-valve machine to its line in 1924, the Model 9 (and variants), which sounded the death knell to the sidevalve as a racing machine. Surprisingly, even with the real advantages of the ohv engine, racers continued to develop the sidevalve for racing at events other than the Isle of Man TT; Brooklands, European races, trials, hillclimbs, etc. In fact, although Bennett's win in '22 was the last for a sidevalver at the Island, they continued to be successful for many years in private hands. Take for example A.L. Loweth's record of 94mph on a Norton 16H at Brooklands, in 1934! Supposedly ten years after the model had become obsolete for speed work. Food for thought. I admit my own bias in thinking sidevalve machines couldn't be sporting, and would never satisfy a speed merchant such as myself. Gradually, while investigating Sunbeam and Norton racing history, I came to respect the humble flathead.

James purchased his '24 Model 5 from British Only Austria about two years ago, and has spent considerable time in his workshop, making the 84 year old Sunbeam reliable. Now he feels fully confident in its mechanical soundness; several long rides (including one 800 miler!) have borne out his conviction that his Sunbeam can be ridden as the maker intended. The biggest jobs he's had to tackle were rewinding the magneto and replacing a broken steering stem; otherwise it's been a matter of getting all the details functioning smoothly (cables lubed and adjusted, clutch working properly, brakes working, etc), which is really what 'sorting it out' means. It takes time to do those hundred small jobs in your off hours. That his bike runs so well is a testament to James' persistence.

By comparison, the Longstroke has just started down the road to 'sorted'. Noted in a previous blog are my efforts to replace hoses and taps, get the clutch and carb working normally, and make footrests. The bike's oiling is very curious for a total-loss setup, as there is no breather on the crankcase, but there IS an oil drain from the crankcase back to the oil pump - a semi-recirculating loop. The excess oil seems to be burned off, as the bike smokes a bit, even though the oil pump feed is turned well down.

I haven't found a top speed yet, but I would estimate in the high 70mph range. That's going some for a bike which has very little braking power; the front drum is essentially useless (both 'Beams can be pushed forward with it fully squeezed), and the back brake is only OK. James has relined his brakes, and suggests the rear should lock the wheel. Suspension movement from the Druid forks is minimal, and the springing is very stiff. But, for all that, it's a cracker! As it weighs only about 240lbs, it accelerates smartly, with strong engine pulses. The engine definitely has a long stroke at 105.5mm(x77mm), but it revs fairly freely, and thrives on higher rpm than might seem likely - it has plonk at low rpm, but there is a power surge at around 3500 rpm at which the engine smooths out, and she really starts to fly. The Longstroke engine feels slightly skittish and revvy, and surprisingly high strung for a 20's bike.

The handling is very stable at speed, although when stationary, the whole bike seems very wobbly. In first gear, the front end seems to 'fall into' corners, but as speed increases (I've seen around 60mph so far), cornering feels intuitive and takes less effort. The handlebars are brazed in place and very low, with no adjustment possible, and you must lean over the bike to reach the 'bars. Clearly, you mold yourself to this motorcycle, not the other way around.

The Model 5 has a completely different character; it's a true gentleman's machine, with a comfortable riding position and mellow traits. With footboards and high, pulled-back handlebars, you are seated in the classic British 'L' riding position. Where the gear selector on the Longstroke is stiff, the Model 5 shifts softly and easily (especially as the clutch releases fully). The power band is consistent and gradual, building speed with less drama than the L.S., yet never feeling sluggish, just mannerly. The engine is almost 'square' at 85x88mm, but the heavy flywheels keep it from feeling like a short-stroke! One might think it retrograde to add 20mm to the stroke for a racing machine, but as they won the TT with this new long-stroke engine, they knew what they were doing.

The handling on the '24 feels consistently smooth, with no change in feel from low to high speed; I wonder if the riding position has something to do with this? On the L.S., my weight - which is only 50lbs less than the motorcycle - is much further forward, shifting the bike's center of gravity towards the front wheel. The Druid forks have softer springs, for a more comfortable ride. The engines have a slightly different head/barrel casting (seen in the photos), and I of the would surmise that the Longstroke manages a higher compression ratio (6:1?) than the Model 5 (5:1?). Carb size is the same on both, with a choke of 1". The earlier machine came fully equipped with acetylene lights front and rear (which work!), and a 'little oil bath' rear chaincase, a fully valanced front mudguard, a wider rear mudguard, and a luggage rack. James' bike is probably 20lbs heavier than mine, but I'm probably 10lbs heavier than James, so the weight difference is a wash.

At the end of our test ride ('shootout!!!' - my nod to modern motorcycle publishing), I rolled out my 1928 TT90 Sunbeam for James to try, for a REAL contrast. The 3 years between my Longstroke and the '90' are a lightyear in performance- with the later bike feeling, as James noted, 'planted' and stable, with about twice the power of the earlier bike, and a four-speed gearbox to boot. 'We are probably the only people in North America to ride three Vintage Sunbeams in a day', said James, and he's probably right.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Every once in a while I make a mistake. My excuse for this one; I was sacked from my job only a few weeks prior, I was looking for something to keep myself busy. While trolling the internet, I found a pre-war BSA advertised on the website of Andy Tiernan Motorcycles, which looked exactly as I prefer; highly original, idle for many years, with loads of patina.
When Andy told me he could deliver the BSA to Holland, a deal was struck, and I became the owner of a 1936 BSA Blue Star.

[The Blue Star was the sports model of the BSA range, with 28hp @ 5200rpm, a maximum speed of ~85mph, and weighing 358lbs. In 'The Giants of Small Heath' (B Ryerson, 1980; Haynes), Barry Reyerson calls it "the largest of the Blue Star range [also available in 250/350cc], this model was described as a compromise between a really sporting machine and one capable of everyday work and touring." The 'really sporting machine' would emerge two years later as the M24 Gold Star. - pd'o]

As the BSA hadn't run for an estimated 40 years, it was covered in muck; so much that the steam-cleaner at the local car wash could not remove it. I decided to postpone THAT job and see if it would still run. The petrol tap was corroded solid, so it was dismantled, and new seals fitted. As for the carburetor, a few hours of soaking in WD40 were required to free the slide from the carb body. The contact breaker points were cleaned reassembled and the ignition timing adjusted. Thereafter it took just a few kicks to get the engine running - no excessive mechanical clatter, just the regular 'chuff-chuff' for which BSAs are famous. I mounted the bike, toed it into first gear, and away we went! Cables, gears, and brakes needed some repair and adjustment, but nothing a few days of entertainment in the workshop couldn't cure. Even the lights still worked.

It took gallons of petrol to soak and clean off the deposits from many years of storage and hard use. On the positive side, what surfaced from beneath was a rusted and worn, but very original and useable motorcycle. One of the exhausts had been binned, but the rest of the machine was all there. Most notable, the original levers, those peculiar toolboxes, and all the other detail fittings were present an unmolested. The rust wasn't too bad' the only exception was the spokes in the front wheel. Patina or not, I decided to have it respoked for fear of the wheel collapsing from the extensive rot on the spokes.

Two weeks later, I started a much cleaner and properly adjusted BSA, and took it for a spin. What a disappointment it was! Everything worked, but the BSA was HEAVY compared to the Nortons that I'm used to. It does everything you'd want it to do, but you can't be in a hurry, which gave me second thoughts. The deathblow came a week later, when I got the opportunity to buy the flat tank Norton that I had been seeking for ages; no room for another bike in the shed, so the Blue Star had to go.

The BSA was advertised in 'Marktplaats' and I was in for a treat. I have sold bikes before but this one was in a somewhat lower price bracket, which seemed to attract people looking for a real bargain. I had advertised it for a reasonable sum (for which it was eventually sold), but there must have been half a dozen people who dropped by to have a look, then offered only half my asking price 'because it was rusty'. Surprisingly, most of these people were not receptive to my arguments that a respray (and god forbid this ever happens to such an original piece) is much less expensive than finding all the original parts (so often missing), which were present on this bike.

All in all I enjoyed the little time I spent with the BSA. While investigating its history, I contacted Moore's Motorcycles in Hemel Helpstead (see the badge on the front mudguard), which still exists and is run by Colin Moore, the son of the company's founder. Colin suggested the BSA had been sold through their shop second-hand in the forties of fifties, as the badge dates from their post-war era. Unfortunately, his stock in Velocette, Norton, and AJS motorcycles is exhausted!