Thursday, 30 December 2010

An Old English Custom

While training to be a mechanic I picked up a 1965 BSA A65  as a selection of bits in cardboard boxes,  carrier bags etc.The A65 had belonged to a chum – known as Mad Dog – who had stuffed it into the side of a Ford Cortina and bent the front forks some years before.

Babies and unemployment then curtailed his motorcycling activities and the frame was used as a drying rack for baby-gros, while the engine was a lounge ornament.
Mad Dog sold me these remains and they lived for a while in an enormous crate in my bedsitter.

Slowly – very slowly indeed, I began to customise the BSA – I sold the original metal side panels and petrol tank to buy various bits – like a set of piston rings from a dealer that were still marked up in  shillings and pence – and had the forks straightened for a tenner.

My A65, the Midnight Surfer

I also bolted on a pair of shocks from a GS850, some T-bars, a mini bates headlight and had a  round oil tank made, fitted a flat blade back mudguard and covered the fork tops with chrome exhaust trims for a Ford Escort

I had the wheels re-rimmed, bolted on a custom peanut tank and redesigned the electrical system so that it didn’t need a battery.

I gave the engine a rebuild – and was glad I had – the crankcase was full of Lego bricks deposited by Mad Dog’s offspring one wet afternoon.

Bungie-ing on the banana seat made it usable and I did actually ride round the block a few times on it.
I dragged the bike round flats and houses until it came to rest in the basement of the Welsh terraced house I fetched up in in the early 90s.

These days it would be called a Bobber. In 1990 it was just an old road bike with a custom tank on.
But just as babies and unemployment had stumped Mad Dog so they did me and after a while I got fed up with it cluttering up my basement, so I flogged it. I often wonder whether it ever ran again.

Suzuki A100 -Built to take on the country? The country would win on points
Mad Dog had also thrown in a worn out Suzuki A100 which my girlfriend of the time swore she would learn to ride on and then failed miserably to do so.
Actually this was quite wise. I rode the A100 a few times, and it felt like it had a hinge in the middle and the front end flopped about like a chicken’s lip*.

Another ridiculous moped came into my possession - this one was a Honda Express, which had a strange clockwork spring to start it up. you prodded this four or five times, pressed a leaver on the handlebars and the spring was released, pushing the crank round until the engine caught.

Watch out for that powerband. It's vicious

The Express was one of the first machines designed for lady riders since the Ariel Three and this starter mechanism was intended to make it more elegant to use. The spring on mine was broken, but i made do by tying a bicycle inner tube to the lever and the frame.

I also had fun for a while on a Yamaha SR500. This belonged to another chum, who was away from the UK for a few months in 1988 and wanted someone to look after it.

Unlike myself the owner, Clifford, a chap of mercurial temper who you would want in your corner when in a tight spot and definitely wouldn't antagonise under any circumstances, could actually fix a motorcycle properly and this bike was a cracker.
Clifford had a fine eye for detail, and did a beautiful job fettling the SR.
He was clearly born out of time, and should have been a rocker in the sixties - he subsequently built himself a Triton cafe-racer from parts.
The SR500 was Yamaha’s attempt to replicate the big British single cylinder machines of the 1960s by shoehorning the engine from their XT500 into a neat little road frame.

On Cliff's SR500 at Black Rock Gate in 1988

It vibrated nicely and would take your leg off at the ankle if you got the kickstarting procedure wrong. The girl who had owned it before Cliff had been unable to kick it over and had to get her boyfriend to start it up.

She would park it outside shops with the engine running and when she came out would find it had started to vibrate its way down the street without her.

I never had that sort of trouble with it – I lived at the top of a hill and could bump start it. And I made a point of never stopping the engine unless there was a handy slope about.

I'd have one like a shot today, If I could but find one

*I love this expression and nicked it from an old copy of AWOL magazine.

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