Welcome aboard the BritBikes blog,

In our opinion, owning a classic British bike is not just a means of transportation, it’s a way of life. When these beautiful machines from the likes of Norton, BSA, Triumph, AJS, Velocette, Matchless and Royal Enfield they fast became impassioned for their precision engineering, style and performance.

Here at BritBikes we understand the passion and dedication when it comes to classic motorcycles, which is exactly why we formed to help keep these glorious machines not only on the roads but in the homes of those who adore them.

Our blog is a support engine for you all to read about not just us, but for you all to share your restoration stories, history, tips and enthusiasm with the world of British bikers.

All submissions welcome to

Happy (and safe) riding to you all from everyone at BritBikesUK

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

BritBikes feature of the month - My first motorbike & driving test by Roger

I am sure that most of us will remember the saga of their first motorbike. Inevitably for some it will have involved the modern form of restrictive practise known as CBT (Compulsory Bike Training I think its called?). For others of a certain age it will be the super mopeds of the mid 70’s when manufacturers found ways to make a moped (with two pedals so ostensibly it could be ridden like a bicycle!), into a pseudo sports machine of 50cc that was restricted to 30mph. However, for those of us of advancing years, we fondly remember the halcyon days before all that, when at the tender age of 16 and armed with your provisional license, for which nothing else was required other than the ability to fill in a form, you were able to ride any motorcycle up to 250cc (with L plates of course).
Now strictly speaking, my first bike was not a road going bike at all but in fact something called ‘The Trog’. I really can’t recall why it was so named but ‘The Trog’ it was always known as by me and my group of friends. We were around 14/15yrs old and one of my mates who had some basic engineering talent along with help from a big brother, managed to perform (what seemed amazing at the time), the feat of putting (I think) a lawnmower engine into the frame of a smallish bicycle.
The only way to start it was to run alongside and hold one hand over the carb intake to act like a choke and somehow hold the other on the throttle whilst at the same time pushing it (or getting someone else to push). If you were lucky it would fire up, if you weren’t so lucky it backfired out of the carb singing your hand. Once running and you managed to jump onto it,  off you went, thrilled by the feeling of the immense power  it seemed to have(!). It probably went no more than 25mph but at the time that seemed fast! Now for my first go, I made the basic error of not knowing which way the throttle turned to make it go faster. This was not helped by the fact that the twist grip was loose on the handle bars and there seemed to be no spring in the carb to give some feel to it.
Anyway, not having yet mastered the intricacies of getting it started and riding it, for some reason I volunteered to look after ‘The Trog’ for a couple of weeks. My parents had gone away on holiday and one of my jobs whilst they were away was to keep the lawn cut. After having given it its first cut, I decided that riding The Trog around the back garden would enable me to get some practise on starting and riding the infernal beast and so I could hold my head up high with the gang.
The back garden was not huge but by going down the side of the house as well, I made a little circuit. Not realising at the time that my continual circuits were starting to create a significant ‘track’ in my father’s well-tended and manicured lawn, I thought it was great fun and saw myself as the next Jeff Smith appearing on the (sadly missed) TV scrambles of the 60’s. However, towards the end of the second week, and after several friends had also lapped the same track many times, it dawned on me that I had rather messed up the green baze. At that stage there was little I could do. Should I just ignore it and pretend it was nothing to do with me. Unfortunately I really had no choice and when my parents woke up in the morning after arriving back late at night from their holiday, I knew by the look on my old man’s face as he surveyed what had become of his treasured lawn, that I was in trouble. The end result was that I was told that when I became 16, I could forget any ideas of getting one of those ‘evil’ motorbikes. I am not sure what became of ‘The Trog’ but it lives on in my memory as my first motorbike.

By the age of 16 I was itching to get on the road and get some freedom. I was still at school at this time. A couple of friends had already bought scooters or mopeds (proper ones!), which they proudly arrived on in the mornings, parking in the teachers car park. I guess time heals as they say, so not long after my birthday I persuaded my father to take me to a motorcycle dealer to have a look at what I might be able to get with the £65 I’d saved from paper rounds, washing cars, birthdays etc. I was lucky enough to be 16 just before they tightened up the regulations on what you could ride as a learner at that age. I ended up buying a 1961 BSA Bantam D7 175cc. So, like many of us from that time of the 60’s and 70’s I started my motorcycling days on a BSA Bantam. I thought it was the bees knees. I felt great. I had a ‘proper’ motorbike, not a Vespa or a Mobylette but a big red machine that had the immortal letters BSA on the side of the tank. It would get me to just over 60mph with a following wind. At the time it seemed so fast….I remember sitting in the classroom doodling ‘BSA 175’ on my exercise books and looking forward to the end of school bell.  I could turn left up to the school car park while most of my year were making their way out of the gate to walk or catch the bus. I would start up the Bantam and take the road that went past the bus stop just to make sure I was seen by my mates. However, this did backfire once when just around the corner from the bus stop, the little red devil broke down and had to watch as those envious faces at the bus stop had turned to laughs and various gestures out of the bus window as the bus went sailing past me.
Of course the little Bantam was not without its faults (even then it must have been about 10 years old) but when it was running ok you forgave it and just enjoyed being on two wheels. But breaking down and having to push it once to often, started to make me think of getting something just a little larger and hopefully more reliable.

So the next step on the journey of my British Bikes lead to another BSA, this time a BSA Starfire 250cc. It was only about 4/5 years old and was the earlier version which had been called the Barracuda for a short while before BSA changed the name. It was a good looking bike for a 250 I thought. The blue and white fibreglass tank enhanced by matching blue side panels and chrome mudguards. Most important of all though, it actually sounded like a big motorbike with its throaty four stroke sound. It went thump ‘thump thump’ rather than the ‘ ring de ding ding ding’ of the two stroke Bantam. 

Life is full of learning opportunities and the Starfire I bought was one of these. Unfortunately I made the classic mistake of viewing the bike on a dark evening under the light of a very weak street lamp. I also elected to look at it on my own and at that stage had little knowledge of what to look for in a  four stroke engine. I was seduced by the sound it made and the feeling of a bigger bike than the little Bantam. Money changed hands (I think around £110) and I was the proud owner of another BSA. I sold the Bantam for about £45 and all seemed good. However, the Starfire very quickly started making very strange noises and it became apparent that a full engine strip and rebuild was required. The problem with the Starfire models was the way young lads like myself tended to thrash the engines and the previous owner had been no exception. The basic single cylinder engine was a good design in the larger 441cc and later 500cc versions, with beefier bearings and less highly stressed. However the 250cc model was always prone to bearing failures. Equipped with a new big end and cylinder rebore/new piston, my Starfire was carefully run in and I started to think about taking my motorcycle driving test so that I could eventually save towards a bigger capacity bike.

Passing the motorcycle driving test would allow you to ride any size bike (correct me if I’m wrong here but I seem to remember that you needed to be 17 to actually ride a bike bigger than 250cc, even if you passed your test ). You would think that even in those far off days the test would involve some pretty serious examination of your abilities, so that you weren’t let loose on the general population of this country riding a massive fire breathing monster without showing how competent you were?…, actually it was a very basic test. I remember arriving at the test station and after showing my prov. License, the examiner asked me to go outside and start my machine. He waited for me to get ready and then told me to go up the high street and do three right turns, around the block, to come back to him at the side of the kerb. This was pretty straightforward. I arrived back and he then said to do the same but in the opposite direction. He also mentioned that he would at some point step out from the kerb where I wouldn’t expect him and put up his hand at which point I should execute an emergency stop. It occurred to me that for 90% of the time, he wasn’t able to see what I was doing as I was riding round the block. Any way when I came round the second corner, he had obviously walked through a short cut and I could see he was standing there….so I was expecting him to put up his hand. I guess I was doing about 15mph when he actually did it, so not too difficult to stop! He then directed me to go back to the test centre where he asked a couple of questions from the highway code. After that he told me to go back inside and wait while he wrote up my pass certificate. All over very quickly…..I guess things have changed quite a bit from those days?

No comments:

Post a Comment