Archive for the ‘british’ Tag
In 1969 BSA commanded 80% of all the Brit bikes sold here in the USA. Eighty Percent! Who woulda thunk? I, and I think most of us, would have pegged Triumph as the leader but not so say the statistics. What was it about BSA that made it that strong a seller in a time when the Japanese manufacturers were dominating the market? Was it styling? No. Was it performance? No. Was it reliability? Certainly not. So what was it?
Let’s find a bit of perspective here. BSA may have had 80% of the British bike sales here in the states but ‘Made in England’ motorcycles constituted a very small percentage of the total bikes sold here. So small that within a decade, they were all gone from the US market.
From the late 1950’s through the mid 60’s, the British were competing with the very popular Harley Davidson Sportster in the performance category. The Sportster was Harley’s ‘sportbike’, it had a slight horsepower advantage, it had a new look (the peanut tank was quite stylish then), it had the Harley sound and, of course, it had the advantage of being made in the USA. BSA, Triumph and Norton all were better handling motorcycles but back then, straight line speed was king, not the ability to go around corners fast.
Each of the big three from the UK tried styling mods to attract the American market, Triumph with the X75 Hurricane, Norton tried (and miserably failed) with their Hi-Rider chopper model and BSA tried with…well, nothing. Sure, BSA tried a few styling changes like a smaller slimmer tank, the oil in the frame design (which nobody was really happy about), and of course the ray-gun mufflers of the Rocket 3. Personally, I love the ray-gun mufflers but at the time they went over like a fart in church. Anyway, the Brits just faded away into the sunset. Today, Triumph is back in a big way and Norton is getting set to comeback this year with a new Commando and it is beautiful. I hope it succeeds.
I started my street bike life aboard a BSA so the brand has a certain spot in my heart that will never go away. Yes, it stranded me more than once with faulty electric’s, and yes, it leaked more oil in a month than any Japanese bike I’ve ever owned did in a lifetime. It could be a bit (?) temperamental when it came to starting in the morning (or when it was hot and the bike didn’t feel like going anywhere), and it could vibrate the fillings out of my teeth if the carbs weren’t balanced properly, but…when everything was working as it was supposed to, what a joy it was to ride that Beezer. I was raised to ride the canyon roads, to believe in handling over horsepower, and the sound coming from a parallel twin was the sweetest sound in motorcycling.
At one point in time (actually a couple of times) the Japanese manufactures realized that there was something about the British bikes that still captivated the American buyer. Yamaha did great with the XS650, designed to compete with the Triumph, Kawasaki brought out the W650 to head to head with the BSA and Honda tried with the GB500 single. The only one that succeeded over the long run was the Yamaha. Today, the Triumph Bonneville is a huge success because it looks like a proper English motorbike without the oil puddle underneath it.
Lately I have been thinning the herd of bikes in my barn and am starting to look for a new adventure…once I have finished the other four projects I have going, and am being drawn towards a BSA 650. I’m actually looking for one of the last designs more than the old chrome tank styles, mainly because I think they are probably going to be cheaper on the market(?). Today on ebay I found one that might just fit the bill.
On ebay today, there is a 1969 BSA A65 that has been set up for vintage roadracing. Remember, the A65 was BSA’s ‘roadracer for the street’. The A65 put out a very respectable 54HP and would top out at around 105MPH. This particular bike has been upgraded with Marzocchi forks, more modern rear shocks, and a Suzuki twin leading shoe front brake, which was a very good upgrade from the standard brake the BSA had at the time. The motor has been given some extra muscle by way of a 750cc kit But, here is the cool thing about this bike, it can easily be retrofitted with the electric’s to power a headlight, taillight and blinkers so you have a perfect cafe racer with almost no effort! The seller says that it does need some carb work but that’s no big deal. This could be a very sweet Sunday rider.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info.
For some reason I seem to be on a Norton kick at this time. I want one. That big long stroke motor, watching the front wheel shake at stop lights…wait a minute, we’re heading into a way different topic of discussion here…uh, back to motorcycles.
I think the main reason I’m on this Norton kick is because my friends at ‘Left Coast Racing’ and I are getting ready for another Bonneville LSR run in couple of months with a pair of Norton’s. We currently hold a Land Speed Record with a rather built up 1959 Norton.
The very first Norton I ever took for a ride was a ‘rode hard and put away wet’ 750 Commando back in the early 70’s that my step dad rescued from some guys back yard. It was a lot different from the BSA’s and Triumph’s I had been riding, and honestly…at that time, I liked my Lightning 650 a lot better. But, being the good motorcycle souls that we were, we went about resurrecting it…a project that took over a year and a lot more money than my mom knows about.
During that same time, we were also upgrading a Triumph Bonneville from a standard 650cc to a Weslake 750 model (again, another story for anther time…and a really good one??). The Commando rebuild was a lot easier thanks to people like Brian Slark, Domiracer and Berliner. At the end of the year both motorcycles were finished, broken in appropriately and then taken out for a proper thrashing…Sunday morning on Angeles Crest Highway.
I fell in love with the Norton. Up to that time my motorcycling life had been with high revving two strokes, and somewhat high revving (by then current standards) English and Japanese twins, the Norton was a different feeling altogether. Where my BSA would feel light at the bars, the Norton was dead steady, the BSA needed some revs to get off a corner quickly, the Norton just needed a nudge on the throttle…the BSA needed you to pay attention, the Norton just went along with however you were riding that day (even with a minor (major) hangover).
The Norton was sold to a friend of a friend of a friend or their third cousin by marriage twice removed (no Alabama jokes here…) and was never seen again. I had grown to love that motorcycle and was sad to see it leave the garage…the guy didn’t even ride it home, he put it in a pick up truck!??? After all the work we did?… and he didn’t even live 20 miles away!! This was way before the days of ebay and buying a motorcycle on the other side of the world was easy.
So today, while working on our other websites, http://www.ilovecaferacers.com and http://www.themotoworld.com and cruising ebay looking for yet another project bike for a friend, I came upon a very nice Norton that is ready to ride and has some very nice bits and pieces.
This is a 1974 850 Commando that is a runner but…it has been sitting for years according to the owner so if you buy this bike you really need to go through the carbs, change the fluids, probably the tyres…all the standard stuff but I think this bike will be well worth the effort.
The bike has been outfitted with the Dunstall bits that really make it great, starting with the Dunstall 2 into 1 into 2 exhaust system. This exhaust is worth the price of admission alone, it is a work of art in every respect…performance and looks. The beautiful tank and that very slim front fender (I put one of those on the front of my H2, it was pretty worthless as far as fenders go, but I loved how it looked), the 850 also has what looks to me like Lester mag wheels. This Norton only has only 8800 miles on the clock and like I said before, with just some standard service, should be a wonderful ride.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little more info. This is a great bike for the money.
A while back I posted a listing for a Hogbitz Sportster cafe racer that was the most expensive bike to ever hit the blog ($25K asking price). It was relisted at least once, if not multiple times. This Norton comes in a close second with a Buy-It-Now price of $22,500. As is this the second Norton in a row I’ve posted, it is interesting to compare the bikes, and what differentiates an unrestored Norton Commando from a fully restored and cafe-racerized (including lots of motorwork) Norton Featherbed/Manx. I guess the difference comes down to this 1962 Norton being what is essentially a show bike with a hopped-up motor you could ride, versus the 1971 Norton Commando posted before being an unrestored daily rider that has a frame in good shape with “no visible cracks”.
You decide. $22.5K for a beautiful bike that has been gone through with a fine-tooth comb, or $7.5K for a bike that you might put a little elbow grease into over time (and maybe a motor rebuild while you’re at it). It would be interesting to see what this bike sells for, but it is a Buy-It-Now with Make Offer (2 offers so far), so we won’t be able to watch any climbing auction prices.
Here’s a nice looking example of a first-gen Commando that has been converted to cafe-racer duty. Overall, the modifications are spot-on, but I do have one minor quibble: the rear ride height. Shocks one inch longer would really balance the bike front-to-rear, and lifting the back end up would also probably quicken the handling just a smidge.
Other than that, this is an unrestored runner that is currently not seeing much action in the auction. There is a a day and a half left in the auction, and the current price is $4,550. Reserve has not been met, but there is a Buy-It-Now price of $7,500, so we can probably assume the reserve is set somewhere around $7K. With only two bidders so far, it seems there isn’t a huge chance the bike will end up selling.
Up for auction on eBay with about a day left is this nice-looking BSA Lightning. The seller seems to have done a lot of work to it (details copied from the original listing and pasted below), and it certainly looks the part. Interestingly, the bike seems appear to have a mechanical/hydraulic hybrid front brake (see the last picture below). I think it wouldn’t be inappropriate to have a brake reservoir on the clip-on givent hat it is a disc front brake, but I appreciate the stripped-down look. Overall, a very clean build with classic good looks.
And I forgot to add this in originally: no chain.
- Lightened and Beveled Crank Shaft
Balanced Rotating Assembly
Raised Exhaust Ports with +.100 Exhaust Valves
Lightened Valve Gear
274-274 Duration / .375 Lift Megacycle Cam
New Valve Guides and Valve Job
+.020 Forged Pistons 10:1
1 3/4″ TT Pipes with Custom Alloy Tips
Custom Alloy Intake Manifolds
36 mm Dellorto (Pumpers) Carburetors with Alloy Velocity Stacks
Dyna High Output Ignition Coils
- Modified T-160 Triple Tree & Forks
Modified T-160 Rear Hub & Alloy Sprocket
Front & Rear Lockheed Disc Brakes
Custom Fabricated Alloy Brakes Reservoir
19″ Front and Rear Wheels with Stainless Steel Spokes & Nuts
Alloy Fenders and Custom Made Alloy Brackets
Custom Made Alloy Clip-on Handle Bars, Instrument Cluster, Side Covers, Chain Guard & Tail Light/Licence Plate Bracket
Custom Made Rear Set Shift and Brake Lever Assemblies and Linkage
Alloy Brake and Clutch Levers
Vintage Alloy 2 Cable Throttle
Modified Pre-1971 A65 Seat
Here’s a nice little project bike that is already generating some interest in bids. It’s a 1963 BSA B40 that has been outfitted with a B44 motor. It is in need of finishing (hence Project Bike in the title of the post), but appears to be a relatively easy bike to complete. The seller claims the engine is running with all wiring in place, but I would ask questions before buying this bike.
Luckily, you have lots of time to ask questions as there are still over 6 days left in the auction. The price has already gone above $400 from a starting price $1, although reserve has not been met. And there are three people bidding so far. Perhaps this little beezer will generate a fair bit of interest…
Here’s an interesting street tracker built on a Triumph Bonneville T120R. It’s got a rebuilt engine and transmission and an electronic ignition so it should be relatively reliable all things considered. One of the things I like most about this bike is the mix of modern aesthetic touches with its basic old-school sensibility. Most of this is centered around the handlebars, with the matte black finish and the aluminum/black grips, which go quite nicely with the glossy paint and chrome all over the rest of the bike. Yes, grippy rubber bits would be better on the bars from a functional standpoint, but it isn’t like this bike is a canyon carver given the low pipes. There’s more pics if you click through, but these were the ones I thought spoke best about this bike…
First off, I would like to apologize for the poor quality of the previous bike and post. After taking a month plus off from blogging about the current crop of cafe racers, I was mostly discombobulated while writing that, given a comment or two that I received both online and in person. :( Be that as it may, it is time to move on to bigger and better things. Below you will see what I hope is my apology in action…
Here we have a really nice Commando 850 that has been entirely cafe’d. I am having trouble finding anything missing from this bike that would need upgrading immediately upon purchase. You could, of course, add higher-performance parts to it. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is basically a turnkey bike that the buyer can hop on and ride. The seller has been honest with the few issues that it has (speedo cable, oil weep, and tank dings), and it has a recently rebuilt engine. If there is anything I have missed that should be there (me not being a true Norton expert or anything like that), please let me know…
Currently, there is less than a day left in the auction, and the price is in the mid $4K range with 21 bidders. Perhaps it will break $5K before the auction ends. It isn’t perfect, but the seller is being very upfront with the issues it does have. Good luck if you bid…
Up for auction on eBay, and ending in just over 6 hours, is this piece of classic Brit bike history. A genuine catalog of Dunstall parts from back in the day. Looking through this book of wishes (several more photos on eBay), you can dare to dream about buying a complete Metisse road or race kit for your twin cylinder BSA, Norton, or Triumph for a whopping £323. Okay, I admit it, that was probably a lot of money back in 1967. Actually, I found an inflation calculator, and it would currently convert to almost £2,000.
Be that as it may, this is a great chance to own a piece of memorabilia that might just give you some ideas about how your cafe racer should/could/would look given a time machine and a few pounds sterling…
I will admit to you that I am no expert at knowing if this is a replica Norton JPS, but it is one cool looking motorcycle! If nothing else, the twin bug-eye headlights are easily the most disturbing front end in existence (pics of your vote for this honor appreciated). If this is real, it would seem to be a truly collectible piece of British race bike history. It will be interesting to see where the auction closes…