Tuesday 15 June 2010

Looking back over my shoulder

Carrying on from an earlier posting about my younger days and motorcycles. I think the post should be titled Looking back over my shoulder - or many biker years through rose tinted glasses.

I first started on the road with a motorbike in 1963. However, bikes had been in use within our family for a few years prior to that. My dad owned a single cylinder 250cc Panther in red and my brother owned a 250cc Excelsior twin in green. However, my first bike was a two stroke single. For the old time bikers amongst us it was a "1950ish ex GPO BSA Bantam 125cc D1 plunger" in two tone rust and red. This bike had been used by the post office telegram boys at the time. I remember thinking in my youth that one day I too would one day be a telegram boy zipping round town on a motorbike. However, the heyday of the telegram was coming to an end by the beginning of the sixties. The end of the telegram delivery service was due in the main from the uptake by the public of the telephone. Soon the "General Post Office" would become the "Post Office" and eventually as it is today the "Royal Mail". Each name change heralding a lessening of the "public services" due to re-organisation and eventual privatisation.

But as usual I digress.
I can't remember exactly how it came into my hands but it was probably swapped for something else. The bike was a runner, but best described as being very tatty. I started to clean and fettle the bike with some help from friendly staff at "Wilson Brothers" motorcycles who were located in Rotherham. Fettling included oiling things that had not been oiled for years as well as greasing the chain and sprockets. I cleaned off all the rust and pitted paint from the frame with a wire brush. There was not much of the original paint to be seen by the time I had done. I acquired a tin of red lead paint which was applied with a brush to any bare metal. A bit of rubbing down with some smooth sandpaper and the bike was given a new coat of Stokes red gloss door paint. The Stokes paint factory was nearby and a chat with one of the employee's paid dividends. I thought at the time that the bike looked very good.

Then I did some work on the drum brakes, cleaning and replacing the shoes. I forced grease through the control cables. The grease went in at one end and muck and filth came out at the other. I kept going until clean grease came through. I picked up a single seat from Wilson Brothers which was in much better condition than the original and even came complete with chrome springs. Apart from the nacelle round the headlamp and the exhaust which had been replaced sometime in the past. Otherwise, there was little other chrome on the bike, including the wheels which were painted as standard. I did have a few problems with the lights. After some judicious cleaning of the various connectors and switches plus the replacement of the odd piece of wire here and there the job was eventually done.

The engine, by comparison was in reasonable condition. It started every time - first time. The German born mechanic (Hans?) who worked at Wilson Brothers said the engine could do with a re-bore. As the bike was a two stroke or better known as a "two smoke" it was hard to tell. However, that was way beyond my means at the time. So taking pity, he gave me a new piston and some part worn rings to fit. I even had to borrow some of his tools to get the head and barrel off. Some decoking of the ports was required prior to fitting the new piston and rings. This also needed liberal use of red hermatite because I had to reuse the same gaskets again. The engine was put back together and with some trepidation it started first time. I started to clean off the engine and using different sized wire brushes made a reasonable job of removing years of crud. Where possible I replaced the odd rusty nut or bolts and sometimes even both. I can't remember how long it took to fettle, I would thing a couple of months or maybe a week or two more.

At the time, I thought it looked great. However, after some 48ish years of hindsight - I still think it might have looked good - but possibly only from a reasonable distance and through rose tinted glasses.

My parents had some trepidation about letting me loose on the road. The mechanic from Wilson Brothers had a ride on the bike and pronounced it roadworthy. My mother was not sure. My dad had a ride on it and agreed that it was good for the road. My mother was still not sure. My brother should have been a psychologist as he knew exactly what mother needed to hear. My brother had a ride on it - he came back and said "it's got no power and I could go quicker on a bicycle" my mother felt re-assured. So I was allowed out onto the roads. This started a whole lifetime of riding which I still enjoy very much and continues to this day.

It became obvious as the weather changed towards autumn and then into winter, that my usual apparel of jeans and a duffle coat would not be the best of wet and winter riding attire. So I purchased from the local "Army Stores" a set of leather dispatch rider boots and set of long white wool seaman's socks. This was soon followed by a pair of waterproof over trousers as well as pair of leather gauntlets. The best purchase being a Barbour waxed jacket. All this was topped off with a white scarf, Everoak "pudding basin" helmet and a pair of fighter pilot goggles. I must have been a sight for sore eyes.

I worked at that time in the local steel industry and any surplus cash was diligently saved. After about a year, during which time I had passed my driving test, I had enough money to "trade up" to a more desirable bike. The Bantam which had been used daily to travel to and from work and for the occasional longer trips was traded in. I knew that I did not want another two stroke. So a four stroke it had to be. I purchased a Royal Enfield, Crusader Sports. It was a much more potent beast and at 250cc had enough power to give girls a lift on the back. This bike did a number of long UK camping trips as far as Loch Lomond to the north, Lands End to the south and even to the Isle of Man TT.

Soon the 1966 World Cup event came around and I managed to get some work doing freelance dispatch riding for various newspapers and other organisations. I did a few trips down to London but most of the work was into Manchester, Sheffield Liverpool, Birmingham and Middleborough. I did well enough to buy myself a Triumph Tiger 90 350cc twin to make the work a bit easier. By the end of the event I had had about three months of riding everyday of the week for 12 and sometimes more hours a day. Being paid by three or four different groups for the same trip. Photographic films and small documents made up the majority of the items. The longest day being Sheffield to Birmingham then to London and back to Sheffield. I can remember travelling over parts of the M1 going into and out of London and being able to do many high speed miles.

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