I started with a Tiger Cub – rode in first gear for half a mile to a quieter road to learn how to change gear!
After the big-end extruded its bush around the end of the con rod I moved on to LRV (or LVR) 227, a long-stroke DOHC 500 Manx in a Dominator frame assembled, all but the details, by a friend at Southampton Tech.
With no lights and a Chronometric rev counter geared at 2x the correct speed it was interesting, especially when the clutch retaining nut loosened (cured by turning it down to half the thickness and locking with another on top). That went to Lawton and Wilson’s in Southampton for about £50!
Next was DJO162 a 1936 Inter with no speedo since registered before Sept 1936. Engine rebuilt in my mum’s front room, I have a host of tales about that one and rides to The Penny Farthing Cafe in Bishop’s Waltham on an open megaphone! Ran it on Castrol R (for the smell, naturally), didn’t keep an eye on the oil filter and the exhaust rocker pad wore out on the way to the 1966 Diamond Jubilee TT.
Had to push it off the boat to the digs and because the TT ran late that year (I forget why) because of the August Bank Holiday I couldn’t ring Harold Daniell’s in London for a spare until the Tuesday. Rocker rebuilt, ‘Dimlow’ here didn’t think to ask himself why this had occurred and consequently it seized up between Oxford and Newbury on the A34.
The star of that TT for me was Barry Smith riding a standard Suzuki Super Six to 12th place in the 250cc race entered by Harry Thompson of Harrogate. This led to LRU20D a customised Thompson Suzuki, with long chrome expansion chamber-style exhausts but with the standard T20 baffles fitted. These were later replaced by a pair of short racing expansion chambers now illegal for racing and led to my moment of glory, being stopped for excessive noise on the IoM in 1967! Another guy in our digs rode a Mk.II Squariel in a Featherbed frame and that was pretty throaty too!
After that came two Bridgestone 350 GTRs (the disc-valve broke on the first and I replaced it with JWL46F which my wife and I rode on our honeymoon to Lynton in Devon in 1968. After a seizure on that one I exchanged it for a new Bonneville in 1969 also from Faulkner’s in Oxford. I fitted Thruxton pipes and, after our first daughter born in 1970, that was it until an RG250 Suzuki in 1983.
People don’t realise the attitude to old bikes in those days. I remember that Conway Motors in Goldhawk Road regularly advertised Vincent 500cc Comets in the Exchange and Mart for £55 for year on year.
I recall the wonder with which I viewed those beautiful castings on a Honda in Lawton’s but the lacquer on those castings did not like British salty roads. My T20 engine casings suffered from that grey mould under the lacquer and, once buffed off, the unprotected alloy was in constant need of heavy polishing. At least with British machinery the aluminium only needed a going over of Solvol Autosol.
I bought my recent issue due to the Thruxton Bonneville article – why couldn’t manufacturers sell look-alikes to the populace – is anything more beautiful than a Manx Norton?
Look at ‘Slippery Sam’ and the styling of the standard Trident – oh the incredulity with which we viewed the first Honda CB750 when on show (at Brighton that year I believe).
We look back on British bikes with nostalgia but I always remember thinking, as one staggering new Japanese model succeeded the previous year’s wonder, that all Triumph was doing was changing the colour of the tank.
Designers commit some howlers though – the hump on the end of the dual seat on the Venom Thruxton for example. A removable hump to convert to a single seat or an optional single seat, but not that ‘chaise longue!’ I also have a thing about exhausts – three into three or one, okay – three into four as on the Norton Jota, not for me. While on the subject of that Jota, he should look again at the writing on the seat – “Spirit of the Sixties VII” (vee-eye-eye) Roman No.7, Okay, but “V11” (vee-one-one) NO! I read it as Volume 11 until I read the text.
I recall pics of the shiny new Japanese bikes in American mags in the very early 1970s – and all of us hardcore British bike owners sat in the pub laughing at these garish machines. Within a year I was the only one left riding a Brit bike. And I too eventually ended up buying one the following year. Gary Pinchin
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