Road Test: BSA A10 café racer

Editor Clark picked this bike out in the line-up of private entries at April’s Stafford Show and when I said I knew the owner, he asked me to book a ride. It stood there looking very traditionally British in its black paintwork with gold lining, a touch of gravitas among some of its more colourful brethren. A bit like Great Uncle Joseph, who wore dark suits, never danced at weddings, and was said to be able to handle himself a bit.

It’s the product of Dave Meredith’s undying enthusiasm for the café racer era, which began with an innocent little 250cc Matchless, fitted with Ace bars and an exhaust system modified to give a lot more noise to impress his mates and annoy the neighbours. We’ve all been there, but Dave has retained a refreshing honesty and sense of humour: “Might have made more noise, but it went slower,” he says.

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He’s moved on as maturity gradually made him see what we would call sense. He has a lovely early Triumph 6T in his garage, a bike whose 60th birthday has been overlooked with all the ballyhoo surrounding the Bonneville’s half century; with a Hinckley T’Bird next to it.

BSA A10 cafe racerHe does BSA Specials well too, concours winning stuff including two 650cc Beesa powered Nortons but he wanted something a little more pure; not another immaculate Golden Flash or a Rocket Gold Star replica, a proper BSA Special with Small Heath products as the constituent parts. His history of creating specials has left him quite a stock of Beesa bits, so when he set out on this project his shopping list was not so big. Off he went on a jumble safari that lasted from November 2007 to the completion of the job in September 2008; 10 months of searching, sorting, selecting and paying, not to mention a fair few miles covered. If you want to know who to go to for BSA twin parts, Dave Meredith must be high on the list of men who know.

An A10 frame came from a Malvern jumble, along with an A65 eight-inch single sided front brake. The frame was given a thorough de-lugging to make it look like a Rocket Gold Star version, but the genuine original frame number tells the knowledgeable a different story. No question here of attempting to deceive, it’s an A10 based Special. At the VMCC’s Shepton Mallet jumble he found an A10 engine and alloy head in what he describes as “Very poor condition.” That little collection was delivered to Gary Bowden Auto Engineering, a man who’s figured in previous restorations of Dave’s, who did the head repairs and produced a complete working engine with a Super Rocket camshaft, number 67-357 to produce more urge, with 8 to 1 Road Rocket pistons to squeeze the mixture before it was fired into life by the Lucas K2F magneto. Feeding that mixture in was a new Amal Concentric 930, jetted to RGS spec, courtesy of Hitchcock's Motorcycles, of Royal Enfield fame. The man Bowden who screwed that lot together is clearly very handy, as he rebuilt the wheels, too. Avon tyres were chosen, because they’re still made in England.

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A piece of luck came from good friend Steve Nibbs, in the form of an oil tank, toolbox, gearbox and a Pearson clutch. There’s a saying that you make your luck, but in this case it was a matter of ensuring luck with a wise choice of friend. Back to the jumble circuit.

BSA A10 cafe racerAt April’s Stafford 2008, he picked up the exhaust pipes and rear suspension units from Polly Palmer, long established BSA aficionado and specialist under his Bri-tie name. Polly’s also been a prime mover in the BSAOC and has a deep knowledge of the breed. What this growing list of names and contacts is revealing is the good sense of loyalty to one make, because along with experience of foibles and what fits what, you find out who may have the part and how honest they are.

At the same gathering of the mighty, Dave picked up a pair of new Dunstall silencers from a jumbler for a mere £30; it must have been the last day of that man’s April sale, because Dave would happily have paid £30 each. At Cake Street Classics he struck more gold, picking up rear-set footrest lugs and fittings, footrests, rear brake pedal and taper roller bearings for the headset. He must have needed a break for the plastic to recover from that lot, but next month was at Kempton Park to find a well worn Rocket Gold Star tank and a headlight with fixing brackets. At Andrew Pople’s stand he bought matching speedometer and rev-counter; if anything adds to a bike’s overall appearance more than a properly restored and painted fuel tank, it’s a pair of matching clocks sitting proudly in the top yoke area. Things were really looking up; time to get other processes under way.

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Dennis Richens of Dennis’s Motor Cycle Resprays in Cirencester is a good mate of Dave’s, and came up trumps again by restoring the tank and laying on a fine paint job in best British black, while cousin John Meredith, a motorcycle engineer, laid knowledge, good fasteners and experienced hands on the electrics and tucked one of Paul Goff’s V Reg boxes neatly away from sight in the toolbox.

BSA A10 cafe racerCecil Lane at Rainbow Polishing in Birmingham looked after polishing and chroming and Kidderminster Motorcycles, home of the excellent Andy and Stan, helped out with numerous other bits. I know these lads well and remember being told of a chap who phoned for a 1937 BSA Model Y, V-twin kick-start return spring; there was original BSA stock available and it was in the post that day. At 9.30 the next morning a delighted owner called to express his delight – 1937 BSA parts return of post, new parts for his new Mondeo, three weeks!

Ten months on from project start, Dave wheeled one very purposeful BSA Special out of the workshop, tickled the Amal and kicked it into life. Yes, he does farm work out to people with greater specialist skills than he will claim, but once he gets the bit between his teeth he does not hang about. This is a man with a busy life as a ground works contractor, laying drives and paths as well as installing speed humps for the local council; all that and mentally working what he wants his special to look like, and adapting the available parts to produce it. The man’s work rate is pretty impressive.

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  “I don’t know if you’re going to like this, because I remember you writing that the most uncomfortable bike you’ve ever ridden was a Clubman Goldie, and this is a real café racer,” he explained as we looked over the Beesa in his garage. A bit special is Dave’s garage, with a row of Davida helmets in colours to match each of his bikes; it’s getting close to one for each day of the week. At the rear is a separate room where the dirty jobs are done, and behind that a smaller room with attached toilet and storage space for a large number of cans. Not cans of Morris, Castrol or Millers you understand, rather but Scrumpy Jack cider and Speckled Hen bitter; no wonder he spends long hours in the garage.

BSA A10 cafe racer engine and gearboxDave’s neck of the woods was unknown to photographer Wilkinson and myself, so we asked his advice on a setting to picture this handsome motorcycle. “I’ll phone Anthony Edmondson at Lodge House Holidays. I’ve done work for him and it’s a lovely place. I reckon he’d let us take some pictures down there.”

A phone call later and we were ready to move, Dave moving bikes about to get the BSA out into the sunshine and kindly kicking it into life for my benefit, the automatic advance and retard mechanism meaning there was no messing with another handlebar lever. Make a note of that, Reynolds, and from now on you will preserve your reputation by starting it for yourself. Those Dunstall silencers certainly gave a deep sound different from a standard BSA system, with just a slightly more raw note that certainly turned heads.

The clutch was pleasantly light and the lever dropped silently into first – rearset footrests, reversed gear lever, hence one down and three up. Must remember to think that this is a Triumph, and we should survive. The riding position was not as extreme as Dave’s introduction had suggested, and it seemed to fit well once I’d moved my centre of gravity back a little and tucked my knees into the tank cutaways. As it was still running in, Dave suggested a ceiling of about 3500rpm in deference to a tight motor. If I had any misgivings about adopting such a down-and-doin-it riding position, they disappeared in the first 100 yards, as BSA’s reputation for building stable and easy to ride big bikes shone through. I wouldn’t want to do too many miles on this one, but the riding position didn’t impede control, even at town traffic speeds. A day in this saddle would leave me with a serious crick in the neck, but as we headed out into rural Gloucestershire and the speed rose, the weight on my wrists reduced.

'The gearbox is a good unit too, with short lever movement and positive selection every time up or down; when I chatted to Dave later he reported a straight replacement of bearings but no special work done to encourage smooth shifting of gears. That’s BSA at their best for you, strong machines and easy operation'

Ride any decent A10 or one of its descendants and you begin to realise why so many riders are loyal to the BSA badge; as a road engine it has no vices and pulls cleanly from way down the revs. In this case, not so strongly as the Mikuni equipped Super Rocket on which I recently explored the roads of Wales, but still a lovely engine to ride and with that temporary 3500rpm ceiling, there was virtually no vibration. The gearbox is a good unit too, with short lever movement and positive selection every time up or down; when I chatted to Dave later he reported a straight replacement of bearings but no special work done to encourage smooth shifting of gears. That’s BSA at their best for you, strong machines and easy operation.

BSA A10 cafe racerWe wound our way down roads and lanes to the Lodge House Holidays site, where the road surface changed from Tarmac to compacted gravel and at the approach to the office, sand. Oh dear… my first experience of riding a motorcycle through sand was as a novice trials rider on a well worn Greeves Scottish in the Streatham Club’s Half Crown Trial. I was riding across the Hampshire heathlands as fast as I could when a stretch of sand loomed ahead. 'Sand? Kids play with that. No problem,' I thought as I opened the throttle, before wondering why the earth was up and the sky down. I picked the Greeves up, dusted my Barbour suit down and proceeded with more caution; I’ve done my best to avoid sand ever since. However, with a firm grip of the clip-ons and first gear engaged, this most unlikely of bikes trickled through.

Anthony Edmondson was cooperation itself, and after admiring Dave’s bike suggested we should use the island site, where maintenance work was ongoing and guests were absent. Turn the bike around, kick it into action with the first swing, ease gently through that sand and onto the road around the lake. The place is developed around a 100 acre lake with the cabins spread out around the shore – not too many of them, which gives the place a very peaceful feeling. The island was reached by a narrow footbridge, which did suggest that I was being put through a special obstacle course to test this bike in as many awkward places as possible, but once again it pulled gently along in its sure-footed way to the sandy shore near an open-air bar. We did wonder if the Editor would look at the pictures and accept a claim for air fares to Hawaii, but being honest fellows decided against it. Instead, we found a can of lager and persuaded Dave to sit back on his imaginary desert island to admire his own bike. Sadly for Dave, the lager remained unopened, but he didn’t lose his smile. After all, he did have all those other cans waiting back in the workshop.

BSA A10 cafe racerAfter all the laughing and posing, the BSA fired up first kick and moved steadily down the tracks to the more civilised Tarmac of the road system and some fine bends to test the handling. It passed that test with flying colours, the bike firmly planted and front and rear suspension steadily compliant over a range of surfaces from smooth to those bits that didn’t get done before this year’s budget ran out. I can’t say that the racing crouch makes it go around corners any faster, in fact it’s probably slower unless you’re used to this style, but it took everything in its stride.

That A65 front brake is good, progressive and offering good stopping power given a firm grip of the lever. I didn’t notice the saddle, so it must have been comfortable. Wilko’ found a right angled corner that fitted his requirements, outside a marina where posh folks were fussing around their boats. A warmed up 650 BSA with only Paul Dunstall’s nominal silencer to hush its deep, masculine bellow attracted curious looks from older men and disdain from unknowing youth who probably thought it was a Honda. I didn’t particularly care, because I was enjoying myself.

There was a frustration in riding such a well sorted bike with sporting pretensions at such a moderate pace, and I can only hint at its potential. It pulls a high gear, about 18mph for every thousand revs, so that running in ceiling was nudging the legal limit and the bike felt like it was cantering, so little effort did it take. On the return journey I was held up for a while as Dave and John escaped up the road, but the bike swiftly caught up, even at a cruise.

It’s a lovely looker, one man’s loving creation from a miscellany of parts drawn from all over the southern half of England. A bit like a really good cook looking in the cupboard to find no obvious recipe in prospect, but bringing together what’s available to serve up a really tasty dish. Tasty dish. Yep, sums it up nicely. bike

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