Road Test: BSA Gold Star road test

BSA Gold Star, and this is one of the best

I don’t know about you but I’m in awe of those talented individuals who, with ease and a minimum of fuss, step up to lathes and milling machines and casually fashion special items to make their machine stand out. Part of this awe comes from knowing that even if I had similar equipment available the result would be well, less than stunning. Oh, I’m a reasonable hand at wood machining right enough, it’s part of my trade after all, but the ability to fashion steel and alloy to such a degree as Glyn Jones has done on his Goldie leaves me breathless.

If I had similar ability then it would certainly make the preparation of my BSA trials bike and the Classic Bike Guide Triumph a whole lot easier than it is. However, all I can do is admire the work that talented people like retired engineer Glyn can accomplish. And that is exactly what I was doing at the Gold Star Owners Club rally near Stratford on Avon last summer. At first I thought “hmmm, nice Clubman” then when I paid a bit more attention to it I realised that it wasn’t just a Clubman and the owner had put a high degree of work into it. At that time I didn’t realise that it was Glyn’s bike though the name ‘Glyn Jones’ routed into the steering head should have given me a bit of a clue.

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I’d actually met Glyn some years ago when I road-tested his genuine Rocket Gold Star – the lad is a long time Goldie enthusiast – and he’d mentioned the project he was working on back then. When he returned to his bike and the penny finally dropped I asked if this was the project and could we come down to Gloucestershire and have a ride? He agreed so, a few weeks later there I was heading down the M5 on the lean burn Royal Enfield getting wetter and wetter as the rain went from light drizzle to torrential down-pour and then on to thunder and lightning. “Wonderful” I thought though, luckily, the weather picked up and as photographer Nick Haskell recorded events it was a nice day.

As Haskell did the static work I had a chance to quiz Glyn about his motorcycling past. “I started on a BSA Bantam when I was 18½,” he said, “I was quite late in to bikes because as a young lad I was more into sports. I suppose you could say that I started as a bit of a dare. I was in a competition, doing the high jump, and a friend of mine who was watching said that if I won he’d let me have a ride on his bike.” Grinning he continued: “Well, I won clear enough, had a quick ride on his Bantam and wanted one straightaway.” Moving him onto the Goldie connection I asked what his first one was. “A ’51 ZB32 Clubman,” he says, without any hesitation. “I traded in my ’52 Velocette MAC at Comerfords in Thames Ditton. It was a proper Clubman model, no speedo only a rev counter and most of the way back it was on 6000rpm which made for a quick journey,” he laughed.

BSA Gold Star road testSteering the conversation back to the Goldie I asked the background to the bike. “It’s largely made up of parts I’ve had for years,” says Glyn. “I did want to do something a little bit different as it annoys me when people talk about a special and what they really mean is ‘selection of readily available parts.’ If you’re going to personalise a bike then you do have to put a bit of effort into the job. I wanted to put as much into this as I could, what I mean is things like the fasteners. I could have easily bought them but they wouldn’t have been exactly what I wanted, OK, they would have been near enough but where’s the point in accepting near enough in a project like this?” This uncompromising attitude means that 99 per cent of the nuts, bolts and washers used here originated from Glyn’s lathe. “Most are stainless steel,” he says, “but where it was safe to do so I used alloy to save weight.” Glyn also fabricated things like the engine plates, brake torque arms and clock brackets from alloy sheet but needed a bigger lump of the stuff for the eye-catching top yoke. “Yes, that was a big billet of alloy,” he tells me, “It isn’t such a difficult job to do, just accurate measuring in the main part. I did make up some bushes though, to convert the top of the BSA fork stanchions from tapered to straight. A friend of mine carved my name into the yoke using a CNC miller. I don’t have any CNC machines in my little workshop,” he says. I had to admit it was neat touch and finishes off that part of the forks very nicely.

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BSA Gold StarSome of the parts on this bike have been in Glyn’s workshop for a considerable length of time; the gearbox for instance has been there since 1958. “It’s an RRT type rather than the legendary RRT2,” he tells me. Noticing my expression he goes on to say “It’s fitted with a lower first gear for an easier getaway. BSA fitted it as standard for a short time before going onto the RRT2, but it has always been in the parts lists.” Glyn tells me that he’s not actually stripped the ‘box though he did take the middle plate out to fit a needle roller bearing lay shaft. “Other than that and fitting a breather into the outer casing, which was an Eddie Dow tip, the gearbox is a typical four-speed Goldie one.”  I asked what the breather did and the answer should have been obvious but I was being particularly dim that day. Situated behind the engine, the gearbox gets quite warm and the oil heats up, expands and pressurises the box. This means that oil will squirt out of anywhere that it can, tapping in a breather allows the expansion to take place, gives the pressure somewhere to go rather than forcing its way through joint faces and bearings and helps keep condensation out of the oil. Hmmm, must investigate this on the Classic Bike Guide Triumph.

Starting from basics the frame is a genuine Gold Star from ’61, without checking numbers Glyn’s not sure and as it has an age-related registration number this isn’t necessarily an indication of the year. The main part of the frame is standard but the swinging arm has been modified. By cutting the fork ends the wheel now slides completely out by slackening the spindle rather than needing to use the qd hub.

BSA Gold StarUp at the front end the forks are all BSA except for the Taylor Dow two-way damping. Taylor Dow was the BSA agent in Banbury and noted for its service to Gold Stars. Eddie Dow is also credited with instigating the Rocket Gold Star when a customer of his wanted a cafe racer with the Goldie’s urge and the A10’s flexibility. Anyway, it was the place to go if you wanted the best in advice and after market Gold Star customising. “I used to go there most Saturday afternoons,” says Glyn, “the seat on this bike is a genuine Dow item, it cost me a fiver brand new in the 60s. It really suits the bike and, like all of Dow’s stuff, is a great fit.”

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Complementing the seat is that great big racing fuel tank, again a period item, in glass fibre, and again it has been in Glyn’s workshop for a while. Something that hasn’t been with Glyn for all that long is the engine. It’s a 500cc job and not a DBD34 though Goldie novices like me might think it is. The cases, barrel, head and rocker boxes are all brand new castings and needed a bit of fettling to make them all fit together.

This is where the experience of a long time Gold Star owner and engineer really pay off. Without the knowledge and ability the parts wouldn’t have come together… ever. All Glyn will say is that it took a long time to sort. The contents of the engine are thought to have originated from Chris Williams at Autocycle, though the billet crank shaft might be an Alpha one. If this sounds a bit vague don’t forget that, as far as an engineer is concerned – especially one who intends to modify – bought components are only a starting point. The crank is fitted with a steel con-rod which has a 10.5:1 Omega piston at the other end. “The compression ratio is probably not exactly 10.5:1 but near enough,” says Glyn. “I kept to standard DBD34 valve sizes and timing, too, I might experiment a bit later but at least with this specification I know it will run well.” In the timing chest, Glyn has fitted an outrigger plate he made from alloy and incorporating a needle roller bearing. It is just as stiff as the standard steel one, obviously a little lighter and the bearing cuts down on friction, which makes the engine’s life a bit easier.

'Right, starting was as simple as turning on the petrol and knocking the choke lever into the right position, finding compression, easing the piston over the top, then a hefty swing on the kick starter. Simple…'

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Also in the interest of an easier life a MkII Amal Concentric carburettor is fitted rather than the Amal GP. When The MotorCycle visited Eddie Dow’s workshop for a series of Goldie features it was pointed out that getting a reliable tickover with a racing instrument and semi-race cams was a faint hope. The best that could be aimed at was clean running at 2000rpm. The MkII carb is much more civilised for town running and modern traffic conditions than the GP though Glyn has made a GP-style carb top so that it fools the casual observer. “It also helps starting and running that the Lucas competition magneto works very well,” adds Glyn, “I’m not sure who rebuilt it but they’ve done a good job.”

BSA Gold StarAs I’m scribbling away, occasionally being interrupted by Nick Haskell who wants the bike shifting to catch the ‘glorious sunshine, which will really light up the bike, oh and which bits shall I take pics of?’ “Make sure you get the front brake,” I tell him. There is more evidence of Glyn’s handiwork here. Look and see, there’s no brake arm, or cable for that matter. Glyn converted the whole lot to hydraulic action. Starting out with the 8in BSA hub and plate, which isn’t a bad brake as these things go, he fitted two Mini slave cylinders inside which makes it tls now, then added Vauxhall brake shoes and Cortina return springs. He made the rest of the fittings himself, put in a stainless steel hose and connected the lot to a BMW twin disc reservoir at the handlebar end. “I tried the single disc one first, but it wasn’t big enough,” he says.

At the other end the brake comes from a B50 BSA, though it is similar in style to the Goldie version and by the late 60s would be standard wear on all qd hubbed bikes in the range, subject to slight detail differences depending on the actual model. Like the front hub it has been drilled for extra added lightness and balancing. Continuing the lightening theme both wheels have Akront alloy rims which I think look really smart on a bike. They were laced onto the hubs by Gloucestershire engineering company Antig Engineering. Antig, run by Tig Perry is a noted speedway and grasstrack parts supplier and manufacturer.

Balancing out the two-way damping on the front forks are the popular and good Koni dial-a-ride rear dampers. Everyone who tries these seems to become an instant fan and they are multi-adjustable. Having ridden several bikes with them on I like them, too. At this point in the proceedings Haskell announced that he’d got enough static shots and it was time Britton forced his body onto the sleek cafe racer and did some runs for the camera. General opinion was that I was going to find this bike a bit tight as Glyn has made everything for himself and he’s a good five inches shorter than me. However, I didn’t find it a problem and even managed to tuck my feet in to Glyn’s stainless steel foot rests. He did offer to adjust them as he’d made them with bi-hex hanger bolts giving 12 possible positions but they were OK.

BSA Gold StarRight, starting was as simple as turning on the petrol and knocking the choke lever into the right position, finding compression, easing the piston over the top, then a hefty swing on the kick starter. Simple, very and I actually managed it, too, the engine settled down to a steady tickover once it was warmed up.

The gearbox clicked into first as I toe’d the lever up – reversed lever and alternative cam plate gives standard selection pattern of one up and three down – and the lower first gear meant I wasn’t going to have to slip the clutch to 30mph as per the folklore. This bike would probably stand such abuse as it has the excellent Pearson clutch conversion. Based on the Suzuki GS550-750 primary drive, it contains a shock absorber and multi-adjustment. Fitting one of these means that owners of Goldies and other British bikes can have a clutch that works though, whisper this bit, it won’t be original and, therefore, will mark you out as a charlatan. Do we care? No, go get a clutch that works and enjoy your bike. Glyn has modified the BSA primary case to include an inspection cap right where the adjuster screw for the clutch is which saves taking the case off every time you need to tweak it a bit. Pulling out into traffic the Goldie accelerates well and easily slips into second and, thanks to the little bar-end mirror I can keep an eye on traffic behind me. Winding on the throttle has the bike accelerating cleanly and it is certainly quick enough to deal with modern roads. The RRT ‘box seems to have the right spread of ratios and is nicely matched to the power out put of the engine. Also nicely matching the output is the braking system. Coming up to a roundabout the car in front of me decided to stop abruptly and I had to grab a handful of lever. The hydraulic conversion worked perfectly and the rear brake kept me in line.

BSA Gold Star road testWhen the road was clear enough it was possible to approach the roundabout in second, power round it, then flick left to leave at the right exit and accelerate into third on the long straight that followed. My fun was spoilt by the need to ride to and fro past Haskell’s camera though once he was happy with the riding shots I was left to my own devices and could go for a decent run back to base. Tucking myself in behind the neat nose fairing – a Unity Equipe item with Glyn’s own screen on – it was easy to see the attraction of a cafe racer in its day. Keeping the power on the boil and flicking the bike through the bends was great fun, helped by the fact that there were modern TT100s on each rim rather than the older squarish traditional tyres. Even heading through town wasn’t too bad though Glyn did take me a less direct route rather than suffer the stop go traffic right in the centre and unlike the lads of the 60s I didn’t loose any clutch adjustment.

Once back at base I gave the bike the final once over. First off it was exceptionally clean at the end of our test, no leaks, no oil mist, no drips. Nothing had fallen off, nothing had broken, the bike had started when we wanted it too, stopped when we needed it and had remained thoroughly civilised at all times. This is what we all really want from a British bike. Maybe a cafe racer isn’t your ideal but getting a bike to work like this should be. bike

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