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The bike relaxing while I open a gate

The bike relaxing while I open a gate

I’ve spent most of today playing with the new motorcycles. After a quick oil change the large of the two was fired up and I gave it a good blat around the fields. It’s not really designed for riding sitting down, as the pegs are so far backwards so you really have to stand. The gearing is very low and rather annoyingly the farm is rather flat so it’s not really in it’s element at the moment. I need to take it to somewhere really muddy and preferably, vertical and then it will come alive. It was interesting to think about how different it was to the F 800 GS I rode a few weeks ago. The 800 GS is a serious off road bike but this motorbike is something else, it’s just so specialised.

Some parts of the bike are still a bit of a mystery to me, I can remember being told the sequence of things you had to do to start it but the reasons behind them were slightly lost to me. Thankfully the lovely chaps at the Classic Bike Forum were able to work out what was going on.

The clutch is fairly easy to spot, but what are the other two things?

The clutch is fairly easy to spot, but what are the other two things?

As you may notice this end of the handbar has slightly more levers on it than normal. The one on the top of the handles is the advance/retard for the ignition, it changes the rate at which the engine ticks over. The one below is a bit more mysterious. If you squeeze it when the engine is running the bike stops (which is handy because the bike doesn’t have any other off switches) and it is also used when kick starting. After I explained what happened to the chaps on the forum they said it might be a valve lifter, so I took some photos to investigate

There is where the cable goes, so valve lifter it is then.

There is where the cable goes, so valve lifter it is then.

And so you can see on the right where the cable connects to the top of the engine. Another mystery solved. I also got my Dad’s old helmets when the bikes were delivered. One of which is lovely old school lid, perfect for riding retro bikes around.

It just needs some goggles.

It just needs some goggles.

I dug it out this morning to wear while riding the bike around the farm but when I picked it up I noticed it still had my dad’s white hairs on the inside. It was as if he had only taken it off five minutes ago and so I decided I think I’ll leave it for now, I’ll buy a new helmet for me and leave that one for him.


Well the motorbikes have arrived and been unloaded the one based around the Villiers engine (I really should get around to naming these motorcycles) is looking a little bit worse for wear but that’s only because it hasn’t been used in ages and has been stored in a shed.
It is a lovely little bike, it just needs some love.

It is a lovely little bike, it just needs some love.

I used to ride this bike in classic trials with my dad on the other one, it’s really light and was even made road-legal briefly. Large parts of this bike were made by hand so it served as a prototype for the next more powerful motorbike. The engine is a 250cc two-stroke affair and the gearbox was a bit of a nightmare or at least that is how I remember it.

Even more exciting than the Villiers was this bike, as you may have noticed I have given it a quick wash. When it arrived it still had the mud on it from when I was on it last.

The motorcycle, after being given a quick wash

The motorcycle, after being given a quick wash

Cameron (who had picked it up for me) had noticed that it’s got a bit of an oil leak which is a real pain. It seems to be in the sump, but since this is a hand built bike there isn’t a manual I can get hold of – it was designed on the back of cigarette packets and the corners of newspapers.

Even though it was really naughty I couldn’t resist firing it up, mostly to see if I could remember the sequence you have to go through to start it. It fired up almost instantly and rolled over beautifully, the exhaust note is deep and powerful like Thor laughing and it brought back a flood of memories. Today feels like Christmas.

I’m going to have to sort out the leak fast as it’s a real struggle to resist riding it about and I’m also going to have to work out what sort of oil I should put in it. Anyone got any ideas?
Oh and if you’d like to read a bit more about the second bike and it’s construction have a look here

Today is a very important day, my classic motorbikes are being delivered.

I’m so excited I feel a little bit sick. I’ve waited just over a year to sort out getting these motorcycles picked up and now they are on their way. The company doing the delivery are the aptly named – Motorcycle Delivery – who were recommended by a load of people on the Classic Bike forum and I’m really impressed with the service so far. I had tried to arrange to pick the bikes up myself but since I don’t have a suitable car let alone, a two bike trailer I was really stumped.

Well I am stumped no more as the motorbikes are on their way.

One of the bikes, rating the day I am having out of ten

One of the bikes, rating the day I am having out of ten

I’ll have to do a longer post later when they have arrived but for now have a read about one of the bikes being delivered – Classic trials bike

I’ve had a dig through some old emails from my dad when he went into a bit more detail about the motorbike and I thought I’d share it here. It really gives you an idea of what a special motorcycle this is.
A nice close up of the front end.

A nice close up of the front end.

‘The Cylinder head is from a 350 Matchless or AJS, also 50’s, which with its smallish valves gives high gas speed at low revs, which is why it pulls like a train. Point is no one valued 350cc bits and pieces 15 years ago – they all wanted 500cc stuff – so these bits were cheap and relatively plentiful. A “proper” 500 alloy competition engine was worth probably £ 1500 and I built the whole bike, everything, for less than £600 as I recall. And got, with the crank/piston relationship a full 500 anyway. The 85mm stroke flywheels make it rev like mad if you want. Ignition is a Chec PAL speedway bike magneto which I converted to manual timing control with my home made (about 20 attempts) back plate to carry the points. Very Trick.

Gearbox is a standard Burman type fitted to millions of 50’s road bikes, but with lightweight Norton clutch and shock absorber. Chain cases made from bits of Villiers cases all welded up by a pal of John’s who welds up nuclear subs. John welded up the oil tank from alloy too.

Back wheel from a 1956 James road bike with new rim, BSA brake back plate and linings. Severely modified and rebuild-able rear shock absorbers. Front forks from some 1970’s obscure British firm, possibly REH, with again my modified internals and damping, front wheel from auto-jumble. The Petrol tank is made for choppers in the 70’s with a lot of welding up.

The motorcycle in it's natural state, covered in mud.

The motorcycle in it's natural state, covered in mud.

And so on. I can’t think of much else except that it was made to compete in Pre’65 trials which I did a lot, including some of the major national ones, and it was always accepted as being in the spirit of the game, even if not totally authentic. I can’t remember how much it weighs, except that I used to be able to pick it up, and its wheelbase is much the same as a Tiger Cub’s, which was reckoned to be the yardstick, if you like teeny gurly bikes.’

Read an earlier post about the bike here

Today I emailed an editor to organise meeting up for lunch in London, fairly standard stuff really. I just happened to mention that Charley Boorman was doing something with the BMW off-road course in Wales. It was only an aside and not really a pitch. However it caught her attention and a few phone calls later and I’m going along as well to write about it. So no trip to London for me, I’m off to Wales instead
Most of the time journalism is hard graft, constantly chasing down stories, pitching them to editors, last-minute rewrites, cancellations and things but sometimes it’s absolutely brilliant and today has been one of those days.
Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor

Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor

Like most people I’ve been hooked on Charley (and Ewan’s) adventures since they started riding around the world. I admired how their shows introduced new people to riding, and gave bikes a public image that wasn’t biker gangs or racing. Plus they are properly obsessed with bikes in a slightly schoolboy way, which is how you should be.

Anyway I can’t wait to get on the bikes and to start sliding down hills and falling off logs. It was a bit of a trial to get on the course, all the journalist places had gone, long, long ago and then there was a very tense half an hour when the editor checked in with her boss to see if I could go  but I got the thumbs up and now it’s all sorted.

So I’ve got two glorious days of riding BMWs in Wales to look forward to, the only marginal down side is that it will cost slightly more than I could reasonably put on expenses so I’ll have to absorb some of that but I think it will be more than worth it. I’m treating it as a sort of working holiday, this won’t be an assignment that helps the Daytona fund.



This is going to be my bike for the weekend, the sparklingly fresh F800 GS. BMW want me to ride it because it’s new and so they want it to appear in the newspaper. I’d imagine that after I’ve spent two days riding it up and down the Welsh countryside I’ll be able to provide a pretty reasonable assessment of it’s off-road ability so expect a review to pop up a few days after I return from the course.

Riding bikes in Wales has an extra significance for me as my dad lived in Wales and one of the last weekends we ever spent together – our best weekend together really – was spent riding motorbikes around in the rain on the hills in Wales.

He died a year ago of cancer, and I’ll be spending the anniversary of his death on a motorbike in Wales. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute.

EDIT – I’ve noticed a lot of people are finding this page while searching for the course, so here it is.

You can read my review of my time on the course here

The 185 was moved for the first time in years today, it was dragged back into the daylight so I could get a better look at it.

I didn’t realise that this was the rare ‘agricultural editon’ of the 185 ER. It features special equipment not present on the normal 185. To stop the engine you touch a completely bare wire into the frame (my favourite feature I think) and the choke is operated by pulling a wire that is wrapped around the tank which is like tugging on the reigns of a horse. It also features the bailer twine accessory pack for that Wurzel Chic. The seat was covered in dead shrews but I think that’s an after-market thing added by the cats.

Fresh from the showroom, well fresh from a shed at least.

Fresh from the showroom, well fresh from a shed at least.

It’s got a flat front tire, and the throttle is stuck but that’s just due to years of not being used so it’s in pretty good condition for something found in a shed. I’ll have a go at removing the gunk from the throttle and put some fresh oil in it in the next couple of days.

I had a go at kick starting it (well, you would wouldn’t you) and the engine seems to be fine but it just didn’t want to fire up. I don’t blame it though as the petrol in the tank must be older than I am and the jammed throttle didn’t exactly help matters.

In other bike news I’ve arranged for the trials bikes to be picked up from the house of the Goat Witch, thanks to the lovely people at Classic Bike Magazine Forums. They are going to hitch a lift next time the excellent bike moving chap is heading in vaguely the right direction. I think I’ll take out a subscription to Classic Bike now as a way of saying thanks.

I’m actually already the owner of a couple of ‘classic’ bikes. I say ‘classic’ because they are both modern motorcycles that were made to act and look like classic bikes. My dad made them so they are a bit special to me, and I inherited them when he passed away last year. Rather sadly they are currently in Wales which is the wrong country.

I don’t have anything specifically against Wales but it’s where my dad’s evil second wife, who we shall refer to as the ‘Goat Witch’ lives and so the bikes need to be rescued from her. This is going to involve a van (something which sadly I’ve been unable to discover while cleaning out the sheds) and a very long drive which is why they haven’t been retrieved yet.

Anyway, here is a picture of one of the bikes taken when I last visited my dad in Wales and we spent a whole muddy weekend riding bikes around. He also taught me how to start this bike which is an art in itself – it’s a 500cc single cylinder bike so it takes a bit of a boot to get it going.

The 'Fake', although I like to call it 'The Beast'

The 'Fake', although I like to call it 'the Beast'

The frame is based on a loop of tube from Mole Valley Farmers sheep rack range of products, plus other bits – the geometry is based loosely on Sammy Miller’s works Ariel bike from the museum. He threw my dad out of his museum when he caught him doing a bit of espionage with a tape measure.

Things get more interesting when you look at the engine. It is a 498cc four stroke based on 1955 Ariel Red Hunter crankcases with steel flywheels which don’t explode at high revs unlike the cast iron road bike versions. It’s got a 85mm stroke and Triumph high capacity oil pump instead of pathetic Ariel version which wouldn’t fill the cistern in a doll’s house loo. That last part is a direct quote from my dad.

A home ground trials type camshaft (with gentle valve opening) to give good low speed torque is combined with a Piston is from a Toyota car engine, much machined, which cost about £20 instead of the £90 odd for a proper bike one. The Barrel is from a Lister stationary diesel engine – my dad smashed the fins off, cleaned it up in the lathe, got a foundry to pour aluminium around it and machined the fins on, plus the recess for the cylinder head.

Click here to read more about my classic trials bike.

It’s a tricky question, if you tell friends you are going to get a supersports bike as your first proper big bike they can get a bit jumpy. This is a terribly fast bike, but it’s also a well behaved bike. It’s even okay in town – once you get used to the turning circle.

It’s not even my first big bike really, I’ve been riding around off road for years, mostly trials riding but a bit of scrambling too. Some of the trials bikes I used to ride on were big thumping monsters so if anything they are more tricky to ride than the Daytona so I think I’ll be fine. Mr Insurance has slightly different ideas but I suppose that will be part of the fun.

So would I recommend this bike to complete beginners? Perhaps not, but if someone had their heart set on getting a sporty 600 it’s a very managable one. I think the thing to remember is that no bike is completely safe, and that it’s more down to the rider more than anything else.

The garage cleaning went well today, one more day and it will be a smart place to put motorcycles. I’ve got two classic bikes that will go in there as well so they needed a smart home. I didn’t find any other motorcycles, well not exactly.

After supper I was told that there was a Suzuki Stinger (a very rare bike) in one of the sheds so I went and found that today. It’s a basket case but since the are so uncommon it’s probably still worth a bit.

Oh and I paid in a cheque today from a national newspaper for something I wrote about six months ago. It was for £400 so that’s the Daytona fund started. The invoice said ‘Loo Phone’ was the name of the piece, which it wasn’t, it had nothing to do with bathrooms or telephones so they must have got confused. Either way I’m keeping the money.

The cheque is from a rather right-wing newspaper who probably disapprove of motorcycles so I don’t feel quite so bad about writing for them anymore. Maybe I could use a bit of the money to buy some lesbians or socialists a pint. That would annoy the paper even more.

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