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26th February 2004

The Unit Single Engine Manual by Rupert Ratio

The Unit Single Engine Manual by Rupert RatioThere is a long tradition of 'expert' manuals available to devotees of older vehicles. Some are little more than a collection of magazine articles, lifted from a monthly series, such as the 'Practical Classics on Mini Cooper / Morris Minor Restoration', not that they are any the less useful for that, but more usually for car buffs, than old bike lovers. Then there are the ubiquitous Haynes manuals that we all love and hate, an essential item on most bookshelves. Now, we are able to get copies of most workshop manuals, too.

But where do you go for guidance when the books don't agree, or don't tell you something that isn't obvious when you're faced with a box of non-original bits? Fortunately, some owners' clubs are excellent and RC is building a superb collection of technical articles and a community of willing helpers on this very site.

Even so, there is still a need for a comprehensive study of each of our bikes, if they are to be kept working well. The benchmark for me is the David Vizard manual on tuning the BMC A-Series engine; all bike engine manuals should aspire to this standard. So where are they?

Almost 30 years since I last worked properly on a BSA unit single, I bought one to add to my collection of non-runners. Therein lies a problem, BSA isn't there to help any more and the quality of many pattern parts is often abysmal, as is the mechanical skill of many owners over the years. I'd heard good things about the Rupert Ratio book over the last couple of years, so decided to get one to add to the parts book, factory manual and the inevitable Haynes book. Off to Amazon then. Amazingly, they don't have it in stock, charge an extra handling fee and then discounted it after a few enquiries. Who'd volunteer to try to understand the publishing industry?

No problem, the author, Dave Smith, is an expert panellist in the BSA Owners' Club, but there's no readily available email address for him. No joy at a leading BSA parts supplier, either -- sold out over Christmas! At this point, the customer could be forgiven for not bothering, but I'm not like that, I get irritated. I made direct contact with the (small, independent) publisher and was referred on to their sales agent. The order, placed at gone 4pm in the afternoon was delivered first post the next day. At last, something like what I wanted!

So after all that effort, was it worth it? Initial impressions were not totally favourable; it's not a book that is easy to find your way into, not at first attempt anyway. Considering that it is written by a Design and Technology teacher, I would have expected to see a better standard of English, either at the writing or the editing stage (any book that features those immortal words 'off of' is bound to alarm a Scouser. Like ya know worra mean?).

My own clutch is definitely not right, but which bits are original? 'The flange of the five plate clutch centre is therefore of a larger diameter', Rupert tells me, sounding a bit like a translation. I only have one clutch so how do I know what relative size it is? Inches or millimetres would help just fine. For some reason, the names for the clutch centre and the clutch hub are swapped compared with the factory manual. Why? Is it a plot to upset Ian at Lightning Spares?

Then that old BSA infection kicks in. The production values (or whatever publishers call them) of this book are good. The binding seems comparable with other paperbacks, the paper is good quality and the printing is excellent. Commendably, serious effort has been invested to ensure the illustrations are clear and bright. All of a sudden, the contents begin to reveal themselves; this guy really knows his engine. There are things inside that can only be known to someone feels the spirit of the machine and who has lived with it for many years. There's a gem, a nugget of immense value, on most if not all pages. It grew on me, so much that I actually read it cover to cover in my hotel room, rather than go down to the bar. The inclusion of factory service sheets alongside the author's own commentary is very valuable to an owner. There is a wealth of tuning tips throughout: where it's safe to remove a bit of weight; what needs to be done to improve reliability and so on. The structure of the book is to gloss over the engine strip down, just concentrating on a few helpful tips, moving on to the very detailed build-up routine, chapter by chapter, stage by stage. Rupert even includes plans for his own engine stand, a nice touch.

In summary, I'm delighted I stuck with the quest to get hold of a copy. Although it's not to the Vizard standard, I would recommend it to all owners of the C15; B25; B40; B44 and B50 and the largely badge-engineered Triumph equivalents, TR25W; T25T; T22SS; TR5 MX. Full marks to Rollo the publisher and Jo at the distributors. Go direct for your copy!

Bill Nelson

The Rupert Ratio Unit Single Engine Manual by Rupert Ratio

  • Published by Panther Publishing Ltd, ISBN 09535098 1 8 price 14.95
  • Buy direct from Panther Publishing via this link and a small commission will go towards the running costs.

  • Make sure the bike is securely wedged in the picture frame before starting work...


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