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Bike Review - Posted 8th December 2014
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BSA A10 Super Rocket

Why are some classic bikes mysteriously faster than others? Dave Morris has a theory about his old and very rapid 650 twin...

Back in 1983 aged 19 I became the well-chuffed owner of a BSA 1961 A10 Super Rocket. A purple (metallic of course) frame housed an alloy-headed lump, and was complimented by a maroon front mudguard at the sharp end and a brush-painted black rear guard. It might have been challenged in its sartorial elegance, but it did all seem sorted in terms of function and it ticked over beautifully after starting easily. I remember both my Dad and I put a lot of faith in the fact that the guy we got it from was an engineer.

Previously I had been riding a BSA WD B40 which I recall being a total disappointment after the Honda XL125 I passed my test on. However the 650 BSA was a revelation. ‘Fast’ didn’t begin to describe it. My good mate Jock was (still is) known for being able to divide any distance in two which enabled him to accelerate like mad over the first half and slam all on for the second. This man blew up a Bonneville 650 accelerating on a DECELARATION ramp off the M62. I proudly took the Super Rocket round to show him and talk turned to ‘what’l’it do?’ and off he went for a test ride.

Half an hour later he came back grinning and announced he’d just done a 120 down Highmoor Lane but that the speedo might be broken because it was ‘jerky’. Such is the nature of young men, that after brief discussion of chronometric speedo function, it was decided that I should take it back out and see if I could match his efforts – I did!

BSA A10 Super Rocket

The performance persisted and I can remember one of the lads from Huddersfield MAG asking me if I’d tuned the BSA. When we went off on one of the many rallies we attended it always kept up easily with their bigger Commandos and Bonnevilles. I replied that I thought it was normal and it was how I bought it. I know that I became skilled in the use of the magneto advance and retard lever, and that in third it would go from a relaxed 30 to 90 flat out with deft use.

None of this was reflected in its reliability either. The A10 was my only daily transport and it took me to work as a stained glass apprentice every day in Bradford. Millers Oils Straight 30 in winter and Straight 40 in summer lube’d it, and I knew it was time to change the latter when I couldn’t kick it over as the temperature dropped and it thickened up so much.

Going to MAG events and other stuff like camping holidays meant that we clocked nearly 30,000 miles one year. As we used to travel in groups it was rare that we ever went anywhere alone, but one time we were unaccompanied on a trip to Scotland. The bike’s natural cruising speed on the motorway was between 70 and 80mph, and on this one journey the fuel consumption was a staggering 76 miles per gallon.

We only ever needed roadside recovery just once, when the gearbox main shaft snapped. It took 30 minutes to repair using a spare from stock – I didn’t even remove the gearbox – clutch off at one end covers at the other and slid it in!

BSA A10 Super Rocket Click to embiggen
BSA 650s on Now...

Perhaps some or all of this can be explained by the next bit of the tale. Eventually the A10 became smoky and I decided to replace the pistons, bores, valves and guides, and duly purchased the required parts (by now I had a shed full of spares like you did in those days). Now (I just love this bit), we were invited to a party in Liverpool on Saturday night. So the plan was that after work on Saturday morning I’d take off the top end and swap it all over, enabling us to set off in good time. All the work was to be carried out in the drive and, as me mum was out, I was good to use the oven for heating up the alloy head. Work progressed well until it was time to fit the valves – they were miles too big!

Measuring confirmed the new valves were indeed Super Rocket spec, and a phone call to P&R motorcycles in Pudsey confirmed that they had no other type to mix them up with. Then Paul from P&R said: ‘It can’t be an A7 head because high comp SR pistons would hit the valves.’

‘But…’ I replied; ‘ I’m running flat standard pistons.’

All became clear. I had an alloy A7 head simply bolted straight on to the A10 barrels. With a party to attend to and no time to get A7 valves, the best iron A10 head I had in the shed was selected (choice of about seven if I remember) and bolted on. What difference could it make in the scheme of things really?

BSA A10 Super Rocket Click to embiggen

I’ll tell you – the bike was transformed. I took it out for a test ride came straight back and took the head off to check it wasn’t faulty in some way. The engine was noisy, vibrated like mad and the top speed had dropped to a ridiculous 80. After seeing the head was fine I reassembled it and we made the party anyway.

Such was the impression that this bike made on me, I have often said that it would be a viable option for a manufacturer to pull it down and copy whatever they found into a new bike to sell today but with better brakes. I suppose they could if anyone wanted to, as I’ve still got it in my shed thirty years on…

I am so grateful to all the old bikes I’ve had. They have taught me self-sufficiency and how to value things that matter. At 19 I used the Beesa to visit my girlfriend, Frances, while she was training to be a nurse. Now at 49 we’ve just been discussing how to mod my Harley so it is ‘as comfy as the A10 was’. As I type this I’m resolved to get the A10 out, finish off the restoration I started before the kids came along, and get it back on the road where it belongs.

And so you can all sleep soundly: I see Jock every nearly every morning going to work on his Bonneville. It still has the same engine we rebuilt (after that M62 blow up) for £99 using secondhand parts from ‘Sid’s place’ in Lancashire – all done in a week as we were all going on holiday the following week!

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