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Bike Review - Posted 5th April 2013
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BSA A7SS

Dave Winfield's BSA A7 Shooting Star won the RealClassic award at the Spring 2013 South of England Classic Motorcycle Show. Here's why...

Just like the Spanish Inquisition, no one really expects to win an award at a bike show. Dave Winfield certainly didn't. 'What a great surprise' he said 'to return to my bike to find a rosette on the front. I didn't know exactly which award it was -- so being presented with the RealClassic prize left me feeling very chuffed indeed.'

Dave and his BSA A7SS...

Dave's 500 twin is a 1957 model, so has more in common with the 650 A10 than it does with the longer-stroke, original 495cc A7 of 1948. The 497cc version of the A7 arrived in 1951 with a rigid rear end; by 1952 it was available with limited rear suspension provided by BSA's plunger set up. The sporty Shooting Star or SS model was introduced in 1954 with twin-shock, swinging arm rear suspension and with its engine suitably enhanced by sporty camshaft and light alloy cylinder head.

The 66mm by 72.5mm unit ran 8:1 compression, with its overhead valve gear operated by a single camshaft. The crank was supported by roller bearings on the drive side with a lead-bronze bush on the timing side. An Amal Monobloc carb supplied fuel into the motor; back in the 1960s when fast lads snapped open the throttle they reported being rewarded by a 'healthy sucking sound' from the carb intake.

BSA's own four-speed gearbox with positive stop mechanism was operated by foot, paired with a multi-plate clutch. The primary drive chain lived in a cast-aluminium oil bath, and the final drive chain could be enclosed in a pressed steel chaincase if the purchaser splashed out on that optional extra (worth it to keep the rear wheel clean, surely?) At this point both brakes were seven-inch drums. The front later grew to eight inches, but when tested new the 1957 spec was capable of stopping the machine from 30mph in 29 feet on dry tarmac - entirely acceptable.

The A7SS weighed around 440lb when fully equipped and ready to ride. The saddle height on the comfy dual-seat was 32 inches, with over six inches of ground clearance for sprightly cornering - further enhanced by the three-position adjustable Girling shocks. The centrestand would ground when banking hard over for tight left-handers; ditto the optional sidestand, but then the A7 was intended for the sporting rider rather than the outright thrasher. When new, the ride was considered firm by the standards of the day but this contributed to its rock-solid stability at speed.

Those oil drips were there already, ok?...
500cc BSAs on

'The lovely Shooting Star was for many the best of the twins,' said Roy Bacon, 'combining enough performance for all practical purposes on the roads of the times with style and comfort. It is fast enough, has good acceleration, nice gearbox, smooth brakes and minimal vibration. All that adds up to comfort and a machine that can be ridden fast for a long time without aches or pains.'

Indeed, when tested in the last 1950s this model was capable of 98mph at its maximum. The A7's flexibility was more important than its outright speed, however; at 30mph in top gear it could tick-tock along at 2000rpm For really low speed crawling in first gear, it was best to retard the ignition a touch, and the A7SS retained a manual ignition control even as auto-advance units were becoming fashionable.

For all its docile nature, roadtesters of the time didn't spare the horses. 'One of the prime joys on the Shooting Star is to push the speed swiftly up to 55mph in second gear and 80mph in third before settling down to sustained high speeds.' One rider reported clipping along in this manner at an average of 60mph - on main roads, not motorways...

The Motor Cycle reckoned that the A7SS was 'one of the world's most remarkable twins' with 'flashing acceleration, high averages, rock steady at speed and docile in traffic.'

So with that kind of reputation, you can see why these machines have become rather sought after in the classic world. Dave's A7 has nearly 80,000 miles on it, but looks as if it's barely turned a wheel. Dave bought it for a cool four grand a couple of years back. The A7 commanded that price tag because it was in such well-preserved condition. At that point it wasn't running and had been stored for 16 years, but the machine you see here is pretty much as Dave found it... after an extremely good clean, a very careful check of all the vital components, and a routine service. So this is no chequebook concours champ; this Beezer is one of those very rare, well-kept and cared-for classic bikes which is a delight to find.

Dave's BSA A7SS in the Alps. Or Wales...

After 1500 miles on the road in Dave's care, the A7 needed new wheel bearings. Since then it's travelled another 1500 miles or so, carrying Dave and his wife around the Alps in the south of France, through Welsh mountains in the Brecon Beacons, and on numerous VMCC and Norton Owners' club runs. (Say, Dave; has anyone mentioned that the A7 isn't actually a Norton...?)

He's delighted by its 'reliability, smooth running and comfort, both solo and two-up.' If you're looking for something similar then Dave suggests you 'ride it first' and if at all possible 'find an original machine' so you know what you're buying. It's worth paying a price premium for a bike which hasn't been bodged to bits: you can then choose to upgrade with modern components and you'll know exactly what's been fitted. Dave, as you can see, has opted to keep the A7 as close its original specification as he can.

We asked what he'd do to improve it in the future. The answer? Nothing needed.

'To me,' he says, 'it is the perfect bike.'

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So many BSAs, so little time...

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Dave Winfield / Rowena Hoseason

The next RealClassic sponsored show is the South of England RealClassic Motorcycle Show on 13th October 2013. You can enter your classic bike into the concours display for free: see www.elk-promotions.co.uk

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