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Bike Profile - Posted 29th June 2011

BSA Bantams, Part Two
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John Walton started his riding life with a D7 Bantam. Next he moved on to the thrills of a D14/4...

In the first episode, I learned to ride on a D7. By 1969 that wasn't enough. The swinging Sixties were still swinging and the 'I'm Backing Britain'' Government campaign was under way. So what bike to buy next? It had to be under 250cc, still a learner. Japanese? Oh no.

There was only one choice then, a new Bantam D14/4. It cost £133 plus something pence, in electric blue and chrome. The D14 was introduced by BSA in 1968. This version had a four-speed gearbox and improved performance. The exhaust was larger and the engine ran at 10:1 compression to give 13bhp. This meant that a good Bantam could reach 70mph, although it became harder to start and lost some of the earlier models' frugal fuel economy.

Just like John's... BSA Bantam D14 Supreme

'Dad, can you lend me the deposit..?'

He could! Cool, man! And about twelve months of trouble-free, if low-powered, motorcycling followed. Those were the days when Easy Rider was on at the cinema. We took last minute trips to Bournemouth and the like. Petrol was so cheap then.

Did I say 'trouble-free' motorcycling? Well not quite. The Bantam has a weak gearchange return spring, and it's situated in the middle of the gearbox. So being a unit construction engine this means a complete strip down and a crankcase separation. I sought help from my 'friendly' main dealer.

'Whatever you do, when you separate the crankcases, keep the gearbox side on its side otherwise the gearbox will fall out'. OK. You can see what's coming, can't you? That gearbox ended up all over the kitchen floor. I think I cried at the time. It took me about three days and a Haynes manual to get it all back again. That was some learning curve to a 16 year old!

Note gearbox, about to fall out... BSA Bantam Engine

Coloured paint was rationed in 1969, due to it all being used up by artists. The only colour that was left was red.. BSA Bantam de Luxe
Bantams on Right Now......

I never did like the petrol tank shape of the later Bantams. And that big gap between the engine and the petrol tank. Small details matter.

There was also a different engine sound from the D14/4 compared to the previous D10 models, probably to do with the air filter arrangement. The filter is tucked away behind the side panel rather than being one of the universal chrome banjo types used on everything else.

At the time there was a certain George Todd, Bantam racer and specialist, who was selling high compression cylinder heads, with a central spark plug. This set up was guaranteed to boost power output, so I had to have one of those. So I took a trip to his workshop on a Sunday afternoon…

I ended up riding up and down the road, trying to find him. And there he was; mowing his grass! What a nice guy. He recognised a Bantam and beckoned me over. Invited me in and showed me round his workshop. George told me that he personally only rated the 125cc Bantams which he raced, not the 175s like mine. After coffee I bought the sporty cylinder head and headed home to install my super-duper bolt-on accessory.

Alternative petrol tank shapes.. 1962 BSA Bantam Brochure

Did it improve anything? Not really but such is life!

I did have a piston ring break. The most memorable thing about that was a friend of mine giving me a lift to get the new piston rings. He had a Suzuki Invader. I wouldn't admit at the time but that bike vastly superior to my humble Bantam!

Finally, I applied for my motorcycle test. Rode around the course, saw the examiner at various points. Then I lost him. Round the course again. Where is he? I parked the bike and went into the test centre. Nope. Out on the road again I found the tester coming out of a shop after buying cigarettes. Well that's all right then. And I passed - so had the great joy of taking off the learner plates and ripping them up!

How very different the test is now, and probably safer in some respects. Back then you could pass on 175cc Bantam and jump straight on s 1000cc Vincent and kill yourself.

With the test out of the way my love affair with this Bantam ended and I was looking at a 350cc Triumph…

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Next episode: time passes and the Bantam bug bites again

The BSA Bantam Club welcome anyone with an interest in these bikes: www.bsabantamclub.org.uk

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