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Bike Review - Posted 8th May 2013
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BSA Bantam Booklet

The BSA Bantam Club has published an excellent booklet, in which Simon Holyfield explores the background to the breed and shares his experiences with restoring his own eBay bargain. Here's how to send off for your FREE copy, with excerpts from his adventure to get you started...

When I returned to biking after a 20 year break, a Bantam was a natural choice. eBay is a dangerous place for those of us with itchy fingers. Sometimes there is something so right that I fail to resist the temptation and bid. On this occasion, the bike was a 1954 D1 Bantam, which looked like it had been standing for years. It was faded, rusty, there were hard perished tyres, worn cables and the seat was missing.

The project started in 2009, and the full story is told in the booklet produced by the BSA Bantam Club. You can have a copy sent to you completely free if you live in the UK. Either email or send a text to 07712 647487 and include your postal address.

This is the 'before' photo. It is, isn't it?...

Once the Bantam was rebuilt and back on the road, so began a wonderful relationship. We spent a few weeks pottering about, tinkering with brakes, ignition timing, and fixing the last few bits and pieces. Most of the time I spent trying to get the carburetion right - it would either start, run in the mid-range, or race away to 50mph but it wouldn't do all three. A bit of research with the Amal carburettor manual revealed that the D3 had been fitted with many different main jets, slides, and needle positions over its life and I tried them all. Several times.

Right to this day I'm not sure it's right, but I've just reset the carburettor float height again and repaired the float again - there was just a small amount of fuel in it, which would make it heavy and raise the fuel level. I'm hoping this was enough to upset the mid-range but we'll see.

There was also some fun and puzzlement with brakes. I had a set of shoes made to measure for the front brake, with soft linings which fit and bite well, by a local brake specialist who regularly do bike stuff. I left a wheel, spindle and brake plate plus two sets of old shoes with them, and they made me some oversize shoes matched to my drums at £9.50 a shoe. These were old shoes relined and machined to fit my drums with minimum clearance.

And surely this must be the 'after' photo. I hope...

One sunny Sunday afternoon racing through the Norfolk countryside, I was going up a small hill, when the Bantam slowed down as usual but on the other side she wouldn't pick up again. I dropped a gear, but she was still very sluggish. I coasted to the side of the road, as I fancied the engine was noisier than usual but as soon as I stopped I realised the engine was ticking over fine.

Then I realised there was a strange smell - one of the hot clutch / brake pad variety.

There was SMOKE coming from the rear brake! So I slackened it off at the roadside, and when I got it home I twigged that I had put the arm on the wrong spline. So I moved it and now I had clearance, better leverage (a 90 degree angle from arm to brake rod) and a brake that didn't overheat.

However, a bit more investigation revealed what had happened. The back brake shoes were way too small in diameter. I'd adjusted them up so much, to reduce pedal travel, that when I put the brake on the cam went almost over-centre and jammed, holding the brake on. That's why it happened suddenly, away from home. So the lesson from this is to make sure the brake shoes fit the drums! The ones I had in there were virtually new, off-the-shelf shoes from one of the main suppliers...

Another crusade was my search for a Bantam toolkit. This started off as an obsession with finishing the job, but I soon realised how useful it was. My usual toolkit has been built up over years but all the stuff is too big to carry on a Bantam. I searched for proper BSA tools - they are not hard to find because many of them appear in the M20 tool kit which were produced by the million. As I built up the kit I did all the maintenance and repairs with it and eventually I had enough items in the bike's toolbox to do pretty well anything I needed.

Simon seems to have broken down on Brighton beach, judging by this photo...

Easy maintenance is one of the great things about old bikes - but I guess none of you need convincing of that. No electronics, no hydraulics, no cooling system, no fuel injection and it is all so accessible you can do the work in minutes. I carry a head gasket in the toolbox, since I failed to torque the head down properly once and, yes, I have had the head off by the side of the road!

If you're tempted by the idea of owning a Bantam yourself, you will be able to find a running Bantam for somewhere between £700 and £1300, depending on model, or a basket case somewhere between £300 and £500. Look after it, and it will probably be more reliable than a cheap moped…

There are 125cc models, which have a power output of about 5bhp. The 175cc models (all Bantam models are described in detail in the booklet) are probably the easiest route to Bantam ownership because of the numbers available at a reasonable price. These are the D7s, D10s and D14s which offer up to 13bhp in a larger frame than the diminutive D1s and D3s, with a maximum speed up to 65mph. The last Bantam was the B175, which brought an updated, stronger engine with unified fasteners and forks in common with the Tiger Cub.

It runs! Or it rolls downhill, anyway...

All these machines can be used today, as long as we understand their limitations. They are not fast, but they are perfectly adequate for rural and town riding. Of course, major advances have been made in motorcycle design since the 1960s and we can take advantage of them while using our Bantams today. First of all, fit some modern tyres. You don't want to be risking your neck riding around on old, hard rubber with cracks and outdated tread patterns when tyres are readily available in modern soft compounds.

Bantams are fitted with small, cheap drum brakes. As standard, these are not particularly effective but by fitting your shoes with a softer lining material AND having those linings matched to the inside diameter of your drum (see above!), so there is a minimum clearance between lining and drum, you will improve the braking performance immensely.

Also available in blue. Crutch is optional...

Then there is lighting. As standard, early Bantams are provided with a flywheel generator providing 30W at 6V. At a pinch, these are useable with a 6V 24W quartz halogen headlamp bulb, perhaps with an LED rear lamp to provide something safe enough to illuminate your way at night and get people to notice you during the day. Bantams are not particularly noisy (quite distinctive though) and you need something, alongside your Day-Glo jacket, to get you noticed on the road.

A conversion to 12V will yield 60W from that generator when used with a modern electronic regulator/rectifier, which widens the choice of bulbs considerably. A 12V conversion also gives an opportunity to fit some indicators, which improve visibility and safety especially amongst modern drivers unfamiliar with hand signals. A modern gel battery, fitted inside the traditional rubber case, will actually hold a charge in the winter months.

Don't forget to fit at least one rear view mirror.

One of the beauties of the Bantam range is the racing and trials scenes that sprang from it. It's a small step from restoring a roadgoing Bantam to stripping one down for pre-65 trials or track racing. What could be more satisfying than that chequered flag waving you onto the winner's podium on a machine that you built yourself? It all starts from bolting together a box of bits in your shed, summer house or garage.

BSA Bantam with Ariel Leader engine. Nice garden, too... BSA Bantam with Ariel Leader engine.

Or you might like to go down a different path. There are so many Bantam parts left in the world that we don't need to be too precious with them - you might consider more extensive modification, such as building a special (as indeed Odgie has done; see RC109 for his Bantam Build series). It all depends on your imagination, and a willingness to learn new skills as you go along. How about this Leader-engined Bantam for inspiration?

I'd been a little concerned that I wouldn't get to spend much time riding my own little Beezer around, but a couple of months into the summer saw over 500 miles on the clock. We had a few more ups and downs, tools out at the roadside looking for blocked jets and whiskered plugs, coupled with a general lack of experience in starting Bantams.

On one memorable occasion I'd parked it outside a supermarket for a few minutes on a warm day, only to fail to start it when I came out. Over-use of the tickler, added to the stifling effects of the strangler, produced only a crankcase full of fuel. Thanks to the two 13 year olds who push-started it across the car park!

My Bantam has turned out to be a happy little machine; puttering along Norfolk roads at 35mph while I enjoy the sunshine, running made-up errands to the shops...


Available free! See details, left...

The complete story of Simon's rebuild is told in 'The Masquerading D3' booklet, published by the BSA Bantam Owners' Club. UK residents are welcome to contact the Club for a FREE copy: email or send a text to 07712 647487 and include your postal address.

The booklet is an excellent introduction to classic motorcycling in general and BSA Bantams in particular. It includes info about:

  • Bantam History and DKW
  • The original D1 specification
  • D3 Major and swinging-arm models
  • The D5 development
  • D7, D10 and D14 models
  • The B175 that ended an era
  • Rebuilding the Bantam: engine, plating, frame welding, speedo, forks, paint, electrics, wheels, tyres and such
  • Registering an unknown quantity
  • Fettling and riding
  • Bantams today and into the future
  • Useful contacts and specialists

  • Bantams, cheap and not, on

    Or for a general introduction to Bantams, see


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