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Bike Review - Posted 6th May 2013
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BSA Bantams go Westward Ho!

It's Spring Chickens week on RealClassic.co.uk. To kick start the festivities, members of the BSA Bantam Club venture west to take part in an ambitious overnight navigation event. Phil Keast tells the first part of the tale...

We knew this run was going to be a challenge and indeed it was. Come the end it proved to be a successful outcome - for the most part. The run itself starts at a pub just outside Andover at midnight on Friday. So that's the first challenge: getting to the start, as I'm way down in Cornwall. Our other two other team members were Rick in Exeter and Alan near Honiton .

So I left Cornwall just before noon on Friday for the run up to Exeter to meet up with Rick. I avoided the dual carriageway and, wisely or not, took the quiet but hilly route across Dartmoor. Maybe this was not the best choice as Dartmoor with its challenging hills also proved cold and very windy. Anyone with a Bantam D1 knows how heavy winds slow a D1 considerably, and the little critter was buzzing away in second gear for extended periods.

Ready for the off. Or so they thought...

Rick joined me on his modified D1, fitted with a 190cc B175 engine and high level exhaust. Our first hitch happened riding through Exeter, when my rear chain fell off the rear sprocket. Popped it back on: set off again. At Honiton my chain jumped off again and this time I really hoofed the wheel spindle down tight. Did the trick: no more bother with this for the remainder of the weekend.

Rick and I took to the footpath in Honiton to avoid roadworks, temporary traffic lights and traffic chaos. Alan joined us but his D1 seemed to have a problem with the throttle sticking wide open… when we looked closer at his carburettor we noticed the screw that locates the slide was missing! This was rectified with the aid of some wire and a cable tie and we set off for Andover on Rick's pre-planned, back-road route.

No room for the kitchen sink...

The sun was shining although it was still cold and the Bantams were buzzing along well. The plan was to reach Andover some 80 or so miles away before dark. As darkness approached so did the onset of problems with Alan's D1. A few stops for points/ ignition fiddling got us going again. Then with just 10 miles to go the gremlins struck again - and now it was dark just to make things more interesting. This time we found the flywheel had come loose. Blimey! The usual problem D1 owners find with the flywheel is getting it off at all, not it coming adrift by itself.

Ready for the start...

We eventually reached the start point a little later than planned. Time to defrost and think about Alan's D1. We had a 90 minute window to sort out the mis-firing and general lack of power. Just before midnight we set out on the route to Lynmouth, through the night. There were around 55 bikes and they departed in twos and threes as usual on this event. We were somewhere in the middle of the pack of riders leaving, and almost immediately turned into the first of the many dark country lanes. Rick was leading the way following the route sheet and I followed behind with Alan behind me. It soon became apparent that Alan was dropping behind and after a couple of miles we stopped. Alan decided to opt out and await the dedicated rescue wagon.

So Rick and myself had a long night of dark, cold and mostly minor roads to look forward to on the 182 mile route. I'm sure we are all familiar with potholes but believe me it's another game trying to avoid them at night on minor roads. Rick had to navigate as well! Fortunately Rick's Bantam has the big B175 12 volt generator, and mine has the Rex Caunt system, so we both had good lights which is a must on a run like this. Even so some of these tight bends seem to come out of nowhere, not to mention the general gravel, rocks, mud, animal waste products, etc. It's an odd feeling sometimes passing through the small towns and villages in the middle of the night. The over-riding sensation is the cold.

The first official stop was at a petrol station in Shaftesbury and this first leg was around fifty miles or so. It's not until you do one of these events that you have any comprehension of how far that actually is when you're riding on very minor roads in the cold at night. Weirdly, we saw very few other riders on this first leg, so either we were going the wrong way or we were keeping equal distance with those behind and in front of us. The stop at Shaftesbury came as a welcome sight and it was also good to see some fellow riders. The petrol station had a coffee shop so after refuelling we could have a brief defrost again.

They don't know what's about to hit them...
Brilliant BSAs on

Soon enough we were away on the next leg, working our way down to Chard. It gets really hard work on this leg, between 2am and 5am although the chance of nodding off as you are riding is about zero. Rick worked his magic with the route-finding and we pushed on, making good progress. When we originally talked about doing the run on Bantams we were fairly convinced that we would not be at a disadvantage riding such small low powered machines, and this turned out to be the case.

On this route most of the time you are lucky to do 30 or 40mph. On these light bikes when a tight corner appears out of nowhere it's normally easy to get safely through - unlike on a bigger, more powerful bike. At one point I saw a group of five or six bikes behind us. We then went through a small village with a series of tight bends, over a small hill and another run of tight bends. We left that group behind and I didn't see them again until the next official stop.

Chard was welcome but just an un-manned petrol station so there was no chance to get inside and defrost. The next stage was reasonably short; 30 miles or so to the main stop at Cullompton. My D1 droned up the long, steep hill out of Chard in second gear without any bother, with the usual change up into top followed a few seconds later by a change back into second! Rick made it look easy with the benefit of his B175 engine and four-speed gearbox.

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Next episode: dawn breaks but it just gets colder. Will both Bantams reach the finish in one piece?

The BSA Bantam Club is the ideal place to start if you'd like to learn more about these plucky British two-strokes. See www.bsabantamclub.org.uk

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