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Bike Review - Posted 11th January 2013
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BSA Big Singles Buying Guide

Fancy a traditional single-cylinder British classic? BSA made squillions of them, from stalwart sloggers to clubman's racers. So if you're looking for a 500cc single, then the search starts here...

The B33 is the very epitome of a solid British workhorse, one which followed the usual pattern of chassis development between 1947 and 1960, gaining limited rear plunger suspension as an option from 1949, and a full swinging arm frame in 1954. So it became more comfortable with improved handling but got podgy in the process, rising from 340lb to 420lb. The 23bhp pushrod engine could see 80mph but 55/60mph are more suitable cruising speeds for motorcycles of this age on modern roads.

Previously owned by a fat bloke, by the look of it... BSA B33

The B33 is robust and reliable but unremarkable, so current values of around £3500 seem a fair price to pay. However, B33s make a good basis for building a 'Gold Star replica', so you'll see many bog standard 500s advertised at prices approaching £5k. Six months later they'll wear clip-ons and a pretty petrol tank and an even more optimistic price tag…

Definitive?... BSA M21

If character is more important to you than performance, then take a look at the M-series machines. The sidevalve Beesa sloggers came in two sizes as the 13bhp, 496cc M20 and 15bhp, 591cc M21. They first joined the BSA range in 1937 with girder front ends, and saw extensive military service. Fitted with tele forks from 1948, the Ms were then intended to propel the whole family with a sidecar in civilian life. Faithful if sedate, they lasted until the late 1950s, and honest examples from that era can be found for under £3000. An increasing fascination with military motorcycles has pushed up prices of WD machines, however, and these fetch between £3500 and £5000.

Resting on its laurels?... BSA M21

The M33 was an unusual offshoot which plonked the OHV pushrod engine into the sidevalve chassis and so retained the rigid rear end until 1956 before swapping to plunger suspension, and eschewing all that swinging arm stuff altogether. So the M33 avoided putting on as much weight as the B33, staying steady at around 370lb for its production life between 1947 and 1957. It is truly tricky to pretend that one of these might somehow be a Gold Star, so prices tend to remain reasonable at around £3k. A useful combination of solo saddle and tele forks; the power of the B33 and the lighter weight of the Ms, but seldom seen for sale.

Best of both worlds?... BSA M33

The last incarnation of the big Beesa single is equally unusual; the oil-in-frame unit construction B50 of 1970-72, available as a street scrambler or green-laner. Capable of being tuned to 38bhp in competition trim, and not to be confused with the original Gold Star, the B50 is a brisk, brash bruiser and worthy of its own cult following. Starting a B50 requires both technique and brute force and the motor is a long way from a traditional Brit thumper, revving beyond 6000rpm. It's a very different motorcycle to its namesake.

Still the same family?... BSA B50

Speaking of the original Goldie… gorgeous to behold but a right handful to ride, in racing trim the iconic Gold Star is harsh, noisy, intractable and an invitation to extensive chiropractic therapy. What, you still want one? OK, genuine DBD34s will set you back the better part of £20k while a home-built trackday special with the right engine numbers costs £10,000. Still keen? Join the Gold Star owners' club and start swotting then: the market overfloweth with replicas and fakes and a bewildering array of model designations, and many Goldies are only sold at auction where you have precious little opportunity to examine their credentials.

Comin' at ya... BSA Gold Star
Gold Stars on

Get a good 'un and you'll have bagged a 30% power uplift with the all-alloy engine over the standard OHV BSA 500, which was good enough for 12 TT wins between 1949 and 1956, and will still hurl you to 90mph in second gear today. The most underrated example is the softer-tuned touring Goldie with adjusted gearing and ergonomics. It can't quite match the plush refinement of the equivalent Velocette, but puts all the Gold Star grunt to good use on real roads.


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