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Bike Profile - Posted 9th October 2009

Douglas Light 500
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Bill Snelling recalls riding a girder-forked vintage Douglas in various trials over the years, and encountering all manner of mechanical obstacles...

I was first loaned one of Bob Thomas' Douggies many years ago, when living on 'an adjacent island' (as the Manx call the UK!). I had gone to a VMCC trial and Bob loaned me his then fore-and-aft trials machine.

In later years when I was first in residence here on the Isle of Man, I was loaned Bob's current machine. In my day the machine was fitted with 19-inch tyres, the back one was so old it stood up with no air in. To increase the ground clearance from barely nil to just over nil the engine was raised in the frame by an alloy plate. Legend tells that when Bob started organising vintage trials on the Isle of Man, it was a case of every rider rode… the Douglas!

Photo taken in 1983. Not sure if he's on a hill or if the cameraman is a little tipsy. Douglas Light 500 with Bill Snelling at the controls

I rode for many years at the Talmag Trial, held near Camberley in Surrey. A super day out, all classes of Pre-65 machines were catered for. The trial is held very early in the year, which posed a problem not normally associated with a finely-honed trials mount. The single carburettor fed both cylinders via a very long manifold. You could start it easy enough, but then five minutes later it died. The whole inlet manifold was covered in ice. A few minutes later, the ice dispersed and you could start again. You sometimes had to start it a half dozen times before the all-cast-iron engine gave off enough heat to keep it running!

The girder fork brigade used the easier sections laid out for the sidecars, we ran at the back of the field. With a huge entry, it not uncommon for the early runners to be queuing for their second lap whilst we were just starting.

We were using an easier route up one, I got the Douggie really singing and flew into the section. With a near open pipe it made a real fruity sound, not unlike a Triumph Trophy. A spectator had heard it coming, thought it was an aforementioned Trophy, and was standing in the middle of our 'easy' section! There was a steep bank, his legs were going ten to the dozen up the bank and going nowhere when I whistled pass his bum!

Classic Trials bikes on :

Another year, unbeknown to me, the oil feed pipe had been pulled off as I careered through a bush, a not uncommon occurrence when riding this machine. I was charging at the next section when it seized solid and rapidly deposited me on the floor. Thank heavens for cast-iron pistons; we relocated the pipe, took the plugs out and pushed it around a bit, refitted plugs and she went like a bird for the rest of the day.

Second-hand lemonade not shown... Douglas Light 500 - engine detail

Another time, the mag objected to being sat astride a near-incandescent power unit and started to fail. Applications of various liquids from water, tea (no milk or sugar - we are known as a 'cheap round') and lemonade again revived it without having to resort to second-hand water, tea or lemonade.

Riding through water posed a unique problem (or two). You could not ease the clutch as two things happened. First, it hydrauliced and forward motion ceased. The narrowness of the petrol tank then gave rise to the second and rather uncomfortable difficulty. The big outside flywheel scooped up the water (or mud most of the time) and flicked it upwards. You suddenly lost sight through your left eye and developed a feeling of uncomfortableness in an area of the body that sounds like an amalgam of the words testament and icicle!

Not the most ideal of trials machines, but it gave me many years of fun.

Thanks Bob.

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Pic by FoTTofinders: www.fottofinders.co.uk


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