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16th May 2014

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Famous Last Words 22: MoT or NoT

Classic bikes built before 1960 no longer need an annual mechanical inspection. Frank Westworth isn't certain this is entirely sensible...

I was enduring Ordeal By MoT last week. Well … the bike was, to be more exact, but you get the idea. 'Does it need one?' asked Kenny, surveying with amusement (or something charitable like that) as my treasured Matchless dripped primary chaincase oil onto his workshop floor. 'Isn't it old enough to be exempt? It looks it…'

MoT or NoT MoT Required (And yes, we know it's not a Matchless)

Ignoring the barbs, as a chap should, I reminded him that the 'C' suffix on the registration plate was a clue to its age. 'It was built years, years before I was born,' he replied, shutting me up after I'd explained that it was product of 1965, a great year in the endless and glorious history of Matchless motorcycles. Of course. And of course the cut-off year for the insane exemption notion from our masters in Wasteminster is pre-1959. Which of course allows bikes with worse brakes, worse lights and many other dull unsafety features to pass by untested. So it goes.

I have of course read piles of the puff which dribbled into the press world when the exemption-thing was announced … quietly. I cannot understand why it's been introduced, either, but no doubt someone will explain it … and then I still won't understand the reasoning.

MoT or NoT No MoT Required
BSAs, tried and tested, on ...

The thinking is apparently based on the notion that those of us - that's you and me - who run vehicles built before the 1959 ceiling somehow look after them more than those lightweight modernist fools who run vehicles built in 1960. Or 1961 (a good AMC year), or even 1964 (an even better AMC year). What a peculiar idea. Someone was paid, and handsomely I imagine, to come up with this. I wondered whether it was true, and in the great RC spirit of selfless investigation I asked around. The result is a predictably polarised selection of views. They fall into two main classes; those who think it's a great idea, and those who think it's a nonsense. The third class is the SORN class, which is sort-of self-explanatory. SORN: another gloriously senseless idea. When I retire from this editorial vale of tears I shall apply for a position as consultant to the DVLA. I am a child of the 1960s; I can easily come up with refreshing and pointless ideas…

Here comes an observation: the majority of those who consider the MoT exemption to be a great idea are those from whom I would never wish to buy a motorcycle without a new - as in new that very day - MoT certificate. If I bought an old bike from them which did not have an MoT certificate from a tester I trust, then I would head immediately to the tester I trust and ask him to tell me exactly what's wrong with the thing from a safety perspective.

Just like everyone else, I find the MoT ritual to be an ordeal. I prep my own bikes and I take them to be laughed at, to have scorn poured upon them while MoTester Man compels me to drink evil coffee in return for his condescending to do terrible things to my motorcycle. Every time … every single time I take a machine for its MoT test, Kenny The Ace Tester finds fault with it. Every time. He vanished beneath a 1985 Norton clutching a penlight. And surfaced a minute or two later remarking that he'd thought as much; one of the pads in one of the front brake callipers was delaminating. I was amazed. Is this psychic magic? No; there was a strange stutter pattern on the disc. Pads replaced, the stutter pattern has worn off. I can feel no difference in the action of the brake. But I can imagine the result of the pad's friction material separating from its backplate. At speed. In the outside lane of the M5. In the rain.

Travel by train does have an appeal.

The 1965 Matchless also had a brake problem. As in, mainly, that the front one didn't work well. I had observed this; it's been the same all the time I've had it. Tester Man dropped out the wheel and observed that there was nothing wrong with the shoes or their linings, slopped a little grease onto the two pivots and reassembled it. We conferred over coffee. 'I think it's the cable,' I ventured. We agreed. He did too. So although the bike didn't fail - the brake tester thinks the brake is fine; I'll remind it when we pile into the back of an ABS-toting car - I shall acquire and fit a new cable.

MoT or NoT MoT Required

Why would any man from a ministry decide that such a healthy, life-preserving debate is obsolete or unnecessary? Because that particular person has never run a vehicle built before 1959, that's why. They have no idea at all of how much the floors of a Ford Prefect can rot, how wheels can amusingly fall from a Hillman Minx or how utterly catastrophic can be the levels of wear in a set of Webb girder forks. But most of all, that person cannot imagine that anyone would be so utterly criminally, braindeadly stupid that they might fill a rotted floorpan with newspaper and chickenwire, over-painted with underseal; how easy it is to tighten the most worn of steering trunnions to remove the slop to the point at which there's no play and the trunnion will collapse under load. I am scared of this; cars are big heavy things and they hurt when they run into you. I refuse to be consoled should a shocked and shaken car driver stare at our shared wreckage because he's just brought his 1958 Morris Minor out for its first drive of the year and the brakes failed…

We all complain about MoT tests. Of course we do. We enjoy complaining. Complaining is good. Healthy. But even though a couple of my old clunkers now no longer need that annual test … they're still getting it. And I will not buy any 'roadworthy' bike which lacks one…


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