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14th April 2003

Been sat behind a desk far too long. Time to get out and about, and see what's happening in the classic bike world. Here's how Rowena Hoseason and Frank Westworth have spent their spring weekends thus far...

On The Road Again

We kicked off our month of meandering with an event we've never been to before; unusual for us because we're creatures of habit and tend to emerge cautiously, blinking from the dark of winter hibernation, only scuttling sideways to familiar ground where we know the ideal feeding places... but this is a new venture. A new way of looking at things. So we're on for new experiences, too, and the first of these was the JBM Autojumble at the Stratford racecourse.

Organiser John Budgen gave it a cautious build-up when we spoke to him before going; 'it's a relatively new event,' he said; 'and it's still getting established.' Fair enough; especially as the two quid admission fee reflects the lack of dancing girls and stunt riders (no bad thing, some might say). We left early for the trundle over and kept our expectations well within the bounds of realism. We'll, we are Realists, after all.

So who let a Suzuki sneak into this picture then? Dear meThe first stall we stumbled into belonged to Polly Palmer of BSA specialists Bri-Tie. That was extremely handy because the A65's petrol taps were doing a good impression of a mountain-side raging torrent, swollen with snowmelt (not that you get much petrol flowing freely on the average mountain, true. Just as well. Think of the smell!). We'd emailed Polly earlier in the week on this subject and he apologised for not replying; 'there's something gone wrong with my email. I get a dozen copies of every mail which arrives. There's thousands on my computer!' We know just how he feels. The same dread assails us when we consider rebuilding the B25's gearbox. So we bought a pair of replacement taps in person, saved on the postage, and took Polly's advice on which ones offered the best compromise between ease of use and longevity. He also suggested using some tres trick crushable washers -- more on these items another day.

(BTW; Polly is a bloke. Just in case you were wondering. The Chris Knight stall, on the other hand -- where we also splashed some cash, this time on a replacement kickstart to fit the aforementioned Beez -- always seems to be staffed by a woman. Haven't dared ask if she is indeed Chris: we just don't take anything for granted any more).

The mobile phone chose that moment to burst into the first verse of The Ride of the Valkyires. Yes, we do have a mobile phone (we didn't have a mobile phone until Frank-the-ex-editor owned an Ariel Square Four. Draw your own conclusions). No, we don't know what its number is, so the very fact that it was ringing -- well, singing -- was a surprise. A pleasant surprise, because the person on the other end turned out to be our old chum AJ... who was standing right behind us. Boo! My word yes, the old jokes are the best.

So the duo became a trio and ambled on. Ms H then had the task of trying to peel both AJ and Frank away from the delightful charms of a rigid BSA M21, a sidevalve slugger of the old school. The thumper was tucked away in a quiet corner, attempting to attract its new owner in an unassuming fashion. Unlike some bikes for sale which puff and posture and bellow and boast, the Beesa simply said; 'Fancy a spin, old feller? I'm ready to roll, me.' For £1400, Frank couldn't find a single reason why he shouldn't own that particular bike, and his hand kept straying towards his wallet in a frightening fashion. For the same £1400, AJ was just as smitten -- but he couldn't find a single reason why he should own that particular bike. At that point they called it quits and went for coffee!

Sometimes shiny-shiny can be very, very good. Mike Ryan's amazing monsterbike. Smashing, innit?

Coffee had to wait, while Frank quite literally stumbled upon a Burman B52 gearbox. (Precious minutes were spent explaining to Ms H that she shouldn't go looking for the bomb-bay doors). 'It's for an Ariel' cried FW.

'How can you tell?' cried Ms H and AJ back.

'By the primary chain adjuster dowel, of course. I thought everyone knew that. And it pivots at the bottom too, which is always a giveaway.' Actually, the biggest giveaway was that ten pound notes had left the wallet and were being waved at the stallholder. Four of them changed hands and FW staggered off to stow his trophy of the day. 'Forty quid. It's a bargain! Never mind the gearbox itself, it also has an as-new sprocket, and original gearchange and kickstart levers. Perfect for the Toastmaster.'

But hey, erm, hang on; 'don't you already have a gearbox for the Toastmaster, complete with brand new levers?'

'A man can never have too many gearboxes. Or levers.'

Just so.

After 90 minutes of shambling around in similar fashion we were nearly done for the day. As we headed for the exit so we bumped into another couple of Realists, and gathered around the day's rarest bike: an X-75 Hurricane, up for sale at six grand or so. Hmm. Newly repatriated from the States, it looked... OK. At least, what was there looked fine; it was what was missing which concerned us. No UK registration, obviously. Of more importance was the lack of any provenance, any detail about where it had spent the last 30 years and in what form. If you're spending twice the going rate on a BSA/Triumph triple simply because it seems to be a Hurricane, then you want to be absolutely certain that when it left Small Heath it really WAS a Hurricane, you know? If in doubt...

Two-In-One

In this instance, Two-in-One isn't a posh exhaust pipe or a new kind of oil made especially for lubricating door hinges and drive chains; it's what you have to do when event organisers inconsiderately schedule two of your favourite shows for the same day. It meant another early start and a cross country dash to be at the sixth Malvern Classic Bike Show shortly after the gates opened. We weren't alone: by 10am the place was heaving. In itself that is really good news; a couple of years back this show was what you might call an 'intimate' event; we weren't all on first name terms but it was pretty close. Then came FMD, when we splashed through the depressing antiseptic gulley and gazed with some sadness at the empty fields... and the fairly empty arena.

Now? Packed. Thrumming, you might say. Classic bikes coming and going hither, thither and puther at all times; loads on display in the halls and loads more parked in the outdoor arena. Heaps of traders, many of them selling things we wanted to buy (well, don't you find that some events have plenty of stalls but none of them purveying anything of any use?). Immediately we pounced upon Tom Johnson the cable man, to secure a spare clutch and brake cable for the Beez. The clutch cable was easily sorted, but then Mr J demonstrated his formidable familiarity with old British bikes and had us cowering in the corner with a series of increasingly unanswerable questions about the brake. 2ls or sls? High bars or low bars? Does the cable run down the fork leg? Has it got a bell crank? Is the early 1967 brake or the late 1967 brake or an early 1968 brake? Are you sorry you asked yet?

There's a big clue in this experience to solving that age-old mystery of 'whatever happened to the British bike industry?' For heaven's sake, how many different kinds of braking arrangement did one company need!?

After giving up on the brake cable ('we'll go home and look and come find you another day'), we gratefully fell into the welcoming arms of the Leominster Classic Club, who forced soothing cups of coffee into our sticky mitts. No! No! we said. We couldn't possibly eat a biscuit too. Oh well, if you insist. Just one then. We resolved to get our act in gear and finally go to one of their club nights, because they are such nice people and they always have a cracking display of bikes on their stand.

We suggested that Jonathan might like to develop his FB rebuilding skills with this one. The silence was profound

Mind you, the private entries in the concours were pretty impressive, too. All of real classic biking was represented there, from one extreme to the other. We found an unrestored Francis Barnett which would just suit fellow scribbler Jonathan Hoare -- actually, that's a mean joke at his expense because he just nabbed a FannyB at auction and already has a complete rebuild on his hands. At the other end of the scale, the most handsome beast award (maybe not quite an official accolade) went to Mike Ryan's glorious 1972 Commando. It's so smart he has invested in a colour matched vacuum flask. There's pride of ownership for you!

Outside, we could have browsed for hours. No bull: the Malvern Shows (there's another one at the opposite end of the year) have grown into genuinely excellent events which attract a broad range of real classics of all ages. We were standing and gawping at the stream of bikes riding into the arena when organiser Andrew Greenwood arrived on the scene, dispensing bonhomie like it was free. 'Remember when we started?' he chuckled with a northern accent that we dare not try to reproduce here for fear of being beaten to a pulp next time we see him. 'It's a bit different these days.' Surely was, we agreed. What, we ventured, did Andrew reckon was the secret of his success? 'Just keep turning up... that's all. Just keep turning up.' Andrew is out almost every weekend of the year, running classic bike and/or car events. A glutton for punishment, he's added a few more to the calendar this year, we notice. Just keep turning up? Now that's an understatement if ever there was one.

Onwards! Too much to see to be standing about, gassin'. We ambled past the informal outdoor concours, and noted wryly that there were as many Harleys and Ducatis as old Brits, and that modern Bonnies and Thunderbirds were thick on the ground. Someone should do a magazine for these people! Yeah, right. Oh, the pain. Etc.

Then we spotted a familiar silhouette in the far corner, and FW was off like a whippet (well, a whippet with dodgy knees). By the time Ms H had caught up, Frank had fallen a little bit in love with a rigid AJS Model 16, an overhead valve slugger dating from 1948. (Observant readers may notice a pattern appearing here). The temptation to seize it before the crowds arrived was huge, but Frank decided to let the Cosmic Supply Company work its magic. We agreed to stroll around the Show, and if the little AJS was still seeking an owner at the end of our day then we'd scoop it up and rush it back to the Big Shed.

Do not be misled: shiny-shiny fakeness does not necessarily a good motorcycle make. Mind you, we normally prefer our T150s to be a little less... oxidised

So next Ms H got distracted by a pair of Triumphs for sale. One was an extremely ragged T150 triple, c1973, which was mostly in one piece... although that one piece was pretty horrid. It needed everything doing to it -- although it also looked as if a sniff of petrol and the right touch might inspire it to fire up, as battered as it was. Next to the Trident sat a superficially smart Trophy twin from an earlier era. Both had done just 10,000 miles. The Trophy was up for £3300 while the Trident carried a price tag of two-thirds less; £1100. At first glance it seemed that only a madman with plenty of time on his hands would have opted to take on the triple. Then we peered a little closer and it was obvious that the Trophy had been subjected to what we politely call 'cosmetic restoration', including an unpleasant application of silver paint in inappropriate places. Huh. So maybe the Trident was the better buy of the two, after all.

Now the bargain-radar was really buzzing (or pinging. Or whatever it is that fictitious radar does), and we homed in on the Bargain Of The Day. Frank saw it -- Frank swooped! 'How much for this seat?' he opened.

'Do you know what it's for?' countered a startled trader who had long since given up on anyone wanting that scruffy old saddle.

'Mmm. Yes... AJS or Matchless... Nineteen-sausage mumble mumble.'

Confronted with such expertise, what else could the seller say but; 'two quid then mate'. We shook the wax out of our ears in confusion. Had we misheard? What was the number in front of the two? Did he mean £22? £32? £42 felt a bit steep... but no. Just two pert pounds changed pockets, and an as-new saddle for Persian Kitty came home with us. (What or who is PK? The next rebuild project; bought with optimism when it looked like the B25 was actually finished and the Toastmaster would only take a couple of months to do. We regard the rebuild queue as a positive part of life: it gives us something to look forward to!).

The last thing to do before leaving -- leaving a little early, we should add, without seeing all of the Show -- was to go back and check on that AJS. It was sold; shame. Well actually, no: not a shame at all. It was sold to a chap who really, really wanted it. He'd come to Malvern looking for exactly that type of bike, in exactly that kind of condition. So he and it were meant to be together: the Cosmic Supply Co did its stuff, as usual. Just not for us!

The One That Got Away. Frank started snivelling when he saw the photo again

Onward to Wistanstow, to the Shropshire Vintage and Classic Motorcycle Show. Although we squeaked through the gate at only a little after 2pm, the Show had the feeling of something drawing to a close. The warm spring sunshine was working its magic; jackets were off and riders were sprawling on the steps to the historic hall. No one was moving anywhere very fast; even the ranks of parked old Brits looked like they were taking a nap, dozing the afternoon away. We sipped lemon squash and admired the display in the hall -- for a local show, organiser Ron Maund attracts some ferociously interesting machinery.

To round off a fine day, we bought not one but two genuine BSA spanners. Every Beez needz toolz, you know.

Well Met In Notts

Right. Another day, another new event. On the other side of the country. Another early start! Little Chef will be making a fortune out of us, what with all these Olympic Breakfasts.

The new Nottingham autojumbles are a combined affair, catering for both classic cars and classic bikes -- although the two are kept separate so as not to confuse happy shoppers (no worries about buying a bit of old Land Rover, here). We have heard some bad reports about mixed jumbles not working particularly well, although as we have a fondness for all aged machinery it's never too much of a problem for us. Still, we were travelling a long way and hoped to find more than two trestle tables and a parked-up Velocette LE. Fingers crossed...

We finagled our way past the queuing traffic which for some reason was trying to get into the football ground (haven't they got any sense? We were going to something far more interesting) and rolled onto the green and pleasant site, part of the National Watersports Centre. Within 20 seconds of arrival it became apparent that we weren't going to be disappointed on the bike front -- a Ural combination roared by, on two wheels, with the sidecar tilted skyways and third wheel spinning merrily in mid-air. You know how some classic events can have a stuffy, pipe-and-slippers feel? Not this one!

Almost immediately we ran into Ariel Del, who'd ridden over on his Square, so Frank immediately leaped to inspect its wiring (we've reached the electrical stage on the Toastmaster rebuild and it's going... slowly). No help there: Del scampered through his wiring to get the bike on the road, and always said he'd come back and do the job properly. One day. Just not yet. So we're going back to the wiring diagram.

Total strangers, brought together by a Harris Matchless. WorryingOr indeed, back to the row of bikes. This wasn't meant to be a show, just a jumble, but people seemed to have brought their own show along with them. A row of the most gorgeous Gold Stars and café race Rockets looked stunning: the essence of speed and sound, captured in chrome.

Right next to them stood a café-raced Harris Matchless G80, doing its best to look a part of the picture -- and to us, it did. Frank got chatting to the G80's owner about his own Harry Matchless and -- blimey -- the next thing you know, cash changed hands and a deal was done over a standard rear light unit. That's pretty amazing when you stop to consider it for a moment. Handing over cash to someone you've never met before and may never see again, in a field, middle of nowhere, with absolute confidence... classic biking. It's as much about the people as it is about the bikes. (The light unit arrived in the post, two days later. Of course).

Back on the wiring track, Ms H spotted a display of wiring harnesses which looked remarkably similar to the one that Frank had been wrestling with all week. Not just similar -- the same! We made the acquaintance of The Wiring Man; he and Frank went into a huddle, and the next thing you know they had concocted a plan to adapt an existing harness to fit PK. Hang on -- what about finishing the Toastmaster, eh?

There's no point going on about the good humour of this day; about the other bikes on display; about the bargains we grabbed from the traders; about the excellent burgers we ate; about the little girl asking her long-haired, generally hairy dad whether she could have chips and being told; 'they've got no chips, luv' despite everyone all around stuffing chips down their necks with relish; about the potential this jumble has to be a long-term success; about the delight in meeting and enjoying the company of like-minded riders in pleasant surroundings -- there's no point in banging on about any of this. Because you really need to stop reading about it, and go do something instead.

It's always worth getting up early. It's always worth the journey. Next weekend, remember that. It's always worth it.


At the end of the day, Del rode off into the sunset. (There was a joke here about being glad to see the back of him, but we were too nice to make it!).
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