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10th April 2006

Opinion: Why are we here? Part two of loads

Steve Benson (aka AJSBSA) goes on a verbal bimble to explain what old bikes mean to him, and to his family...

It has been said many times by several philosophers that setting goals is important in life and I agree wholeheartedly. However it is also said that it's not the achieving the goal but the planning and working towards a goal that provides the most contentment.

I was trying to apply this line of thought to old bikes and it started to make some sort of sense so wanted to write it down before I forgot it again. Getting your old bike to perfectly match your ideal is the goal and the journey is long with many setbacks but each small success it very satisfying. Each long bimble is an experience in which you take pleasure in what has gone right and ponder what improvements are still needed.

So a break down is not some thing to be feared but just an opportunity to do better -- without the possibility of failure, where is the value of success? A modern bike on the other hand will always seem soulless due to the lack of interaction between man and machine. It is the modern way of spending money on a product in the hope that the adverts are right and it will fill a hole in your life.

Of course I won't send this photo to RealClassic...

I believe that my 1950 Sunbeam S8 and 1955 AJS 18S together perfectly fill my motorcycle-shaped hole for the moment and while I am still able to ride I am sure I will never sell them.

My involvement in old bikes began about 11 years ago with the purchase of a 1955 AJS 18S pulled out of a cellar. It ran, just but only just. I used it as a running restoration, riding it for work and fixing it up in the back garden at weekends and evenings.

Despite its deplorable condition it kept running even though it had almost no compression. It was this that impressed me the most. The bike, after a magneto overhaul, seemed to have such a firm grip on life that even years of abuse and my ham-fisted efforts could not kill it. I started to lavish money and attention on it learning lots by doing everything twice -- once because it needed it, twice because I had cocked it up the first time! The AJS stoically continued to take me to work and now it takes me all over the country too.

Things to do with a motorbike, some small rugby goalposts and a clipboard; No.34...

About six years ago I bought a Sunbeam S8, a 'sophisticated' smooth twin to complement my lumpy, workman-like AJS single. Because I now knew how much a restoration actually costs, I decided to buy one in good condition and I found one that looked in wonderful, better-than-new condition. But I made the mistake of believing the outside was an indicator of its internal condition. Always look for receipts! Everybody I know keeps them… but if they are your own receipts for stuff you have paid for, then never, under any circumstances, add them all up or (even worse) let the wife near them with a calculator.

I ended up replacing almost every wearing part but I am rewarded with a bike I can trust, one that I know like the back of my oil-stained hand.

Robyn and Steve
Random Sumbeam bits on

Any goal worth achieving will always involve other people and the people you meet in the old bike world are some of the best, I had a so-so experience with the local VMCC but once I had discovered the AMC owners' club (Jampot), I was away travelling to rallies. My daughters would want to ride as well and I often went to rallies with one or other of my children as pillion, real happy times hopefully some great memories for my kids as well. Robyn, now 16, still proudly displays her long distance trophies, Tanya, now 18, drives a 1972 Beetle even though I offered to buy her a Micra. Leanne, our youngest daughter, loves to polish either bike and join the parade at shows -- she also proudly displays any trophies they might win.

Liz and The Sunbeam

My wife Liz and I have made so many friends through old bikes and rallies that it's difficult to imagine life without them. One of my old bike goals was to travel abroad and last year we achieved that with a seven day trip through Norway with 10 others on Sunbeams. This went so well that Liz wanted to do some thing similar this year. So we have booked on a Classic Bike Provence tour with several other friends from the Sunbeam Owners' Club.

So anybody thinking about a purchasing an old bike -- I can recommend it, but remember to buy something you can maintain and leave plenty in your budget to get it through the first year. This when you will have most 'character building' learning opportunities…!

Sunbeam owners aren't the type to let the grass grow under their feet. over their heads? Now that's a different matter...


More Sumbeams on


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