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17th March 2003

John Wheater reckons that 'Of bikes, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention.' Just to disprove that statement, here he is, mentioning them. In detail!

The Bikes of Your Life

Actually, it all started with another song. I think it was Trini Lopez that gave us; 'If I had a hammer.' You see, long before I was of an age that would enable me to ride legally on the roads, I was part owner of a 197cc DOT which 'the gang' used to ride around a field. Our course had many humps and hollows and, on the fastest part of the track -- where I reckon we were probably doing a good 35-40mph, OK about 20 -- there was a rabbit warren. If we didn't gauge accurately where the front wheel hit this bunny building, then the front forks would bottom and jam in a most spectacular manner.

The rider then had to shout across the field for someone the 'bring the hammer'. It was quite a walk so if anyone did it twice he would be banned from that day's riding.

Ready to conquer the world! Well, maybe with some air in its tyres

One cove, who I shall name as he will enjoy it if he reads this, was called Milan Gorcik, pronounced Gorchick,. He had his own BSA M20, ex-WD of course. No one knew how he had acquired it or where he kept it, but he used to ride it on the road to 'the field'. Like us, he was 15 at the time and he became a real hero when one day he lost control and rode against a barbed wire fence for about a hundred yards. His leg was a mess, blood everywhere, but all he was bothered about was the ticking off he would get from 'his mam' when she saw his torn trousers. We never saw the M20 again, so perhaps it had only been 'borrowed' after all.

A succession of illicit rides followed until I was old enough to ride on the road. There was a Bantam of course, every one had a Bantam -- except David Wilson and he had a Norton Jubilee. Wow, two cylinders and 250cc and all on L-plates. This was long, long before the 125 rule and CBT.

I passed my test on a Lambretta LDB150 but would never admit it to a soul. I had an Li much later on. Don't knock the scoots, they made excellent ride-to-work mounts. However, courting isn't much fun on two wheels and I bought a Heinkel Bubble Car. It was showing slight signs of rust, actually quite a bit of rust, so much, in fact, that I built a chassis inside it with Dexion racking. I drove it on a bike licence, and it had reverse gear. I don't know when the reverse gear rule was rescinded but I was quite legal at that time. Spares were an astronomical cost, most were obtained by post from Pride and Clarke, and most cost more than a week's wages. At the time I was earning six quid a week at Barclay's Bank. The Heinkel did a 40 mile a day round trip.

After Barclays came six years in the Royal Air Force with a motley selection of transport. I was once offered a Jaguar SS100 for fifty quid but I though it was exorbitant as the huge front brakes needed re-lining. I was married whilst I was in the RAF and our son was born, so we were poorer than church mice when I returned to civvy street. I bought one of the first Yamaha step-throughs to ride to work. The poor thing had to tackle Park Street and Whiteladies Road in Bristol daily and soon gave up the ghost.

Prospective owners beware: 'athletic support' may be required

It was part-exchanged for a Triumph 21. Much more sensible even if it did use more juice. I remember when I sold it, after loading it into a van, I told the purchaser to go and get measured for a truss. Well, he seemed quite old. 'You cheeky young pup,' he replied, 'I am wearing one.' It was around 1970 and I sold it for 50. We were hard up, it was replaced by that Lambretta Li which cost a tenner. Solvent again for a short time.

A move from Bristol, a change of job and things were on the up. I bought an A10 Road Rocket, far from original but a flying machine. I have had another A10 since and another 21. Come to think of it, I had two Plastic Maggots as well. (Honda CX500s, Gran.) We mustn't forget the Harley; FW would never forgive me if I forgot the Harley. Mine was a basket case WLC which I was rebuilding as a replica flat-track racer. The restoration simply ate cash, as they all do. The only place to get spares then was from Holland, very expensive too. However, a chum was plaguing the life out of me for this bike and, in the end, short of cash again, I let him have it. A straight swap for a BSA G14 1000cc V-Twin with a Watsonian Launch side-car.

What a camel! It was perfectly set up, I could ride it with my arms folded, I never once hit a pavement (I know from bitter experience that this is the true test of a well set-up outfit. CBMart) or upturned the plot, it would cruise all day at about 55mph. At least I think it was 55, being a pre-1934 bike it didn't legally need a speedometer. That's still the same I should think. No, the problem was actually steering the brute, those huge handlebars had to do all the steering as you can't lean a chair, well, not far anyway. I used to do 200 miles in a day frequently on VMCC runs and my shoulders ached for a week afterwards.

I sold it to Andy Tiernan and insisted that I took him in the chair for one last burn up. I don't think he has ever recovered.

John says this is a camel. It doesn't look like a camel to me. Where's its hump?

Since then I have done more than a couple of restorations from scrap, the first was an ex-Army Ariel WNG 350 ohv (See pic at top of page). It was undoubtedly the best motorcycle that the military bought during WWII. And, before the message board goes mad, I have ridden the lot from BSA to Velocette. The Ariel, you see, had the 1939 ISDT frame, light, lots of ground clearance and a fair turn of speed from that 20bhp motor.

I re-conquered Europe with mine in 1981 with the 39/45 Military Vehicle Group. We did a tour of Belgium, Germany and Holland, taking in the Operation Market Garden dropping zones near Arnhem. There wasn't a Bridge Too Far for the Ariel on that tour though -- about 1200 miles in the week and not as much as a loose pannier. Terrific fun. The guy that bought my Harley accompanied me on his G3L Matchless. Since then he has done it time and time again on the Harley which is in full US Army trim. I don't know if his uniform is right though!

The Ariel went to Japan, I sold it to a local dealer who exported it, but not before it, and its restoration was featured in one of the national glossies. I think I may have sold it to make room for the M20 which was also ex-WD. This one, however, was restored in civilian colours. I bought it from its second owner who had acquired it from Pride and Clarke just after the war. It was a mess when I got it but I turned it into a very pretty bike.

Mind you, the devil is always present in my right wrist and the M20 was a bit of a plodder. I obtained a B33 engine, that's a 500 ohv, and sold the side-valve. I ruined the bike, it was quick, very quick but the frame wasn't up to the speed. There actually was such an animal, BSA did the same thing and called it an M33... using up their stock of M20 frames, I should think. As I had sold the side-valve there was no turning back, so I sold it (quite unwittingly) to a number dealer. So there must be some Terrance somewhere with TEL on his BMW 3 series.

Shortly after the M20 I began a love affair with old motor cars, well, she who must be obeyed wouldn't ride on a bike, hadn't done so for ages. But there has always been at least one bike alongside the car, the Plastic Maggots, a Honda 400 Twin, a wonderful, wonderful Triumph Sprung Hub 6T Thunderbird. I even did a bit of trialling on the 6T; no good, insufficient steering lock, not like the WNG. There was also a Moto Guzzi Targa, oh, the list goes on.

At the moment there is a Hinckley Triumph 900 Trident which I have had from new. And at last I acquired a machine which I have lusted after for 20 years, a Mike Hailwood Replica Ducati. Not quite concours but close, less than 11,000km from new. Its first ten years were spent in a museum. No doubt I will sell it one day but, for now, I am in love.

Bikes. I love them, I love them all, except perhaps the James 125 and certainly the James Comet -- what a daft name for a 98cc tiddler. There is perhaps one bike which I have ridden but never owned, which I would still like to own. No one reading this would guess what it was; a Velocette LE. Retirement is just around the corner so perhaps the right one will find me -- rather than me having to go looking for it.


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