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11th January 2003

Frank Westworth celebrates a new year. Out with the old. In with the new...

Frank illustrates the difference between 'small' and 'far away'...Tales From The Big Shed

It is the end of another year. How's that for a useless statement? But it's true all the same. The end of every year is traditionally a time to take stock, a time to ponder upon where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. It's the same in The Big Shed. I sit here, surrounded by the past year's triumphs and tribulations, and wonder what the new year will bring.

And 2003 is certainly going to be a big year for this particular shed-dweller! For starters, I shall complete my personal half century, which is supposedly some sort of milestone for us chaps, and we can all celebrate a quarter century since the invention of the classic bike. Yep, it was back in 1978 that Peter Watson helmed the very first issue of Classic Bike magazine, at a stroke reassuring madmen like me that we were quite right to insist upon rattling about the countryside aboard wheezing, leaking relics from the great days of the British bike industry, when there were perfectly sensible alternative forms of two-wheeled transport available. Thank you Peter.

The old rattler upon which I was wheezing about the place back then was a 1953 AJS Model 20, a fine machine indeed, and which like its owner will be celebrating its half century in the new year. It sits, looking less time ravaged than I, in a distant corner of The Shed, and one day it will take its place on the bench and get fettled. Maybe. No rush…

Half century … quarter century … an eighth of a century ago, Jim Reynolds and I put our tongues firmly in our cheeks and launched a magazine called Classic Bike Guide. We felt the time was right for a blotchy black and white alternative to the increasingly shiny paper offerings from more reputable publishers. And who better to publish it than a collection of Manchester-based maniacs better known for being Back Street Heroes than for being old bike nuts!

Those early CBG days were often hilarious; Jim sat in my spare room, dictating captions and dispensing wisdom while I sat at a tiny black and white screen laying out a tiny black and white magazine. I could almost get nostalgic about it - although that would be very silly, because the shiny, super-selling magazine you may have read was a lot easier to nail together than the old version.

My Shed boasts an almost complete collection of CBG, and when I really really cannot get to grips with Reasons Why The Stupid Thing Won't Work, I pull out an old copy and read back through some of the more crackpot episodes from those distant blotchy days a decade or more ago. And, oddly, a Reason Why often occurs to me, and it is often the right one!

Editing CBG really was the best job in the whole world, you know. When I think about it, I am amazed that I've spent a quarter of my life turning what was a passion into an occupation, and then back again. Quite what I'll do now someone's taken it all away I do not know…

But enough of this end-of-year meandering. The whole pensive period was induced by the inexplicable failure to go of the Ariel Toastmaster, The Shed's current spanner attack victim. Ambling about re-reading Steve Wilson's excellent account of a long ride on an improbable BSA to an improbably distant location supplied me with sufficiently revived vim and vigour to valiantly attempt ignition one more time.

I am getting good at this.

Off with the timing cover. Off with the magneto's automatic timing device. A dose of pondering, a dose of gazing, and application of the magic Top Dead Centre detection device to get the right-hand piston at exactly the right place. Set the heel of the mag's contact breaker 'shoe' at the start of the right-hand pot's cam-ring ramp, so the points are just opening. Wedge the ATD at full advance and lock it to the mag's drive spindle. Remember to remove the wedge…

Remake the contacts at each end of the copper-cored HT leads, and fit a new pair of unsurpressed plug caps. Reassemble. Sit back and gaze a bit more. Turn on fuel. Flood spangly new Amal. Kick.

Kick with open throttle and step smartly back as The Shed echoes with prolonged active life. This is a pedigree motorcycle. I love it. Sounds so good. My spirits lift and I'm looking forward to completing my own half century with some fine rides to Ariel Owners' Club events.

Onward into 2003, then. See you there!


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