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Post Office Motorcycles, Part Three
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Paul "Woodie" Wood tells his final installment: BSA lose their grip on the delivery business, other manufacturers fill the gap, and the working motorcycle goes out of fashion as the era of the telegram draws to a close...

The heyday of the telegram was coming to an end by the time the 1960s dawned, with the spread of the telephone leaving too many GPO staff at too many places delivering too few telegrams. Changes in driving licence regulations and the need to recruit more young postmen direct from school led to the introduction of Raleigh 49cc mopeds and BSA Dandy 70cc scooters in 1962, followed by further batches of Raleigh RM5 mopeds in 1963 and 1966. Their use was mainly for telegram delivery but attempts were being made to motorise rural 'walks' where any kind of motor transport had not previously been justified. These experiments were quite successful in flat rural areas where relatively small mileages were involved, and substantial number of Raleighs, both Runabout and Supermatic were purchased from 1967 for rural postal and urban telegram delivery.

Every 16 year old boy's dream in 1970?

The end of the decade saw the end of the General Post Office when on the 1st October 1969 the government department ceased to exist. It was replaced by the nationalised corporation, the Post Office. As far as vehicles were concerned, a major difference was that all vehicles had to be individually licensed and this work was devolved to local managers or head postmasters. The effect was that vehicles no longer carried London registrations or were allocated to the national service in big batches of one type.

This postie is happy; he isn't on a Puch...

This had an immediate effect for the BSA Bantam as the last batch of 120 machines ordered by the GPO was expected just prior to the change. So when they arrived in November 1969, the BSAs were among the first Post Office vehicles to carry local registrations. The Post Office evidently felt able to experiment more widely with different manufacturers of moped. Batches of 25 each from Garelli, Honda, Motobecane, and Mobylette and Steyr Puch Maxi were tried in 1970/71 as alternatives to the Raleigh runabout.

BSA Bantams were still in favour, however, 100 being delivered in 1970 and the very final delivery of 400 arrived in 1970/71 before production ceased. The last machine delivered had a frame number BEO 07500. Many of the last batch were put into store and used to replaced life-expired earlier examples after 1972, so that the last finally entered Post Office service in early 1974.

This postie isn't happy; his gloves are so new, the fingers won't bend.
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So ended the marriage of the BSA Bantam with the GPO/PO which had survived 24 years. The total number of Bantams purchased by the Post Office was 5369, as far as I can ascertain

The Post Office then chose the Steyr Puch moped as its standard moped of the 1970s, purchasing quite large batches from 1972 to 1979 for postal and telegram delivery work. However the PO did return to BSA in 1972 for one solitary purchase of an Ariel Three moped. It obviously didn't go down too well!

The telegram service was in its death throes by the end of the 1970s: the telephone and telex had shown it to be outdated, The Post Office split with British Telecom and the telegram became a loss-making product from another company. It was no surprise to hear the announcement that the Telegram service was to cease on the 1st October 1982. BT carried on for some time with an overnight telegram service accepted by phone and delivered next day by post. When the Post Office was formed in 1969 there were 1500 vehicles on telegram delivery (not all of them motorcycles!) and by 1981 this figure had shrunk to 400 vehicles nationwide.

No one would be happy to ride this Seedy 175
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In 1978 the Post Office introduced the Expresspost service as a new premium service and, in most towns and cities, small vans were used for the delivery. However in two cities -- Bristol and Oxford -- four Honda CD175s were used for the delivery. These were the first motorcycles (as opposed to mopeds) purchased by the PO since the purchase of the last Bantams, years earlier. Then in 1985 Kawasaki found favour with the PO who purchased 24 of their bikes for deliveries of Expresspost and Datapost items. All these machines were based at the London East Central and Foreign Section Office in the City.

Retracing our steps slightly the moped however was far from dead with the postal service. In 1984 the PO purchased two batches of Raleigh Easyrider mopeds for postal deliveries, totaling 35 bikes. Also 35 BSA ER1 Mopeds and l35 Tomos 49cc mopeds, lastly 30 Honda City Express Mopeds went into service, followed by more Honda orders for City Express in the years 1987 to 2001, with 45 delivered annually. In 2002 this order was cut to 5 machines and just one bike in 2003.

A step up from the Raleighs?

Then there's an oddity -- both technically not motorcycles but I feel they should be mentioned. In Scotland the small peninsula district of Knoydart is accessed by boat from Mallaig - it's extremely wild terrain. (I remember staying at Mallaig during a tour of the Highlands and Islands mounted on a BSA A10. We stayed at a B&B run by an ex-Royal Marine who had rowed single handedly across the Atlantic, Tom MacLean. Tom was admiring my friend and I for taking on the district on a 40 year old machine - which considering what he had achieved we found quite ironic!).

The Royal Mail wished to motorise this rural 'walk' and purchased a Piaggio Ape 50 3-wheel mail van, powered by a 49cc petrol engine, in 2001. Perhaps Royal Mail should have enquired from the Australian Post as to suitability of this type of machine along un-made cart tracks! The Australian Post had tried similar vehicles in the 1950s when many residential back roads in rural districts were un-made. Unfortunately the Piaggio proved unsuitable due to the front single wheel steering, and was withdrawn in 2003 and auctioned later with only 356 miles recorded.

February 2002, and the Post Office invest in a colour camera. They should have gone for the Autofocus option as well...

In February 2002 the Royal Mail purchased another unusual vehicle -- a Honda Foreman S TRX450 Quad. This was to be used on the Scottish island of Kerrera, off Oban. This was put into service to deliver the island's mail, unlicensed! Why unlicensed? The isle of Kerrera is private, so no licensing is required.

Back on the mainland, in January 2005 two Honda Dylan SES 125cc motorcycles were purchased by Royal Mail for delivery in Central London on Sameday deliveries. In recent months the Royal Mail has purchased more motorcycles -- make not known but I would be surprised if they are not Honda 125cc bikes. They have also taken delivery of a large order of Peugeot Ludix Mopeds.

So this concludes 92 years of use of the motorcycle in public service communications, with the GPO, PO, and Royal Mail. More bikes than you imagined, probably!


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