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5th December 2012

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Motorcycle Live 2012 - Take Two

Richard Jones visited the end-of-year modern motorcycle show in Birmingham and located a pleasing selection of old bikes amid the gleaming new machines...

I know that people who say 'I don't know where the year has gone to' are profoundly irritating but I have been described, on several occasions, as profoundly irritating so consider it said. It seems like no time at all that I was last leaving the station near Jones Towers to travel to Birmingham International to visit the 2011 end-of-year motorcycle extravaganza at the NEC but here I am again doing the same thing in 2012. As always I am helping out the irrepressible Robin Hughes on the VFR NZ stand (www.vfrnewzealand.com), trying to encourage people to head off for Christchurch in New Zealand (as opposed to Bournemouth) for a well-deserved biking holiday. I was allowed a break to take some photographs but would there be anything to tempt the classic motorcyclist-about-town at what is a modern bike show?

Well, to be honest, a reasonable amount if you know where to look…

NEC: Possibly the worst lit building in the empire...

The Classic Motorcycle Zone this year featured the Coventry Transport Museum (www.transport-museum.com) and, not unsurprisingly, there were some rather impressive motorcycles on display.

Riley 'Moto-Bi'...

Including this Riley 'Moto-Bi' motor-bicycle which was manufactured in 1903 at the Castle Works in Cook Street, Coventry - one for my 'never photographed this marque before' collection. The 422cc single cylinder engine was manufactured by the aptly named Motor Manufacturing Company of Coventry and was good for a top speed of 30mph with the Edwardian motorcyclist having to find £45 to acquire his motor-bicycle. Riley, as was so often the case in Coventry, started life as a bicycle manufacturer in 1890 and used many of its cycle parts to construct this machine including the frame, brakes and pedals.

Dig the pullback bars...

And another one not photographed before - a 1916 Lea-Francis built by Richard H Lea and Graham I Francis who also started out in 1895 with bicycles, dabbled with cars until 1911 and then got into motorcycles. Well done lads - got there eventually. They had a range (sic) of one model - a high quality 3.25hp JAP-engined V-twin with fully enclosed chain and quickly detachable wheels - and all yours for £69 10s. In 1914 the engine was upgraded to 3.5hp and was then replaced in 1921 with a MAG 3.5hp, supplemented with a JAP 5hp model. You would be in good company as a Lea-Francis rider - George Bernard Shaw was a customer too. This 1916 model would have cost you about £3000 in today's money and its 496cc would propel you to 40mph.

Period pinstripes. Love it...

In 1902 The Birmingham Motor Manufacturing Company merged with Coventry-based Allard & Co and set up a factory in Earlsdon and called themselves the Rex Motor Manufacturing Company. Nearby in Earlsdon the Acme Motor Company also set up business in 1902; twenty years later Rex bought into Acme to create the Acme-Rex Rex-Acme Motor Company. The first machine from the new venture was a lightweight powered by a 247 cc 2-stroke Morris engine and was soon followed by a range of machines with JAP, CAM and Blackburne motors. Walter Handley joined the firm, first as works manager and later as a director, and brought Rex-Acme racing success at the 1926 / 1928 TTs.

This example is the TT model dating from 1926, the year of a double victory, and its 250cc engine was capable of 70mph.

Speeding down Payne's Lane in Coventry at 42mph...

If you had £40 in 1924 you could have bought this 350 single and be speeding down Payne's Lane in Coventry at 42mph if you had collected it from Sparkbrook Manufacturing Co Ltd's works (although the fact that it wasn't run in may have ultimately impeded your progress). Starting with the inevitable Coventry habit of manufacturing bicycles, Sparkbrook began experimenting with motorcycles in 1912 using JAP engines but it wasn't until 1914 when they decided to get serious with a 296cc Villiers 2-stroke engine. WW1 put a spoke in the works (geddit?) but 1919 saw things moving again and from the early to mid-1920s Sparkbrook built 250cc and 350cc machines with JAP, Villiers and Barr & Stroud engines. Sadly all good things come to an end and so did Sparkbrook in 1926.

Front brake!...

I like Rovers - I think it's because they are Imperial (as opposed to metric) - and this one is no exception. Rover was founded by John Kemp Starley and although the firm was originally known in 1877 as the less exciting Starley & Sutton it became Rover in 1885 when Starley invented the Rover safety bicycle whose design allowed cycling to become accessible to millions. Then in 1903 the company turned its attention to motorcycles, the first being a 2.25hp machine designed by Edmund Lewis who had been lured away from Daimler, also located in Coventry. In 1910 a 3.5hp belt driven machine with Bosch magneto and B&B carburettor had success and after WW1 a 654cc JAP engined V-twin was marketed, followed by a 249 cc lightweight in 1923. Motorcycle manufacture ended in 1927 and was replaced by cars (and look how that ended).

The machine on display is a 1920 499cc single cylinder side-valve and for £127, about half the annual average worker's wage, it would whisk you along at 50mph.

Smile!...
Meriden Triumphs on now...

Before we leave the stand let me introduce you to Damien Kimberley who was helping out - Damien is holding a copy of his book 'Coventry's Motorcycle Heritage'. Speaking as someone who has used the book on a number of occasions, not least in writing this article, I can recommend it as a highly informative source to the nearly 150 marques that were manufactured in this one city.

Moving on we find that one company has two stands for the price of one:

NEC, badly lit, etc...

On one side we have Watsonian Squire sidecars and, as if by magic, on the other:

Dark, but you still see the army cammo bike...

Royal Enfield. So what did the boys from Blockley bring this year? Well apart from the usual suspects there was this:

Did I mention the poor lighting in the NEC?...

This is a prototype of the new Continental GT café racer that is planned to be launched in 2013. Although specifications are to be provided closer to the launch date a quick look at the bike on display revealed an engine badge saying 'EFI-535' (which suggests a 35cc increase from 'EFI-500') together with a Brembo font disc brake, braced front forks and Paioli rear suspension. Royal Enfield are remaining close-lipped about the price.

Orange bike shines out of the gloom...

Kawasaki are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their Z model this year and there was a stand devoted to this machine. Launched at the 1972 IFMA show in Germany the bike went on to become something of an icon with its 4-cylinder 903 cc double overhead cam engine, electric start, front disc brake and loads of power. I still remember reading, as a callow youth, that one had been road-tested at 134mph; what's more, it looked good too. The Z1 appears to be one of those classic Japanese bikes that is soaring in value, fetching £15 to £20,000 which is, ironically like the Rover, about half the average UK wage. Spooky or what?

BRG bike fails to shine out of the gloom...

The Métisse stand seems to grow larger each year - not only were there bikes this year but also frames and engines on display. Presumably this marque is seeing renewed success under its new owner, Gerry Lisi, and is responding accordingly. This is the 997cc Street Scrambler with 8-valve DOHC engine pushing out 97bhp at 8000rpm, a 5-speed gear box, chrome-moly cradle frame, Ceriani forks, Falcon shocks and Brembo brakes. Torque is rated at 70lb/ft at 7000 rpm so you should be able to power around the motocross circuit at a reasonable pace on this Rickman brothers-inspired 'new' classic. It's all yours for c £18,000 - thank goodness Christmas is almost here.

Even Richard's flash has trouble...

And finally things wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Norton stand which now appears to have a VIP Lounge (I wasn't invited in). There didn't appear to be anything strikingly new on display so here's an arty photo to finish with...

As always, more photos here.

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