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5th December 2014

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Motorcycle Live at the NEC, 2014

Richard Jones went to the big bike bash at Birmingham's NEC, and discovered heaps of classic motorcycles, old and new...

Searching through my desk the other day for something – which I still haven’t found – I came across a pass for the 2004 International Motor Cycle and Scooter Show, as it was then known. So I have been going to this event for the last 10 years; ‘mais ou sont les salon de motos d’antan?’ as François Villon may have said, albeit they didn’t have them in the 15th century. I wondered if I should write a report for RealClassic again this year, worried I was getting a bit repetitive. The editorial view was ‘yes’, providing I could find a classic / old bike angle. Let’s see how we get on…

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

The Norton Motorcycles stand attracted a lot of people and amidst the crowds flocking around the modern 961cc offerings I found this.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

In 1898 James Norton was building bicycle parts under the name of Norton Manufacturing Company but by 1902 he had seen an opportunity and was manufacturing motorcycles. The Energette clearly demonstrates its forerunners with the 140cc / 145cc (sources differ) four-stroke single cylinder Clément engine attached to a bicycle frame with drive to the rear wheel by belt – a typical ‘primitive’. Norton also offered a version with a two-speed pulley mechanism driven from the crankshaft by chain and mounted ahead of the bottom bracket, an upgrade which this example is said to feature. Electrics were provided by a coil and a 20 ampere-hour accumulator. The oldest Norton then.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

Moving on 11 years and we have something that demonstrates how quickly the world of motorcycles changed back then. Today’s Indian Motorcycle company had, with the assistance of the Indian Riders Motorcycle Club (www.indianriders.co.uk), assembled an impressive display of the older examples of the marque including this 1913 TT two-speed model with a 4hp, 497cc single cylinder engine with a Hedstrom automatic carburettor. The bicycle-look has pretty much disappeared and the machine now has front and rear suspension. Presumably the TT designation makes reference to Indian’s 1-2-3 finish in the 1911 Senior TT, although those Island conquerors were V-twins. This example was first registered in Bolton, has been owned by the same family since 1960 and has lived in the same village for 94 years.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

The Coventry Transport Museum (www.transport-museum.com) also put on a great display of machines from all eras, including several from a military background of which one was this 1918 Sunbeam 3½hp motorcycle. This, apparently, was a General Service model and was accompanied in the Sunbeam range by the 8hp, 996cc JAP v-twin machine after the government ended civilian production in 1916. Most of the production of the smaller machines was destined for Britain’s allies – the Imperial Russian Army and Italy used Sunbeams, although, not surprisingly, the Russian Revolution ended the relationship. France also had up to a thousand 4hp belt-drive solos, only a few of which have survived. I have to say seeing a Sunbeam was a surprise – I thought the WWI standard machines were Triumph and Douglas, and the Museum also had one of the former on display too. You learn something new all the time.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

The Ariel Motor Company is perhaps better known these days for its mind-blowingly fast Atom four-wheeler which gave Jeremy Clarkson a facelift – literally. However Ariel’s boss, Simon Saunders, is something of a motorcycle fan and the company had assembled seven of the marque’s older machines on their stand, including what was probably the oldest machine at the show – a 1901 345cc Quadricycle. However I’ve chosen to include this 1934 Square Four with its 597cc engine which churned out 24bhp – an early example of Edward Turner’s design skills (though it was later modified for production by Val Page). The press of the day appreciated the Squariel’s noise, described as ‘whirring like a well-tuned automobile’. A typically successful promotion stunt was the completion of 700 miles at Brooklands in less than 700 minutes, a feat comfortably achieved in 668 minutes, 14 seconds at an average speed of 62.82mph

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

Now compare and contrast the old with the modern four – the Ariel Ace which builds on the company’s relationship with Honda as it features their 1237cc Unicam engine producing 173bhp. The machine has a six-speed manual sequential gearbox but a DCT auto transmission is also available along with traction control. Although the model on display has telescopic forks apparently there is also the option of an ‘Ariel Girder with TTX damper and spring’. Performance figures are 0 to 60mph in 3.1 seconds with a top speed of 165mph The starting price is a trifle short of £20,000 + VAT which compares with £28,600 for a 1934 Ariel 600cc 4F/6 Square Four sold by Bonhams in 2011. Two questions – which one do you want and what would Messrs Turner and Page make of the Ace?

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

This pristine Suzuki AP50 represents a more up-to-date classic with its single cylinder, two-stroke 49cc engine providing all of 4.8bhp, assisted by whizzy rotary disc valves and the CCI lubrication system. So popular have these machines become that Suzuki GB can now provide genuine parts for you to resurrect the memories of your early years. I just missed out on the moped boom of the mid-70s – my first steed was a Mobylette and required a pocketful of spark plugs for even the shortest run. Pushing it home, when all else failed, kept me fit and I have to say I have no desire at all to acquire one in my dotage.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

Even in this unfinished state, the Métisse-framed Honda CB750 was simply glorious. This is one I would acquire and, subject to the unlikely approval of Mrs J, have it sitting in the living room as a piece of fine art.

The Enfield is perhaps one of the more enduring of classics – as well as there being a UK distributor’s stand, Watsonian Squire had a good selection on display and several of the motorcycle holiday companies also featured them including Dawa Sherpa and Mike Burns from Motorcycles and Mountains. Enfields are their steeds of choice for trips to India, Nepal and Tibet. They have found if a 4x4 can travel along a road then so can the Bullet 500 – not bad for a design that dates back to the 1930s.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics Royal Enfields on Now...

Mike first went to India when he rode around it in 1995 for five months and, after a career that seems to include motorcycles at all points. he set up the tour company in 2008. Dawa leads the rides and with good reason; he summited Kanchenjunga in 1985 and since then he has climbed many of the major Himalayan peaks including Everest four times, reaching the summit twice, the second time without oxygen. Just the sort of person you need with you on a trip through the hills.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

A possible future classic from Gladstone Motorcycles, the creation of Henry Cole who is perhaps better known for his presentation of World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides and The Motorbike Show. Henry set up Gladstone three years ago with his long-time friend Guy ‘Skid’ Willison and the intention is to construct nine more of these Gladstone No1 hand-built machines that take Skid six months to put together. The bikes are powered by a blue-printed classic T140 750cc Triumph engine, complete with a five-speed, left-hand-shift gearbox. Each is wrapped in a bespoke Metisse-designed nickel plated frame.

In the future there are also likely to be three Gladstone Golds, featuring a lot of brass finishes, and two roadgoing Red Beards, the name of the machine Henry is hoping to gain a land speed record with at Bonneville next year. ‘Why Gladstone?’ I asked. It seems that Dick ‘Red Beard’ Gladstone was Henry’s great uncle who introduced him to bikes from the tender age of 12; Uncle Dick’s uncle was WE Gladstone, the Victorian prime minister. Henry’s target market is ‘discerning hooligans’ who will get not only quintessential British handmade motorcycles but also a whole lot of history.

Motorcycle Live at the NEC - CLassics

Let’s finish with something a bit different – or perhaps it’s not that different. Herald Motor Company from Cambridgeshire and had a large stand with some machines that looked remarkably like the ones to which I aspired in the 1970s. Apparently ‘Herald Motor Co is a cult motorcycle brand, specialising in head turning, vintage themed, easily affordable motorbikes.’ The range starts with a Classic 125 at £1650 + on the road costs with the Classic 250 selling for £2750 plus OTR, so ‘easily affordable’ is not an exaggeration. I’m assuming they are manufactured somewhere in the Far East to achieve these prices, but what I saw could turn the head of the younger generation. Should Herald add a 500cc model to their range, I think Enfield may have a competitor.

So it turns out there were plenty of ‘old’ and ‘classic’ bikes to entertain you at this year’s show. Have a great Christmas.

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To enjoy many more of Richard’s photos from many motorcycle / transport shows and event, see: www.flickr.com/photos/cerrig_photography/sets/


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