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4th February 2008


BSAOC International Rally
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The 45th BSAOC International Rally is being held on the Isle of Man in 2008. Shaun reveals what it was like to attend an earlier International Rally, over in the USA...

The 2006 BSAOC International Rally was the perfect opportunity to meet up with my BSA-owning internet friend, Lannis, who lives in Virginia. He’d just bought another bike, a 1955 BSA M21, a rather rare beast over in them parts. The Americans called it the BSA Commander and advertised it with the slogan ‘BSA Commander: 37 cubic inches of raw power.’ Knowing the BSA International was going on in August of 2006, Lannis said I was more than welcome to use his new bike.

So November of 2005 saw me flicking through plane companies and options. The rally or RALLYE as the organiser liked to call it, was to be held in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Our plan of action was to fly to Dulles airport, meet up with Lannis who would have the bikes in his pick-up, kip for the night then off to Brimfield on the bikes, a trip of about 400 miles. Mike the Geordie engineer was flying out with me so I asked Lannis if he could get Mike a bike. Before long a B44 had been sourced. Good on yer lad.

Mike rides his bikes but you’d never know, they are kept to concours standards 100% of the time. Gawd knows how he keeps them in such tip-top condition. So that B44 would be in good hands. As the time of our departure got closer, I grew a special Hillbilly moustache to help me ‘fit in’ with the locals. Lannis told me we’d be with a whole bunch of Hillbillies at the international, indeed we’d be in the Hillbilly convention centre. And we were to have things called pairns, chittlings, grits and all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff.

'I consider myself a long distance rider and I try to travel light' BSA M21, ready for the off...

I consider myself a long distance rider and I try to travel light. Our trip would take three weeks, not just the BSA International Rallye but some extra touring and then the Ohio Rally in Toronto, Ohio. So what to take? I guessed that the M21 spares needed would be a new head gasket, inlet and exhaust valves, a set of points and a puncture outfit, for that ‘just in case’ moment.

The morning of our departure started off with a terrorist attack but, after 27 hours of queuing and a bit of flying, we landed in Washington DC. Then it was the turn of the USA Customs to make their presence felt. The woman dealing with me and Mike had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. The men were no better and they were armed to the teeth…

As the arrivals doors opened we were greeted by Lannis himself, and with a cheery smile he led us to his pick-up truck, which was loaded with BSAs and food. We drove off to Altoona, where a friend of Lannis had said we could stay for the night. We got to John Wells’ homestead at 04.30, very tired.

Ah, warm sunshine. Seems a long way off in February...

Next morning we set to loading the bikes with the rest of the group who were travelling to the Rallye. After I’d told everyone how good a BSA M21 was for touring I naturally opted for the one Lannis had just acquired. Mike had the B441 Victor and Lannis his A65 Firebird, Bill had an A65 Lightning, Don a Rocket Three and Ben also had a Victor. The plan was that Bill would drive Ben’s pick-up with his bike in the back, this would be used as a back-up.

The idea was to get about 50 miles down the road and fill the tanks, but we had just started when the Lightning lost its clutch. The cable had snapped at the lever. I had the solution in the shape of a solderless nipple. Then the Rocket Three started to play up, but this turned out to be dodgy fuel.

We pulled into the gas station to fuel up… and then Mike’s Victor wouldn’t start! I knew how he was feeling and as it was very hot and humid I offered to kickstart the beast. As soon as I kicked it over the kickstart just went limp.

You know it's bad when the chin stroking starts... BSA B441 Victor

‘Oh no,’ said Mike ‘it must be something in the gearbox…’

So we switched bikes, (we later found out it was just a broken kick start cotter pin) so now Lannis was driving the pick-up and Mike was on the Firebird. One of the others had forgotten his crash helmet -- no worries as Pennsylvania is a helmet-free state (but he’d have to buy one before we got to New York state).

Off we went -- and the Firebird started to chuck oil over Mike’s trousers. It was nothing but a leaky fork seal which Lannis sorted.

Enfield stuff on eBay.co.uk

As time was getting on we needed to take the Expressway, a sort of motorway but not as big. The M21 was going like a good ’un, keeping up with all the bikes and at one point I saw 70mph on the speedo. But with all the minor problems I guess the mighty M21 was feeling left out. It started to pop and bang and I looked down to see about half a gallon of petrol pouring over the gearbox and hot exhaust. There was nothing for it but to pull onto the shoulder for inspection. The carb nut which holds the separate float bowl had vibrated loose, so two minutes with a spanner and we were back on the road.

Now *this* is what it's all about...

As we got off the Expressway and onto some fantastic country roads we pulled into yet another gas station. Surely not another problem, thought I. It turned out we’d covered about 97 miles and needed gas. The roads were so smooth and the bikes running so well I would’ve sworn we’d only covered about 30 miles. Blimey!

After filling the tanks we were off again, this time with no problems. The views were brilliant with trees so thick you couldn’t walk through them, big lakes with eagles flying above and those empty smooth roads. People who never travel had told me that America was full of straight motorway-type roads, with car drivers who would think nothing of driving at you. How WRONG these people were.

Camping in the wilds of the Wal=Mart car park...

At dusk we looked for a motel but they were all full, so we opted to camp… in a WalMart car park (which worked out fine, weird as it sounds). Tomorrow we would ride on to Brimfield, another 400 miles away.

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Next time: Brimfield or bust!

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The 45th BSA Owners’ Club International Rally will celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary and takes place on the Isle of Man from 16th to 23rd August 2008. BSA enthusiasts are encouraged to join the club now and come along to the BSA event of the year, where you can meet club members from around the world. Special ferry and accomodation packages are available if you book early. See www.bsaoc.demon.co.uk


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