Showing posts with label 1950s Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950s Motorcycles. Show all posts

Harley-Davidson Sportster

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1950s American classic motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is a motorcycle institution. It first hit American highways in '57. There has been many a model since - and the Sportster still shows no sign of stopping. Throughout its venerable run, it has given many a new rider a first taste of the biker brotherhood. The Sportster has long held pride of place as the entry-level Harley. Pared down to bare biking bones, it has always cut straight to the chase. By '62, the Sportster was dishing up 55bhp - at 5,000rpm. That was thanks to its iconic V-twin engine layout. The motor's stroke, at that point, was a tall 96.8mm. That translated into hefty dollops of acceleration-laden torque. Top speed for the Sportster, in the early Sixties, was 110mph.

The XLCH Sportster weighed in at 485lb. That was light enough for a skilled rider to cruise through corners with relative ease. While hardly a sports bike, by modern standards - back in the day, it was a lithe and agile ride. Before the Sportster, British-built bikes had been the only way to go - at any sort of speed, anyway. So, the Sportster was a welcome addition to the roster of quick and capable roadsters on offer.

The Sportster has long been a mainstay of tidy, uncluttered design. As with any bike, the focal point was its small - but perfectly-formed - fuel-tank. Alongside it were a diminutive headlamp and relatively low-set 'bars. At least, as compared with many a custom-style machine. A single seat - and slender fenders - were in keeping with the Sportster's minimalist approach. In many ways, then, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has been the bedrock of this most prestigious of two-wheeled marques. Long may it continue to be so!

BSA A10 Golden Flash

BSA A10 Golden Flash 1950s British classic motorcycle

The BSA A10 Golden Flash first appeared in 1950. In terms of engine layout, it was a classic British parallel twin. BSA were based in Birmingham - at the Small Heath factory. '71 saw the iconic marque hit the financial buffers. Mercifully, it was bailed out by the Norton Villiers Triumph conglomerate. By that point, though, BSA's best days were behind it. As if to clarify that, the last BSAs off the production line wore the Triumph logo!

The Golden Flash wrote the book on practical. British-built bikes had been known to deposit the occasional oil leak, back in the day. Not so, the A10! Economical and efficient, it was eminently reliable. Its 35bhp engine delivered user-friendly power. The A10's top speed was just a tad shy of the 'ton'. As far as handling went, the '54 model A10 sported a shiny new swing-arm. That was a big step up from its plunger-suspended predecessor.

On the visual side, the Golden Flash was a good-looking bike. Its BSA motor alone was a metallurgical masterpiece. Exiting it, sweetly-shaped down-pipes splayed around an intricate semi-frame. In both engineering and styling, then, the BSA A10 Golden Flash displayed the best of British design. Flash, by name, yes ... but certainly not by nature!

Ariel Square Four

Ariel Square Four 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Ariel Square Four was designed by Edward Turner. His finest hour was yet to come. He would go on to oversee Triumph - in its Sixties glory days. The first version of the Square Four, though, was released in '28 - back when Bonnevilles and Tridents were but blurs on the 'Brit bikes' horizon. Square Four referenced the bike's 1,000cc motor. It was, in effect, two sets of parallel twins - one in front of the other. The exhaust port was shared. The downside of that layout was that - while the front brace of cylinders enjoyed lots of cooling air - the rear two did not. That could make them recalcitrant - especially on hot days!

The '58 model Square Four was good for 105mph. Warp-factor speed for a road-bike, at the time. And - by definition - more than enough to keep 'ton-up boys' entertained. They were the 100mph Rockers - who had the occasional contretemps with Mods. Turner - and Triumph - would do brisk business with them, in the coming years. What made the Square Four's top whack stat still more impressive, was its weight. 465lb needed careful coaxing through corners.

As its name suggested, the Square Four was a solid-looking motorcycle. In the sense of impressively robust, that is. Its telescopic front - and plunger rear - suspension units complemented each other nicely. The four-header exhaust set-up sat neatly between the two. The 'Squariel' - as it was affectionately dubbed - soon took its place in the rapidly-growing roster of popular British bikes. All in all, then, the Ariel Square Four can hold its head high. Even in the company of the mythical machines toward which Edward Turner was moving!

Douglas Dragonfly

Douglas Dragonfly 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Douglas Dragonfly broke the motorcycle mould. BMW is now almost synonymous with the flat-twin layout. Other marques, too, though, have used that venerable engine configuration. Not least, Douglas. The firm was based in Bristol, England. Its early models saw the motor fitted inline with the frame. The two pistons went at it hammer and tongs - 'punching' their way fore and aft. The Dragonfly, though, saw them slung transversely across the frame - à la BMW 'Boxer'. In any case, the Dragonfly made good progress - cruising at around 60mph. Beyond that optimal speed, however, performance tailed off dramatically. Ultimately, that would lead to the Dragonfly's decline.

Design-wise, the Dragonfly was on solid ground. If anything, slightly too solid. Does the way in which the headlamp nacelle flow into the fuel tank look a bit like a dragonfly? Possibly! Certainly, the Earles forks - and robust rear shocks - visually complemented each other. And - above them - the bike's logo was elegantly scripted. The Dragonfly's flat-twin powerplant was itself impressively wrought.

In '23, Douglas won at the TT. It was in the sidecar category. Freddie Dixon did the driving. Again, that historic outfit's 'boxer' motor was installed inline. The year before, on the 'island', a Douglas solo racer had been fitted with a delicate-looking little disc brake. Douglas, then, were innovating - technically and stylistically. And - when it comes to nomenclature - the Douglas Dragonfly must be one of the most poetically-named bikes of all time. Buzzin', basically!

Vincent Rapide

Vincent Rapide 1950s British classic motorcycle

In '49, the Vincent Rapide was a superbike. At the time, a top speed of 110mph was seriously quick. Handling-wise, it was impressive, too. Philip Vincent designed its cantilever rear suspension set-up while still at school. He just had not got round to founding the company at that point! And at the front end, too, the Rapide was suspended by state of the art hydraulic forks.

Naturally, such advanced engineering sought competitive expression. Land speed record attempts followed. In line with tradition, Bonneville Salt Flats - in Utah, USA - played host to them. Rollie Free topped out at fractionally over 150mph, on a suitably tuned Rapide. His protective clothing consisted of just shoes and swimming trunks - the better to save weight. Now, that is commitment!

The Rapide was a good-looking motorcycle. Vincent's scrolled emblem embellished a shapely tank - which itself sat atop a metal masterpiece of an engine. Pleasing lines popped up everywhere. Among them were latticed spokes, curved exhausts - and the deft diagonals of the shocks. The Vincent Rapide, then, was visually stunning - and had performance to match!

BSA DBD34 Gold Star

BSA DBD34 Gold Star 1950s British classic motorcycle

In a hit parade of the best all-time classic motorcycles, the BSA DBD34 Gold Star would be in with a bullet. And of the plethora of bikes produced by the 'Birmingham Small Arms' company, the Gold Star went straight to 'number 1'. The 'Goldie' wrote the book on classic bike charisma. Its name was a tribute to Walter Handley's 100mph lap of the UK's most famous banked oval racetrack. Handley was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star, for his high-speed trouble.

The Goldie was a great-looking machine. Race-style, clip-on 'bars crouched over a chrome tank - emblazoned with the Gold Star badge. Below, focus flowed from a gaping Amal carburettor - through the finned cylinder-block - to a stylish swept-back pipe. Such visual extravagance was matched technically. The Gold Star roadster had a straight-line speed of 110mph.

In sporting terms, the Gold Star was a versatile competitor. It shone not only in road racing - but in motocross and trials, too. '56 saw the bike's stellar début - at the Isle of Man Clubmans TT. The BSA DBD34 Gold Star was a café racer dream come true. Fast-forward a few decades ... and there is many a classic motorbike fan still dreaming!

Gilera Saturno

Gilera Saturno 1950s Italian classic motorcycle

The Gilera Saturno was launched in '46. Its heyday, though, came in the Fifties. In the fickle realm of motorbike manufacturing, Gilera was a big player in that fashionable decade. After that, the firm met with mixed fortunes. But - in the '50s at least - the Saturno was a flagship for the Italian brand. It rolled into the showrooms in Sport, Touring and Competition guises. And immediately began to sell well.

The Saturno was a hit on both road and track. The production racer version was competitive for many seasons. Indeed, it remained so for some time after the bike's production run finished - at the fag-end of the '50s.

In roadster mode, too, the Saturno stayed tethered to the tarmac. That was largely thanks to its telescopic forks - and vertical rear shocks. It rapidly gained a reputation as a performance bike of its era. Towards the end, Gilera linked up with Piaggio and Vespa. It found a much-needed niche as part of the scooter scene. Illustrious though those names were - and are even now - for Gilera, its best days were gone. The Saturno, though, still shone a light for the glory years!