Showing posts with label British Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British Motorcycles. Show all posts

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!

Triumph Speed Twin

Triumph Speed Twin 1930s British classic motorcycle

On the face of it, the Triumph Speed Twin was the quintessence of Englishness. But, it had Germany to thank for its existence. In 1902, two Germans - Siegfried Bettman and Mauritz Schulte - grafted a Belgian-made Minerva motor onto a bicycle. Believe it or not, Triumph was in business! Three years later, the Coventry-based company produced its own engine. It obviously ran well. Before too long, 'Trusty Triumph' had become a part of motorcycling vernacular.

The Speed Twin was launched in '37. Its parallel-twin motor made it faster and smoother than its single-cylinder rivals. The 498cc motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 90mph - heady stuff, at the time. The new bike was the brainchild of Edward Turner. It displayed commercial courage - as well as styling skill. The motorcycle industry is inherently conservative. In other words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Single-cylinder 'thumpers' monopolized the market for years. Turner's Speed Twin broke the engine layout mould.

Mr. Turner did double-duty at Triumph. He was both head of design and general manager. His administrative tasks clearly did not impinge upon his creativity. The Speed Twin looked great standing still. And - with a dry weight of just 365lb - it looked even better, swinging through corners. Edward Turner - visionary that he was - had dreamed up a bike ahead of its time. The Triumph Speed Twin was a blueprint for many a motorcycle to come. 'Brit bikes' were on the march ... and coming to a showroom near you!

Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter 1940s British classic motorcycle

The Red Hunter was indiginous to the English Midlands - Ariel being based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. One of the original motorcycle manufacturers, it set up shop in 1902. By the '30s, Ariel was doing brisk business - so was in a position to attract top talent. That meant high-calibre designers like Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood. All three became icons of British bike-building. Turner, in particular, proved pivotal to the success of two-wheeled Triumphs.

Ariel produced a steady stream of stylish, yet practical machines. One of the best was the Red Hunter. It was among a batch of single-cylinder four-strokes from the firm. These bikes were a great success - and a godsend to Ariel. Financial woes forced the factory to close temporarily. Jack Sangster then took over the Ariel reins - from father Charles, the firm's founder. Sangster reached out to Val Page - requesting that he come up with something to save the sinking ship. Page's response was the Red Hunter. It would not be long before the ailing firm was up on its feet again.

The Red Hunter's top speed - 82mph - was pretty damned quick in '37. Especially, from a 497cc motor. To extract that stat from just 26bhp was testament to Ariel engineering. Sadly, suspension tech of the era was not in the same league. Namely, girder forks at the front - and a rigid rear end! Even so, Red Hunter handling was impressive - given the constraints. At least, a comfortably-sprung seat helped make up for the deficiencies. That said - with its push-rod single-pot motor - it was never going to be the smoothest of rides. At the time, though, the Red Hunter was a luxury product. Certainly, it looked the part - resplendent in its 'red robin' plumage. As classic bikes go, the Ariel Red Hunter was really quite refined. And could shift a bit, too!

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!

Velocette Venom Thruxton

Velocette Venom Thruxton 1960s British classic motorcycle

Velocette was a stylish name for a motorcycle manufacturer. But, it did build sleek, sophisticated products. The Venom Thruxton was one of them. Venom aptly described the ferocity of the bike's tuned engine. Thruxton was, and still is, a racetrack - near Andover, England. That, too, was appropriate - since the circuit's free-flowing layout is tailor-made to give race bikes their head.

The Thruxton was first and foremost a roadster. That said, it was easily converted to Clubmans spec. As a production - or 'proddy' - racer, it provided the best of both worlds. Along with its potent motor, it boasted rock-solid suspension, light-alloy wheel-rims, and a twin-leading-shoe front brake. On the open road, the Thruxton cruised at 90mph. That was good going in '65 - especially from a single-pistoned machine.

The Thruxton was purposefully styled. Finessed features were a fishtail silencer and ventilated front drum brake. The Venom's jet-black paintwork was moodier than Marlon Brando - on a bad day! The cursive script of the Velocette logo set off a sweetly-shaped tank, to a tee. A combination, then, of rugged good looks and raw power, the Venom Thruxton spat two-wheeled poison. Best not get too close to it ... and the alluring aroma of its Castrol R oil!

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!

Hesketh V1000

Hesketh V1000 1980s British motorcycle

The Hesketh V1000 might be viewed as a mechanical folly. In production terms, was all the time, effort and expense incurred worthwhile? Not from a financial viewpoint, certainly. Only a few of them were sold, after all. Then again, an architectural folly stands tall - boldly proclaiming itself a glorious failure. Perhaps the Hesketh V1000 should do someththe same.

It was not as if the losses would hit Hesketh hard. After all, Lord Hesketh funded the F1 team which bore his name. Along with some sponsors, of course. Certainly, the noble lord did not lack for ambition. His goal with the V1000 was nothing less than the resurrection of the British bike industry. And he might have succeeded. All things considered, the V1000 was far from a bad bike. It was stylish, for starters. And, when it came to the cycle parts, everything was tickety-boo there, too. The frame was made from nickel-plated steel tubing. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Disc brakes by Brembo. As you would expect, then, the V1000 handled and stopped with aplomb. So far, so good! Why, then, did the bike fail? Did it, perhaps, have an Achilles' heel?

Lord Hesketh's choice of engine designer could not be faulted. Weslake were at the top of their game. What they did not know about 4-strokes was not worth knowing. But, something went badly awry. When tested, the V-twin was noisy - and prone to leak oil. The gearbox was basic, at best. That said, the twin-cam set-up, with four valves per pot, gave 86bhp - and did so smoothly. Top speed was a cool 120mph. So, things certainly were not all bad. Sadly, though, there were more than enough 'issues', to sow doubts in buyers' minds. Which was a shame. Because Lord Hesketh's vision for the V1000 could have led to a good British bike. Maybe even a great one. In true folly fashion, though, it finished up mere whimsy. The Hesketh V1000 promised so much - but delivered so little. Anyway - hats off to his Lordship for trying!