This bike was originally won by its previous owner as a basket case, back in October 2004, from an eBay auction. Over the following years it was meticulously restored in a nut and bolt rebuild by its new owner…I hope to have some pictures of that in coming months, complete with the story of the bike.
The perfectionists are after the original early bikes with some provenance and race history, or the very last bikes from 1957 and 1958 (they only made about a dozen)…with matching engine and frame numbers. These bikes bring high prices…very high prices if the original owner was famous and verifiable. The featherbed framed bikes from 1953 are fairly rare, but a nicer ride than the earlier ‘garden gate’ framed bikes.
Personally I’d take a bike like this one in preference. It’s been beautifully rebuilt and will be a pleasure to ride. The controls are all light and easy to use…I was frankly astonished how light the clutch was. I don’t care that the numbers don’t match.
The bike had been fitted with an Avon Speedmaster MkII front tyre…for track use only. I discovered the rear tyre was an Avon AM18 Super Venom one…also a race tyre, but this one was a front tyre! The original tyres back in 1954 would have been something like an Avon Safety Mileage on the back with an Avon Speedmaster on the front. Neither are particularly good in the wet and the blocky profile of the Safety Mileage tyre worries me (and others) when cornering.
NOTE: tyres for track use are not licensed for use on the roads as they have not passed the necessary tests, despite being slightly softer than road tyres and probably offering better grip in all weathers. Your insurance and MOT (if applicable) will be invalid if you use them.
The official description is: ‘A softer mixture is used on top, while the compound used on the centre of the tyre is a bit harder, to guarantee durability and stability for the duration of the race, for both hard braking and quick acceleration.’
Tyre choices for classic bikes are a bit limited these days. They need to run with tubes in them, they need to fit inside the mudguards on the bike and ideally they need to look the part. Avon Roadrider tyres were a possibility, but look wrong and their measurements looked too large to fit in the mudguards. I ended up buying a pair of Dunlop K70 tyres which get good reports. They have a rounded profile with tread in all the right places. In addition, they appear to fit inside the mudguards. I used Michelin Airstop inner tubes with them.
Both wheels have Morad (Spain) flanged, polished, aluminium 19″ rims. The front wheel has an early John Tickle twin leading shoe brake plate.
When I got the bike, it had been standing for a while, although dry and covered. I checked all the oils which were absolutely fine. The old fuel was drained off and some Husqvarna Alkylate fuel put in the tank; Husqvarna fuel is the same as Aspen fuel…just as good as petrol but no ethanol so it has a shelf life of three to five years in its container.
I had to replace the braided fuel line as the rubber inner section had broken, causing a big leak; I used the blue transparent plastic fuel pipe I have on my other bikes.
The battery had been charged so the next step was to check for a spark…there wasn’t one. The contact breaker points were dirty so I cleaned them with thin card and brake cleaner; I’m not keen on the wet and dry paper solution unless the points are pitted. Still no spark. I checked with a test meter and there was no voltage on the coil…it was then I discovered the hidden immobiliser switch. Once that was worked out I had a spark.
Having removed the magneto end cap, I noted the direction of rotation, then checked which way the advance / retard lever moved the cam plate…the opposite direction to that of rotation is for advance. I set the lever to what I thought was the retarded position, closed the air lever, checked the oil was on, turned the fuel on, filled the carburretor and tickled the float chamber. Trying to start the bike, I was met with two kickbacks.
Oops…let’s try that again and not get confused with my other bikes; even though I’d checked the cam plate rotation! I blame a noisy bird in the garden for distracting me 😉
I altered the advance / retard lever accordingly, and with the use of the valve lifter started the bike. After immediately checking for a healthy oil return flow, I made sure the lights were working, the brakes were okay and took the bike up the road after it had warmed up. It seems fine and pulls well…but it seems to be high geared and the engine stops if you close the throttle. What’s more, I need to work on the knack of starting it when hot…I think it needs a little extra tickle; don’t we all? 😉
Note that the original owner had converted the ignition system to coil and points operation, so no worries about hot starting problems due to dodgy magneto armatures.
There is a little drip of oil…to be investigated another day. The Lucas Altette style horn sounds a bit dry in the throat, but apart from that, this is a great bike.
It’s always a pleasure to own a bike that someone else has so carefully and lovingly restored. I won’t be changing a thing…apart from the tyres.