Motorcycles

Cruising Speed

BSA M33

The Monday Photo

Ten years almost to the day that I borrowed a bike for a photo in this same lane in Clifton Reynes, I came back to photograph my own classic British bike.

It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at that other shot and checked the date on it. I hadn’t realised that yesterday was the closest Sunday I could have chosen to that other Sunday, a whole decade before.

The 1932 Levis I borrowed that day was built as an off road sport machine, for trials and scrambling. My 1953 BSA was built for the road, and to have a sidecar attached. It’s known as an M33.

Bike ownership for both solo machines and bikes with sidecars hit its peak in the 1950s, so there was also a B33 for solo use, very similar but lighter. Both had a 500cc single cylinder engine.

There are a few differences between my bike and the B33.  On my M33, there are attachment points for the sidecar chassis, built into the bike. The gear ratios are different; more widely spread to cope with the weight of  ‘the chair’ (the sidecar), yet still give a reasonable cruising speed. The frame is braced underneath, but there’s no bracing on the B33.

My M33 is the version with the plunger frame. An advance on the older rigid frames that gave no rear suspension, the rear axle plunges up and down on two strong rods, more or less controlled by big springs.

It gives a gentler ride than no rear suspension at all, but gets a bit confused at modern road speeds on bumpy back roads. If you ever follow an old bike like this and the rider slows down where you wouldn’t, it’s probably because the road is a bit too bumpy; they are doing their best!

The top speed on this BSA, without a sidecar, is about 83 mph. That probably doesn’t seem very fast compared to a modern 500, but back in 1953, a typical family car would only be good for 70 mph. Much of the traffic in those austere days was pre war, and slower.

I cruise around at 50 or 55 mph, but when the bike was new 50 was more likely to be the maximum cruising speed for private vehicles, on good roads. I’ll never take it up to 83 mph.


Flying at Ground Level

Flying Millyard

The Monday Photo

This motorcycle is the Flying Millyard, built by the very clever Allan Millyard, with parts from an aircraft engine.

He used two cylinders and pistons from a nine cylinder Pratt & Whitney R1340 aero engine, to make a five litre V-twin motorcycle engine. Inside, each cylinder is as big as a two and a half litre paint tin. Inside a typical 1.8 litre, four cylinder car engine, the cylinders are only about as big a coffee cup.

The bike isn’t built for top speed; it’s good for about 100 mph. It came about almost by accident. Millyard had won an award for his tiny 100cc SS100 V-twin, built with Honda SS50 moped parts, at the prestigious Salon Prive motoring event.

They asked him what he was going to do next, and he just told them on the spot that he was going to build the world’s biggest V-twin. Eleven months later, he had finished making the Flying Millyard. He has made many other unique engines, so many that there isn’t the space to go into them here. But here’s his Youtube channel.

The R1340 engine was Pratt and Whitney’s first engine, and powered aeroplanes and later on even helicopters, from the 1920s on. It’s a radial engine; the nine cylinders are arranged around a central crankcase, directly behind the aircraft’s propellor. They are fitted with a supercharger, though the Flying Millyard doesn’t have one.

I photographed the bike in 2018 at the annual Ludgershall Bike Night, which is always (but not this year) held in the village on the first Monday in July.


Track Bike

Levis Motorcycle

The Monday Photo

It was July 2010. I had borrowed this bike from its owner Graham and ridden a short way up this track at Clifton Reynes, which leads to footpaths that go across the river to Olney.

I wanted to photograph the bike for a range of biker’s greeting cards I later went on to produce.

I moved the bike around a couple of times, then settled on this composition for the card. To get a nice low viewpoint I lay in the middle of the lane. I thought I would be safe enough as the track doesn’t see vehicles from one month to the next.

Then from behind me I heard another bike. Two vehicles in one day! It was Graham. Some comedian we both knew well had told him that I had a tendency to fall off borrowed bikes (a lie!) and as I’d been gone quite a while, Graham rode up to see that all was well.

He was very relieved to see that we were both okay. I had already got my shot, so we rode back down to the pub garden where we’d started.

Graham tells me that the bike is a 1932 Levis (pronounced Le-vis, not Lee-vize like the jeans). It has a 350cc 4 stroke, single cylinder engine with overhead valves; quite high tech for the times. You might have noticed that has two exhaust ports and two exhausts, even though it’s a single cylinder engine. This was quite common on bikes between the wars.

The bike was built by Butterfields of Birmingham, who made bikes between 1911 and 1940. They built competition winning 2 strokes up to 1928 which did very well in road racing, including the TT, while the 4 strokes took to the mud with trials and scrambling.

This bike was hill climbed with great success by Pete Robson from Market Harborough.

Pete competed in motorcycle trials and scrambling all his life, and was a leading figure in the Vintage Motorcycle Club before his death a few years ago.

Graham still has this Levis and it’s close to 90 years old now. But remember, we don’t own old motorcycles, we just look after them for a while.


Mystery Club

BDMC&SC

The Monday Photo

If you’ve heard all the stories about mods and rockers doing battle on the sea front, you might think bikers and scooterists were once all mortal enemies. But that wasn’t always true, and here's proof.

In (it’s thought) the 1960s, the Buckingham and District Motorcycle and Scooter Club met in the Woolpack pub in Well Street, Buckingham. This cast metal badge would be fixed to a member’s bike or scooter.

In the 1970s the landlord of the pub, a Mr. Steers, found a small heavy box full of these badges, tucked away in the pub. He thought that they dated from the previous decade.

The badge design is based on the county coat of arms. There’s a red and black background, and the county swan is wearing a duke’s coronet and a gold chain.

That’s all I could find out about this club. Does anyone out there know any more?


Arrows Abroad

BenchmarkThe broad arrow, the horizontal line above.

I’m starting to see arrows wherever I go; broad arrows carved into ancient brick or stone work, or bronze plates with the arrow cast into the surface, built into walls.

It’s all a result of the post I wrote last year, about the Ordnance Survey’s network of benchmarks.

I found a couple recently when I was taking photos and doing research for The Railway That Nearly Was post; I can now spot them carved into walls from about 40 feet away.

These two were in the road bridges over the old railway at New Bradwell and Great Linford. It doesn’t take a moment to take a close up photo. I hold a flash off camera to side light the benchmark and show it up clearly.

Great Linford railway bridgeFor the Benchmark Database record, I need to take a location shot, too. Like the shot above, this is the bridge at Great Linford.

Above the broad arrow (for govt. property) is a horizontal line. This is the benchmark, the reference point for map making.

I didn’t think to check the church at Old Wolverton when I went there for a forthcoming post yesterday, because the wind was icy cold and striking right through my clothes; it’s pretty exposed up there on the hill overlooking the Great Ouse.

I waited until the sun came out for a second, took my photos, and hurried back to the car.

When I got home I checked on the National Library of Scotland’s map images, and sure enough, the map showed a benchmark on the South side of the church.

I knew I had taken a photo of that side, so found the photo on the camera and zoomed right in. There it was, clear as day, but far too small to show up on the blog. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

If you keep an eye out, you’ll find lots of churches have these bench marks. They are quite often found on pubs, too.

I’ll go back on a nicer day. Actually, I have a plan. When the weather gets warmer and the days a bit longer, I will go out on the motorcycle to look for benchmarks.

BSA M33 rigidI will be on a bike quite like this one, a 500cc BSA, an M33. My one is a little later than this one, so there are a few differences. But the basic experience is the same; relaxed cruising down the back roads.

A bike is ideal. It’s easy to park, can be turned round in small places, and it’s fun. The point is, I’ve been riding since 1978, and while I used to enjoy just riding around, it’s find it’s much nicer to have a destination in mind.

Going to see if Benchmarks are still there in a certain village or area will give me that destination. I’ll check on the National Library of Scotland’s map pages, screenshot the map for the village I’m going to, and off I’ll ride (the link takes you to a map of Winslow, in the centre of North Bucks). I’ll take a modern map too.

Back home, I can put a report in to the Benchmark database whether it’s one on the list already (yes, it’s still there/no, it’s gone) or it’s a mark they didn’t know about.

I might find a few things for the blog too; motorcycles are great for exploring the countryside, and towns too. Bikes and photography go together like eggs and bacon.


BSA Days

_IMG5575BSA M33.

I’ve been riding motorcycles since the mid 70s, but in all those years I’ve never owned a British bike. It’s time I did.

After looking at the alternatives, and there are plenty, I’m going for a BSA M33 or B33, a 500cc bike with a single cylinder engine. These were both made from 1947 to 1957 (M33) or 1960 (B33).

The bikes are fairly similar, but the main difference between the two is that the M33 was designed to have a sidecar attached. There are attachment points, or lugs, built in for the sidecar, and the frame is stronger.

I’m not after one with a sidecar. I quite like the idea but I have nowhere to keep one. Plus, every time I’ve tried riding a bike and sidecar I couldn’t keep the sidecar wheel off the pavement.

So far, I’ve joined the BSA Owners Club, and I’ve had lots of advice about these bikes from the members. Being in the club means we go out on bike rides.

We meet at the Super Sausage cafe at Potterspury on the A5 one Sunday each month, then take a twisty and convoluted route down the back roads to somewhere that sells tea and cake. Some of these bikes, fifty or sixty years old, are not too quick compared to modern bikes, but it doesn’t matter; they are in their element on the back roads.

My Yamaha, a mere 37 years old, is quick enough for modern roads, but I’ve often been finding myself riding more slowly, since I started my  relaxed trips out with the BSA Owners Club.

_IMG5501Turweston Airfield.

The last ride out took us all over the top edge of North Bucks beyond Buckingham. It was a route so twisty I can’t retrace it on the map, and a lot of the time it was on what we might have called cart tracks if only they were a bit wider.

We ended up at Turweston airfield, right on the border of Bucks, not far from Brackley. RAF Turweston, as it was, like many airfields in this part of the world, was an Operational Training Unit or OTU. They trained bomber crews. It opened in November 1942 and over the course of the war men were trained on various twin engined aircraft.

We arrived on a variety of motorcycles, most of them BSAs. We were going to the first floor Flight Deck Cafe, where we could drink tea and have a good view of aircraft taking off. The cafe is open from 9am to 4:30pm every day. There’s a lift up to the first floor.

_IMG5502BSA Owners Club, Beds, Bucks & Northants branch.

The man in the top photo is Chris. He has been a BSA man for many years. The bike is his BSA M33.

I bumped into him at the annual Ludgershall Bike Night. (I covered it here last year) He had ridden there on his M33. I had last seen him a few weeks before, when I told him I was after a B33 or an M33 for myself.

Then, he immediately offered me a chance to try his one out, so I could see what they were all about. Ludgershall was the first time I had seen him since.

I straddled the Beeza, and followed his instructions. I must confess, I couldn’t start it. Off I got, and to show me how it was done he started it with ease, twice.

I got back on, and failed again. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of technique; I’ve never owned a British bike, and it’s been a long time since I had a bike with a kickstart. I’ll be going round his house in a few days, then we can try again in a calmer atmosphere.

Riding an old British bike will be rather different from riding modern machinery. These machines were designed just after World War Two, and there have been many changes in Britain since then.

I’m looking forward to getting one.