The ups and downs of owning a classic motorcycle
Not long ago, I exchanged letters with a friend who had recently sold a BSA Victor. I had one many years ago that was being passed around. None of my friends ever got it running, myself included. We were newly married (broke) and living in a neat apartment within a converted barn that had a long, down-sloping lane and then went out to a long, downhill road. I can’t tell you how many times I pushed that thing, jumped on it and let the clutch out, then pushed it back up and did it all over again. Never once did it show a sign of firing. Looking back on it, maybe I should have checked out something I learned when I was about 15. A Sears moped (Puch) was selling for $15 between my circle of buddies and no one could get that thing to fire either. We’d take turns putting it up on the center stand and pedal like mad, but get nothing except out of breath. I took the tiny 50cc 2-stroke head and hitchhiked to a local machine shop. The guy put some blue dye on it and pressed it on a piece of paper and showed me how warped the head was. While I waited he milled the head, and charged me something like $1.50 (this was in 1958). I went home and it fired right up. I was the neighborhood genius and I rode it all summer with no driver’s license, no title, no registration and no insurance. It didn’t have a muffler, either, and it sounded like a chain saw — dreadful, actually. Anyhow, I wonder why I never thought to try that with the Victor?
Soon after I got the moped running I turned 16, got my driver’s license and bought a 350cc Velocette. It was really hard to start and I always had to push it downhill, jump hard on the seat to get the bald back tire to bite, pop the clutch, and after two or three tries it would fire and off I’d go. I worked in a gas station and would get done at 10 p.m. With no taillight on the bike, I taped a flashlight to the back fender and put a red lollipop cellophane wrapper over the lens. That was my taillight. Never mind that it had no brake light, at least something on the back glowed red. One of my part-time co-workers was a local cop, but he always looked the other way and never bothered me. My demise on the Velocette was riding home one hot summer night. My parents and older brother were sitting out on our porch and he heard me coming, going through the gears and then downshifting as I turned into our street and down the driveway. He came out to check out the bike and told my folks that it was a “lethal weapon,” so I had to sell it. But then I bought a 500cc Velocette, which I hid in a friend’s barn. That thing, with one piston the size of a cannon bore, was even harder to start. When my dad found out about it, I was glad to have an excuse to sell it.
I now ride a restored 1968 Triumph T100C. It’s very reliable, and at 71 years of age I don’t miss the drama that went with the Velocettes, neat as they were. MC
Photo courtesy Ron Fish: Ron Fish's lovely 1968 Triumph Tiger T100C