Motorcycle Poll: Which classic single-cylinder thumper would you buy?

| 12/15/2010 9:15:26 AM

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Which classic single-cylinder thumper would you buy?

Oh for the days of the classic thumper. Time was when all the great British marques had something to offer the fledgling racer. Velocette never built anything but singles, with many people pointing to the 500cc Venom Clubman as the best of the breed. Norton of course had the immortal Manx, built in 350cc and 500cc versions and one of the winningest motorcycles ever made. And who can forget BSA’s incredible Gold Star, also in 350cc and 500cc guises. So the question is, if you could buy just one, which would it be?


2/12/2015 7:20:37 AM

I've never been greedy but if I had to be (!), my ideal thumper would be the immortal Matchless G50CSR. Of course, the really ideal thumper would be the bike that Matchless never built - the lightweight G85CS rolling chassis with a G50 motor shoehorned in.. (wonder what that would weigh?) Had a G80CS and loved it. I still ask myself why I sold it.. Second choice would be a Goldie of course..

2/5/2012 12:46:34 PM

I find it interesting that a number of guys my age first ride was either a CZ or Jawa. I wonder how many of these bikes were sold in the US in like 1963-64. Mine was pretty reliable, wore it out. Liked it though, gave it up for a car at 16.

2/2/2012 6:15:11 PM

There were some amazing deals there. Wish I'd gone with cash in my pocket!

Adam RocketMoto
1/19/2012 2:17:09 PM

I attended and bid on items at all three auctions. Bonhams had the day to themselves, as their auction was on Thursday. At the start of the automobilia auction, there, items were selling for peanuts. The crowd was sparse for maybe the first hour. By noon, the room was full up. Aside from the rarities, prices were on the low side, I think. The big surprise to me was the number of 'no reserve' bikes at the Auctions America venue. Lots of nice bikes going for short money. So many times, we were shaking our heads at the low final bids. There were a lot of bargains, there. I think there'll be lots of disappointed sellers. At Mid America, it was all over the map - crazy money for some things, and give away prices on others. Nicely restored Indian Chief's well under $20K, while a truly gorgeous gem of a '60 Royal Enfield that my buddy bid on went for an astounding $18.5K plus commission. All in all, a good time, and it's nice to be immersed in motorcycles as a break from the winter's deep freeze.

1/10/2012 6:52:24 AM

I meant the Velo Clubman. I had Thruxton on my mind...

1/10/2012 6:49:50 AM

All beautiful bikes. I would give my left nut for any one of them but if I have to chose, I pick the Thruxton because it has the prettiest engine and I have always loved the ray gun muffler. It really set Velocette apart from the rest of the herd. I would like to have seen Matchless and Truimph 500 singles included since they are of the same general era.

Richard Backus
1/12/2011 4:47:37 PM

Steve: You're right, of course, Velocette did indeed build the odd and, at least here in the U.S., unloved LE. More to the point, they never built anything worth owning but singles! There, that oughta bring out the LE supporters! Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics

steve bogert
1/12/2011 4:38:10 PM

One more comment about the Velo Thruxton and its being a bear to start. I owned a '67 and that was true for sure. In 1970 at GS cycles in Mt Sinai NY I saw one of the very last new Velos uncrated , start and idle easily. Why?- gone were the Lucas magneto ,replaced with battery and coil ign and the Amal GP carb -with no idle circuit- replaced with an Amal Concentric. Those magnetos were one of the very worst devices invented. Similarly , back then the HD XLCH Sportster was brutal to start, but the macho choice!; they did have the e-start battery and coil ignition XLH sportster.

steve bogert
1/12/2011 4:17:27 PM

Guys, check you history, what engish twin had 2 opposed cylinders, shaft drive, and water cooling? That would be the Velo LE a twin they never made? They also experimented with a prewar racing single with a second cyl to power a supercharger!Your 3 bike choice is too limited. But a Seeley Condor would be my choice- Matchless OHC lump in a racing frame! The Ariel Red Arrow was the Quietest running brit engine I ever heard run. In the day I owned a Thruxton Velo and a B50 BSA; to day my single is a 690 KTM. can u believe smooth

Victor Cifuentes
12/26/2010 9:32:10 PM

All the bikes above are great, as well the ones mentioned by the writers. But what about the Great Horex?? The Regina and The Imperator?? Great forgoten bikes, aren't they??

12/26/2010 7:27:48 PM


Chris Wells
12/17/2010 9:52:51 PM

With the choices given, I would buy the Gold Star. I liked the 441 Victor also because I was a motocross racer. I would love to have a Triumph 500 single. I saw one set up for moto cross in a race in 1973, I think it was, and loved to watch that thing roost every time it opened up! Man, what a beautiful sound that thing made! It had unreal torque. It was a beautiful bike too. I believe it was set up by Appletons Triumph shop in Clarksville, Tn. and ridden by Steve Appleton. I remember it was a beast to crank. This was the only time I saw a Triumph 500 single. There were 441 Victors and B50's everywhere in those days. Shortly thereafter two strokes began to dominate the open class in the amateur ranks. I think Triumph made the 500 single set up at the factory for mx for two or three years, but I dont remember what the model designation was. TR5MX maybe?

jim krist
12/17/2010 6:13:35 PM

gold star,you can still get parts for them and they go up in value, fast is no longer a issue you can get a rice rocket go fast and then throw it away nobody wants them after their 2 yrs old. when them jerks started buying them hondas in the mid sixtys it was the same, throw them away because we dont stock parts any more JO, they remind me of these guys who buy 4door 4 banger grany cars and put a big pipe on them.I got 66 bsa hornet starts 1st kick and fires my heart every ride jim

dave conkey
12/17/2010 1:08:54 PM

I feel fortunate to have owned a 1954 BSA Goldstar as a teenager 1n 1961 and thought this poll was great.

12/17/2010 12:50:33 PM

Well, I owned a Bultaco Metralla, which is not in the same conceptual class you draw here, but is a little thumper, nonetheless. What a delightful, sweet-handling motorcycle!! However, I am surprised that the Thruxton was not the Velocette of choice...I would have loved that hard-to-start beast!!

David Seymour
12/17/2010 12:36:33 PM

I voted for the Gold Star. When I was a teenager my best friend had a BSA 250 Starfire.It was the sweetest little bike. We often used to fly with both wheels off the ground, (sometimes unintentionaly!) and the low end torque coming up out of a ditch back up on to the road again was so beautiful.The ride was really fine too. It used to make it feel good to ride over rough roads, and I'll always love the memory of the sound of the exhust echoing off the walls of the underpass below the railroad tracks.And it was a pretty bike too. If the 250 was that beautiful, the 500 must be out of this world! MC Dave

Mark G.
12/17/2010 10:46:58 AM

Go BSA. Learned to ride on a 441 Victor. Damn near killed me but if I could have just one that would be it.

Blair Bayers
12/17/2010 9:12:43 AM

Well we all do have our opinions don't we? I chose the Norton Manx, not because I own one but for the reason of wanting to ride a vintage cafe racer like the Norton. The bikes mentioned all have personality unlike alot of the new stuff out there. Yeah I owned some cool bikes the first being my 1984 Honda 185 XL Thanks Dad Love yah! 1967 BSA Lightning, 1984 Yamaha 650 Heritage Special"the Japanese Bonneville" 1978 Honda CB 400F, 1984 Jawa 50cc moped... Be Nice! Ha Ha Thing used to pant and sweat when it saw a hill comeing in sight ahead! Sold it to two Germans who threw it ontop of a Can Am Racer on the back of their Pick up. Said they wanted a pit bike Kool!Never owned one, but I have to say my friends 1971 BMW 750 Toaster was awesome! I would wear a sheepskin bomber jacket with the pudding bowl and googles to go to film shoots out side the city; I felt like a dispatch rider from WWII! WUNDERBAR! Now I have a 1979 Harley Ironhead custom chopper, alot of fun got most of the AMF Gremlins exorcised out of it, keep the Holy Water handy and I also own a nice original 1976 KZ 750 B Twin that I will restore. Fat short thin, I like em all! Merry Christmas and ride safe. Skyrider out.

12/17/2010 6:08:32 AM

As a child I had an uncle who owned more than one BSA francise. He took me to many races to watch him race or to watch his sponsored riders race. I was always amazed how competitive the five hundred cubic centimeter single cylinder BSA Goldstar Catalina was against six fifty twins in all forma of racing. The unique thing about a BSA Goldstar Catalina was with minor changes of tires, gearing, handlebars and ECT a racer could be competitve and win almost any form of racing from flat track, scrambles, trials, enduros, road racing and more. My pick would be for the more "universally competitve motorcycle" instead of the singularly purpose motorcycles you mention in this comparison. I am a die hard BSA Goldstar Catalins Fan!

pete gagnon
12/17/2010 5:09:20 AM

My favorite is still the Bultaco 350 street bike.

12/16/2010 11:34:20 PM

I chose the Norton but I really like the Yamaha SRX600. I converted one to a serious race bike and have an untouched one just to covet and keep. Great bike!

Tom Oil
12/16/2010 7:18:50 PM

What about the Royal Enfield Fury? Why not include the best! Tom Oil

Tom Rose_4
12/16/2010 7:11:57 PM

My vote went for the Gold Star but really can't argue with the Manx. However, must advise you that Velocette did not make only singles. One of their great bikes was the Valiant, a horizontally opposed 200 cc drive shaft twin!

12/16/2010 6:34:39 PM

I voted for the Velocette, but would have voted for the Victor, I think the Victor is an uderrated collectable and still affordable.

12/16/2010 3:42:48 PM

My thumper back in the late 50s was a 1938 Rudge Ulster motor highly tuned, in a Beezer frame. Would outrun any other single up to 80mph. Nobody has mentioned the Vincent Grey Flash 500cc that John Surtees started his career on. Nothing wrong with thec quality on that bike (or any other vincent). If I had to pick one of the three listed I'd go for the BSA as the Velo was notorious for being imposible to start, and the Norton is a pure race bike with a motor good for about 2000 miles between stripdowns.

sean kirby
12/16/2010 3:04:37 PM

You'd need an oil well to keep up with these leakers. The memory plays tricks but I've never forgotten the feeling when I replaced British biking with my first Honda. Catapulted into the 20th Century. Why did we never modernise in England? Every year the same old rubbish, just painted a different colour.

Cory Williams_3
12/16/2010 3:00:09 PM

I Love my SR 500 Yamaha....So I guessing the closest thing to that is the BSA Gold Star that's where my vote went....

Bob Hadden
12/16/2010 2:58:28 PM

Of these three I'd go with the BSA just because it's so damned pretty. Another big single I'd like is a Guzzi Falcone, they're solid, reliable, handle well, and I like the big flywheel sticking out there for all the world to see.

Dennis Fortier
12/16/2010 2:47:05 PM

There have been some modern single of note, specifically the Honda FT500 Ascot, Yamaha SR500, MZ singles, Aprilia 650 Pegaso, and Suzuki 650 Savage for the street and several dual sport singles like Honda XR650L, Kaw KLR 650, Suzuki DR650, KTM, etc. Perhaps a vote for something more reliable yet very thumperish.

12/16/2010 2:39:12 PM

I'm happy to keep my GB500 though I've always liked the AJS 7R. -todd

James Lingenfelter
12/16/2010 2:12:58 PM

How about a New Imperial 350 or 500?

12/16/2010 12:45:39 PM

What? No Panther?

Phil Dupin
12/16/2010 12:43:58 PM

Why did you limit yourself to older models?

12/16/2010 12:32:43 PM

What? No Panther?

Douglas Whitbeck
12/16/2010 11:57:04 AM

If you offer the Manx, why not offer the G50? I bought a Thruxton back when, but my pick of the singles would be the Seeley Condor. You get the G50 engine w/Seeley running gear. A thing of beauty!

Jeffry Florentine
12/16/2010 11:54:17 AM

I had to go with the Norton, mostly because it's most like the Matchless G80CS, one of which I used to own. Wish I had it now!

Big D
12/16/2010 11:48:20 AM

I had to go with the Norton for purely emotional reasons. I've always wanted a Norton. There is something "pure" about a single, maybe it's the simplicity. If I can find a classic single, I hope to park it next to my Suzuki single (not a classic ... yet).

Karl Aldinger
12/16/2010 11:23:49 AM

Manx definitely has the right style and racing heritage. Agree with others that these would each be the best bike in anyone's small collection, so it's a tough choice. Is that a stock Manx in the photo? Wondering if the production Manx had more gingerbread? Even if it did, I'd restore mine to that photo's specs anyway.

12/16/2010 11:14:07 AM

I'd have to go with the Goldstar. A friend had one back in the late 60's...stipped down to competition weight...what a blast to ride! I now have 3 single cylinder "bikes"...a 1980 XT500 (with 34,000 miles on it), a 1988 Honda Elite 50 and a 2006 Honda Reflex 250. The XT is , or is becoming, a classic. The scooters aren't and may never become classics, but still are great fun to ride.

Rich DuBarton
12/16/2010 11:05:17 AM

My first motorcycle was a 1948 Matchless 500cc single,in 1960.Several friends had Nortons(none were manx's)and BSA's and eventhe small Triumph cub,but the Matchless was cool. Yes it was hard to start until I learned the drill,but put 'er in gear and let out the clutch and wow! In 1989 Honda released the GB500,the thrill is back and I'm 14 again 50 years later. I still have it and ride it.

12/16/2010 11:04:29 AM

I'm with Geezer, give me a Victor any day!

12/16/2010 10:58:26 AM

The manx is inappropriate as a road bike. I owned a 1938 hotted up Rudge Ulster that would leave the Beezer standing. THe Vincent Comet was another great single.

Fredrick Ramsden
12/16/2010 10:44:25 AM

All 3 bike are gorgous. I just fell for the green though.

edward hessel
12/16/2010 9:19:13 AM

if it HAS TO BE British, 441 Victor. I prefer a Ducati Single, Scrambler. Modern KTM Duke, I've owned two.

Michael Licht
12/16/2010 9:10:03 AM

I bet any of the three would be a blast. I had A 1968 BSA 441 Victor many years ago as a young man. That was the bike that got my love for motorcycles started. But honestly, it was a real pain in the butt, hard to start and the electronics were a constant challenge. As a young man of limited skill and knowledge, I eventually gave up and sold the bike for cheap in the late eighties when British bikes werent so fashionable. Needless to say, that bike left quite an impression on me. Five years ago I decided that with more advanced skills and knowledge, that Id look around and see if I could get a simular bike. To my great surprise such bikes in good order now command a very hefty premium! After a bit of research, I found a 1978 Yamaha SR 500. And....I couldnt be happier! What a fantastic bike the SR is! Ive never looked back!

12/16/2010 8:51:42 AM

Can I get a Matchless Typhoon instead?

12/16/2010 8:06:14 AM

None of the above. I'd rather have a Guzzi Falcone or Gilera Saturno.

12/16/2010 7:35:41 AM

There's another BSA on my list, the Victor. Not as collectible or as expensive as the Goldstar, but still a great thumper

12/16/2010 7:25:15 AM

This is the most difficult pick of 3 bikes that has been presented. I would love to have any one of the 3 in my garage. I have never owned a big British single thumper so I have no bias. I settled on the Norton simply because it had a little more appeal when looking at the photos.

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