1969 BSA 441 Victor Special

The last great single

| March/April 2010

  • bsa victor 1
    1969 BSA 441 Victor Special.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • bsa victor 2
    Robert Smith bought a 1969 BSA 441 Victor in 1976, and still has it.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • bsa victor 3

    Photo by Robert Smith
  • bsa victor 5

    Photo by Robert Smith
  • bsa victor 4

    Photo by Robert Smith
  • bsa victor 6

    Photo by Robert Smith

  • bsa victor 1
  • bsa victor 2
  • bsa victor 3
  • bsa victor 5
  • bsa victor 4
  • bsa victor 6

I can still remember opening my copy of Motor Cycle News and seeing BSA’s full page ad for its 1966 motorcycle range. I was 15, motorcycle crazy and hot for motocross.

Jeff Smith had just won his second successive world championship on the 441cc single-cylinder BSA Victor, and to cash in on its investment BSA introduced a street-scrambler version of the Victor. It was chunky, aggressive looking and had a shiny, polished aluminum gas tank with a sexy swash of yellow running across the tank. I wanted one so badly I could scream.

By the time I turned 16 and got my bike license, the girls I was interested in preferred scooters to motorcycles — more chic, I guess, and less likely to spray them with oil — so that’s what I rode. Then I discovered the even more significant advantages of four wheels for cherchez la femme, so I traded my Vespa for a 1955 flathead Ford Anglia. But the lusting for a BSA Victor never completely went away.

It wasn’t long before I was back into bikes, and after a couple of years commuting on a Honda SL125, I decided it was time to move up. I tracked down a used 1969 BSA Victor in the classifieds, parted with my money and quickly became acquainted with the concept of buyer’s remorse.



BSA reality

Actually riding the BSA after my little Honda was a major disappointment. Where the Honda was slick, sophisticated and easy to ride, the Beezer was stark, clunky and ornery. I pretty much had only to look at the Honda and it would start, while I sweated away trying to kick the BSA into life. The Honda ran like a Swiss watch; the BSA shuddered, coughed and misfired. Its favorite trick was stalling at traffic signals just as the light turned green.

Worse yet, I couldn’t find parts for it, nor could I find anyone who could help with knowledge or insight. And while Gold Stars and Vincents were becoming collectible, BSA unit-construction singles were just so much junk. The world had moved on, and the obsolete Victor was caught in the twilight zone between trash and treasure. I had become, I found out, a “victim.”

MemphisToChicago
8/8/2019 3:43:54 PM

I was the sad owner of a 1966 Victor with the energy transfer ignition. I did know how to start it - tickle the carb, get the piston over TDC, but still it often kicked back very harshly in you didn't get your foot out of the way. The bike vibrated terribly; was faster in 3rd gear than 4th (so I'm surprised to hear that the author made the gearing even taller, unless the vibration was getting to him, which probably was the reason); and keeping the front wheel down took real skill. Oddly, the 441 Shooting Star was the better bike - same bike except smaller (18 inch) front wheel and it had two-way front fork damping before its twin sister (the Victor) did. Yet, the Victor is worth more on the collector market - it's the yellow and silver tank, and the Jeff Smith connection, I suppose.


JRHill
3/29/2019 9:50:24 AM

I bought a 441 round about 1979 from a newspaper pressman who was too old to get injured anymore. I should've took the hint. It was set up for dirt flat track racing and was several years old and well used. I was a machinist apprentice and other than a mini-bike, this was my 1st cycle. I thought and did make that critter rock'n'roll. No upgrades, just an upper end freshen and I just made it click like a clock. I put a lot of hours on it and played "trials" stuff with it in the rough. It was an animal. Then one spring morning with bunches on the plate my G.Shep and side kick pit bull decided to roam and I needed them home. Sitting out all winter the BSA started/warmed. I was pissed and headed out quickly hitting 2nd. The twist grip was stuck as I hit 2nd in a turn out of the driveway. I couldn't kick it away fast enough and a wheel stand happened in a corner - a flip over backwards in a corner sucks. The left side serrated footpeg didn't fold but went through my ankle with most of my ankle exiting the opposite side. A great surgeon saved and reconstructed what was left of a really bad, open fracture. 40 years later, every step reminds me of that 441. I was really pissed at it. Later, I took the engine and home built a better version of a Honda Odessy from scratch. It was really cool. With the 441 idling the back ATV tires would almost bounce off the ground as it was idling. And it had a full roll cage. And it sounded so cool but not so much for the neighbors. Ultimately the design failed as I couldn't keep a rear axle in it. The torque hit from each fire of the 441 stress broke every axle I made right at the taper-lock sprocket on the rear axle. I should've used 1 1/4 stress proof but didn't have access at the time. I sold it in its disabled state for pennies. I wounder whatever happened to it?


Roger Gregory
3/29/2011 8:58:27 PM

Like the author, I lusted after the 1970 441 Victor Special. During my freshman year at BU, I spent days at Boston Cycles in the fall of '70 dreaming of taking the beast on the road. Unfortunately, I did not have the cash and I wound up riding at 72 Yamaha RD350, a screamer by anyone's definition. I dumped the RD in the late 70's and turned to sport cars, but the yearning for the BSA never left. About 6 years ago, I finally succumbed and bought a '69 on e-bay. Like the author, buyer's remorse was close, but never set-in. A neighbor is a real freak about cycles, especially 60's Brit bikes, with lots of experience on the big singles and verticle twins. With his tutoring and experience, I learned the starting ritual. I had some experience on a '68 shooting star, but had never gotten the knack of starting it. I now realize that the compression was reduced on the '69 - mades a world of difference...I never need the compression release on the 69, while I almost lost my leg a couple times on the 68. Compared the RD, this is a beast, but I love the sound, the tree-stump pulling power, and the crazy vibration. Fortunately, I only buzz up and down the coast road south of Boston on weekends, hoping it does not stall. I'm always on the prowl for NOS parts...just scored a beautiful NOS tank a couple years ago...a real work of art, sitting my office. The BSA is parked in my barn next to an extremely low mileage '86 Vette convert. Imagine my dilemma on a sunny July Sunday morn.




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