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Friday, 30 December 2011

Coming soon - Ducati 750GT

I've recently managed to get my hands on a 1974 Ducati 750GT for a while and I'll soon be posting a few articles on fettling and riding this magnificent machine. This is the Daddy of all Ducati 'V' twins and as such, represents a very significant moment in motorcycling history. You may notice that I don't buy into the whole 'L' twin idea - if a Moto Guzzi 90 degree engine is a 'V', then so is the Ducati.

First impressions are very good. What a cracker of an engine, in a chassis that works really well for the period. I'm rather smitten by it right now, and would have one in a heartbeat if funds allowed. I should have bought one a few years ago before the prices of bevel twins started to hit the classic bike premier league. Bugger...

Engine looks as good as it goes.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

KD Benches. Made in Scotland - from wee girders!

As well as Iron Bru, haggis and very good malt whisky, Scotland has another lesser known (but equally fine) export in the form of KD Benches.

I've been looking for a bike lift for a while, and despite some very good personal recommendations of other makes, I finally decided to go with KD. A few days before Christmas, I ordered a standard size bench with a front wheel clamp at a cost of £440 delivered, and astonishingly it arrived only 2 days later on the 23rd. Assembled and well packed, the driver and I struggled with the 80 odd kilo package (I'm not getting any younger), and it was breathlessly deposited in my yard.

It was then that I remembered the time we had a one ton safe delivered to our office. The delivery men simply used a few alloy bars as rollers and it glided into place, so a couple of cut down brooms later, the bench was in position and ready to go. Egyptian technology wins the day.

I'm delighted with my purchase.  Very nicely made, it locks positively in 3 height positions and the whole design works really well. But for me, the killer feature is the wooden top. Not only does it look nice, but the surface is kind to your dismantled covers and parts, and it becomes a convenient work bench to lay out assemblies, components, tools etc.

A top class piece of kit, and best of all it's made in Britain.

See this link for more details:

Friday, 23 December 2011

5 things that the OBB workshop couldn't live without

1. Facom 1/4 drive socket set
I've had this socket set for about 10 years, and it really does prove that quality tools are worth spending money on. Superbly made, a joy to use and will outlive me.

2. Aldi ultrasonic cleaner
I bought this about 2 years ago for the princely sum of £11.99, and it has been so useful that I can't imagine what it would be like not to have one. A bit on the small side, but with a little ingenuity and juggling you can clean carbs, switches, wiring and even your partners jewellery.

3. Facom stubby 3/8 ratchet
I do like Facom tools. This is a short ratchet and practically guarantees that you will never strip a thread again. Take them off with a long one, put them back on with this.

4. Lock wire
I got this roll of wire in a box of Bantam bits from a chap who worked in the aerospace industry (obviously appreciated fine engineering).

Not only is it great for the obvious, it's pressed into service for hanging up items to paint, poking things clear, temporary hose clips, lashing stuff together and a million other uses.

5. Dremel Stylus
A mini rechargeable Dremel that's always on hand to grind, cut, drill and sand. Another 'couldn't do without' item.

OBB seal of approval - Venture Classics

It gives me great pleasure to recommend top notch businesses on this blog, and Chris Spaett of Venture Classics is right up there with the best. I know a few people who have bought from him (including me), and the feedback about the quality of his bikes and service is universally excellent.

He stocks some very nice stuff, so if you are in the market for a quality addition to your stable, take a look at his website on and buy with confidence. 

There's a few samples of his current stock below. I'd pick the Norvelo myself. And if you're into naming your bikes, you could always call it Ivor...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Phew! (Vincent winter fettle part 1)

I had some time on my hands today, so decided to get cracking on the pension fund (Rapide). I've had the bike for about a year and when I bought it I decided to enjoy riding it rather than rush to take it to bits, so this is all uncharted territory.

I must have been feeling very brave, because I decided to tackle the most scary job first - a look inside the timing chest. Why scary I hear you all ask? I'll tell you then. It's scary because you can easily spend over £1500 in parts alone to refurbish the potential wear and damage you may find on examination. But it turns out lady luck was on my side today. As I nervously eased the timing cover off, I was greeted by the sight of a lovely lightened steel large idler gear and shaft assembly and the general appearance of a nicely put together engine in good order.

The large idler gear is a bit of an achilles heel with Vincents, because originally the factory fitted them made from alloy. A clever idea, it was intended to expand at the same rate as the cases, keeping things quiet and in a constant state of mesh. Unfortunately after 25+ years, alloy gears are known to shed teeth and distribute the bits throughout the engine, so it's advisable to replace them with steel. This involves stripping the whole timing side down and then re-adjusting mesh (including the selection of the correct sized small gear on the end of the crank from about 20 different sizes. Quite a big job, and since the engine has been running so nicely, I'm loathe to disturb it too much.

So it's just a clean up, new gasket and seals and on to the next job. Watch this space for the next episode, as I get to the bottom of the mystery of the (gradually) vanishing clutch pushrod.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

It's turning into Vincent week at OBB....

Take a look at this wonderful promotional film by Avon Tyres, which shows a Vincent being ridden in exactly the way that the makers intended. It's fascinating to see the bike in context, and it gives a real sense of just how quick a Rapide could be on the roads that were around at the time.

It also set me thinking that standards in riding attire have clearly been slipping. So all you motorcyclists who've given up wearing a tie when you ride out on your GSXR think on... you're letting the side down.

Monday, 19 December 2011

When the government encouraged motorcycling (by accident of course)

There's an awful lot of people out there who owe a great debt of gratitude to a chap called John Peyton. He was the Transport Minister who, in 1971 introduced the law which restricted 16 year olds to ride mopeds. Hilariously, it had exactly the opposite effect than the one he was hoping for.

Whilst government ministers quaffed their brandies and imagined a few die-hard spotty kids persevering with Raleigh Runabouts, manufacturers both small and large drove a steamroller through the regulations and designed the flashiest, fastest, coolest mopeds imaginable. The 'sixteener special' was born.

By 1974, the big players were Yamaha's FS1-E and the Honda SS50 (AP50's came later). Then there were oddball European makes like Casal, Batavus and KTM(!). Even Mobylette got in on the act. But the real glam, the bikes that were discussed in hushed tones, and the ones that were rumoured to hit 60+ were the Italians. The Fantic TI, Malaguti Olympique and Garelli Tiger Cross had ultimate street credibility, that is of course when they were actually working.

Presumably rattled by this blatant disregard at their attempts to spoil everyone's fun, the government eventually amended the law to limit mopeds to a top speed of 30mph. Amazingly, it took them 6 years, but when they did, the bubble burst almost overnight and the craze was over. Mopeds went back to the uncool wall, and soon kids copped out and were buying cars that previously their Mums wouldn't have been seen dead in. Big exhausts and anodised wheel nuts were still years away, but the trend had shifted.

So, it gives me great pleasure and genuine pride (in this context) to admit that I am 53, and that my motorcycling career began on a full fat, no holds barred sports 'ped.

My first road bike was a Puch VS50, yellow and chrome, with 3 speed hand change. This was soon realised to be a mistake and was quickly chopped in for a Fizzy (it's funny, I don't actually remember anyone calling them Fizzy then).

Yes, CUP 28L was my dream come true. It really was a lovely little bike. Candy gold, with optional indicators, it was one of the very early FS1-E's which had SS50 on the side panels. I think that this badging was quite short lived as presumably, Honda took offence. Anyway, as I was saying, what a lovely bike. It took me everywhere, it made me some lifelong friends, it impressed the right girls, it made me feel part of something, and most of all, it made me fall in love with motorcycles.

So - if you've ever wondered why a very large proportion of bikers are now around 50-55 years old, it's because literally hundreds of thousands of kids like me rode mopeds between 1972-1977. If you are also a member of that short lived unofficial club, then I suggest that you buy this absolutely brilliant book.

144 pages of technicolour 1970's memories can be yours for only a tenner. I bought a copy and I love it. Do yourself a favour and click on the link below.

Now all I need is about four grand plus for an original mint early Fizzy. It's genuinely tempting.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sign of the times?

Can somebody please tell me why there isn't a proper blue plaque at the site of the old Vincent factory in Stevenage? There is, in fact a valiant 'home made' effort, but unfortunately it just doesn't have the same gravitas as the real thing. I understand that the English Heritage scheme only operates in London, but surely Stevenage Council could scrape together a few quid to have a proper 'cast' plaque produced.

At a time when everyone and his dog are banging on about the importance of manufacturing, it's a shame that we can't officially recognise one of the finest and most innovative engineering companies of an industry that was once such a major part of our economy.

Philip Vincent has this...

Whilst Edward Turner has this. Looks like Edward Turner
got a plaque made by Vincent and Philip Vincent got a plaque 
made by Triumph... 

(just a joke all you Triumph fans, 
I'd very much like to own an early 50's T100)

My winter to do list - part 1

I will soon be embarking on a program of repairs and maintenance to the Rapide so that hopefully, I will be able to enjoy a good summer's riding next year. The clutch pushrod has been gradually eaten by the actuating mechanism, and now there is no adjustment left so this will be first on the agenda. At the same time I will be fitting a needle roller thrust bearing conversion (available form the VOC).

I'm also planning to look inside the timing chest (scary...), and hopefully, that's all it will be - a look.

The primary chain case cover will be coming off as there is a leak from the mating face at the rear, and if necessary, a new chain and tensioner will be fitted.

The old girl has been running really well this year (despite using a bit too much oil) so I'm going to delay any further investigations and try to minimise disrupting anything else. The new pistons and barrels that I hastily purchased earlier in the year will be considered next winter.

Better late than never

It's been a while since my last ramblings. No feeble excuses or lame explanations, I just haven't had time.
The good news is, I have loads of new tales, opinions and bikey things to report, so keep looking, there will be lots of posts over the next few weeks.

Monday, 19 September 2011

CCM FT35 Update

I don't know about you, but every bike I buy, whether old or new, seems to need a couple of days of sorting before I feel confident enough to start using it in anger. I always change the oil and filter (if it has one) irrespective of any previous owners insistence that it has just been done. So the little (and it really is little) CCM was treated to a couple of litres of Silkolene fully synthetic 10/40 and a new genuine Suzuki filter. The DRZ400 engine in the CCM runs a dry sump and there is an oil tank in the frame. Checking the level involves starting the bike from cold, running it for a couple of minutes and then using the dipstick in the tank. A short time after this, the oil runs back into the engine and the level is gone. Norton owners would be right at home here, the only difference being that Suzuki manage to keep it in the engine and doesn't make its way to the floor.

The next job was to replace the 'off road' style handgrips for black Oxford Supergrips. These are probably the nicest grips available, having almost a gel type feeling and doing a good job of isolating some of the tingling vibration through the bars.

Then came a tricky bit. As mentioned earlier in this blog, it's not a good idea to put stainless into alloy without copaslip on the threads and since I can't believe that CCM don't know this, I can only assume that they must have run out when they built this bike. It took a few hours to gently persuade about 25 assorted fasteners out of their corroded holes, clean up the threads and replace them with nice new lubricated screws and bolts.

The following day, a nice new NGK Iridium plug arrived via ebay and this was promptly fitted. I really don't know if they are better than the standard range, but I like the word 'iridium' and they are about four times more expensive, so they must be good. The K&N air filter on the bike was a bit bashed and bent, so despite its everlasting nature, I recklessly spent £32 and bought a new one. Adjusting the chain came as a bit of a shock as I don't have much experience of off road bikes and the supermoto parentage of this bike means that it requires 50-60mm at the centre of the top run. Seems really slack to me but there are plenty of rollers and guides to keep it steady.

At this point I felt pretty happy with the bike and the time for a decent run had arrived. Starting on full choke causes the engine to jump instantly to about 4000 revs so it's not a bad idea to just hold it out a little to give the oil a chance to hit the cams. The bike seems very small and is really light (115kg). It feels more like a 125 than a 400, and for me, this is a great part of its appeal.

The engine is surprisingly revvy and really doesn't like plodding. Fifth gear needs at least 50mph to avoid snatching. This takes a bit of getting used to after old Brits, and is not helped at all by the absence of a rev counter. There is a rev limiter, which is all too easy to hit since you don't have any visual idea of how fast the engine is turning.

Acceleration is very quick and from memory it seems to be similar, if not a little better than a well sorted Yamaha LC350. Brakes are Brembo front and rear, and they stop the bike in devastating fashion, helped by the distinct lack of bulk. Fitted with Avon Distenzia tyres on the end of White Power suspension, the handling is way better than I am, and once you get used to riding what initially feels like a 50hp trials bike, you can rag round country roads in the safe knowledge that not much will ever come past you. These bikes cleaned up in National Short Track championships in 2006-7 and it shows.

Good points:
Dainty alloy tank
Very quick
Superb handling
Very good brakes
Very light
Top quality components
Spoked wheels (lovely)
Simple, classic appeal
Build quality (with some exceptions)

Bad points:
Dainty alloy tank doesn't take much petrol
No rev counter
Frame paint falling off after 3500 good weather miles
Seat not very comfy
Not a motorway cruiser (a bit frantic at 70mph+)

All in all it's great fun, and nice to look at.  I think that this may be a keeper.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Oldbritbike top tip - It pays to be well connected

Almost every bike that I have ever bought came complete with a liberal sprinkling of those nasty blue or red Halfords type electrical connectors. Not only do they look awful, but very often they part company from the wire at the worst possible moment.

Do yourself (and your bike) a favour and invest in a proper crimping tool and a supply of brass connectors. You can then spend a happy weekend replacing the grotty stuff with nice OE looking crimped connectors. As a result, your bike will look much better, it will be more reliable and you won't look like a bodger.

Try ebay or visit Vehicle Wiring Products website for a range of crimpers from occasional use to pro, and individual or selection packs of connectors.

Do you really want these on your bike...

Instead of these?

These are pro quality crimpers for bullet and flat connectors. 
Not cheap but they last a lifetime.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A nice Triton (for a change)

Spotted this lovely Triton amongst the rather pitiful display of a dozen bikes at Ripon Classic Car and Bike show a couple of weeks ago. Most Tritons don't work for me but this one is just right. Pre-unit, no big gaps, forks are not too long and the short circuit tank is so much prettier than the big ugly Manx jobbie. I'd have to loose those K&N's though.

Classic bike investors - look away now

Fond this picture from a few years ago when I was sorting through some old stuff. Considering that many Vincents are little more than ornaments now, it's great to see a Rapide being used as PCV intended, even if it does go home on a recovery truck. Note the lack of 5" speedo upgrade, a sure sign that the owner's not in it just for the name. I'm told that of the 1600 Vincents originally fitted with the big clock, only 3500 remain...

Suffolk's top tourist attraction

I've been away for a few weeks and on my travels I called into one of my favourite places, the classic bike emporium belonging to Andy Tiernman. Set in the rather lovely village of Framlingham, it's one of the few 'real' bike shops left. You could spend hours just looking at the walls, cabinets, machinery and piles of spares before even starting on the bikes. 

There seems to be quite a few enthusiasts who are pretty negative about classic bike dealers, and I'd be the first to agree that the ones who offer Bantams as investment opportunities deserve to be treated with utter contempt, but Andy is a true enthusiast and I would have no hesitation in giving him my money. 

Top bloke, lots of nice bikes for sale and well worth 'accidentally' stumbling across when you take the wife to Suffolk for the weekend.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Oldbritbike top tip - stainless and alloy

The first in an occasional series containing tiny but valuable nuggets of wisdom. Forgive me if you know this already, but many people don't.

If you are replacing old fasteners with stainless (which many people do), then it is crucial that you dab a bit of Copaslip onto the threads before fitting into alloy. If not, it is very likely that the two metals will react and over time the bolt or screw will seize solid (and I mean SOLID). I have just spent 4 hours extracting a number of such bolts and two of them only just came out. It's also well worth investing in a set of taps and running them through any threads that are dirty or suspect.

The above advice is far easier and less stressful than the sickening feeling of looking at a rounded/seized/broken fastener and realising that you'll have to take the engine out to stand a chance of removal (don't ask me how I know this, but in my defence it was some time ago and it's never happened since!).

It must be in the blood

Here are a couple of pics from the family album. The first shows my Dad on his (L plated!) BSA Gold Flash in the Eastbourne area of Darlington. I'd guess that this was around the mid 1950's.

The second picture shows a much more sporting Matchless G11 600cc twin, and behind is my Grandad's A10.  The Matchie was purchased from a bike shop which used to be in Grange Road, Darlington called 'Duplex'. I think that the premises is now a dress shop, but you can still see the old bike shop name in tiles on the floor at the entrance. Over the road was the 'La Bamba' night club, (what a brilliant name) where I believe he met my mum.

You can only imagine what Grange Road would have been like on a busy Saturday night in the 50's. 

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The £600 wheel spacer

About 5 years ago I needed a wheel spacer which cost about £8. So I did what any sensible person would do, bought a lathe for £600 and made one myself. That first attempt at turning took a long time, many attempts and I ended up with a very expensive, serviceable but non too attractive spacer.

My lathe is an old East German Hobbymat MD65, and it came complete with a mill/drill attachment which means there are very few jobs that it can't tackle. It's very solidly built, and very flexible in its operation. Overall quality is streets ahead of the Chinese mini-lathes, and with reasonable care it will last a lifetime. If you keep an eye out on ebay you can pick an average one up for about two hundred quid, or get a minter with all the extras for around the price that I paid.

Now although I would not profess to be a precision engineer, over the years my skills have improved, and the little lathe has turned(!) out to be a very shrewd investment. There have been so many times that it has proved to be invaluable, I really couldn't live without it now.

My most recent project has been to make a spindle and carrier to mount a timing disc into a Vincent crank. This is something that you just can't buy, but a couple of hours in the garage and you not only have the spindle, but a smug glow of pride knowing that you made it yourself. This little job was really simple. It involved taking a 5/16 alloy bar, turning a very gradual taper down to 1/4 and making a stepped nylon boss with a bored hole at one end and a threaded hole at the other to attach the disc. Without the lathe I just don't know how I would have managed. I would have probably tried to bodge something together that wouldn't have worked, and then (if I could find someone, and be prepared to wait forever) I would have had to pay them to make it for me.

Have a go. Give it a try. If the worst comes to the worst you can always wait a few weeks, stick it back on ebay and be where you started. But if you have reasonable tool skills and a bit of patience, I guarantee that you will wonder why you didn't invest in one years ago.

Size is important. Go for a machine that has a centre height of around 60-80mm, don't be tempted to get a tiny model makers lathe (Unimat etc.), and don't get something that needs a low loader to deliver it. Despite my comment earlier, if you can't find a decent second hand machine Chinese mini lathes are fine for this kind of work, but maybe just not as satisfying to own.

Get the right size. This lathe is too big...

...and this one is too small.

Check the link below for an amazing lathe info website 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Not old but British(ish)

I'm currently without a modern bike, and I have been looking around to find something that is gutsy, small, light and pretty. My eye was initially drawn to a Yamaha MT03 and I almost convinced myself into buying one but I just don't think that I could live with the overly fussy styling.

Then, as if by magic (or fate?) whilst idly browsing ebay I stumbled upon the perfect answer. Around 2005, CCM designed a series of bikes around the Suzuki DRZ400 engine. There was a rather gawky cafe racer, a retro scrambler and a lovely flat tracker. They were built in small numbers out of quality components and in my opinion, the FT looks the business. With 45hp and weighing only 120kg, it should go pretty well too. 

So, the old debit card has taken a bashing (again) and bike number 91 of only 120 ever made arrives in a couple of days. If i'm not too busy riding it I will report back later.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The sum of its parts

If you are lucky enough to own a nice original Vincent Comet, you may already know that the headlight and mudguards represent about 15% of the value of the whole bike. A pair of Birmabright (alloy) guards recently sold on ebay for about £1200 and a Miller headlight went for almost £600.

Comets are probably worth more broken that complete these days and this appears to be happening, which is a great shame. Along with those which have been converted into twins, it will hopefully mean that the dwindling number of remaining examples will ultimately be rare enough to survive.

Don't come a cropper

If you value your classic, take a look at the 2 video links below. I was horrified and immediately binned my old Abus stuff and purchased a couple of Almax chains. Made in England and worth every penny.

The thinking man's Goldie

Just been for a run on my Velo, and it reminded me that a well sorted Venom is such a civilised and effective bike. Mine was purchased a few years ago and although the engine was superb (having been rebuilt by Velocette 'god' Nick Payton), and the wheels were rebuilt, there was a lot of serious fettling to be done in order to make a daily user.

On receiving the freshly built motor, the previous owner must have got hold of a job lot of threaded bar, found a hacksaw and proceeded to fasten the whole bike together with it. The forks were shot, (as were the rear shocks), the exhaust didn't fit and the primary chaincase leaked like a sieve. There were numerous other little 'niggles' which would spoil the riding experience and a plan had to be made in order to make it into a really useable bike.

Large sums of money were deposited with Silent Stainless and in return, almost every fastener on the bike was replaced with exquisitely machined nuts and bolts that are custom made for the application. The ageing Woodhead Monroe shocks were sold on ebay (accurately described as 'knackered') and astonishingly made two thirds of the price of a pair of Hagons.

The forks were the biggest problem. The sliders were badly rusted inside and the tubes and bushes were worn out. Criterion Engineering made a superb job of re-tubing the sliders which involves removing and replacing the soldered lugs, and then made bushes for new hard chrome tubes. The damper was also rebuilt, and the result is probably the best front end I have ever experienced on a British bike. This was topped (bottomed?) off with a lovely TLS brake from Grove Classic Motorcycles.

Many more hours of sorting the chaincase, electrics, tank mounts, headlamp mounts and dozens of other small but usually annoying and/or time consuming jobs, and the bike was almost ready. It only remained to rid it of the most ugly seat in the world (Thruxton), to be replaced by a nice little shorty from R K Leighton and there you go - a Venom that does justice to its reputation.

Starting is not a problem. Forget all this bullshit about Velocettes being difficult to start, the simple fact is that if the engine is in good mechanical condition, the ignition sparks at the right time and the carb is good, it will start quite easily.

Clutch is also not a problem. In fact it's lovely. Granted, it's different to your common or garden BSA/Triumph unit. but with half a brain and a manual, it really isn't too difficult to understand, service and set up. If you can't get to grips with it, you've bought the wrong bike.

The Venom is superb, and well up to modern traffic in both the go and stop departments. Sweet gearbox, handles superbly with modern tyres and looks the business too. Compared to my (now departed) DBD34, it feels handbuilt and engineered, as though it was made with a little bit more care. In the real world it's every bit as quick, but without the drama that soon turns into irritation.

In my view they are seriously undervalued. Get one now before you can't afford it.