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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.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Vincent Comet beats Ducati 1098R

The Vincent Comet, which is often derided and described as 'half a Vincent' is actually a very nice bike, and it would be much fairer to compare it with contemporary 500's. 

Brian Chapman really liked them, so much so that he built 'Mighty Mouse' (pictured above) and proceeded to smash records with it in the 70's. The bike's fastest time for a standing start 1/4 mile was 8.81 seconds. That's about a second quicker than a current Suzuki GSXR1000 or Ducati 1098R, and remember, this was a 500cc single cylinder engine which was 20 years old at the time and designed in the 1940's. 

It was superseded by 'Super Mouse', with a full on Vincent V twin. This gained Brian a further 0.56 of a second on the quarter mile making it the fastest British single engined bike, keeping the Vincent flag flying against the multi-engined superbikes of John Hobbs and Henk Vink.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

If it's good enough for Che...

Still on the subject of Norton sidevalves, did you know that the humble 16h has rock solid celebrity status? Before becoming an iconic geurrilla leader and freedom fighter, Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado embarked upon a mammoth tour of South America on a 1936 example, and the story was made into a feature film in 2004 entitled 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. 

Unfortunately, the film's producers saw fit to use a more sporting and glamourous OHV Norton ES2, and denied the poor old 16h its fifteen minutes of fame, but as far as my 'cool wall' is concerned it's right up there, easily beating old Lawrence of Arabia and his patronage of the Brough Superior. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

War - what is it good for?

Actually, it was rather good for Norton and BSA, who produced over 200,000 bikes for the Allied Forces. Pictured above is one such old soldier -  a delightful 'oily rag' 16h which, along with the BSA M20 represents the easiest, most painless and probably the nicest way to experience 1930's motorcycling.

The really long way round

A couple of weeks ago I had the great honour of meeting John Storey (and his Bantam) in Hawes, North Yorkshire. Since 1965, this wonderful chap has ridden his little BSA over 300,000 miles on journeys all over Britain, Europe and as far as North Africa. As much as I enjoyed Ewan and Charlie's antics on TV, this my friends, is the real deal. See the link below for more info: