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Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Name's Jones - Casey Jones.

It's hard to believe some of the things that were used by the MOD in the Second World War.

I recently acquired a little steam engine manufactured by Stuart Turner, who are well known for their models, but this one looked a little bit unusual. A bit more substantial, a bit more professional looking and really quite rugged instead of pretty. Turns out that it was originally part of a 'Firefly Generating Unit', which was apparently parachuted behind enemy lines to enable spies to re-charge their radio batteries.

Quite how an Agent could get some coal and water,  fire up a boiler and then operate a steam powered generator whilst remaining under cover is beyond me, but apparently they did.

Standing about 6" high, it's a 2 cylinder engine that produces somewhere around a third of a horsepower. The last pic shows the engine in situ as part of a Firefly Generator. The boiler was additional to this and would be the hardest part to conceal under your coat.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Warning - this post may contain traces of scooter

I'm very lucky that my girlfriend both humours and tolerates my passion for bikes. She's quite interested in old knackers (hence our lasting relationship), and she even has a wish list of her own 2 wheeled classics. At the very top of that list is the Italjet Veloricifo, a retro styled 50cc twist'n'go that enjoyed celebrity status in the late 1990's. Oasis, Johnathan Ross, Jamie Oliver and other members of the then glitterati gave fleeting patronage to this little scoot, providing it with an image far in excess of the measly 229 that were sold in the UK.

There's no doubting that (if you like scooters) the Velocifero is a very cute little bike. In fact it's probably the best looking rendition of a classic style scooter that has ever been built, certainly more attractive than anything Vespa have ever made. But that's hardly surprising when you consider that the man at the helm of Italjet was no less than Leopoldo Tartarini, the designer that Ducati commissioned to dig them out of a very big Giugiaro shaped hole that was the 860GT. The result of his efforts was the Ducati Darmah, one of my favourite bikes of the 70's.

I've always admired Italjet for the sheer audacity of their bikes. Any small company who can design and successfully market a 80+mph hub centre steering trellis framed scooter gets my vote, and although the Dragster is probably their best remembered bike, in the 60's they dabbled with bigger stuff in the form of Triumph and Velocette engined bikes and it was they who were behind the Clymer Indian Velo which is now so coveted.

The upshot of this story is that I'm now having to make room in my overcrowded garage and time in my overburdened schedule for her soon to be arriving Velocifero. To be honest, i'm quite looking forward to it. The oil in a Norton Commando takes about 10 miles to warm up and our local shops are only a few hundred yards down the road.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

K&N Commando Filter

The K&N I fitted to the Commando is in my opinion, a much nicer answer than the complicated and difficult to remove standard filter. 

Some people on the forums seem to have trouble with this conversion, but my bike is all standard but for 270 main jets (260 standard) and I have found the bike runs great with the K&N, no flat spots or hesitation and a good mixture on the plugs as best as I can tell with modern petrol.

The fitment also allowed me to re-position the horrible ignition switch. I did this by cutting off the old bracket from the original bent backplate and sticking it onto the battery carrier with double sided car body tape which is usually used for attaching spoilers and bodykits. I use this stuff a lot, it's very strong and eliminates the need to drill holes. Much better.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Tri-Spark Ignition - a nice bit of kit

My intention is to use the Commando regularly, so I decided to scrap the rather mangled looking points setup and go with electronic ignition (must be a throwback to the 70's that - we don't say electronic kettle or electronic blanket).

It seems that Boyer or Pazon are the two most popular Commando systems, so true to form, I bought a Tri-Spark. And i'm really glad I did. It's more expensive than the others, but offers a much neater installation due to the fact that the whole thing fits behind the points cover and there is no box to site under the tank. In addition there are no loose wires or visible components as the electronics are encapsulated into a good looking machined alloy housing.

Fitting was a half hour job, and at the same time I replaced both coils to make sure that the whole system was as good as possible. The Tri-Spark has a static timing LED which makes initial setting up really easy, and when checked with a strobe, it was a mere 2 degrees out. A pair of Iridium plugs finished off the job and although the bike ran ok on the points, it now ticks over like a watch and pulls more cleanly from low revs. Best of all, I know it will stay that way.

Tri-Spark Ignitions are made by a company in Australia. See this link for more info:

Bought my Tri-Spark in the UK from LP Williams. Next day delivery.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The washer's broke, so I've gone Commando

I've got a confession to make. I've never really had what you might call a 'normal' vertical twin classic bike. In various acts of masochism and self harm, I always seem to be slightly drawn to the left field, and a succession of bikes from the smaller (usually idiosyncratic) manufacturers, punctuated by a few of the bigger branded single cylinder bikes have graced my garage and emptied my wallet.

Up to now the charms of Bonnies, A10's, Dominators etc., have largely passed me by but I have to admit to always liking the look of Commando Roadsters. Well, that itch has been scratched thanks to the proceeds of a bike sale coinciding with a late night ebay session (originally intended to find a new washing machine), and I am now the proud owner of a '74 Mk2 850. I fell in love with it instantly and thanks to J&M Couriers it was sat in my yard a couple of days after pressing the 'buy it now' button.

The bike is an American import and has only covered 9500 miles from new. Someone has very kindly painted the tank and panels rather nicely and in general terms it is very original, clean and straight looking. The Mk2 850 is regarded to be amongst the best versions of the Commando, combining the 750's light weight and lack of any emissions stuff with the punchy 850 engine. I spent the first hour of ownership looking at it from many different angles.

Oil and filter were changed, the too tight primary chain adjusted and the carbs were balanced. Ignition timing, (which is still on points) was set and then checked with a strobe. Due to badly distorted end plates, the standard air filter was very much more air than filter so I replaced it with a neat dual K&N which also looks a lot cleaner and gives a bit of 'gap' in the frame.

With this done, I turned my attention to the cosmetics and detail, and ordered a new set of bars, front and rear guards and a few other bits and bobs from RGM in Cumbria. The end result is what you see above.

Riding impressions so far have been a bit of a revelation. The Commando is probably the best classic bike (to ride) that I have owned. You may think this is a bit of a sweeping statement, but in real terms it does so much so well. The engine is lovely, with fabulous mid range punch and performance is well up to modern traffic. Handles great, brakes are better than expected, and the vibes disappear after 3000rpm. Distances are dispatched quickly and comfortably, scratching is undertaken with aplomb and killer looks place it near the top of the 'kerb appeal' stakes. And to think I owe it all to Indesit.

I think it's safe to say that in classic bike terms, a Commando will probably do everything you ever need - or want it to. Is that enough? Only time will tell...

J&M Couriers give a top class service, I've used them for many years.
See their website here:

RGM Motors in Cumbria have had all of the bits in stock and sent them next day - excellent