My days as a biker and born again biker

Waaay back in the day I started my working life as an apprentice aircraft engineer with British Airways. In those days BA would take in 300 to 400 apprentices a year. They moved us in from the provincial airport towns to Heathrow for training. I was (mostly) brought up in a small village in South Wales called Rhoose, home to Cardiff (Rhoose) Airport. So at the tender age of 16 up I came from seaside Wales to the big smoke. BA housed those of us that needed it in their hostel in Heston, very conveniently close to Heathrow.

So now you have maybe a thousand youth engineers living under one roof. Not surprisingly many of us adopted motorcycles as the cheapest and most convenient form of transport.

This was the era of the last of the unrestricted 50cc “mopeds”. By this stage of their development they still had pedals for legal reasons, but there was no way that you could ever had peddled one, even if you could find one with the pedals unbent enough to actually engage into position and go round. The king of the crop was the Fizzy or Yamaha FS1E. Head down, wind on your butt, expansion pipes whining and preferably downhill and you might manage to get 60+ out of one. So like so many boy racer teens this is what I had. But I have always been a fairly big bloke, so for me the speed was limited to around 40+, maybe 50ish on a great day with top conditions.

A far less popular choice at the time was the four stroke Honda SS50. It was much more of a chugger and generally struggled to make it to its claimed top speed of 43mph. However, I read an article about how to machine the top end of Honda’s C70 Step Through to fit on to the SS50. So with the help of my engineer farther, that’s what we did. To be honest, it didn’t give me the 40% increase in performance that I had dreamed of, nothing like it. But it did mean that it pulled really well up to 50ish and just sat there. This meant that I could chug past the average Fizzy rider with his head down on the tank sitting upright and looking chilled, especially if there was a bit of a hill against us.

You didn’t keep a mope for more than a year. So when I turned 17 I got a Yamaha RD250. I guess I have always liked classic motorbikes, because even though the current model must have been the F, I went for the more classically styled B model. The tank was an elegant rounded shape rather than the “coffin” shape that had become the norm of the time. Eventually after I stacked it – rather embarrassingly into the side of a milk float – I rebuilt it so that it looked like an even earlier A model. I eventually moved on to a black four stroke Yamaha XS250 with ace bars and very loud 2 into 1 pipe giving it a bit of a cafe racer style.

Even though I bothered to take my bike license, my biking days stalled as soon as I passed my car test – so I went out and got me a 1960s 3.8 liter S-Type Jag and paid out more for the insurance than the car cost me. The 12 mpg also made it a major financial decision when it came to pressing the starter button.

A few years later I was living in central London around Camden Town so I thought I would get myself another bike to cut through the traffic. Being as I already had a full license I took on what I think was a Yamaha XS or XJ 650, something like that. I seem to remember it being a 650 and a shaft drive, but looking at pics of those two models now they don’t look familiar. I remember mine being more boxy, a bit like my old XS250.

Many years after that I had moved out of central London to the suburbs, I think I was in Lewisham and I fancied a bit of a toy. Back in my yuff when I was being a biker the first time round through necessity they had just invented the idea of the “US Cruiser” with its semi chopper styling. The bars were high, the forks racked a bit and they featured plenty of chrome. I had always fancied them but couldn’t be bothered to chuck that much cash at buying a new bike. So when a friend of mine who owned a motorcycle shop told me that he had a container of second hand bikes coming over from the US and there were a couple of Kawasaki Z750 Ltd I decide I would take one off him. I liked that bike. I remember in Greenwich there was a shop on a corner that sold mirrors. They would display some of the big ones by tying them to the railings round the bend. I used to ride back and forth round that junction just so I could see myself and the bike in the mirrors – how cheesy is that? I have moved this bike between numerous addresses since in the back of vans. I still have the thing. Anyone want to buy it before it turns into just a pile of rust in my driveway? The best thing that can be said about it now is that it is all there.

And now we come up to the present day. As I hit middle age I got bitten by the born again biker bug and decided I wanted another one (the Z doesn’t count). By this stage I could afford pretty much what I wanted. I guess I could have thrown a big pile of dough at it if I wanted, but wasn’t that bothered. I gave consideration to all sorts of things. A widow making Fireblade, but I knew I would end up as a smudge on a lamppost if I had one. Or a big phat chopper, too ostentatious, I can’t be doing with people staring at me like that. So I decided that I would get a bike born the same year that I was. So eventually I found on eBay a BSA A65. I have to admit that I probably enjoy getting out in the garage and tinkering with it more than I actually enjoy riding the thing. The A65 was never a comfortable ride being known for excessive vibration. But I like it, I think mostly because it keeps me in the game and allows me to lay claim to still being some sort of a biker. I will knock up another blog post sometime and go into more detail about the A65 range, my one in particular and the modifications etc that I have done to it.

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