I got this machine way back in 1985. It was my third bike, my other two being a RD350 and another BSA B31, from 1956 with full width alloy hubs.
I’d stored this bike away and the other two bikes used to me my main rides. Then one day my 1956 model B31 developed gear box troubles and as parts were hard to come by, it got sidelined waiting on a part for the gear box.
That’s when I decided to break out this B31 and get her on the road. A friend of mine and I stripped the bike in my living room-I used to live by myself so they were no issues with spanners and parts strewn all over the place before they got boxed and taken away for refurbishing, chroming and painting.
It took us a whole month to work on the bike, the engine and gear box got inspected and they turned out be just fine with the engine still on a standard piston,the gears in the gear box looked like new with hardly any wear, the clutch plates were cleaned and a new pushrod put in, cycle parts got chromed, along with all the nuts and bolts which were either chromed or zinc plated, new tyres were bought along with a new chain, the sprockets looked to be in good shape. New bearings went into the wheels and we got it all back together after painting the frame and mudguards. We painted the tank a silver colour and put some new badges on.
When the bike was back on the road it looked smashing and rode just great. I rode the bike for the next 10 years without any problems and then the magneto started giving me occasional problems with the spark getting weaker and the bike getting harder to start. The bike finally quit on me one day while I was over at my future dad-in-laws place and I just couldn’t get it started, no matter what I tried-believe me I DID try!
Then I got married and my priorities changed, so the bike sat in my dad-in-laws home over the next few years. I finally got the bike started and took it home after 3 years, where I had it parked for the last 10 years.
In the meantime, my interest in bikes returned with a vengeance and it started a collection frenzy with me ending up with an assortment of motorcycles of different marques. A year ago, I slowed down the buying spree as I started running out of parking space and I had got my hands on some of the bikes that I had always dreamed of riding and owning. Most of the bikes that I had got were sold as the owners had given up on restoring them as they could not source parts, they did not know how to get them working or had no time to restore or ride them. This turned out to my advantage and I went about the restorations as and when time permitted and got each machine road worthy slowly but surely .
I had just four bikes left that required restoration when I decided that it was time to give the B31 some much needed TLC. It took exactly 3 days to get this machine back on the road thanks to a great mechanic friend of mine.
Day 1-We removed the spark plug and kicked the bike over, found the piston free and the kick-starter spring broken and no spark. The magneto was removed and serviced, it took 9 hours and six tries of stripping, testing and putting it together before the fault was pinned down to a dodgy points assembly, that had worn out. Once this was ascertained and fixed with some spares, man did we have a bright, thick spark that arced about half an inch. The magneto was fitted back in place along with a new pickup and HT plug wire. This was the big moment and THEN we found out that we did not have any petrol handy to start the bike. We got a little bit of petrol off another bike and splashed it into the intake of the carb. two kicks later the bike roared into life after 13 long years and did I have the biggest, silliest smile on my face! On that note we decided to call it a day. It was a great end to frustrating day!!
Day 2-Was spent on cleaning the carb, putting in new control cables for the front brake, the advance/retard control, the clutch and throttle. The new cables came with little nipples on the end that did not fit the slots in the levers so we cut off the little fellas and soldered on the bigger sized nipples that fitted snug into the control levers. The kick-starter spring which was broken had to be replaced, I searched around in my box of bits and found a new spring, which went in. The gearbox kick-starter pinion showed a bit of wear on the outer end and on closer inspection we saw that the kick-starter gear wasn’t meshing squarely with the pinion. In went a spacer behind the pinion and magic! the whole thing came together beautifully. The outer gear box cover was cleaned and replaced and the kick-starter worked great.
Day 3- We removed the drive chain and soaked it in kerosene. Brushed kerosene over every inch of the bike and let in soak into the accumulated dust and rust from the past 10 years. In meanwhile we drained the oil tank and sump, cleaned out the gunk in the oil tank-was there a bunch of it! Cleaned out the filters in the oil tank and sump, flushed the system with kerosene and put it all back together. Then came the hard part of removing all the dust and rust from the bike and regretting not looking after it and letting the bike deteriorate to its present condition . Anyhow a few hours later the bike looked a lot better-it was nowhere near the bike it used to be but if you looked carefully it looked like she was smiling a bit or was it just my imagination ?! I was smiling anyway, thinking of the good times and some crazy situations that we had shared and the places we had been together. We wiped the bike down, topped up the oil tank with engine oil, stuck gear oil into the gear box. The drive chain was oiled and put in place. The inside of the tank which had been soaking for the past couple of hours was cleaned and flushed and did not show any major signs of rust as it had been painted with marine grade paint the last time around. The tank was bolted on. On went the old push/pull tap that had been soaked to get the cork in the tap supple and a piece of hose cut to go from the tank tap to the carb.
We gave all the bolts and nuts a once over, checking for any loose fasteners. Checked the brakes, bolted on the dual seat and it was time to take the old lady out on the road.
The bike started on the first kick and ticked over, just lovely. In she went into first gear, as smoothly as you please and she pulled away as if as if she had never been parked up at all. The road we were on was a really bumpy one but the bike just seemed to flow over it, the suspension soaking up the bumps with ease. The engine sounded just beautiful and even though the muffler was a bit ratty with holes in it towards the tail pipe the sound from it was really mellow with the air being sucked in through the carb being the predominant sound. The bike worked better than ever and I was whooping as I rode it, alarming quite a few people who had stopped to see me roaring by, assuming I’m sure- that I had lost some of my marbles. It’s great to ride a bike that’s been bought and restored but there’s no greater feeling than restoring an old ride to its former glory.
After riding the bike for a bit, I found that the rust was getting to the bike in a mean way and it needed some TLC really badly if the tinware was going to survive, although I’ve got to say that I fancied it just the way it was!
Once I had made up my mind and found the time, it took me a whole afternoon to strip it of all its tinware and electrics with just the engine, the magdyno and gearbox sitting in the frame.
The next day the engine and gearbox were dismantled from the frame and the head removed. It was a WOW! to find the bike running on a standard piston. The bore seemed just fine, the rings needed replacing and that started out a list of most wanted parts
In two weeks it would be almost two years since the B31 was dismantled for a resto. Lots of stuff has happened in those two years. My personal perspective has changed quite a bit with regards to people and motorcycles. I don’t think I will be working on anyone else’s projects in the future, it’s too time consuming, thankless and the feeling of satisfaction of a job well done, that just did not kick in.To quote Robert Pirsig ‘The study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon’. I just did not achieve ‘that inner peace of mind’ at the end of the project and in the bargain, I was out of quite a few hard to get spares that I’d stashed away for myself!
Anyhow moving on I got myself a new job, a few more bikes added to the collection and did a bit of traveling, all in all the two years have gone by pretty quick and now we are back to the B31 🙂
The B31’s tinware was taken to the denters to fix the dings and dents that the bike had picked up over the last 60 years. The denter, a really talented dude got really sick because of hitting on the bottle too hard and my tinware got caught up in his shop for quite awhile while he went through detox. The tinware finally got done last week, in the meanwhile we rebuilt the engine, clutch and gearbox. I got myself all the spares that I would need to get the bike back in top shape and here we are again!
All the tinware was assembled on the frame to check whether everything aligned just right.