Motorcycle musings…


Here is a quote that I think applies to our older machines……

I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best. Marilyn Monroe,1926-1962.

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride 2015


Sadly, sentences like these are not often declared anymore. For one day a year, thousands of distinguished gentlemen (and genteel ladyfolk) in hundreds of cities worldwide don their cravats, press their tweed and sit astride their classic-styled motorcycles to raise funds for prostate cancer research and awareness. It’s a day about spreading merriment whilst raising awareness of a pressing issue.




On Sunday September 27th 2015, more than 30,000 smartly-dressed gentlefolk in over 400 cities will straddle the saddles of their café racers, bobbers, scramblers and other marvellous custom motorcycles to raise awareness and help fund the cure for prostate cancer.

In grand style, dapper gents and elegant ladies shall ride their steeds spreading merriment and joy throughout their communities whilst raising awareness for men’s health.

In 2013, over 11,000 participants in 145 cities around the world raised over $277,000 for prostate cancer research.

In 2014, over 20,000 participants in 257 cities in 58 countries raised over $1.5 million (USD) for prostate cancer research. Our fundraising goal for 2015 is $3 million (USD).

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride was founded in 2012 in Sydney Australia, inspired by a photo of Mad Men’s Don Draper astride a classic bike and wearing his finest suit. It was decided a themed ride would be a great way to combat the often-negative stereotype of men on motorcycles, whilst connecting niche motorcycle communities together. That first ride brought together over 2,500 riders across 64 cities. The success of the event encouraged the founder to consider how it could be used to support a worthy cause. And the rest, as they say, is eloquently attired history.

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is a celebration of the art of being dapper and the style of classic custom motorcycles. What does that mean, you ask?

Think: Monocles, jaunty trimmed moustaches, silk vests, crisp shirts and tailored suits.

Ride: Café Racers, Bobbers, Classics, Flat Trackers, Scramblers and quirky, undefinable two-wheeled machines.

Do: Bring your finest manners, neatest beards and a sense of fun and adventure.

Pay: Nothing to ride (entry is free); but please consider helping our charities by getting your friends and family to sponsor your involvement


A 1949 piece of engineering, that still holds good today, ” The Featherbed frame” from ” Brough Superior” to Norton and onto the Royal Enfield Continental GT of today  !


350cc, 1954 Norton International.


A motor-cycle frame comprises two loops ‘a’, ‘b’ each formed from a single length of tubing, the ends of the tube which forms each loop crossing and being welded to each other at ‘f’ and the free ends of the tubes which extend beyond the crossing point being welded to a head tube ‘d’ at ‘e’ and ‘g’. The two loops are rigidly connected at spaced points by transverse tubular members ‘j’, ‘k’, ‘l’ (not shown) and ‘m’, the members ‘j’, ‘l’ (not shown ‘m’ being welded directly to the loops and the member ‘k’ to lugs welded to the loops. A fuel tank is detachably connected to lugs ‘n’ on the members ‘j’, ‘k’. The member ‘m’ has lugs ‘p’ through which passes a spindle forming an anchorage for the front end of the engine plates and gusset plates ‘q’ carry a spindle forming the rear anchorage. The plates ‘q’ also carry means for supporting the rear wheel.

What you just read above, was an excerpt from the patent that was awarded to Norton Motors Limited & Richard McCandless in 1949.


To describe it more simply in the words of the patent office ” This invention relates to a new or improved frame for a motorcycle which comprises two substantially parallel rectangular loops each formed from a single length of (40 feet) tubing, and the ends of the tube forming each loop cross and are welded to each other at the top front corner of the loop, the free ends of the tube which extend beyond the crossing point being welded to the side of an inclined head tube adjacent to the top and bottom thereof. The assembled frame is extremely strong for its weight and designed to provide the maximum resistance to any stresses applied to the frame by road shocks or by the driving torque of the power unit.”

The term ‘feather bed’ was used in the motorcycling world by “Brough Superior” in their 1933 to 1938 catalogs to describe the handling of their SS100 way before the Norton featherbed came along. Although this had nothing to do with the McCandless frame it was relative in a way.


Norton Motorcycles of Birmingham in the UK was founded in 1898 and began manufacturing motorcycles in 1902. The company had a long history of racing involvement and the Isle of Man TT was one of the many famous venues where they showcased their best work. Their frame prior to the featherbed was called the ‘garden gate’ ( plunger) frame and was the frame with which Norton raced prior to 1950.

GG frame

‘Garden gate’ frame

A lot of these frames broke under the stress of racing and Norton was on the look out for a better handling frame. They contracted the McCandless brother Richard ( Rex) and Cromie McCandless of Belfast, Northern Ireland after they saw the McCandless twin loop frame, fitted with a swinging arm and hydraulic shock absorbers.


Featherbed frame dimensions


The original jig used by McCandless to fashion their Featherbed frame.

An Isle of Man TT racer, Harold Daniell,  after trying out the new frame developed by Rex, declared that it was like, “riding on a featherbed” when compared with riding machines with the older “garden gate” frames. Ever since then the frame was called the ‘Featherbed’ and went on to win Norton a slew of trophies in the racing circuit.

When Royal Enfield decided on manufacturing the 535cc Continental GT , they went back to the drawing board and got Steve Harris of Harris Performance to design them a chassis. Harris built the Featherbed concept frame to house the 535cc EFI Fritz Egli engine that is the 2013 Continental GT.


535cc, Royal Enfield, Continental GT-2013



Honda’s motorcycle production hits the  300 millionth mark!


Honda Gold Wing 40th Anniversary edition.

Honda’s 300 millionth bike was a Gold Wing 40th Anniversary Edition.
The Gold Wing is powered by a 1.8-litre six-cylinder boxer engine with 87kW of power and 167Nm of torque & weights in at 423 Kgs. The Gold Wing is  one of the premium touring motorcycles in the world and comes fully loaded with features like tyre pressure monitoring, ABS, heated seats and grips, an airbag, a lockable glovebox, satellite navigation, iPod connectivity and, in North America, satellite radio as well.

Honda was set up by Soichiro Honda and incorporated on September 4th 1948. They started out with the Honda  A-type engine pictured below.

Honda A type

Honda A-Type auxiliary bicycle engine

Honda Type D aka the 'Dream'

Honda Type D aka the ‘Dream’

In 1949 Honda came out with the ‘Dream’ aka as the D-Type. This was Honda’s first true motorcycle. The ‘Dream’ came with a channel frame made of pressed steel plate with a single cylinder, 2-stroke, 98 cc engine and a semi automatic clutch which was well ahead of it’s time. It weighed 80 kgs and had a magneto ignition system with telescopic front forks and a rigid rear. It had a two speed gearbox with a 7 liter tank.

Today Honda operates 33 facilities across 22 countries.


Norton Commando – The Norton range of Commando 961 has three model variants all powered by a 58kW / 90Nm 961cc parallel twin. Click on the pic for a video.

961-SF edited


Building oil tight retro bikes is not genuinely innovative…’s laziness.

Today, honest hard labour is a just a fancy notion, something glamorous because very few of us know exactly what it’s all about. Just look around you, hard work & inspiration has crafted some of the most beautiful of material artifacts that exist today-whether it stands still or moves!

We tend to be attracted to this notion and would like to be a part of it, but we are put off with the ‘hard work’ part of it and instead opt in the easy way. We just buy into it. Money after all can get you good-ideas, methods, information, objects, services. It can revamp the way people perceive you and set you up to seem as if you had ethics but you fool no one but yourself.



All my old bikes use magnetos and most are made by Lucas.  To me it is the most important piece of equipment on a bike because the bike wouldn’t be going anywhere if it did not work just right.

A magneto is basically a generator or an electro-magnet in reverse. It consists of a coil that spins between poles of a U shaped magnet. There is a primary and a secondary coil. The primary coil is made of thick gauge wire and has fewer turns than the secondary coil which consists of finer wire.

When the coil rotates between the poles of the magnet it induces an electrical current in the primary coil which is increased (in the region of 20,000 volts) as it flows through the secondary coil. Contact breaker points; break the flow of current through the primary coil just as the magnetic field reaches its maximum, creating a momentary spike of high voltage. This high voltage is sent through the spark plug wire (HT lead) to the spark plug which ignites the fuel/air mixture in the cylinder head and fires up the engine.

The basics of looking after a magneto are, keep to keep it clean. Clean the pickup and slip ring regularly. Clean the points make sure they are free of oil, petrol and dirt. The point’s gap has to be properly adjusted. The bearing in the magneto like any bit of machinery needs just the right amount of lubrication. Over doing it sure does not help. As the magneto ages the varnish that coats the coils deteriorates and the varnish loses its insulating properties, causing partial short circuiting inside the coil. Cleaning it up is a temporary fix, the best way to go is for a complete rewind.

One of the basic materials used in magnetos of old is Bakelite. It is the worlds’ first synthetic plastic, Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators. As the Bakelite ages along with our magnetos, it loses its nonconductivity property when heat caused by the friction from the carbon brushes up as the magneto runs. This causes the engine to misfire and lose power at about 2500 rpm or so. Other causes of the engine misfiring is poor connectivity in the magneto, worn points- increasing the points gap, oxidized points and dodgy High tension (HT) leads.

Condensers (capacitors) are used to store energy electrostatically and are usually guilty of or responsible for engines being stripped at great expense taking for granted that a ‘rebuilt’ magneto was all it said it was! The original old school ‘Mica’ condensers are said to last a 100 years if in good shape! These of course and not available new anymore, so we have to make do with modern day replacements. Magnetos are best serviced by a professional because they consist of a lot of fragile and expensive parts that can be damaged if not taken apart properly. They also require a lot of specialized tools to take then apart and put them together again. Magnets degrade over time and are responsible for a weak spark. After a while they require remagnetization and it is a good idea to remagnetize them once the magneto has been taken apart.



Europe to the Mongol Steppe

Now this is my kinda expedition! I wonder how much I have stashed away in my piggy bank?!

Compass Expeditions tour included in the National Geographic’s “Top 50 tours of a lifetime” list.

Ride them!You can’t take them with you into the next dimension…

It is far more satisfying than just looking at a piece of history that has been put in jail with a sign stating, “Do Not Touch” on it, simply because of its age. “Jailed” as a museum piece, yet yearning to breathe life again. Don’t let “FEAR” keep you from fulfilling a dream. You will have a wonderful, satisfying experience, which YOU will be able to take with you into the next dimension.

Indian Jeff

Brough Superior

Bonhams the auction house is at it again with another auction of some spectacular bikes. The star of the show is a 1928 Brough Superior 1142cc SS100 aptly names ‘Moby Dick’.

The estimated price is between £240-280,000. Way back in 1931 when this bike was tested Motor Cycling magazine vouched that it did a 106mph and after fine tuning it, they were able to squeeze out a 115mph! According to Bonhams the bike was restored in 1998 and was up for sale on the 16th of October 2011.

1928 Brough Superior-SS100, 1142cc

That sure is a fine-looking machine but a bit too flash for me, the bike below is another Brough Superior that was up for auction as well and I sure can relate to this one.

1933 Brough Superior , model 11-50, 1096cc


The worlds most expensive motorcycle is a  1915 Cyclone board track racer which sold for $551,200 in July, 2008 in Monterey, California.

1915, 61 Ci (cubic inches) Cyclone board racer

In 1912 the five men comprising the Joerns Motorcycle Manufacturing Company of St. Paul, Minn. began building a most radical motorcycle. What they (and motor designer Andrew Strand) came up with was for a short time the fastest thing on two wheels. Why?

The five company owners had little knowledge of, or interest in, issues regarding marketing, dealers and service—and it showed in the company’s lack of longevity. They had no problem with manufacturing and material quality. However, production was slow and expensive. Profits were minimal, and as a result production stopped in 1915 after no more than 300 Cyclones had been built.

Its meteoric rise and fall could be attributed to one thing only: its amazing motor. The Cyclone was powered by a revolutionary bevel gear driven double overhead cam motor that went like stink. This is in 1912, when state of the art was flatheads (side valves) with atmospheric intakes.

Besides the overhead cams, there were other technological applications that were unheard of in the day… like demountable cylinder heads, on steel cylinders splayed at 75 degrees and mounted on an aluminum crankcase. Roller bearings were used throughout, and machine clearances were held to tolerances only grudgingly accepted many decades later.

But despite all the technology, a simple engineering oversight was the machine’s downfall. Discovered decades later by a virtually unknown vintage restorer, it was learned that the motors’ flywheels had an inherent, built-in imbalance which—if didn’t crack the frame—would grenade the motor. Both happened, and frequently.

Yet while they did run they were untouchable. Consider near 50 horsepower at 5,000 RPM (astronomical for 1912) in essentially a bicycle frame. Consider this vehicle on an oval mile of wood 2 x 4s on edge, traversing its entirety in 35 and 2/5ths seconds. (Put down your calculator, that’s 101mph or 177 kmph.) Top speed was reputed to be a whisker shy of 111 miles per hour.

Imagine this bike neck and neck with 10 or 15 other spindly racers on a splintered, oil-slick wooden board track. Constant loss oiling, remember? Watch these turn-of-the-century speed demons do major damage to themselves and, often, spectators. Their machines had no brakes and in several instances including the Cyclone, speed was controlled only by an off/on kill switch. Safety equipment was nonexistent; cloth caps were worn as headgear, leathers were uncommon, and riders wore everyday shoes.

Dangerous, yes. Gorgeous, absolutely!

The rarity of this particular model and it’s originality pushed the price over the half million dollar mark and set the record for the most expensive motorcycle to date.

1925 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sport Prototype.

The 1925 Brough Superior SS100 was to be a contender to the Cyclone above for the title of worlds most expensive motorcycle at an auction. It was estimated to sell for $600,000 and $700,000. It finally attracted just one bid of $430,000 and was returned to its owner.

The 1,000cc V-twin Brough Superior SS 100 was guaranteed to do 100 mph, and in 1925 George Brough himself won the Austrian Speed Trials on this very bike.  It was prepared by his Chief Engineer, Harold “Oily” Karslake. The Alpine Grand Sport also includes an isochronous Bonniksen speedometer—with timing facilities—and is longer and lower than the standard SS 100. George Brough’s success in the trials led to Austria becoming the second largest market for Brough Superior, and Brough kept this particular bike as his own personal transport for a year, before selling it to a prince in India. It presently belongs to Michael FitzSimons who has owned it for the last 25 years.

George Brough on the SS100

George Brough racing in the Austrian Speed Trials

HP2122  documents

998cc-Twin-cam KTOR JAP  50°, V-twin OHV engine, made by J. A. Prestwich

his Brough Superior engines from 1925 was the twin-cam KTOR JAP (made by J. A. Prestwich) air-cooled V twin. Gearbox is the 4-stud 3-speed from Sturmey Archer

Headlight with acetylene lighting.

Rear light, again acetylene lit

Tank top and handlebar layout view

Some of the people who started the wheels turning and turned the lights on!

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Warren G. Harding, and Harvey Firestone, 1921

Head between two….ummm wheels or ‘it’s a guy thang!


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