A Steib story

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Stu­art Fran­cis

The story starts one evening in 1972 when I was re­turn­ing home through some Bri­tish coun­try lanes, do­ing a pass­able imi­ta­tion of Phil Read on my Ariel Ar­row un­til I missed a gear. The en­gine started run­ning roughly and cut­ting out on one cylin­der, but we limped home. The post-mortem re­vealed that one of the big ends had failed and the re­sult­ing de­bris had wrecked that side of the en­gine. The ur­gent is­sue was what would re­place it, as I needed trans­port to get to work; my par­ents were dead against me get­ting another solo, so af­ter some heated dis­cus­sion we fi­nally agreed on a mo­tor­cy­cle and side­car. Af­ter ob­tain­ing my first bank loan, I bought a rather sec­ond-hand BSA A10 and Wat­so­nian Child Adult Side­car. De­spite some ini­tial teething prob­lems it be­came one of the best bikes I ever owned. Af­ter a few months of get­ting used to rid­ing/driv­ing an out­fit I was be­com­ing very con­fi­dent un­til I rear-ended a Cortina at a Tjunc­tion in the middle of Bath. The re­sult­ing im­pact de­mol­ished the car’s boot (the side­car nose rode over the bumper) but ap­peared to do lit­tle dam­age to the side­car. Two weeks later rid­ing along a very bumpy cob­bled lane in Bath the side­car door popped open and the whole roof sagged down by a foot. Tem­po­rary re­pairs were made by wrap­ping a tow rope around the body like a corset but it was clear its days were num­bered. I im­me­di­ately started look­ing for a re­place­ment, and was even­tu­ally pointed to­wards an Old Grain Barn in the ham­let of Holt where a char­ac­ter called “Tucker” wheeled and dealed in sec­ond-hand bikes, spares and side­cars. I ac­quired a life­long friend and a 1952 Steib TR500 side­car. The Steib was not quite in the con­di­tion that it left the Nurem­burg fac­tory; there seemed to be a lot of filler around the nose and the dis­tinc­tive mud­guard had been re­placed with one from a BSA. I un­der­took a quick cos­metic makeover with filler and Valspar paint and at­tached it to the A10. Af­ter re­set­ting the side­car con­nec­tions three

times (I learnt to dis­trust swan necks and three­p­oint at­tach­ment), the A10 and Steib be­came a great combo, eas­ily get­ting to 80mph.

The first real test was a visit to the Isle of Man for the 1972 Manx Grand Prix. A group of us left Holt on this great ad­ven­ture with Tucker lead­ing the way. Tucker’s route to Liver­pool of A&B roads was great for so­los but a chal­lenge for an out­fit car­ry­ing most of the lug­gage. Af­ter some ad­ven­tures we got to the IoM and had a great time. The re­turn trip was go­ing to be more dif­fi­cult as I had agreed to carry back a whole Nor­ton ES2 that a friend had blown up and left in the Is­land the year be­fore. The ES2 was bro­ken down into big bits and stuffed into or tied to the side­car. The trip home was a real strug­gle, the over­loaded out­fit was a pig to con­trol, not helped by the rear side­car con­nec­tion pulling out of the frame half­way home. I took my mo­tor­cy­cle test on the out­fit, and passed de­spite the examiner leap­ing into the side­car and sit­ting down in the soak­ing wet seat. A lit­tle later I de­cided to use the A10 as a solo and trans­ferred the Steib to a 1955 AJS 18MS that I had ac­quired from Tucker. I used four points of at­tach­ment mak­ing for a far stronger ar­range­ment. The big prob­lem with the AJS was the aw­ful electrics so I fit­ted a 12v car bat­tery in the side­car, welded a car dy­namo bracket onto the swan-neck, at­tached a pul­ley to the end of the crank­shaft, mod­i­fied the pri­mary chain case and fit­ted a Lucas car dy­namo and con­trol box. The re­sult­ing lights

were ex­cel­lent, and in the win­ter I used to warm my hands on the head­light sealed beam unit. I did a few ral­lies on this out­fit as it was ideal for win­ter rid­ing, the most mem­o­rable be­ing the 1974 Dragon Rally. We should have gone on Pete Bick­er­staff’s vin­tage HRD out­fit but he rode 30miles to my place be­fore re­al­is­ing he had not turned on the oil. The out­stand­ing mem­ory was blast­ing flat out down the M6 mo­tor­way, ly­ing flat on the tank with Pete hud­dled in the side­car and the speedo hov­er­ing at 75mph. The next in­car­na­tion of the Steib was when I at­tached it to a 1958 Tri­umph Thun­der­bird; its first real out­ing was another trip to the IoM this time car­ry­ing a mate’s girl­friend in the side­car. Af­ter the usual Is­land ad­ven­tures one of the other bikes was sick and needed its load light­ened, so I fin­ished up with another young lady on the back. It soon be­came clear that she was very un­com­fort­able on the back so the two girls squeezed them­selves into the side­car. When I was trans­ferred to Portsmouth Dock­yard I used the out­fit to com­mute the 160 miles at the week­ends (in all winds and weather) so mum could have the priv­i­lege of do­ing my laun­dry. One of the worst rides I ever had was go­ing across Sal­is­bury Plain in the snow tracks of other ve­hi­cles whilst the bot­tom side­car con­nec­tion acted as a snow-plough, spray­ing ice, salt and snow all over me. Af­ter I moved to Portsmouth my par­ents grad­u­ally ap­plied the thumb screws to get their garage back which for some time had been my work­shop (how un­rea­son­able). I was able to move most of my bikes to Portsmouth but the side­car wouldn’t eas­ily fit through the front door of the ter­race house I had, so it went for a hol­i­day at Tucker’s mar­ket gar­den. The next in­car­na­tion of the side­car was when my first wife broke her leg in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent. She needed trans­port and so she told me to build her an out­fit. I found a butchered 650 Dneiper (Ural) – a chop­per project! in Mil­ton Keynes which I res­ur­rected and at­tached to the Steib, which was now look­ing rather shabby with a rusty bot­tom and cracked filler. The next chal­lenge was teach­ing Jean how to ride an out­fit; the high point was when she put the side­car wheel on the pave­ment of the hous­ing es­tate we lived on and left it there for a quar­ter mile. I was in the side­car try­ing to give in­struc­tions. The poor old Steib’s rusty body couldn’t stand up to this pun­ish­ment for too long, the floor gave way and started drag­ging along the road whilst I was stuck in the side­car try­ing to get Jean to stop. I did make a tem­po­rary floor out of a “Maxi” bon­net, but it did not re­ally work, so the body was taken off and a cou­ple of planks and a con­crete block were lashed to the chas­sis. It was about this time that I no­ticed the side­car wheel hub was go­ing furry and de­vel­op­ing what looked like lit­tle cau­li­flower flo­rets, ter­mi­nal cor­ro­sion. By a stroke of luck I found that a BSA con­i­cal hub front wheel fit­ted per­fectly. Jean dis­cov­ered that she could get to 75mph on the down­hill stretch of the mo­tor­way to­wards Portsmouth; the Dneiper stood this for 9 months un­til a pis­ton gave way tak­ing a big end with it. The Steib was then hid­den away in the back of the garage for the next 25 years. A few years later whilst clear­ing out a friend’s garage I found a proper Steib mud­guard and wheel, both had seen bet­ter days but were good raw ma­te­rial. In 2007 I col­lided with a trac­tor which left me and my old AJS rather bent; we both got re­built, but we both suf­fered from per­ma­nent dam­age, bent frames. I thought the best thing was to put the Steib back on the AJS. The first chal­lenge was re­fur­bish­ing the chas­sis and wheel. Try­ing to get apart very rusty 60-year old nuts, bolts and seized pivot pins can be fun at the best of times but most of them had been soaked in a mix­ture of water and road salt and left to cook. A com­bi­na­tion of an oxy­acety­lene torch, half a litre of WD40, an air gun and a short scaf­fold­ing pole got them all to move even­tu­ally. Af­ter clean­ing up some bad weld­ing I did 30 years ago and mak­ing a new front side­car con­nec­tion, the whole chas­sis was epoxy pow­der coated. The bear­ings in the side­car wheel and swing­ing arm were re­placed.

It was in this state that the Steib was put into a ship­ping con­tainer with all my other goods and chat­tels and shipped to NZ. The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture Fish­eries & Food in­spec­tor didn’t like the state of the mud­guard (I for­got to clean it) so it was quar­an­tined and steam cleaned. The side­car body got put to the back of the queue as my first pri­or­ity was get­ting all of the road­wor­thy bikes ap­proved and reg­is­tered for NZ.

The first part of the restora­tion was strip­ping most of the body back to bare metal, chis­elling and cut­ting off all the filler. The whole left hand side of the nose was very badly crum­pled with aw­ful weld­ing, the only op­tion was to cut half of the nose away and re­place it with new metal, not the eas­i­est thing to do with com­pound curves and a swage line to match. The tem­po­rary floor was re­moved and about 10cm of the side pan­els cut away to get back to clean metal, a new floor and patches for the side pan­els were welded into place. All the rest of the many rust holes, dam­age, and dented pan­els were at­tended to; this seemed to go on for ages. The next stage was fill­ing and rub­bing back try­ing to get the shape right, as usual once one bit looked right it just em­pha­sised how bad some of the other bits were. The fi­nal part was painting, a litre of anti-rust primer and a com­bi­na­tion of spray cans and brush­work fi­nally pro­duced a fair re­sult. The body was lined with var­nished ply­wood.

“Try­ing to get apart very rusty 60-year old nuts, bolts and seized pivot pins can be fun at the best of times...”

The mud­guard, when blasted clean, re­sem­bled a lace doy­ley, sev­eral hours of weld­ing and fill­ing fi­nally pro­duced some­thing that looked like a mud­guard again. The wheel rim was very rusty but sound so it was blasted and painted. The side­car chas­sis was at­tached to the AJS, and the body fi­nally re­united with the chas­sis af­ter nearly 35 years. A quick test ride proved I had far too much lean out and there were a cou­ple of small prob­lems with the bike. Once th­ese were fixed the out­fit was in­spected and reg­is­tered at the lo­cal test­ing sta­tion. It felt strange, but great to be back on the road with a com­bi­na­tion I last rode nearly 35 years ago. Hav­ing rid­den an out­fit with lead­ing link forks, disc brakes and a side­car brake for the last 15 years, the Steib and AJS feel very “old school” but great fun. The lo­cal up­hol­sterer did a great job cov­er­ing the seat frame, af­ter I re­built it, and the ride in the side­car is very com­fort­able with two lots of sus­pen­sion. The only jobs left to do are build­ing a wind­screen, and find­ing a proper Steib side­car light but th­ese can be done in slow time.

TOP LEFT The Steib chas­sis on a Ural; my first wife’s trans­port af­ter an ac­ci­dent. Note the timer and con­crete ‘bal­last’. LEFT The Steib side­car on hol­i­day at Tucker’s mar­ket gar­den.

ABOVE The Steib pro­vides a great ride for the pas­sen­ger with swing­ing arm spring sus­pen­sion on the wheel and leaf spring sus­pen­sion on the tub, while the hinged mud­guard gives easy ac­cess to the wheel. LEFT Many hands at­tend to the side­car body. BE­LOW The Steib chas­sis on a Ural in the mid 1980s.

Plenty of room in the boot.

Stout 4 point side­car con­nec­tions. ABOVE Well up­hol­stered side­car seat. RIGHT Cosy side­car cock­pit. LEFT Rub­ber mounts for the side­car body. The au­thor at Stir­ling Point, NZ.

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