BSA B50T: Trail boss
Let’s face it, you don’t see too many B50s on the road. But if you spot one in the UK, this is the variant you’re most likely to come across. Released in 1971 and on sale for just two years, the B50 range used a stretched version of the B44 engine housed in a new oil-bearing frame. At first glance, there was a strong similarity to the brace of 250s in the 1971 line-up, but the bigger engine ran a needle-roller big end – rather than the plain big-end of the 250 – with roller and ball mains on the drive side and a single roller bearing on the timing side.
The new frame and double-damped forks certainly looked fit for purpose too. With decent fork travel at the front and a needle-roller swingarm with eccentrics at the swingarm spindle for chain adjustment, the B50T looked like a genuine dualpurpose package – not just a street scrambler. And that’s precisely what attracted owner Tony Howard when he bought the bike as a scruffy project some nine years ago.
“When I was a kid growing up in Essex, there were just so many disused pits around,” he recalls. “Everyone seemed to have a ‘scrambler’ and I’ve just loved the off-road thing ever since. I was up at the Beezumph Rally a few years ago and saw this guy on a B50 and it struck a chord. I tracked him down in the paddock and got chatting. He told me triple specialist Les Whiston had one for sale. To cut a long story short, I bought it.”
Chris wasn’t fussed about a 100% accurate restoration. “I wanted something that would look like a period modified bike that would be good to ride, while retaining the competition look I love,” he explains. “I got B50 specialist Chris Burrell to restore and rebuild the engine using an MX cam and 32mm carburettor; Central Wheel Components built the wheels. All the plating was by Hockley Enterprises. Tony Cook – now sadly passed away – fabricated the exhaust, RK Leighton refurbished the seat and I’ve fitted Falcon shocks. Once I’d got all the parts at home, the build only took six days. It’s still running on points, but I’ve replaced a lot of the electrics with a Boyer Power Box.”
That’s quick work – and Tony’s bike certainly looks amazing in its one-off metallic paintwork by FD Motorcycles in Great Dunmow. Here’s Rick’s verdict on what it delivers on the road. “When BSA chose to call the road model B50 the ‘Gold Star’, it was viewed a step too far, comparing this overblown 250 to the company’s legendary 500cc single – but was it such an unreasonable comparison? Well, on the road Tony Howard’s B50T doesn’t feel much like my own DBD Goldie, but that isn’t a criticism. The B50 engine doesn’t lack any punch, but it’s delivered in a more controlled way. To me it feels like a shorter stroke than the earlier models, but while the stroke in only 6mm longer than the bore diameter, the 85 x 88mm Gold Star is half that, so it probably has more to do with lighter flywheels.
“Following Tony around lanes at 50mph in top gear feels easy and comfortable, despite the engine’s fierce MX cam profile. The engine is pleasantly smooth, the clutch light and positive, the gearchange has the same easy action as the smaller singles; but despite this and a similar chassis, you’d never mistake this for a 250 Victor. You feel the much bigger bang going on beneath you, and when quickly rolling on the throttle for an overtake, the power comes in fast and forcefully but with a smoothness that’s much more XT Yamaha than DBD Goldie.
“As I rode along I wistfully looked at the fields. You could have a lot of fun out there on this bike – especially if the muddy furrows became desert sand and scrub. It’s no surprise the B50 built such a following in the States. The modern feel also helps explain why the bike continued in CCM guise for so long.”