SMALLER BIKE, BIG­GER AD­VEN­TURE

Clas­sic Bike reader Martin Kirk tells how he tack­led Scot­land’s NC500 on a 1964 BSA Ban­tam

Classic Bike (UK) - - News -

The NC500, a 500-mile route around the north coast of Scot­land, has be­come pop­u­lar with bik­ers. When I did it there were a lot of them, many on a BMW R1200GS. But that seemed like overkill – I wanted to tackle it on a light­weight clas­sic, with no trac­tion con­trol, lean-an­gle sen­sors or sus­pen­sion ad­just­ment... and hardly any brakes.

Yes, I wanted to do it on a 1964 BSA Ban­tam. With no sat­nav. That’s a recipe for a proper ad­ven­ture! I loaded up with camp­ing gear and set off from my Aberdeen­shire home on my 1964 D7 (fit­ted with a 1967 D10 en­gine) in dry weather, head­ing for the start point, In­ver­ness Cas­tle. The Ban­tam was hum­ming along nicely un­til about 30 miles out, when I sud­denly re­alised the A4 plas­tic wal­let bungeed to the top of my lug­gage roll, and con­tain­ing all my route de­tails, had gone. Noth­ing for it but to turn round and hunt for it; luck­ily I found it after half a mile.

My first fuel stop was after 54 miles – the Ban­tam’s eight-litre tank is bone dry in 88 miles, mak­ing any mileage over 70 from the last fill-up a nervy af­fair. With fuel stops few and far be­tween in north­ern Scot­land it was safer to fill up ev­ery 60 miles.

I started off at the Ban­tam’s steady 50mph chug and soon it be­gan to driz­zle. By lunch at Lochcar­ron it was soak­ing west Scot­land rain. Never mind, the in­fa­mous Bealach Na Ba road with one in five hills was only six miles away, and I was look­ing for­wards to the chal­lenge.

The old girl made it no prob­lem, al­beit in first gear for the top sec­tion. Once over the top, I stopped to take a photo of Ap­ple­cross Bay. What seemed like snow was ac­tu­ally midges, so I was itch­ing all the way down for a cof­fee stop at Ap­ple­cross.

The stun­ning coast­line to Shiel­d­aig through Glen Tor­ri­don to Kin­lochewe took me to my overnight camp­site in Gair­loch. I woke the fol­low­ing morn­ing still in rain for the ride north to Dur­ness. The roads from Gair­loch are a bit faster (on a fast bike) and fi­nally, a short way onto the in­sanely bendy (and hilly) sin­gle-track road past Clach­toll, the rain stopped and the roads dried.

Trav­el­ling north on the A894/838 the scenery be­comes pro­gres­sively ‘lu­nar’, and rid­ing through it on any bike is a great feel­ing. By Scourie I’d done 48 miles since the last fill up, and with both pay pumps oc­cu­pied by ad­ven­ture bike rid­ers, I de­cided to carry on to the next petrol pump at Dur­ness, 24 miles fur­ther on, which would still only take me a cou­ple of miles over my 70 mile ‘safe’ limit.

Bad de­ci­sion. As I pulled up at the pumps a guy in the shop door­way made a ‘cut throat’ sig­nal. The pump electrics had failed again, so with roughly 15-16 miles in the tank there was no fuel for 24 miles south or 32 miles north. I’d spot­ted a plant hire firm on the way into Dur­ness and thought I’d try them, but no joy. How­ever the guy couldn’t have been more help­ful as he phoned round five or six peo­ple un­til even­tu­ally a woman came down with three litres in a can, in­tended for her lawn­mower. I gave her a ten­ner as it saved a big push; just goes to show how friendly and oblig­ing folk are in this part of the world.

I overnighted on the busy scenic clifftop camp­site at Dur­ness, which has a con­crete path di­rectly into the pub next door. Not so bad after all.

The next part of the route to­wards Tongue is very scenic and quite un­du­lat­ing with some de­cep­tively steep hills. The fur­ther east the flat­ter and more windswept the scenery be­comes, be­fore John O’groats, and a stop for lunch and the oblig­a­tory pho­to­graph.

After that, the Ban­tam was hum­ming along at a steady 50mph, or even a heady 55 in places. Then, dur­ing a break at a café in Helms­dale, I no­ticed the right hand swingarm bolt stuck in the grease on the side of the swingarm! I se­cured it with Loc­tite, then car­ried on to my last overnight stop at a glo­ri­ous camp­site in the Dornoch sand dunes.

It was bright and sunny for the fi­nal ride into In­ver­ness. Apart from the lights no longer work­ing, a bit of a leak from the petrol pipe and some (ex­pected) in­ter­mit­tent run­ning, all was well with the Ban­tam.

The guys at the good old­fash­ioned BRC Mo­tor­cy­cles at Muir of Ord fixed the petrol leak for three quid (in­clud­ing a free cof­fee).

After 550 miles, I ar­rived back at In­ver­ness Cas­tle. The Ban­tam had con­quered the NC500 with­out ma­jor in­ci­dent. OK, I got a punc­ture on the way home, but that’s an­other story...

Top: In­trepid Martin Kirk and his trusty Ban­tam, primed to take on 500 miles of Scot­tish coast roads

Above: The start and fin­ish point of the NC500 route – In­ver­ness Cas­tle

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