The win­ner…

Bsa’s hum­ble lit­tle two-stroke has gone from be­ing a nice starter bike to the bike to have for suc­cess in Pre-65 tri­als.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Tim Britton Words Tim Britton Pics

…BSA’S Bantam never quite man­aged a full SSDT win; close, very close but not quite. The Pre-65 Scot­tish how­ever, has been won by a Bantam and we’re fea­tur­ing it here.

The aim to pro­duce the light­est pos­si­ble com­pe­ti­tion bike has al­ways been high in the pri­or­i­ties of any tri­als rider, bal­anced of course with the need to make the bike strong. Top line rid­ers such as Sammy Miller, Gor­don Jack­son, Johnny Brit­tain and Don Smith, to name but four stars, recog­nised this and of­ten were at odds with their team bosses over mod­i­fi­ca­tions to ma­chines.

Miller for in­stance, is on record as say­ing he oc­ca­sion­ally had to park his Ariel out of sight in case he was forced to undo his hand­i­work by the fac­tory. Gor­don Jack­son too would oc­ca­sion­ally have to hand back light bits in or­der to be seen to be com­pet­ing on what was be­ing sold. So too did Johnny Brit­tain, whose Royal En­field at one time sported all sorts of mag­ne­sium bits and pieces, then re­verted to stan­dard-ish spec when the edict from above fil­tered down ‘we don’t sell any­thing like that.’

Ar­guably, for the big bike rid­ers, once Ariel dis­banded their works team and Sammy Miller could re­ally go to town on the HT5 and his com­pe­ti­tion had to do the same, so the re­main­ing fac­to­ries reis­sued their rid­ers with lighter bits, or in Jack­son’s case built him what he both wanted and needed. The case was even clearer when Don Smith – with the ad­van­tage of al­ready be­ing on a light twostroke – pro­duced a su­perbly worked over ma­chine for the SSDT one year, with alloy re­plac­ing steel wher­ever pos­si­ble, steel filled with holes if it had to stay, alloy too hav­ing its

mass carved away in an at­tempt to re­duce the all up mass of the bike. De­spite this, Greeves were not too keen on Smith’s at­tempts and he even­tu­ally left to go to Mon­tesa who were more ap­pre­cia­tive of his tal­ents. Miller too had al­ready re­alised a two-stroke was the way for­ward and had been con­tracted by Bultaco to her­ald a new era in tri­als rid­ing. As for Gor­don Jack­son and Johnny Brit­tain, both lads had ar­rived at the end of their ca­reers by this time and were soon both to re­tire from top line rid­ing.

Cer­tainly the two-stroke was the com­ing thing and the Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant BSA ought to have been in a po­si­tion to cap­i­talise on this as they had the Bantam in their range. A de­sign orig­i­nat­ing in Ger­many and taken up by BSA in the For­ties – any num­ber of young rid­ers be­gan their mo­tor­cy­cling on such a ma­chine. BSA even pro­duced a com­pe­ti­tion ver­sion which dif­fered slightly from the road­ster in the most mi­nor of de­tails, in fact they had four ver­sions of it avail­able in their 1954 cat­a­logue. Still it was seen as only some­thing to en­cour­age new rid­ers to try the dirty side of life be­fore mov­ing up to a proper – read ‘four-stroke’ – ma­chine.

It was a great shame they didn’t treat the con­cept with a lit­tle more se­ri­ous­ness as Fran­cis-bar­nett had al­most man­aged a full SSDT win at that time on their Vil­liers-en­gined tri­als bike. Not that they didn’t keep pro­duc­ing tri­als Ban­tams, but more the ones they did were to win ca­pac­ity classes and were gen­er­ally works spe­cials, hand-built to do a job. Sadly, for two-stroke en­thu­si­asts and there were a grow­ing num­ber of tri­als rid­ers at least who re­alised the ben­e­fits of an in­her­ently light mo­tor­cy­cle, to make the pro­ject vi­able BSA would have to had man­u­fac­tured many more ma­chines than there was de­mand for.

Even later on in the life of the Bantam, when Dave Row­lands, Mick Bow­ers and Alan More­wood rode a trio of su­perbly pre­pared 175 Ban­tams in the 1967 SSDT and Row­lands had come within a whisker of win­ning the trial, beaten only by Sammy Miller and his Bultaco, BSA were not pre­pared to sanc­tion a pro­duc­tion run of repli­cas.

Speak­ing to Don Mor­ley for Don’s book Clas­sic Bri­tish Two-stroke Tri­als Bikes, BSA’S comp boss Brian Martin told how hard he worked to per­suade the com­pany to be in­volved in the tri­als scene. Know­ing his em­ploy­ers would look at costs first he tack­led the prob­lem us­ing as many off-the-shelf parts as pos­si­ble. Tak­ing the Bantam Bush­man as a start­ing point, he dumped the stan­dard forks and put those from a C15T on, fit­ted wheels from the works C15TS which were ba­si­cally

Bantam hubs al­ready laced with tri­als size rims. On do­ing this he found the stan­dard swing­ing arm just too nar­row for the four inch rear tyre so grafted on the tri­als Tiger Cub ver­sion, he fin­ished the job with a Vic­tor petrol tank. The only bits needed to be made rather than taken from stores were a wide ra­tio gear clus­ter and a spe­cial kick­start. The semiof­fi­cial pro­ject, in Martin’s hands, won lo­cal Mid­lands tri­als and took class awards in a selec­tion of na­tional tri­als.

BSA sensed, at last, an op­por­tu­nity but ul­ti­mately it was to no avail as they re­alised al­though it could have been the cheap­est com­pet­i­tive bike on the tri­als mar­ket the costs bal­anced against a small pro­duc­tion run would have been pro­hib­i­tive. The thing is, peo­ple prob­a­bly would have bought it even if it was high cost as they did with Honda’s HRC mod­els – per­haps though BSA were just too far down the road to do any­thing like that. The pro­ject nearly sur­vived though as Comer­fords were given all the in­for­ma­tion to con­vert Ban­tams to works spec by Brian Martin and got as far as an­nounc­ing a batch of 50 to be made. Then BSA, floun­der­ing to­wards their end, an­nounced cut backs and cost sav­ings and part of this was the end for the Bantam range, which meant the end for the Comer­fords plan.

Fast for­ward to the new mil­len­nium.

Once for­eign two-strokes had taken over the tri­als world, own­ers of older four-strokes wanted some­where to ride their ma­chines, so Pre-65 tri­als were in­vented. The idea be­ing to haul out Ariels, Ajays, Goldies and the like to use on tra­di­tional sec­tions, the lightweights such as Cubs, C15s and Ban­tams were thought not to be within the spirit of these tri­als and while not for­bid­den, were not en­cour­aged. The sort of bikes soon be­ing used re­flected more of the works ma­chines than stan­dard pro­duc­tion bikes and were de­vel­oped even fur­ther in the strive for light­ness. With sec­tions in Pre-65 tri­als be­com­ing harder to test, the more de­vel­oped bikes and rid­ers get­ting older, as well as sup­plies of big bikes dry­ing up, Tri­umph twin based ma­chines and Cubs were be­ing used, then even these Cubs were too heavy and peo­ple started look­ing at the Bantam. Af­ter all, it’s a two-stroke and such en­gines have had 50 years of de­vel­op­ment since BSA played with them. It is now un­der­stood how to make a two-stroke work in any sit­u­a­tion. The Bantam has still got an edge over its com­peti­tors as not only is it lighter but it has a pri­mary kick-start so can be kicked over in gear like a mod­ern bike. It also ben­e­fits from a whole host of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy

such as elec­tronic ig­ni­tion, light­weight hubs, sus­pen­sion and frame de­sign ideas so even the stan­dard bike could be made to work be­yond BSA’S hopes.

En­ter the likes of Jim Pick­er­ing, who un­der the Dray­ton Frames ban­ner has been steadily de­vel­op­ing what can be classed as the ul­ti­mate Bantam and his prod­ucts are noted for their at­ten­tion to de­tail and build qual­ity. Which is why when Martin Mur­phy, he’s the lad in the blue jacket in our pics, wanted a pre-65 Bantam build­ing for son Tyler, he went along to see Jim at Dray­ton.

The re­sult is this su­perb bit of kit which never missed a beat all through the Scot­tish and brought the first home win for north of the bor­der and all Gary has to do is do it all again next year. )

If only BSA had pur­sued the Ban­tam­routemaybe they would have come up with some­thing along these lines, cer­tainly they had the fa­cil­i­ties to do it.

The win­ner and his bike. Gary proudly stands with the Bantam he did so well on.

Un­like a four- stroke the two- stroke en­gine is al­ready small and light and has an ad­van­tage from the start be­cause of this. Air fil­ter hose is well gripped with Ju­bilee clips and these pre­vent air leaks which cause er­ratic run­ning. Just be­cause your bike is pre- 65 doesn’t mean all of the kit on it has to be old, any num­ber of kick­starts can be fit­ted. This is a Gas­gas one.

Dave Row­land all but won the SSDT on his works BSA Bantam in the Six­ties and had Miller in his sights all week. Pop­u­lar in tri­als now are REH front forks, brand-new to clas­sic di­men­sions but made with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. Rear sus­pen­sion has come on leaps and bounds and if yours causes leaps and bounds some­thing is wrong. Th­e­segas units work bril­liantly.

Left: Just when he thought it was safe to come back, we caught Tyler Mur­phy with his bike. Not sure if Gary or Tyler will be rid­ing this next year... Tank front fix­ing is sim­ple and light… see the prob­lem with pol­ished alloy… all sorts of things are re­flected in it. Bil­let hubs, fro­ma­lan­whit­ton, are­made to Tri­umph Cub de­sign but much lighter thanks to them be­ing alu­minium. Sidepull throt­tles are great for keep­ing the ca­ble run closer to the bars, which is a good thing. Ask any­one who has ever caught a ca­ble on a branch… Gary Mac­don­ald, still look­ing sur­prised, on the podium. He knew he’d done well but was still amazed to be the win­ner. Pre­vi­ous win­ner James Noble took sec­ond spot and best new­comer Dan Thorpe was third. Well, if I’ve got to stand here then Martin has to as well – af­ter all he had the bike built. Tyler – who nor­mally rides the bike – had van­ished in case we got himup too.

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