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.
…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.