Against the tide

By the mid Six­ties the world had de­cided light­weight was the way for­ward... Hed­lund thought oth­er­wise.

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

There is a fas­ci­na­tion with mas­sive non-unit con­struc­tion fourstroke MX ma­chines which goes beyond any real rea­son­ing. I am unashamedly a fan of these of­ten bru­tal look­ing mo­tor­cy­cles even though I’m way too young to have seen them raced in their hey­day. By the time this Hed­lund was cre­ated the day of the di­nosaur in MX was long gone in top flight GP rac­ing as even BSA had pushed the Goldie to the comp shop base­ment and their man Jeff Smith was flash­ing round the scram­bles cir­cuits of the world on an ever lighter Beezer evolved from the com­pany’s B40. As pounds were shed and cubes added, Jeff looked to be hav­ing it all his own way… but per­haps no one told Nils Hed­lund and Rolf Tib­blin that smaller and lighter was the way for­ward?

It is a good thing they didn’t lis­ten to those who said the day of the big bikes was over be­cause a world with­out this Hed­lund would be like a world with­out choco­late.

I came across the bike rather by chance when down at Hagon to in­ter­view Alf for a fea­ture. Thanks to a bit of re­or­gan­i­sa­tion in the com­pany which has seen the clo­sure of the USA out­let, there were a few bikes be­ing brought back to the UK – the Hed­lund be­ing one of them. As such, Hagon know very lit­tle about the bike, just that it came from a Bel­gian race team called Hed­lund Rac­ing and was rid­den by Frans van En­dert. Luck­ily for me, Mo­tor­cy­cling’s chap Mike Bash­ford got a chance to ride the ac­tual Tib­blin ma­chine at Hawk­stone Park in 1964 and he did a com­pre­hen­sive piece on the bike, which has pro­vided the ba­sis for this fea­ture.

The ven­er­a­ble Al­bin mil­i­tary en­gine had pro­vided the ba­sis for the large ca­pac­ity MX ma­chines fielded by Monark, Husq­varna and Lito which pretty much were the same ma­chine but with de­tail dif­fer­ences and all with in­put from Nils Hed­lund in the en­gine depart­ment.

These ma­chines only had two rea­sons for their ex­is­tence, first they were to be win­ners, sec­ondly they were to pro­vide pub­lic­ity for the name on the petrol tank. In both ar­eas they were suc­cess­ful and this con­tin­ued af­ter other fac­to­ries were eye­ing up smaller ma­chines with greater power to weight ra­tio. Be­cause they were hand-built rac­ers rather than pro­duc­tion ma­chines, all three could have the at­ten­tion to de­tail which turns a good ma­chine into a great one. In the case of Husq­varna, their man Tib­blin was again world cham­pion on their big bike but the com­pany pulled out of the 500 class leav­ing him with no ride. Luck­ily for Tib­blin, Nils Hed­lund was a near neigh­bour of his and Hed­lund had been in­stru­men­tal in the suc­cess of the pushrod 500 en­gine on which Tib­blin seem­ingly dom­i­nated the 500 class in the early Six­ties. Hed­lund had his own ideas about what a mo­tocross en­gine should be like and cre­ated the en­gine used in our fea­ture bike – an over­head cam unit.

I didn’t get to ride the Hed­lund at Hagon that day (is that a big enough hint I won­der?) but can con­firm Bash­ford’s im­pres­sions that this is a large mo­tor­cy­cle and my opin­ion came from wheel­ing it around in Hagon’s car park.

Okay, the bike in our pic­tures dif­fers from the one in Bash­ford’s Mo­tor­cy­cling piece and I can only guess that it is one of the later ver­sions de­scribed in the re­port and the ac­tual Tib­blin ma­chine is the 1964 sea­son bike.

By his own ad­mis­sion, Mike Bash­ford had not rid­den around Hawk­stone Park be­fore

be­ing let loose on the Hed­lund, though he didn’t men­tion that to Tib­blin. In his re­port, Mike pointed out the phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween him­self and Rolf who was a big bloke and able to wres­tle these ma­chines into sub­mis­sion, and I quote Mike: “I ap­proached the Hed­lund with some awe…” He also reck­oned it to be the fastest MX ma­chine ever at that time. The first con­sid­er­a­tion was how would Mo­tor­cy­cling’s man get on with the ma­chine built for some­one big­ger? As it hap­pened, Tib­blin’s rid­ing stance was upright whereas Bash­ford pre­ferred to lean for­ward, which meant for ei­ther rider the ra­tio of footrest to seat to han­dle­bar was ac­cept­able.

Leap­ing on the kick-start had the mo­tor­cy­cle bur­bling into life and with first gear en­gaged, Bash­ford plonked like a tri­als rider out of the pad­dock and off up to the start line – where things got in­ter­est­ing. At low revs the en­gine was mild man­nered, but with the twist grip at the tight end of the wire a whole dif­fer­ent beast was un­leashed. Feed­ing the clutch home as quickly as he dared Bash­ford had the front wheel paw­ing the air in first, snick­ing into se­cond again sent the wheel sky­ward as he hur­tled to­wards the bumpy sec­tions of the track. It was here, with both wheels buck­ing fu­ri­ously, Bash­ford found the Hed­lund to be the sagest ma­chine he’d rid­den for a long while. De­spite the rough ter­rain, the Hed­lund steered, in­spired con­fi­dence and went where it was pointed. This was a ma­chine even a Cen­tre novice could ride. The only con­cern from Mike was the high weight of the ma­chine which, at 325lb with fuel and oil, was heav­ier by far than BSA’S

The bike at Hagon is a good rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Hed­lund Bash­ford rode, but there are sev­eral de­tails which dif­fer, for in­stance the fea­ture bike wears an al­loy tank rather than a glass fi­bre one. It is also ex­tremely well in­su­lated from vi­bra­tion as the 1964 ma­chine was on its third new tank when Mike rode it at Hawk­stone. Also the car­bu­ret­tor is a Dell Orto rather than a Bing and the en­gine has an oil fil­ter in place which wasn’t deemed nec­es­sary in 1964. It might not come as a big sur­prise but rear sus­pen­sion on the Hed­lund at Hagon has Hagon rear dampers in­stead of Gir­lings which would have been on in the Six­ties. That said, Hagon were Gir­ling dis­trib­u­tors and when Gir­ling sold off the sus­pen­sion side of the busi­ness Hagon took on the mo­tor­cy­cle bit. A change too for front sus­pen­sion as the yokes, stan­chions and slid­ers are all Mar­zoc­chi rather than a Ce­ri­ani/nor­ton hy­brid. In our fea­ture bike, both brake drums and plates look like CZ items whereas Tib­blin’s bike had a Manx Nor­ton rear drum and a sin­gle-sided front hub which looks to be a BSA item but it is hard to tell from the news­pa­per print. 

Ad­mit it, you want one… I know I do.

Bing for the Six­ties but Dell Orto for this model. A nicely pre­sented mo­tor which has power in buck­et­fuls. This bike wears a well in­su­lated al­loy tank and there are no prob­lems with it, un­like dur­ing the Six­ties when Tib­blin went through three glass fi­bre tanks in half a sea­son. A welded on tag holds the brake lever in place. A stout chain guide keeps the chain in line.

Fork slid­ers – and stan­chions and yokes for that mat­ter – are Mar­zoc­chi. A close- up view of the drive side shows the ac­cess plug in the crank­case – just in front of the Royal En­field pri­mary case – where tim­ing marks are on the fly­wheel. Rear sus­pen­sion is by Hagon – a di­rect de­scen­dent of Gir­ling.

Ifamo­tor­cy­cle is gener­i­cally heavy, then re­liev­ing weight where you can is a good idea. Noth­ing looks out of place and all de­tails look to be just right, There’s an ex­ter­nal HT coil and con­denser. Fold­ing footrests are­mounted on a plate which also se­cures the ex­haust pipe – low slung on this model – note too the use of BSA’S scram­bles gear­box.

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