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