Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

Pip’s new res­i­dence, round the backl!

“The ping­ing sprocket, the hand-wheel at­tached to it, and sundry nuts, bolts and clips fell on the primus stove, knock­ing it over, set­ting fire to an as­sort­ment of oil-soaked rags!”

When I wan­dered in to see my dad at about age 10 to ask him if he could make me a steam engine I didn’t quite get the re­sponse I’d hoped for, just a sort of grunt of sub­mis­sion fol­lowed by a ‘Why don’t you try makin’ one yersen’ lad?’ I never did get to progress too far down the steam route. I think I might have made some net­tle beer or pointed a wall or taken next door’s mower to bits in­stead. In the years that fol­lowed brother Bill and me made cross­bows and cat­a­pults that would merit a firearms li­cence be­fore fi­nally set­tling into any­thing with a kick­start and an oil leak. We had a bit of a dilemma with a Royal En­field Bul­let that was (I think) gifted to us. It needed to be torn to pieces, I’ve no idea why, but it def­i­nitely had it com­ing. Most of the ex­tra­ne­ous bits were lib­er­ated with the aid of a set of mole grips, a ‘Brooks’ bike multi-key and two black span­ners of in­de­ter­mi­nate ori­gin found wrapped in a tatty tool roll along with some in­su­la­tion tape and a bent screw driver. On re­mov­ing the pri­mary chain cover we were con­fronted with an un­fa­mil­iar sight. At­tached to the bar stick­ing out of the bot­tom of the engine (the ‘crank­shaft’ Fergie called it) was a sprocket that was un­like any pre­vi­ously en­coun­tered cog, and it needed to come off. For the first week or so we at­tacked it with spoons and var­i­ous levers fash­ioned out of an old bed frame. The sprocket laughed at us. While en­dur­ing Tues­day’s ge­og­ra­phy les­son I no­ticed an in­ter­est­ing steel hand-wheel liv­ing on the edge of the rolling black­board. It was about five inches in di­am­e­ter with a se­ries of holes around the pe­riph­ery and a sin­gle big threaded hole in the cen­tre. It ap­peared to serve no use­ful pur­pose and I rea­soned that it could come home with me for a few days. The bed frame yielded a few more handy bolts and with the ad­di­tion of an old ex­haust clamp and a cou­ple of skinned knuck­les we were able to put the sprocket un­der con­sid­er­able ten­sion us­ing the newly ap­pro­pri­ated hand-wheel as a puller, but it still didn’t budge. Even the oc­ca­sional clonk with a ham­mer net­ted noth­ing. Among our weaponry was a trusty brass primus stove, all methy­lated spir­its and scary pres­sure, an in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion; it seemed like a good idea to try to warm the job up a lit­tle. Our first ef­fort to di­rect the heat at the ap­pro­pri­ate area failed so we de­cided to cant the bike over on its side us­ing what­ever we had at hand to sup­port the bike a few inches above the hiss­ing flames. With an ex­tra tweak of the bed bolts, PING! Off it popped. How­ever the ping­ing sprocket, with at­tached hand-wheel, sundry nuts, bolts, clips etc. fell on the primus, knock­ing it over and si­mul­ta­ne­ously set­ting fire to a sub­stan­tial hank of rags, strate­gi­cally placed to soak up the an­cient Cas­trol 40 that was drib­bling out of the pre­car­i­ously in­clined engine. In an ef­fort to stop a mi­nor con­fla­gra­tion es­ca­lat­ing into a ma­jor in­ci­dent, Bill yanked the flam­ing lump off its jenga-es­que stack of tim­ber sup­ports and straight over on top of him. With a clumsy kick I booted the flam­ing primus into the gar­den and, in a state of mod­er­ate ela­tion sur­veyed the dam­age. Bill: slightly grazed and singed leg, bruised arm, not too much blood. Dented primus, and (hor­ror of hor­rors) one snapped off fin where the Royal En­field head con­tacted an in­no­cent Ri­ley Pathfinder bell­hous­ing. Not­with­stand­ing the po­ten­tial for se­ri­ous in­jury if the bell­hous­ing had been a few inches fur­ther away, we both viewed the snap­page with dis­may. ‘It’s got a bro­ken wing,’ Bill ut­tered. Hence­forth the Bul­let was al­ways re­ferred to as ‘Bro­ken Wing’ or ‘Wing’. Over the com­ing weeks we pulled the rest of it to bits. We blagged some main bear­ings and sam­pled the un­in­tended Taser-like qual­i­ties of the Lu­cas mag­neto, played ‘hunt the valve spring’ and the even more time con­sum­ing, ‘hunt the fly­ing, and in­evitably lost valve spring col­let’. The hand-wheel re­turned to school, bent and slightly charred, but no worse for its lit­tle ad­ven­ture; and what of ‘Wing’? Well, we learned a lot, even­tu­ally it went back to­gether and we would get our mates round for an oc­ca­sional start-up. With a good tick­ling the Bul­let would fire up pretty eas­ily, thanks to a 7.5:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio and a func­tion­ing valve lifter. One of them was so im­pressed he bought it off us to ride around the field at the back of his house, I think he gave us fif­teen quid for it... cash!

ABOVE: My Ariel Leader, 250 twin stro­ker, bit like a pre­his­toric RD250, but slower.

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