My very first motorcycle was a BSA Bantam, converted into trials trim by my father Ron in the mid-sixties. Long before the introduction of the Yamaha TY80 trials model many famous names cut their off-road teeth on one of the superb BSA machines manufactured at the factory based at Small Heath in the Midlands. The small, compact, single cylinder two-stroke machine was used and abused until I was old enough to move onto a Dalesman, which is a story for another day. My passion for anything Italian started with Alfa Romeo cars, mainly because of the engineering developments they carried as they were so technically advanced. Mention the name Ducati and it’s the same, but not for any reason other than the fact they have a feel good factor in the name, and the exhaust note is something else! It’s quite amusing when you are abroad passing through airports because I can guarantee, if you have anything with the Ducati badge on it will raise a smile from the girls and a comment ‘You have a Ducati’ and sadly I have to say ‘sorry, only the tee-shirt’.
The opportunity to test both the BSA and the Ducati came about when an email popped up on my computer asking if I was interested in this “Ducati Special I have built” which came from Ian Peberdy. Some images were attached which really caught my eye. It was one of them moments when you know you just have to test the machine. I contacted Ian, who was a very interesting guy to talk trials to, and we arranged for him to bring the Ducati to the Hawk’s Nest trials venue in Derbyshire. He also mentioned he rode a BSA Bantam and I suggested he put that in the van as well.
A phone call to one of the magazine test riders Phil Disney was made with the answer: “A Ducati trials machine to test — just tell me where and when” as I sensed the enthusiasm to ride this Italian machine in his voice. So that’s how we ended up with these two iconic motorcycle brands to ride. Before we move to throwing our legs over the machines we will just give you some details of how both machines came to be.
The BSA Bantam purchase came about when a friend of Ian’s asked him if he knew where there were any Whitehawk Yamahas for sale. Ian knew of a 175cc Whitehawk, and his friend mentioned he was having a change from a classic twin-shock to a more modern one and that to fund the Whitehawk he would be selling his BSA Bantam, which was a Jim Pickering Drayton model. As is usual in the motorcycling world a deal was done and Ian was now the owner of the ‘Bantam’. The machine was very tidy and featured other Jim Pickering parts including the fuel tank and the front fork yokes, but Ian decided to put his own mark on it. The Renthal standard 5/8th Ø handlebars were replaced with 4 ½” rise Renthal ‘Fatbars’ fitted with Renthal grips. The control lever assemblies for both the front brake and clutch were Dominio, attached to quality Venhill control cables. The machine came fitted with German MZ front forks, which worked very well, but as these did not meet the machine specification for the Pre-65 Scottish a new pair of REH ones was supplied by Armac, which adds to the superb handling of the machine. At the rear it came fitted with Betor aluminium bodied forks which gave 340mm of travel. To suit Ian’s riding style and ‘speed up’ the rear suspension action these were changed to Ozo branded ones, once again in aluminium, but which increased the travel to 360mm.
Having sorted out the controls and suspension it was time to put some changes into the engine which is based around a D14 model. Its capacity is 185cc, achieved by way of a Suzuki piston conversion in a standard Bantam cylinder barrel with a BSA B175 centre-spark plug cylinder head. A PVL ignition system looks after the electrics which work fine. The carburetion on any twostroke is very critical to obtain maximum performance and an Amal 26mm Ø Premier MK1 carburettor is fitted.
In Ian’s experience Bantams prefer to be a little rich off the bottom end so this is how it’s set up, which he also prefers. The air filter is still Jim Pickering’s original one from when the machine was built. At the moment it is still running a standard clutch basket, but with a mixture of heavy duty fibre plates and standard metal plates and springs. It does have a special ‘alloy’ pressure plate to improve drag and feel. The light feel and action is achieved by using a lengthened clutch arm. This machine has a low first and second gear fitted but they are testing a different third gear at present. The front and rear brakes, including back plates, are taken care of by ones from Alan Whitton, with Morad tubed rims laced to the wheel hubs. The all-important brake shoe linings are a wooden-type material machined to match the drums to give a more modern progressive feel. The machine does look very modern and competitive, as we will find out.
The Ducati idea for a trials conversion to be carried out came from a close friend of Ian’s who has carried a passion for the Italian machines since his childhood. A mixture of Ducati parts from a Monza road model of 1963/1964 origin arrived at Ian’s workshop, including a frame, some wheel hubs and other various components, and a pair of crankcases which meant Ian could start work on modifying the frame. After a careful examination of the frame and the taking of a few measurements it was clear that the original frame would be far from what is needed for today’s hazards. The first job was to remove excess brackets including the centre/side stand mounts, and then measure and set up ready to strengthen and improve the existing steering head angle, wheel base length and footrest position etc. The main frame was left, but the entire lower frame rails were removed ready to fabricate brackets to allow the fitting around the sump for an aluminium sump guard. It’s a slightly odd shape but with a nice flat surface to slide off things. The engine was slightly repositioned to accommodate a trials tyre and for improved chain clearance. The rear subframe was originally made for a dual seat, with pillion footrests, but this was all removed and made narrower, with fittings to house the air-filter and ignition system. The original roadmodel swinging arm was too short and heavy, but not wanting to go down the road of fitting one from another manufacturer it was important to try and keep this as much Ducati orientated as possible.
After searching various Ducati models a motocross one was found that would work with some more fabrication to both the swinging arm and frame. A new swinging arm pin was fabricated with bushes and this was another problem area solved. A new location point was added for the rear brake plate as Ducati Grimeca wheel hubs were being used, and lower shock absorber mounting points were added. After a successful year of using REH front forks and Ozo rear shock absorbers Ian decided to follow the same path for the Ducati. Working closely with Gerry Minshall, after he had done all the chassis work a pair of billet yokes were made with a one-off steering stem to house the REH front forks. Many more man hours would be used, as brackets for the fuel tank, which is the same as the Drayton Bantam one, ignition and rear mudguard and other parts were manufactured and fitted. For the wheels, as explained before, Ducati Grimeca hubs were used which needed a good clean and overhaul before the off-set for the wheel rims, spoke angles and lengths could be worked out. New brake shoes were located and sent away for some new modern linings to be fitted and turned to match the drums. These parts were then all stripped down ready to powder coat before being built back up. A nice pair of original Ducati brake arms was sourced to finish off the wheels. Next the engine was returned from a well-known Ducati engine specialist who, it appeared, had done more work on it than Ian had on the frame. Quality parts including an Omega piston and an Arrow con-rod were included. There are so many specialists tools required for one of these engines it was really the best option. There are several different engine cam options, which is something that they plan to test as time goes on. A new modern Dell’orto carburettor was fitted as this is what they had from new. Ian than had to fabricate a manifold for the carburettor that was both neat and functional. This was followed by a new front pipe, which was made along with the silencer and all fitted to the chassis.
Time-consuming jobs included manufacturing front and rear wheel spindles, rear wheel sprocket spacers, and a pattern was made to form the sump plate, side panels and seat base which were then all cut out and bent by hand. The machine was stripped down and prepared for powder coating. He decided that as it was an Italian machine the Ducati Monza 160cc had to be red! The final build was completed by making all the cables, and fitting high-end quality components to complement the build of this four-stroke special.
John Hulme on the BSA: “I would never have believed just how good you could make a BSA Bantam. The front and rear suspension work very well and overall weight bias is very neutral. At first I was riding everything in first gear and I was revving the engine far too hard. In second gear you can pick your path using the power which is always on hand when needed. You soon become very confident and it rides like a very modern machine, such is the superb suspension, and the clutch also worked very much with a modern feel. Even on tight rock hazards you could pick your line and, most importantly, hold it. Just bear in mind that it’s the best part of nearly 50 years since I have had to use a lefthand rear brake and this was the biggest problem area for myself as it takes quite a few hairy moments and a little time to get used to this, but its performance is far superior to the Ducati.”
And the Ducati: “It is big and it feels big. Ian has done a superb job of converting this Ducati from a road model into the trials one but it’s still quite a large beast. The gear change and rear brake are on the right side and I can honestly say how happy I was that I could find the rear brake as for a 160cc machine it certainly has ample power. The best way to ride this was to let the single cylinder four-stroke engine pull hard on low throttle openings and feel for the grip. With Josh Turner taking the pictures he shouted me over to show me the huge grin on my face whilst riding the Ducati. On the BSA I was trying my hardest all the time whereas on the Ducati the sheer pleasure from riding this Italian machine far exceeded my expectations, and as I have stated before the exhaust note is music to your ears.”
Phil Disney on the BSA: “It’s very good and easy to ride with a positive neutral feel to the handling. I felt very comfortable on the machine straight from the off. It starts easily, which is always a plus point for any Pre-65, and the clutch works very well indeed. Throttle control is the key to success in the hazards and whereas John was revving the machine hard I was far happier using less throttle. The rear brake issues John had are an age thing, trust me! I had no complaints at all and the front and rear brakes work very well. Suspension wise it’s second to none and I soon became very confident on it. Hawk’s Nest is never an easy venue to test a machine but there wasn’t much I put in
front of the BSA it could not conquer. I am a four-stroke man at heart but for the Pre-65 scene I would certainly consider one of the BSA Bantams purely on its ease of riding and the fact that it’s easier to maintain a twostroke than a four-stroke for use every weekend. It’s quite interesting to note that Yrjo Vesterinen has moved from four-stroke to two-stroke power so there must be something in it.”
And the Ducati: “It looks superb and no doubt Ian has put many hours into converting this Ducati for trials use. I do agree with John that it is quite a large, physical machine but once on board and riding it does feel very compact. The only thing that sticks out is the kick-start, which Ian pointed out to mind your leg on! It handles really well, such is the set-up of the front and rear suspension, and the build quality of the components is reflected when riding. Development is ongoing but the performance, as it was when tested, is very good. The engine provides a very smooth sensation thought the handlebars and it works better by letting the engine ‘pull’. In my opinion this machine would be at its best on more open hazards than the ones at our test venue. You have to be aware that it’s not over generous with ground clearance but the underside of the sump guard is flat, allowing a smooth passage over rocks. The BSA is the winner every time, apart from looks, but I am sure there is much more to come from the Ducati as Ian develops it.”
Chalk and Cheese
I suppose it’s a case of ‘Chalk and Cheese’ as these machines are so different. It’s like red or white wine, two- or four-stroke; it really is an individual’s choice as to what they like the best. Both of these machines perform very well and, yes, both can win in the right hands.
The BSA is very competitive and a proven winner in Ian’s capable hands. The Ducati is an ongoing project which we are sure after many hours of testing will become a winner. The BSA is very functional and made for a job, as is the Ducati although it’s quite a big machine compared to the lightweight Bantam. The Ducati is dominated by the tall four-stroke engine and the exhaust note is pure music. Only time will tell which will prove the most popular to Ian, but both Phil Disney and myself raise a glass of good Italian red wine to confirm it has to be the Ducati as the winner every time on its sheer elegance and dominating appearance.
John: “It’s a credit to Ian on just how well the Ducati handles for quite a big machine”.
Phil: “I soon became very confident on the BSA with its very modern feel”.
John: “Handling on the BSA was very light and nimble”.
Just imagine if BSA in the late sixties had continued with the Bantam model just what it would have achieved. Why they never put the Mick Bowers model into production is a question many will ask. In 2017 the BSA success story continues in competition with this Drayton model.
As you can see the BSA Bantam looks very modern and ready for action.
Phil: “I am in my element finding grip on a four-stroke”.
The Ducati trials model very much carries an Italian theme in the conversion from road to trials machine.
It looks very workmanlike, with ongoing developments being carried out by Ian to make it a competitive, winning trials machine.
John: “I preferred revving the engine and then rolling the power off to find the grip”.
Phil: “The performance from the 185cc engine was very good”.
The engine, which is based around a D14/4 model. Its capacity is 185cc, achieved by way of a Suzuki piston conversion in a standard Bantam cylinder barrel with a BSA B175 centre spark plug cylinder head.
A new air-filter is being developed as we speak to help with the performance from the 185cc engine.
John: “Music to my ears”. Phil: “The overall geometry of the frame was more suited to the open type of hazard”.
Nice touches have been added by Ian like this badge on the set.
Ducati – made in Italy and proud.