It’s a scary thing, but some­time RealLife gets in the way of RealClas­sic life in The Shed…

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It’s a scary thing, but some­time RealLife gets in the way of RealClas­sic life in The Shed…

Iwas in­tend­ing to start this episodic epis­tle with the tra­di­tional rhetor­i­cal ques­tion: ‘Where were we?’ But there

would be no point. Where we were is ex­actly where we are still. At least I have a de­cent ex­cuse for a change.

It all sound very dra­matic, but last month’s tale from The Shed was ac­tu­ally writ­ten on a lap­top com­puter in a hospi­tal, where I was parked up for some re­me­dial ac­tion fol­low­ing that paramedics, am­bu­lances, flash­ing lights and pow­er­ful opi­ates ex­pe­ri­ence. The last men­tioned was in fact the only fun in­volved, and al­though the un­ex­pected emer­gency has passed – thanks for ask­ing – it has put a se­ri­ous crimp into my in­creas­ingly weary at­tempts at fix­ing the world’s most re­cal­ci­trant BSA.

Ac­tu­ally, that’s only partly true. There has been progress. Of a sort. The sort you don’t ac­tu­ally no­tice be­cause it’s not moved any­thing along very much and in any case it’s mainly in­volved masses of jab­ber­ing and read­ing and mak­ing de­ci­sions, act­ing on them and … noth­ing much hap­pen­ing as a re­sult. Does that make any sense? No? Thought not.

If you can stay awake bet­ter than many, you may re­call that I’ve spent what feels like decades at­tempt­ing to make the BSA’s uniquely non-com­i­cal hub front brake work. The ac­tual prob­lem here is that there is noth­ing wrong with it. It should work. Ex­cept it doesn’t. And at this point it would only be hu­man of me to of­fer a huge THANKS to all the RC Face­book and mag­a­zine read­ing ex­perts who of­fered ad­vice, sent draw­ings and sug­ges­tions. I tried ev­ery­thing that seemed even faintly sen­si­ble and sev­eral things which did not. No no­tice­able ef­fect.

In the end, I put it all back to­gether again … and was a lit­tle sur­prised to ob­serve that the amount of ca­ble ad­just­ment re­quired to ac­tu­ally ap­ply brake shoe to brake drum was no­tice­ably less than pre­vi­ously. Still too much and still far too spongey. Then I re­mem­bered the restora­tion tech­nique once favoured by Rod Ker, a long de­parted RC con­trib­u­tor, who of­ten re­marked that sim­ply tak­ing things apart and putting them back to­gether again ap­peared to cure many prob­lems.

I re­moved the wheel again and stripped the brake again. Op­er­ated the Mi­cram ad­justers with the brake plate out of the drum, and they ap­peared to work per­fectly, smoothly and with lit­tle ef­fort. I wound out the ad­justers to their lim­its and of­fered the brake plate up to the drum. It wouldn’t fit. There was a vis­i­ble over­lap: the shoes were stand­ing wider than the drum’s in­ner sur­face, as you’d ex­pect.

So I backed off the ad­justers un­til the shoes would clear the drum just enough for me to fit ev­ery­thing to­gether again. Then I tried to ad­just the shoes into a closer con­tact with the drum. There was no move­ment pos­si­ble with the ad­juster. Only a tiny amount of move­ment was needed to ap­ply the brake us­ing the op­er­at­ing arms. So… I put the wheel back into the bike (again: I should be get­ting quite good at this) and ad­justed the ca­ble. The ca­ble ad­juster does not ad­just the shoes, al­though too many peo­ple do not be­lieve this. The ca­ble ad­juster is only there to ad­just the ca­ble. Seems sim­ple, but lots of us get it wrong.

This time, the ca­ble was tight with about half of the avail­able ad­juster thread used. I took it all apart again. Prac­tice, we are as­sured, makes per­fect. It cer­tainly ru­ined the per­fectly de­cent paint fin­ish I’d ap­plied to the brake plate. Ev­ery­thing in­side the drum looked fine. The clear­ance be­tween shoes and drum was so small that I needed to back off the ad­justers be­fore I could ei­ther re­move the brake plate from the drum or put it back again. Which I did. Again. This time when I ad­justed the ca­ble … it was tight af­ter maybe an eighth of an inch of the ad­juster was used. And the brake feels fine. It stops the wheel. No slowly slow­ing down and strange scrap­ing noises: the wheel

stop im­me­di­ately the lever is op­er­ated. Ex­actly like a brake should. I can spin the wheel as fast as pos­si­ble and the brake stops it in a flash, as it should. Hur­rah… but… how?

The next step in­volves tak­ing the lit­tle beast out onto the lanes and see­ing how or whether the brake works well enough to stop the bike from its fear­some top speed. But, we have a prob­lem. To try out the brake … first start the en­gine.

If you can stay awake bet­ter than most, you may re­call that I’ve spent what feels like decades at­tempt­ing to make the BSA’s ex­tremely sim­ple ig­ni­tion sys­tem pro­duce re­li­able sparks. It did. Whereas the brake may in fact never have worked – how would I know? – the sparks most cer­tainly did. They had no in­con­sis­ten­cies at all. You turned on the ig­ni­tion, kicked over the en­gine and it would start. And now, in a mys­te­ri­ous re­ver­sal of the cu­ri­ously self-fix­ing front brake, all the sparks have gone away, pos­si­bly on a nice hol­i­day some­where warmer than the cur­rently damp Shed.

Last month I re­vealed that I’d fit­ted new points. Hur­rah. No more sparks than with the old points. Boo. This is ac­tu­ally much more dif­fi­cult to fix than the brake, mostly be­cause my eye­sight is get­ting dim – no snig­ger­ing at the back, please. Even though I have read­ing glasses which work well, I still find it very hard to fo­cus on small things close up – this is the only ac­tual prob­lem with be­ing longsighted. When my eyes are tired – af­ter a long day gaz­ing grimly at a com­puter screen for ex­am­ple – I find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to dis­cern what is ac­tu­ally go­ing on with the points. I can see that there’s a healthy spark if I dis­con­nect the power lead from the post and short it to the en­gine cas­ing. I can see that the points are sep­a­rated – in­su­lated from each other. Even I can op­er­ate a me­ter to check for a break in the cir­cuit when the points are opened – but I can’t ac­tu­ally see whether there’s a spark at the points…

Vis­i­tors to RCHQ never need to sing for their sup­pers. Not yet, any­way. How­ever, as sev­eral kind folk have dis­cov­ered down the years, there’s of­ten that ‘Have you got a minute…’ mo­ment. Long-time pal and RC con­trib­u­tor Martin Pea­cock made the mis­take of sug­gest­ing lunch while he was down here en famille for a pos­si­bly well-de­served break from do­ing what­ever it is that en­gi­neers get paid hand­somely to do. Plainly he needed a break from both fam­ily and fling­ing span­ners – or what­ever it is that real en­gi­neers like Martin ac­tu­ally get hand­somely paid to fling. He knew that some­thing was afoot when I en­quired – in­no­cent-like – whether he’d brought over­alls? Maybe gloves? His sigh was seis­mic. With a re­mark­ably good im­pres­sion of good grace, Martin aimed his ter­ri­fy­ingly func­tional and awe­somely ef­fec­tive en­gi­neer eyes at the points. ‘ They’re points,’ he an­nounced, re­mov­ing his gloves. I agreed that they were, that he plainly was a prince among en­gi­neers and gave his gloves back to him.

The sec­ond sigh was less im­pres­sive. Maybe the lack of sparks is in­fec­tious. ‘Got a me­ter?’ he won­dered. I do, and I gave it to him. Martin stared at it, won­der­ing qui­etly whether it was any bet­ter than two pieces of old ca­ble and a light bulb. I kept quiet, mak­ing en­cour­ag­ing ges­tures, like star­ing at my watch and pulling lip-smack­ing faces. It was al­most lunchtime.

Martin con­nected up the me­ter – ex­actly as I had – and re­vealed that there was a cir­cuit when the point were closed and no cir­cuit when the points were open. This was en­cour­ag­ing: I’d got that right, at least. Then he looked up with a faint air of res­ig­na­tion and won­dered whether I had an­other me­ter – a bet­ter me­ter, per­haps?

And oddly enough I do. I’d bought a me­ter some years ago when one of my one hun­dred per­cent re­li­able ro­tary Nor­tons had de­cided that in its re­lent­less quest for per­fec­tion it no longer needed to charge its bat­tery, re­sult­ing in a long and en­tirely pleas­ant jour­ney with a nice man in a yel­low van. The new im­proved me­ter had a func­tion which al­lowed any fool (that would be me) to check whether the charg­ing cir­cuit was in fact charg­ing. That was the only time I used it. Then I sold the Nor­ton.

Dig­ging around pro­duced a damp and faded card­board box con­tain­ing an­other me­ter. The prob­lem – for me – with this me­ter is that it is cov­ered in mys­te­ri­ous en­gi­neer lan­guage, as used by the Alien En­gi­neers in the Alien movies but il­leg­i­ble to mere hu­mans like me. It also has a dial. This is very con­fus­ing. Hence the ban­ish­ment of the boxed me­ter to a se­cure and dry drawer where it had both faded and be­come damp. Martin re­garded it as a chap might re­gard a pos­si­bly poi­sonous arach­nid. He shrugged again. Real en­gi­neers are good at shrug­ging. Alien En­gi­neers meet sticky ends in the Alien movies. I re­frained from men­tion­ing this.

Martin twid­dled the dial. Num­bers ap­peared on the screen. ‘Hmm,’ he said, help­fully and with mean­ing. He twid­dled more and con­nected the leads to things on and nearby the points. ‘Hmmm…’ he said. But not in an en­cour­ag­ing way. He read out some

fig­ures. They meant noth­ing to me. He moved the leads and twid­dled the dial, read out some more num­bers. ‘Hmm,’ he said again, re­veal­ingly. ‘ There’s some­thing wrong.’

This is the thing with real en­gi­neers. They can make stat­ing the ob­vi­ous sound like that mo­ment when Moses came down from the mount clutch­ing tablets. Of stone, rather than Nuro­fen, which is what I needed by now. ‘ The coil cur­rent should be more than the ½ amp or so we’re mea­sur­ing. It should be around 3A – so there’s some ex­tra re­sis­tance creep­ing in some­where.’ Then he sat back with a huge wide and cheer­ful smile and said: ‘Isn’t it lunchtime?’

Lunch was good, at the At­lantic Diner in Bude, thank you for ask­ing. I asked Martin how he knew so much about the wiring and num­bers? How did he know what was up? ‘Ohm’s Law.’ Then he ate some cake.

A cou­ple of days later – be­ing a real en­gi­neer on hol­i­day with plainly a hec­tic life – he sent me some di­a­grams. They may be around here some­where. They may make sense. I groaned and moaned at any­one who would lis­ten … be­fore they ran away to visit folk in an­other county. Many help­ful sug­ges­tions were is­sued. My favourite was from Paul Goff, noted elec­tri­cal per­son and fre­quent au­to­jum­b­list. ‘Send me £n (where n is small) and I’ll send you a Pa­zon. That’ll fix it.’ I did, and he did. I gazed at the big box with the lit­tle com­po­nents and won­dered what to do with it…

I have an­other friend, which is re­mark­able re­ally, but there you are. This friend is called Chris Read, and apart from driv­ing hugely ex­pen­sive sports cars with Mercedes badges and rid­ing a Honda, he’s a de­cent fel­low. We do lunch. Glo­ri­ously he won­dered whether I could do him a favour. Of course I could. I did. He won­dered how he could do me a favour in re­turn. This is ap­par­ently nor­mal for friends. Re­mark­able. I won­dered whether he knew any­thing about con­vert­ing an­cient and re­cal­ci­trant BSA sin­gles from use­less Lu­cas points set-ups to glo­ri­ous Pa­zon tech­nol­ogy. He grinned at me. ‘I wrote a se­ries of fea­tures about that for a mag­a­zine once.’ I bit, won­der­ing which and whether I could get a copy? ‘RealClas­sic.’ Some­times you just can’t win…

Above: The front brake ap­pears to work, with hardly any need for ca­ble ad­just­ment. This achievement is a mys­tery, not least be­cause all FW did was take it apart and put it back to­gether again (very many times)

Paul Goff’s an­swer to the same ques­tion was this. It looks very nice. FW gazed at the in­struc­tions – he al­ways claims to en­joy wiring a mo­tor­cy­cle af­ter all – and felt a sud­den need for a long coun­try walk

Left: Mean­while, in other news, many hands make brake work, hope­fully, al­though we have no idea how or why

A fea­ture of RealEngi­neers is that they never ad­mit de­feat. While on hol­i­day, Martin some­how man­aged to send this lot through the ethers to FW. Who gazed in mys­ti­fied won­der, as you might ex­pect

In a flash: the ap­pli­ance of sci­ence. How­ever, it did no good, de­spite in­vok­ing the mys­ti­cal power of Ohm’s Law

No op­por­tu­nity should be wasted. RealEngi­neer Martin Pea­cock made the mis­take of agree­ing to take a look at the B25SS

Frank rode this bike way, way back, and loved it. As you can see from the happy smil­ing face here

Mean­while, back to the Beezer. Here’s how to check that the points are ac­tu­ally act­ing as a cir­cuit breaker, demon­strated by the cheap (but easy to un­der­stand) me­ter

Left: One of the spe­cial edi­tions in­tro­duced by Wat­so­nian Squire when they im­ported RE Bul­lets was this hand­some Woods­man, which used the EFI en­gine. Does any­one know whether the parts to achieve the con­ver­sion are around? Wat­so­nian say not…

Top: On with the dis­trac­tion, then. As the Bul­let needs a dose of cos­met­ics, this is clearly a great op­por­tu­nity to re­place its stock styling with some­thing a lit­tle more glam­orous. Like this, maybe Left: When things are go­ing badly, it pays to re­mind...

Most wiring di­a­grams pro­vide a code to re­veal the se­crets of the wires’ var­i­ous colours. BSA tried some­thing dif­fer­ent. It must mean some­thing, of course, but what?

Right: In other other news, an an­cient Matchless which has been lay­ing around the place for many years is func­tional again! No credit to FW in­volved, as an­other RealEngi­neer per­formed the es­sen­tial mir­a­cles. Never mind, any good re­sult is wel­come in...

Above: The prob­lem plainly – prob­a­bly – lies in here some­where, but a rat’s nest is never a friendly place for the timid

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