Project bikes are al­ways a dis­as­ter; as kany mag­a­zine ed­i­tor....

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Project bikes are al­ways a dis­as­ter; ask any mag­a­zine ed­i­tor…

In case you’d some­how man­aged to ig­nore this strange fact, I am a mag­a­zine ed­i­tor. This weary state of af­fairs has been the case con­tin­u­ally since 1988, un­less you in­clude club mag­a­zines – and why not? – in which case the rot set in an­other five or six years be­fore that. And, like any other dis­rep­utable means of turn­ing a sad shilling, mag­a­zine ed­i­tors learn to learn a few sim­ple rules – tri­als of the trade, if you like.

The first and best rule of jour­nal­ism (the ig­no­ble art of earn­ing a liv­ing from jour­nals) states that All Free Cloth­ing Fits. If this sounds a lit­tle mys­te­ri­ous to you, then it’s not. It is pro­found. Ev­ery­one… al­most ev­ery­one who en­ters this slightly odd world dis­cov­ered very rapidly that the world is filled with folk of re­mark­able gen­eros­ity. You’d not no­ticed this your­self in your own private and pro­fes­sional lives? That’s a sur­prise. Many things are sud­denly avail­able to folk whose at­tempts at writ­ing ap­pear in the public gaze, not just cloth­ing. But cloth­ing cer­tainly does.

Early on I was pre­sented with a sticky new rid­ing jacket from a lesser known pur­veyor of such things. I was at an NEC bike show and was of course de­lighted. This would be around 1989 or so. The next mag­a­zine ap­peared, com­plete with a fea­ture writ­ten by yrstrly and which in­cluded a few rid­ing shots. I was wear­ing a Rukka jacket, not the sticky black free one. The sup­plier called me up and

asked why this was. His jacket was as wa­ter­proof as blot­ting paper. I was young and naïve and re­vealed this. He called my boss and…

The sec­ond rule of jour­nal­ism sug­gests that The Truth Must Never Get In The Way Of A Good Story. You doubt this? Check out how many Great Bri­tish Bike Re­vival tales you’ve read down the years. Mov­ing on from that, my own hard­earned rule is that mag­a­zines never start a restora­tion / re­build / project se­ries un­less the bike is fin­ished, com­plete and run­ning well enough to be pho­tographed rid­ing down a dark desert high­way … or a soggy street in Sur­biton, wher­ever. It was a stan­dard joke among my more friv­o­lous friends that ‘Project Bike’ se­ries started up end­lessly – even in the pages of shiny posh mag­a­zines which should know bet­ter – and then never ended. When I first dripped dis­con­so­lately through the hor­ror halls of mo­tor­cy­cle mag­a­zine in­famy I oc­ca­sion­ally asked Noted Ed­i­tors what had hap­pened to the project bikes. This is a fam­ily mag­a­zine, so…

Like all ed­i­tors, I of course make an ex­cep­tion to this rule, which is why you are star­ing at my mus­ings rather than at lovely pics of the Bet­ter Third roar­ing off through the syl­van sun-drenched glades of beau­ti­ful Corn­wall aboard her im­mac­u­late and per­fectly fet­tled BSA B25SS. That bike is as use­ful as an Arthurian myth. En­ter­tain­ing but of no known use. To any­one. Par­tic­u­larly not to me, be­cause I want to pack my own pages at the back of the mag­a­zine with tales of suc­cess, prow­ess and won­der­ful­ness (rhyming words are hated by all – ask any ed­i­tor), rather than writ­ing glumly about an­other month where noth­ing much ap­pears to have hap­pened. In fact, lots and lots has been go­ing on in The Shed … just no tales of great suc­cess and achieve­ment.

It may come as a tiny sur­prise to you to learn that we are of­fered loads of re­build sto­ries – far, far more than we could ever fea­ture in the mag­a­zine, in fact. We agree to al­most all of them, pro­vided they share at least a ten­u­ous link or two with the kind of bikes we fea­ture in the mag­a­zine, and prefer­ably re­builds at least at­tempted by the guy writ­ing the story. Lots of folk re­build bikes. In fact, a steadily chang­ing fea­ture of the old bike scene (man) is that the prices of pro­jects – ‘barn finds’ and the like – are ris­ing re­morse­lessly. You might sneer a lit­tle here and re­mind me that of course they are, we’re run­ning out of un­re­stored and orig­i­nal bikes. And so on.

But it’s more com­pli­cated than that. Lots and lots of the bikes which pop up for sale as pro­jects – with no pre­tence at all that they’re ride-away run­ners – are nei­ther orig­i­nal nor un­re­stored. More hon­est and open vendors might de­scribe them as ‘ear­lier restora­tions’, which is prob­a­bly as close to the truth as we’re likely to get. How do I know this? Be­cause I am al­ways more in­ter­ested in find­ing bikes I fancy both own­ing and build­ing. The Shed al­ready con­tains a de­cent as­sort­ment of great bikes to ride – in­clud­ing a cou­ple of those ‘ear­lier restora­tions’, and I know that they are what they claim to be be­cause I did those ear­lier restora­tions my­self. Only… we didn’t call them restora­tions. Mostly.

There’ll be a pic or two of them around here some­where, all be­ing well. The bike that’s prob­a­bly the most re­built of mine – ex­clud­ing the lam­en­ta­ble B25SS which ac­tu­ally be­longs to the Bet­ter Third – is a grand old AJS, a 1953 Model 20 twin. Same age as yrstrly, in fact, which is one rea­son I’ve never sold it, de­spite not hav­ing rid­den it for sev­eral decades. Ev­ery time I think about sell­ing the old tub, mov­ing it on to a no doubt de­lighted new owner who would ride it ev­ery day and cher­ish it, so forth, I re­mem­ber that we’re the same age. That we went through a lot to­gether. That we rode thou­sands of miles to­gether in re­mark­able har­mony and sur­pris­ing com­fort, and that al­though the re­al­ity is that I’ll never

ride it again, there is al­ways that pos­si­bil­ity, no mat­ter how re­mote. There would be no pos­si­bil­ity if I sold it, so…

But there it stands, a vic­tim of The Shed’s cor­ro­sive Cor­nish at­mos­phere and suffering from chrome de­cay. Amus­ingly and maybe iron­i­cally also, there’s even less chrome on the 1953 AJS ma­chines than on other years. Re­mem­ber the Korean War? One largely un­pub­li­cised re­sult of that con­flict was that HM gov­ern­ment stock­piled all avail­able nickel, be­cause nickel is used some­how in the process of build­ing nu­clear bombs – not many peo­ple know that! I only know this be­cause I looked up why a few nor­mally chromed bits of the old Ajay were fin­ished in­stead in a mys­te­ri­ous sil­very-paintish coat­ing. Nickel is es­sen­tial to chroming, so no nickel, no chrome. In­stead, AMC used a process called ‘ar­genis­ing’ to pro­tect parts which were con­sid­ered suitable for it, in­clud­ing wheel rims and sus­pen­sion cov­ers, but not ex­hausts. The only parts of the Ajay which still fea­ture that orig­i­nal coat­ing – which was pretty suc­cess­ful for a sort-of sil­ver paint – are the rear jam­pot lower cov­ers. I fit­ted new rims al­most as soon as I bought the bike, throw­ing away the bizarre orig­i­nal. We all make mis­takes. I’ve used this as a tiny illustration of how dif­fi­cult I find it to sell bikes. Be­cause I do. That’s ac­tu­ally the rea­son there are so many of them in the Shed – not some mega­lo­ma­niac col­lec­tor thing.g All the bikes I’ve owned for a long time – ten years or more, say – have piles of as­so­ci­ated mem­o­ries.

But if I did some­how talk my­self into sell­ing the Ajay, its value would ac­tu­ally be higher if sold as it is, rather than after I spent the not in­con­sid­er­able amounts of time and dosh re­quired to re­build it again. It’s cer­tainly had two com­plete re­builds, and maybe three. And it ran beau­ti­fully after the last one. But I had a 1966 AJS 31 by then, and rode that ev­ery­where be­cause it was quicker, had bet­ter brakes, lights and steer­ing, and was more com­fort­able. What does it need? Prob­a­bly fresh fuel, fresh oils and a se­ri­ous clean-up of the mag­neto. It would then prob­a­bly rum­ble into re­laxed life. Prob­a­bly.

So should I ac­tu­ally part with it? Also with a few of the other long-ter­m­ers in there? I doubt that I’ll ac­tu­ally re­build them, and I se­ri­ously doubt that I’ll ride them again.

This slightly un­usual line of think­ing was prompted by rewrit­ing the price guide for an­other mag­a­zine, and wast­ing even more time than usual on look­ing at ev­ery ad for our kind of Brit bike I could find. And by stum­bling over a bike I’ve al­ways fan­cied at a re­cent Shep­ton Mal­let jum­ble. That was a Royal En­field In­ter­cep­tor Mk2, a bike I doubt I’d be able to start now, but a ma­chine I’ve al­ways fan­cied, not least be­cause I’ve rid­den sev­eral down the years and have al­ways been madly en­ter­tained by the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Parked next to the AJS is an­other Fifties twin, this time a Sun­beam. Once again, this

has been a com­pan­ion for quite a while – over twenty years in this case – and the last time it ran it ran su­perbly, not least be­cause Sean Hawker did an ex­cel­lent re­build of the dis­trib­u­tor, for which parts are ap­par­ently rare. Or they were rare then. This has also suf­fered from The Shed ef­fect, looks fairly ter­ri­ble, but is sound and very orig­i­nal. It even has orig­i­nal steel mud­guards – glass­fi­bre rarely rusts, so I’m told.

Snag is with both of th­ese gentle­men among mo­tor­cy­cles, I can’t see any place for them in my fu­ture rid­ing. I could re­build ei­ther or both of them, but to be hon­est and for no rea­son I can un­der­stand – never mind ex­plain – I don’t fancy that. So… is it time to take ad­van­tage of the newly de­sir­able ‘barn fresh’ con­cept? That pe­cu­liar no­tion that it’s per­fectly sound to buy a bike at maybe 25% less than its run­ning, on the road value, then spend 100% of that on the road value mak­ing it good, and then… and then, what?

A Face­book chum and RC reader bobbed his own Sun­beam S8, and suf­fered all man­ner of fes­tive on­line grum­bling for do­ing so – but in fact I can see a ter­ri­ble ap­peal in that. I’d not do it my­self, not to a com­plete and orig­i­nal ma­chine, but the thought of build­ing an­other special (it’s a very long time since I built my last one!) does have a con­sid­er­able ap­peal. Fancy this: build­ing a bike us­ing which­ever com­po­nents you fancy, rather than spend­ing hours, days, weeks scour­ing the ads and jum­bles look­ing for the left­handed 12mm knuckle washer fit­ted only to BSA unit sin­gles on two Fri­day af­ter­noons in June 1970 be­cause the parts bin ran out of 10mm wash­ers but they’re orig­i­nal, so…

Imag­ine think­ing that there are a lot more hand­some di­rec­tion in­di­ca­tor lights than the Lu­cas stalky va­ri­ety fit­ted to our end­lessly pro­jec­tile B25SS? And why worry about the

chrome on the mud­guard when paint looks just as good?

Speak­ing of the BSA – with al­most sin­cere apolo­gies to the let­ter-writer who’s bored with the whole thing – al­though I’ve made no progress at all in get­ting it to spark, there has been tiny progress of a sort. And yes, the front brake does still ap­pear to work. I’d half ex­pected it to lose all its new-found grip­py­ness mag­i­cally overnight … but it’s not done that. Yet.

I men­tioned that the Bet­ter Third ac­tu­ally owns the bike – hence its blind­ing shine and over-pol­ished look – and said fine sub­mersible lady de­cided that her BSA would look bet­ter with the smaller fuel tank. We have a spare of course, ac­quired from a fine fel­low named Van Tran many years ago and used as a hack slave tank since then. It was a pe­cu­liar psy­che­delic metal­lic yel­low shade, com­plete with flames (!) be­cause that was the way in the 1970s, but that was soon fixed, and the old tank is now ut­terly de­light­ful in ap­prox­i­mate BSA colours. Hur­rah.

Of course the orig­i­nal seat doesn’t fit with the smaller tank, be­ing de­signed for the larger UK tank the bike has borne with honour since 1971. So, mad im­petu­ous fool that I am, I bought a new seat. Not from any­one I know or have used be­fore, which would have been both log­i­cal and sen­si­ble, but from an on­line sup­plier. The seat ar­rived, weighs about 25% less than the orig­i­nal meaty Beezer item – not least be­cause its base is plas­tic not steel – and … would al­most cer­tainly fit if only it had the cor­rect bracket to grip the frame at the front. It doesn’t. It has a pair of bolts there to hold on the bracket, but bracket there is not.

Tele­phony. All very po­lite. They’ve never supplied the bracket be­cause the bracket from the orig­i­nal seat will fit. Ex­cept it can’t, be­cause it’s welded to the orig­i­nal seat base and cut­ting it off would de­stroy the orig­i­nal seat. Cue a happy hour re­search­ing oil-in-frame seats. I now know far too much about them…

Mut­ter and curse. Seat sup­plier of­fers a full re­fund. But I do not want a re­fund. I want a seat. With a bracket. Curse about this while sup­ping nerve-wast­ing, tooth-dis­solv­ing cof­fee with the guys at Ace Mosick­les down in Bude. Who sug­gest, in­no­cently, that I could sim­ply have a new bracket made up. Bet­ter yet, there’s a car fab­ri­ca­tor per­son next door, and…

Look at the pic­tures! New bracket fits! It does, too. That’s progress, that is. Who needs a run­ning engine when you’ve got a great new tank and a great new seat?

Flushed by this con­sid­er­able suc­cess, and con­fused be­yond de­scrip­tion by my ru­mi­na­tions upon project bikes, I have found a Triumph TR5T in bits at a lo­cal (ish, to some­one else) auc­tion, and I’d re­ally en­joy build­ing one of those, and…

A cou­ple of The Shed relics have been in the fam­ily for a long time. This old AJS, for ex­am­ple, has been around since 1978/79, has been com­pletely re­built at least twice, so is quite clearly ‘orig­i­nal and un­re­store­dun­re­stored’ and in huge de­mand...

Right: The newly-re­fin­ished fuel tank has per­formed ster­ling ser­vice as a handy-sized starter-up­per tank for many year. Here it is, start­ing up an ear­lier bout of Re­storer’s Op­ti­mism

Above: Back to the B25SS. The seat re­quires a lit­tle re­fur­bish­ment, and was about to get sent away for this. How­ever, when the Bet­ter Third produced a newly re­fur­bished fuel tank of a size and style she pre­ferred, it was plainly time to re­place the...

And so, fired with en­thu­si­asm to em­bark on a new ca­reer as a pur­veyor of shed finds, FW has de­cided to sell all the bikes which ac­tu­ally work and are good to ride. In­stead, he’s go­ing to de­vote his re­main­ing years to gazing at func­tion-free patina

Right: The orig­i­nal seat and its bracket. Ob­serve if you can the mys­te­ri­ously asym­met­ric seat nose. An un­kind per­son might sug­gest that BSA sim­ply took the longer seat from the more plen­ti­ful small-tank mod­els and chopped off the front

Above: Mean­while, while drag­ging out per­fectly fine mo­tor­cy­cles to sell them, FW un­cov­ered an­other rare de­light. It does seem faintly fa­mil­iar

Flushed with fail­ure in the B25SS dept, FW de­cided to cart the re­cal­ci­trant ruin to Ace Mosick­les, se­cretly in dead of night so no one would see him. Then he could claim Suc­cess! Un­hap­pily, when he dragged out the trailer from its rest­ing place, he...

In the tra­di­tion of one pic­ture be­ing worth a thou­sand words, it’s re­mark­able how a dose of ACF50 can al­ter a view of a bike!

FW is so en­am­oured of the whole ‘barn find’ no­tion that he’s think­ing of re­nam­ing this se­ries as Tales From The Barn. Here’s one now

One new seat, com­plete with one new bracket (thanks to all at Ace Mosick­les). Ob­serve the asym­met­ric fi­fi­fix­ing bolts. Plainly a great BSA tra­di­tion, car­ried on in their mem­ory

Left: Tanks and seats, old and new. The new tank is just rest­ing for the photo, so looks a lit­tle strange. The bike is go­ing to look rather bet­ter, says RH of this parish

Above: And the view from above is pos­i­tively invit­ing!

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