Classic Bike Guide
I have a bit of a soft spot for Birmingham-made Levis lightweights as my Granny used to own one and would tell of her times belting round the West End of London on one in her flapper dress in the 1920s. A picture of her exists on her Levis, with an unnamed dashing beau on his Norton.
Coming across a 211cc 1921 Baby Levis made me respect Granny all the more – the two-stroke engine had separate hand pump oiling and direct belt drive with no gears or clutch, just a decompressor. Current owner John Lay explained that the main challenge when riding the Levis is right-hand turns. You have to pull in the compressor to stop the engine if you have to come to a halt, then bump-start it to get it going again. This would, one supposes, have been easier to do when there were 1920s levels of traffic.
The original owner, a Mr Greening, bought the Levis new in 1921 from a garage in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, and kept it until 1969, when it was sold at an auction at Blenheim for £95. It then vanished from view until 1986 when a VMCC member, Mr Saint, swapped his Yamaha Virago for its remains in 10 cardboard boxes and restored it.
John still rides it, though as it has no crank oil seals, it needs a lot of winding up before the two-stroke oil provides enough of a seal to let the engine run. Ones it has started, he says, keeping it going is not a problem.
Levis, by the way, is Latin for ‘light’, as in ‘levity’. Levis stopped production at the start of the Second World War and made compressors for the military instead, never returning to motorcycle production, though there are current efforts to relaunch the brand with a V8 superbike.