UP­STAIRS DOWN­STAIRS

Maid­stone Mo­to­liner serve the pub­lic as chas­sis straightening ex­perts – but above the shop they have their own pri­vate mu­seum

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS HUGO WIL­SON. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GARY MARGERUM

First-class frame straightening and en­vi­able pri­vate mu­seum – wel­come to Mo­to­liner

The three-man team at Maid­stone Mo­to­liner can’t get enough of mo­tor­cy­cles. Their day job in­volves sort­ing out chas­sis align­ment is­sues, mak­ing sure cus­tomers’ wheels are round, forks are true and frames are straight. That would dampen some peo­ple’s en­thu­si­asm for work­ing on their own projects af­ter hours – but not these chaps. They can of­ten be found do­ing ‘over­time’ – with some of it go­ing into the bikes in the won­der­fully di­verse pri­vate mu­seum above the work­shop.

Ray Palmer started the busi­ness in 1975 – he’s 76 now and still works two days a week, but he also fet­tles his own projects, cur­rently a sprinter pow­ered by a pre-war JAP sin­gle. Son Tommy is a for­mer British Grasstrack Cham­pion and speed­way rider who’s been work­ing with his dad since 1991; his work hours are spent true­ing frames for road riders and rac­ers in a Mo­to­liner jig, but in his own time he car­ries out metic­u­lous restora­tions, fo­cus­ing on Ital­ian lightweights.

Ge­orge Thomas is the grand­son of Ray’s orig­i­nal part­ner. His work spe­cial­ity is tak­ing dents out of al­loy wheels. Evenings are spent prep­ping his Yamaha TZ350, and week­ends are for rac­ing on the Yamaha, and a Dun­nell Nor­ton Manx in clas­sic rac­ing.

Now the in­tro­duc­tions are over, let’s have look around both lev­els...

DOWN­STAIRS

Maid­stone Mo­to­liner oc­cupy a typ­i­cal unit, on a typ­i­cal in­dus­trial es­tate in the south-east of Eng­land. They’re bike spe­cial­ists, but you won’t find com­plete mo­tor­cy­cles in the work­shop, though you will find a mas­sive va­ri­ety of chas­sis types – from the lat­est cast su­per­bike frames to pre-war lugged chas­sis, from steel tube to ex­truded al­loy. Amongst the chas­sis in for re­me­dial at­ten­tion dur­ing our visit were a cou­ple of Honda CB750S, a TZ Yamaha and a mod­i­fied rigid frame as well as more run-of-the-mill mod­ern stuff.

“The bikes come to us as a rolling chas­sis with the en­gine fit­ted,” ex­plains Tommy Palmer, who does most of the frame straightening work. Typ­i­cally a chas­sis takes a day to cor­rect, he says, “although if we’ve got to cut out and re­place frame tubes it might take longer”.

There’s al­ways plenty of work for the firm to do, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing a rau­cous race week­end. “Af­ter the last British Su­per­bike meet­ing we had 12 frames and 24 wheels to sort out. It keeps you busy,” says Tommy. Rac­ers make up a sig­nif­i­cant part of the clien­tele, and some go as far as hav­ing their brand new frames checked be­fore they even turn a wheel in anger.

The heart of the busi­ness is what gives it its name – two Swedish-made Mo­to­liner jigs dom­i­nate the work­shop floor. The rake and trail need to be checked with the bike’s wheels and forks fit­ted, so that hap­pens be­fore they are put into the jig. The front end can then be re­moved and the chas­sis put into the Mo­to­liner us­ing the swingarm pivot as the da­tum point around which ev­ery­thing else is mea­sured. That makes ac­cu­rate po­si­tion­ing of rigid frames a dif­fi­cult pro­ce­dure, although it can be done.

Screw fit­tings, with an as­sort­ment of dol­lies to suit ev­ery con­ceiv­able frame fit­ting, lock the bike into place and a mea­sur­ing gauge is bolted into the head­stock to check that the head­stock isn’t twisted. Then the back wheel is re­moved to check that the swingarm is true and both end plates are par­al­lel. The straightening process starts at the swingarm and works for­ward.

Ac­tu­ally straightening the frame in­volves us­ing hy­draulic rams ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing four tons of pres­sure. “They don’t seem to run out of power,” laughs Tommy. “Well, ex­cept on Har­leys – they don’t seem to be wor­ried about weight, so their frame tubes are re­ally heavy duty.” Head­stock bear­ings are pro­tected by fit­ting a large steel bar with bear­ing pro­tec­tors through the head­stock be­fore ap­ply­ing the pres­sure.

“Ob­vi­ously a long, un­sup­ported tube will bend more eas­ily than a shorter tube and you have to be re­ally care­ful around en­gine mounts to make sure noth­ing gets dam­aged.”

So how does he gauge how much pres­sure to ap­ply? “It’s down to ex­pe­ri­ence. You don’t just push it. You give it some pres­sure, take it past the point you want it to set­tle at, and then al­low it to set­tle.” Mostly the rec­ti­fi­ca­tion work is done cold, but in some cases a lit­tle heat helps the process. “There isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s just about ex­pe­ri­ence and what seems right for that case.”

‘THE HY­DRAULIC RAMS ARE CA­PA­BLE OF DE­LIV­ER­ING FOUR TONS OF PRES­SURE’

“There is a limit. We have to be happy that they’re safe. Ally frames are a bit more frag­ile, and when it’s gone too far you’ll feel it move too eas­ily. They be­come over-pli­able. We had a racer bring us the same frame a few times and even­tu­ally we had to tell him it was time for a new chas­sis.”

Ob­vi­ously the Mo­to­liner team will straighten forks, too. The force re­quired to bend forks or the frame is con­sid­er­able, and it’s likely dam­age to one will mean the other has also been af­fected. There­fore, if your forks are bent, you should re­ally get the frame checked and vice versa. Clas­sics now make up a con­sid­er­able part of Mo­to­liner’s busi­ness. In the past, peo­ple would search out a sec­ond­hand frame to re­place a bent orig­i­nal, but in­creas­ing scarcity and the de­sire for match­ing num­bers makes it worth hav­ing re­me­dial work done on a dam­aged frame these days. “You don’t know whether an old bike has been crashed once or ten times, so it’s worth get­ting them checked,” ob­serves Tommy. “Although of­ten with older bikes its about put­ting right re­pairs that were done badly years ago. We’ve got a Nor­ton At­las here now that’s come from the States – it’s a right mess.”

And ob­vi­ously you want to check them be­fore restora­tion, rather than dis­cov­er­ing that the wheels are out of line and the swingarm’s twisted af­ter you’ve had the frame painted. A ba­sic health check on the Mo­to­liner usu­ally costs around £100.

Worst cases? Tommy’s dad Ray Palmer in­ter­jects: “Peo­ple used to cut the top frame tubes on Honda 750s to get the en­gine out more eas­ily. That’s OK if you weld them back to­gether prop­erly, but we had one come in where the tube had just been glued back in place us­ing sil­i­cone. That was scary.”

Mo­to­liner are on 01622 790705 or go to mo­to­liner.com

UP­STAIRS

The up­stairs mu­seum houses a beau­ti­fully eclec­tic col­lec­tion that cur­rently stands at 24 bikes. It’s one of the most in­ter­est­ing ac­cu­mu­la­tions of clas­sics you’re ever likely to find – although it’s not open to the gen­eral pub­lic, Clas­sic Bike was lucky enough to re­ceive a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion to climb the stairs for a good old nose around.

Both Tommy and his father have some­thing of a pen­chant for Ital­ian lightweights, which ex­plains why there are four ex­quis­ite 50cc rac­ers in the col­lec­tion. The father and son’s ex­pe­ri­ence has led to some grasstrack and speed­way bikes mak­ing their way in there, too – in­clud­ing two spe­cials which were built by Ray in the ’60s and ’70s.

Snug­gled along­side are a Bultaco TSS125 racer from the ’60s that was bought lo­cally, an Aprilia RS250 road bike, an air­cooled Husq­varna en­duro ma­chine and a Fran­cis-bar­nett scram­bler. And a bunch of other fas­ci­nat­ing stuff, too...

▼BIG HIS­TORY 1962 POPE SPE­CIAL

Ray Palmer has a long his­tory with the Pope Spe­cial, dat­ing back to be­fore he bought it in the late ’60s. “The Pope broth­ers were en­gi­neers from Dart­ford,” ex­plains Ray. “They helped me with my grasstrack bikes and I used to test this bike for them at Brands Hatch dur­ing Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon test ses­sions. I was work­ing as a car­pen­ter and I’d skive off work to go to Brands. If it went faster with me on it, then it was def­i­nitely go­ing to go faster with Alan Daw­son who raced it for them.” Orig­i­nally based on a Demm Dik Dik sports moped from the late ’50s, the Pope Spe­cial evolved and was later fit­ted with an Itom en­gine. Tun­ing mods in­cluded a home­made car­bu­ret­tor. The bike’s race ca­reer ended in the mid-’60s and Ray saved it.

▼LAT­EST RESTORA­TION 1958 MV AGUSTA AB 175

The most re­cently com­pleted restora­tion is a sweet over­head-valve 175 that came from an Imola au­to­jum­ble. The process of turn­ing it from rusty wreck to bet­ter-than-show­room shine took three years. The paint­work was done by a friend: “He’s a car sprayer – he al­ways talks him­self down and says the job’s not very good, but it’s al­ways per­fect.” How does it go? “I don’t re­ally know,” says the for­mer British Grasstrack Cham­pion. “I haven’t got a bike li­cence.”

▼RAY’S SPE­CIAL 1960s ARIEL GRASS-TRACKER

Ray started rac­ing grasstrack in the early ’60s on a Match­less, and later an MV Agusta 175. He built this Ariel Ar­row-pow­ered spe­cial us­ing an en­gine tuned by Chris Pope.

“It’s made from air­craft-qual­ity drawn tube,” says Ray. “In the ’60s there was a place that’d sell you all you could carry for a quid.” The fuel tank is in the top tube and the ex­pan­sion cham­bers are part of the frame too, with header pipes run­ning up from the en­gine. The forks are Metal Pro­file with rub­ber band springs.

“I used the Ariel en­gine be­cause I couldn’t af­ford a four-stroke,” ad­mits Ray. “And back then you had those rub­bish cast-iron pis­ton rings, so it was al­ways a strug­gle. If I was do­ing it now, I’d make a 360° crank­shaft so that both pis­tons fired at the same time. That way you’d get more trac­tion and shut­ting the throt­tle would give some en­gine brak­ing, too.”

It’s not Ray’s only grasstrack spe­cial. He later built a four-stroke 250 us­ing a Honda top end fit­ted to Wes­lake crankcases. It was Tommy’s first race bike (sec­ond from right, bot­tom row on p51). “He’s the rider, I’m more of a span­ner man.”

V NOT JUST ITAL­IANS 1988 HONDA RS125

There aren’t many Ja­pa­nese bikes up­stairs, but two tightly pack­aged Honda RS125 pro­duc­tion rac­ers are log­i­cal com­pany for the older 50cc rac­ers. There is one 1990 bike with cast wheels, and this 1988 bike with spokes. “They were im­ports from Ja­pan that we bought from a friend,” ex­plains Tommy. “We might clean them up a bit and re-do the paint­work, but they don’t re­ally need restora­tion. We only buy bikes that we like, but my dad reck­ons these will be a good in­vest­ment, too. If the val­ues go up a bit, we might sell one and use the money to buy some­thing else. Quite a few of the bikes that we buy come from cus­tomers, or through the grapevine lo­cally. Some­one will say: ‘Oh, I’ve got a such and such...’ and you think: ‘Oh, that’d be nice,’ and you end up buy­ing it.”

UP­STAIRS: 50cc rac­ers and speed­way bikes re­flect Ray and Tommy’s rac­ing pas­sions

DOWN­STAIRS: Cus­tomer Honda CB750, pre­pared to have some pres­sure ap­plied

TOP LEFT: Ray Palmer Started the busi­ness in 1975

ABOVE: Tommy Palmer Straightening bike frames since 1991

LEFT: Ge­orge Thomas Grand­son of Ray’s orig­i­nal part­ner

Mo­to­liner jig can be ad­justed to fit any bike

The work­shop has a mas­sive choice of man­drels, dol­lies and fit­tings to suit all ap­pli­ca­tions

Car is taken to pro­tect the bear­ing faces be­fore force is ap­plied

One of the hy­draulic rams be­ing used to ex­ert pres­sure on a fork leg

The true­ing guide points to a twisted head­stock on this frame

Typ­i­cal frame re­pair. A mashed footrest mount is cut away and re­fit­ted

A di­verse range of frames in the queue, wait­ing their turn for at­ten­tion

BELOW: Ray used to test the Pope Spe­cial and was its saviour af­ter its race ca­reer ended

BELOW: Be­hind the MV, there’s a Par­illa, a Capri­olo and (on the shelf) a Du­cati 50

BELOW: Large­di­am­e­ter spine tube holds fuel, and the ex­hausts are part of the frame

Ex-frank Sheene Duc­son be­longs to Ray’s pal Paul Smart

1958 Maserati 50cc racer was orig­i­nally sold in Lon­don

Ci­matti kid’s bike is an un­re­stored Ital­ian au­to­jum­ble find

Itom Mk8 was the most pop­u­lar 50cc racer in the ’60s

Wa­ter-cooled Bultaco TSS125 has TT rac­ing his­tory

ABOVE: Ex­haust pipe ex­its down the frame tube

ABOVE: Ge­orge with one of the two Honda RS125 pro­duc­tion rac­ers in the col­lec­tion

BELOW: 1958 Fran­cis -Bar­nett 250 scram­bler fea­tures AMC’S own twostroke en­gine

An­other Maserati – they love their Ital­ian tid­dlers

Ital­ian au­to­jum­bles don’t just sell bikes and spares

Par­illa two-stroke is next in line for restora­tion...

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