SPE­CIAL­IST

If you han­ker af­ter the kind of bike shop that’s an en­dan­gered species – eclec­tic parts and para­pher­na­lia ar­ranged in or­gan­ised chaos by a sage in a blue ware­house coat – here it is

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: MICK DUCKWORTH. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: TIM KEETON

A ruddy good poke around Brian Ex­ton Mo­tor­cy­cles. They don’t make shops like this any more

You could de­scribe Brian Ex­ton as a dealer turned hoarder. In the bike trade for six decades, he has seen busi­ness steadily fall­ing off at his shop in a Not­ting­ham sub­urb. Yet it is packed with stock and he takes a philo­soph­i­cal view.

“I don’t know where all the mo­tor­bikes went,” he says. “At one time I was sell­ing up to seven a week and now I might have a whole day when I don’t sell a thing. But I don’t mind keep­ing a lot of the stuff I have here. I’m turn­ing 80 now and it’s just a hobby, re­ally.”

There is a lot of stuff. Clas­sics on of­fer when CB called at the shop in­cluded a re­stored 1967 500cc Tri­umph T100, a 1950 350cc Match­less, a part-re­stored 650cc BSA Golden Flash and a barn-find En­field In­dia.

None are dead-on orig­i­nal, but Brian firmly be­lieves bikes are for rid­ing rather than sim­ply col­lect­ing. He fondly re­mem­bers do­ing 100-mile Sun­day morn­ing runs on British bikes in his younger days. Not out of touch with cur­rent prices, he is look­ing for £6900 from a non-stan­dard but tidy pre-unit 650cc Tri­umph.

There are rows of shelves packed with parts, much of it ‘new old stock’. Some dates from the time of BSA fac­tory clear-outs, like Starfire crankshafts, head­lamp na­celles, Ban­tam cylin­der heads, A7 con­rods, C12 forks and a box of steer­ing damper knobs. There are more than 1000 valves for var­i­ous British clas­sics, loads of pis­tons and rings, Bur­man gear­box spares, Miller head­lamps and switches, mis­cel­la­neous Lu­cas and Wi­pac parts, Al­pha big-ends (many for Ve­lo­cettes) and even un­used acety­lene lamps. It’s the kind of slow­mov­ing stock that some­one, some­where may be just look­ing for.

“I used to do au­to­jum­bles,” Brian says. “Now I find them too much trou­ble; there’s all the load­ing and un­load­ing and if the weather’s poor you may not even cover your stall money. Stuff gets pinched from un­der your nose and there’s noth­ing you can do about it be­cause there’s no proper se­cu­rity.

“Ebay harms shops like this. Peo­ple are buy­ing stuff cheaper than I can get it. Some­times they will come in and say: ‘I bought this on ebay but there’s a bit miss­ing, have you got it?’ I am more of a con­ve­nience store these days.” Typ­i­cally, cus­tomers pop in for spark plugs, bulbs or odd bits needed for projects.

If you think Brian sounds grumpy and mis­er­able, you’d be wrong. It’s a friendly and quirky shop with an eclec­tic mix of bike and car parts along­side an­tiques, col­lectibles and gen­eral sal­vage that lend it spe­cial char­ac­ter. Things like vin­tage prams, film pro­jec­tors, reel-to-reel tape recorders, a gar­den statue and even an evening gown in a glass case from a stately home.

Brian buys mis­cel­la­neous ob­jects that take his fancy and trades col­lecta­bles with in­di­vid­u­als and deal­ers. But he’s not part­ing with his col­lec­tion of vin­tage foot­pumps, in­clud­ing one in its orig­i­nal wooden box. He

also trea­sures an an­cient ve­hi­cle lamp with a can­dle in­side and a vet­eran-pe­riod Mo­saire af­ter­mar­ket cold­start­ing de­vice for at­tach­ment to an in­let tract. In pride of place by the door is a rare Wooller flat-four en­gine, dat­ing from the 1950s. See­ing it ad­ver­tised sev­eral years ago, Brian bought it purely be­cause he is in­trigued by the enig­matic Wooller mar­que and likes hav­ing this cu­rios­ity on dis­play.

“It came with a gear­box that looks as though it takes a pro­pel­ler,” he says. “I read that Wooller were go­ing to sup­ply en­gines to the Air Min­istry for tar­get air­craft, which could ex­plain that.” It also came with a long, tapered fuel tank of the type fit­ted to the very few ohv flat-four shaft-drive mo­tor­cy­cles Wooller pro­duced.

Brian’s love of mo­tor­cy­cles be­gan when he was 11 and he ac­quired a side-valve Raleigh non-run­ner that had stood un­used dur­ing World War II. “I tin­kered about to get it go­ing and have been fas­ci­nated by mo­tor­bikes ever since,” he says. On leav­ing school he worked for lo­cal James dealer Ho­race Rogers, but opted to set up his own re­pair busi­ness and earned money to es­tab­lish it by work­ing at the coal­face in lo­cal pits. “Af­ter I fin­ished my shift I’d be re­pair­ing peo­ple’s bikes on a mud floor by the light of a Til­ley lamp – there was no elec­tric­ity,” he says. As he was a keen biker, his work­mates made jokes about Ge­off Duke, then a na­tional hero, and Brian’s nick­name has been Duke ever since.

He saved enough to set up Ex­ton Mo­tor Cy­cles in Coven­try Road, Bul­well, Not­ting­hamshire. It be­came a mecca for bik­ers, who ar­rived in force at week­ends. “We’d get droves of them in and on a Satur­day I of­ten would not get time to eat or drink un­til four o’clock. There would be gangs in from Le­ices­ter or Gran­tham and they’d roar up and down out­side, try­ing out dif­fer­ent [car­bu­ret­tor] jets. There was such a noise that the neigh­bours used to com­plain.

“In those days we had cof­fee bar cow­boys – in fact, I was one my­self. We used to hang out at cafés like the Pen­guin in Bul­well or the White Post (on the A614), although we got barred from there as they seemed to feel threat­ened by mo­tor­cy­clists. We’d go on runs to Skeggy [Skeg­ness] where the po­lice would be chas­ing round af­ter Mods and Rock­ers.”

Brian re­mem­bers trips to the Isle of Man TT, par­tic­u­larly the dis­com­fort of overnight sea cross­ings and the no­to­ri­ous tank-drain­ing rig­ma­role. “But I’ve never been much into rac­ing be­cause I don’t like to see bikes be­ing thrashed,” he laughs.

When his old shop was de­mol­ished as part of late1960s slum clear­ances, Brian built the present premises at a cor­ner lo­ca­tion not far away. It’s easy to miss and he ex­plains that more prom­i­nent sig­nage once in place was wrecked by stone-throw­ing kids.

“I took on a Yamaha deal­er­ship for sev­eral years but in the end I just couldn’t com­pete with the big­ger deal­ers, who were dis­count­ing heav­ily. A lot of my cus­tomers stuck with British bikes and that’s re­ally where my heart is.”

That is re­flected by his spares stock be­ing mostly for British bikes. Brian also car­ries parts such as brake lin­ings for ob­so­lete cars and a range of the usual work­shop sprays and reme­dies. His wife Rita died ten years ago, but he has sup­port from his daugh­ter Jane, who looks af­ter the of­fice work.

Bikes Brian has owned him­self in­clude the 650cc Tri­umph out­fit he used as the shop hack in the 1950s, a 350cc BSA Gold Star café racer, an Ariel Square Four and a Vin­cent Black Shadow bought from an­other Not­ting­ham dealer in 1967. A care­fully pre­served re­ceipt shows that it cost him £35.

‘IT’S A FRIENDLY, QUIRKY SHOP WITH AN ECLEC­TIC MIX OF PARTS AND GEN­ERAL SAL­VAGE’

Brian serv­ing one of the ‘cof­fee bar cow­boys’ that used to fre­quent his old shop

The shop was a mecca for mo­tor­cy­clists – from as far away as New Zealand!

ABOVE: Brian Ex­ton, happy amidst his im­pres­sive hoard

ABOVE: Brian’s Gold Star at the old shop, guarded by Shane

Below: Sets of pis­ton rings? Yeah, Brian has a few boxes in stock...

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