What did Pip do to keep his early steeds on two wheels?
After a visit to Dave Lord’s palace of welding excellence I happened to miss my turn off and ended up riding around sunny Radcliffe, a gathering of dwellings betwixt Bolton and Bury.
Rounding one unfeasibly tight turn I was transported back over 50 years to a journey me and my late brother Bill frequently took, mainly on a Saturday morn, not to a mate’s or even a bike shop, but to a scrapyard at a place called Pimhole near Bury. The yard was littered with old bikes and Alsatians, the bikes had little value, no Triumphs or Gold Stars, mainly old crap. But this meant that we could rummage and tussle among twisted piles of junk in peace and with luck, we’d find an old magneto or a precious brake plate. The cost of the booty was generally in the order of five bob, that’s 25 pence in today’s coinage! I suppose that our mode of transport set the tone for the level of disposable income at hand, generally we’d be on our joint-owned 1948 350 AJS, rigid frame, no lights, heart like a lion. The friendship, if anybody can ever actually be friends with a tattooed, one-handed scrap yard owner had evolved over time. We never nicked anything: even screws, old brackets and bits of petrol pipe were declared in full at the ‘checkout’. Bearing in mind that the Ajay cost me a full four quid you’d be hard pressed to find either of us with paper money in our mucky mits; cash wasn’t exactly plentiful back then. When I was 15 I was rebuilding my Ariel Arrow (actually a Leader but don’t tell anyone) and after poking and prodding around in the gearbox I needed some oil to replace the goop that I’d previously extracted with one of my mum’s tea spoons. I pedalled up to the Bridgewater Garage up the road and asked if I could take a box full of empty oil tins. I toted the box back home and set about draining the remnant BP Visco Static into strategically placed jam jars. A day or two later I had a jug of lovely new (who knows what grad) oil for free! So we rode a bike that wasn’t fast but it had suspension, well 50% of it did. We spent an inordinate amount of time modifying stuff to keep it ticking along (our tools were mainly old pushbike spanners and various pliers, screwdrivers etc. that we either made or found). Making a new seat bracket took me about a week; if you look at our drill (left) you can see why making holes took some time. Once, we adapted a pushbike dynamo to run on the side of the front tyre. We had to restrict speed to about thirty mph, above this pace and the lights attained a fierce brilliance: bulbs were required on a regular basis. One event which is a little hazy (ha) left us with a constant plume of smoke trailing behind, I vaguely remember that somebody had ‘helped’ us by removing the top-end of the motor to attend to the valves, why, I have no idea, but after that it smoked like a fish. A couple of days later we stripped it down and everything looked fine, no broken rings, piston intact, but when we re-installed the cylinder Bill noticed that the top land of the piston was hard up against the side of the cylinder, uh? What? More inspection required, off wi’ the cylinder again and we found a snug fitting bar to go through the small-end of the con-rod. Oh dear, it was plain to see that the rod was bent! Not good. After much measuring and a bit of finger pointing we decided to straighten it out, we bolted a piece of tube through the small-end eye fitted over a spare gudgeon pin, then with a snug piece of gas pipe about four feet long over the aforesaid tube and a couple of strategically placed lumps of wood proceeded to tweak the rod back into its correct shape (straight!) Being really careful not to hike it too much, it took about five minutes to restore the rod to its proper relationship with piston, crank and, most important, cylinder. With the barrel fitted the piston could be shuffled back and forth with equanimity, job done and the Ajay quit its habit, no more smoking!
BELOW: A ‘nice’ Ajay!
From the days before Makita was a thing, this is how we used to drill holes in stuff, good eh?
Ahhh the Ariel!