The Thing

Classic Trial - - MICRO MACHINE BSA BANTAM - Words: John Hulme, Mick Bow­ers and Don Morley • Pic­tures: Don Morley, Brian Holder, Eric Kitchen, Mal­colm Car­ling, Alan Vines, Mick Whit­lock, BSA and Joyce Hulme

In the last is­sue of Clas­sic Trial Mag­a­zine, we had a close look at the 1967 Scot­tish Six Days Trial which Sammy Miller won on the 250 Bultaco. In sec­ond place was Dave Row­lands on the ‘Mi­cro Ma­chine’ 175 BSA Ban­tam, which was chris­tened ‘The Thing’. An af­fec­tion­ate Bri­tish pub­lic, know­ing that the once proud mo­tor­cy­cling man­u­fac­tur­ing mar­ket lead­ers in Great Bri­tain were in de­cline, loved the David and Go­liath sce­nario. The Span­ish Ar­mada in the tri­als world had started with Bultaco be­fore Ossa and Montesa joined forces to even­tu­ally be­come the mar­ket lead­ers af­ter Miller moved to Bultaco in 1965. Row­lands worked won­ders on the BSA Ban­tam in the face of some hefty and es­tab­lished op­po­si­tion on well-de­vel­oped and very com­pet­i­tive machin­ery, and his sec­ond place at the ‘Scot­tish’ is still fondly re­mem­bered. The 1967 ar­ti­cle at­tracted so much in­ter­est that we de­cided to find out a lit­tle more about the ‘Thing’. Don Morley’s su­perb book ti­tled Clas­sic Bri­tish Two-Stroke

Tri­als Bikes from 1987 was an ex­cel­lent source of in­for­ma­tion, but we wanted to know more. A good friend of my fa­ther, Ron, was Mick Bow­ers, who had worked in the BSA Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment. Mick’s late fa­ther Eric had, in fact, re­ceived the very first BSA Ban­tam off the pro­duc­tion line, the D1 125 in 1948 at his motorcycle deal­er­ship in Chapel-en-le Frith. I had a few hours with Mick, or ‘Bon­key’ as he is bet­ter known, which proved in­valu­able in the gen­er­a­tion of the ar­ti­cle.

John Hulme: “The BSA Ban­tam was the first tri­als ma­chine that my fa­ther gave me. It was the pre-Yamaha TY 80/175 era where ev­ery­one had a ‘Ban­tam’. Fa­mous names in­clude world mo­tocross cham­pi­ons Gra­ham Noyce and Neil Hud­son, to name a few. Mine was a D1 with the 125cc en­gine with the ‘Plunger’ rear sus­pen­sion. I can still re­mem­ber the day my fa­ther fit­ted a ‘Knob­bly’ rear tyre, it felt like a lot­tery win!”


Be­fore we start the story of the ‘Thing’ we take a brief time travel jour­ney to look at the his­tory of the ma­chine. The BSA Ban­tam was pro­duced be­tween 1948 and 1971 by Birm­ing­ham Small Arms Com­pany. It was a two-stroke sin­gle cylin­der air-cooled unit con­struc­tion motorcycle first in­tro­duced as a 125cc be­fore hav­ing its cylin­der ca­pac­ity in­creased to 175cc. It is es­ti­mated that well over 400,000 mod­els were pro­duced. Con­sid­ered by many to be a typ­i­cally ‘Bri­tish’ motorcycle it was based on the Ger­man man­u­fac­tured DKW RT 125.

Pro­duc­tion was started in 1948 as a very de­pressed post-war Great Bri­tain des­per­ately needed a motorcycle that was cheap to pro­duce and at­tract the work­ing class pub­lic as an af­ford­able form of trans­port. The main dif­fer­ence from the orig­i­nal DKW de­sign was the right-side gear change lever. The BSA Ban­tam was very much a ‘replica’ of the DKW, pro­duced with im­pe­rial mea­sure­ments and the con­for­ma­tive right-hand side gear change as it went into pro­duc­tion in early 1948.

The first pro­duc­tion Ban­tam model was the D1, which rolled of the Birm­ing­ham pro­duc­tion line in October 1948. De­spite hav­ing a rigid rear end, the front sus­pen­sion was tele­scopic and fea­tured a ‘Shovel’ front mud­guard with a ‘Fish­tail’ ex­haust si­lencer. One colour was avail­able: Mist Green and the price to pur­chase the ma­chine would be £60 plus tax.

Over the years the ma­chine would go through many model changes but the unit con­struc­tion, where the en­gine and gear­box are pro­duced as one piece, re­mained pretty much the same for its 25 years of pro­duc­tion. Sport­ing a ca­st­iron cylin­der bar­rel with an alu­minium cylin­der head the sim­ple two-stroke

en­gine was air-cooled. Ini­tially, the gear­box fea­tured three gears with the power fed through a wet-type clutch be­fore the later mod­els moved to four gears. Two dif­fer­ent types of ig­ni­tion were used. One was a Lu­cas bat­tery pow­ered coil used in the ear­lier mod­els or as a mag­neto type from Wi­pac. The mag­neto sys­tem was part of a com­pos­ite as­sem­bly sit­ting within the fly­wheel, which was fit­ted with mag­net in­serts. The wind­ings gave power, ei­ther di­rectly to the lights with a dry cell when the en­gine was stopped, or through a rec­ti­fier into a lead acid bat­tery. Early pro­duc­tion mod­els were fit­ted with the dis­tinc­tive ‘fish­tail’ ex­haust si­lencers be­fore a more con­ven­tional cylin­dri­cal type of si­lencer was de­vel­oped and fit­ted to fu­ture mod­els.

It’s worth not­ing that the larger ca­pac­ity ‘B’ se­ries mod­els helped to make BSA the largest motorcycle man­u­fac­turer in the world at the time. The en­gine sizes were nom­i­nal, as Bri­tish man­u­fac­tured mo­tor­cy­cles were gen­er­ally made around 1cc or 3cc smaller than their tax bracket max­i­mum to al­low for re-bores and gen­eral wear.

Over the fol­low­ing years, many other mod­els would su­per­sede the D1. We have doc­u­mented as the best we can the BSA Ban­tam mod­els dur­ing its pro­duc­tion years. We feel this is im­por­tant as the ma­chine be­comes so much more prom­i­nent in the Pre-65 tri­als scene.

Mod­els and Changes

D1: The 125cc D1 had first been pro­duced with the rigid rear end, but within three years the model range was ex­tended to in­clude an op­tional ‘plunger’ type of rear sus­pen­sion. It’s quite strange to imag­ine in the mod­ern world, but the front tele­scopic sus­pen­sion fea­tured no damp­ing, giv­ing a very un­easy feel at the front. Var­i­ous op­tions of elec­tri­cal light­ing sys­tems were avail­able us­ing Wi­pac and Lu­cas sys­tems. The D1 model was avail­able un­til 1963 to the gen­eral pub­lic but for the GPO — Gen­eral Post Of­fice — ma­chines were pro­duced up un­til 1965.

D3 MA­JOR: Next along was the D3 Ma­jor, which rep­re­sented the first ma­jor changes since the Ban­tam model in­tro­duc­tion. Re­leased for sale in late 1953 it had an in­creased en­gine ca­pac­ity to 150cc and had a more mod­ern (and quite a nov­elty at the time) foam-filled seat fit­ted as stan­dard, re­plac­ing the very agri­cul­tural in­di­vid­ual sprung rub­ber seat. The front sus­pen­sion was im­proved, but the ma­jor change was the move to the cylin­der ca­pac­ity to 150cc. This

was achieved with a new en­larged cylin­der with dis­tinc­tive larger ther­mal cool­ing fins. The post-1953 D1 mod­els in­her­ited these dis­tinc­tive larger ther­mal cool­ing fins but re­tained their 125cc ca­pac­ity. This D3 model was pro­duced up un­til 1957.

D5 SU­PER: This D5 model was only pro­duced dur­ing 1958.Fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the D3 swing­ing arm model had been car­ried out, and these were in­cor­po­rated in the D5 Su­per model. It had a sim­i­lar frame to the D3 Ma­jor, but with a length­ened rear sec­tion that gave more up­right mount­ing points for the rear sus­pen­sion. A more rounded style of fuel tank was fit­ted to en­hance its looks. The en­gine ca­pac­ity was fur­ther in­creased to 175cc.

D7 SU­PER: In­tro­duced for the 1959 sales year it had a sim­i­lar 175cc en­gine to the D5 but had an en­tirely new swing­ing-arm and frame. The hy­drauli­cally damped forks had seen much de­vel­op­ment work car­ried out on them as they made much-needed im­prove­ments to the front and rear sus­pen­sion. Pro­duc­tion of the D7 model con­tin­ued un­til 1966, but it had three dif­fer­ent styles of fuel tank fit­ted as up­dates along the way. Other changes made were to the Wi­pac pow­ered elec­tri­cal sys­tem which in­cluded a change to bat­tery pow­ered ex­ter­nal coil ig­ni­tion.

D10 SUPREME: On the agenda at BSA was to give the Ban­tams new D10 model more power, which was achieved with some changes to the cylin­der bar­rel port­ing. Changes were also car­ried out on the elec­tri­cal sys­tem, which was fur­ther re­vised with a new type of Wi­pac al­ter­na­tor and ro­tor. The elec­tri­cal con­tact points were moved from the near­side to a sep­a­rate hous­ing in the pri­mary drive cover on the off­side. There were two other mod­els of­fered in this model range which came with a new gear­box with four gears, a high-level ex­haust and im­proved front forks. The first model was the Sports one with, amongst other small changes, chrome mud­guards. The sec­ond model was the Bush­man, aimed at the grow­ing

ex­port mar­ket. It had 19” wheels and a mod­i­fied frame to in­crease the ground clear­ance. Pro­duc­tion of the D10 would fin­ish at the end of 1967.

D14/4 SUPREME: This was very sim­i­lar to the D10 and in­tro­duced as a 1968 year model. The gear­box with its four gears was fit­ted to all the model range, with the power once again in­creased. The two mod­els the Sports and Bush­man in the range also in­her­ited heav­ier and more durable front forks.

D175/B175: BSA was now slowly ac­knowl­edg­ing the prob­lems which would bring their even­tual down­fall, and the D175 model which was also known as the B175 had only mi­nor changes made from the D14/4 model. Avail­abil­ity of the Sports model ceased. The cylin­der head had the off-set spark plug po­si­tion made ver­ti­cal, a slightly lower com­pres­sion ra­tio was used, and the kick-start shaft was strength­ened. Stur­dier C15 model front forks were also fit­ted. This fi­nal BSA Ban­tam model was pro­duced from 1969 to 1971, but re­main­ing stocks were still be­ing sold as late as 1973. The off-road Bush­man ver­sion was avail­able as an ex­port model for the grow­ing African and Aus­tralian mar­kets, but 300 were sold in the UK. All the UK Bush­man mod­els car­ried the en­gine num­ber pre­fix BB.

Ban­tams in Com­pe­ti­tion

Wind the clock back to Great Bri­tain in 1949 when the world was in recovery from the Sec­ond World War. Much needed man­u­fac­tur­ing would bring pros­per­ity and in par­tic­u­lar in the motorcycle sec­tor. The pres­ti­gious In­ter­na­tional Six Days Trial was to be held in Wales and BSA in­tended to use the oc­ca­sion to bring all its global im­porters to the event to im­press them with their sport­ing prow­ess. In an ef­fort to win in all the classes: 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc leg­endary rider Bill Ni­chol­son was given the job of pro­duc­ing a hand­ful of BSA Ban­tams ca­pa­ble of win­ning the 125cc class. As it hap­pened, they were beaten by an­other Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cling man­u­fac­turer DOT, but many spec­ta­tors and motorcycle trade rep­re­sen­ta­tives had been im­pressed by the ef­forts of the BSA team. The ‘Tri­als’ mod­els had lower gear­ing achieved with a big­ger rear sprocket, a rub­ber buf­fer in­side the front forks, raised mud­guards and some changes to the en­gines com­pres­sion. John Draper tested the ma­chine and two unof­fi­cial mod­els were loaned out for the 1949 SSDT but nei­ther of them fin­ished! At the yearend motorcycle show, BSA an­nounced a tri­als replica would be on sale in 1950. The D1 Com­pe­ti­tion Ban­tam was ba­si­cally a con­verted road­ster and achieved lit­tle suc­cess but be­came very pop­u­lar with fe­male rid­ers by virtue of its light weight.

The first ma­jor changes came in 1954 as the D3 model had its cylin­der bored out to 150cc. With the larger en­gine avail­able the fac­tory en­tered John Draper in the 1956 SSDT, and he won the pres­ti­gious 150cc Cup much to the board­room’s de­light. But in an amaz­ing turn of events, the project was aban­doned. One of the top lady rid­ers at the time, Olga Keve­los, pur­chased the ex-Draper ma­chine and com­peted on it in 1957 and 1958. De­spite Draper’s class win in 1956 the board of di­rec­tors had not seen the ob­vi­ous and did noth­ing to pro­mote the two-stroke suc­cess, de­spite the fact that Villiers’ pow­ered machin­ery was be­ing de­vel­oped into suc­cess­ful tri­als mo­tor­cy­cles. With very small sales, the project was parked up.

Bush­man Tri­als

BSA Com­pe­ti­tion Man­ager Brian Martin was a very well-re­spected in­dus­try player and also a good off-road rider. He had wit­nessed at first hand the BSA suc­cess of his pre­de­ces­sor Tom El­lis with the four-stroke ma­chines and knew that he needed a twostroke an­swer to chal­lenge the on­slaught of Span­ish ma­chines. In an at­tempt to chal­lenge the in­va­sion of suc­cess from Spain he per­son­ally built and de­vel­oped a new 173cc BSA Ban­tam as a semi-of­fi­cial project, which he fin­ished in De­cem­ber 1966. He took a stan­dard pro­duc­tion road­ster Bush­man model and re­placed the front forks with those from a C15 tri­als model. An­other log­i­cal choice was the Ban­tam-type wheels and hubs; front 21” and rear 18” from the C15. A stan­dard Bush­man model would not ac­com­mo­date the wide 4” tri­als tyre into the swing­ing arm, and so a Tri­umph Tiger Cub tri­als-model hub was used. To re­duce width and bulk a ‘Peco’ car-type si­lencer was used, as was a ‘Vic­tor’ mo­tocross alu­minium style fuel tank and air-fil­ter hous­ing, and a hand­made cranked kick-start lever. The ma­jor­ity of the other cy­cle parts had been taken from the BSA-Tri­umph pro­duc­tion line. The ex­cep­tion was a one-off set of spe­cially cut, wide ra­tio, four-speed gears for tri­als use at 35:1, 26.6:1; 14.6:1 and 10.25:1.

First rid­ing im­pres­sions were very promis­ing, and Martin won the class awards in the sea­son’s open­ing Na­tional Col­more and St David’s tri­als. The fac­tory was look­ing for suc­cess, and the tri­als project at­tracted their in­ter­est. The board of di­rec­tors sanc­tioned the trans­fer of Brian’s twostroke ori­en­tated brother Michael to the project. A pre­vi­ous works tri­als rider for Fran­cis Bar­nett, he worked in the BSA en­gine plant based at Red­ditch. An­other en­gi­neer in the plant was Mick Mills, who was also moved to the project as his skills with the two-stroke en­gines were sec­ond to none. The project would be code named RED af­ter Red­ditch.

Works Ban­tams

A de­ci­sion was made to pre­pare and en­ter as BSA en­tries four ‘works’ Ban­tams. One would have an en­gine dis­place­ment of 148cc to make it el­i­gi­ble for the 150cc Cup, to be rid­den by Dave Langston, with Mick Bow­ers, Alan More­wood and Dave Row­lands on the 173cc ma­chines. Engi­neer­ing re­ports were pre­pared by the Martin broth­ers. The ma­chines were a com­bined op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing the three Michaels; Martin, Mills and Bow­ers, who also worked at BSA. The clutch ad­just­ment was moved to the right­hand side, and gear­box pin­ions were fit­ted with a mod­i­fied tooth form to pre­vent break­ages.

Af­ter much ex­per­i­ment­ing with cylin­der bar­rel port­ing the con­clu­sion was that the best one was the stan­dard ver­sion. Ex­haust lengths were played with to im­prove per­for­mance, and the en­gines were mildly tuned by an in­crease in the com­pres­sion ra­tio. Dave Row­lands was un­der the im­pres­sion he would be rid­ing a newly pre­pared ma­chine, but on his ar­rival at BSA, a few days be­fore the event was shocked to find he would be rid­ing the pile of bits in the cor­ner! This would be chris­tened the ‘Thing’. With the event a few days away he raided the pro­duc­tion line for some new parts and loaded the ‘Thing’ into his car, ask­ing him­self the ques­tion of his ‘Works’ rider sta­tus! His good friend and motorcycle me­chanic Bob Ly­di­att worked at Cartwright’s Mo­tor­cy­cles in Stock­port, where much mid­night oil was burned turn­ing the ma­chine into a motorcycle fit for the Scot­tish Six Days Trial.

When he ar­rived in Ed­in­burgh for the start of the ‘Scot­tish’ his ri­vals very much laughed off the idea of him sur­viv­ing six days with the ma­chine. Bow­ers had pre­pared what was, in re­al­ity, his own ma­chine, with the works mod­i­fi­ca­tions car­ried out by him­self, in­clud­ing the fit­ting of heav­ily dis­guised Bultaco front forks. Rid­ing just two num­bers be­hind Row­lands, it was Bow­ers with his me­chan­i­cal skill that was given the task of keep­ing his eyes on his team-mate’s ma­chine. Reg­is­tra­tion num­bers were: Dave Row­lands JON 473E — Its code name was RED T1, Dave Langston HOK 496D, Mick Bow­ers ONU 324D and Alan More­wood YNB 173. As it turned out the four ma­chines all per­formed well apart from the 148cc rid­den by Dave Langston, who had prob­lems with en­gine seizures and had to change the main car­bu­ret­tor jet each time he had to re­turn to road work be­tween sec­tions. He came sec­ond in the up-to-150cc class be­hind Peter Gaunt and his ‘Mi­cro’ Suzuki.

Work­ing won­ders all week, the crowd got be­hind Row­lands on his way to an in­cred­i­ble 2nd po­si­tion with Mick Bow­ers 18th, Alan More­wood 42nd and Dave Langston (BSA) in 43rd, all tak­ing Spe­cial First Class awards.

Heads in the Sand

With these en­cour­ag­ing re­sults, the time was right for BSA to launch a pro­duc­tion Ban­tam tri­als model as Row­lands con­tin­ued the suc­cess by win­ning the Mitchell and Al­lan Jef­feries tri­als. They did the com­plete op­po­site when the board of di­rec­tors once again made a de­ci­sion with their heads buried in the sand and with­drew all works sup­port for the tri­als team! The BSA Ban­tam project was po­ten­tially the cheap­est worth­while pro­duc­tion tri­als ma­chine ever, and they pulled the plug. In a show of de­fi­ance Mick Bow­ers car­ried out more mod­i­fi­ca­tions to his own ma­chine, and the suc­cess con­tin­ued as he won class awards in many na­tion­als and the 151cc–200cc Cup in the 1968 SSDT on what was ba­si­cally his ma­chine.

At the time Brian Martin con­ceded de­feat with the project, but he knew the huge hole in the BSA fi­nances would not be filled by the sale of a pro­posed pro­duc­tion run of 500 tri­als mod­els. A real hon­est man, Martin passed on his ex­pe­ri­ence to the top tri­als deal­ers Comer­fords of Thames Dit­ton in Sur­rey.

In Novem­ber 1967 they an­nounced plans to build a run of 50 Ban­tam ‘Works’ repli­cas. BSA stopped this happening by drop­ping the en­tire Ban­tam and Bush­man mod­els from its ma­chine range. Just one ma­chine was built and the project shelved.

Dave Row­land, 1967 Scot­tish Six Days Trial. Pro­duc­tion was started in 1948 as a very de­pressed post-war Great Bri­tain des­per­ately needed a motorcycle that was cheap to pro­duce and at­tract the work­ing class pub­lic as an af­ford­able form of trans­port.

Leg­endary rider Bill Ni­chol­son was given the job of pro­duc­ing a hand­ful of BSA tri­als Ban­tams. This is one of them.

One of the top lady rid­ers at the time, Olga Keve­los, pur­chased the ex-Draper ma­chine and com­peted on it in 1957 and 1958.

The 1966–1967 model fea­tured a swing­ing arm, and the en­gine size was in­creased to 175cc.

1967 SSDT: Em­ployed at BSA as a De­vel­op­ment En­gi­neer, Mick Bow­ers was given the task of mak­ing sure both he and Dave Row­land’s ma­chines made it to the end of the event.

Be­fore re­ceiv­ing the ‘Thing’ Dave Row­land had achieved much suc­cess on four-stroke machin­ery with BSA. This pic­ture is from the 1966 Kick­ham trial.

1967 SSDT: The smile on Dave Row­land’s face at the end of the six days would be even big­ger as he took the run­ner-up po­si­tion.

Brian Martin on the early BSA Ban­tam tri­als pro­to­type in the 1967 Col­more Cup trial.

As the late six­ties rolled in to the seven­ties many young rid­ers had a BSA Ban­tam, in­clud­ing Clas­sic Trial Mag­a­zine edi­tor John Hulme seen here on the left with his brother Alan and friend John Fletcher.

1967 SSDT: As it turned out, the four ma­chines all per­formed well apart from the 148cc rid­den by Dave Langston, who had prob­lems with en­gine seizures; he had to change the main car­bu­ret­tor jet each time he had to re­turn to road work be­tween sec­tions....

Mick Bow­ers is just about to get his feet down on Hollinsclough in the 1968 Bem­rose Trial on the BSA Ban­tam.

Based down near Portsmouth, motorcycle dealer Bob Goll­ner was one of many peo­ple who be­lieved the BSA Ban­tam was the tri­als ma­chine of the fu­ture. Easy to ride and main­tain, he pro­duced a small batch of Goll­ner BSA Ban­tams. The event is the 1968 Perce...

Test­ing his own ma­chine is Mick Whit­lock.

Doug Theobald rode this BSA Ban­tam he de­vel­oped along with his good friend and BSA works mo­tocross rider at the time John Banks. Look­ing a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive he edges the ma­chine down the rocks in the 1970 John Dou­glas trial.

A BSA man through and though, Jeff Smith won the 500cc Mo­tocross World Cham­pi­onship in 1964 and 1965. He was also a top rider in tri­als win­ning two Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship ti­tles, the Scot­tish Six Days and Scott Tri­als, and many other Na­tion­als. Af­ter his...

Mick Whit­lock pro­duced this one-off BSA Ban­tam tri­als ma­chine, which was full of in­no­va­tion in­clud­ing us­ing the front down­tube of the frame as part of the ex­haust sys­tem.

Mick Bow­ers con­tin­ued with his BSA Ban­tam un­til 1971, seen here on Pipe­line in the Scot­tish Six Days Trial, when he left the ail­ing motorcycle man­u­fac­turer. The Ross Win­wood alu­minium framed BSA Ban­tam. It could so eas­ily have been the best-sell­ing...

“Does any­body know how mo­tocross rider Dick Clay­ton ac­quired his BSA Ban­tam?” is a ques­tion we are asked so many times. This pic­ture is from the North­ern Ex­perts.

Bem­rose 1971: An­other man with many vi­sions of how motorcycle tri­als de­vel­op­ment would go was Ross Win­wood. This pic­ture shows him on one of his early pro­to­types.

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