Harry Stitt BSA B40
Many years ago I saw photographs of my hero, a very young Martin Lampkin riding his 250cc BSA in his first Scottish Six Days Trial in 1967. In his face you can see the dream of a future world trials champion riding my ‘dream’ machine. Over the years I have collected photographs of the Works BSA team riders including, from trials: the Lampkin brothers, Jeff Smith, Jim Sandiford, Scott Ellis, and Dave Rowland, to name but a few, and also including the motocross stars such as Keith Hickman, John Banks, Vic Eastwood etc. Two years ago I finally purchased my first BSA B40, and my thoughts were to build a trials Special with a British hand-built frame. Words: Justyn Norek Snr and Jnr and John Hulme • Pictures: Justyn Norek Snr and Brian Holder
Ihad done some sketches of how I would like this machine to look, and started research on the web for special trials frame builders in the UK... I found quite a few, including Cheney, Drayton, Faber, Mead, Mojo, Wasp and Whitlock… I took a close look at their products as some had only ever produced motocross kits, and I also realised this would be a very costly project!
Then by pure chance I saw a photograph of a young guy with a motocross frame he had built, so my next thought was to contact him. I did some more research and manged to locate his email address through his very kind brother-in-law. I enthusiastically contacted him with many, many questions. I was quite surprised when I got an
immediate answer and it was a huge ‘yes’. I was so happy I even checked the grin on my face in the mirror! He explained that he also loved this fourstroke engine and that for many years he had looked into the idea of building a trials frame to house it as he wanted to see this project through for himself. After speaking with Harry Stitt I had this vision of a young guy in the cellar fabricating and welding frames and so I made the decision to place an order. He had only ever made around a dozen frames and mine would be number 14. Once I had placed the order he told me that he would purchase the tubing and materials to construct the frame kit.
A New Logo
I made some loose sketches on how I would like to see the fuel tank integrated with the seat base made in aluminium. The next question for me to answer was what to call this Special machine? What did Harry want me to call the machine, had he a logo, a name registered that I could put alongside the proud BSA logo? He told me that nothing was registered to his name. Way back in 1968 I did sketch of a ‘CE’ logo for the late great machine builder Eric Cheney. He spoke with me and adopted it to put on all his famous Cheney machines that he built. I thought: ‘after half a century why should I not try to do it again?’ I put some quick ideas down on paper and sent them to Harry; he quickly responded, selected one, and asked to include symbol of a running hare as he has always liked this animal. Thus I added silhouette of running hare and sent it back. He liked it and wrote back to me to say that he will use it on all the frames and motorcycles that he builds from now on.
Beautiful Bronze Welding
After a few months had passed Harry contacted me to say the frame kit was ready. He sent me photos showing his beautiful bronze welding and of course I opted for a nickel finish to complement it. After it came back from the nickel plating process another picture arrived; I couldn’t wait any longer, I just had to have it. Shipment was arranged and a few days later a courier company delivered a wooden box with my new frame and fuel tank inside all nicely protected. Well you can imagine how excited I and my son Justyn Jnr were when we opened the box and looked inside, and found a beautiful piece of art! For a few moments we were both stuck for words as we admired this man’s superb craftsmanship. We spent some time looking at the best way to assemble it all around the BSA B40 engine unit and tried to imagine how the assembled machine would look.
Before we started assembly we weighed both the standard frame and the new Harry Stitt one. The standard frame weighed in at 20kg and the new one just 15kg, making a saving of a huge 5kg — 25% lighter in real terms. Our friend the experienced Pippo Bartorilla used his knowledge to help us carry out the full assembly, which was greatly appreciated. From a multitude of parts everything fitted perfectly, such was Harry’s precision in fabrication and welding, and in less than one week the complete machine was ready to try. The final result was sensational in making our dreams come true; happy days. Thank you Harry — and can you build us another frame....wait, we have to buy an engine first.... Triumph? Ariel? AJS? Royal Enfield....hey guys out there, do you have any four-stroke British engines for sale? After all the excitement of the arrival of the ‘Stitt’ Special trials frame, unpacking it and assembling it came another exciting moment of putting the wheels on the ground and riding it!
We selected the Rubiana trials training ground in Italy to put the machine on trial as it’s full of natural as well as artificial obstacles, simulating sections of various difficulty from easy ones to the very hazardous. Originally we intended to fit either Ceriani or MP front forks but could not wait to find and purchase some and so we fitted a Montesa front wheel and forks. It’s not exactly in fitting with the Pre-65 layout but we were curious to ride this machine and see how this combination would work out. After the assembly we had to make one last check so that we could be sure that we had remembered to put oil in the frame and fuel in the tank! One nice strong push on the kick-start lever moved the piston into the right position and I gave it a strong kick. To our delight we started to hear the characteristic sound of the ‘base’ of BSA music — what a sound, music to our ears.
What a Pleasure
I gently warmed up the four-stroke single cylinder engine for a few minutes until the regimental ‘clockwork’ sound was reached. The clutch was engaged and a gear selected and it was all systems go; what a relief to ride the machine after all this time, what a pleasure. As this was a ‘brand new’ machine I took it very easy at the beginning, riding very easy hazards before slowly increasing the difficulty after about half an hour. Then I stopped to take a breath and exchange my first impression with my father, who was taking photos and eager to know what it was like. My first impressions were very positive, above all the perfect balance of the machine and the great response from the engine making it a sheer pleasure to ride; I loved it. Now it was time to try it on more difficult sections, and there are plenty of them on the Rubiana proving grounds. I started with steep climbs and drops and again it was stable and easy to control, with tractor-like traction from the BSA engine. Even on big rocks steps I felt very much at one with the machine. It’s easy to lift the front wheel almost in any situation and then the rear wheel will grab the rock, and with some help from your body it will climb over the rocks quite easy.
Not for Sale
The same can be said about slippery sections; the engine provides soft four-stroke power and on the descents the engine braking works with a tremendous effect of slowing you down better than the brakes. There is something magic about the handling and I think it’s due to Stitt’s well-selected geometry and exceptional frame rigidity that make it very precise; you also have to take into account his superb engineering and fabrication skills. One thing I plan to improve is the fitting of a thicker bash plate. The current one is 5mm thick and already it’s bent in a few spots due to contacts with rocks. So: would I sell it if you made me a good offer? No way, but you can always try to convince Mr Stitt to make a frame for you. It’s a great motorcycle from great frame builder. I am lucky to have one.
Any Pre-65 owner will understand that they need to make some adjustments when riding, it’s normal.
Even in difficult hazards the machine performs well.
In April I rode the machine in the ‘Old Trial Cup’ in Italy run by the Moto Club Canzo.
As I am sure you can imagine, I love riding the machine.
We are still looking for some Ceriani or MP front forks but could not wait to find them and so purchased a Montesa Cota 348 front wheel and forks assembly.
The balance is very neutral.
As you can see from my body position I was very confident even on steep climbs.
It’s when I see pictures like this that means one day I will have a one-piece seat and fuel tank unit made.
The exhaust system is very much ‘straight through’ with a small silencer to try and remove the ‘bark’.
Way back in 1968 I did sketch of a ‘CE’ logo for the late great machine builder Eric Cheney. He spoke with me and adopted it to put on all his famous Cheney machines that he built. My thoughts were ‘after half a century why should I not try to do it...
One thing I plan to improve is the fitting of a thicker bash plate. The current one is 5mm thick and already it’s bent in few spots due to contacts with rocks such as this one.
From this right-hand-side picture the engine looks much taller.
Some of the Works BSA trials machines included this yellow finish on the fuel tank. The Classic Trial Magazine logo enhances the traditional look.
The engine unit for a four-stroke is quite compact.
Some of the early sketches of how I wanted this machine to look.
This is how I would like to see the fuel tank integrated with a seat base made in aluminium – maybe later?
The next job is to replace the sump shield and find some more appropriate front forks.