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My Life in motorcycling by the Pathfinder

Part two watch this space

The Pathfinder






How does anybody become involved in our wonderful hobby of restoring old motorbikes and amazingly, some of us actually ride our relics.

My journey started at a very young, 10 years old when, while scrumping apples a strange high pitched scream was heard from an adjoining field. It was the local Aeromodelling club having a control line meeting for younger club members that is a model aeroplane with two control lines approximately 50' long flying in circles looping inverted etc. My interest however was in the engine department, how could such a small item make so much noise?

After becoming friendly with some of the members, one of them kindly gave me my first engine, an Albon Dart at .5cc capacity. Despite all my efforts I could not start it but I was hooked on all things mechanical. My apprenticeship in Aeromodelling grew and after 2 years I could actually build and fly my own models and even start my growing collection of motors, all second hand but I could start them within 2 flicks of one finger.




We now jump forward to age 13 where, by pure luck after passing my 11 plus I attended my local technical grammar school which had a fully equipped engineering workshop and more importantly a brilliant teacher by the name of Dave Eaton. By now my reputation at handling mechanical items was growing and my party trick was to hold a 2.5cc diesel engine in my hand, tune it up and walk around the school with it running and expelling the lovely smell of burnt diesel fuel. Mr Eaton approached me with an engine he had owned for 10 years which he could not get to run, 5 minutes later away it went singing happily to itself. At this point Mr Eaton enquired how I could tune it up with ease, engineers feel was the answer.

My final school experience was my O level project when I manufactured my own model diesel engine, a “sparky .8cc diesel” for those who are interested. At this point my interest in motorcycles started thanks to my next door neighbour, Chalky White. His brother Malcolm rode a 750 Norton Domiracer which really did not interest me at all. However one day Chalky said “I've found a motorbike Doug” “OK” says I “I'm off flying”. Well, Chalky got the bike home. I now know it was a Francis Barnet stripped down to bare essentials with a red tank with AZA painted on it. Malcolm reckoned he could get it going and after about an hour fiddling with the points and fresh petrol he proceeded to kick it. T this point I will explain that the silencer had been removed and the downpipe cut short to approximately 12” long. Well, when the Villiers started what a racket, I was hooked, far noisier than my model aircraft motors, almost frightening in fact!

A test ride session was arranged the next day down near the scrumping orchard and the flying field. Well, Chalky fired the bike up, shot down the track and fell off. “Your turn Doug” he said, an offer that I declined I was truly frightened of the noisy beast. Sadly the Fanny B only lasted about a week before Chalky wrecked it; well at least I had avoided trying to ride the damn thing.

Some months later Chalky informed me that he has acquired another motorcycle, this time it was a Bantam 1955, I think, at 125cc capacity. In fact in later years I discovered it was quite a rare model with a wipac coil ignition and a tool operated clutch. This bike was completely standard complete with exhaust, silencer and lights, much quieter than the AZA special.

My first introduction to motorcycling was a pillion ride on the bantam, how powerful it seemed to one so young a used to a push bike. After riding pillion for a few weeks around our improvised track I finally plucked up the courage to have a go at riding my first motorcycle and after the normal clutch/throttle synchronisation I was away; that is up to about 15mph as I was too scared to change gear. This lasted for about 2 months until Chalky lost patience, rode pillion and changed gear for me.

Well after that I was away, my confidence growing with every gear change, I even managed a heady 30mph on the little bantam along the dirt track straight, see map. After 6 months the bantam was sold and a Vespa 180 was purchased, yes I know a scooter! Well if you can imagine trying to ride this bloody thing across the fields with twist grip gear change and small wheels through like swamp over the jumps you can imagine why I was relieved when Chalky sold it.

What followed was a magnificent motorcycle that Chalky discovered in a front garden. We knocked on the door and ten minutes later we were the proud owners of a 1937 Velocette 350cc MAC for £5.00! Of course, the bike had to be modified for our track, we soon had the large headlights and mudguards removed along with the fishtail silencer. For any Velocette Owners Club members reading this they went down the local tip (map available). Well you can imagine the difference in power and output compared with the little bantam, it felt enormous and very powerful. I could ride it however my only problem being that I could not put my feet on the ground and if I fell off I could not pick the bike up as it was too heavy.

By now we had developed the track into a really good semi-scramble circuit with small and large jumps, a swamp and a long straight. The year was 1967 which turned out to be a good year as a certain “wide boy” from the East End joined the school and immediately fleeced us out of our pocket money with a “Find the lady” card trick!

I know him as Andy Greenwood however, in exalted VJMC circles he is known as “Hands up”

IN EPISODE 2: Back on a tiddler and how my love of Japanese motorcycles started.


The Pathfinder Story PT2


Back on a tiddler and onto Japanese motorcycles

The years 1968 through to 1969 saw very infrequent motorcycle activity due to the dreaded O levels.

Myself and Handsup Andy managed to gain apprenticeships with British Timken at Duston some 13 miles from where we lived with a first year wage of 5 guineas per week, drastic action was called for in the money saving department. Handsup Andy came up with the brilliant idea of wearing our school uniforms to work thereby getting half price bus trips i.e. 2s 3d return per day. It actually worked for 3 months until the conductors had had enough of 2 school boys getting on the bus at 6.20 every morning.

A push bike followed and 26 miles a day soon saw an 8 stone Mr Perkins however the motorcycling urge returned if only to save my legs.

My first road legal machine was a mobylette super moped with a top speed of 35 mph. Well the files were soon out widening exhaust ports etc which resulted in a top speed of 30 mph. 3 months later and the moby was dead soon to be followed by a Francis Barnett with Villiers 8E engine of 197cc capacity and a top speed of 55-60 mph on a good day.

At this time Easyrider was released and the Francis Barnett was transformed with a gold Dupli colour paint and stick on stars, very cool for a 17 year old.


At this point in time I had my first experience of a Japanese motorcycle which was tiny compared with my Francis Barnett. Of course a race soon resulted in the gloom of an early November evening wherebye I could only watch disappearing rear light unit of a Suzuki A 550. I decided that I needed a quicker machine to tackle these bloody Japanese buzz bombs. The Fanny B was sold and replaced by a Tiger Cub which did feel powerful, top speed was nearly 65 mph with good acceleration. With my engineering expertise growing I decided to set the machine up correctly, i.e. oil change with flushing oil, tappits, points etc.

A nice long down hill exists near Harrowden on the Kettering Rd so it was time to test my improvements. Flat on the tank the occasionally working speedo crept up to 65 then 70 then bang! Oh dear, a four mile push home soon saw the head and barrel off but I couldn't find anything wrong so I did the obvious thing and fitted a sports head and high compression piston.

The normal Sunday afternoon gang run out was about to take place so off I went to see how the cub ran. Well on opening her up, a very loud bang followed by a short two mile walk home. Upon removing the head everything again appeared ok, pistons intact etc. However upon removing the barrel with the top half on the piston I discovered the bottom half in the crank case along with a very bent con rod.

This time the cub was unrepairable and sold off as parts however a problem was arriving the following Thursday which was my motorcycle test without a bike to take it on. A good friend called Russell stepped in with an offer to borrow his yammy 80 or for the technically minded an YG1. An hour before the test I borrowed the bike and went for a run to get used to the machine, well what a revelation, how could such a small machine go so well with a speedo, lights and indicators that worked and a side stand. It might seem strange to a younger generation but to have a working speedo was pure luxury along with control cables that didn't stick or break when it rained and lights which worked and the beam actually reached the road were a true revelation.


With my test passed I now had one ambition which was to own a Japanese motorcycle.


Next issue:-

My first Japanese bike, what was it?