I'm pleased, and a little proud, even though I do say so myself, that as a result of the Scottish Vintage Training Day last year, at least one more person in Scotland now rides a vintage motorcycle - read on for Paul's story.
B.S.A. W32-6 VMCC training days can have strange and lasting effects; an interesting and challenging day was anticipated, but falling for side valve hand-changers? No, not really. And then, barely a week after the event at Alford last year, I saw an advert for a very tidy BSA W6 at a very fair price - some things are just meant to be. What we have here is a 500 sidevalve with full electrics and a four-speed hand-change gearbox. The new-fangled foot change was optional but a detachable cylinder head as standard was thought modern enough for 1932. Controls are not quite as they appear or as you might expect: the left-hand 'mag' lever is in fact the decompressor, ignition advance being controlled by a left twist grip (great fun!). Oh, and the horn button is on the right, as is the rear brake pedal. The machine has been beautifully restored, sometime in the early 90's I would guess, but the worthy emphasis on originality made it less than ideal to actually use. This might explain the mileages shown on the last 13 years' MOTs: 570 in 1997 and still only 980 in 2010. So ... firstly, the coiled copper fuel pipe had to go - it was routed close the cast iron engine and the resultant vapourisation of ethanol-laced fuel caused weak running and an absolute refusal to start when hot. Next the cable from rear brake pedal to front brake was removed - linking may have seemed a good idea but in practice it restricts the geometry of both brakes. A two-pole bulb holder has been fitted in the rear lamp unit so a brake light could be wired in - not a legal requirement prior to January 1936 but important for safety in modern traffic; rather like a mirror. A little fine tuning to carburation and ignition timing further improved things to the point where this is now a safe, reliable motorcycle. Just as BSA intended. Sorry if all this causes gnashing of teeth but I like to ride my bikes regularly over quite long distances without recourse to the tool kit and its a 115-mile round trip for an MOT here. We've done over 700 miles since the last one and the engine feels more willing than ever; I don't think it has been given the chance to 'run in' since the rebuild. The hand change can be a bit of a handicap in town where the W6 is otherwise sprightly enough, the brakes coping well. With a comfortable cruising speed of 45mph main road riding needs an eye on the mirror and, if a queue is beginning to build up, I pull in to the next lay-by to let them all pass. Its a pleasant surprise how many drivers appreciate this and give a wave or a hazard flash. But on back roads and single track the BSA is an absolute joy. Plod along in top gear or push on a bit just as the mood takes you. Either way concentrate on the road surface as girder forks have their limits, and allow extra braking distance on steep descents or when running above 40mph. Steep climbs need a drop to 3rd with perhaps a little retard on the ignition if the revs fall off. All situations need good anticipation and planning but with a little practice it will come together. And then comes the magic as the machine begins to talk to you. Your control asks the question and the way it responds gives reply as in "oh for goodness sake, what are you playing at", or perhaps simply "could do better", but best of all is "well, you got that right, didn't you". And so the dialogue continues to journey's end. Wonderful!
VMCC training days can have strange and lasting effects. You have been warned!
A few facts and figures... Engine air cooled 4-stroke single Displacement 499cc Bore/Stroke 85 x 88mm Compression (est) 5.0 : 1 Valves side valve Carburation 1in. Amal type 76 Ignition Lucas magneto, gear driven Lubrication pressure feed from gear type pump to roller bearing crank 3 pt. (1.7 l) reservoir in unit with crankcase Power (est) 13 bhp at 4000 rpm Transmission single row primary & final drive chains Clutch multi plate Gearbox 4 speed, hand change Electrics (optional) Lucas 6v 3-brush dynamo Frame I-section steel spine with bolt on front & rear down tubes, lower rails & rear sub-frame Front suspension BSA girder with coil spring, adjustable friction damping Rear suspension sprung saddle Front brake 7in. SLS drum (originally with additional link to foot brake) Rear brake 7in. SLS drum Tyres 3.25 x 19 front & rear Fuel 2¼ gal. (10.2 l) Wheelbase 54 in. Seat height 28 in. Weight (est) 360 lbs. (163 kg) Typical consumption 55 - 60 mpg