Best Rat

I got so excited about getting the reconditioned magneto into my A10 a couple of weeks back (long story) that I recklessly entered it in a local classic show. Major error of judgement, there being no prize for ‘Best Rat’. Now, there are several advantages to putting your bike in a show as opposed to just turning up as a spectator, though that said I often find some of the most interesting rides are the ones that are just parked up but that’s another story. In this case, I was in an enclosure which was brilliant because you have a base where you can just leave your gear lying around without having to worry about someone walking off with it, and you always have somewhere peaceful to come back to. You’re also in a crowd of enthusiasts, many of whom you’ll know, and as there’s a convivial, pub-like ambience to proceedings along with some handy knowledge transfer and (iron) horse-trading. I’m not knocking it, believe me, but as the other show bikes turned up it was quickly apparent that my trusty old BSA was spectacularly out of place among all those perfectly restored classic bikes, all polished to within an inch of their lives, and rarely ridden on anything other than a gloriously sunny day. I admire the people who can rebuild bikes like this, but it has got to be said that it is not this rodent’s world.

Basically, it was embarrassing. As serious-looking middle-aged men perused the entries, looking closely at specific parts, and arguing about whether they were right for the year, my wheels were met with utter indifference, aside from a briefly dismissive glance on the way to the immaculate B50 that had parked next to me, the bastard, and a distinct lack of eye-contact with yours truly. (I hadn’t had time to clean it the day before either, as the lights had packed up so I’d been sorting them out.) My mistake had been, I realised, that I love this old beast too much, and had foolishly thought that it’s status as a ‘lived-in’, jobbing bike that just happens to be over sixty years old would be as appealing to anyone else as it is to me. Only Alex Barona of Matchless Engineering got it. He came over and had a word when I arrived, early in the morning when there weren’t many bikes about. He wasn’t that interested in the shiny things: ‘They restore the life out of them,’ was how he put it. ‘I can see right away this is your bike,’ he continued, comparing it to his own well-used Triton, which he’d left in the visitor’s bike park.

Me on the same bike in 1985.
When I showed Mick this picture he said, ‘Which Ramone is that?’

And yeah, it is my bike, my favourite bike, the one I’ve hung onto since I was a teenager, the one I mis-spent my youth on, and the one I still ride most days in all weathers. It’s a 1959 BSA 650cc A10 – the ‘Golden Flash’ – unremarkably iron-headed, pre-unit, and as durable as a tank. I got the bones of it when I was eighteen in 1982 and rebuilt it with my best mate Mick on a wing and a prayer. It started out as a frame with an engine and a back wheel and not much else. My ride then was a single cylinder Ariel, but I wanted a big twin. I was working part-time community programme jobs so couldn’t afford to buy one outright, but I was able to save up and slowly build a basket-case. In its first incarnation, it had cycle parts harvested from my blown-up B25, a little chrome tank (which I wish I still had), a peek-a-boo chainguard, a twin-leading shoe front brake in forks designed for a 250, ugly seat and mudguards, a five-inch headlamp, and an anarchy sign scrawled on the toolbox. I funded the engine rebuild by working nights cash-in-hand at a cider press. By the time I was twenty, it had morphed roughly into what it is now, with the right mudguards, front forks, and seat, but still the B25 front wheel, which is pretty much the same as an A65 one but 18 inch not nineteen. I thought I’d got hold of an A10 petrol tank as well, but it turned out to be A65. I like the lines though, so I’ve kept it. (I had a police custom alternator engine for a while too, but it turned out to be more hassle than it was worth.) The gearbox came off a custom wreck, and is therefore incongruously chromed. The whole thing was painted with black Hammerite, which I touch up about once every decade. Over the years it has been a café racer, a bobber, a tourer, an outfit, and my everyday transport until I moved out of town and needed something more reliable to get to work on. I have dropped it a couple of times – nothing major – taken it around much of the UK, the furthest in one run being Edinburgh, ridden it in various illegal states of mind, and carried many lovely ladies on the pillion. I’ve owned it forty years this year; it is my life in motorcycle form, every dent, scuff, bit of rust, and oil leak representing some of the happiest days in my life.

Apparently, this is difficult to convey in a show, but it’s the feeling I get every time I walk out and kick her over. And what, my friends, is better than that?

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