Saturday, August 20, 2011

There is nothing rational, or logical, in building, from scratch, a motorcycle using an unusual old British single cylinder racing engine.  The entire project is an emotional response to years of messing around rebuilding a few things such as bicycles and Land Rovers but never seeming to scratch the itch to build something which is original. 
Original in the combination of parts and how they are put together; the basic form is old.  It is the creative combination that will make it original for me.  I also find that the opportunity to use years of skills in mechanics and metal working and acquire new skills is also a basic reason for the project.  It’s an effort that will keep my mind and hands busy for the foreseeable future. 

In addition it’s a physically real two wheeled fiction novel which will have a past which will be created and attached to the cycle as I build it.  Everything from the fictional cycle company of Overland to the racing history of the engine and the tale of how it was rescued and put it back on the road will be a fiction.  Yet the cycle with quality work and attentive detail will be real.

I’m pretty much a Luddite when it comes to cycles, motorcycles and cars.  I wasn’t even dreamed of when hot rods, choppers, cut downs and shed brewed racers really hit the big time in America.  A small peek into history will reveal many privateer racers tuning, tweaking and squeezing the last bit of speed out of anything with an engine and two or more wheels.  During the end of the fifties and in the sixties I was too young to drive but had plenty of dreams.  I use to mow my neighbors grass in the summer when he was away driving long haul trucks.  I also got to daydream sitting in his 1954 Pennant blue Corvette.  I was all of maybe twelve years old.

There wasn’t a single book in the school library or the public library I had not had in my hands.  I didn’t help keep me away from internal combustion powered vehicles when my father was as interested as I was. But being a school teacher and raising three kids didn’t leave much left for anything other than appreciating and dreaming. 

I remember a friend from church dropping by the house every once in awhile driving a black MG-A twin cam.  In grade school a class mate’s father had a MG-TD and a Morgan; both painted a cream yellow.  Much of my growing up was spent reading hot rod magazines and early motorcycle magazines along with any car magazine at the local news stand, when I didn’t get caught by the stand owner.  I would dream of all sorts of road machines and flying machines.  But it wasn’t always just about moving by burning petrol.  It was also about the style, grace and beauty of a well thought out design and the execution of that design with quality.  I knew the difference between a Cord and a Packard long before I even knew what a constitution was. 

All of the great British automotive names I knew.  I even knew many of the great European manufactures names.  The Bugatti horse shoe shape was too me the ultimate and perfect house for a radiator; right up there with the Rolls-Royce and Flying Ecstasy.  The smooth and blended lines of the nose of the racing Jaguars was primitive and captivating.  The long hood and sweeping fenders of the Packard’s was mesmerizing.  And before I realized what sexy was the Italian machines

I could spot a Harley or an Indian.  I could tell the difference between the exhaust note of a British and a Japanese motorcycle.  For anything two wheeled, I could almost tell you, from just the sound, if was a single or a twin; four stroke or two stroke.  But time went by and things like girls and bicycles and just life in general became more important.  But I never forgot. 

I watched as the European firms and the Japanese auto makers started whittling away at the America manufactures place in the market.  Cars became more fuel efficient and smaller.  Safety became an issue as did reliability.  By the end of the seventies cars, domestic and foreign cars started looking a lot like each other.  I started seeing what I called the Hot Wheels era of automotive design.  I’m sure that phrase is not original with me. I lost interest in the latest new cars.  Unfortunately cars became a tool to help raise my own family and anything other than just transportation was not affordable nor did I have the time to waste on something like an old car or motorcycle. 

So for me and my odd little world anything newer than the late sixties I am not really interested in.  I can appreciate the latest in automotive engineering but if I had a multi million dollar lottery ticket in my hand nothing on my list of cars to buy would be newer than maybe 1965.

However I was able to during the eighties I was able to sneak in an old 1962 Land Rover.  How that happen I don’t remember.  But it always ran and was easy and cheap to keep running.  Since we always only had one car and I commuted to work by bike, it was an acceptable time waster.  And I still have the Rover and it still runs reliably. 

Several times I tried to get into old British motorcycles but failed miserably because something just never clicked for me.  Maybe I felt to inhibited trying to keep things working and bodge something that was a luxury and if it broke would be costly to fix.

I’m not sure what it was.  I just never had the feel and very much never felt I had the license to just make do and do things to the cycle my way.  There was this invisible taboo in my head about just doing what worked and realizing that it really didn’t make any difference as long as I liked the result.

That mental brick wall no longer exists for me.  And as a result I’m building my own motorcycle from scratch and keeping alive my first bobber motorcycle along the way.  Both with J.A.P. engines.


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  2. Hmmmm maybe this one should be salt eligible Roy, then we could do a 3 pronged attach on Bonneville :-)