Wednesday, 23 September 2015

How Not to Buy an Old Motorcycle: The Perils of Vintage Life.

Original BSA C10 Advert

It’s all change here at New Utility. The best part of 20 years of vintage VW ownership came to an end last month as I posted the keys and documents for my 1953 Beetle to the new owner, ready for him to collect from it’s garage in southern Sweden.

It was a tough decision, but one that fellow vintage chaps will be familiar with – the struggle between owning a mode of transport that actually works vs. something that, despite looking and sounding brilliant, is still 60 years old and full of mechanical quirks and character. (Read: unreliable.)

Looking for an alternate mode of propulsion I had every intention of simply purchasing a cheap, 4 wheeled, run-around.

That is, until I started researching motorbikes.

Now, common sense says that I should have bought something modern. I’ve been broken down by the side of the road often enough to know this. Did I do it? No.

Why? Because I’ve chosen to live my life a certain way – a way that does not involve a few hundred quid’s worth of characterless modern bike or car. That’s just how it is.

How Not To Purchase A BSA

I am now the proud, yet rather nervous owner of the 1952 BSA C10 you see here. I did something that I would never have done in my VW days – I bought the thing sight unseen from a classified ad on Ebay. After a long conversation with the dealer up in Wigan and a bank transfer the bike was mine.

As purchases go it’s a big one - it cost me rather more than its original £42. 10s! Yet, for those looking for a way in to classic riding 250’s like my C10, or the even lighter Bantams, are more financially accessible bikes than their bigger cousins.

BSA’s are undoubtedly beautiful machines. The marque helped to define the golden era of British motorcycling and is very much part of our motoring heritage. 

Another factor in choosing BSA is that after-market parts are still readily available. When the bike inevitably goes wrong I won’t have to scour the earth to find the obscure bits I need.

For those more willing to compromise than I am Royal Enfield Bullets are well worth a look – with the longest running production history in the world they are still made in India and have British distributors.

I should also confess at this point - until recently I’d never ridden a motorcycle, and I know precious little about the mechanics of classic British bikes.

That said the principles are the same as an air-cooled VW.

Much like its new owner the bike is pretty simple, so I’m hoping I should pick this side of things up quite quickly.

For those who don’t know, old Brit bikes were all right foot shift. Modern bikes (ie the one I’ll soon be doing my test on) are left foot shift. Some riders struggle to ride ‘goofy foot.’ However, as I’m a total newbie and haven’t really developed any muscle memory I seem to be able to switch between the two. That doesn’t make me clever I suspect, just the biking equivalent of a bilingual toddler… 

A New Challenge

New Utility's 1952 BSA C10
My new baby in it's garage.
Clearly I’ve taken on a new challenge here and have a lot to learn. I mentioned what I’d bought to my instructor. He said simply, ‘You’re a brave man.” Time will tell whether I am just a fool.Predictably there are a few small jobs to do but I'm genuinely excited to have a new project to work on. I’ll need to take some time to give it a proper once over with a BSA service sheet to hand.

As I toodled around my army camp yesterday getting to know my new machine (I legally can’t ride a 250cc on public roads yet) I had a huge grin on my face. And, that’s what it’s all about. Vintage vehicle ownership can be difficult and expensive on occasion but also immensely rewarding. You don’t get that feeling sitting in a Ford Fiesta.

I should say a thank-you to the chaps at Bike2Bike in Berkshire for the training they’ve given me so far. They took me from total novice to a 2 hour road ride within a day. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

More updates to follow soon.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


Universal Works, founded by David Kyte and based in the heart of the old English textile industry in the midlands, have been producing beautiful yet functional men’s fashion since 2008.

The launch of the Workshop Denim collection by Universal Works last year was one of the highlights of 2014 for this denim-head. (I’ve been breaking in their trucker jacket for just over a year now.)

So, I’m happy to report that the collection has grown with the introduction of a chambray worker shirt and Slub versions of their jeans and chore jacket.

Universal Works - Workshop Denim

The Jeans

The irregular slubby denim has a wonderfully soft feel to it and the work wear inspired regular jeans have a relaxed fit with a mid rise. Based on a pair of cotton suit pants from the UW collection, the results are a very classic British take on the 5-pocket jean.

As with the other jeans in the collection the slub jeans are made with a washed 13oz denim, woven in Portugal and made in England.

The Shirt

The worker shirt continues this relaxed approach, generously cut with long tails, this is a contemporary take on a traditional British shirt. 

Manufactured in London on restored Union Specials and Japanese Juk machines from Hong Kong (the type that made the infamous shirts of Ralph Lauren in the eighties) the workmanship is of high quality.

Universal Works - Workshop Denim

From the seam gussets to the natural cotton panels reinforcing the cuff yolks the detailing is understated yet absolutely spot on.

The 5oz Chambray fabric is thick and crisp, a durable fabric that will only look better with wear and washing. I’ve been wearing it now on and off for a couple of months and the shirt is developing well.

The Jacket

UW have also introduced a slub denim version of their Baker’s Chore jacket – a garment inspired by David Kyte’s father who was a baker by trade.

I love the relaxed silhouette and feel to this garment and, as should be clear by now the detailing almost spot on - the only minor quibble I have is the selvedge line on the split breast pocket as I'm not a fan of overt selvedge detailing, but that's just me.

Functional British Fashion

This is functional British fashion with a direct link to the place it was produced and people it was made for.

Universal Works - Workshop Denim

Another strength of this collection is founded on its minimal aesthetic – there is no extraneous labeling or fuss. The buttons and rivets are unbranded and the jeans patch is hidden on the inside of the waist-band.

There is no superfluous back-story to what Universal Works do – the company’s guiding principle is simply to produce good quality British clothing, as David asserted in an earlier interview, he has deliberately “kept our jeans humble, modest and honest – kinda like us.”

The jeans are £145 a pair and the shirt is £155, and the chore jacket £199 - all available here. Or better yet pop in to one of Universal Works’ two London stores.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Breaking News! SJC Flash Sale! Selvedge Denim For £99

This week only - quality selvedge denim for a mere £99.

One for my favourite British brands, SJC, is doing a flash sale this week of their most popular jean - the Brakeman. I had the following missive from an excited Simon James Cathcart tonight:

"Yes you heard right. SJC is offering these amazing high rise wide leg 1930's jeans for silly money. Why? We want you to be the FIRST to get true period correct, hand crafted, raw denim for a steal. Why?? Because you've got the jacket, you've got the shirts, you've got the boots and now you will have the jeans to match. And we are even going down to a 26" waist for the girls to get in on the action! 
The jeans are a true 1930’s cinch-back jean from the golden age of workwear denim. With a high rise that clamps comfortably around the waist and a wide leg that drapes beautifully. Cut from 15oz raw denim means they'll shrink to fit. 2cm (1") in the waist and 4cm (2") in the leg. But fret not. This has been factored in so order your true finished size. Mmm raw. With raw you get the desirable twists and ropes. Threads bite into the seams as the denim beds down. It ages and forms around better and gives you the best fades."

Want to know more about SJC? Check out my previous review

Best hurry though, you have till the 4th to get your hands on a pair here.