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.

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