MOTOR CYCLE’S MIDLANDS EDITOR Bob Currie reviewed his favourite rides of 1968…”This is BBC television news” the voice on the telephone said. “Look, we’re in a jam. We need someone with a fast bike to meet our cameraman covering the Birmingham University students’ demonstration, grab his film and whistle it down to Alexandra Palace for tonight’s newsreel. Can you help?” A fast bike, eh? Well, now… So happened that only that morning, after a spot of arm-twisting, BSA had agreed to lend me a Rocket 3 for a day or two. So a quick trip to London was an opportunity to gather first-hand impressions. Everyone who has been lucky enough to sample one of the new threes will have his own story to tell. so I’ll cut mine short by saying that the film did get to Ally Pally, and with stacks of time in hand. As I made ready for the return run, another despatch rider arrived. “Did you pass me near Luton on M1?” he asked. That was more than likely; I passed just about everything on the road. “What the— were you riding?” he continued. “I just couldn’t live with it!” So what did I think of the big BSA? It can certainly GO. Apart from speed, though, what does impress is the model’s tremendous stamina, for it goes on churning out the power for just as long as you have the nerve to keep the wick
turned up. It is bulky, yes; and weighty too. But that is no handicap once the model gets into its stride; it might even be classed as an advantage, for the bike sits the road like a high performance rock. Second seven-fifty to be tried during the year was of a very different type. This was the latest Royal Enfield Interceptor twin with re-designed crankcase and twin carburettors, and the small fuel tank and high-rise handlebar preferred in the USA. I have always had a soft spot for Enfields, and the Interceptor is a machine which doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves. On the roads around Bradford-on-Avon there was ample evidence of its willingness to gobble up the miles, and though all Enfields have handled well the Norton front fork fitted gave that little extra touch of refinement. Yes, a fine job, and if I have any reservation at all it concerns the carburettor set-up for there was a slight hesitancy at the lower end of the power band before both instruments got into full song. However, maybe that’s just personal prejudice for I’d go for a single-carb version every time. That’s why, of the Triumph range, I’d rather have a TR6 trophy than a Bonneville. Not quite so glamorous, but a more docile machine for town riding yet one which can hold its own with the best of them. I used a Trophy for most of my November riding, and loved every minute of it. Charm of the model lay mainly in the way the revs came flooding in at the merest tweak of the grip—and so sweetly, too, with none of the screw-its-neck treatment demanded by another 650 which I could name, but won’t. Only weak spot in the Triumph make-up was the twin-
leading-shoe front brake. It was too spongy in feel for my liking. In fact, with the machine stationary, it was quite possible to pull the lever up to the twist grip though it worked well enough on the road. Two Triumphs share the Trophy name (don’t ask me why!) and the smaller job, the TR25W, is basically the 249cc BSA Starfire. However, this isn’t just a case of badge engineering, for the little Triumph displays not only styling differences but a higher frame—it is a basically a USA style trail bike—and lower overall gearing. I wasn’t too struck on the high riding position, but I did find the little Trophy to be an endearing mount, very tractable in traffic and notably free-revving. I liked it a lot, and I would have liked it even more had it been equipped with something other than an abbreviated trials silencer. Let’s stay in the two-fifty field for something vastly different in character, the Kawasaki Samurai, a disc-valve two-stroke twin roadster which I borrowed from racing sponsor Peter Chapman. There is nothing especially racy about the Kawasaki’s looks. With low handlebar, duplex tubular frame, long silencer and winkers it has (for a Japanese model) a very sober appearance. Moreover, unless you hit on the secret, you could get the impression of a very so-so performance. The secret is that the Kawasaki keeps its best output for the top of the rpm scale, and to get the most from it full use has to be made of the intermediate gears. Handle it that way and there is over 90mph available; and because the machine has firm sports-type suspension, high-speed work becomes a real pleasure. of the specials, Ed Whittle’s Nixon was maybe the most ingenious, for this was not just a three-wheeler. Ed’s idea was to have the best of both worlds by clipping the whole of a motorcycle (less front fork and wheel) to a cabin front. For summer, ride the machine—in this case a Norton—as a solo; for winter, hook on the front end and drive in comfort. When I drove it the device had only just been completed and the constructor was well aware of a defect or two. Big point about the Nixon was its undoubted liveliness and the
tenacity of its road holding, the latter attributable to its wide frontal track. Bob Howard’s Velocette-based Howcette three-wheeler is a beautiful piece of workmanship with its polished light alloy bodywork. Like Whittle, Bob employed virtually the whole of a motorcycle frame, with grafted-on front axle (in this instance from a Ford Popular) but with a very different objective in mind. His thought was for a sporty single-seater, and the result is a model with an ultra-low and extremely narrow cockpit. Just a little scary, I found; possibly because everything else on the road seemed to tower above me. But Bob Howard gets a lot of fun from his home-built job and it went through this year’s ACU National Rally without trouble, which ought to prove a point or two. Talking of proving a point, Tom Killeen is a car designer with plenty of fresh ideas on motorcycle construction. It is all very well to put forward out-of-the-rut theories on paper, but there’s nothing like practical demonstration for getting the point home. So Tom built his K11, a motorcycle with hub-centre steering and a most unusual frame riveted up from sheet aluminium. Motive power of the K11 is a 192cc Velocette LE flat twin, about which it is difficult to get very enthusiastic. But still, the engine is unimportant and the big feature of the K11 is its extraordinary stability. Agreed, hub centre steering is far from new, but I had never tried a machine so equipped before and it was with not a little trepidation that I started the K11 away from rest. Within a few yards it was evident that the machine was almost unspillable. From then on I began taking liberties, such as deliberately thumping one end of the handlebar to see what would happen. Nothing! Honestly, I’ve never before come across a motorcycle which can give its rider such enormous confidence. Equip the K11 with some form of mini radar and computer, feed in a map of the journey you wish to make, and (you feel) it would find its own way there. Perhaps Tom Killeen has something like that in mind for the K11 Mk 2. I wouldn’t put it past him!”
MOTOR CYCLE WAS SPOILED for top-quality roadtesters. Next up to the lectern was David Dixon. Looking back at the bikes he’d encountered, he remarked: “…Only a few of them were outstanding enough for me to mark them in my memory as way ahead of the ruck. Of them the two at the top are the Suzuki Cobra and the Norton Commando…Take the Cobra first. It provided tremendously zestful acceleration and superbly smooth power. The engine produced real punch without being fussy, as stroker twins often are, and the bike wafted up to the 70mph limit so effortlessly that a sharp eye on the speedometer was essential. Reports from America have suggested that the Cobra does not steer. Well ‘mine’ was virtually faultless in this respect. With slightly stiffened suspensions front and rear, it would have been above criticism. I whanged it through my favourite stretches of deserted country roads and none of the familiar twists or undulations caused a momentary twitter, even while the footrests were within kissing distance of the deck. The riding position, with American-style handlebar, was comfortable, but, like most British riders, I would have preferred a lower grip level. Beautifully finished, the Cobra impressed so much that I’d have had it as my own, but not without the income necessary to pour in petrol at the rate of 23mpg—this was the consumption on fast trips! Nursing the engine certainly reduced its thirst—owners’ claims vary between 40 and 60mpg—but who wants to pussyfoot a high-performance mount? Five months later came what I regard as my machine of the year, the 745cc Norton Commando. But it was not love at first sight, for my feelings on the Commando’s debut at Earls Court, in September, 1967, were mixed. How could the featherbed frame be abandoned without losing the legendary Norton roadholding? I asked myself. And that rubber-mounted engine—just a gimmick. Then I tried the Commando for size and seldom have I sat on a new model which felt so right in virtually every respect. True, I’d have liked the footrests farther astern and the kickstarter pedal better sited to avoid rubbing my leg, but that’s about all. As for smoothness, the rubber mounting of the
engine-gear unit is the greatest thing since instant coffee. It completely transforms one’s ideas on high-frequency vibration. Below 2,800-rpm you can feel the power unit rocking in the mountings, but above that vibration is uncannily absent and the bike feels like a good BMW. The new diaphragm clutch allows the tremendous bottom-end punch to be used to the full for smart getaways and it was no bother to get off the mark with the front wheel pawing the air. The steering could be faulted on only one score—below 30mph the front wheel fluttered as on a sidecar outfit with the steering damper slackened off. This, I learned later, was caused by the hub being fractionally off-centre. Now, of course, the wheel-builders have to work to closer tolerances. Steering was not typically Norton. It was lighter but just as positive, and gave me some of my most enjoyable miles of the year, with cross-country averages over familiar routes improved quite dramatically. My only mod would be stiffer rear damping, for I felt that, on the model I rode, the rear suspension was overworked on 60-70mph rippled bends. Surely the highest praise a tester can say is: ‘I’d have this bike as my own.’ That was exactly my reaction as the miles totted up. Unfortunately, that was not my feeling after a brief tryout on prototypes of two BSA Rocket 3s and a Triumph Trident. Having eagerly followed their development progress for three years, perhaps I expected too much. They lacked the bottom-end punch of the Commando, felt twice as heavy and did not steer nearly so well, though the Triumph was noticeably steadier than the BSA. I had a direct comparison
with the Commando, for it carried me to and from, the Midlands area for my BSA-Triumph test session. The threes started humming above 3,000rpm and middle and top-end acceleration was deceptively rapid—deceptive, because of the very smooth torque. Over a standing quarter-mile, the superlative low-down punch of the Commando outstripped the threes, though the terminal speed of the threes was about 3mph better—there is a good deal more steam at the top end. And the threes’ maximum of 122mph was some 6mph up on that of the Commando. In traffic, I found the three-cylinder models fussy; they were happiest on the open road. The models that came my way were early versions. Production models, one of which, a BSA, we had later for an orthodox road test, proved a much better example of what is now being delivered to the States. Since testing the Bridgestone GTR350 twin in the spring, I hear that supplies have dried up. A pity, for this disc-valve model has a great potential. Power characteristics are, perhaps, more suited to racing than touring. From standstill, full-bore acceleration easily lifted the front wheel off the deck for the first few yards, in spite of my leaning heavily on the handlebar. (A fierce clutch, which was either in or out, did not help…) A high centre of gravity and insensitively damped suspensions did not make for effortless cornering. Incidentally, the twin-leading shoe front brake was the most potent I’ve yet found on any road bike. One third of the bikes sampled were over 250 cc — a
sign of the times, The different methods of approach of the British, Japanese and continental industries to the utility market made an interesting comparison. For instance, the Czech 249cc Jawa seemed built to withstand an assault on the 10,000-mile London-Sydney rally. The robust, practical design of the Jawa is reflected in its popularity in outlying areas of continental and developing countries, but the bike lacks the sophistication to justify the £195 price tag here. About 18 months ago it was selling for £130, which seems nearer the mark. By contrast, the 124cc Puch M125 is just as well engineered but it has, also, style and eye appeal. So have the two Suzukis and a Yamaha which I tried. The 118cc Suzuki B1OOP, on loan for the TT, was a willing worker, whether pottering or luGging 25 stones of rider and passenger up the steep hills of Douglas. Light, nippy and economical, it is an ideal utility mount—so is the open-frame 47cc, disc-valve Suzy MkIl. A brief run on this legshield-equipped model impressed me particularly because of its remarkable nippiness. Also a disc-valve model, the 73cc Yamaha YGIK was on a par with the Suzuki BI00P for performance, roadholding and excellent finish. On some British bikes, the traditionally reserved styling has given way to American influence, and I like the result as exemplified by the Triumph 249cc Trophy and the BSA Starfire. Powered by virtually similar units, they were surprisingly peppy—the Trophy especially so, though very raucous with its US shotgun silencer—and delightfully smooth.”
HONDA WITHDREW from motor cycle racing.
THE UK’S TOP TEN MOTOR cycle export markets were: USA, Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, Ceylon, Jamaica, Denmark, Italy, Pakistan and Norway.