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cafe BSA

Fairly fresh out of the service I finally got a chance to scratch that itch to own a motorcycle. Typical Ted, it couldn’t be one of the popular Hondas or Harleys. Somehow a Triumph 650 Bonneville was my ideal. I found a nearly-affordable BSA 650 Thunderbolt in the newspaper want-ads and, not knowing any difference, took an irresistible test drive.

Not that I could wring anything out of it in my early motorcycle days, but the feel, sound, balance and agility were immediately apparent. Love at first ride.

The transformative event in our relationship was when I decided it needed a tuneup (probably didn’t, but I worked like that).
I found a Danish import Brit-Bike lover…
How much for a tuneup?
$25 plus parts.
How much to teach me how?
$25 plus parts.
What do I need?
He gave me the shopping list and we began a long relationship centered around British Bikes, with me learning from him how to really ride, maintain, and how to enhance the handling of them.

At first my bike looked a lot like the red one you see here. Having the least horsepower of the dozen Brit Bikes in our ‘touring group’, I unsurprisingly spent some time at the back of the pack. But bit by bit (as in part bits and skill bits), that little Beezer moved towards the front of the pack… and none of the changes added any horsepower, just handling and ergonomics to improve rider control.

Probably the most significant change was learning and refining hanging out on the low side of the bike in turns. Control and speed through the turns are greatly enhanced.

Pretty soon the center stand was grinding pavement on the turns. The side-stand (kick-stand) was plenty, so I simply removed the center stand.

The mufflers began grinding pavement. Dunstall silencers went on (mostly because Søren liked them) and some oxy/acetyline heat bent them into an upswept position well away from the offending pavement, held firmly there with fabricated hangers.

My footpegs were the next to rub the roadway. The buddy pegs came off (who’d ride on the back with me anyway?). A bit of fabrication and shade-tree engineering flipped the gear lever over from front to rear, moved the rear brake back and put both driver footpegs higher on the frame and under my hips. Part of the position change also installed clip-on handle bars to get my hands lower and closer to center. The overall transformation made a huge improvement in control.

I was the next thing to rub the roadway, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I don’t think I have a single photo of my Cafe’ Racer BSA, but this one looks a lot like it. You might notice how all those nifty control and position changes place the rider in the perfect place to gracefully dance the Beezer through the turns.

I shake my head at the ergonomic nightmares I see on so many street bikes… Feet out in front like they are driving a TV remote while sitting in an easy chair… Arms over their heads and/or spread out just waiting for a sucker punch to take them down…

Pocket Canyon, River Road, Highway 1, Calistoga Road, Trinity Road, Oakville Grade … Those were the sweet spots for my BSA … up and down through the gears, sweeping turns left, right, left, right … I don’t have the literary or verbal talent for expressing it, but there is some ballet of sensations that nothing else gives.

I recall a group of us ripping towards the coast through Pocket Canyon, enjoying the road to its fullest, when a pair of those new, powerful Honda 750 4-cylinder [pig] bikes showed up in front of us. We closed on them rather quickly, to say the least, but in that snapshot I knew their riders thought they were really carving up the serpentine canyon roads. We blew by them phew-phew-phew-phew without hesitation, skipping a beat or losing a skosh of our speed. Etched forever in my memory is my rear-view-mirror vision of two 750 pilots visibly sitting more upright on their saddles recognizing in an instant that they really weren’t carving up that road at all.

I realized I had arrived when my mentor went off in a turn ahead of me. Neither he nor his Triumph were hurt, but I realized I could handle that corner faster than he. I soon found myself at the head of the pack with less horsepower than all behind me and no equipment advantage I knew/know of.

The phrase “Cafe’ Racer” comes from the European lads enjoying enthusiastic touring on their motorcycles from cafe’ to cafe’. Y’a know, a cuppa Joe at Diekman’s General Store in Tomales, then another in the Fairfax Coffee Roasterie connected with joyful, con brio road appreciation… repeat as needed.

Gosh I am glad I lived in a free country once. The 70’s were good… of course I was pretty ignorant of politics and economics then, too. But the police state hadn’t begun, and riding for the joy of it was OKAY. I did A LOT of that, yet the Beezer only attracted one ticket in our years together.

The bike came out from under me in a sweeper (looks tight now, but it was a high-speed sweeper then). We slid to our separate stops. I hurt, so a shut off the bike, stood it up and walked around a bit. Back at the turn the pavement refused to provide a slick spot, oil, leaves or any other excuse for my tires giving up their grip.

Turns out that those nifty Dunlop K81 tires actually DID have a limit of adhesion.

The good news was my position had me so close to the pavement there simply wasn’t far to fall. While I didn’t recall any contact for it, my helmet had abrasions. The real problem for me was that Levi blue jeans had NO resistance to high speed asphalt .. and my knee didn’t have much either. The ride home was slow mostly because the cold wind hurt my wound.

The skin healed. I returned the bike to stock BSA configuration. I was thinking that I could just motor around and enjoy it the way the proper Brit boys are pictured doing it. Two turns from my home was a sweeping freeway entrance ramp. The saddle slid over, the body shifted into the turn, the bike pulled smoothly down towards me as the engine sang through the gears …

Oops. Maybe I can have a motorcycle someday when I grow up. I sold it before it really hurt me.

But it is always, always there … that itch to sing and dance through the curves and straights in a light, agile, sweet-handling bike.
I’ve tried a few times since then…
not yet grown up enough to sit on a Barco-lounger bike backing up traffic…
Maybe enough to run at a safe and sane 90%
instead of 100 … ???

It’s an open question, but I’d like to try… It IS on my bucket list.