Saturday, September 15

Trippin' Out... on a D3 Bantam



Whilst wandering around the Trip Out showground, I met Dave Bevan, with most of his BSA Bantam's engine in bits in front of him on the grass. I commiserated with him, because it was a familiar scene to me. My first old bike was a D1 Bantam and it broke down on every journey I ever made on it. Dave had bravely come all the way from Nottinghamshire on his post-boy's favourite, and on his return sent me his recollections of the trip. So if you're enjoying a leisurely Saturday morning, have a read:
 
Turn On, Tune In, Trip Out, Break Down.

Life moves too quick for me, most – if not all – of the time: over half a lifetime spent smoking and tripping hasn’t helped memory recall much either, and at best, post any given event, I can only manage to salvage snippets and glimpses of what occurred, rather than whole, solid lumps from the recesses of my mind…also, as I said, life moves just too god-damn quick. That being said, here’s some of the mangled, snatched glimpses, retrieved from the weekend of the 7-9 September, 2012, better known as the inaugural Trip Out.

Friday 7th September, 2012; Skiving work for the day in order to ride the small red machine (’57 BSA Bantam D3, held together with cable-ties, a wing and a prayer, my first bike, a learning curve, transport, a love affair…) from Nottingham, bound for a farm somewhere in the wilds of rural Bedfordshire. Kicking her over, she sounds rough, really rough, rougher than usual…I get to the end of the road before realising half the carb isn’t attached to the bike any longer, must have fallen off last time I rode the l’il fucker. The bike stalls and dies, after retracing the short ride down the road, looking under cars for the missing air-cleaner, I have to push her back home. Really fucked off, I grab the helmet off my melon and make to lob it across the garage, only for it to get caught up on the washing-line and bounce back, straight into my face, breaking my glasses and splitting my nose wide open, pissing blood everywhere.

A few dazed minutes, phone calls and a lot of tissue paper later, and I’m driving over to Leicestershire one-handed, the other holding tissue to my face to stem the bleeding, to pick up a replacement air-cleaner from a fella who deals in such things down there. Get back, clean the rust out of the thing, fit it, consider still riding down to make the Friday night Dice party, but feeling woozy from the lost blood and knowing the meagre limits of 6v lighting on dark country roads I fuck off Friday as  ‘just one of those days’ and plan to leave bright and early Saturday morning instead.

Saturday 8th September, 2012; Up bright & early to load the Banty with stuff for the weekend, so-long to the missus and the cats and away I put-put-put into a beautiful, crisp Nottinghamshire morning. Fill up with 2-stroke and make a mental note of the mileage (1995) so I won’t run dry.
There’s no traffic about and the city soon falls away to reveal the rolling countryside of rural Nottinghamshire -becoming - Leicestershire - becoming - Northamptonshire, etc…the b-roads are as clear as the early September air, which the bantam merrily turns hazy shades of blue with 2-stroke fumes. The countryside and county lines breeze by and The Trip Out is ahead. There is nothing I’d rather be doing than this.

On one of the rare stretches of A-road that my route takes in, whistling along merrily minding my own business, I’m suddenly surrounded by the low level thud of Milwaukee honed engines as 3 Hells Angels flying the colors fly past me on both sides, all with thumbs up…a few miles on, I in turn pass a row of about 8 or 9 oldies sporting high-vis vests, all on Honda C50 mopeds and get the same greeting/reaction. What’s my point? I don’t have one I don’t think…two wheels good…

Blasting through tiny villages such as Kimbolton and I can feel the thing, the reason for this trip looming close…just past a huge, stately home and the put-put-put of archaic BSA engineering suddenly stutters & dies. Check the mileage – 2094 – good one dickhead! 100 miles to the gallon is the name of the game, and I’d been enjoying myself so much I’d totally forgotten to check up on such insignificant things as fossil fuel depreciation.  Push the bike the mile-or-so back into the village to top up and hear the unmistakable thud of a Harley blast past. Meet the fella at the pumps on a long & low Sportster and shoot the shit for a while…”You’re close man…about 8 or 9 miles down the road…cool, cool, catch you inside,…have a good’un…yeah, yeah…” and away he goes, and I follow suit.

9 miles must feel longer on a Bantam than a Harley, but eventually a sign for The Trip Out appears and I swing a right expectantly. All of a sudden she ups and dies again, right there on the road to the fucking shebang! Petrol’s good, know that much at least…check sparks, nada, shit! Where’s the sparks gone? Removing the points cover reveals a set of points that are slipping, rather than opening & closing, and on closer inspection I notice that the metal pivot which should be holding the rocker-arm in place isn’t there, at all…where the fuck could that have got to?

By this point, several rodders & bikers have pulled over to help, god bless ‘em, what a fine bunch they are…eventually a greaser in a black Chevy pulls out a yellow plastic screw which is about the right diameter/thread to hold the points in place…I whack it in and mercifully it holds, for now, and the Bantam kicks back into life. Phew. I wont have to push her into the show at least…
I ride up to the sign-in desk to say hello and figure out where to put myself and the bike…a bit giddy from the heat, the ride, the breakdowns and fix-ups I manage to knock my bike over and then fall over it myself, right there in front of everyone. Real cool, slick. They’re a good natured bunch though, and help me up, laughing and wondering out loud how much I’d drunk on the way down…they point me in the direction of the field and thankfully she restarts on the 3rd kick as I stutter away into the field, back-firing a couple of times for good measure due to the timing, and myself being retarded. Amazing machinery scatters the scene every-which-where, folks are smiling, the sun is shining, and I’d just about made it…life is good.

I decide to fix the points before the more pressing issues of setting up camp and getting drunk distract me further. Find a metal bolt to replace the bright yellow plastic fella currently holding my points together and whip the head off to reset the ignition timing properly. This was a mistake as several of the cylinder head studs are stripped to buggery and no amount of new nyloc nuts nor borrowed super-glue can change that. The banter from interested/amused/passing folks whilst I was fettlin’ away more than made up for my mechanical short-comings however, including a long chat to Dean’s (of Dice Mag fame) ol’ man about the merits (or lack of) of owning a Bantam as a first bike, being a roadie for jet-setting bands and lawnmower servicing techniques amongst other such stuff… I slap it all back together and hope for the best and forget all about the shaky head issues. Cider and skateboarding helps with this.

I get my tent up as the sky burns down in what must have been the best sunset of the year thus far, before getting drunk and stoned out of my gourd with a great bunch of wizard-like cockney bikers who entertain with tall tails of their expert tuning techniques (“make the bike go really fast, then explode”) and the world’s biggest cat (the weight of an Irish Setter apparently) before I get involved in some erratic shape-throwing on the dance floor, eventually dieing the death under fake canvas skies.

Sunday 9th September, 2012; Coming to early on Sunday morning, I stagger up and out of my cocoon and stumble bleary-eyed out into another stunning sun rise. Its my mam’s birthday today, and there’s a table booked back in Nottingham for a meal at 6pm this evening, that and the loose cylinder-head fears of yesterday lurk back into my hung-over consciousness as my eyes struggle to deal with the hazy brightness of the morning. Several strong cups of tea and last wanderings around the bikes & hot-rods scattered about the field later, I turn my thoughts homewards, and whether-or-not the ol’ hunk of crap would get me there…
By the time I’ve packed up & loaded my stuff on the bike, there’s a good amount of folks up & about and the thought of the BSA not co-operating in public so early in the day doesn’t fill me with joy. Mercifully, she starts second kick, and trying to not look too surprised whilst nodding so long to various folks I’ve met over the weekend, I bobble back across the field and back out onto the road. I make it about 2 miles before she dies due to the makeshift job holding the points in place failing and the points slipping again. Some light-fingered adjustments and swearing and sweating it later and she’s up & running again and so am I, whistling along northwards through the deserted Bedfordshire countryside, wondering, or rather, trying not to think too hard about how far I’ll get before the points give away again and I’m back on my knees in the dirt, screwdriver in hand and terrible words under tongue.

The sun beats down and we’re doing okay…the points are holding, the cylinder head is holding, the sleeping bag stuffed untidily under a bungee is holding, I’m holding…its amazing how quickly thoughts swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. 10 trouble free miles under my belt and I catch myself thinking “well, if its holding, I might as well leave it be once I get home” and then have to chuckle to myself at my capacity for self-delusion and bullshit. 40-odd miles later and I stop in a village called Oundle for some scran. Sunburnt, blooded (the nose is turning funny shades of black, blue & purple) and happy from riding. Still buzzing from the amazing time the Trip Out was.

Fed and watered and with second and third waves of hungoverness hanging about at the back of my head will the bike restart? Of course she wont. Back down in the gutter, messing with points…20 minutes later and I’m back on route…

Even on a Bantam, and a misbehaving one at that, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit cinematic bombing along quiet country roads under a hot September sun in short sleeves, and I allow myself a little Jimmy Dean-ism or two, which nearly comes painfully true as I fly round a bend and just miss an oncoming Volvo on the other side.

Just as I’m starting to feel cocky about my makeshift mechanical abilities, the bike up’s & dies once again…the points are still slipping, and the bolt that is holding them in place seems to have given up the ghost. This time the whole business takes longer to get going, and I’m starting to wonder whether or not I’ll make it back in time for my mam’s birthday, or at all come to think of it. Eventually, the Bantam splutters back into life after several kickings, we get about 100 meters down the road and she dies again. Check the points, they’re holding; hmm…it takes a few minutes to dawn on me that I’ve run out of petrol, again. I guess I was so busy thinking about the other problems, I clean forgot to check how far I’d come…running dry twice in two days is pretty fuckin’ stupid. So it goes…start pushing the bike again, and I must be getting buff by this point, good job Bantams are diddy little things, when I see an AA van coming and flag him down. “aint got any petrol in the van have you mate?” I venture “ach, forgot to fill up the jug earlier” say’s he…”hold up, I’ll go get ya some” and with that he speeds off…what a gent. On arriving back he tells me that he had a Bantam many moons ago, seems everybody had one of these shit-ponies back in the day, and we shoot the shit about my slipping points issue. Rummaging around in a plastic tub of miscellaneous bits, the AA guy finds me a small brass spacer, which luck would have it just fits over the makeshift bolt, improving the fit and slippage of the points no end. Some folks just have it, man…I’m not even a member of the AA.

Once more we’re back on the road, its about 4:30pm and I’m about 30 miles from home…I’ll make it on time to mam’s birthday no sweat, alright. Open up the throttle, head down, on the home-straight…Kapow! Suddenly my right leg is flooded with a gust of hot air and the bike looses the little power it had. Before shuddering to a stop on the hard shoulder. The curse of the stripped cylinder studs has come back to screw me royally, as the head has come loose, sucking air in, which does no favours for a 2-stroke’s get-go. An old fella in a land rover pulls over and begins to tell me how he had “one of those when he was a lad” Yeah, yeah, save it granddad, I’ve heard it all before…I think as I re-tighten the head nuts to the point where they just spin without gripping. The bike fires up, but compression is way down…okay, it’s okay…I’ll limp the remaining 20-odd miles back, I can do 25 the whole way…I’ll still make it in time…

I keep way over to the left, so the late Sunday afternoon traffic can pass me, as I creep along, hoping the cylinder head will hold, and the piston doesn’t come shooting out into my nuts or something else equally as stupid…I see the first sign which states ‘Nottingham’ and have to laugh to myself about the whole ridicules, glorious spectacle of it all, as I limp along towards home. Right on cue the back end suddenly slips out from under me and starts juddering wildly. I pull up onto the hard shoulder for the last time that day; somehow, somewhere I’ve managed to blow the back tyre out, which curiously seems the only reasonable conclusion to the day.

The bike gives up the ghost, and with it, resignedly, so do I. I ring my better half and ask her, in my sweetest tones, if she’d mind coming to rescue me and the bike in the work van.
As I sit astride the god-forsaken BSA, waiting, the rear-end slowly deflating, mimicking the sun slowly setting somewhere over Leicestershire, turning the surrounding fields various shades of gold and pink I know that I wouldn’t have missed this weekend for anything. These old bikes are the journey, and the destination.

(and I was only a hour and a half late for mam’s birthday)

13 comments:

arcadian said...

fuck me, and I thought i had problems and I think your memory's just fine mate.

TC said...

What a great take to tell- just goes to show its the journey and the people that most folk dont appreciate about riding an old bike

WhitelinePsycho said...

Bloody marvelous, start a blog and get writing, there's gold in that there mind !

Pete Stansfield said...

Splendid !

billycarrsbobbles said...

God that was *so* fucking boring. An infinitely more interesting story would've gone along the lines of: you looked after it properly and it ran well all weekend. I'm really fucking (*fucking!*) sick of these "I did nine millions miles on a James Comet after fettling the engine with gum and a bobby pin and was asked to join without having to be pissed on by 1%ers and autocycle clubmen...".

Guy@GK said...

billycarrsbobbles, I think you miss the point... it takes knowledge and experience to look after an old bike. And that is gained over time, on the road, gleaning a little info from each breakdown.

Dave is new to old bikes and as I said, this reminded me of my experiences as a novice Bantam owner. If you can't appreciate the glory of achieving long distances on old (and inherently quirky) old bikes, learning as you go, perhaps you're reading the wrong blog.

MPH said...

Met this bloke the minute he arrived in the showfield and started to strip the engine, we got chatting nice fella, couldnt fail to love his true biker spirit.

Griff said...

Great writeup, should do more, it was Bean and I who stopped in the Chevy to get him going, and yes, he's on the wrong blog
Griff

billycarrsbobbles said...

Guy, yeah sorry, I was having a bit of a 'skinned knuckles' moment and was needlessly harsh. Honestly? I *am* tired of the cliche that is the million-mile bike trip on a thimble of borrowed fuel and with alternative lifestyle bike gangs waving cheerily along the way (taking time out sucking shit from the upturned arses of the royal family you understand), but I'd rather it was that way than your correspondent made the trip in a Renault Kangoo. And for the record I appreciate old bikes -- s'why I'm here -- and I have a '51 James Comet (among other machines).

Anonymous said...

What a great read and a great trip you wont forget,keep on biking Dave.

Shirty said...

Fantastic story, reminded me of when I had to ride my old Bantam up to my brother who was stationed at RAF Swinderby! Glad to hear the full tale having had a quick chat & thinking that he'll never get it going then seeing putt putt out of the campsite on Sunday! Bloody marvelous!!

pushrodmofo said...

This story made my day!

Anonymous said...

What a story. I'm new to old bikes too. Who gives a rats ass about cliches, it is all about the journey and the people. The Trip Out changed me and a couple of my mates. We rode up from Southampton and my Shovel never missed a beat!

Stories like these make me smile. Good on ya dude!

Ben