THE 1926 BSA is still not quite finished. There are still some little things to do to it but I have come a long way.

It was found in Townsville in the early 1900’s and taken to Mackay where John Gibbs purchased it and restored about 80 percent of it in his spare time in Nambucca. John sold it to another chap who rode it once or twice, put it in his lounge room and then decided to sell it to buy a new Harley. I was lucky enough to buy it off him.

Back in 1926 the engines didn’t last very long because there was no great design in them and the roads were pretty rough. They used to unbolt the engine when it blew up, go to the shop and buy another motor. This bike has its original engine in the frame as it came out of the factory. It was sold on 28th August in 1925 in Australia so it was probably built in England somewhere around 1923—1924. It would have taken a fair while to come out by boat but it was sold in 1925. It’s passed as a 1926 model. All its running gear, except for its big-end and piston, have been replaced. It’s still got its original bearings and it’s still working fine.

It’s a three-speed change up on the tank.

On the right hand side of the handlebars you have your air control. Your throttle’s underneath that and then your front brake beside it. Then you have a foot brake down on the right-hand side of the running board.

The brakes have a big drum and a V-pad, most probably back in those days, made out of whale bone.

On the left-hand side of the fuel tank you have an oil-dripping system which drips oil onto the big-ends as you are riding the bike. You can adjust the rate of the drip. It’s usually about one drop every second but the old blokes reckon a drop every second light post, unless you are speeding or doing a lot of hill work and then you adjust the drip up a bit more. You sort of count the drips when you get going. When you know they are dripping then you are pretty set.

The oil recycles—there is a small oil pipe down near the timing gear and it pumps the drips back up all the time. When it’s empty you prime the pump. It is recommended to change the oil every 1000 miles.

It is a beautiful piece of equipment and I enjoy it immensely. I love riding it and taking it to shows so other people can appreciate it too. I took it to the Mackay Bike Show. It won People’s Choice, Best Pre-1942 and Bike of Australia out of 65 bikes. At Gold Coast Bike Week it got Best Vintage.

Going to the Gold Coast Bike Show was just fantastic—rain and slush everywhere! There was talk on Friday about cancelling the rest of the show. I said to them, “How are you going to shift a couple of thousand bikies?”

My brother James lives on the Gold Coast so it was good to catch up—a bit of brother bonding—with him during the Bike Week. We don’t see each other very often so it was good to muck around with the bikes.

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A Short History of BSA

BSA was founded in 1861 in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham, England, by 14 gunsmiths of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade Association who had together supplied arms to the British government during the Crimean War. The company branched out as the gun trade declined and in the 1870s they manufactured the Otto Dicycle; in the 1880s the company began to manufacture bicycles; and in 1903 the company’s first experimental motorcycle was constructed. Their first prototype automobile was produced in 1907 and the next year the company sold 150 automobiles. By 1909 they were offering a number of motorcycles for sale and in 1910 BSA purchased the British Daimler Company for its automobile engines.

During World War I, the company returned to arms manufacture and greatly expanded its operations. BSA produced rifles, Lewis guns, shells, motorcycles, and other vehicles for the war effort.

In 1920, it bought some of the assets of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) which had built many important aircraft during the war but had become bankrupt with the lack or orders post hostilities. BSA did not go into aviation; the chief designer Geoffrey de Havilland of Airco founded the de Havilland company.

As well as the Daimler car range, BSA re-entered the car market under their own name in 1921 with a V-twin engined light car followed by four cylinder models up to 1926 when the name was temporarily dropped. In 1929 a new range of three and four wheel cars appeared and production of these continued until 1936.

In the 1930’s the board of directors authorised expenditure on bringing their arms-making equipment back to use—it had been stored at company expense since the end of the Great War in the belief that BSA might again be called upon to perform its patriotic duty.

In 1931 the Lanchester Motor Company was acquired and production of their cars transferred to Daimler’s Coventry works.

By World War II, BSA had 67 factories and was well positioned to meet the demand for guns and ammunition. BSA operations were also dispersed to other companies under licence. During the war it produced over a million Lee-Enfield rifles, Sten sub machine guns and half a million Browning machine guns. Wartime demands included motorcycle production. BSA supplied 126,000 M20 motorcycles to the armed forces, from 1937 (and later until 1950) plus military bicycles including the folding paratrooper bicycle. At the same time, the Daimler concern was producing armoured cars.

Post-war, BSA continued to expand the range of metal goods it produced. The BSA Group bought Triumph Motorcycles in 1951, making them the largest producer of motorcycles in the world. The cycle and motorcycle interests of Ariel, Sunbeam and New Hudson were also acquired.

In 1960 Daimler was sold off to Jaguar.

The BSA bicycle arm was sold off to Raleigh in 1957. Bicycles under the BSA name are currently manufactured and distributed within India by TI Cycles of India.

The production of guns bearing the BSA name continued beyond the 1957 sale of the bicycle division, but in 1986 BSA Guns was liquidated, the assets bought and renamed BSA Guns (UK) Ltd. The company continues to make air rifles and shotguns, and are still based in Small Heath in Birmingham.

The Group continued to expand and acquire throughout the 1950s but by 1965 competition from Japan (in the shape of companies like Honda) and Germany was eroding BSA’s market share. The BSA (and Triumph range) were no longer aligned with the markets; mopeds were displacing scooter sales, superbikes were up at 1000 cc and the trials and scrambles areas were now the preserve of two-strokes. Some poor marketing decisions and expensive projects contributed to substantial losses. For example, the development and production investment of the Ariel 3, an ultra stable 3 wheel scooter, was not recouped by sales; the loss has been estimated at some 2 million pounds.

Re-organisation in 1971 concentrated motorcycle production at Meriden, Triumph’s site, with production of components and engines at BSA’s Small Heath. At the same time there were redundancies and the selling of assets. Barclays Bank arranged financial backing to the tune of 10 million.

By 1972, with bankruptcy imminent, and with the government backing its motorcycle businesses, BSA was absorbed into the Manganese Bronze company, Norton-Villiers, which became Norton-Villiers-Triumph with the intention of producing and marketing Norton and Triumph motorcycles. The shareholders of BSA confirmed the deal. Although the BSA name was left out of the new company’s name, a few products continued to be made carrying it until 1973. The final range was just four models: Gold Star 500, 650 Thunderbolt/Lightning and the 750 cc Rocket Three. However, because the plan involved large redundancies, the plans to rescue and combine Norton, BSA and Triumph failed in the face of worker resistance. Norton’s and BSA’s factories were eventually shut down, while Triumph staggered on to fail four years later.

Out of the ashes of receivership, the NVT Motorcycles Ltd company, which owned the rights to the BSA marque, was bought-out by the management and renamed the BSA Company.

The BSA company produced military motorcycles (with Rotax engines) and motorcycles for developing countries (with Yamaha engines) under the BSA name. In the later case the old ‘Bushman’ name was recalled to duty—it had been previously used on high ground clearance Bantams sold for the likes of Australian sheep farmers.

In 1991, the BSA (motorcycle) Company merged with Andover Norton International Ltd to form a new BSA Group, largely producing spare parts for existing motorcycles. In December 1994, BSA Group was taken over by a newly formed BSA Regal Group. The new company, based in Southampton, has a large spares business and has produced a number of limited-edition, retro-styled motorcycles.

pics by Walter Wall; words by Daniel Williams