You gotta hand it to Edmund King, president of the AA; when it comes to sophism, he takes some beating. In an age of Gatso cameras, road humps, urban chicanes and neighbourhood speed limits (not to mention the various green issues—bogus or otherwise), it's interesting that King is once again advocating raising the motorway speed limit.
The idea, apparently, is that motorists have no respect for the poorly enforced 70mph limit, but would have oodles of support if the numbers were raised to eighty, subject to more police patrols.
With that kind of logic, you could pretty much convince us of just about anything. Except that we've got our thinking caps on today, and we just ain't buying it.
Not that there isn't a case for higher velocities on British motorways. Or so we're told. The benefits include ... well, King hasn't said exactly what the benefits include, except some vague reference to economic advantages and respect for the law. On the other hand, the idea of white van man, murderous coach drivers and the usual motoring suspects pushing the boundaries even further (to around 90mph, for instance) is a little worrying, especially for those of us still struggling along on sidevalves, pushrods, and ancient two-strokes. Which is where the problem lies.
There was a time when motorcycles had the advantage of cars. They could not only out-accelerate most of them, but could also hit higher top speeds than the vast majority and stay well ahead of the pack. But times have changed, and even if you're riding a modern sports machine replete with racing leathers and wind-tunnel tested streamlined bodywork, you're still an aerodynamic mess and faced with the intractable issue of windblast which hits two-wheelers a lot harder than it hits four wheelers. And then there's the issue of road grip, which has been vastly improved on modern tyres, but still leaves bikes at a disadvantage.
In short. modern motorcycles can still theoretically outpace the average airbagged/crumple-zoned family saloon, but today's riders tend to start reigning it in at a speed where a lot of drivers are still barely getting warmed up. Raising the speed limit to eighty will therefore only increase the (legal) disparity between cars and bikes further eroding the safety margin. Yes, we can still mostly hold our own in towns and on country lanes, but on motorways and (increasingly) on dual carriageways, we're finding it hard to maintain the pace.
Sooner or later, we suspect that 80mph will become the British norm, But for now, the government is still holding the line. However, the pressure is on (largely from the powerful motoring lobby), and the pillars of resistance are crumbling.
More pertinently, every year more and more "traditional" classic bikes are running out of road, except for Sundays and fun days. But here at Sump, we haven't yet done with ours, and if the national speed limit was cut by five or ten miles per hour, that would suit us just fine—except, of course, on those odd occasions when we're behind a wheel rather than a pair of handlebars.
You have to move with the times, of course. But let's not move too quickly, huh?
It's said that around one million drivers in the UK are suffering some form of diabetes (type 1 or type 2), a large number of whom require regular medication. Proportionally speaking, the number of motorcyclists so afflicted is unknown, but it has to be in the tens of thousands.
Most of these drivers/riders are self-regulating and fairly safe, but new enforcement practices are driving many of them off the road. Why? It's simply because the DVLA is taking a much tougher line these days and is (apparently randomly) revoking licences for vehicle operators considered to be a risk.
Sounds okay in principle. No one, after all (least of all bikers) want any more dangerous drivers on the road. Only, the DVLA have repeatedly been shown to be over-zealous and incompetent, and have often snatched back legitimately held licenses simply because their multi-million pound computer system sneezed and flipped the wrong switch.
What it means for you is two fold. Firstly, diabetes is on the rise, and supposedly around one million people out there don't even know they have the condition (with all the social burning fuse problems associated with it), and (b) this could represent yet another assault on your licence if the DVLA have the slightest reason to suspect you're a moving hazard.
If your health is on the wane, you're rightfully obliged to notify both the licensing authorities and your insurance company. But you might want to keep in mind the fact that a little too much honesty can be counterproductive and force you off the road entirely.
— The Third Man
Someone must have got this one wrong, because it was only yesterday that Suzuki released the GSX1100 Katana, wasn't it? We know that because one afternoon back in 1981 we climbed off a Triumph T140 and straddled an 1100cc Kat and took it for a blast and got the fright of our lives. And it couldn't have been that long ago, because that would make us ... well, old.
But we just checked, and yep, thirty years it is. Three. Zero. Gosh.
If 132mph sounds pretty rapid now, you can reflect on how that felt back in 1981 when this one was launched—in every sense of the word. Of course, it was all more Jap crap, and everyone in our Oily Brit Gang could see these Katana gadgets would all be on the junk heap before the decade was out. And what the hell was all that anti-dive rubbish, anyway? And why couldn't they stick the tank transfers on straight?
But we're a little more mature and wiser these days, and if these bikes aren't modern classics, then nothing is. The radical look was handled by Target Design in Germany. The design chief was Hans Muth, ex-BMW styling head honcho. The prediction was that this one would crash and burn. And a few did. But overall, after the shock wore off, Joe and Josephine Public liked what they saw, and Suzuki did alright.
If you want an investment classic, put one of these on the hit list. But not any old Kat. As ever, go for the funky first-of-type, meaning the GSX1100 CV-carbed version. And if you can't get one of those, pick the "more sporting" GSX1000 with the flat slides.
Six months after that first test ride, we even bought one and took it to Scotland and put a couple of thousand miles on it. The anti-dive packed up pretty quickly, and the engine was a little noisy. But it was a hoot, especially on the wet cobblestones in Edinburgh (tip: try and avoid wet cobblestones in Edinburgh).
Anyway, if you've got some spare cash in the bank and are looking for something to fool around with until the free bus pass comes through, you might consider one of these. But watch out. There are plenty of lash-ups around, and many more have been raced and crashed. So get the magnifying glass out and ask pointed questions. Prices are anything from a couple of grand to five or six grand.
Expect heavy steering at slow speeds, minimal steering lock, an awkward riding crouch (unless you've got exactly the right proportions), heavily worn black-chrome exhausts, squidgy rear suspension, and general clumsiness until you hit eighty. But if you love the looks (and plenty of you do) you can live with their failings and just get on with the business of showing off.
The Vincent Black Shadow of tomorrow? Pretty much, we think. Also available in Silver. Note: guys with open faced lids need not apply.
— Del Monte
We're a bit slow off the mark with this one, but there's still a little time to make amends. John Favill, erstwhile design engineer for Villiers, Norton and Harley-Davidson, will be giving a talk at Coventry Transport Museum on Tuesday 20th September 2011.
Favill, you might recall, worked on the Villiers Starmaker transmission and put more than a few teeth into Norton gearboxes before moving over to Harley-Davidson (1979-1995) as Chief Engineer on the Evolution bikes, including the Sportster.
John's led a very interesting life and has mixed with, and worked with, some of the British motorcycling greats, so it's odds-on that this will be a very illuminating and interesting night.
Tickets are £6.50 advance, or £7.00 on the door. The talk starts at 7.30pm. If you're within a hundred miles of Coventry on Tuesday, consider making a detour.
— Girl Happy
You've got until October 28th 2011 to make your feelings known about "Changes to European Rules on Motorcycle Type Approval".
Never heard of it? Well sit down and listen because it's important and it could affect you in profound ways. Since September 5th 2011, the Department for Transport has been seeking feedback from riders and motorcycle traders about the so called "harmonising" of type approval regulations across the EC.
In a nutshell, the proposals plan to introduce more stringent exhaust emissions controls; introduce mandatory advanced braking systems (both ABS and CBS - Combined Braking Systems); restrict the modification of a motorcycle's power train; compel manufacturers to release repair information to non-franchised dealers; mandate automatic daytime running lights; introduce new controls over "evaporative emissions"; mandate new on-board diagnostics; and create new individual approval schemes for bike builders.
And there's more.
Some of this stuff is actually fair and reasonable. But some isn't. In fact, some of it is tinder dry, both in terms of road safety and commercially speaking. But take care before you go running off at the mouth because not all these EC proposals have actually got the support of the UK government. Mike Penning—the incumbent UK Roads Minister - rides a motorcycle and has a very sympathetic ear for the rest of us on two wheels.
But hey, you ride a classic bike, so it doesn't affect you, right? Well wrong, actually. There are other weapons that the EC is already deploying—or threatening to deploy— elsewhere in the European community, such as compulsory dayglo vests and outright bans of bikes over a certain age in certain areas. Make no mistake that in various quarters of Brussels, you're a moving target and (in their eyes) are an accident waiting to happen. And they want you off the road.
But calm down. It's not imminent Armageddon. It's actually more slow and insidious than that. But long term, it could all spell bad news for the wider motorcycle community if we let these moves pass by unchallenged.
The underlying trouble with these proposals (as with most EC proposals) is that one-size rarely fits everyone. Forcing a single set of rules across Europe is fraught with issues that are likely to be overlooked in the mad scramble for so called "harmonisation"—which is actually a misnomer. Harmonisation in this context actually means rationalisation, or homogenisation.
But there's nothing harmonious about forcing the Brits and the Czechs and the Romanians and the Fins to toe a single line. In fact, these kinds of legislative lash-ups are invariably discordant and lead to chaos. What's really needed is a little flexibility to take account of local needs, conditions and sensibilities.
What's that? Too busy to write? Can't be bothered? Well suit yourself. But you can be sure that some of these proposals will make motorcycling in the UK (and Europe) just that little bit more expensive, that little bit harder, and a whole lot less enjoyable.
If you want to do something about staving off the latest EC threat, download the government document (below), open a beer, have a long read, and then pen a response. Make your objections rational and articulate. Just tell Penning exactly what you object to and why.
We could be wrong here, but Penning sounds like a pretty sincere guy (as far as biking's concerned, anyway) and will quite probably try to shoot down the worst excesses of these proposals if you just give him the ammunition. So load up. Right now.
And about time too. In an age when we're just not breeding many—if any—British industrial giants, you can take some comfort from the fact that we were once awash with them.
Guys such as transport pioneer Thomas Humber who founded a firm that was to manufacture tens of thousands of bicycles, tricycles, quadricycles, motorcycles and cars, and aircraft engines too.
Humber started out as a blacksmith's apprentice and later worked on sewing and weaving machines. In the late 1860s, he founded his own blacksmith works. In 1868, he designed a safety bicycle in which the pedals drove the rear wheel, as opposed to being directly mounted on the front spindle—a pretty dodgy way to cycle whenever the fork needs to be turned. The following year, Humber established a factory in Beeston, Nottingham known as Humber & Company Limited.
In 1892, Humber introduced the "classic" diamond frame which set a new benchmark for bicycle design and helped propel two-wheeled pedal power into the 20th century.
In 1893, the Humber company began to experiment with the internal combustion engine, and even built an experimental electric bicycle. Within four years, the firm has made its first four-wheeler (based on a De Dion design) with manufacturing now being handled in Coventry. The first Humber car (as we would recognise it) appeared in 1901. The first Humber motorcycle came one year later.
Humber, in its heyday, was producing more bicycles than anyone else on the planet. The quality was evidently fit for a king because the British Royal Family were noted consumers of the marque.
In the late 1920s, Humber ceased motorcycle production. In 1932, the firm sold its bicycle interests to Raleigh.
Thomas Humber, note, had actually ceased direct association with the firm in 1892 and officially retired. The story of the company is, in fact, a fairly complex one featuring numerous partnerships. Nevertheless, it was Thomas Humber who lit the fuse and gave us one of the greatest British companies and introduced numerous innovations (many of which were driven by the racing community) that set the trend and pace for generations to follow.
One of Humber's best moments was in 1911 when P J Evans rode a 342cc V-Twin Humber motorcycle to victory in the Junior TT narrowly beating a certain Harry Collier of Matchless Motorcycles fame. Evans recorded a lap average of 42mph. Six Humber machines, featuring closely guarded Armstrong Triplex hub gears, were entered in that race, all of which finished. The same model held the 1911-1912 Brookland speed record for the 350cc class where it hit 59mph.
Thomas Humber died (of cancer) in 1910 in Kingston-upon-Thames and had to wait 101 years for a plaque. But better late that never, we say. The plaque is located at the old Humber Factory in Humber Road, Beeston, Notts. If you pass it on your travels, doff your lid or something. You wouldn't be riding at all but for guys such as this.
— The Third Man
It's ten years since the Davida Jet helmet was introduced, which is odd because it feels more like it's been around forever. And that's a measure of its success, huh? Like the Brown Betty teapot and parking meters, it's hard to imagine a world without them.
But ten years it is, apparently, and Davida (Britain's "only remaining manufacturer of certified motorcycle helmets in the UK") haven't let the occasion go unmarked. Instead, they've launched an anniversary competition, the details of which can be found on their website.
Based in Birkenhead, Merseyside, the firm has become synonymous with cool—but not with cheap. These things retail at £225, which is a large chunk of change for a fibreglass bowl trimmed with leather. Then again, if you've got the bike, the boots and the Brando jacket, you just gotta cap it off properly—and it beats the hell out of that cheap crap dumped on the UK market by China.
Happy birthday, and all that.
— Del Monte
No, calm down. It's not a genuine Gus Kuhn racer. That's what the quotation marks are all about. Instead, it's a private homage to one of the great British racing teams of the 1970s.
It was sold by Bonhams at the Beaulieu Autojumble on Saturday 10th September 2011 and comfortably beat its reserve of £5,000-£6,000. Features include a 5 gallon "Barcelona" tank, a 2-into-1 S&W exhaust, a QD sidestand and lockwire in all the required places.
The bike (registration: NPK 950L) was sold new back in 1972 by Comerford of Thames Ditton. With assistance from ex-racer and marque specialist Norman White, the engine was completely rebuilt and has only 40 miles on the clock, we hear.
The owner, according to Bonhams, decided that at 6 feet 4 inches tall, the riding position was "too cramped" and so he put the Norton on the market—and it's not the first time we've heard that one.
Anyway, it's gone now, complete with an MOT and a V5. In spite of the fact that it's a copy/replica/homage, we thought it would do a little better. But then, prices in the classic bike world are in a state of flux at the moment. What was up yesterday is down today. And vice versa.
So better not get too carried away out there. We're predicting a hard winter.
— The Third Man
These frames hardly need any introduction, so we'll skip that bit and move straight on to the price. Andover Norton is still bashing them out from original drawings and is asking £990 including VAT. There's a swinging arm for £270 (inc VAT), and a spindle for £6.60 (also inc VAT).
The spindle sounded a little cheap, so we checked—and £6.60 is the price (as of 9th September 2011). Anyway, these frames are all-welded, are supplied in raw steel and, coming from Andover Norton, are in all probability perfectly built and ready to rock'n'roll. Buy with confidence, we say.
— Del Monte
Here's a brave bloke. His name is Mike Wheeler and he's just taken on a Royal Enfield franchise in Witney, Oxfordshire.
At a time when the mainstream bike industry is on its knees and grubbing for change, this guy is seizing a new commercial risk by the throat and pushing forward with his business. And you gotta hand it to people like that. It's like the charge of the Light Brigade. It's inspiring.
Not that we've got anything against Royal Enfield. If you're going to expand your motorcycle portfolio, Royal Enfield, Triumph and BMW are probably the way to go—not necessarily in that order. But shelling out even more money at a time when pretty much everyone else is hanging on to theirs takes some nerve.
The Wheeler family opened their first shop back in 1969 when Creedence Clearwater Revival was singing about Proud Mary, and Johnny Cash was telling us all about a Boy Named Sue.
Mike has seen how the crippling UK economy is driving more and more people to radically review their transport options, and (cue unashamed plug) "You can't do much better than ride a Royal Enfield that returns around 80mpg" (plug ends). Certainly beats the bus.
Anyway, we're always happy to give one of Britain's small businessmen a leg up (seeing as the government can't seem to do anything useful for them), so take it away Mike Wheeler.
If you're in the area, you can find him at Bridge Street in the centre of Witney. Telephone 01993 702660. Tell him Uncle Sump sent ya.
Weighing in at just 407lbs (wet), with 125ps on tap at 12,600rpm, the 2012 warmed-over 675cc Daytona is Triumph's latest attempt to re-consolidate its position as one of the top contenders in the 600 sports bike class.
Features include a 41mm "inverted" front fork (can't they dream up a better name than "inverted"?), Nissin monoblock brake calipers, revised clutch and generator covers, Pirelli SuperCorsa SP tyres, and 71Nm of torque on tap. Colours are Phantom Black or Diablo Red.
A race kit is also available together with the usual Triumph accessories. The price of the base model is £8,499 and it's available any time now. There's an unlimited two year mileage warranty, to boot.
But warmed-over? Is that fair? Actually, it is. In 2013, Triumph is expected to let rip with a brand new, ground-up revised Daytona. In the meantime, the existing 675 package has been re-tied to make it just that little bit faster, tighter and lighter. But don't expect anything too radical.
Regardless, when Triumph is building bikes as good as this and bringing a lot of bacon home to Blighty, it beats us why anyone bothers buying foreign. But it's a strange world out there.
— Girl Happy
Fifteen grand for a a Panther? Is someone having a laugh? Well probably not, actually. Pre-war British exotica has been fetching big money lately—although things seemed to have cooled a little over the past few weeks or so (might just be the summer holidays coupled to the usual August lull).
This bike is one of Phelon & Moore's finest. It's currently on eBay (3rd September 2011) asking for one pound shy of fifteen big ones—and it sounds as good as it looks (the sellers have posted some video to get you salivating).
For the uninitiated, the engine's a twin port 600cc single (actually 594cc). The bore and stroke is 87mm x 100mm (respectively). The compression ratio is 6.5:1. The gearbox is a 4-speed foot-change Burman BAP unit.
The Model 100 was launched in 1932 and continued through to 1963. In 1947, Dowty Oleomatic forks were introduced revolutionising the ride. The power output is around 23bhp. Riders of the day saw around 70mph.
The 600cc Panthers are a little lumpier than their smaller 500cc (490cc) stablemates, but both are a treat for whatever senses you've got left after a lifetime of mucking about with classic bikes.
This bike is being sold by VRN Limited in Cheshire. If you've got £15,000 sitting in the bank doing nothing special, you might want to call VRN on 08446 634515 and haggle. We think there's a little bargaining room there. As far as investment potential's concerned, it's about on the money (give or take a thousand or so), but you probably won't be seeing a huge return in the foreseeable future. But the Panther will probably climb steadily, eclipsed as ever by the usual blue-chip suspects such as Brough, Coventry-Eagle, Vincent, etc.
That said, this is a piece of British class and a very cool set of wheels. It's not top of our 1930s shopping list, but it's not a long way off.
— The Third Man
Footnote: Two months on, the Panther is still for sale.
A race to the grim reaper? An event too far? Or extraordinary guys living their lives to the max? Or Manx?
Some are (again) saying it's time to put an end to both the Manx and the TT carnage. But not us. These riders know the risks they take, and they're prepared to accept them for the thrill of competing in one of the world's most iconic motorcycle events. They live and die by the next bend in the road, by decisions made in a millionth of a second, by chance, by luck, and by ordinary fate.
But that doesn't make it any easier when we hear that the lives of three racers have been snuffed out in just one week. Adam Easton, aged 71 (above), is the latest to die at the event.
Easton, from East Lothian, Scotland, was no stranger to the Manx. He'd competed many times over 28 years and died on Wednesday 31st August 2011 on the approach to the Cronk-y-Voddy straight. He was racing a Manx Norton in the 500cc Classic Grand Prix and was the overall oldest competitor at the Manx.
Meanwhile, 49-year old Neil Kent from Lincolnshire was killed last week at Greeba Bridge during practice, while Portadown rider Wayne Hamilton, aged just 20, died on Monday in the Junior race at the 13th milestone near Kirk Michael.
But would any of these guys have preferred to peg out in any other way? Probably not. But it's a bitter harvest all the same.
— Del Monte