Octopussy Rides Again

22 Feb

Octopussy on BehanceWhat else can a guy do on a wet evening having just watched Roger Moore in the Bond film Octopussy?

Yes – I admit to a bout of nostalgia for a time when life was simpler. James Bond got away with so many harmless lines in a film that in today’s Politicaly Correct world would have the directors reaching for the editing scissors.

I will stick to safer ground and in the absence of any newsworthy action from today will get all nostalgic over bikes I have owned and ridden in the past sixty years.

With the total standing at over one hundred and still counting don’t be surprised if I miss a few out or don’t even get past the first half dozen.

First ride was on my grandfather’s 200cc Ariel Colt from the 1930s when he sent it south to be my brother’s first bike.

Big bro’ was still out at work on the farm when it arrived so I beat him to it when I raced home from school early. Life is just one long determination to catch up when you grow up third of four brothers —


This isn’t the actual bike and the purists will probably claim she isn’t even the correct pre-war Colt model but if not – she’s close enough for me. She featured a hand-change on the righthand side of the fuel tank for the three speed box. plus inverted clutch and front brake levers and more handlebar mounted stuff for throttle and choke plus an ignition advance and retard lever to add to the confusion.

Once I had sorted out what did what a ‘quick’ blast down the dirt road behind our cottage on Darlingfield Farm in the Scottish Borders and I was hooked on motorcycling for life —


Next to feature was an ex-World War 2 – Norton 16H – not quite as pristine as the bike in this borrowed pic —

Norton 16H

The big side-valve 500 was fitted with a matching sidecar when she arrived at the farm near Dunblane where we had moved to. The third wheel was soon dumped along with all the other extra bits when my brother and I discovered that three-wheelers don’t steer like normal bikes.

That was when we were sitting together in the dung heap along with the upturned Norton and sidecar after she went straight on into the steaming pile of cow shit instead of steering round on the 90 degree left. She also taught me that motorcycles can bite when she broke my bottom rib when landing on top of me from a height during some enthusiastic dirt tracking down on a marshy part of the farm that wasn’t good for much else.

Something to be said for learning to ride in a bog – it doesn’t hurt so much when your bike succeeds in burying you!

The errant Norton was soon to be followed by my first bike on the road – a handsome 1952 Velocette 350 MAC. Again – not quite as shiny as this fine example in the stolen photo below but smart never-the-less —


She cost just over forty quid from a friend who was getting married. I didn’t have all of the money but my elder brother did as he had a received a payout from an accident he had been involved in while riding pillion with a mate and helped me out.

With the fleet Velo as a first bike on the road at 16 yrs of age – escapades were guaranteed and numerous.

Within two weeks I had bent the front forks and wheel under the motor when I failed to stay on the road on a tightening bend during a ‘race’ with a Ford van driven by a local farmer’s son on Loch Earn side.

We retrieved all the bits we could find from the forested river bank that had broken my forks – chucked them in the back of the van and stored them at his farm before I got a lift home in my now tattered – new Rucha bike jacket from a nice couple in a passing Mercedes.

That was it till I saved up and had a straight set of telescopic forks sent up from London dealer – Pride & Clark – for the princely sum of £2.50s.

Initially wearing ‘L’ plates – I was to pass my Riding Test in Dunblane aged seventeen after an ignominious failure on an ’emergency stop’ during my first Test in Callander. I still blame the Tester to this day for messing up his signals and stepping off the pavement in front of me – trusting bugger that he was.

I do hope he got over it.

The poor Velo with her ‘soft’ all-alloy motor had really suffered at my inexperienced hands as I aped my hero Bob MacIntyre and by the time I was nineteen I was ready for something with a bit more ‘go’.

When a refugee from the race tracks in the shape of a tuned BSA 650cc Road Rocket and a chequered history in the hands of Ewen Haldane on Scottish circuits against the likes of Bob Mac and Alistair King became available she had to be mine —


As usual I was short of the sixty quid asking price but my bro’ came to the rescue again. He loved riding pillion behind me anyway – don’t know why cos it would scare me half to death! Probably thought of it as a way to protect his investment.

What a bike she proved to be! Triumph Tiger 110’s – BSA Rocket Gold Stars – Thruxton Velo’s and the like were blown away in the free-for-all on the roads at that time as we ‘raced’ from café to café. If there wasn’t a competitor around to ‘race’ we would put a record on Nan’s Station Café juke box with the challenge being to ‘race’ round a road circuit featuring the main streets of Dunblane and be back in the café before the record finished.

Madness I know but that’s how it was back then.

The Road Rocket spent as much time in bits ‘being worked on’ in the byre as she did on the road and eventually went off to live on a farm near Crieff. Even now – well over fifty years later I occasionally bump into riders at bike gatherings who remember the fast A10 with the Post Office crowns emblazoned on her sides.

She left her mark on me too – having broken my neck on my way from work only a month after bringing her home.

Undeterred – after I got out of hospital I was still riding the big BSA – after I straightened her up. Iinitially with a neck brace and no helmet as mine had been obliterated along with most of my teeth in the crash. Eventually I got back to work and could afford one of the last of the pudding basin helmets which I still keep to this day – although it no longer fits.

My furry friend Patch models it here —

puddin basin 001

About this time in the mid-sixties I got married and somehow found the cash to buy the new 650cc BSA Lightning!

BSA 650 Lightning

I have no idea how I managed it. In my early twenties I was working as a crane driver/steel erector and also had a smart – two-tone – straight six Ford Zodiac at the kerb below our room and kitchen attic flat. Soon there was a baby on the way – makes me wonder where I found the cash – or the energy.

The pretty A65 proved to be a disappointment after my love affair with her single big Amal TT carb’d A10 predecessor. BSA’s first unit construction twin carb 650 vibrated and burned fuel like it was going out of fashion leaving me red-faced at times. Both with embarrassment and from pushing her to the nearest petrol station.

With an indicated top speed of about 110 mph two up she wasn’t particularly fast – not when you consider my tuned 1954 Golden Flash was reputed to have been timed at 136 mph (possibly an exaggeration) on the long bumpy straight at Charterhall race circuit with rider Ewen Haldane in fruitless pursuit of Bob Mac and Alistair King on their Manx Nortons.


Daughter duly arrived – I became the sole earner and life got serious. The two-tone Zodiac with her handy front bench seat and column gear change was first to go. Just as well – she looked cool in her bright paintwork and oodles of chrome but iffy front brakes meant stopping in a straight line could be a lottery.

While ok for a young rocker – not what you want with baby aboard.

No worries – a move south to salaried work – company car and a mortgage put my nose hard to the grindstone meaning frivolous things like motorbikes were to go on the backburner for a number of years.



Thanks to all the people who provide photos of bikes on-line because it is a major regret that I don’t have pics featuring my own old machines.


Don – m-mmm – feels like only yesterday 🙂




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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Uncategorized



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