Thursday, January 28, 2010

Restoring a Royal Enfield bought for £7

The before and after photographs of the Royal Enfield pictured here caught my eye because the owner said he paid only £7 for the motorcycle (and restored it, in the 1970s) and because the pictures had a definite artistic touch.

They are the work of John Allen, motorcycle and mural artist based in Whitehaven, U.K. and I saw the pictures on his fresh new web site.

He says of himself:

"In 2009 I retired from art teaching (definitely) and motor cycle racing (maybe!).

"My interest in motorcycles has been lifelong (thanks to a dad dragging me off to the T.T. from the age of six), and, after starting racing at the age of 18 and having to give it up when daughter came along, I resumed my racing career in my mid forties in 1995.

"I won the Preston & District Classic championship in 1996 and finished runner up in the 2000 U.K. Classic championship. I have produced artwork for many of the top personalities involved in motorcycle racing," Allen wrote me.

What about the motorcycle he restored in the '70s?

"I still have it, although it is in need of restoration again as I have not used it since starting racing again in 1995. The bike is a 1960 500cc Meteor Minor Sports.

Naturally, there's a story about the £7 motorcycle, and it's a go0d one:

"I bought my Enfield in 1972. I had been on the lookout for cheap transport and missed not having a road bike since starting racing on my 650 Triton two years earlier. Someone in my local pub pointed me in the direction of his brother who had taken his Enfield off the road years earlier and 'would probably sell it cheap.'

"The bike was very corroded and had not been run for a long time. After some haggling I purchased the bike for seven pounds — an amount I had to borrow off my mother, who remarked on first seeing the RE 'You've not spent my money on that heap of scrap have you?'

"Fortunately the vendor lived at the top of a hill, where I lived at the bottom of the valley, and being younger and fitter in those days I was able to push and coast home.

Three-weeks owned.

"After cleaning the carb, fitting new plugs and a battery, the bike started third or fourth kick, ejecting several shocked spiders out of the exhaust as it did so. The previous owner had taken the bike off the road when he was unable to cure clutch drag.

"Inquiries revealed that Enfield changed the thickness of the plates midway through 1960 and the previous owner had fitted the wrong (thicker) plates. An obvious solution would have been to fit the correct plates, but as all my spare money went on my race bike or beer, I settled for filing some thickness away and living with a little bit of clutch drag.

"I had been given a non running 500cc BSA and I adapted the seat (better condition) to fit the Enfield, where it remains to this day as I think it's more aesthetically pleasing than the standard one.

"Plenty of elbow grease and a brush paint job and I was ready to hit the roads of my native Cumbria, which being relatively traffic free, twisty and hilly, suited the Meteor Minor unlike the congested roads of London where I lived during term time.

"I had to time journeys to perfection to avoid 'a little bit of clutch drag' becoming a major issue. I usually timed my trips across London to miss the rush hour, but this one time I had risen late and had virtually fried the clutch by the time I arrived at the motorway. A lot of free play was visible in the clutch cable as I accelerated into the outside lane but, secure in the knowledge it would soon cool down and self adjust, I wasn't worried — that is until I saw the slotted adjusters vibrate around into alignment and promptly fall into the road at 70 mph.

"I knew I would only need to stop once for fuel at approximately halfway into my journey and decided to plow on. When I arrived at Keele services I thought it would be possible to take the adjusters off the front brake cable and modify them to fit. I had obviously never heard the expression 'if you're in a hole stop digging,' because all I succeeded in doing was modifying the adjusters so they would not fit brake or clutch.

"With no clutch and now no front brake I ran alongside before jumping aboard and stamping it into gear. In those days between the motorway exit and home there was only one roundabout and one set of traffic lights to negotiate and, with careful regulation of approach speed, this was achieved without drama. So imagine how smug and pleased with myself I was feeling as I turned into the council estate where my parents lived.

"That smugness was short lived as I noticed the police car that was obviously following me. I started to list the charge sheet in my head: no front brake, no clutch operation, no road fund license (did I explain I was waiting for a grant cheque?).

"I needn't have worried as the officer said he wasn't interested in 'things like that,' only in looking at an unusual old British bike that reminded him of his days spent as a rocker. It was at this point I realized there was a God and he obviously liked Enfields!"

1980 restoration.

"After three years of very hard use a con rod popped out for a bit of fresh air when being abused two-up on the motorway. This had been the period when it was my sole means of transport and it had done enough to endear itself to me before going bang to ensure it could never be sold.

"Since restoring the bike in 1980 I have covered another 11,000 miles but be warned: once you have restored them it is easy to become too precious and ride them in such an inhibited way as to defeat the object."

1960 Meteor Minor Sports as it looks today.

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