BSA Bantam

In the Beginning…

One my earliest memories, one of those mental snapshots from the past was a view, sitting on my Mum’s lap, out of the window of a double adult sidecar. I must have been about 3. The sidecar was attached to a BSA M21 owned by my Dad’s brother Mike, who was an art master & amateur opera singer from Woking in Surrey. The M21 was used as family transport for Mike, my aunt Doreen and their children before it was replaced like so many others by a Morris 1000.
Years later, when I had kids of my own and was re-discovering the wonderful world of old bikes, Mike used to visit us in Norfolk. I learned that before he bought the M21, he had had a Bantam D1, just like the one on the front of the first edition Haynes manual that I had in my motoring library.

A seed was sown.

A bit of history

Despite the Bantam being considered the archetypal 'truly British' lightweight motorcycle outselling all others, it was in fact a German design. It’s commonly known, especially amongst Bantam enthusiasts, that the design for the machine was derived from the DKW RT 125, received as war reparations.
But what does this mean?
After World War II, in accordance with agreements made at the Potsdam conference held between July 17 and August 2, 1945, Germany was made to pay the allied nations US$20 billion, mainly in machinery and manufacturing plants. In addition, in accordance with the agreed-upon policy of the de-industrialisation and pastoralization of Germany, large numbers of civilian factories were dismantled for transport to France and the UK, or simply destroyed.  

Beginning even before the German surrender and continuing for the next two years, the United States pursued a vigorous program to harvest all technological and scientific know-how as well as all patents and many leading scientists in Germany (known as Operation Paperclip), which led, amongst other things, to the US space program.
In the end, war victims in many countries were compensated by the property of Germans that were expelled after World War II. Dismantling in the west stopped in 1950, though reparations to the Soviet Union continued until 1953.
So, the DKW drawings, which would probably have been on rolls of linen back in the forties, would have been identified by some British or US engineers as intellectual property useful to the rebuilding allied nations and were made available to allied motorcycle factories by some mechanism. The same design went into production in at least two and perhaps four countries in addition to the UK. Harley-Davidson started producing their Model 125 ‘Hummer; in late 1947 (several months before BSA) and the occupiers of East Germany, the U.S.S.R. began building the Москва M1A model even earlier, around 1946. In East Germany the machine was made at the original DKW factory by IFA, which later became MZ. Later, Yamaha also produced copies.

The BSA designers converted the design for the British market, including Imperial measurements, fasteners, & bought-in components for manufacture in Birmingham and the most obvious change, the inversion of the whole engine for the right-foot gear change. The engine proved itself, and with small motorcycles becoming ever more popular in Britain, BSA decided to build a complete motorcycle around the D1 engine.

This original Bantam, the D1, was released in October 1948 and continued in production for several years, initially for export only. It had telescopic forks, a rigid rear end, direct electrics, shovel front-mudguard and a fishtail silencer. It was available only in "mist green" and sold for £60 plus purchase tax. Although the frame changed out of all recognition (beginning with conversion to plunger and then swinging fork rear suspension), the engine remained a recognisable development of the original for the entire 23 years of production.

The engine was a unit construction single cylinder 2 stroke, with a cast iron barrel and alloy cylinder head. The gearbox was initially provided three speeds, fed through a "wet" multi-plate clutch and the little bike would get to about 45 mph, returning about 100 mpg.
Ignition was provided by several third-party systems in the early years - a Lucas battery powered coil system and two types of magneto provided by Wipac. The first fitment was the 27 Watt Wipac Geni-Mag magneto which was mounted as a composite assembly sitting within the flywheel with its magnetic inserts; windings gave power either directly to the lights (with a dry battery for when the engine was stopped) or through a rectifier into a lead acid battery.
Carburetion was provided with a simple single-jet Amal carburettor, typical of those fitted to small machines at the time, with a simple oiled mesh air filter & strangler. The early D1s had one piece "fish tail" styled exhausts but this was replaced with the more conventional cylindrical silencer which could be dismantled for cleaning – which, in the days when two-stroke engines ran on conventional mineral oil, or even what your Dad drained from the sump of his new Morris Minor, was highly desirable. Brakes were highly conventional 5” pressed steel drums which were considered adequate at the time.
Although the bike had its fair share of faults, it sold well and became a common sight on the roads of Britain. One thing BSA had not expected was its introduction into competition events. Owners modified their bantams, fitting non-standard sprockets and wider handlebars. The Bantam was one of the first bikes to be used in this way, trials before that had been more professional events run by substantially larger bikes.
Some of the deficiencies in the original design were tackled in 1950. The D1 was now offered with plunger rear-springing in addition to the rigid frame version, a welcome relief to the backsides of Bantam owners. This was a major change to the frame, and altered many of the associated parts.

The 27 Watt Geni-Mag was replaced by two options, a Wico-Pacy Series 55 30 Watt generator, and a Lucas IA45 45 Watt Alternator. The Series 55 was the next development of the Geni-mag, more powerful, more reliable, while the Lucas was completely new. The system incorporated an external ignition coil, powered by a battery. Being a DC system it also used a Selenium rectifier and was electrically much more complex than the Series 55.

Rubber Gaiters were added to the front forks to prevent debris from interfering with the motion of the forks. The exhaust pipe was routed above the footrests, which gavean overall more pleasant line to the bike.
The shovel front mudguard was never the pinnacle of style, and was replaced by a much more sedate unvalenced unit, complete with the then standard "pedestrian slicer" front number plate. Evidently the Bantam was being used more for commuting because a dual-seat option was offered; rear footrest lugs were added to the frame for all machines. Chrome also hit the scene, with plated wheel rims and fuel tank seam covers.
The rather flimsy headlamp bracket was replaced by a steel pressed steel shroud, improving the look of the bike if rendering cable replacement a little more difficult.
The use of Bantams in the competition events had not gone unnoticed by BSA, and they released both rigid and plunger bikes as specific competition models. Many changes were made to these models, the most noticeable fitting the silencer in an upswept position and a folding-kickstart. The cylinder head had a second hole for a decompressor to be fitted for reducing engine braking on downhill sections.

D3 Major

The D3 Major represented the first step in development of the Bantam, although the D1 would be produced for many years to come. First produced in late (most likely October was the first released) 1953 the D3 continued in production until 1957. A modern-style foam-filled pillion seat was fitted as standard, an economy and comfort breakthrough that had become popular as an option on the D1. It replaced the original standard fitting of a parcel carrier behind an individual sprung saddle.
In addition, the front suspension was made more substantial through the use of larger diameter stanchions and the cylinder was not simply bored out but was enlarged with distinctive larger thermal cooling fins. All post-1953 bikes, including D1s, are immediately recognisable by their larger finned cylinder barrels and heads, improving cooling although they maintained their smaller bore.
The bike was fitted with a beefier front brake and was painted a pleasant grey colour, which is the easiest way to spot a D3. The larger capacity rocketed power from 4 to 4.9 horse power, sacrificing a little economy in the process.  

eBay accident

So when I was returning to biking after a 20 year break, a Bantam was a natural choice. eBay is a dangerous place for those of us with itchy fingers! I wander around it at home, or at work to divert myself from the mundanities of the oil industry and sometimes there is something so right that I fail to resist the temptation, and bid. On this occasion, the bike was a 1954 D1 Bantam, which looked like it had been standing for years. It was faded, rusty, there were hard perished tyres, worn cables & the seat was missing.

The bike was in Nottingham, and as luck would have it I was working in Leeds at the time and so was easy to pick the bike up on the way home. So one Thursday afternoon in August 2009 I turned up with a white transit van to meet Pete & his delightful springer spaniel. Pete had had an unfortunate time with a brain tumour and didn’t want to risk his health with a bike project, so after tea, a long chat and a poke around the bike we loaded it onto the van. Pete even found a new single seat still in its box.

Coming home

Once home and out of the van, my daughter Harriet & her friend Florence pushed our new project into the garden, so we could get a good look at it.
It was pretty solid! It was rusty, but there were no holes; the paint was faded mist green, and just like the picture on the front of my Haynes manual. The engine turned over and selected gears and the bike rolled along, though the brakes & the clutch didn’t work at all. Pete had already told me there was a problem with the carburettor float, but if I fixed that it would probably run.
So! First job, the carburettor. This was the first pre­-monobloc carburettor I’d had my fingers in, but I guess I wasn’t surprised by the fact that most of the petrol in the carburettor was actually inside the float...
I was a bit wary of this. It was obvious that the float was made in two halves, spun copper, soldered together with the float needle up the middle, and it was going to need de-soldering to drain the fuel out. So we devised a plan.
We laid our little petrol bomb in the middle of the garden, and ran a cable to the house. We pointed a hot air gun at the float & plugged it in. Returning to the house, we turned on the electricity & waited in the porch to watch the conflagration. We waited a while as the heat built up, expecting an almighty bang.
Nothing happened – except for the un-ignited petrol spraying from the soldered seam! Eventually it stopped and, as the float was still intact (or so we thought) we put it back in the bike. Petrol, kicking, new plugs & leads, followed by bump starting & swearing left us convinced the crankcase seals were shot.

Engine out

So, the little Beezer was transferred to the summer house, and we took the engine out. The general idea at this point was replace the crankcase seals, attending to any other engine problems in the process, and then get the bike running. It didn’t turn out like that.
The engine was transferred to the safety of the cellar workshop, and aided by a well thumbed Haynes manual we stripped the engine to find – well, nothing much really. The little end was tired, but the bore was fine, hardly worn. The only stripped thread held the chain guard in place and that was easily repaired, apart from the tiny thread in the end of the crankshaft which holds the points cam in place, which took several guesses before we realised it was 3 BA. The clutch plates were glued together with old oil, but came apart easily enough.
Cleaning & inspection followed, using the sink, oven & other kitchen utensils. The only curious thing was that one of the closing plates, from the timing side flywheel, was completely missing.
Well, not quite the only curious thing. A bit of nosing about with the callipers revealed that the bore was not the 52 mm that I had been led to expect by the D1 engine number, but was 57 mm – revealing the block & head to be from a D3. Checking part numbers revealed that the carburettor was also from a D3 – what luck! An extra 0.5 bhp!
Later we found that the engine was from a GPO Bantam, shipped to Bristol in 1963. It has the later main bearing lubrication holes!
Courtesy of the wonderful people at Rex Caunt Racing we changed all the seals, the primary chain, tab washers, all the engine and gearbox bearings and all the springs, the piston rings and the little end. Rex also provided a flywheel closing plate, which we riveted in place, assisted with Loctite. We also took the opportunity to clean everything and repaint the barrel.

Plating with John Wyatt

With the engine out and the rebuild going on, there were opportunities to start on other parts. We found a local plater, John Wyatt, down in Thetford and we started off with the gear & kick start levers, and the original handlebar levers, just to try out John’s services. They were back in a couple of weeks and looked superb.
The handlebars that came with the bike were green and obviously from a direct lighting Bantam. We drilled a hole for the horn button on the handlebars & tapped 3/8” BSC, since this was a battery ignition bike with an electric horn. Later on, we sent John the original wheel rims, the handlebars, the plunger covers and the brake levers. The wheel rims have been a bit of a mixed blessing – I have original rims, but I should have realised that they would still be rusty on the inside of the bead – the every time it rains, I have rust stains on the tyres!

Frame cracks & welding with Alex

As we stripped further, a few problems started to appear. One of the worst of these was a crack in each of the footrest bar lugs, which also mount the centre stand – two lovely deep cracks filled with years of accumulated oily gunge. We toyed with the idea of grinding these out and attacking them with the trusty MIG set, but eventually the size & depth of the cracks along with the critical nature of their location put paid to that idea and we entrusted the repair to a local chap, Alex, who runs an outfit called ‘Matchless Engineering’ from his home in Norwich. Alex made a tidy job of welding the cracks up, plugged some holes and built up the centre stand stops.
We cut the missing ‘C’ shaped lug for the centre stand from 3/16” plate, and made up a pivot for it from scrap sheet.
The MIG set made its contribution later, when we repaired the battery carrier. The strap was completely shot, having rusted through at some point and lost most of the moving half along with the trunnions & the screw. A replacement was easily made up from some 18 SWG sheet bought from a local fab shop, along with sundry other cable clips & brackets for the horn & stop light switch.
Draganfly supplied the trunnions & the screw.


The speedometer came next. One of the first parts I’d bought, to investigate what worked & what didn’t, was a new speedo cable from Bournemouth Bantams. We connected this up while the bike was still together and, wheeling it round the garden, soon realized that the speedo cable was trying to curl itself into a spring – the speedo was seized. Something else to play with!

My understanding wife had, at some point in the past, bought me a £5 wrist watch from eBay – broken of course – thinking I’d enjoy tinkering with it. This blossomed into a bit of a hobby – the £5 wrist watch grew into a small collection of Omegas, bought broken, fixed & consigned to the jewellery box – so the chance to get inside a Smiths Chronometric was an in interesting challenge, if only to figure out how it worked. Most watches are pretty simple compared to these little fellas. Still, like most watches all it really needed was a clean and the spiders chasing out and with a freshly painted case it’s almost as good as new.

The next job was the glass, which had a huge crack across one corner. We made a new one, with a diamond glass cutter, from an old picture frame glass. It wasn’t half as difficult as you might think. We cut a rectangle, cut two of the corners off, and kept scribing with the diamond & nibbling the corners off with pliers. We smoothed the edges with one of those diamond sharpening stones and popped it back in the case. Jobs a good ‘un.

And all to bits... 

So the strip continued. The engine was finished, still in the cellar, and we were getting past the point of repairing odds & ends and coming to pulling the whole bike apart – a very easy thing to do with a Bantam! As it came apart, we bagged up all the parts & old fasteners into labelled sandwich bags and took dozens of photographs. These were stashed in the house for attention later. We kept all the cables, the wiring harness, manky old grommets – everything.
Another problem we found when pulling it apart was that one of the fork top nuts had stripped – the fork leg thread was gone too. Once again the answer was to found locally – in Southwold this time, in the capable hands of Len Baker. Len had, as it turned out, once lived a few doors along from our house. It’s a small world. Len had a fork leg in stock which he stripped & sent up to me in primer – brilliant service, and he had some refurbished lower legs as well. Later on, Len came to the rescue again when I realised one of my fork springs had collapsed – he found a good set, which even had the rubber dampers still inside. eBay provided some fork top nuts.
eBay also kindly produced a front mudguard. The bike came with a guard which was the right size, the right colour but totally the wrong shape & which had some peculiar D shaped stays – I sold it for 1 penny on eBay to someone from South Norfolk & I’ve since found it was from an Ariel Colt. The Bantam guard I bought from eBay had the middle loop stay with it, but at the time I couldn’t find the other stays anywhere. Whilst out walking the dog one night I found, in the middle of the street, a piece of heavy wall tube of about ¾” diameter. When I got this home I sliced it along its length and came up with some strips with a curved profile; I made a tool to press the tabs into the ends, filed them up and now that they are painted they look like the real thing. Free stuff! I love it.

Adam & Mike at Aerocoat

We’d slowly got to the point where everything was apart, replaced, repaired & cleaned and it had begun to feel like we were turning a corner. There were bags of old parts; boxes of new parts; an engine sitting in the cellar workshop with nothing to do. It was time to find a painter.
I’d asked around all my contacts in the trade and come up with some options, but I happened to be in the local cycle shop one day & they suggested talking to Adam at Aerocoat near Yarmouth. I contacted Adam over the phone, got a very reasonable quote together and packed the bike in several boxes into the back of our Morris 1000. Aerocoat is based in a little unit in St. Olaves, a pretty little riverside village near Yarmouth where they do a lot of blasting & powder coating on bike parts, wheels and equipment for the oil & gas industry. They are great guys, very friendly & enthusiastic and together we decided on a suitable match for the Mist Green paint that was still on the bike. I left them with a comprehensive list of the parts, with photographs of each component and the colour it was to be and in a few weeks we returned to see the bantam stripped of all paint. They plugged all the holes & threads, and repaired one or two holes we hadn’t seen before along with a large dent in the tank.
A couple more weeks and we went back to collect a lot of very shiny green Bantam parts!

Spare bedroom

The Bantam, no longer a pile of bits and now christened ‘Beattie’ was now allowed to take up residence in the spare bedroom. I had a small trolley with casters which could support the frame once I’d put the footrests & centre stand back on, but I had no fasteners. Fortunately by this time I had reacquainted myself with the world of fasteners prior to the widespread use of metric threads, and I work in the oil industry where imperial measurement is still in common use. I could recognise & understand where BSA had used Whitworth, BSF and BSC fasteners and it was simple if laborious matter to get a list of fasteners together. Online, I soon found Mike Peters at, who listed all the parts I needed in stainless. I eventually had three or four batches of fasteners from Mike, whose stuff is not only of good quality and reasonably priced, but also turns up on the doorstep when he says it will.
So, armed with a box of unpolished stainless fasteners we started the rebuild. The frame quickly had the centre stand & footrests added, the new ‘C-link’ & pivot made from more scrounged plate, and the brake pedal. I’d had all these bits fitted prior to painting, so there were no fears when it was finally assembled. This was followed by the rear mudguard, stays & rack and the fork yokes.

Forks again. How thick is that paint?

It was then that things slowed down. I didn’t have any of the chrome or the wheels, and I found I had some lessons to learn from the painting. I really hadn’t considered quite how thick the powder coating was – there was no way the fork legs were going to fit in the yokes, however much I spread the clamps... A rummage in the cellar produced some scraps of sapele, the hardest timber I had to hand. I made some wedges to open out the clamps in the lower yokes, and attacked the upper parts of the fork legs with some 60 grit, until I could get the legs through the bottom yoke and into tapers in the top yoke. Won’t make that mistake again!
I bought the few transfers, along with many other sundry parts, from Draganfly at Bungay in Suffolk. I applied these to the toolbox lid and the number plate/rear light unit with the aid of some spray lacquer.


Wiring up filled some of the waiting time. I bought all the parts for the new loom from VWP, and I covered the loom with expanding plastic mesh sleeving – which looks kinda like the woven cotton covering BSA used, if you don’t look too hard. I used 2.5 mm2 cable throughout, and I provided earth cables to the rear light, the head light, and one of the handlebar clamps and I tied them all down to a common point on the frame, under the tank so that the frame was not used for earthing at all. I fitted a modern rectifier and one of Paul Goff’s 6V halogen headlamps, but the parts I was most pleased with were the original Wipac headlamp switch, dip switch and horn button I bought from Malcolm Leech. I still have to find an original Wipac stop light switch. Michael Cushion had one fitted to his Bantam but he wouldn’t sell it to me!
There’s a lot written about pattern parts in the forums these days. The only problem that I really had in this direction was with the headlamp glass & reflector – which just didn’t fit in the original rim. Instead of sending it back, I cut the new reflector away from the glass and mated it to the old glass, sticking it in place with Silicone RTV. It all works fine but says ‘Bosch’ on the glass!
I stripped the original Wipac rear lamp, cleaning, polishing & replacing seals as I went along. The horn came from eBay, off a C11 I imagine (it was maroon) and was stripped, cleaned & painted. It works after a fashion.

But eventually I had to stop and wait. I’d left the wheel rims along with the handlebars, levers & plunger covers at the platers and he was very busy. It was about 2 months before I saw them again.

Wheels. Which way round does that rim go?

Wheel building, I discovered, is not that difficult. My son pulled a 1960's Raleigh out of a skip, which some hooligan had robbed of most of its spokes, and rebuilt it for his sister to use. Following his example, I’d set about Beattie's wheels with my bolt cutters and left the rims at Wyatt’s in Thetford. I took lots of pictures, drew a sketch & measured the offset – I even made a jig to set the offset when I got the bits back.
I’d bought stainless spokes & nickel plated nipples from CWC. Excellent stuff. With the hubs powder coated, new bearings and the spindles back in, I set up the front wheel in my building jig & set about threading the spokes in & putting nipples on. All went well with the front wheel and it trued up nicely on my homemade truing jig.
The back went together almost as quickly, but is a bit easier as all spokes are full length and are a bit more flexible. After a few, I realised it was a lot easier to put the nipples on first, as all the spokes have keyholes in the hub flange. I got that one trued up as well, when my son Tom came into the cellar workshop & enquired as to why the spokes were all bent! It was one of those moments when you realise something had been wrong all along.
A few moments contemplation revealed the awful truth. I’d got the offset right, but what I hadn’t spotted was that because the drum & sprocket is fitted to one side of the wheel, the spoke flange is much closer to the central plane of the wheel on the drive side than it is on the other side – and consequently the drillings & dimples in the rim are at different angles.
I’d got the rim on the wrong way round. Start again time.

Michael Cushion

So the next thing we needed was some tyres. On the web, I found some 2.75 x 19" tyres in nearby Fritton, where we met Michael Cushion who runs an eBay shop and a stall at various autojumbles around the country. Michael showed us around his workshop, where he is building a Calthorpe (??) from the 20’s. Amazing attention to detail! He’d made some press tools for manufacturing the footboards, by welding dozens of tiny diamond shapes to a plate to produce a checkerboard pattern in the sheet metal footboard.
We bought some tyres, and some footrest & pedal rubbers, and some handlebar grips. We fitted the tyres when we got home over the old tubes & some rim tapes made from bicycle inner tubes. We’d be seeing these again sooner than expected.
Back to VWP’s website saw me buying cables, ferrules & nipples. I made a simple tool from two pieces of ½” square bar to swage the nipples to the cable outer casing and to form the inners to bell them out, to avoid them pulling through the nipples. These were soft-soldered up and soon the cables were done. I made a similar tool to swage the ferrules on the petrol pipe.
And that was it really. With the wiring done and the wheels finished it could all go back together. We took the frame & forks outside as an assembly, and fitted the wheels, and dropped the engine in. An afternoon’s work saw it assume its place in the bike shed.

Danny D’s – a long walk

So MOT time came along. I was working away, but Tom, masochistic owner of various motorcycles of eastern European origin (all Bantam cousins) came to the rescue and volunteered to push it the mile or so to Danny D’s, our local motorcycle MOT centre. He knew how hard that was going to be, as he’d only recently pushed his Minsk all the way back from there – so thanks for that Tom! Hope you get your licence soon!
Unfortunately, due to a small oversight with a spacer (or lack of) on the front wheel spindle, the forks were locked solid and the MOT wasn’t forthcoming that day. It was an easy fix though, and that weekend saw me back at Danny’s with another appointment, this time resulting in an MOT certificate. It was an exciting, if short, ride to Danny’s place as I’d not ridden a bike on the road for years. The trip back was a bit more eventful – about half way home I’d just ridden through a pedestrian crossing when there was an almighty bang, followed by a clatter and a deafening roar from the engine (allow me some artistic license here!). I stopped and looked back to see an old chap on the crossing, searching the sky for the ships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet arriving to demolish the earth, with my silencer at his feet.
So, it was retrieved and the loose baffles re-inserted into their erstwhile chromium plated tube, aided by my size 9s. A few yards down the road it became apparent that Beattie was attempting to consume rather more fuel than she should, and when the engine finally died the stream emanating from the carburettor overflow signalled my abject failure to repair the hole in the carburettor float.
My my! Weren’t the family amused when I arrived home in full riding gear, drenched with sweat and pushing a dead (but MOT’d) Bantam! How they did titter! A new exhaust system was called for.


The next job was to get the legal bits sorted out. I had been in touch with Steve Foden at the BSAOC a few times since I’d had the Bantam and was a bit concerned that Steve had not yet managed to find any records of my frame number amongst 500,000 others. Steve said that it was not uncommon for frame numbers to be missing from the record. Normally each machine was recorded in the despatch record by frame & engine number along with the receiving dealer but if, after assembly & test, the machine was found to be faulty it was corrected off-line and despatched from the rectification department. These machines were not listed in the despatch record.
So, as my frame number did not appear in the record, Steve dated it from frame numbers greater and less than mine, which were all shipped in May 1954. Unfortunately, the local Norwich DVLA office, who are very nice helpful people by the way, weren’t having any of this and would only issue a Q plate.
So be it. I decided to tackle that problem later and taxed the bike for £15. Unfortunately, returning home I found that the £30 insurance policy I had bought to get my MOT turned into a £70 insurance policy (with a new insurer, and no rebate on the old one) for a bike with a Q plate.

Later – post running mods

And so began a wonderful relationship. We spent the next few weeks pottering about, tinkering with brakes, ignition timing, and fixing the last few bits and pieces. Most of the time I spent trying to get the carburetion right – it would either start, run in the mid-range, or race away to 50 mph but it wouldn’t do all three. A bit of research with the Amal carburettor manual revealed that the D3 had been fitted with many different main jets, slides, and needle positions over its life and I tried them all. Several times.
Right to this day I’m not sure it’s right, but I’ve just reset the carburettor float height again and repaired the float again – there was just a small amount of fuel in it, which would make it heavy & raise the fuel level. I’m hoping this was enough to upset the mid-range but we’ll see.
There was fun & puzzlement with brakes. Some while back I’d had a set of shoes made to measure for the front brake -with soft linings which fit & bite well -from 'Charles Johnson -Bus & Truck Parts' in Norwich.
Despite the name, these guys are actually brake specialists and regularly do bike stuff. I left a wheel, spindle & brake plate with them, with two sets of old shoes and they made me some oversize shoes matched to my drums - £9.50 a shoe. These were old shoes relined and machined to fit my drums with minimum clearance. I'd had them make a spare set of these for future use I’d been using a set on the front for several months, and you could use two finger braking!
One sunny Sunday afternoon, racing through the Norfolk countryside, I was going up a small hill, when she slowed down as usual, but on the other side she wouldn't pick up again. I dropped a gear, but she was still very sluggish. I coasted to the side of the road, as I fancied the engine was noisier than usual but as soon as I stopped I realised the engine was ticking over fine.
Then I realised there was a strange smell - of the hot clutch/brake pad variety. Getting off, there was SMOKE coming from the rear brake! So I slackened it off at the roadside, and when I got it home I twigged that I had put the arm on the wrong spline -so I moved it and now I had clearance, better leverage (90 degree angle -arm to brake rod) and a brake that didn’t overheat.
However, a few days pondering & a bit more investigation and I figured out what happened.
The back brake shoes were way too small in diameter. I'd adjusted them up so much, to make the pedal travel pretty small, that when I put the brake on the cam went almost 'over centre' & jammed, holding the brake on. That's why it happened suddenly, away from home. I must have braked for something.
Yet another Bantam morality tale. This time, the lesson is to make sure the brake shoes fit the drums! The ones I had in there were virtually new off the shelf shoes from one of the main suppliers...
Of course, the other problem I had built in was the ability for the tyres to go flat on their own. Schoolboy error – never fit new tyres to old tubes!
I tried to make it as original as possible during the rebuild – I’d found some chrome tank strips on eBay, for example, and I’d made sure to find a dip switch that matched the picture in my 1953 copy of Haycraft’s “Book of the Bantam” but one of the items I found I really missed was a side stand. eBay to the rescue again, along with some longer engine bolts and a little extra clearance courtesy of a flap wheel and we were in business.

Another crusade in the early weeks was the search for the toolkit. This started off as an obsession with finishing the job, but I soon realised how useful it was. My toolkit has been built up over years of working on BMC’s finest – but all the stuff is too big to carry on a Bantam. I searched eBay & all the local car boot sales & flea markets for BSA tools – they are not hard to find because many of them appear in the M20 tool kit which were produced by the million.
As I built the kit up I did all the maintenance & repairs with it and eventually I had enough kit in the bike’s toolbox to do pretty well anything I needed. Easy maintenance is one of the great things about old bikes – but I guess none of you need convincing of that. No electronics, no hydraulics, no cooling system, no fuel injection and it is all so accessible you can do the work in minutes.

Howard, the Bantam club & back to the DVLA

In between tinkering & riding the Bantam around Norwich, I’d been mailing Steve at the BSAOC and Howard at the Bantam club. They'd both searched through 1000's of bikes on 100's of microfiche slides, looking for frame numbers with no success.
I'd got to the stage of considering applying for 'reconstructed classic' status, when Howard called me at work. I was glad to be dragged out of that meeting! Howard had been doing a bit of lateral thinking, and had realised that most of the frame numbers around mine had been D3s -so he'd looked in the D3 register and found it -shipped in May 1954 to a dealer in Southampton!
So now I could reduce my insurance, get my free road tax and lose the huge Q plate dwarfing the back of my bike. The only drawback? I'd painted it the wrong colour...
One last thing, hoping that some of you may be inspired to get out & about on one of these little bikes, and that is the fantastic Bantam Owners Club forum. Out there in the ether is a host of folks talking online about all things Bantam – post your problems, share experiences, maybe even find parts or a new bike – there is always someone to help you. Find it at

So what’s next?

I’d been a little concerned at the beginning that I wouldn’t get to spend much time riding the little Beezer around, but a couple of months into the summer saw over 500 miles on the clock. We had a few more ups & downs, tools out at the roadside looking for blocked jets and whiskered plugs, coupled with a general lack of experience in starting Bantams. On one memorable occasion I’d parked it outside a well known supermarket for a few minutes on a warm day, only to fail to start it when I came out. Over-use of the tickler, added to the stifling effects of the strangler, produced only a crankcase full of fuel. Thanks to the two 13 year olds who push started it across the car park!
It’s a happy little machine though – puttering along Norfolk roads at 35 mph while I enjoy the sunshine, running made-up errands to the shops... So what next? Something a little quicker? Something Mrs H can ride on the back? Something that will go up hills? Despite Noel coward’s sentiments, we do have them in Norfolk...

I have my 50th birthday coming up. A nice lady from Essex has bought a van full of parts that supposedly make a machine called an ‘Ariel Square Four’....
Thanks to
Rex Caunt Racing, for the engine spares (01455 846963)
JD Wyatt Polishing for all the chrome work (01842 766770)
Adam & Mike at Aerocoat (01493 488455)
Alex at Matchless Engineering (01603 630180), for the frame welding
'Charles Johnson -Bus & Truck Parts' in Norwich (01603 485429) for relining the brakes
Malcolm Leech (0121 559 7306)
Draganfly (01986 894798)
Len Baker (01502 724488)
CWC (01675 462264)