If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Of Sagas and Hard Seats

I was reminded recently of a character who I now believe, with some regret, to be fictional - a minor character in an Icelandic saga, and the leader of many long and arduous sea-journeys to the New World, one Harald Hardarss. I have searched the web for his name, but the only reference I came up with was to a mention in this very blog back in August of 2009. My own words coming back to me. Hmff. I'm sure I didn't imagine it, and the search for the man continues. However he came to mind again the other day ...

The seat of the XT had sustained several splits last year, due to being left out in the sun and the general depredations of daily use. Every time it rained, the water got through the splits and into the seat foam, and every time I rode it after rain, I got wet balls. A new seat cover is about 40 quid, and not affordable at the moment, so a few strips of gaffer tape later, and all was well.

Until last week.

I needed something from town just before Christmas and, with the gridlocked traffic and a reasonably dry day, I decided to bike it. I hadn't ridden the XT for a while, and when I got it fired up and swung a leg over, I was surprised by how tall the bike felt, and how hard the seat was. However, the seat softened during the ride, and became comfy (in the limited sense of 'trail bike comfy'). But my lower regions had never been so cold. Usually, it's my extremities (hands, knees, neck) that get cold first, and my body stays relatively warm, but this time it was the opposite, with a deep, penetrating cold in my lower torso, and everything else toasty.

Then I remembered the rain-soaked seat foam, and the fact of very cold nights, and a temperature that hadn't risen above zero for several weeks. I had been riding, literally, on a block of ice wrapped in thin plastic.

Not recommended. I'm sure a simple vasectomy would have been easier.


  1. This chap - Harald Hardrada (Harald Hardruler) is who you're looking for. Real, but fictionalised a few times, not least in Tim Severin's Viking trilogy. Last book of the series, "King's Man".



  2. No, sorry, it's not him! I'm well aware of Hardrada, but this reference was to someone else. My tutor mentioned him as a joke (look what daft nicknames they all had, kind of thing) and there in the footnotes to my textbook was the man himself: the name Harald may be wrong, could have been Sigurd or anything, but the nickname was Hardarss, named for his ability to withstand long sea voyages. I fear the book is long gone (I studied this back in 1972-3), but if I can find it I will post a reference here. Just to prove I am not losing my mind :) Thanks for your observations, though - appreciated.

  3. Yup, I too have "enjoyed" the pleasure of a frozen seat - back in the 70's on my trusty CZ-175 (don't laugh). The steel base nearly rotted through as a result. I guess they're made of plastic these days?

  4. I had the Jawa 350 twin and my mate had a CZ 125 back in the early 70s, so I share your pain (and your shame).

    Plastic seat base on the Yam. It's quite repairable, I just CBA so far.

  5. "I'm sure a simple vasectomy would have been easier."

    At least your preparation gave you the ideal local-anaesthetic.

  6. The Jawa 350 twin must have been the only bike with a grease nipple for the centre main bearing!

    Actually I don't feel any shame - although I had the piss taken something rotten when I bought it, that was quietly forgotten after a year or so. By then a friends Yamaha RD 200 had eaten a piston and God knows how many back tyres, whilst my low tech conveyance was still rattling merrily along.

    I treated it to a complete strip down and rebuild a few years later, and actually left the BMW at home when I went to the IOM TT. I had far more fun on the CZ!

    Eventually, after some 70,000 miles, it digested a piston ring when I was on my way to Silverstone, but I kept going and made it there and back. There was no sign of the ring when I took the cylinder off, and the Big End had 1/8" of play!

    Happy memories....

  7. @ Joe: Not far wrong, mate! Blue balls, but for the wrong reason :(

    @microdave: at least your rattled merrily along. My Jawa was the most unreliable, heart-breaking piece of shite I have ever spent money on. I suppose it did the business for three years and took me all over the country, but I had to rebuild the engine every third day (at least I can strip a two-stroke enging blindfold now) and it wouldn't start if the clouds came over the sun. If I wanted any chance of starting it hot, I had to turn off the fuel half a mile from where I was pulling over, to drain the float bowl and give me a chance of starting within 30 kicks. It was horrible. In the end I dismantled it to the last nut and bolt, painted the frame black and the tinware dark blue, put some radical bars on it and then sold it to a local kid who reckoned it looked like a chopper.

    I've been tempted a few times by these new Ural sidecar combinations, which look quite amusing, but then I remember the Jawa and think again.

  8. XX I've been tempted a few times by these new Ural sidecar combinations, which look quite amusing, but then I remember the Jawa and think again. XX

    You have the option to buy them with a BMW engine.

    I believe they will also take Brembo's.

  9. Finding 2 star petrol may be a problem though.

  10. Hehe, not sure if a Beemer engine would be an improvement, given BMW's recent ills. And David Angel, the Ural importer, basically rebuilds every one that he imports, to make sure it is up to Western standards and spec (e.g. the jetting, to allow for the petrol quality). I've spoken to him and would be confident the bikes were good, but a Ural combo is Fireblade money - nice bike money. Makes you think.

  11. SO expensive???

    I always saw them at around 3K NEW! (B.H.S/A.W.O.L)

    O.K, not "pocket money" but then what bike IS?

  12. Imported by F2 Motorcycles, Ural Dalesman £9745 OTR. For what you get, I don't think the price is unreasonable, but if you aren't a confirmed sidecar nut, it's a lot of money to find out you aren't.

    New Honda Fireblade £9995. That £250 buys a lot of technology.

  13. Quite early on I replaced the Jikov (Jerkoff?) carb with an Amal, which made a huge difference! It had a choke rather than a "tickler", so flooding it was no longer a problem. The original cardboard brake linings were replaced with Ferodo or Mintex by a local firm. Michelin M38's and a pair of S&W shocks transformed the handling, and I completely rewired it, and fitted a Cibie halogen headlight.

    Yes, I know you could argue that this shouldn't be necessary, but considering it was barely half the price of a Jap equivalent, and I was young and keen, it wasn't a problem. Also bear in mind that the Iron Curtain was still up, and the "Eastern Bloc" had been starved of technology for decades. I thought then (and still do) that it was basically a sound design, but was let down by poor materials and build quality.

    BMW weren't as perfect as they liked every body to think - I became quite adept at gearbox rebuilding, since the input shaft roller bearing was not up to the job, particularly on the R1000s which my father had.

    The standard clutch plates were a joke - I had ours relined locally and packed out the spring with a steel shim. And, of course, being BMW everything was 3 times the price - even when made by Bosch etc.... I couldn't argue with the 55-60mpg fuel consumption, or the 250-270 mile range on a full tank, though. And no bloody chains to grease - just car style 5000 mile oil/filter changes.

    I stopped riding my R65 nearly 10 years ago, pushed it into the corner of a friends barn, and it's been there ever since. The roads are too bloody dangerous these days.

  14. You did all the things I wanted to do, but couldn't afford! I was a penniless student then, and once i had stumped up the purchase price (I think around the £300 mark0 that was it. But you made sensibl;e mods, and there was a certain crazy vibe about riding one of those commie workhorses around. A design that was basic but sound, and materials that were dreadful - not their fault, I know, but a misery to work with.

    That R65 was a decent bike, if a little underpowered. If it's been stored dry, it will still be worth a bit. There's always a couple for sale in places like Classic Bike magazine, so there seems to be a steady demand.

    I'd have to disagree with your last point, obviously.

  15. Please forgive my indulgence, but writing about this has made me come over all sentimental!

    I've just delved into the photo albums and scanned and uploaded a few pictures.

    My Morini 3½ Strada:

    The BeeEmm @ Ramsey Hairpin June 1979: http://i52.tinypic.com/2f0au7c.jpg

    The CZ on Christmas Day 1979 - Global Warming was active even then!

    The CZ @ Creg-ny-baa June 1980:

    And for the Japanese lovers a rare 1962 Honda, which a friend had restored. This was taken at Ballacraine in June 1979:

    Plenty more if you're interested.

    Happy new year!

  16. Nice pics - nice to see a fellow addict wallowing in nostalgia :)

    Morini - Strada good choice, Sport had clip-ons but the same footrests, and so was very cramped. Engine ace.

    BMW - plenty of lean angle for a Beemer - you'll catch that Hillman Avenger before long!

    CZ - that all looks so familiar! The RSJ girders supporting the front mudguard were identical on the Jawa. Snazzy paintjob: my mate's 125 was much plainer (1972 or 73 model I think), just a btwo-tone tank. The Jawa had a single colour tank - but chrome side-panels [cackles with glee]. You look like you mean business on the mountain.

    Honda - too small for a CB72, but same range, I think. First bike I ever rode was a CB72. Frightened the crap out of me, and made me want to do it again, and again, and ...

    Nice pics, and thanks for sharing them.

  17. Thanks.

    The Sport (my mate had one) had an even higher compression ratio - 11.5:1 if my memory is correct. As you said, great engine (except for the cam belt), but crap paint/chrome & electrics - typical Italian...

    I once got a footrest down on the BeeEmm, and one cylinder head when I found some ice.... I managed a wheely coming out of that corner!

    Much of the CZ was identical to the Jawa. The paint job was a lucky surprise - The gold was just ordinary spray paint, but I heated the cases & wheel rims/hubs with a blowtorch beforehand. The result looked like gold anodising, but much cheaper! The side panels were stickers.

    I had been flat out at 73mph coming down the mountain,and left braking to the last minute. I wanted it to look impressive, as the Jawa/CZ owners club were meeting on the pub carpark! I think they were lost for words...

    On the way up from Ramsey I overtook 6 German registered BMW's at the Gooseneck - they didn't know it was one way at that point (Mad Sunday), and were being careful. I remember glancing back and the crowd were going mental!

    I think (from Google searching) that the Honda was a 125cc CB92 Benly - it certainly wasn't a 250/305cc I've no idea what happened to it,
    or the owner, I'm afraid.

    Lastly I found this one of my Dad and the legendary Stanley Woods with the 350 Velocette on which he won the '38/39 TT's.

  18. HEYYYY!!! I have just been offered a Greeves Scottish 350 (!?) trials with a Villiers 9E engine!!!!! (Origional?)

    WOW!!!! Father Christmas DOES exist....even if the bastard is a bit late, and wants €100 for his "prezzy"!

    Now here is a question; Any one have any idea about "Stormers"? (Stürmer?). A trials bike from the 50s or 60s.

  19. Hmm. The Greeves is not "street legal"....Must think about that one. Could cost more than it is worth.

  20. @ microdave - if you did that stunt on the original Barums (I think they were made from the same material as the old telephones), then you are a true hero. Or perhaps one of your mods was a pair of TT100s - in which case, fair enough :) Leaving braking late was much the same as not braking at all, as I remember it. You were lucky on the BMW; if you touched the heads down, you were already on the sidewalls. At that point, a cheeky wheelie would not have top of my list of things to do.

    CB92 Benly, that's it. Nice-looking bike. And I love that Velo.

  21. @Furor - you lucky chap. Grab it, as it's worth that even for parts or as a non-runner. I don't know much about Greeves, but the 9E engine was made between 1955 and 1967, and was certainly fitted to Greeves bikes, although I seem to remember them as 250s, not 350s. The 'Scottish' wasn't a production model, but they often named bikes after competition success, and Greeves always did well in the scottish Six Day Trial, so maybe that's where the name came from.

    Making it road legal could be a problem. It depends on the generator setup. If it was a rectified supply, then adding lights and a battery might be straightforward, but if it was direct then you could be in for a lot of modifying. You could of course go for a 'daylight only' MoT, where if there are no lights present they are not tested and a suitable advisory given. As long as the cycle parts are sound (usual MoT stuff) and you can fit a horn it should pass no problem. You wouldn't want a full-on trials bike as a daily rider anyway. Go for it.

  22. BTW, could the Stormer be the AJS Stormer, a trials bike produced from 68 to 74, with a 250cc Villiers engine?

  23. Richard. CHEERS mate!

    Trouble is, "Road legal" here in Germany is a LOT more difficult than in the U.K. Remember all those articles in BHS and AWOL regarding "Chopping" in Germany? Aye, NOW I am on the recieving end.

    Ans a full off road would be usefull in Berlin, as the "council" have virtually given up on road repairs. :-(

    IF the deal comes off, then I will post photos, with your permission(?).

  24. I had forgotten you were not in the UK. I believe the German regs are far stricter than here, and I wouldn't like to advise. Your local bike club would be your best bet. I agree about the urban tarmac, though. That's why the XT gets the thumbs-up round here. But I wouldn't like to ride a proper trials bike more than a mile or two; the low seat and lack of padding suggest you aren't meant to spend too much time there.

    If it comes off, get in touch (email in profile) and I'll host them here.

  25. The Barums were the first thing to go. I actually dropped it within 30 minutes of collecting from my dealer! My excuse was that he hadn't pumped the tyres up properly...

    Michelin had just introduced the M38, which was a revelation compared to Avon skidmasters. The Ferodo linings transformed stopping - fading was no longer an issue.

    The BMW head scraping occurred at no more than a walking pace on sheet ice - moments later I was struggling to stand up!

    Regarding Furors Greaves - I'm sure I remember some small electronic rectifier/regulators being sold back in the times I've been talking about. They were intended specifically for bikes with simple flywheel magneto generators. If anything like this is still available it would probably be the answer.

    I understand German regulations are particularly strict, but I'm thinking with the latest LED lamps it might be feasible to build a decent lighting system running solely on battery power. Sealed Lead Acid batteries are readily available and have no leakage worries.

    Sounds an interesting project, regardless.

  26. Barums were (are?) lethal. The rear wore square like a sidecar tyre because I never dared lean it more than 5° out of vertical. I replaced them with K70s (looking for a kind of flat-track look) and the bike was transformed. Technical reason for that - the Dunlops were made of rubber, not Bakelite. I remember the bike featuring in a road test in Bike magazine, and the tester wrote "those twin Barums stuck like glue, wet or dry". I can only think he was on some serious weed at the time.

    Good points about the Greeves.

  27. O.K spoke with some of the mates on traffic.

    Because it is "vintage" it MAY not be as hard to "rebuild" as would be otherwise.

    BUT, there MAY come the clause, that after rebuild under "vintage rules" it may ONLY be ridden at vintage rallys!

    I will NOT give up, WHEN the deal works.....

  28. May be good news then. Go for it, and if it doesn't work out sell it to me.

  29. My fingers and toes are severely crossed. (And NO, that is NOT a birth defect. :-)) )

  30. @ Furor - here's a list of all the Greeves produced with frame numbers.


    And this page has some details of an uprated magneto/generator. It's dated 2005, but may be of interest.


    There's more stuff on his home page.

  31. XX 1956 20T Trials Trials 197cc Villiers 9E M2 6001 XX

    Sounds like the one.

    Not holding any great hopes. I never trust a man in a pub, on New years eve, that makes a great offer.

    But I HAVE seen his Sunbeam S8!

  32. Good find Dave, and thanks for posting.

    Furor - glad you've tracked it down. Funny how 350cc becomes 197 when you get down to brass tacks, eh? Never mind, the 200 Villiers is the classic one. Obviously go and loom at the bike, but if it's anything other than a wreck then €100 is a bargain. You could put it on eBay as 'non-runner, needs full restoration' and you will double your money.* To someone, it's a yet-to-be-cherished classic, or a decent project. That someone could be you, of course :)

    *Always remember that advice on the internet is worth exactly what you paid for it.

  33. XXFuror - glad you've tracked it down. Funny how 350cc becomes 197 when you get down to brass tacks, eh?XX

    Na. As I said, "man in a pub".

    He is probably 2 cm with a strechy rule as well. :-)))

  34. I bet he's shit at reverse parking as well.

  35. If nothing else, it could be worth getting in touch with the owners register. It's possible that this machine has been missing from the "radar" for years, and they would be glad to hear about it...


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