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One man, 56 bikes - your tally?

2011-09-09 07:18


Jaco the barman was mesmerised by what he'd just heard. One of the regulars was running through the list of motorcycles he'd owned this past 30 years: “That makes 56 bikes - one more and that’s Heinz 57,” he chortled.

Bob looked over in my direction and asked could if I beat that tally. Sadly, I fell way short when rechecking my scrap of paper with all the bikes listed down the years - well, the ones that I could clearly remember, anyway. While Bob’s list was truly memorable, he admitted to part-ownership of a motorcycle dealership up the West Coast.


For the record, I could only muster 24 motorcycles.. Bob and Jaco insisting that I divulge my list forthwith, something I was quite happy to do, and I hope you’ll find them interesting, too.

Everyone has to start somewhere and at 15 I bought a clapped-out Vespa 125cc scooter - guaranteed to run - all it needed was a little TLC (tender loving care). Yeh, right, that and a complete engine rebuild to fix a bent crankshaft! Still, it was the perfect way to start loving two wheels - find out first-hand how the little critters worked!

Managing to pass it on for a few measly pounds (I lived in England, then) meant I could buy the "bee’s knees" of scooters: a Lambretta TV175. The Mods 'n Rockers era was in full song in the mid-1960's in the UK, with me siding on the scooter side of the war. The Lambretta proved every bit as good as promised as the shy and sensitive used-motorcycle salesman said it would be: it could happily reach 130km/h and, on anapprentice’s wages, was certainly a frugal machine.


As we all know it only rains twice a week in England: first for four days and then for three. Mom and dad weren’t happy with me riding a two-wheeler with such small wheels. “You need something half-decent lad," said Pop,"if you’re going to stick with a bike.”

For my 16th birthday, there on the front path, was a new BSA C15 250, gleaming chrome and the deepest maroon coachwork you ever saw. Taxed and insured, it was all systems go as I thanked them both profusely for surely the best birthday present a teenager could ever want.

Alas, it turned out to be the biggest load of junk. Nuts, bolts and brackets were always making a dash for freedom. The chrome was so thinly spread that after a week of riding to and from work rust-pitting had dulled most of it, never to return.

The battery died after a month, the globes in the lights shook themselves loose from their connections, and the clutch started to slip. It was time to trade-up to something better. The older bikers among us might remember the Francis-Barnett name, a brand  that went to the wall the week after I bought a demo model from our local, multi-franchise bike dealer in North London.

While it served a purpose, I really hankered for something truly powerful … the beginning of my love-hate relationship with the Triumph brand!


Speed Twins, a Thunderbird and even an early pre-unit Bonneville came and went. Crikey, were they quick - especially the Bonnie! Could I manage the £25 for an exciting Matchless G12 CSR 650; You bet I could! Surely one of the most under-rated British bikes ever - easy to fix too. Something that needed to be done every Saturday afternoon if you wanted to get to work the following week...

Emigrating to South Africa in the late 1960's left me wondering if my love for two wheels should be abandoned; should I grow up? The distances one travelled here just to get to work seemed vast. Do any of you readers perhaps remember Jack’s Motors on Main Street, Johannesburg? Purveyors of the finest of British steeds?

What a load of old cobblers and yet, guess who bought the very last Velocette Venom on the showroom floor where it had languished for about four years!

In the mid-1970's Japanese bikes were all the rage and it made sense to investigate just how good these "rice-burners" were.  Oh boy, what a bike that Suzuki TS185 turned out to be. All my kids learned to ride on it from a thoroughly illegal age -and probably half the neighbour’s kids too.  That Suzy never missed a beat.

It made sense to stick with the Brand from the East and so I entered into a long-term love affair with a GT750 "water-buffalo" that I kept for about 10 years. Trouble-free and king of the traffic-lights grands prix, this two-stroke machine was the boss.


Well, it had to happen eventually, I suppose. Pietermaritzburg, my then adopted home town, had the finest motorcycle dealer in the world: one Eddie George, who happened to be a BMW dealer. A sterling bloke and bloody good salesman, he talked me into buying a second-hand BMW R69S — arguably the best bike I ever owned.

A 600cc machine, it proved just a mite under-powered two-up - a R90S thus fitted the bill quite nicely but proved temperamental and possibly a bit too powerful. Eddie just happened to have a R100S lying around for my edification (no pun intended) …

In my garage not one tin box (car) could be found - but plenty of motorcycles such as a Model 7 Norton, BSA A7, several BSA Bantams and even a Bushman, a Yamaha Chappie (my youngster’s favourite), plus a rare Greeves Scottish trials bike - this was the era of Alfie Cox and co. - I was going to show him how to really ride in the bundu!

I’m into my sixties now, and if I bend down to do my shoelaces it’s a struggle to straighten again.  And yet I still yearn for a bike - has anyone got something with a sidecar for sale to this old codger?

Do you have a long tally of bikes over the years. Let''s hear about them in the Readers' Comments section below.

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