The piston had split from top to bottom just as if it had been sliced with a surgeons scalpel ...
I needed transport when I returned from a year long trip to Australia and so it must have been early 1971 when I had my first journey on the Velo 741 CUT and what an interesting trip it was. Sue was riding on the back of the bike as we journeyed back home with the latest purchase.
We had stopped at traffic lights in town when Sue asked me if the smoke behind the bike was normal. I looked back behind the bike and my heart sank as Leicester disappeared under a cloud of smoke that would have done any navy smoke screen proud.
Well we didn't have far to travel home and luck was on our side for once.
After stripping down the engine over the weekend I found the cause of the problem and so the following week I returned to the motor cycle shop who sold me the bike with the cause of our smoke screen: The piston had split from top to bottom just as if it had been sliced with a surgeons scalpel blade, but the rings where intact! I got my new piston foc.
I decided that a little holiday was in order so worked on the bike to get it ready for a trip to Mecca (the Isle of Man), eventually finishing the rebuild the night before I was due to go on holiday.
The following morning I was ready and packed to set off on my ride to Liverpool docks where I would catch the ferry to Douglas. As I had put a new oil filter on the bike I thought it wise to check the oil returning to the oil tank, before I set off. There was just one hitch. No oil was squirting out of the return pipe into the oil tank. At this time I decided that there must be a serious problem that I had overlooked during my engine rebuild, so opted to leave the bike and set off on foot to thumb a lift to Liverpool. You could do things like that in the early 70s.
The modern biker just won't appreciate what travelling to Paris at 50-55mph on old technology really means.
I met a chap by the name of Charlie Neal in the hotel who came from Leicester and who new Velocettes backwards, so by the time we got back home he had agreed to come and look at the problem. (Now pay attention Bond). Charlie opened the filler cap on the oil tank and removed the pipe that fitted down the inside of the oil filter. Putting the pipe to his lips he blew and a plug of oily grunge squeezed out from the end of the pipe. Problem solved. I think the technical phrase was "oh bugger".
I liked Charlie a lot. He was a big bloke with a heart of gold and we had some real good laughs. One of his party pieces was to jump over the bonnet of a car. This always impressed my mates so later on in the year I asked Charlie to be the best man at my wedding and jump over our (Sue & mine) wedding cake, but Charlie didn't turn up. When I asked him why he didn't turn up at my wedding he, in his usual way, said "Well you where laughing so much when you asked me to be your best man that I thought you must be joking!" I miss old Charlie! But I am still married to the same lovely girl after 37 years.
For holidays that year Sue & I decided September in Paris was the place for us. Just like the Martians in War of the Worlds, slowly we made our plans! With not much money to speak of we lived on pomme sucree, French bread and Pepsi Cola.
Eric was earning £13 a week at the time and we had so little money that when we purchased the food in France the reason that we only ate French bread sticks and mashed apple was that we could point at the bread we wanted and the large tin of apple was chosen as it had a picture on the side illustrating what was in the tin. It was very cheap but after 3-4 days we bought a little cheese.
We stopped one night at the Sorbone for nothing as we had met a French biker who was riding his brand new Triumph back to Paris and he happened to know someone who could find a room at the university. For the rest of our trip we lived in a 2 person ridge tent.
Now the modern biker just won't appreciate what travelling to Paris at 50-55mph on old technology really means. So I will try to describe the sensation of sliding down a builders plank holding a road breaking drill whilst not wearing any clothing on the buttocks (Forest Gump), add to this 8 hours of gripping the handle bars of a vibrating Velocette. It took 2 or 3 hours to get any feeling back in to my fingers.
The Velo was a good old bike but after the Paris trip I decided something had to be done to improve the ride quality. This was eventually achieved after I had the engine rebuilt by John Cragg who, as a bike engineer, was without question one of, if not the top man in Leicester, where engine rebuilds where required.
After Craggy had rebuilt the engine the ride was one of the smoothest that my fellow Velo owners could recall, and as for performance more of that later.
We enjoyed using the Velo on club outings and as my daily transport in all weathers, including deep snow (yes we did have snow in the 70s). It was our only method of transport and remained so for some time after we where married in November 1971.
We passed each other in turn as he had more grunt on the straights but I had the better handling on the bends ...
In 1972 we went to the I.O.M. For the TT races with friends Tom & Carol Martland. Tom had an old Riley car with a tow bar so we decided to take the bike on a trailer and take turns riding the Velo in the island. this was a great way of getting the women to go with us as we could carry "all their luggage" in the car if we fitted a roof rack! Tom and I just made do with a change of underpants!
I had taken the centre stand off the bike to allow for "extra clearance" when cornering two up. The other trick was to alter the foot rest so they folded if they touched the floor, this later proved a god send.
On the Sunday morning I awoke early at the crack of dawn and took off on the bike for a trip down to quarter bridge and back before breakfast.
Now you who have been "to the island" will understand the thrill of the moment when you get on to the circuit as day light is breaking and there is no one around not even a cop in sight, you turn off the engine and everywhere is silence. But hark, what sound is that? Why 'tis the sound of a Vincent 1000 and he is travelling in my direction. He stops and asks me what am I doing and we get chatting. Any way, one thing leads to another and he sets off, me following.
You know that feeling when you are following a legend of motorcycle engineering, you just have to squeeze by just for the hell of it, which led to an immediate response from my new found playmate and so it went on with the Velo flying like a dream machine and nothing scraping on the road surface. We passed each other in turn as he had more grunt on the straights but I had the better handling on the bends, except on one bend when I ran up a grass bank and back onto the road. We hardly met any traffic.
Around about Kirk Michael the Vincent didn't come past me again so I just settled down to playing at being Mike Hailwood. nothing much else happened other than my short trip turned into a complete lap of the TT course. the most interesting point for me was talking to Tom when I got back to the hotel and he asked where I had been to on the bike, so I explained my meeting with the Vincent 1000 and a very enjoyable ride out.
Now this is the fairy tale bit, as Tom swears that he heard me drive off on the bike and looked at the time on his bedside alarm then dozed off again and didn't check the time until he looked at his watch just as I returned to the hotel. He commented that with a bit more effort I could have got close to achieving a qualifying time for the Manx GP. I have no scientific way of disputing Tom, but it does make a good tale on cold winter nights in the pub.
Remember me going up the grass bank? Well we passed by later on during the day and I checked my St Christopher was still working as there was a tyre tread about 18" up the face of the sloping grass verge I had ridden up earlier that morning. It makes me feel that luck was with me that day.
I eventually parted company with 741 CUT in exchange for a crash damaged Honda CB500, but that as they say is another story.
I received a certificate from a nice policeman who said that he caught me up on the Honda when he recorded my speed on the Six Hills road at 126mph. My question in court was "What speed where you doing to catch me from a standing start?" Answers on a piece of paper please.