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The Chip Shop Tandem

David Stevenson

"Real Men do it on a Cyclemotor", would have read the bumper sticker that the NACC thankfully had the good taste never to produce.  As an autocycle and moped man, one has always been conscious that the sweat-begrimed cyclemotor men, legs flailing beneath straining backs on railway style gradients or into force 2 head-breezes are the real heroes of the sport.  However, entering the hobby through the Bown and Aberdale marques and needing latterly to concentrate on machines with two seats, personal heroism of the cyclemotor variety seemed out of the question.  Until...

Fancying a sundowner on a bright summer evening in July 1994, our little family group and the Maths Adviser rode out to the lovely hilltop village of Laughton-en-le-Morthen.  Returning through the cooling evening air we decided to drop off at our local chippy, the Deviant Fish Bar.  As we pulled up a car behind us stopped and a youngish man with long dark hair jumped out and strode towards us.  He had been following us for a couple of miles, he said.  He was looking for some enthusiasts like us because he had a bicycle tandem with an engine attached, which he wished to pass on.  Were we interested?

You know what they say: appear nonchalant; don't bite the vendor's hand off; say you'll think about it and perhaps ring tomorrow.  So 15 minutes later there I was on his doorstep with a mouthful of chips and my greasy left hand clutching the contents of the kids' piggy banks and a ten pound loan from the Maths Adviser.

The bike was in his shed along with a rather nice Triumph chopper he was building.  It was complete apart from the handlebars.  The Mini-Motor attachment was lying on the bench.  The mounting hoop was missing, of course, but a quick inspection of the rear tyre showed that it certainly had experienced the caress of a roller drive.  Obviously no-one in the NACC is going to turn down a bike like this for 20 quid, but what made it particularly attractive to me was that it was a genuine 'Rotherham' bike.  Although the seller did not know the bike's provenance, having been given it in lieu of a bad debt, the registration number on the 1956 tax disc and the dealer's transfer on the tank showed it to have been bought and originally registered just half a mile from my house.

The first thing was to see if it would run.  The engine was stripped and treated to some new seals and bearings from the ever-helpful Mr Worton.  New rings supplied by the seller were fitted to the still standard bore.  The late Tony Wynn supplied the missing hoop and mounting pieces with his usual courtesy and efficiency and an ancient pair of handlebars were pressed into service.  Luckily all the old levers were still hanging rustily from their frayed cables.  The most exciting moment of this stage was when the rebuilt engine's flywheel was rolled along the carpet and an audible crack and blue flash from the ignition lead revealed a healthy spark.

By this point the bike itself was already mobile on rather perished tyres and with hopelessly inadequate brakes.  Mounting the engine proved no problem, although I was surprised at the length of the two cables necessary to lower the motor and raise the carburettor slide.  The great moment came with surprising ease and GET 389 powered itself down our street for the first time in 38 years.  Rear handlebars were out of the question as the clamp was missing so 'stokers' had to balance precariously on the rear seat.  Nevertheless everyone wanted a go.

Never having ridden a cyclemotor before, I needed a second opinion so I took the bike to our Dukeries autumn run that October and asked Derek Langdon, who has ridden his own Mini-Motor sidecar outfit many hundreds of miles, to try it out.  He expressed himself satisfied and even made me a handsome offer for the machine as it stood, but this was one bike that had to stay in Rotherham.

The riding v restoration debate is not as hot in the NACC as it is in some other bike clubs.  Personally, I am Meccano Man.  Having no particular mechanical or decorative skills most of my bikes are, to put it kindly, functional.  To me washing and polishing are unnatural acts.  When I visit a classic car show and am proudly told that the owner of this particular Ford Anglia has washed and polished the inside of the engine bay every week for the last thirty years, I think, "You poor sod".

But this bike was special, a gift from the Gods.  Somewhere along a chain of coincidences this bike and I were destined for each other; a marriage made in heaven.  I wanted to preserve as much of the original as I could.  David Casper got me the original number back but some parts I could not save: the celluloid mudguards were beyond repair and the matching leather saddles had to be recovered in cloth.  The correct but incredibly ugly 'clutch' lever was saved and re-chromed despite the fact that the pattern replacement used in trials was a great deal neater.  On the other hand, say it quietly, we had the bike painted all black, including the tank.  Purists cross themselves as we putter past.

It would be nice to say, "and just two years later the bike was looking and running like new".  However, for its maiden voyage at Elvington Aerodrome in July 1996 the bike was refusing to run on full throttle despite several weeks of fettling.  The carburettor had been dismantled and rebuilt from my couple of boxes of spares a dozen times.  After 8 to 10 miles the motor cut out, probably overheating we thought, as our tools disappeared over the horizon in the top-box of our 'friends'.  Two miles of heavy pedalling later Robbie and I breathed a sigh of exhaustion as the motor spluttered into life again.  I rang Derek Langdon that evening to discuss the symptoms and he explained that moving the air-filter lever actually alters the mixture in the carburettor.  All the engines require a slightly different position to run correctly.  Ours, it turns out, needs what looks like full choke.  Problem cracked, or so we hoped.

Keith Walker's September Song came along.  The tandem duly set out following Keith's excruciating puns as clues to the route.  Eight or ten miles later - you know the rest.  All our proving runs had simply been too short to reveal that the cutting out problem was still there.  Keith caught up with us pedalling along.  At a T-junction we "um"ed and "ah"ed before turning right.  One hundred yards later we passed a tree.  "Are you sure?" said the tree in Keith's handwriting.  I looked over my shoulder and was reassured to see Keith burbling along behind us.  We carried on pedalling.  Two hundred yards later another tree said simply, "Wrong Way".  We had just added an extra half-mile to our pilgrimage of pain.  I turned to look at Keith sitting smugly on his happily burbling moped.

"You bastard!" I cried.  We retraced our wheel-tracks.  Once again the motor eventually restarted and we reached the pub.

"I could've stopped you," said Keith, "but then I thought - No".  Before I could think of terrible revenges to be exacted at the next Dukeries run, Keith offered a suggestion.  Could it be that hot electrics were the problem?  Had I tried running without the brass flywheel cover?  After lunch I took the cover off and completed the 12 miles back to Marston's sports ground without a problem.  Job's a good 'un.

The VMCC 100-miler went much more easily than we had expected.  The seats recovered by R K Leighton were surprisingly comfortable and lap times decreased as the roads dried off in the morning.  It seemed appropriate to complete my tenth 100-miler on a real cyclemotor.  It wasn't that difficult though, really.  Where did I put those plans for a Cyclemaster-powered rickshaw?  It'd have to be the 25cc model, mind.  I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm cheating.

First published - April 1997

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