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The PLL 236 Story

by Colin Atkinson

The first in a series of two-strokes that I have owned, run, blown up, wrecked or fallen off, PLL 236 was - or maybe still is - a Cyclemaster cyclemotor fitted to a purpose-built BSA frme with Webb cyclemotor front forks.  It was also my first excursion into the realms of motorised transport in the year of 1962.  At that time I was not yet 16 and so after parting with one pound ten shillings (£1.50p), which was two weeks earnings at my paper round, I carefully pushed my treasured possession home to be put into full working order for my 16th birthday.  Soon afterwards a 'prang' on my pushbike necessitated that I replaced the motor wheel with a normal cycle wheel and use the bike as a pushbike.  Although heavy for pedalling, the novelty and comfort of the sprung forks made up for it.  Came my 16th birthday and I found that putting a bike onto the road needed a lot more than just enthusiasm, in fact it was not for another 4 months that I could afford the necessary legal niceties.

My first real trip on the road was six or seven miles to the MoT station and it was on the way back from there that I found out the real meaning of "light pedal assistance" when the flywheel magneto disintegrated.  Fortunately after I had that most prescious "Pass" certificate in my grasp.

This particular Cyclemaster was the higher powered 32cc version with Amal carburettor and Wipac flywheel wuth lighting coil.  The rotor was made of the usual 'Mazak' type of material with a hexagonal steel insert (looking like a large nut) in the centre for the taper fitting.  On this particular one the Mazak casting had split at the corners of the hexagon so that the flywheel pulled right off the hexagon centre.  With deepening gloom I began to pedal the 6 or 7 miles.  "Lift the clutch and the machine can be pedalled without much more effort than a normal cycle" said the publicity material for the Cyclemaster.  How those words churned over and over in my mind as I sweated and strained to shift the thing along the road.

As very few people seemed to know what a Cyclemaster was, I didn't hold out much hope for a replacement, depression sets in quickly when you are 16, impatient and inexperienced.  However an uncle of mine managed to get a brand new one for me for only £1 because, as luck would have it, an acquaintance of his had bought one for his motor mower a while previously, only to find that it didn't fit, so his misfortune was my good luck and I was mobile again.  As the exhaust system was very definitely on the way out, with renewed optimism I wrote to Britax Ltd, who had marketed the Cyclemaster, to see if they could supply a new system.  Much to my surprise, almost by return of post, came a new system in smart stove enamelled black, at very reasonable cost too.  The only difference to mine was that it fitted to the cylinder barrel with three bolts instead of the collar that fitted mine, but judicious use of a hacksaw and file soon had it fitted.

Funny how the sensation of speed is so relative to what you compare it with at the time, such that to me this little Cyclemaster with its tiny engine, as my first motorised transport, seemed almost to be flying.  It was taken everywhere flat out, grossly over-revved down hills and tortured with clutch slipping starts instead of helping with the pedals.  To its credit it never let me down and provided faithful transport everywhere, including the daily to and from work trip once I had left school.  I kept it on the road for aLnost a year.  Apart from petrol and oil, which it used at about 150 miles per gallon of 25 to 1 mix, the only cost was for rear wheel spokes, which it snapped with monotonous regularity - undoubtedly due to the way I drove it.  I think it took all my youthful abuse very well (I even turned the handlebars down to decrease wind resistance and help the speed) and the only regular maintenance was a fortnightly decoke of the exhaust port.  I could always tell when it was necessary because a certain hill which I used daily could usually be climbed (just) without pedalling.  When it needed assistance then it was time for a scrape of the exhaust port.

As I have already said, my Cyclemaster had the larger engine of 32cc, which had an "oversquare' cylinder of 36 × 32mm.  It had a fairly high revving unit for a cyclemotor and produced 0.8hp at 4,500rpm which was enough for it to keep up with the then common Raleigh Runabouts and Mobylette Minors on the straight, although it slowly lost ground in long steep hills.  The recommended speed was 20mph but I was reliably c1ocked at 35mph down hill on one occasion.  Goodness knows what the revs were at that speed but although it was ridden like that all the time it only once ever seized - on a very hot day and then it freed off again almost immediately with no ill effect.  The engine is sort of forced draught cooled by air being forced onto the cylinder by transverse slots with raised edges in the hub circumference.  Another novel point about the Cyclemaster engine was that it had disc valve induction.  It made me smile a bit a couple of years later to read Suzuki and Yamaha extolling the virtues of their new "Racebred" disc valve engines when something as mundane as a cyclemotor had it as standard in 1952.  The Cyclemaster was also more sophisticated than most of the cyclemotors in that it had a tough clutch unit which meant that you could keep the engine running uhen stationary at traffic lights etc.  It also had a reliable and positive chain drive instead of the more usual friction drive.

In the 1960s The Motor Cycle magazine conducted a series of Owners Reports on various makes of nachine.  These always ended up with the question "Would you buy another?" with regard to the particular iake being covered.  I intend to answer that question for every bike I cover in this series of articles, not in the context of whether I would want one for a collection and occasional jaunts (indeed I did get anothor one and rebuilt it a few years back for just that reason) but as to whether I would buy one now for the general day to day use to which any vehicle purchased new could expect to be put.  In the case of the Cyclemaster I would have to answer NO in the form that mine was constructed.  The high cycle type riding position combined with most of the weight in the rear wheel, made things a bit dodgy in icy weather and any utility bike must feel right in all weathers.  Also, due to the compact engine arrangements, I always found routine maintenance a bit difficult, especially repairing rear tyre punctures.  I never could get the motor wheel out and back without bleeding knuckles and much blue language.  However I do like that engine, it really is a little gem and in the form of the Norman Cyclemate which was marketed alongside the "Magic Wheel" in later years, and which had the same engine mounted in the bottom bracket position in a normal moped frame, I would be quite happy to buy another one for my daily three miles each way commuting journey to the station.

This article was first published in the Febrary/March 1986 edition of The Independent, the magazine of the British Two Stroke Club.

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