1957 Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc                December 2016

1957 500cc Bullet

Eventually, in 1976, I bought my first old-ish project bike, a 1957 Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc. It was brought back from Lancashire in the back of the Escort, in a sorry state - but I could see the potential. It was a steep learning curve - I'd done very little to the BSA and Raleigh other than put petrol, oil, and air in the right places. Unfortunately, no photos exist of it as found.

2 years later, it was ready for the road - but I wasn't! I had never got round to taking my motorbike test when riding the BSA, so I needed to buy a tiddler (Honda 125), and pass my test before I could take the Bullet out. We won't dwell on the the Honda, as it was only a means to an end (as was an earlier C90). The focus of my interest is the British bikes I've owned and/or encountered.


More Vintage and Veteran Motorcycles to come

Chance of rain.........                                       February 2017

North Yorkshire rally

Before the kids came along, we used to do a few Enfield Club rallies. This was taken in North Yorkshire probably in the early '80s.

Just noticed these 2 photos were taken at the same rally - pre and post umbrella!

More vintage and veteran motorcycles to come.

Originality at all costs?                                       March 2017

Maroon tank badge-very rare original. 1957 flat toolbox lids took a long time to find

In the early days after the bike was first finished, I realised that there were a number of areas where the bike fell short of original factory specification for a 1957 Bullet. One had been forced on me, as during the build period, I had passed my correct tool/battery box and lids (flat, no apertures in 56 and 57) to a mate for a bit of welding (he also had a 350 Bullet). His Dad found my bits, thought they were old decrepit parts from his bike - and junked them! A replacement was found, but more modern lids were all that could be found.

The correct lids came to light much later.

I eventually realised the bike had come to me with sidecar forks - heavier springs, and wheel spindle lug extensions longer than standard. The correct bits are now installed and the handling is definitely better.

Most Enfields of around this time had chrome panels to the petrol tank, with plastic badges. For 2 years (56 and 67) the name badges were maroon, as the main frame colour. The only reproductions available were the later gold versions so I fitted a pair. I eventually managed to source a secondhand pair of the correct ones via Pete Lovett of Renovation Spares (he also supplied some hard to find parts for the KX). To my knowledge, the maroon version has never been reproduced, so passable originals were the only option.

The one thing I've not managed to correct yet, is the seat. The white piping detail is correct for later bikes, but the original seat was plain black with no piping.

Tale of woe                                                              July 2017

Timing marks with piston at TDC

2 years back, I started having problems with an intermittent misfire. It gradually got worse but seemed to be linked to certain throttle positions. I suspected fuel so went looking for ethanol free petrol and I was assured BP Ultimate fit the bill. I put a tankful in, and the bike went like a train. However the next tankful the misfire was back in anger. I set about changing the usual things - spark plug, points, condenser - then less often faulty items - spark plug cap, plug lead, all gave no improvement.

I was running out of options. The Lucas SR magneto is notoriously reliable, but I was beginning to suspect the windings (even though it had only done 39 years service on my bike). The SR mag has separate, static windings, and whilst looking around for a rewound winding, I came across an incomplete mag which was either new, old stock or had seen very little use (more importantly - it was less money!). Once it arrived I saw a partial error in my reasoning - it was a different model, for a different application, and the main shaft didn't suit the auto advance pinion. I had intended fitting the body and transplanting the missing bits from my faulty unit. I ended up rebuilding mine. New bearings, which meant removing the cam from the shaft (no keyway), so carefully marked before removal. Remove new winding from incorrect body, and fit to my faulty unit. Everything else transferred over, and ready to refit.

As many will know, Bullet valve timing is set at top dead centre, with the mainshaft timing pinion timing marks (double dot) lined up with the exhaust cam pinion double dots. The single dot on the exhaust cam pinion then is aligned to the single dot on the inlet cam pinion, and hey presto, the valves are in their correct opening/closing positions.

Tale of woe continued

Timing marks aligned, but piston still down cylinder by 35mm

Next comes the igintion timing, which is set in the fully advanced position. To do this, the engine is rotated backwards, the auto advance unit is fully rotated and locked in the advanced position, then tightened onto the shaft at the correct distance before top dead centre as the points are just opening. I found an aluminium washer just the correct thickness to hold the AAD fully advanced, and set everything. I did this about 4 times before I got it right (I thought I knew this bike inside out, upside down and back to front)!

Everything back together, and took the missus down to work (3/4 of a mile). Dropped her off, turned round, and before I'd done a hundred yards, the bike had packed up, and I coasted to a halt. I had a 1/2 mile uphill push, but had to give up at the steepest point - I was in danger of my heart bursting out of my chest!

My eldest came down to help his 'old man', and the bike went back in the garage in disgust. I eventually went out to find the reason, took the timing cover off, and found the remains of the thick aluminium washer - I'd left it in place! After numerous expletives I set about removing all the aluminium shreds, draining and filtering the (otherwise) clean oil. After retiming the ignition, new oil filter, filling back up with oil, the bike wouldn't fire. Another 3 attempts, including a bump start attempted down the hill. Big mistake - eldest son required again! Bike back in garage, abandoned in disgust again.

I wanted to go to a VMCC meeting this Wednesday on the bike, so on Saturday I bit the bullet (groan), and went back in the garage. Timing cover off, checked valve timing, and straight away noticed that when all the dots lined up, the piston was nowhere near TDC.

The road back                                                          July 2017

Butchered pinion and 2 part woodruff key

Removed the oil pump worm, rotated engine to TDC, and decided the woodruff key holding the timing pinion to the mainshaft must have sheared. Cam pinions out, screwdriver behind timing pinion (workshop manual method of removal) - no joy. 2 leg puller with thin feet wouldn't shift it either. Ended up with a Dremel cutter grinding away pinion at thinnest point. Due to recess, could only do so much, and had to finish with a couple of sharp taps with a thin nosed chisel. Pinion cracked, and could then be pulled off. Sure enough,  woodruff key came out in 2 pieces.

Monday morning, new pinion and woodruff key ordered, 24 hour delivery. Tuesday morning, it arrived. Work got in the way, but managed to get out into garage Tuesday pm. Head back on, pinion on, valve timing now correct. AAD and ignition timing set - spacer definitely removed this time - timing cover back on. Various small jobs attended to, engine fired and run 10.15am Wednesday. Set off to VMCC meeting 11.00am. Sweet as a nut.

I need a new set of teeth                                      Oct 2017

I haven't admitted this previously, but we do possess a machine from the orient within the family circle - no not my sons, it belongs to my wife. She's only 5' 2", so after passing her test, needed something suitable. Whilst at Beaulieu about 10/12 years back, I found a 1996 Yamaha 250 Virago - just right for the vertically challenged.

I have now been prompted to also admit to making use of the Virago when all my bikes are dead/sleeping.

Anyway, I've been changing the sprockets, gearing, and rear chain on the Virago recently, and after boiling the new chain and getting her back on the road, decided to remove the Bullet chain and do likewise after cleaning. When I got the chain off, it was apparent it had seen better days, but so had the rear sprocket. Not wanting to create unnecessary scrap, I decided to go down the route of cutting the teeth off the sprocket, and welding a new ring on, rather than buying a new brake drum/sprocket. I'd done this previously to the gearbox sprocket, so that doesn't need doing this time. It's just too big for my lathe, so I'm down to a local engineering firm in town this week before I get my younger son to weld it back together.

New teeth fitted and powder coated                 Dec 2017

Nice interference fit, together with a few stitch welds on both sides. Just the job!

Took a while to get fettled, but finally tied my lad down for long enough (what it must be like to be young with a full social calendar) to get the ring welded on the brake drum. As I was getting the Bantam barrel powder coated, I decided to get the sprocket/drum done as well. It's been both black and silver in the past, but as the full width hub is cast ally, I decided to go for a nice ally/silver shade.

I had hoped to get it back together for an early winter ride or two, but we had the first snow of the winter on Thursday night, so there is a load of grit and salt out there now. Will have to wait until there's been a thaw and some rain to wash it all away.

A Christmas Day first!                                          Dec 2017

A narrow byway of North Yorkshire, bridge over a little stream, recently planted beech copse, and an empty road - bliss

Well, it's never happened before in my entire life - I've been out for a ride on an old bike on Christmas Day!

I was putting the back wheel back together on 23rd, and you get distracted by something else, so progress slows. I came back to it 8.30am on Christmas eve, fiddled about with a couple of other bits, then finished the wheel off, but it didn't feel right, something was binding. Wheel out again, stripped brake down, and discovered I'd left a spacer out of the brake drum side bearing. Popped it in, all back together, and felt much sweeter. Brake catching, but left the brake pedal with more than the usual travel, and took it for a short spin.

New chain a little too tight, brake still catching, but engine sounding sweet, and calling for a few more miles. Can't do any more now, last minute Christmas presents to buy before the shops shut (and they're closing early this year with it being Sunday).

Christmas morning, got permission from the boss, so slackened chain, loosened brake torque anchor, both brake cam bolts, and then jumped on brake pedal to centralise everything. Tightened everything up with brake held hard on, and then spun the wheel - dragging gone, spins freely.

Test run needed on this lovely mild Christmas day with a hint of sunshine - couldn't be better! 37 miles later, I came home one happy bunny, and the bike sounded lovely, reverberating between those dry stone walls that abound in this neck of the woods. The smallest of twists of the throttle  brings that rich deep bark back to you, whether between buildings in a village, or between walls out in the sticks - music to my ears. All that, and almost no traffic - absolute bliss.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Sting in the tail                                                     Dec 2017

Damn, it's gone again!

Part of the bargain that was driven for my release yesterday presented itself in abundance in the afternoon - a shedload of washing up! Still, I'm not really complaining, a bargain is a bargain after all.

On the way back yesterday, I'd developed a strange rattle at 45-50mph, and it wasn't possible to identify it whilst riding. I've occasionally left the petrol tank bolts loose in the past, and that sprung to mind, but you can easily identify that by clamping your knees onto the tank and seeing if the vibration pattern changes - it didn't.

When I'd pulled up at the drive end, I ran the revs up and down to find the "rattle spot" (bearing in mind it was Christmas Day - don't want to fall out with the new neighbours). Once I'd found the spot, a slight variation brought on the rattle, and it was quickly traced to the lower front mudguard stay - it had snapped on one side. This will be the 3rd time in the same position I've repaired it in 41 years, so there must be a stress point just there. Another job for no. 2 son and his fancy welding box of tricks.

Do you want more?

If you want to continue the story.........