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Which Bike? Comments and Questions on what is the best bike for YOU, for YOUR trip. Note that we believe that ANY bike will do, so please remember that it's all down to PERSONAL OPINION. Technical Questions for all brands go in their own forum.
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  #1  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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Which classic Brit Bike?

I have decided to sell up all my possessions and house and spend a few years on the road. My first overlanding bike was a Cagiva Elefant, which was too big and too Italian (although it was a fantastic bike in many ways). My current travel bike is a Honda Innova 125, which I'm taking to Africa in January, this will probably turn out to be too small.

I don't want the bike to be just something I sit on to get from A-B, I wan't it to be part of the trip, and I also quite enjoy fixing things so have decided to go for a classic British bike. My first choice is a Norton Commando. I've ridden one and it's a brilliant bike, the isolastic damping keeps vibration down to a level more akin to a modern twin, it goes like stink and looks just stunning. It does seem to track lumps in the tarmac quite badly though and I'm wondering how it will perform on gravel, does anyone have any experience of this on a Norton or a similar bike like an old Triumph Tiger?

Any suggestions or advice from anyone who has ridden classic bikes any distance would be much appreciated!

I am planning on doing most bits of the world, Asia, Russia, Africa, South, central and North America and taking a few years over it.

Cheers,

Henry
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  #2  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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I have a Triumph T140E which I have owned for over 30 years and 100,000 miles. It has never been further than Switzerland but have thought it would be a good choice of classic overland bike. You mention the Tiger which in 750 form is exactly the same but single carb and better for it, my T140 is now single carb. The oil in frame Triumphs are the cheapest classics with best spares availability and are what I would recommend, if you go down this route and want some tips on owning one, pm me.
Mark
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  #3  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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Another vote for a single carb Triumph here if you really want a proper Brit bike.

I do wonder about what you can buy though, they all seem to have been over chromed, painted the sort of colours that never existed outside a hippys head and generally messed about with to become the super Bonneville Triumph never really made. I've seen terrible things done to electrics and engine innards by guys who's passion is chrome.

On this score, how about the technology and basic shape without having to fight collectors and polishers for bit:

Airhead BMW: Boring choice but works.
Moto Guzzi's: Like the Cagiva but older
Enfields: The real technology but bits still in production.
Hinckley Bonneville: The bike Triumph would have made in the 80's if hadn't gone bust, just made in the 00's.
Kawasaki W650: The better/rarer version of the above.
1980's Japanese, XBR's etc: Classic style still occasionally at rat bike prices.

Maybe a compromise on the feel of the thing, but easier to live with?

Andy
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  #4  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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I have a garage full of the things and would recommend either the Commando or a Bonneville, I have experience of both. The Commando comes in various models, the 750 and 850, my mate had an 850 which I found slugish, and the electric start is a joke, my 750 is so crisp, it has the famed 'combat' engine, but well sorted.

I've 2 Bonnevilles, a '66 and a '68, I prefer the '66, simpler and more exciting, but cant explain exactly why.

I've toured 2 up on both, my tool of choice is the '66 Bonny.

I've experince of the BSA A10, Norton 650SS and a few others, none match the Bonny and or the Commando.

Full details are at www.ClassicBikeHire.com, you can even try then out!
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  #5  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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Thanks for the input folks! A Commando 850 came up for sale yesterday 5 miles from me so I'm off to have a look at that, will try and find a single carb Triumph as mentioned so I can get a feel for it myself
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  #6  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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The Mk 2A is the best Commando as the build quality dropped off towards the end (Mk 3). You can get a single SU carb conversion for them which is an improvement.

I have a 1954 BSA A10 which I've had for mor than 30 years but it hasn't done a huge mileage. If you consider something this ancient you would need to change the magneto to something more modern for reliability.
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  #7  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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A Yorkshire Panther

Don't know if you were born in Yorkshire. If you were, it's got to be a Panther from Cleckheaton.
It has not a little overlanding pedigree.... Theresa's Panther

There was a time in life when I was racing a Honda CB750, then a 750 Commando, and my Dad was daily commuting to work on a Panther Model 100, from N.E. London right across to S. London.
If I had to put those 3 bikes in order of favour for an extensive overland trip, it would be
1st The Panther
2nd The CB750
3rd The Commando.
Sorry about that, but the Commando was just too unreliable (in a racing environment that is, I have no other experience of this bike).

But I learnt a lesson there about using statistics and 'evidence' to select what bike to buy.
I did OK racing the Honda, but it wasn't competitive (early 70s). I checked all the results and found the Commandos got the best results of any bike at the club events I was doing, so bought one.
I got better results, but much fewer of them. Too many breakdowns (or 'stopped to make adjustments!'). Yet my Dad was still steadily ging across London, his bike about 20 years old. (That's {CHUGGING} if the automatic smileys confuse it - no drinking and driving!)
I checked the stats again, and found the bike that figured the most in the 'retirements' was also the Commando, so regretted ever selling the Honda.


Whatever you do, good luck and let us know how it goes.


PS, a friend of mine still scrambles a Gold Star, and he's not alone either. How about one of them?
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  #8  
Old 11 Jul 2011
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If you are going to ride a 'classic' I would choose the 750/650 Bonnie, I used a '79 model one for 2 European trips in 1980 and 81 and it was no problem at all(but it was less than 2years old!) I fitted th SU carb and fuel consumption really did improve.

How about the new 500 Royal Enfield FI UCE classic?
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Old 12 Jul 2011
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If you go for the Panther, be prepared to buy tailor made trousers, ones with one leg wider than the other, kick starting a 600 single builds muscles!
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Old 12 Jul 2011
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How About a Guzzi?

Moto Guzzi's: Like the Cagiva but older

Not sure I agree with this statement, but I am biased! I got into Guzzis in the mid-80's after a few cheap Brits and middleweight Hondas.
Been all over Europe as well as using Guzzis as a daily ride most of the time since. My Spada motor has well over £120k miles on it, with the original bores, valve guides etc, whilst my '79 T140 was ready for a full top end overhaul after only £15k miles!!
The 70's Guzzis - T3 850s and SP/G5 950s are essentially basic, solid bikes that I rate as a much more reliable, but still characterful alternative to a Brit bike. Sure, the electrics need a little sorting, but the components are the same as those saggy-cylinder BMW things, so plentiful and easy to diagnose. They make great load carriers, and are still pretty cheap. Try getting a truly useable T140 or Commando for less than £3k these days. An old Spada should come in at half that - more cash left for fuel, and a cheaper Carnet too, as a result.
Don't get me wrong, I love old Brit bikes, but the premium price and reliability issues would personally put me off a really long trip on one. I guess an Enfield Bullet might be a viable light weight option, but the performane would be little better than your current 125...or how about an old Yamaha Tenere, they're old enough now to count as classic, and you could always file off all the names on the engine, add a BSA tank badge, and fool all the punters!
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Old 12 Jul 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guzzibob View Post
Moto Guzzi's: Like the Cagiva but older

Not sure I agree with this statement,
My Dad has a Nevada, the factory has to take a vote on what model year they are going to guess it is this time whenever we need parts. The engine is a 2001, the brakes 2002/3, the useless barstewards assembled it sometime close to 2003.

Love the bike, can't bring myself to trust the parts availability. Probably just a small block engine thing.

Andy
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Old 12 Jul 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guzzibob View Post
Moto Guzzi's: Like the Cagiva but older

Not sure I agree with this statement, but I am biased! I got into Guzzis in the mid-80's after a few cheap Brits and middleweight Hondas.
Been all over Europe as well as using Guzzis as a daily ride most of the time since. My Spada motor has well over £120k miles on it, with the original bores, valve guides etc, whilst my '79 T140 was ready for a full top end overhaul after only £15k miles!!
The 70's Guzzis - T3 850s and SP/G5 950s are essentially basic, solid bikes that I rate as a much more reliable, but still characterful alternative to a Brit bike. Sure, the electrics need a little sorting, but the components are the same as those saggy-cylinder BMW things, so plentiful and easy to diagnose. They make great load carriers, and are still pretty cheap. Try getting a truly useable T140 or Commando for less than £3k these days. An old Spada should come in at half that - more cash left for fuel, and a cheaper Carnet too, as a result.
Don't get me wrong, I love old Brit bikes, but the premium price and reliability issues would personally put me off a really long trip on one. I guess an Enfield Bullet might be a viable light weight option, but the performane would be little better than your current 125...or how about an old Yamaha Tenere, they're old enough now to count as classic, and you could always file off all the names on the engine, add a BSA tank badge, and fool all the punters!
Not to mention the Cagiva is an in-line V and chain drive and the Guzzi is across the frame V and shaft drive.

Because the Guzzi is basically solid and reliable your £1500 will buy good bike that may never even had the heads off (although, hopefully, will have had a new camchain). Same can be said for some models of airhead Beemers, however, for £3k any Brit bike is going to have had a very chequered past with all sorts of supposed 'improvements' fitted. For an original Brit with history and less than a dozen previous owners you'll have to pay a lot more than £3k.
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Old 12 Jul 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Threewheelbonnie View Post
Another vote for a single carb Triumph here if you really want a proper Brit bike.

I do wonder about what you can buy though, they all seem to have been over chromed, painted the sort of colours that never existed outside a hippys head and generally messed about with to become the super Bonneville Triumph never really made. I've seen terrible things done to electrics and engine innards by guys who's passion is chrome.
On this score, how about the technology and basic shape without having to fight collectors and polishers for bit:
Airhead BMW: Boring choice but works.
Moto Guzzi's: Like the Cagiva but older
Enfields: The real technology but bits still in production.
Hinckley Bonneville: The bike Triumph would have made in the 80's if hadn't gone bust, just made in the 00's.
Kawasaki W650: The better/rarer version of the above.
1980's Japanese, XBR's etc: Classic style still occasionally at rat bike prices.
Maybe a compromise on the feel of the thing, but easier to live with?
Andy
Mm well when I was a child my father had a 'few' old Brit bikes & I would say the Triumph TR7V Tiger almost same as T140 single Carb.
The White Helmets use these too, they are quite reliable, and the engine is easy to work on, as 90% of old Brit Irn is, or modern day Enfield.
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Old 14 Jul 2011
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Thanks again for the input folks.

Having had another good look at what classic bike options I might have I am now thinking that the way to have my cake (old Brit bike) and eat it (lots of trickier roads and off-road detours) would be to get a Rickman Metisse frame and build my own bike with a Triumph 650 Twin engine (unit construction).

Has anyone ever had a Rickman and what would be the best engine model to aim for in terms of a donor bike?

Cheers

Henry

Afraid another Italian is off the cards for now, so the 'guzzi will have to wait!
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Old 14 Jul 2011
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I am not sure if you are talking about hunting out off road because you enjoy it or the gravel you will encounter in the course of your travels but if it is the latter I would save your money and make do with a standard oil in frame Triumph. The suspension on a Rickman is pretty much the same, you can always fit better forks and a 21 inch front wheel to a Triumph frame if you want and you can use ths standard 4 gallon breadbin tank, the Rickman tank is minute.
Any single carb 650 or 750 engine will do there is not much in it in terms of reliability which depends more on the skill or the last person to rebuild it and how it has been subsequently treated, your choice will depend more on whether you prefer left or right hand gear change, disc or drum brakes.
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