I've read that unit BSA heads have better lubrication than Triumphs. Perhaps that's rubbish. If one was looking for a reliable distance tourer from the late 1960s or early 1970s of 650cc or larger, which make is it? Triumph, Norton, Matchless, BSA...?
You just opened a big can of worms, but I would say an early 1970's 750 or 850 Norton Commando with proper superblend bearings would make for a reliable distance tourer. As would a properly tuned and maintained Triumph. BSA's Achille's heel was the timing side bush, but I never had a problem with my A65.
Others will chime in...
Last edited by Swan; 01/06/1111:46 am.
1966 Triton 1962 BSA DBD34 Gold Star 1966 Triumph Bonneville
I would go for a Norton 650 Mercury in the UK, a really reliable motor with the benefit of solid chassis and all the motor improvements but without twin carbs and high tune.John Hudson (factory trouble shooter) rode one all over the country for years and years.
I would guess that any one of the bikes mentioned would be reliable if they were properly built by a careful and knowledgable mechanic, and for the owner/rider to completely understand his choice, and the importance of proper and complete maintence. Dick
#351663 - 01/06/111:15 pmRe: Most reliable make of late 1960s 650cc+ Brit Bike?
In the late 60s , British bikes for the most part were being driven by the same people who are driving them now , only they were being driven by a teenager obbsessed with acceleration and performance . My first British bike after a series of Japanese bikes was a 70 Norton Commando purchased used in 73 to keep up with my buddies Honda 750 . It was showing about 10, miles and was clapped out and a miserable experience for someone used hoping on a bike and riding away . My best friend today at age 60 has a 71 Commando that has done 5000 trouble free miles a year for the past 7 to 8 years ridden easy and well maintained . My 76 TR7 is the same Peter
Joined: Sep 2002 Posts: 7,812Alex
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Disregarding any of the blatant bias (mostly based on hearsay) that some of the other posters on here have shown, I must agree with others that it depends more on how it's put together than what brand it is. The majority of roadside failures on these british bikes IME are fuel system and electrical failures and you're gonna have a hard time arguing brand loyalty there... I know people who have ridden any of the three on ridicuolusly long journeys. Rarely has one long trip been entirely trouble free, but few have come back on trailers. There simply is no substitute for good preparation, maintenance and ingenuity on the road.
A smattering: '53 Gold Flash '67 Royal Star '71 Rickman Metisse '40 Silver Star '37 Rudge Special sixtyseventy Lightboltrocket road racer...and many more.
To be frank, I think using any older brit bike as a tourer is insane,and I speak from experience. In the late 70's and early 80's I had a 77 Bonnie,great bike but the vibration levels after 2 hours put my hands to sleep.The only bike I would consider from a comfort level would be an 850 commando,it was by far the smoothest ride ever for a british twin that I ever owned,other posters have mentioned making sure it is properly sorted.If you want the perfect vintage tourer then get a BMW /5 series.Superb ride,utterly reliable with vintage looks.
"get a BMW /5 series.Superb ride,utterly reliable" - Hmmm, I had one of those. The problem I had was when riding on the highway, one carb slide would drop (CV carbs) effectively loosing power in one cylinder. I had to wack the throttle full open or pull up on the cable to get it working again. It would work for a while then the same thing. Never could find the cause. Not that you cannot find people with similar stories with British bikes. Always a handful on dirt roads whereas my A65 with K70 tyres would do dirt track slides just fine. A warning though, never close the throttle on a Bummer in a corner. The back end drops and could make the cylinder hit the ground, lifting the rear wheel. Front wheel and cylinder does not make for good traction control. I rode my A65 from Minnesota to New York and to Banff. Handlebars were not a problem, the butt was. Probably why people hold Iron Butt rallies. Be sure to bring chain lube. Or else modify the bike to take O-ring chain. Probably the key is to find the weaknesses of whichever bike you decide on and fix them or carry tools and spares to fix it. Once I burned a valve on the A65 (should have stopped and checked them a couple hundred miles previously when it misfired). I stopped in a shop, took the head off in the parking lot, brought it in, they ground the seat and put in a new valve. I put it back together and rode off. Try doing that with a modern bike (not that you would ever have to). Of course that was when you could find a shop that had spares and worked on old British bikes.
I would agree withe the BMW offering if this were a European question but being British ,for a long distance/low maintenenance machine might even be a Triumph 500 flathead twin 500 or even a BSA wm 20 single?? These bikes were high milers but low performers??
To be frank, I think using any older brit bike as a tourer is insane,
That's why we do it, because people "think" it's insane and therefore so are we, the riders.
I've ridden long distances on my BSA A65 and my A10, and neither of them put my hands to sleep - there's no vibration to speak of at 70 MPH and below. Careful engine assembly by people who knew what they were doing (Mr. Mike and Old PJ, respectively, for these two bikes) makes ALL the difference.
The only time my A65 ever came home on a trailer was my own fault for not securing the cush-drive assembly in the clutch properly. And the only time the A10 came home in a van was a result of massive overloading warping the rear wheel. That can happen to any bike.
Dick and Alec are exactly right - they're all old bikes on their second or third life, and how they're built and maintained makes 1000 times more difference than what brand it is.
Of course reliability is in the hands of the owner. Sick of all the stories about how unreliable British bikes were, about 20 years ago I built a '65 Bonnie with what parts I had laying about the garage. I sorted it, broke it in and set off. I toured the length and breadth of California over ten days and rarely let the speed drop below 70mph. I took two saddlebags full of spares and tools. I had no problems worth mentioning.
PS I've never had one of my bikes of any make on the back of a pick-up truck or trailer in 40 years of riding except that first time. Humiliation is a great motivator. Bill
Bikes 1974 Commando 1985 Honda Nighthawk 650 1957 Thunderbird/T110 "Flying Tiger" Antique Fans: Loads of Emersons (Two six wingers) plus gyros and orbiters.
Well, I don't have any experience with 650s but I sure have been happy with my T 100. 67 Daytona engine in a 70 T 100s cycle. Replaced front wheel bearings ( for no good reason ), front brake shoes, valve springs, lapped in the valves, replaced clutch plates ( bike had been sitting for years ), had a 930 carb sleeved, gave it a cosmetic smarten up and rode it 27,000 miles without a breakdown except for a wire coming off the ignition switch and never got stranded. A lot of it two up. Have now completed a motor rebuild which I did for no reason except that it was time to do it. That's reliable enough for me and it's smooth enough to ride long days. That's reliable enough for me.....oh yes, I did replace the wiring harness. Cheers, Wilf.
"It's about the ride..."
#351965 - 01/08/114:32 amRe: Most reliable make of late 1960s 650cc+ Brit Bike?
As a T100S rider myself it's nice to hear that they can run the distance. My first few years were rough, with some bent push rods, premature valve-guide wear, cracked head and worn rocker spindle, but I sorted all that out and have now put about 10,000 miles now on and she's running strong. Now if only the snow would melt.
Well I can't say I never had to walk home. I broke a chain on my b50. My fault it was NG and I knew it. Broke a tappet on my b50 after a 150 mile ride. Never knew why. Fortunately I was only two miles from home on my way back. I blew a head gasket on my A65 on a breakin ride. It was the first and only after market laminated gasket i ever used, and I have pushed a bike to a gas station....whose fault is that But I agree with what others have said, take time and care to put it together and maintain it. Take a few tools and some spare parts and don't be afraid to pull it to the side of the road if something needs attention. I think most of the the brit bike guys understand their bikes far better than those riding new bikes and there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to not only rebuild your bike but also fix it alongs side the road when something is amiss. We're out of a bygone era and also a little bit nutz.
Having had worked on and ridden more of these bikes than I can remember, a few things come to mind. Vibration is a big factor, both for discomfort and the fact that it makes parts fall off on the road. For riding long distances, this eliminates A65's unless you have a REALLY well made one. As anyone who has dealt with these (old British bikes) is aware, the build quality was all over the place. For long distance travel, the later the model the better, they did make running improvements. A GOOD 750 twin (again, build quality is all over the place) can be ridden, however, having ridden one from Chicago to Minnesota, never again, the vibration even on said good one wears you down after awhile. The other consideration is it is easier to get a Triumph serviced on the road, there are still independent shops around and parts are easier to find. A Norton Commando is smoother on the rider, but parts will still fall off the engine from vibration, although the isolastics make it easier on the rider, the motor is still shaking. Locktite everything, check everything every hundred miles or so. Have all the electrical gremlins sorted out before even attempting a ride. These bikes have been around long enough that the fixes for the design flaws are known, make sure they have all been applied. Of course, oil your chain, and watch out for the overhead oil lines, stainless steel replacements are available, which eliminate a potential catastrophe on the road.
Again, the only ones I would consider for a road ride would be a 750 Tiger or Bonneville, or a Norton Commando, THAT HAS BEEN PROPERLY SORTED OUT. Carry lots of spares, tools, etc, and do not plan on doing more than 100 mile legs, the fuel capacity doesn't allow more than that anyhow.