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1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions #505859
09/12/13 1:02 pm
09/12/13 1:02 pm
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Posts: 10
Upstate NY, USA
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Marc Sullivan Offline OP
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Hello folks. I'm getting rather close to purchasing a '72 B50ss but I'm a bit concerned about the reliability of an older British single cylinder. The last two British bike mechanics I've spoken to have referred to the victor special as a "victim" and as a "headache." Now I know that older brit machines have less than ideal reliability but I would like to know if a single is possibility worse than a twin. My tr25w ran great but I only had it for about a year before I sold it. Is a B50ss particularly bad? Or is it generally consider to have typical Brit alright reliability? I'm told this B50 I'm thinking about runs very well. Does that mean I can take a weekend long ride on one? Or were these 500cc singles more intended to be on short rides around town. Thank you all for your thoughts. I'm curious about any considerations or personal history with this model (B50ss) or the 441. For what it is worth, this may be my 3rd British bike in a row so I do really enjoy them, I just don't want to pick up a bigger pain in the ass. Thanks!

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Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505864
09/12/13 1:23 pm
09/12/13 1:23 pm
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LarryLebel Offline
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BSAs being unreliable is an old wives tale or in your case old Brit mechanics.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505865
09/12/13 1:29 pm
09/12/13 1:29 pm
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Ger B Offline
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The only thing you can rely on is they break down.
But they only do it when you don't expect them, so don't worry.


Ger B

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: LarryLebel] #505866
09/12/13 1:31 pm
09/12/13 1:31 pm
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Upstate NY, USA
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Marc Sullivan Offline OP
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Originally Posted By: LarryLebel
BSAs being unreliable is an old wives tale or in your case old Brit mechanics.


My apologies. I didn't mean to say BSAs are unreliable, I'm just curious if the singles may be less reliable than twins. I could be wrong but I think a single may feel less balanced than a twin. And maybe those two mechanics I spoke with were incorrect. I'm really not sure and certainly didn't want to call BSAs unreliable.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Ger B] #505867
09/12/13 1:33 pm
09/12/13 1:33 pm
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Upstate NY, USA
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Marc Sullivan Offline OP
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Originally Posted By: Ger
The only thing you can rely on is they break down.
But they only do it when you don't expect them, so don't worry.


Haha I think I get your point!

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505870
09/12/13 2:04 pm
09/12/13 2:04 pm
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Gordon Gray Offline
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Well...have you ever heard of a brand new $30,000 car breaking down? smile

IME is has a lot to do with who's been working/is working on the bike.

If Ed V built me a road going B50...I wouldn't be afraid to take it ANY WHERE, ANY TIME.

Same goes if I had one put together by John Healy or Dick Harris and a few others we are honored to have on this site.

IMO, it's going to be limited to what you can afford to do to it, who does the work and how well you maintain it.

Just my 2 cents....worth what you paid for it.

Opie Gone Bad

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505871
09/12/13 2:05 pm
09/12/13 2:05 pm
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Scotland
kommando Online content
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Instead of 2 pistons out of balance they only have one wink , they do not have a bush main bearing so that issue is not there either. Main issue seems to be starting problems, this is partly down to needing to know the technique and some fixes such as fitting extended thottle stop screws for easy adjustment. The B50 flywheels are lighter than the B44, piston is bigger and compression is higher which make it a bit harder to get the speed on kicking so a well tuned bike is a must.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: kommando] #505879
09/12/13 2:52 pm
09/12/13 2:52 pm
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Marc Sullivan Offline OP
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That's a good thought. I guess my thought about a single was a result of my previous thumper dirt bikes. XR YZ and a few others. It's good to hear the improvements (power) of the B50 compared to the B44. I've missed two victors so maybe this available B50 is the better choice. I certainly don't mind a little extra power!

Originally Posted By: kommando
Instead of 2 pistons out of balance they only have one wink , they do not have a bush main bearing so that issue is not there either. Main issue seems to be starting problems, this is partly down to needing to know the technique and some fixes such as fitting extended thottle stop screws for easy adjustment. The B50 flywheels are lighter than the B44, piston is bigger and compression is higher which make it a bit harder to get the speed on kicking so a well tuned bike is a must.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505942
09/12/13 8:36 pm
09/12/13 8:36 pm
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Nick Offline
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Don't do it. Get a 500 Triumph twin (or even a BSA 500 twin).

B50's are a pain--hard to start, vibratory and with quality control issues.

My friend, who was an A&P (airplane mechanic) and ace bike mechanic built two, one for racing one for the street. Both were incredibly fast and reliable. Having said that, he was a hard-core BSA fanatic and a master mechanic.

Of the many issues he fixed was a cylinder mounting flange (on the cases) that was not square to the cylinder, causing circlips to pop out.

If you absolutely have your heart set on a B50, in addition to the above advice I'd recommend lowering the compression to ease starting.

B50's are cheap for a reason.


When people who should have known better cautioned me about the dangers of motorcycle racing, I always told them that a fear of death is nothing more than a fear of life in disguise.
Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505943
09/12/13 8:40 pm
09/12/13 8:40 pm
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Overland Missouri
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old mule Offline
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Those bikes came to the states at the very end of the big single era (or after it) and owner abuse and mal-knowledge caused a lot of them to be cast aside with low miles showing.
Taking them on to freeways with a giant dirt sprocket on the rear did not help either.
Some were motocrossed with too- high CRs, need to be de-tuned and geared properly to get the most from them.
I read somewhere that Matchless-AJS sold 25% of their bikes in the USA, but 75% of their spare parts, the Americans with their Harley technology broke a lot of good machines.
You will be fine with your Beeser.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505996
09/13/13 6:57 am
09/13/13 6:57 am
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Germany
Jeff B Offline
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B50's are robust and reliable bikes when sorted right.
The main weakness is the clutch which can be improved.
Go to www.b50.org to learn everything about them.
Tons of tech support too.

Go for it!


Jeff B.
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71'B50SS
73'Ducati 450 SCR
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Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #505997
09/13/13 7:38 am
09/13/13 7:38 am
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Mr Mike Offline
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First, these bikes, even when put together right, are not as reliable as the Japanese bikes, new or older. B50's have to be perfectly tuned to start easily, and work best with a couple simple carb changes that Kommando alluded to. They are no more or less reliable than other BSA's. I have had a, A65, B25, B44 , B50 and a RE Interceptor, and typical of British bikes of that period they require regular maintenance and tinkering. If you know how to do the basic repairs and maintenance, and keep after it, the bikes are a blast to ride and you will get great enjoyment from them. If you do not want to do these things get something else. BTW, the B50's bring a pretty good price because they can be tuned and modified for some pretty good power and there arn't so many out there. The B44's are much more prevalent and all the parts are pretty much available.

Mr Mike

Last edited by Mr Mike; 09/13/13 7:38 am.
Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Mr Mike] #507116
09/19/13 9:01 pm
09/19/13 9:01 pm
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Upstate NY, USA
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Marc Sullivan Offline OP
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Thank you all for your responses. I'm going to take a look at a B50SS this weekend. This article, http://www.sump-publishing.co.uk/bsa%20b50.htm, mentions what to look at when inspecting a B50. If anyone has any additional thoughts or comments on looking over a B50, please let me know.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: old mule] #507134
09/20/13 3:18 am
09/20/13 3:18 am
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Jeff B Offline
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Originally Posted By: old mule
Those bikes came to the states at the very end of the big single era (or after it)

another point of view is to see them as being ahead of their time: just a few years later, Yamaha picked up the same concept with their very successful XT/SR500 range. They sold
thousands of them and everybody was cheering the return of the big single. The BSA B50 was the better bike in some respects (roller bearing steering head, 12V electrics).
While the B50 was cursed being a bad starter, the XT/SR which is an equal bad starter was called a bike for "real men" and this was looked at as a positive challenge for their owners.
Times have changed quickly and BSA already gone bust to benefit from that new era.


Jeff B.
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73'Ducati 450 SCR
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Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Jeff B] #507166
09/20/13 1:10 pm
09/20/13 1:10 pm
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Overland Missouri
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That's right, shortly after there was a surge in interest in big singles for dirt and even for the road, Les Harris' Matchless Rotax, Yam 500, Honda GB500 etc.
I would rathe r build a BSA single to my own needs rather than have a Japanese single, rode a GB500 for a while and thought it was bland and over-civilised.
Now that I am old a skinny lightweight B50 is appealing. Maybe Santa will bring me a Cheney frame and B50 motor, I would take it from there with lightweight modern forks and MX wheel hubs etc.

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #507167
09/20/13 1:39 pm
09/20/13 1:39 pm
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UK Berks
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bearing in mind that the basic design grew from a 150cc Triumph, it's amazing how big it got, and how long the basic design lasted.

In the late 30's and early 50's there was a flash of inspiration, and then well.... economy of R&D

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #507195
09/20/13 7:51 pm
09/20/13 7:51 pm
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Mr Mike Offline
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Actually the B50 has a lot of improvements over the B44...and a few things that are worse. Better brakes, better bottom end, better seat and riding position and better handling. The electrical box is hardly an improvement. My B50 starts pretty reliably as long as the carb is clean and the idle circuit is clean. Finger adjustable screws for pilot air and throttle stop make starting much easier as the bike will not start easily cold when set up for the best hot idle.

It's a blast to ride. If I kept only one bike it would be the B50. I have a very simple six plate clutch writeup that I posted once. It solves the greatest weakness of the B50..the slipping clutch.

Mr Mike

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #507226
09/21/13 5:59 am
09/21/13 5:59 am
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Farnham, Surrey, UK
gunner Online content
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Any bike over 40 years can be made to run well if its well put together using modern components such as electronic ignition & a decent carb.

So I guess the question is how well the previous owner has looked after the bike and whether it has been modified in any way.

Much of the original unit single design wasnt exactly brilliant and combined with modern, faster traffic, these old bikes can struggle.

My preference is to modify any bike I have for reliability and on my B44 I have done the following:-
- Boyer electronic ignition
- JRC carb
- full rewire
- solid state regulator/rectifier
- oil filter on return line
- 6 plate clutch conversion using surflex plates
- rebuilt engine using new valves, guides, piston, all bearings & new oil pump
- 19 tooth gearbox sprocket for relaxed cruising

My B44 runs reliably but its never going to be a fast road burner. It will happily cruise at 60mph with occasional bursts up to 70mph, any faster is difficult and I can just about get to 80mph but by then the engine sounds like its going to explode.

I recommend you take a look at the Rupert Ratio unit singles book which has some excellent ideas for building a reliable and oil tight engine.

Last edited by gunner; 09/21/13 6:01 am.

1968 A65 Firebird
1967 B44 Shooting Star
1972 Norton Commando
Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: Marc Sullivan] #507252
09/21/13 11:15 am
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Everything Gunner says is reasonable. For unit singles I stay with the points. If it were a twin I'd go with electronic ignition and solid state rectifier. With the single, points are easily maintained and you can change them alongside the road if necessary. I bought a new NOS rectifier as a spare 30 years ago and it is still in the box so those rectifiers have held up for me. The 19 tooth sprocket is what I also use on my b44 and B50 but even with this gearing the bikes are most comfortable at 60mph. If you try to run at interstate speeds of 75mph + it takes all the fun out of it...although my b50 will make 80mph without much trouble. The upgraded clutch as I mentioned earlier is almost a must. The filter is less important on a roller bearing bottom end (if you change oil regularly)as compared to a plain bearing of the B25 and A50/65. I have a return side filter on the B50 as it shares oil with the clutch and that gets pretty dirty. I have also put that Ford one way air pump valve on and it really helps breathing and measureably reduces crank case pressure making the bike more oil tight.

I have had a 32mm Mik round slide on my B44. Very nice carb but couldn't richen the mixture enough with its enricher circuit to make cold starts easy. Hot starts are a one kick affair with the Mik. I have no experience with a JRC and while the Amals are easily tuned they do leave something to be desired. I have never used the stock choke slides on an AMAL. Maybe they would help above just tickling for cold starts. I did all the above for reliability and good running and enjoy both of my singles. There are my preference over the A65. I am likely in a minority on this point but I have always like the unit singles. The 250 I rode in college was ok but had to work real hard to keep up with modern traffic. The b44 and B50 do it well except for interstates.


Go buy that bike.

Mr Mike

Re: 1972 BSA B50ss reliability questions [Re: old mule] #507641
09/23/13 10:05 pm
09/23/13 10:05 pm
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Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
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Robin Giesbrecht Offline
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As far as starting the 441 or 500 I found something out by accident. My 66 VE441 has a total loss ignition system I wired up using a Commando style Lucas capacitor. So my ritual was to tickle the Monobloc, pull the compression release and kick it over a bunch of times to prime it and charge the capacitor before setting it at TDC, releasing the compression release and hoping for the best. I used to live on a hill and that was handy too. But I digress. So I am cycling it over with carb primed and release pulled and my thumb inadvertently lets the release close a little. It starts right up!! Tried it again and yes it works. You have to fine tune the amount of compression to release but it is not hard. Almost seems too easy but better than abusing my right foot.


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