Thank you for that post of that amazing video of Rodi's shop. I purchased my road race B50 from a gentleman in Georgia who told me it was built by Beno Rodi and the late Ted Hubbard. Two great masters of the sport whom I've never met.
This picture was taken at Miller Raceway in Toole, Utah in 2013, one of my last forays into road racing. That is me at the back of the bike and my pit crew, Ed Ashmead on the right.
I worked as Beno's mechanic off and on since the 1980's. We met while I was working for his dad in the original "Dekalb Ave shop" for $125 a week back in the early 70's. Heck of a nice guy. Beno will give you the shirt off his back if he thought you'd go racing with him. He just lives for AHRMA racing, and still makes about 45 race weekends a year. And he'll take 5-8 motorcycles to each weekend because he's not happy unless he can enter every race !
His dad started with an Indian dealership license about 1947, but they told him he had to move from Chicago to Atlanta. (Chicago already had 3 Indian dealerships.) Along with the move to the South, Al shortened the family's last name from Rodighiero to "Rodi". Indian made larger motorcycles, so they started importing Royal Enfields into the USA, commonly called "Indian-Enfields", to fill out the lineup. The British bikes were very popular and so Al eventually took on Ariel (which led to BSA), Norton, AJS, Matchless, Vincent, and anything else. Being of Italian decent, they also took on Moto Guzzi, Ducati, and some others. Eventually BMW filtered in. The 50's were the lean days when you might sell 1 motorcycle a month. The family (mom, dad, and 4 kids) lived above the shop and eked out a meager living. Al Rodi would take on any motorcycle line that would put motorcycles on the sales floor which he didn't need to finance.
The story goes that one day in 1960 some Japanese salesmen dropped by, after (literally) being kicked out of all the other motorcycle shops in Atlanta. (You got to remember that in the very early 60's all the owners had fought in WW II, and they still carried the sting of Pearl Harbor.) The "Japs" had a line of small motorcycles and big plans to sell hundreds of motorcycles. Sell hundreds ? Unheard of !! But they left a couple of Hondas with Mr Rodi, and they did sell ! Pretty soon Al had to open a sparkling new sales showroom across town. People that started on a Honda 90 quickly came back to buy a larger motorcycle and so sales of BSA and Norton took off too. Al eventually ended up with 8 shops spread all over town, all of them selling and servicing a mixture of the 12 or so motorcycle brands he offered.
I once asked Beno if he had heard of the Beach Boys. He immediately shot back, "Oh we love the Beach Boys !!" I'm thinking to myself for drinking ? for dancing ? Then he adds, "When that song "Little Honda" came out in the early 60's, it made my dad an immediate millionaire !" That amazed me because, as I remembered, you could buy the C10 "step through" for $215. (You can listen to Little Honda on YouTube.)
When the motorcycle boom finally slowed, Al's son, Beno, took what was left of the British bike sales and concentrated it into a single building. That building eventually ended up in his back yard in 1990 when he closed the last shop and built a nice home on spacious property in Winder, GA. That's how you end up with a 13,000 sq ft building crammed with every conceivable British motorcycle part ever made.
Here's a 3-photo panorama of the current building....
Each 50ft long aisle under the mezzanine, is organized. One aisle for carbs, one aisle for Lucas, one for cylinder heads, one aisle for wheels, etc...
Where else do 2 different owners bring in their Vincents for service...
Where else would you see, not 1 but 3, Manx Nortons ?
Where else will you see a row of Gold Stars ?
Beno's love of motorcycle racing led him to race all over the world. In the 80's he qualified to ride on the US International Six Days Trial team on a B50. Even though he's been an AMA Expert for decades, when he set his sights on racing at the Isle of Man the FIM required him to qualify by building up points by racing the preceding season in Europe. So Beno lived in Europe for a year, and drove his 1960 BSA Gold Star from race to race, carefully finishing 2nd or 3rd to build the needed points. His persistence finally paid off in the early 90's with Beno being one of the very few Americans to ever race on the IoM mountain circuit. I asked the man who has raced on every AMA and AHRMA road race, motocross and flat-track circuit, including Daytona, Barber's, and the Bonneville Salt Flats, how he felt about that. He said, "It was the most scared I've ever been. I just wanted to finish."
Beno's training is actually as a mechanist. By nature he's a very smart and resourceful guy. Couple that with attending every BSA, Norton, BMW, Honda, etc factory training class held in Atlanta since 1960 and you get a fairly knowledgeable person. I asked him once about that and he said that 'since his family lived above the shop, the only place to hold these classes was in my family's living room. So I just naturally started attending.'
As time went on and Beno's love of any type of motorcycle racing continued to grow, he became adept at all phases of motorcycle repair. And if the part didn't exist, he was trained to fabricate it. And if the tools didn't exist to do the job, he'd simply fabricate the tools.
Example... The guy already owns 2 Manx road racers, and 1 Manx flat tracker. When he ran across the parts to build another Manx motor at the Barber swap meet he knew what he had to do.... build a Manx moto-crosser ! It's simple really. You just grab a Norton P11 frame, cut off the head post, fit the engine, mate it to the P11 gearbox...
Then, mend the frame to go around the Manx engine which is taller than the P11 engine....
Shazzam !! No problem.
What happens if you spin a B50 flat tracker to 8,000 RPM ?
This bike was back on the track the next weekend. Of course it helps if you have a new set of B50 cases and another Carrillo rod in stock.
When Beno heard that Barber had a Race of the Century, in which the bike had to be 100 years old, he was not deterred. He simply pulled his dad's 1915 Indian Scout out of storage and got it running. (It had never run in his lifetime.) However, this repair DID take more than 1 week !
Beno is the perfect blend between machinist, mechanic and rider. He's a true Master Mechanic with the knowledge, parts and machine tools to make it happen. And he's a genuine gentleman, willing to help other racers. Here's a photo of him truing crankshafts for racing great, Dave Aldana.
Where did he get the crankshaft alignment stand ? You guessed it. It's his dad's Indian Chief crankshaft alignment stand.
I used to have the pleasure of meeting Beno at his old warehouse in Atlanta, bought my first set of peashooter mufflers for my Trident from him. I could go down there and ask, "you got one of these?" Chances were he did. Only problem I ever had with him was one year at BIBR when I thought I had Ridden Daily sewn up at the show. I entered my T150, 11,000 miles in the year before then. Everyone in the club knew that I rode that bike year round. He just had to put his Gold Star in that class. Guess who won the people's choice award.
Beno had a +.010 piston and gasket kit for my 69 Victor back in the late 80's. Sold the that bike last Oct. and that piston and gaskets still going strong on a bike I rode alot monthly. The BB ign. 30mm Kuni RS, solid state reg/rect. & gel electrolite YTX-5 battery made it a pleasure to start and run!!!
This picture was taken at Miller Raceway in Toole, Utah in 2013, one of my last forays into road racing. That is me at the back of the bike and my pit crew, Ed Ashmead on the right.
THIS STORY JUST KEEPS GETTING DEEPER.
Tom - Does/Did the B50 shown above have a flat, gold-colored 1/4 inch thick aluminum plate on the LH side, under the seat to hold all the electrical system components ?
If so, I'm the guy that originally set the bike up. My brother and I used to take an extended ride through the NC mountains every Labor Day weekend. He rode a CB450 and I had a cafe-ed XL350 which were fairly evenly matched. One year my brother announced he was buying a CB750 F2 and I wouldn't be able to keep up. In true brotherly fashion I said to myself, "I'll show him !"
At that time I had owned a DBD Gold Star and had been working on a lot of Triumph T25's. I really liked the BSA unit single motor and had the idea to go see if Beno had a spare B50. He did have a room full of B50 dirt bikes, but no road bikes. In typical Beno style, he offered to supply all the parts needed to convert one of the bikes, under the condition that ownership would return to him if ever. A deal was struck.
Conversion consisted of these tell-tail signs: Moving the electrics to a triangular aluminum plate under the seat (which might also include an oil filter). Fitting the large 8" front brake. Lacing lipped alloy wheel rims front and rear. Drilling both hubs with 2-1/2 holes, ala CCM. Rear set rider pegs and foot levers. Fitting a tach drive. And the dead giveaway, re-gearing the bike with an 18T counter-shaft sprocket. Now, the B50 runs a narrow 525 chain, but the largest 525 sprocket was 16T. Beno had lots of 18T sprockets in 530 size chain, so I figured out how to convert the engine, with its narrow chain clearance, over to the wider 530 chain size. This is how the bike got fitted with 18/43 "road gearing".
Lastly, the engine was topped off with my trademark polished rocker arms. I did quite a few rocker arms back then and had the means to polish them to look like chrome. But I was accustomed to the T25 rocker arms, which have a compression release lug which MUST be removed on the B25/T25 engine. In a late night stupor, I ground off the B50 compression release lug !! (In my defense you should know that I was working full-time, enrolled in engineering night school, and building this bike at odd hours. I was indeed sleep-deprived.) I finished that bike the night before the Labor Day ride, and ran-in the engine by riding it 80 miles to work and back the Friday we were to leave. Long story short, the B50 would keep up with my brother's Honda 4... as long as he waited on me to push start the B50 at every fuel and food stop !! It was a blast !
Ultimately, that bike did return to Beno, during which time we didn't see each other due to my increased studies. He did bring me an AHRMA magazine one time with a picture of him road-racing a B50 (at Savannah ??) on the front cover. He told me, "That's your old B50 !!" Later I learned he had ridden the bike in a Mexican road race that started on a mountain top and did a long, harrowing, twisty decent. He said it performed great in the turns, but the larger bikes passed him in the straights near the end.
When I returned as a regular mechanic about 2001, the bike was missing from his "Stable of Thorough-Deads". It had been sold and he had no idea where it was.
If you want to know more about Beno then you can do a Search on the Rod & Tappet forum archives for a whole series of weekly articles I wrote, each entitled "In the Shop This Week". I had to write it. Every time I'd go to work there would be the most incredible array of bikes to work on. Not just a couple of times a year, but every single week ! It was a non-stop, constant parade of museum wanna-bes.
Beno was also featured on a broadcast of the TV show "The Pickers". They went poking around and finally ended up buying a cutaway Indian Scout engine which was used on the sales floor back in the early 50's, and his mother's burgundy riding sweater with the script Indian logo scrawled across the front. "Where was that stuff ?" I asked. "Oh, I had it tucked away."
And that was the thing. It was an adventure to work there. I worked in that building for 12 years, and EVERY week there was something pulled out or rolled in I had never seen before. One week he tells me, "I might have sold my Egli." "What Egli ?" "The new one upstairs." Now unicorns are easier to find than Egli's, and he's got a brand new Egli kit bike in boxes upstairs. Not just any Egli, but a Vincent Comet Egli. Only 16 were ever made, and he's got a new one upstairs !! Another week it was "My Velocette is going to California." "What Velo ?" "The overhead cam KSS that's upstairs." Now I'm just your average, everyday dummy, but even I know that overhead cam Velos are rare. There might be only 3 in North America, and he's got one. A GTR flat tracker. These are so rare Google can't even find it. It's an 8-valve head on a Triumph, fitted with a special 2-speed gearbox. You start in first gear and once you're off the line you tap the "clutch" lever. This lever actuates the spring loaded shift into high gear. There's no clutch or shifting for the remainder of the race. There's no shift lever! You simply ride the 90HP beast around the track and hope that the rear wheel never "connects", because if it does the bike will stand straight up. Holy, Jesus ! I notice Beno is wearing a funny little smile when he tells me that last part, as if to say "It's REALLY fun. Would you like to ride it ?".
Just one more note... Rodi British Bikes does not have a web site. Beno is the ultimate luddite. If it was invented after 1960, he has no use for it ! But on the other hand, he is the closest thing the Americans have to Burt Munro.
I bought my bike from Ron Barton from Alpharetta, Georgia in 2003. I made a lot of modifications to it including adding the oil filter and steering damper, and converting it to left hand shift because I was also racing a Honda CB350 at the time. It did not have the gold colored aluminum plate you mentioned. I managed to blow it up the first time I had it out because the previous owner, in spite of using a Carillo rod, had a cast piston which failed catastrophically taking out the cylinder liner with it. Luckily, not the cases. It has 520 sprockets and Boyer EI.
Other specific mods made by the builder included custom billet triple clamps and an AMAL Mark II 36mm carb as well as Megacycle X4 camshaft and titanium valves. It has always been a better bike than its rider (me). I took it to Bonneville in 2009 and ran it exactly as is and managed 108 mph, which hooked me on land speed racing.
One day I'm working away on some customer's bike, and we get to talking about BSA. He said, you know when I was living in England doing all that racing, trying to get to the IoM, I went by the BSA factory at Small Heath."
"Was it all bulldozed down ?", I asked.
"Oh, no. There was some manufacturing going on there. They were still making something. So I struck up a conversation with some older guys and we got to talking about the manufacture of BSA motorcycles. They had all worked on the motorcycle assembly line back in the 60's. I told them my dad had a dealership in Atlanta, and about all the BSA's we sold back in the day. About all the BSA models I still had at home.
"After about 30 minutes of talking, one of them says, you're the first guy to come by and talk about BSA motorcycles in maybe 15 years. We want you to have something. So one of them goes over to a bin and retrieves this giant piece of fabric. It turns out that when BSA ceased production these guys were told to go out and lower the Company flag. But no one ever told them what to do with it, so they stuck it in that bin."
In utter disbelief I ask, "Have you still got it ?"
"Yes, let me show you", he says. And he wanders off to yet another hiding place I have yet to discover. In a few minutes he returns with a box that contains a huge flag. And it does say 'BSA' on it. It's really thick, coarse, heavy fabric, not printed, but sewn together from pieces. It's old, has several holes. Has obviously had a hard life at the top of a flag pole.
I just stood there in complete and utter disbelief. I'm looking at, and touching THE corporate symbol of what was previously the world's largest maker of motorcycles. The very banner that flew above a vast manufacturing empire the size of a small city in existence since the 1860's. The very symbol of all that corporate prestige.
And, however improbable, it now lives in a box, 4000 miles away, in a small, backwoods Georgia town !
Someone suggested I tell the story of the knee replacements. You guys who have suffered through a knee replacement will note that I use the plural.
When I started working for Beno again around year 2000, we had a big laugh. He bragged back then that he "rode a motorcycle to work everyday, rain or shine." Well, the "motorcycle" was a Honda moped, and he only rode about 100 feet up his driveway to his home, which is on the same lot as the shop building. Come to find out that he had spent so many years standing on the pegs, had run into so many trees on enduros, and had crashed so many times doing flat track that both his knees were spent. He was hoping to make it to age 66 and get it covered by Medicare, but at that time he was in his early 60's and already walking with a cane. The sad truth was he HAD to ride something to his house because he simply couldn't walk that far.
I'm not sure if it was Heavenly intervention, or Beno the inveterate horse trader that came to the rescue... but Beno somehow managed to find an orthopedic surgeon that was willing to swap repairs on his 1970 Bonneville and 1968 Victor for, not one, but 2 knee replacements !! Now at that time, as was his usual practice, he was AHRMA racing about 40+ weekends a year. The only break was (and is) around Christmas for obvious reasons. So he timed his dual knee replacements with the end of the season so he'll collect all his points, and that gave him enough time to try and get back in shape before the start of the next season.
So he timed his dual knee replacements with the end of the season so he'll collect all his points, and that gave him enough time to try and get back in shape before the start of the next season. Literally, Sunday he returns from racing and Tuesday he's on the cutting table. Both knees were so bad that neither could support the weight of a single replacement. They both had to be done together.
Now knee replacements are one of those things where as soon as they know you're alive and not spurting blood anywhere, you're dismissed. I actually waited 5 days and went to visit him in the hospital... but he had already been sent home. I had come to know him as a super-laid back, soft-spoken, easy-going guy hobbling around with his cane, relaxing every evening at 8 with a bourbon and Coke. But a new facet of Beno's character started to emerge. In talking to him I found out if they wanted him to do 10 exercise reps, he was doing 20. He had me connect a pulley to the ceiling so he could do some of his exercises at his desk while he talked on the phone. Then 2 weeks after the operations, in the middle of December, he's out on a motorcycle again.
Beno's home and shop are on 10-12 wooded acres out in the countryside. Around the boundaries of his land, he's laid out a moto-cross track though the woods. It was always his policy to test ride completed bikes, but about 10 days after the operation he starts riding for 20 minutes every evening. I asked him about that. He told me that riding in the freezing December air was better than ice packs, and much more efficient. He could train, have fun AND chill both knees at the same time. And he's not just putt-putting around the course. I can hear the 340 Honda dirt bike from inside the shop. He's going around and around, HARD !
And I'm inside the shop listening to all this... pondering these things in my heart... working on a certain 1970 Bonneville and a 1968 Victor.
If it hasn't already happened, someone needs to interview him about the early years with his parents. In the NW there has been iconic persons of prewar and early postwar period that have passed on without recording of that history. It becomes stories that are morphed into legends that may or may not be truths.
If it hasn't already happened, someone needs to interview him about the early years with his parents.
Beno is a very humble person. He doesn't accept trophies, and he won't talk about any details unless you prod him. One of the VERY few photos Beno has in the shop is him in diapers, being perched atop the tank of an Indian Chief, with his mom and dad standing behind. It's an Indian dealership newsletter from about 1950, highlighting his dad's new shop in Atlanta.
Wade & I made the trek down to Benoland with both my 6TAs. What an amazing place! Due to timing & other reasons, we weren't able to photograph anything beyond a few phone pix. Hung out talking to him quite a while- we didn't arrive until later in the evening and stayed until his wife called him asking hime to come up to the house!
Not like you can't see large number of bikes here & there- although you don't often get to see large numbers of exotic racing singles of British Heritage just any place- BUT the sheer amount of memorabilia he has is stunning. What makes it even better is it's all from HIS life. Not just stuff he found or acquired along the way from random sources.
My "existing" 6TA. The drops under it are water- we drove through rain and unloaded in POURING rain!
Here's my "Donor Bike" 6TA. Long story but it was given to me. Ask me when you see me and I'll tell you about it over a beer.
Last edited by ricochetrider; 03/18/212:42 pm.
"It is no measure of health, to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."