Oh Fer Chris Sakes. Now What?toblogo

by Shawn Downey

In the previous “This Old Bike” column, I took the reader through the trials and tribulations of acquiring a genuine non-imitation Irish motorcycle and what happens when an enthusiast attempts to recreate the original Rex McCandless design, i.e. the enthusiast experiences insanity and home mortgages.

Once I reassembled the front with new fork tubes, external Progressive Springs, new oil seals, hand spun alloy damper rod and tube, alloy damper nuts, and alloy fork caps, I realized a very important and disconcerting truth: the freaking Dresda clip-ons collided with the gas tank during the arc in the turning radius. The following day after this treacherous discovery, I went to work early and used a colleague’s telephone to contact Mr. Degens in England.

“Hello Dave?” I gingerly spoke into the receiver.tob36a[1]


“Shawn Downey from the United States.”

“Oh fer chris sakes. Now what?”

“Your swan neck clip-ons collide with my alloy gas tank.”

“Well for chris sakes. How much #$%& ing clearance do you need man? Nobody ‘turns’ a motorbike. Throw it over on its side to make the turns. That’s what we do at the Isle Of Man for gods sake. What are yee? Some kind of poof? Geesh…Yankees. Christ, I made those clip-ons for old guys. How old are yee?”

“Ahhh, I have to go now.”

Deducing the fact that I was not about to gain any technical insight as to how make the clip-on / gas tank combination interact appropriately, I hung up the telephone and dialed my contact in Northern Ireland to see if they could offer any solutions from the gas tank angle. Midway into the conversation – after we discussed that whole Bill Clinton, Monica, IRA relationship – I am offered the following solution:

“Smash the tank with a Guinness bottle.”


“Smash the tank with a Guinness bottle to make room for the clip-ons. That’s what we did at the Isle Of Man.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yee, turn the bars as far as they will go and then smash the tank with a Guinness bottle. Brilliant fun.”

“But what about the creases? Will they rip?”

“Of course not Laddie. This is brilliant craftsmanship – it tain’t made at Sears you know.”

“Ah, okay.” Click goes the receiver.

Imagining that the Northern Irish trolls were breaking out in riotous laughter at my ineptitude, I decided to shelve the whole smashing-with-a-Guinness-bottle procedure for further evaluation. Besides, I drink my Guinness from a tap or an orgasmic can – where the hell would I even get a Guinness bottle?

The next morning I woke up, kicked the cat, realized it was the neighbor’s cat and kicked it again, grabbed the parts catalog and ordered a set of traditional clip-ons. What the hell, I can always sell the custom Dresda’s on eBay, right? If they follow the standard eBay rule, the swan neck clip-ons will probably sell for more than what I paid for them.

tob36b[1]Awaiting the new clip-ons, I turn my attention to the engine. The magneto is not producing the strongest nor the most consistent spark I have ever seen…what the hell, let’s tear down the entire motor. What does tearing down the entire motor have to do with a weak spark? Absolutely nothing but please do not share that tidbit with my wife. Off come the carbs, the head, the cylinder, everything! Tear it all down! I am truly mad I tell you, I am mad! Tear it all down! Oh yeah, sorry, I rambled on about this previously…as you can see, the brake cleaner is beginning to show its brain rotting capabilities.

Watching the sun come up through the haze of what I call a basement window, I am nursing my calming herbal tea and taking pride in the completely disassembled Norton motor strewn across the remaining recesses on my basement floor. Moments ago, I came to the realization that the fellow before had performed the exact procedure not more than 500 miles ago. He had replaced the notorious Norton lower end bearings with the infamous Superblends and substituted stronger conrods for the originals. Oops. Looks like I may have engaged in a rather erroneous tear down.

But while it is apart, why not replace the valves with Black Diamonds? Polish the rods? Let’s get it bored out and substitute those low compression Atlas pistons with high compression flat top Commando pistons. Yeah, yeah. Compression just went from 7:1 to 9:1. Yeah, yeah. Of course it will run like crap on pump gas but that is why I needed that alloy five gallon tank, right? Yeah, yeah. Who the hell needs to use a kickstarter anyway – I will just park on hills…yeah, yeah. Port and polish the head to Dunstall specs…yeah, yeah, now we’re talking. This motorcycle was manufactured in 1967 but it sure is going to pull like it was made in 1974…yeah, yeah.

Amal carbs? To the garbage can! Did someone say Mikuni? Yeah, yeah…a 30 mm? No baby, send me the 36mm. Need an air filter with that? No thanks, I have never been very fond of small birds. If they get inhaled, they get inhaled. Now that it has lung capacity, how about a pair of swept back pipes with Manx style megaphones for proper exhaling…yeah, yeah…they do not produce Manx megs in mass production so they will have to be custom made…yeah, yeah, send them, send them. Here’s the charge card number I bought off the internet.tob36c[1]

And as for that faulty magneto that spurned forth the extravagant tear down adventure–well, a sane person would send it to a reputable professional for a quality rebuild. Operative word in that last sentence is “sane” and we all know that this rebuild of a monolithic tribute to Rex McCandless is anything but “sane”. I want spark baby, I want enough spark to enflame the end of a George Burn’s cigar…I am talking eternal flame baby, I want it hotter than Shania Twain in a logging camp. I want that spark to be confused with an Olympic Torch and there is only one way to make that happen…spends lots of money. After numerous inquiries, a couple of bribes, and lots of pints, I was able to make contact with a gentleman on the East Coast who used to build the racing mags for the Norton factory team. He was officially in retirement until I was able to use my superior negotiating skills in coercing him to provide me with a high power mag:

“Hey, old famous guy.”


“Build me a mag like they used to.”

“Got lots of money?”


“How about a credit card?”



A couple of days later POW! The UPS guys delivers a mag capable of lighting New York City on New Year’s Eve. I retreat to the corner of my basement and begin to froth at the mouth while peeling away the layers of bubblewrap – damn, I love bubblewrap. Bubblewrap is better than a Slinky on the steps of Montemarte, Paris.

After installing the new shiny mag, I notice a very peculiar characteristic: the absence of a cutoff switch. So I contact the old guy via telephone – again, very early in the morning on my colleague’s work phone.

“Hey old guy.”


“This is Shawn Downey. You built that high power mag for me?”


“Well, I do not see any provisions for a cutoff switch.”

“Fer chris sakes!” he yells into the telephone.

“What the hell do ya need a cutoff switch fer? You asked for a race replica and I built you a race replica. Do ya think the Isle O’ Man guys were cruising around the island and stopping for Lattes? Hell no! When they stopped they were either out of gas or crashed.”

“Any suggestions on how I might connect a cutoff swi..” suddenly I hear a click. Okay then, I guess we will be using the old ground-out-the-points method. Who needs that namby-pamby stop switch wiring anyway…less wiring, less weight, less wind resistance. Everybody needs to have their own in-house defibrillator–mine just happens to be mobile.

I have to run now as I hear the UPS, ATF, and Al Gore, banging on my door. Stay tuned next month when I sell the neighbor’s house to finance a center mount oil tank and rear sets.


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