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I’m no Vintagent, nor an Occhio Lungo, and this will never be BikeEXIF (all are recommended, but please stick around here first if you’ve not been to their excellent sites!).

Just a writer/publisher sharing auto and motorcycle stories. Please visit for Seventh and Second Edition Reprints of J.B. Nicholson’s works, as well as Nicholosn Bros. Motorcycles T-shirts and other books.

If you’re in the mood, you can connect with me on Facebook under the Modern Motorcycle Mechanics banner.

New Expanded Edition of Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter

Freshly printed copies of Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter have landed. The book is now expanded with an extra 24 pages focusing on Saskatoon’s (and Canada’s) early motorcycle history, from around 1908 to the time Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles opened up in 1933 – 1935. There’s information about Walter’s Cycle, the earliest Saskatoon Harley-Davidson dealer and Bowman Brothers, who sold first Yale and then Indian.

Also included is the story of Gordon Chappell, NBM first mechanic, as told by his sons, Gary and Brian.

Bernie Nicholson aboard his circa 1939 Ariel Square Four, Bessborough Hotel, Saskatoon, in background.

And lastly, the final few pages are dedicated to Lindsay Brooke, author of Triumph Motorcycles in America, as he describes the influence NBM had on the North American motorcycle market, particularly in regards to Triumph.

Copies can be had for $20 plus shipping, and be sure to check out the other NBM merchandise, including J.B. (Bernie) Nicholson’s Second and Seventh Edition reprints of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics.

Scooter dedication

In my most recent column for Postmedia’s site, I told the tale of a man who has ridden close to 10,000 km aboard his Honda scooters, without ever leaving the driveway. I really enjoyed telling this story. Please take a look. It reminds us not to take too much for granted.


Photo courtesy Honda Canada. Ron McLean, on the left, leaves the confines of the driveway to ride his 2015 PCX 150 on the asphalt at Edmonton’s Castrol Raceway.

1939 Triumph T100 ‘custom’

When I acquired an original paint 1939 Triumph Tiger T100 frame and gearbox the fun began, as I wanted to put together a race-style bike like someone would have built or modified either pre-war or immediately post-war.

Making it a rolling chassis was my first priority, and a Norton pre-war girder fork was fitted to the frame, followed by a Norton 16H hub and brake. The rear wheel hub is late model Triumph, the kind with the sealed bearings rather than taper style rollers. The larger diameter axle had to have flats machined in it so it would slip into the dropouts. The modern brake plate was trimmed of its dust ring, and the brake shoe pivot was sweated out and a new one machined up and TIG-welded to the plate by Derek Pauletto at Trillion Industries. This new piece slides into the channel on the frame and acts as a brake plate retaining device. The rims — 21″ front and 19″ rear — came from Central Wheel Components in the U.K., and Buchanan’s in the U.S. laced everything together with stainless steel spokes. Front tire is ribbed 3.00-21″ Avon, and rear is 3.50-19″ Avon Speedmaster.

A mangled Triumph 3T rear fender was fixed using the removable rear portion. A section of the main fender had to be cut out, with a section of the rear welded in place by Derek Pauletto. I never intended to run a front fender, but more on this later.PREWAR_TRI_1

Meanwhile, the hunt was on for a set of pre-war engine cases. I missed a set that was for sale locally at a swap meet. The purchaser immediately put them up on eBay and quadrupled his money. Thanks to Les Binnell of Ontario, he sold me a set of his surplus cases for a reasonable price, and a 650cc Triumph crank was found. SRM provided proper shell bearing connection rods. The barrels came out of England, as did the head. Motoparts in Edmonton machined the crank and fit the rods and new +.060 pistons to the bored cylinders. A timeworn set of primary cases turned up on eBay, and by now, it became evident that the parts I was gathering all had a certain amount of ‘age’ to them.

I liked this worn look, so instead of going for a restoration, the pieces were cleaned, and cracks or broken threads repaired, and then put to use. The ‘stroker’ engine was carefully assembled by Neil Gordon, and placed in the frame by Neil and Bob Klassen. As a paraplegic, I don’t ride but still enjoy getting my hands dirty playing with these things and I rely on a network of friends for many of the heavier jobs. I rebuilt the gearbox, which was really in nice shape, and used an early four-plate Triumph clutch.


Plans were to run a Lucas headlight with ammeter and switch panel and a plain gas tank. But when John Whitby turned up with the swap meet find 5T tank that has thick red paint — likely applied decades ago by some biker with good intentions — it was too good not to use. I had some pieces of a dash panel, and those went to use on this project.

Because I was now running a tank top instrument panel, however, I couldn’t run the headlamp with the gauge and switch. A source in the U.S. told me he had a nice old Lucas with original chrome, and that he’d be happy to send it to me. I couldn’t believe it when it arrived, because it’s the correct 8″ lamp for a Triumph T100, and has the original fluted flat glass and reflector — and after it got here, he said he didn’t want anything for it, that he was happy it had a home. I packaged up one of our Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, Second Edition Reprints and a copy of Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter and mailed it off as a thank you. However, with that big headlight up front it looked unbalanced, and that’s why a Wassell ribbed fender, salvaged years ago from a Velocette restoration project, was cleaned up and put into service. Rear taillight is a reproduction Crocker, and it’s a great piece with a real glass lens.

A reproduction Lycett saddle frame was sectioned 5″ to narrow up the back end and new seat spring mounts made to suit. Up front, a 1″ diameter handlebar of universal pattern was flipped over for the crouched look, and I drilled holes for cables and mounted bar end levers. AMAL provided a new 1″ throttle as well the reproduction carburetor that has the float bowl mounted on the right, with idle and air screws on the left.


I had bits and pieces of a Lucas twin magdyno, but was missing an armature for the magneto. Gregg Kricorissian of Ontario modified a later armature, and completely rebuilt the instrument. A friend donated a well-used set of header pipes, and the megaphones were sitting on my shelf, These are actually the megaphones that came off of J.B. Nicholson (of Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles) personal 1939 Speed Twin. They were used when he was hillclimbing, and have plenty of scars to prove it. Just right, in other words. I made lightweight internal baffles using aluminum for the end caps, and Derek Pauletto TIG welded those together.

Neil Gordon and Bob Klassen were the first to fire the bike, and after switching the plug leads around on the head it lit right up. There were some oil leaks to remedy, but it now has just over 94 miles on the Smiths speedometer, rebuilt by Andy Henderson of Vintage British Cables. The bike’s ‘debut’ was at Ill-Fated Kustoms‘ 2016 Kickstart show at the Springbank Airport. There are many others who have fingerprints all over this motorcycle, including Dennis Firth, Mike Jones and Adam Franke. Thanks to all.


More Calgary Hot Rod History


Further to the post about Calgary’s early hot rod scene, with thanks to Dave Meyer for that history, a few more details have emerged.

Ian Morrison of Vancouver had some information to share about the late 1950s and a certain Calgary car club called Road Knights Kustoms.

Beginning in 1957, a group of high school and working friends got together to form Road Knights Kustoms. According to Morrison, the club flourished thanks to eager participation from several members — and the focus was on hot rods and custom cars. But the club also promoted charity events, blood donor clinics, social events including dances and parties, road runs, touch football matches and car shows.

The Road Knights club was one of the first to host a car show in Calgary. They used a livestock pavilion at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede grounds, and were able to attract custom cars from Alberta and the United States. Morrison said seed funds (to facilitate the rental of the pavilion and to pay for advertising) was raised by hosting dance nights at a city community hall at Fifth Avenue and Eleventh Street. The band was Keith Hitchner and the Be-Bops, featuring Glenn Grice on drums.

All photos here are courtesy of Ian Morrison.


Typical with most car clubs of the era, the Road Knights Kustoms were eager to lend a hand whenever needed, and help dispel the myth that car customizers were hooligans!



This 1933 Chevrolet was Ian Morrison’s first car, which he purchased for $17.



Morrison’s second car was this 1952 Chevrolet 210. “The first thing any of us ever did when we got a new car was install lowering blocks in the rear,” he recalled. He lowered the Chevy, and also added twin carburetors to the inline-six cylinder engine.


Eventually, the Chevy was further modified with different taillights, and painted a light purple. A favourite spot to shoot Road Knight club cars was the parking lot at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, or more simply back then, Tech. The original SAIT building can be seen in the background, it’s now hidden by much more modern buildings and is called ‘Heritage Hall’.





Photo below marked ‘Glen Smith’s car — Calgary’. This was a 1932 Ford roadster, and the image was taken at one of Calgary’s earliest hot rod shows, hosted by the Road Knights. There will be a news clipping about this a little later. The show preceded the World of Wheels.


Simply marked ‘Lethbridge car’.


… and again, simply marked ‘Glenn Richardson — Lethbridge’. This is a full custom 1951 Chevy coupe.


… ‘Edmonton T’.


…’Clark Lamont’s Custom Ford’.


… the promised clipping from an undated Calgary Herald.


…’Al’s 1941 Chevy’. This was Road Knight’s member Albert Van Wyk’s customzied Chevrolet coupe. Love the Continental kit and the fender skirts.


…’Barry Kyle’s 55 Chevy, Yogi Bear.” Morrison remembers this car as being the fastest ‘stock’ car on the strip.


…’Norm’s Merc’. This was Road Knight’s member Norm Gossett’s four-door Mercury custom.

ROAD_KNIGHTS_CAR2_0001…the following photos are all marked ‘Saskatoon’, where the Road Knights visited a car show and Morrison snapped these images.





… the car above is a late 1950s MGA. It was won new in a raffle, and the winner went ahead and hot rodded it with a V-8 engine and custom paint job. The photo below is the last in the ‘Saskatoon’ series.


…below, another car shot in front of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. It’s marked ‘Phil Post Model A/Chev, Calgary 1970.’


…and finally, the Road Knights Car Club official crest, as it would have been sewn to the back of club jackets.


Dermot Walshe — Motorcycle Illustrator

Here’s a column that first appeared on the pages of Cycle Canada about four years ago — still one of my favourites. It’s a reminder that motorcycles, and the passion for them, transcends the metal. Dermot Walshe continues to draw, mostly kids cartoons, but he has plans for a motorcycle feature in the future. Enjoy!


Image courtesy of Dermot Walshe.


With a stroke of his pen Dermot Walshe dramatically moves a motorcycle from the road or the racetrack to the printed page.

Walshe, of Oakville, Ontario is a man of talent. Armed with a pencil, pen and ink, and a computer he creates amazing images. Just have a look at the accompanying panel drawn by Walshe of Stanley Woods on a Cotton motorcycle circa 1922 racing in his first Isle of Man TT. It’s perfect.

Born in 1962 in Toronto, Walshe vividly remembers the first time he ever saw a motorcycle. He grew up on the outskirts of the city, and from a small stand at the side of the highway he would sell rhubarb to passing motorists. One afternoon, Walshe heard thunder. He looked up to the sky, and there wasn’t a cloud. Then, a big Harley-Davidson roared by, and another, followed by a B.S.A., and more – likely all big American v-twins and British iron. To young Walshe, the procession seemed to last half an hour. In all likelihood, it was less than a minute or two. But the sight of that passing gang was seared in his memory.

Not long after Walshe determined he would get some money together and buy a bike. But that didn’t happen until his first year of university, when he dropped out of landscape architecture and bought a used Yamaha SR185. Walshe said he bummed around Toronto on this single-cylinder machine with push-button starting, and he crashed it quite a few times before he needed a replacement.

From that point, Walshe’s motorcycling career has been nothing short of interesting. Between 1989 and 1995 he raced vintage machines including a Yamaha SRX600 and a Honda CB350, and said some fast laps at Mosport and drafting at Daytona were among the highlights. He’s traveled by scooter around Indonesia, and by his count has bought, sold, ridden – or destroyed – more than 50 motorcycles such as a Norton 850 Commando, a Ducati 860 GT and a 1950 B.S.A. Gold Star. Aesthetically, pre-War motorcycles with a rigid frame and a girder fork are his favourites, although he just bought himself a 1977 Yamaha XS650.

As for art, Walshe was always handy with a pencil and paper. He’d sketch and doodle and draw comic strips, and planned to do something creative with his life. Landscape architecture wasn’t it. While in that program, however, he met another student who commented on his drawing talent, and told him he should be in animation. Animation? He got a big shock when he learned what that was.

“That’s when I had my first inkling that animated cartoons were actually manufactured,” Walshe said. “I never really thought that you didn’t take a camera to cartoon land. I was kind of naive that way.” He attended an animation program at Sheridan College but never finished. Eventually, Walshe put his not insignificant talents to commercial use as a storyboard artist –someone who must quickly and accurately draw out the scenes of a movie, television show or commercial. He’s worked for the likes of Disney on films such as Mulan, Return to Neverland and Little Mermaid 2. For most of the last decade he’s worked on a freelance basis (click here to see samples).

During periods of downtime Walshe likes to dabble with projects that are of interest to him. Such a project is the tale of 17-year old Irishman Stanley Woods, who struggled in 1922 against factory teams and experienced riders to finish in fifth place aboard a Cotton motorcycle during his first Isle of Man TT race.

“Stanley Woods inspires me,” Walshe said. “He had a lot of audacity and he refused to give up. He was a gentleman racer who played fair but took advantage of everything he could.” Woods, in fact, had raced his father’s Harley-Davidson before deciding he could take on the TT. He wrote to most major British motorcycle manufacturers, requesting a ride, and it was Cotton who took on the youngster. His creative requests helped him land the Cotton, but nothing was going to come easily. During his 1922 outing on the 350cc Cotton, just about everything that could go wrong, did. He botched the start, having to stop to retrieve some fallen spark plugs. The machine caught fire in the pits. Not long after putting out the flames and back on the circuit, Woods had to stop and wrestle with the valves thanks to a broken push rod.

Recently, Walshe drew up eight pages of Woods’ story, keeping his eye on the clock to determine how long it might take him to produce a 100-plus page graphic novel, or even an animated film. For now, it’s simply an idea that’s percolating. Walshe ideally needs someone to write a cheque before he could spend a year on such a project, but it’s one that’s dear to him.

“Most motorcycle content (currently being drawn) is about booze and babes,” Walshe said. “But I think there’s more to the story of motorcycling than that.”

Calgary hot rod history

A little bit of Calgary, Alberta hot rod history to share. One of the greatest names in drag racing came from a humble north hill neighbourhood — and Dale Armstrong went on to build and tune some fast engines. Read my column at

In researching the story, I met with Dave Meyer. He shared some of his memorabilia from the era of go-fast cars in Calgary circa 1958 to 1963. Enjoy.


Cards from the various car clubs and specialists that populated Calgary.  More to follow.


DAVE_MEYER_RODS_5aNo comment necessary here. Good looking car …



…and finally, a scene from a Calgary back alley. Does anybody recognize these rebels? Dave Meyer would like to know who they are.

Girder Forks and Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering


Jake Robbins (right) with son William and their Brough Superior exact replica made in England fork. All images courtesy Jake Robbins.

When manufacturers in the 1940s replaced what was the industry standard girder fork with the hydraulically damped telescopic unit motorcycles stepped into the modern age.

So absolute was the adoption of the new technology that owners of motorcycles from the 1930s were buying telescopic units and binning their girder forks. Shame, really, because the girder was a better system, especially in the early days of the telescopic. It was stronger, wouldn’t dive under braking, and was less prone to stiction. It did lack an appreciable amount of travel, but properly set up a girder provided a light, lithe, and sporty ride.

Maybe that’s why the girder might just be due for a comeback. Witness some of the modern examples of the technology, including BMW’s Telelever. BMW’s system doesn’t differ too much from traditional girder theory, but the hardware has been updated. Telelever uses an A-arm swingarm that pivots from the engine with a single monoshock attached to the A-arm and the motorcycle frame. The visible fork tubes do not provide suspension, rather they hold the front wheel in place and provide steering inputs.

Race icon John Britten experimented, successfully, with a girder design on his V1000. Instead of steel tubes, Britten’s girder was constructed of lightweight carbon fibre and Kevlar components, all suspended by a single Ohlins shock.

And, Yamaha licenced the rights to James Parker’s RADD (Rationally Advanced Design Development) front end in 1990, and built the GTS1000 from 1993 to 1996 around the alternative suspension system. Unlike Britten’s front end, which does resemble a girder, RADD is completely different. With hub-centre steering, the system is essentially two swing arms on the left side of the front wheel. Affixed to the front of a C-shape main frame, one arm is for suspension, and the other for braking and steering. RADD proved to be too much technology, and one that motorcyclists simply didn’t buy.

The girder fork, whether of a simple or more intricate design, was the most common front suspension system found on pre-Second World War motorcycles.

By the mid teens most motorcycles were fitted with a girder, and manufacturers included Brampton, Castle, Druid and Webb. Some motorcycle makers, Velocette, for example, bought in Webb forks to fit their range of machines. Other concerns, such as B.S.A. and Triumph, made their own and these designs closely resemble the Webb model.

Webb forks feature rigid sections of triangulated tubes (one on each side, commonly called a ‘blade’) that make up the main girder. This pivots on four points – two on the girder itself, one at the lower steering tube and one at the top crown. The whole arrangement is kept together with side links and adjustable spindles, and a single spring between the fork and the top crown provides a limited range of suspension travel.

Damping to affect compression and rebound is obtained through a friction system acting on the lower links. Friction damping is often adjusted using a knurled knob or large, intricate looking wing nut — ideally something turned easily with a gloved hand.

Thanks to the triangulated tube side blade construction, the girder is remarkably strong. In fact, that’s why many custom chopper builders in the late 1960s and 1970s preferred them to a telescopic front end. A girder could feature plenty of length, without suffering much of the flexing in extended telescopic fork tubes.

Regardless of make or model – from basic to exotic – original examples of vintage motorcycle girder forks in any type of condition are today quite a rare find. Anyone currently working on a basket case machine that is absent the girders, such as an Ariel or Triumph built in the 1930s, can attest to how scarce these forks really are.


Jake Robbins at work with gas torch.

There exists in the U.K. a man who has taken it upon himself to be a girder fork guru. Jake Robbins of Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering started with motorcycles when he was 12 years old, and with no money, had to learn to fix them himself. By the time he was 16 he’d left school and was working for local bike shops in East Sussex. Then, in 1992 he met and began working with Steve Burniston of ELK Engineering. Burniston was just starting to offer his specialties as a girder fork repairman, and under his tutelage, Robbins learned the engineering and welding skills required for this line of work.

“It also gave me a passion for bikes built pre-War,” Robbins said to me in an email. “Designers (of the era) had an eye for aesthetics, and sometimes to their detriment it was form over function. The bikes and the type of manufacture (available at) this time is a testament to the skills of the engineers, casting industry and tubesmiths.”


Extensively renovated chassis of a 1908 Anglian by Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering.

Burniston died in 2002 leaving the girder repairs in Robbins’ hands, and for years his business was mostly re-tubing and re-bushing tired forks. Now operating simply as Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering (he had to drop ELK Engineering, as there was another company operating under the same name), Robbins has begun casting various girder fork components, and is also building complete sets of forks. Robbins also does frame repairs, and has been commissioned to fabricate some rather intricate replica components.

As of 2011, he completed 10 sets of Castle girders, as fitted to Brough Superior motorcycles, and also finished a run of heavyweight Triumph girder forks.


Above, Triumph heavyweight girder fork castings for Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering. These were cast in the UK. And, below, Robbins’ exact replica Triumph 5T heavyweight girder forks.


Now, Robbins has moved into a new workshop, and he’s taken on oldest son William — now 19. William has been put to work turning, screw cutting, milling and working in the fabrication side of Robbins’ business.


William Robbins cutting 20 tpi threads on replacement girder fork spindles.

“He has taken off,” Robbins says of his son. “He’s built a Yamaha SR 250 into a fine cafe racer and has worked along side me with the design of the pre unit custom Triumph I’m building.”


Robbins and son William are currently constructing this special using a 500cc all-alloy Triumph pre unit engine and gearbox in an Ariel frame. Forks are, of course, by Jake Robbins Vintage Engineering.

But, Robbins notes, he’s also suffered some setbacks due to personal injury and water damage from fire crews attempting to knock down a blaze in an adjoining workshop.

“It burned to the ground, it took 40 fire fighters and 10 fire engines to put the fire out. There was an excessive amount of water and caustic foam pumped into my workshop. My space was knee deep in toxic black soot water, there was no power, and I wasn’t able to trade.”

Family and friends rallied around and helped Robbins rebuild, and now, the shop is back up and running. Good thing, too, as Robbins has turned his attention to the custom motorcycle market, having developed a set of budget girder forks (based on the heavyweight design of the Triumph Speed Twin girder). He has also taken on complete motorcycle builds, and more ambitious projects including work on film, stage art and even medical fabrications — all to back up the motorcycle side of the business.

Below, just a small sample of Robbins’ work, including newly created rear frame drop out, and a freshly machined lower yoke for a Norton girder fork.