My first motorcycle
by Richard Wolters
After owning a 50 cc moped for a few years I was looking forward to the day that I turned 17 years and 9 months. Whilst counting the days, I checked the paper on a daily basis and came across something which I had been dreaming of.
I was still living in Holland, it was May 1968, on the same day that I got my learners permit I bought a 600 cc 1952 BMW R67/2, 16 years and 200.000 km old, all original, including a sidecar.
The rules concerning learners permits was set by obtaining a certificate which stated that I could ride within a certain radius from home, bordered by X- road and Y-street, no further than about 5 km.
What the heck, I didn’t care, at least I could ride. Off with the fishtail mufflers, on with the loud megaphones, let the neighborhood take notice please.
The two single seats were quickly replaced with a dual seat, goodbye small fuel tank and taillight, all replaced with second obtained R69S parts. I was now out of money so a bit of gas pipe was converted into new handlebars.
I was total oblivious to the strange noises from the engine, especially when I would turn the corner to enter my street winding the throttle against the stop, making full use of the megaphones.
The street I was living in consisted of four story high-rise flats, the sound of the megaphones echoing between the buildings was something to behold.
People would say: “he used to be such a nice boy, but now he rides a motorbike”.
One day while I turned the corner, opening up all the way, holding it in first gear, I heard a loud BANG !!!!, followed by loss of power and a lot of smoke.
Pushing the last 20 meters to my usual parking spot I could feel 2000 pair eyes burning into my back watching to see what I was up to.
I removed the sparkplug and looked down the hole...aaaarrgghh I shouted, just about the same sound as when as when you hold an ice cream against a broken tooth; I could see a broken piece of valve embedded into the top of the piston.. To avoid looking at this mess any longer than was necessary I quickly put the sparkplug back in, gave my audience a friendly wave and disappeared inside the house to consult my new workshop manual.
In September that year I turned 18, the canal which had been the legal border of my allotted territory was now exchanged for the horizon.
By now I was an expert sidecar rider and possessed the skills to cut corners lifting the sidecar wheel in the air to miss the curb – with girlfriend in the sidecar and all.
With the sidecar came the lower sidecar gearing enabling the engine to over-rev very easily while riding solo.
In those days I was totally ignorant of terms like “valve bounce”, “piston slap” etc.
After two more “valve through the pistons’ incidents, winter approached. I didn’t have a car or a car license so whilst the majority of Dutch motorcyclists put their bikes in storage I kept on riding.
What is it like to ride during the winter.
January 1969 7 am, I get into my ex-airforce rubberised flying overalls, put on a vinyl jacket, don my orange Jet helmet, put on fur lined vinyl gloves, say goodbye to Mum, grab the strategically placed can of ether on the way out and step into the street.
Its minus 10 degrees- I wipe the snow off the seat and handle bars, spray ether into the air cleaner, step on top of the left hand cylinder and start kicking followed by more ether spraying before she finally fires up.
Slip sliding we leave the street and within minutes I am on the main highway for a 30 minutes 100 km/hour ride to Amsterdam. In those days there was another fact I had never heard of—“wind chill factor.... Minus 10 degrees Celsius at 100 km per hour creates a temp of minus 20 or something like that!
I arrive at work, I slide my hands off the handle bars as I am unable to straighten my fingers, my colleagues help me out of my overalls and jacket, they know what is required as I am unable to speak.
This ceremony is repeats itself after arriving home. I feel it hurts my mother as much as it hurts me.
(In February when the temperature went down even further, I weaken and buy a three-wheeled Heinkel car which can be driven by m/c license holders. By now I arrive home very quietly and hope no-one sees me)
When the warmer weather arrived, I disposed of the Heinkel as quickly as possible.
During the following summer I made many trips and learned all there is to learn about BMW’s. I preferred to ride solo but it became necessary to use the sidecar for longer journeys as I needed to take a complete toolkit with me which I kept in the sidecar.
Later that year I decided to take the bike on a really long journey. The destination was Istanbul which means about a 6000 km round trip.
While servicing the bike I discovered that the points were rather worn, so a day before departure I went to several dealers to obtain a set but without success- due to the age of the bike, no one carried the required part.
One of dealers, after noticing that the rubber mounted open drive shaft had about an inch of play, declared that I would not make it to the German border let alone Turkey.
The next day we (with girlfriend) left at 5 in the morning and made our way to Germany crossing the border at about 7.30.
On the autobahn, with a continuous “ I love the sound of those megaphones’ speed we headed towards Munich.
Later that day I noticed a bit of smoke from the exhaust, well, it was an old bike after all, as long as I kept on adding a quarter of a liter of oil every time I filled the 14 liter tank things would be alright..... Or so I thought.
50 Km outside Munich it started to belch smoke from the left cylinder, At a tourist information stop next to a petrol station we acquired a city map and an address of a motel near a BMW dealer.
Entering Munich was an embarrassment, full throttle gave us a top speed of 50 km per hour, she was clearly running on one cylinder, the other cylinder was laying a curtain of smoke across the city, after a stopping at some traffic lights I even had a problem seeing where I was going as we had a slight tailwind.
We found our address as per instructions even though it was dark by now and we were in a strange city.
The next morning !
We load the bike and I jump on the kick starter.....rock solid, the engine had seized.
The motel was right on a T intersection, the dealer was only one street away, the only problem was that the street leading to it was on a steep incline.
Start pushing- Shit these bikes are heavy ! Half way up the hill it started to rain.
Soaking wet we arrive at the street, the location of the dealer was only about 100 yards from the corner, at arrival we found no BMW dealer but a butcher shop....
After inquiring I found that the dealer had moved more than 10 years ago--- strange the dealer book looked new, reading the small print I found that it belonged to the bike and was also 17 years old as well!!
Next door, at a timber yard, I dismantled the cylinder and found that the rings had broken up and most likely disappeared out of the exhaust, part of the piston looked like it had melted away.
An hour later I arrived at the BMW factory. “Sorry, no motorcycle parts for a bike that age!”. I was told and was redirected to a BMW enthusiast workshop where I exchanged the cylinder/piston assembly for another secondhand one.
A few hours later we were back on the road and crossed into Austria.
One day later....
Late in the afternoon I made the decision to cut a few miles of the connection into Yugoslavia by taking a road leading across and old mountain pass. This pass had a section of 26% inclination and was forbidden for cars pulling trailers and caravans.
Everything went fine, the border crossing was situated right at the top of the pass about 100 meters away, in front of me was diesel truck crawling along in first gear, belching thick black smoke right into my face.
I was also in first gear and decided to pass the truck, I overtook the truck, went around a hairpin and raced the last 50 meters up to the border post.
Just before I reached the car park—BANG !!- another valve through the piston.
As the border post was right at the very top, we could either free wheel back into Austria or go forward into Yugoslavia.
The iron curtain had aroused enough curiosity that I decided to keep going- we pushed the bike 20 meters down the road and freewheeled for more than 17 km into Yugoslavia.
As luck would have it, we ended up in a small town right near a garage/service station/wrecking yard.
As usual it was the left-hand cylinder, my new second hand piston had not lasted long.
In those days Yugoslavia was a communist country and shunned anything from the west, meaning no BMW dealers or parts in this country.
The owner of the wrecking yard tried to explain that he could fix it, he drew a picture of a clock and the following days date indicating that I could collect the bike tomorrow.
The following day we arrived at the agreed time, one kick and the engine ticked over nicely.
I was given a quick guided tour of the workshop and was shown that I now had parts in my bike, which once belonged to wrecked cars.
They had removed a cylinder sleeve out of a Peugeot car and fitted it to my cylinder; the original Peugeot piston had the same pin diameter and fitted straight in. The valve and valve seat came out of a Mercedes car and were machined down to size.
All went well until I had passed the Turkish border and was a few hundred km short of Istanbul, a new sound appeared - metallic clanging from the left hand cylinder head. At a service station I discovered a very loose valve, I was also down on power again and wondered what it was this time. On close inspection it turned out that the Mercedes valve seat had come adrift and was nowhere to be seen. The valve itself closed up touching the head itself.
At 50 km per hour I cruised on to Istanbul to a friend’s place. A local mechanic had a look and told me that he could fix it but had no BMW valve seats- “Is it alright to use a Renault part?” he asked.....
After a week I left for the return trip to Holland. First I slackened off the throttle cables about an inch; this would stop me from opening the throttle all the way. - It worked, the only problem I had was that I lost a large 10 mm diameter flat screw out of the carburetor body, petrol was running out at great speed. A passing motorist told me to press some soap in the hole- “it expands on contact with petrol I was told”, it plugged up the carburetor,,it lasted for over 1500 km.
Soon after my arrival back in Holland, I sold the bike and migrated to Australia.
The trip to Istanbul had been a pain but a great learning experience. It came in handy a few months later when I passed myself off as a BMW mechanic and got a job in a Melbourne motorcycle shop.