A Home-Made Motorcycle


The enclosed photograph shows a motorcycle which, I feel, would be difficult even for an expert on vintage machines to identify. It is a “Bitza” which I started to build when I was 13 and finished when I was 15, in 1930. The photograph was taken in the machine’s later years when it had been reduced to the status of “fun-bike” through the removal of mudguards and number plates and the substitution of a straight-through exhaust. Prior to this it was taxed and used on the road for two years until supplanted by a 1927 225 c.c. Royal Enfield 2-stroke. I still have the original log book in which the make is given as “MACGREGOR”. This is a family name and is decipherable on the tank.

Past or present owners of WALL AUTOWHEEL attachments for pedal cycles may recognise the power unit as being from one of the 1 h.p. models (dated 1913) while many of the cycle parts, such as the frame and front forks, are ex-2 14, h.p. (Douglas dated 1919). All parts were acquired separately (e.g. frame 5/-, tank 2/6) and mostly from Pride and Clarke of Stockwell Road, then one of the largest motorcycle breakers in London. The exception was the engine, a gift (minus crankshaft) from my father’s local garage man. Amazingly, in 1928. I was able to obtain a new crankshaft from the manufacturers! It was building up the engine and getting it to run on a stand that made me determined to install it in a motorcycle but the two years it took to complete was mainly due to having to save up for each individual part.

The engine was an interesting design — a 4-stroke of about 100 c.c. with automatic inlet valve, a solid phosphor-bronze connecting rod without separate bushes and lubrication by crankcase suction, via an adjustable needle valve, from a small cast oil reservoir. The gear-driven magneto, of German manufacture,had a face-cam contact breaker. Unusually, the drive sprocket was mounted on the end of the camshaft, providing a built-in gear reduction.

Performance was laughable by modern standards — maximum and cruising speed, 20 m.p.h and in the “low” position of the 2-speed, clutchless gearbox the machine was able to climb a 1 in 12 hill at walking pace!

Nevertheless, it proved reasonably reliable and provided endless fun. Whenever, with some difficulty, I managed to pass a group of cyclists, they used to ring their bells at me furiously. I wonder whether anyone else can recall this irritating habit, apparently reserved for riders of low-powered, quaint-looking machines?

St. Leonards-on-Sea J. M. HOWLETT

[They still do it, to veterans on the Brighton Run. — Ed.].