John Bolton

Member Stories


A Good Idea

New pistons, rings, re-bore, crankcases (more about that later), one valve guide, four valves ground in, three gallons of oil, an empty bank account and two ferry tickets across the Channel.

Three days to go and no bike. We were to travel abroad on a twenty-three year old Triumph which at the moment had its guts on Carl's work bench. Carl is my girlfriend's brother who was mechanic for me during the Scottish Six Days Trial. He had undertaken the task of giving the Triumph new life. Just like Baron von Frankenstein before him, Carl was on the verge of creating a monster. The last cylinder head bolt was torqued down. The brain was now ready to go into the body. An empty frame lay waiting in the garden. The surgeon wiped all the oil from his gifted hands in preparation for the transplant. Carl lifted the lifeless engine and began carrying it to the bike, Carl screamed like a wounded animal as the engine slipped from his grasp and thumped onto the concrete. I learned a new vocabulary that day. The engine needed a new set of crank cases. With less than three days to go finding the parts was an almost impossible task. Engine spares for a 1962 Triumph are as rare as an uncooked steak. I was saying au revoir to the ferry tickets, but hope springs eternal as they say and fifteen minutes later and a considerable contribution to Telecoms profits, Carl had located a pair of crank cases in exchange for a spare cylinder head that I had.

Back to the operating theatre and we began to dissect the damaged motor. Deep into the night we worked, trying desperately to resuscitate the engine. Eight hours had passed and any number of coffees later the engine was in a stable condition.

The next day the transplant was successfully completed; all the arteries were connected to the battery, coil and rectifier. A drip feed of petrol, a sharp kick on the starter and the bike burst into life. We were Triumph-ant, well almost. The Triumph leaked precious oil, but that was acceptable. Trials on the machine proved successful and by Friday she was loaded up (some might say overloaded) with sleeping bags, tent, cooking equipment, food, enough clothing for a month (even though it was only a fortnight's holiday), waterproofs, oil and tools, two passengers and other vital supplies.

Eleven o'clock Friday night in torrential rain we posed for a photograph, and then drove off into the darkness. Into Leeds and over to the M1, it was still pissistantly raining. By the time we passed the Denby Dale turn off the rain ceased and the summer night was beginning to dry us out. The tiny six volt headlight, too dim to light the cats eyes in the road, began to flicker. We pushed on regardless and stopped at Woodhall Services for breakfast; breakfast at twelve thirty p.m. I must be mad I must be, travelling to France on a twenty three year old bike, that one especially. Back on the road Kay kept my back warm and with her arms around my waist it felt like a comfortable chair, made to measure. The engine ran quite smoothly, weird I could hear all the mechanisms working and even picture them. With my mind back on the road the miles passed by slowly. Dawn broke just as we crossed the bridge that runs over Sheffield. The factories looked still and lifeless. No smoke churning and rising into the sky, everything was quiet. The odd car passed us as the old Triumph thumped steadily at fifty towards Dover and the continent. I could already imagine cyclists with stripy shorts, berets and strings of onions around their necks. We began to get cold by the time we neared Watford Gap Services, so we decided to stop for a cup of tea.

In the service area I noticed oil all over my bike and boots. I took a closer look and. noticed two of the tappet covers had vibrated off, spraying oil onto myself and the bike. Luckily one of the covers was jammed in the engine case, but the other was somewhere between Watford and Grantley. After the tea I filled the bike with oil and set off for London to find a shop which may have a tappet cover. The North Circular was like a non-stop merry-go-round. We got lost a few times and eventually stumbled over an old motor cycle shop. It did not open until nine. It was now half past eight and the ferry left at twelve. We sat on the doorstep and ate a mars bar until the proprietor arrived, and to our amazement he produced a tappet cover. I screwed it into position and made haste for Dover; easier said than done. Was it left or was it right? We chose left then luckily linked up with the right road, so far it had taken nine hours to reach the other side of London from Grantley We raced on through the rush hour; in and out of the traffic we weaved (I never knew the bike had it in her).

Once we reached the open road, I opened her up and the miles began to flash by. Sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, suddenly the bike began to cough and splutter in the fast lane, and then she died out. I coasted onto the hard shoulder, the engine was red hot. I quickly diagnosed overheating as the problem; there was no time for the bike to cool down naturally. There was only one thing for it That's right I turned my back to the road and began to cool the bike down, steam rose into the air and what an awful smell; I will never forget that. I started her up again and off we raced with still a good hour's drive ahead. Every sound I heard I thought that was the end of the engine. The bike was running like a sick camel.

Ten miles from the ferry the Triumph stopped once again. It was not overheated this time, the plugs sparked and petrol was flowing, I could not see a reason why she would not run. God, I was panicking; a fortnight on the hard shoulder did not appeal to us. Then I noticed the distributor had moved altering the timing. I proceeded to retime the machine, and then once again sped off towards Dover the ferry and the continent. After about five minutes we could see the sea, the cliffs but no ferry, as we came down the valley there were the docks with ferries taking on cars. With only minutes to spare I drove up the ramp and into the hull of the boat. I parked up the bike, patted her on the tank, and went up on deck. I breathed a sigh of relief, we had made it; or had we. A fortnight of France awaited us and so did the journey back, two thousand miles in all. This year Yugoslavia and Greece or bust, probably the latter when travelling with the JOHN BOLTON EXPERIENCE!