John Powell has an air of calm about him, even imperturbability. The 76-year-old Isle of Wight man, tall and limber, also smiles readily and is always willing to lend a hand.
You would not think that just a couple of years ago, a freak accident forced him into total immobility for many months, and that after a year he was warned that during a forthcoming operation to glue his hip ball joint back on, the necessary movement of his braced neck carried the risk of total paralysis. Calm must have been useful at that point.
Had it been a motorcycle accident? “In a sense,” grinned John. “I had a bad knee from a day spent trying to kick-start a Royal Enfield Meteor twin!” So instead of walking downstairs, next morning John slid down the bannisters. Which collapsed, dropping him nearly 20 feet onto the floor below and breaking his neck.
Eventually, with remarkable resilience, John recovered, and was able to pursue his love of classic motorcycles. As well as this 250 Clipper which he favours for general duties, he owns a similarly original D1 Bantam. He was offered it by an elderly local man, whose grandfather and then father had ridden it, before it had been garaged in 1972. The old chap had no offspring himself to pass it on to. John boiled the carb, cleaned out the tank, and it ran. He rode it over to a Sammy Miller autojumble – the first time that the BSA had ever been off the Island.
When I heard about John’s 1958-registered Series 1 Clipper, I was interested for a couple of reasons. These utility, budget 250s, produced from 1954, today are thin on the ground, and I’d been impressed enough by their 350cc bigger brother, the Model G, to be intrigued. In addition, my own 1955 BSA M20 side-valve (see TCM, August 2020) was ready for the road again, after fairly major surgery (a bent conrod replaced and the barrel relinered and fitted with a new +0.030 piston). It needed a shakedown run, and it might be interesting to compare that 13bhp side-valve 500 to John’s 11bhp ohv 250.
I had covered about 100 miles locally on the BSA and all seemed well, including the fact that I could kickstart it reliably; Len Page had done a good job. It was now early September, post-lockdown and pre rule of six. The weather was good, and the appeal of a proper run after the long confinement was strong. The only last minute issues were the top of my sensible tube of antiseptic hand gel unscrewing in the pocket of my riding waistcoat, with sticky consequences; and the fact that the M20’s three gallon tank and non-standard curly handlebars meant that my tank bag wouldn’t fit. So I bunged the necessaries into a back-pack, taped the hand-written route to the tank-top, strapped on a long-forgotten kidney-belt from the days of my first M21, and at 6.30 in the am, woke up a few neighbours as I departed for the New Forest.
The weather was perfect, not too hot, and the bike with its new Monobloc carb went well. The handling, plunger suspension or no, was a pleasure, and swooping round Hampshire’s long wooded bends proved that the unpromising-looking shouldered, block-pattern K70 tyres, front and rear, were of a modern compound which held road well.
Downsides were a slightly cramped riding position over time from the combination of the bars, the sprung saddle and a bag of luggage bungeed to the rear rack; and intermittent false neutrals changing from second to third once the engine was warm. On the outskirts of Newbury the road was closed, but the pavement wasn’t, so I rode along it and away. Later, I took an unfamiliar, very beautiful B-road route through pretty villages to bypass Andover, and all was well until once again the road was blocked off where it crossed the A303, and I had to ride down the dual carriageway for a few miles before reaching an exit and riding back to pick up the B-road.
With a couple of quick rest stops, I was at the Lymington ferry with 20 minutes to spare. And after the half hour boat trip, on the car deck, mercifully, the M20 started second kick.
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