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Bike of the Month
July 2023
1963 BSA Rocket Gold Star
By Sam Whiteside

Hi, everyone. This may turn out to be a read about 2 or 3 BSAs, not 1 as requested, but they are connected in my riding history, so it’s all here. This is more about the last 20 years of my bike ownership than an analysis of the machines themselves.

I remember visiting friends in the UK somewhere around the late 1980’s and buying a classic motorcycle magazine at Heathrow Airport for the return journey. The front cover had a great picture of a BSA RGS and a Goldstar on it and that took me back to my teen years when we all had motorcycles as daily transport. No cars! I was a year or two too young for the end years of the British Twins, but all the older-brother aged kids had them. My introduction to bikes was an 80cc Suzuki!.

That magazine reminded me that some day I would need to own a BSA twin and a Goldstar. A lot of years later, that has happened – several times! In 2002 I decided that it was time to buy a Classic. I had not ridden for a lot of years, but was ready to return, especially with the great riding roads around Carson Valley and the Sierra. I needed a birthday present. A chance conversation by the photocopier in my office, in reply to a question from one of the staff asking what I was doing for my birthday and hearing “buy a motorcycle”, immediately got the answer “my husband has a lovely BSA for sale”. I bought it the same day as an A10 finished to look like an RGS. I still have it and it turned out to be a great bike. The usual ongoing repairs etc., but altogether a real marvelous machine.


The same year, 2002, I heard about the sale in Portland of the Sandy Bandit business assets. Several hundred British Classics and many truckloads of parts. I investigated, heard that there were several Goldstars, bought a plane ticket, rented a car and arrived at the warehouse where it was all being held and bought a hard-used Catalina Scrambler. Flew home, borrowed a p/u truck and drove back to get it. I didn’t plan to ride in the dirt, so it slowly became a Clubman with the help of all the experts I could find, as I had no idea how to do the mechanical work. So, it turned into the question of how much I had to spend. Looking back the 20 years it all was a real bargain!


A brief aside – I had unloaded the GS in my driveway at home and was giving it a look-over. A neighbor from 4 homes away drove by, stopped and said” I have one of those in my shop. Do you want to buy it?“ Of course, that became my 2nd GS. A story for another time.


So, dismantling the GS was like you all have done with your projects. Clean, assess, replace, repair. Easier said than done. The frame went to a frame expert, who took out/filled the dings, added tabs and brackets and returned it ready for powder coat as a Clubman-type frame. That was easy for me! A friend introduced me to Dick Mann, who conveniently had a large GS tank, a TLS front wheel on a Borrani rim, both of which I bought and he volunteered to change the scrambler gear box ratios which he could use for his off-road bike builds, for street ones. A good deal! The tank went to Ross Thompson in Canada for dent removal, rechroming and internal sealing. The rim, brake and another Borrani rear went to Buchanan’s for building.


The engine was in rough shape. I had heard/read about Phil Pearson in England, he being one of the best GS people around. So, I got a carpenter friend to build a big box and the whole thing went on a long UK vacation returning a year later with a Pearson crank and all Phil’s expertise for a 100% rebuild including mag/dyno service, cosmetic treatment and accessories. Also bought one of his Suzuki clutch conversions – a great idea. By the end of the project, it had a new GP carb, Mega cycle cams and a real nice deep blue tank – not the usual GS silver. I just preferred the blue. Since then, I have 11,400 miles on it and it was my usual ride until I was lucky enough to find the Vincent project that has since been my main bike.

All this time, the A10 RGS look-alike got regular use and turned out to be very comfortable, reliable and a treat to ride, with the exception of the 10:1 pistons the previous owner had installed and its need for high octane gas. I suppose I could change them for something softer. The previous owner had sold it because he became tired of the mosquito fogger smoke he left behind him following a rebore by a local expert, that didn’t work out. It was reassembled using the original piston rings that didn’t really seal. No surprise. I found that out by measuring and replacing the rings and it has been well ever since.

The A10 has the large GS tank and Siamese exhaust. It’s a great looking and riding bike and rarely has let me down, with the exception of a few magneto overheats requiring rebuild and one very messy event where the timing side crankshaft bush failed while I was riding in Markleeville. This is a common problem. The SoCal Norton Club ride was going through there at the time and one rider pointed to the large puddle under the A10. It had pumped all the engine oil out the breather during my ice cream break. The Markleeville store had 3 quarts of oil for sale, so I took them. Put 2 in the engine and started for home in Minden followed by the same Norton rider. The 3rd quart went in about 15 miles later on the 25 mile ride. The other rider went ahead and bought me 2 more quarts, which more or less was all gone by the time we reached my driveway. Most of the oil was on my legs and in my boots and the rear tire was dripping. A rebuild with a new bush was done and all has been well since.

For the past 20 years, my winter vacation has been 3 or 4 days at the Mid America and Mecum Auctions in Las Vegas. I bid on a few bikes over the years but didn’t make high bid on any of them. In 2019, there was a very nice Rocket Gold Star that I talked myself into buying. I didn’t quite get there though. I was high bid, but there must have been a reserve - don’t remember, but there was no sale. I checked with the No Sale corral, but heard the price the seller wanted and was not willing to go there.


Went back in 2020 with my friend Bob, who managed to buy a couple of his bikes. The same RGS was there on sale. I guess the auction must have warehoused it for a year and brought it back with lower expectations. With Bob and another friend’s encouragement/peer pressure I made high bid on the RGS for about $3000 less that previously and it got delivered a few days later. At the auction, one of the classic world’s true experts declared it a “good one”, all correct and proper. Peer pressure made the other friend buy a GS!

Unbelievable or not, in front of Bob and 2 other witnesses, the bike started immediately on 1 kick after priming the carb and since has been 100% reliable (except for the primary chain breaking while I left the Walker BBQ in a hurry last year). Not often the story on auction bikes that are cosmetically perfect, but seriously lacking mechanically.


My previous home before Minden NV, was Toronto in Canada. The RGS was sold at McBride Cycle in Toronto when new. I had visited that shop several times, but not during the classic years. They had an upstairs riders lounge where you could hang out and watch the TT and other racing on their TV. A great, old-time dealership that unfortunately closed shop about 15 years ago. I’m pleased to have their sticker on the RGS fender.


The RGS rides smoothly, is easy to start with the manual advance/retard lever and a not too strenuous kick. It has the RRT2 gearbox with a very high first gear, then 3 close ratio ones. It takes a long clutch release to get started and you will probably be doing 20mph or so before its all the way out. If you want, you could get close to 50+ mph in 1st, but that’s not too kind. The other 3 ratios are really nice to use. With regular BSA touring type bars, the riding position is comfortable compared to the GS clip ons. There is about 2” rise to them. The A10 has flat Vincent type bars. So, I have choices of how much wrist strain I want for the day!

I think all of these BSAs are OK up to about 60mph for highway riding. You need that speed on the GS to take some of the weight off your wrists. Beyond 60 I get anxious about long distance, steady speed riding. The early UK days was short distance riding, town to town or to work and school. I don’t like planning much more than 50 miles on the highway if I can avoid it. The highways are boring anyway and I prefer Monitor pass and other Sierra roads which these bikes are perfect for, although performance suffers above 8000 feet. No surprise there. I have Avon Speedmaster and GP tires on all the bikes. The GS may handle a little easier – probably lower engine weight, I’m not sure why. But they all deliver a big fun ride. I have probably been over Monitor 20 or more times a year for the past 20 years – many of those on a BSA. Not this year, though.

In closing, I have no regrets about any of these great bikes. They are exactly what I wanted all those years ago and do not disappoint in any way. If someone offers you a ride on one, add it to your experiences!

Some of you may be familiar with Mike Tyler’s great Mighty Garage YouTube channel. I recommend his 4 NV Road trip videos which show the 3 BSAs in action with really good videography and commentary.

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