Tales from a Motorcycle Saddle.


"The Vulgar Velo"


1961 LE Velocette MkIII

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This story first appeared in 'On The Level', the magazine of the LE Velo Club in 1991

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The find and purchase.

I have always believed that my interest in motorcycles started when I was 15. A new friend showed me his 3 year old D7 Bantam, and insisted I ride it around the field. I did, and that short wobbly ride was the start of what is now a 22 year (1991) period of owning a two wheeler, from a Vespa 90 to a Gold Wing. The favourite (and much missed) was a T120V Bonneville, sold in 1980 for 450 to help a house purchase. As I said, I have always believed that Bantam to be the first motorcycle I noticed but, in reality, I can go back a few years more, as I have recollections of watching the local Police purr by on those small, silent Velocettes. I can't recall ever giving them another thought from childhood to a year or so ago when I found myself, whilst reading an occasional copy of Classic Bike, checking two prices, L.E.s and Bonnevilles.

On the site of the old Veloce works.

The latter were becoming rather expensive, 1800 appearing to be the amount required for one of these. A while ago, our neighbour's Grandfather passed away and she informed us that her father had his two motor cycles to sell. One was a 1955 Triumph Speed Twin, the other a 1961 Velo L.E. Price dictated which to go for, as they were hoping for more than I could justify spending for the bigger bike. The L.E., complete, original, 'should be a runner', with loadsa spares (Ioadsa being an understatement) seemed good value at 300, so we arranged to view it in Birmingham on the way home from our holiday in Scotland. The sun was shining when we arrived at the vendor's house. We were shown to the garden where both bikes were standing on the lawn. If I f could have had both, I would have done. It was then that my wife enquired she exclaimed:   "That one? It's horrible! It's vulgar!" ; and from then on, 861 AWK has been known as 'The Vulgar Velo'. Despite this outburst, we are still talking. I agreed to buy this 'vulgar motorbike' and even, for a second, wondered if it would fit in our caravan, so eager was I to get it home. I arranged to come the following weekend and trailer it the 150 miles back to Essex, which I did. The L.E. was mine!

Proud owner on the start of a LONG journey!

Velo, plus spares, as purchased.


My first contribution to the LE Velo Club magazine ended with the words, 'The L.E. was mine!'. Now it was, what was I to do with it? The idea behind purchasing it was that I should give it a thorough going over and hopefully make it road legal without spending too much time or money on it. If it came to the point when it needed a complete restoration I would have to think carefully before embarking on such a task. I admire people who do spend countless man hours and pounds on a restoration, but feel that such a venture would not suit us. We, being my wife and I, both work full time and spend the majority of our free time in other activities, from caravanning to socializing.

For one of us to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money in one (selfish) activity would upset the balance. Having said that, it was the generosity offered by my wife that enabled me to buy the Vulgar Velo in the first place and even before her first ride on the pillion pad, she suggested we could use it as our form of transport in Ireland next year. I enjoy working with an aim, or target, and this Irish idea sounded good to me.

So the Velo was at home and I was raring to spend a few hours on it to find out exactly how good, or bad, it was. It looked O.K., complete, no bodges or rounded nuts visible and a week later, I tried to get it going. The hoses were perished after six years of inactivity. Car heater hoses were used up top, and the top hoses cut down became lower hoses. Oil in sump, petrol in tank, battery from my C.Z. below the saddle, plugs cleaned and away we go. Wrong!  I like to think that if I had known that Miller points were unavailable I would have been more careful, but I guess the contact breaker spring would have broken anyway. What happened was that, after much frantic kicking, I decided I should investigate this no go situation. No spark. Points seized. No problem, except that the spring broke. Into the shed and out with the points from the spare engine. Spark but still no go. Compression? Yes. Did this really take two hours? Eventually (like a week later) I got it to run on the right cylinder. Obviously further inspection was necessary. Upon checking the left tappets, I found that one locknut was broken, and the other incorrect one was loose, resulting in the adjusters being loose and stripping the thread in the tappets. Back to the spare engine and off with tappets. Oh dear, wrong diameter adjusters, resulting in only half the area of valve end coming into contact with the tappet.  With the wrong tappets in place. it was time to try again. After psyching myself up to kick for a long time. I was not prepared for the Velo to start first kick! Surprised but delighted. It goes!


The L.E. was mine! It goes! What next? Legalization. According to some papers that came with it, 861 AWK had had a very thorough service at its last MOT, 6 years previously, and had covered hardly any mileage since. My inspections found nothing amiss, so with one of the spare exhausts fitted, it was off to see the MOT tester. He appeared to give it an extremely close inspection (he had owned one previously) and pronounced it O.K. Off to the Post Office and the 1983 tax disc now read 1990. The L.E. was now roadworthy and legal. What were my first impressions of this bike? Slow, light, with poor brakes and a lousy downward gear change but, on the credit side, a great pleasure to ride.

Its first trip.

My other bike, a 1984 CZ 250, 2 stroke twin, needs great handfulls of throttle and high revs. I have owned it since new, covered 12,000 miles on it and have not felt secure when riding it. The L.E. though, gives me a feeling of reliability, security and enjoyment. I like prodding the kickstart only once or twice to start, the immediate regular running, the light clutch and smooth pick up. I am looking forward to long runs and good weather, spending a few more hours on improvements, (my wife insists I fit the dual seat that came with it - can't think why!) and generally enjoying this new hobby. I already eagerly await On The Level, the club magazine, and I shall be buying a few parts, e.g. plugs, correct hoses etc. Having covered a grand total of 150 miles on an L.E., I feel as if I have been riding one for years. It no longer seems slow, in fact, I enjoy being out of the traffic race. My father-in-Law swears blind they are fast bikes, and refuses to be convinced otherwise. When I enquired as to why he was so unshakeable on this point, his reply was "The coppers on them always caught me!" The deafening induction roar of the C.Z. always lets me know how much throttle it is receiving. The L.E. has so little induction noise, I have had it flat out up a hill without realising it. It gave no impression of working hard, it held 40 m.p.h. two up, up a long drag and actually impressed my wife with its smoothness. Ireland, here we come. Problems? None really. I overfilled the sump by mistake; the Velo responded by depositing the excess oil over my right leg and foot via the breather. I have to re-learn to use my right foot to change gear, so far I have only stamped once on the gearlever to brake, and twice vice versa on the C.Z.  I am looking forward to meeting other L.E. owners and seeing other machines. I like mine because it looks 'original', some may even say tatty, but it is 28 years old and has 37,000 miles on the clock. If we make Ireland on it in April '90, (not definite yet) 0.T.L. will hear more from me. Incidentally, can any South Wales owner suggest where I can leave my car and trailer for a week? On our last visit to Ireland by push bike I spent the whole week worrying if the car was going to be waiting for us when we returned. Thank you for welcoming me to the Club. I hope to be a member for some time. Happy Velo-ing!

Grey amongst black and gold

One of the highlights of ownership was in the early 90s when the Vulgar Velo was displayed on the Velocette Owner's Club stand at the British Motorcycle Federation Rally in Peterborough. The stand won Best Club Stand that year.

Postscript After ten years of ownership it was sold in November 1999 and replaced in July 2000 with another twin cylinder, watercooled, shaft drive machine with luggage - a Honda SilverWing.

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