08 February 2008

A Long Strange Trail ... - Part 1

The trail begins:
Soon after beginning riding motorbikes on the road in 1964 I came across an article in a magazine. The article included a picture of a pre-war side-valve BMW motorbike and sidecar quite like the one pictured at right. I decided I wanted one! The article went on to say that the BMW production line upon which the bikes were built had been sent to Russia in a technology exchange before Russia joined the war, and that after the war, it had been moved to Communist China. It was presumed that perhaps such bikes might still be rolling off that line, although nobody knew much about China then.
Two years down the trail:
In 1966 I was in the shed behind Alwyn Sobey's home in Ballarat looking at his BMW and sidecar. I mentioned that one day I would love to own a side-valve BMW with sidecar, and was immediately told dozens of reasons why such a bike was totally unsuitable for the roads today: not enough power, too slow, poor brakes, telescopic forks (Earles forks were then in vogue), impossible to get parts, etc., etc., etc., the list of disadvantages seemed to go on and on and on. But strangely, I still wanted one.
Four to twenty-four years down the trail:
I bought my first sidecar, a 1946 Dusting, in 1968 and fitted it to a 1966 Yamaha YDS3. It was great, but I still looked forward to the side-valve BMW one day.
Many bikes and sidecars came and went in my life over many years and I enjoyed them all, but every so often I would dream about my side-valve boxer.
Twenty-five years down the trail:
In 1989, just after Tiananmen Square, I was on board a train in China near Shen Zhen, when the train was stopped and boarded by PLA troops armed with machine guns. And there, right beside the train, I saw side-valve boxer-twin motorbikes with sidecars! Each had 3 to 4 soldiers on board and they were obviously in good condition and performing well. An old impossible dream of mine suddenly became much more possible!
In Guang Zhou, that same weekend, I observed both police and soldiers riding similar bikes. A policeman pulled up right beside me and switched off his ignition so I was able to inspect the bike quite closely. I said to my wife Wendy, "One day I shall own one of those bikes." She responded, "Not likely!" I said, "If God wants me to have it, I will."
Thirty-nine years down the trail:
In 2003, I was eating fish and chips in Sai Kung, a Hong Kong fishing village, when I heard what sounded like a side-valve BMW approaching. I saw it go past, a shiny black outfit with the sidecar on the right. I heard it pull up half a block away, so I followed on foot and found it parked in front of the pub. I gave it a very thorough inspection looking at every part in minute detail. The owner came out of the pub, introduced himself as Simon Vallance, and we chatted for a while and swapped e-mail addresses.
A long strange trail was getting warmer . . . but it was about to become very much stranger!
More to be posted soon. . . .

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