Side valves as solos

I was pleased that the article on the Ariel VB (OBM April) did not concentrate solely on those old side valves as just being able to pull a heavy sidecar around, but were also capable of a useful performance when used in solo form.

How do I know? Because over the years I have owned six 16H Nortons, and one BSA M20. This bias in favour of the Bracebridge Street offerings will be revealed later!

Us motorcyclists tend to be obsessed with speed, and granted the OHV bikes do have a higher top speed. The question is how much of that speed is ever used, needed, or indeed attained?


More important is the ability to give a satisfactory cruising speed which I dare say for most of us is generally in the region of 45-55mph. if you are happy with that, then a 500/600cc side valve job could fit the bill for you perfectly and with less expense.

My experiences of running side valves in solo form has always been positive; initially cost was the major factor in choosing a machine of this type.

My first 16H was bought for £6 in 1959, and repaid this tenfold in reliable and economical service.

Double side valve trouble! 1940 WD and 1937 civvy version.

Later, in 1969, I shelled out £49 for an ex-WD BSA M20 from Dawsons in Nottingham.

This BSA compared to the Norton was a bit of a let-down, seeming to appear somewhat heavy and ponderous on the road, and lacking the 16H’s cornering ability.

I always felt that caution was the watch word when healing well over on an M20 (see photo).


Read more in the July 2019 issue of OBM – on sale now!


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