Born To Be Mild
April 28, 2010 6:36 PM   Subscribe

And it's being relaunched.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2010

In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52.
posted by nola at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Brough marketed them in the day as "the Rolls Royce of motorcycles" despite RR's legendary protection of its trademark. That they had no quibble with the claim is telling. A friend has an SS80 and it's a lovely machine.

Brough Superior also made a few cars as well, based on Hudson drivetrains.
posted by maxwelton at 6:59 PM on April 28, 2010

So... what was so great about them? Why the Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles? They look neat, but I can't tell much from the pictures. All I can see in the linked articles and wikipedia is that they were made well, were reliable, and would go up to 100mph (without going squirrelly, I guess). Is it because they were custom built and fitted for the customer?
posted by dammitjim at 7:01 PM on April 28, 2010

well, they got 50 mpg in 1935, even while hauling ass - nice if you live in the sticks in between-wars england and your bike has a 1 liter fuel tank.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:10 PM on April 28, 2010

they were made well, were reliable, and would go up to 100mph
With British bikes before about 1980, and any bike before the 1950s, that was a pretty impressive trifecta. I once watched a rider of a 1950s BSA single stop by the side of the road and get a tool kit and drip tray out of his backpack to work out what was wrong. A drip tray.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:14 PM on April 28, 2010

50mpg on a 1 liter tank gets you what, 15 miles?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:14 PM on April 28, 2010

Keiichi Morisato, motorhead and my hero, once had the opportunity to claim the Brough Superior of his grandfather. He left it for those who would come after him.
posted by SPrintF at 7:20 PM on April 28, 2010

Fiasco, I own a 50's BSA, completely restored, took special care in assembling the engine...and it leaked from day one of reassembly. I use a drip tray in the garage myself, not sure where I'd put one in my toolbox, though.

Broughs were coveted because they had an unnatural turn of speed for the period and they were exclusive. One thing to keep in mind about England before Hitler's war is that owning a car was something for the middle class--many working-class men owned a motorcycle (often with a sidecar) if they owned anything with a motor at all.

So just as when you park your Focus at the store you might momentarily covet the Jaguar or Mercedes parked next to you (while simultaneously dismissing it as frivolous or whatever), the same was true with the Brough.

If you want to see one in action, here's a nice video with Don Hall.
posted by maxwelton at 7:26 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this.

There really isn't anything like a v-twin. I rode for 45 years before I finally purchased a v-twin, an 883 Harley Sportster Custom. It was like spending your life eating hamburger, and then finding a steak!

What a beautiful bike the Brough is.
posted by HuronBob at 7:47 PM on April 28, 2010

"I once watched a rider of a 1950s BSA single stop by the side of the road and get a tool kit and drip tray out of his backpack to work out what was wrong. A drip tray."

I remember walking through a motorcycle dealership with my dad when I was about ten - so that would've been 1977 or thereabouts - and all the new Harleys had cardboard under them to catch the drips.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:05 PM on April 28, 2010

And more T.E. Lawrence.
Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England' straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air's coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar's gravelled undulations.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:18 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My '72 Honda CB350 has the exact opposite problem. It's been beat-up since the day I inherited it and I would really just like to see it die but the damn thing is fucking bulletproof.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:22 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fiasco... thanks...beautiful...

civil disobediant.. i had a 360 scrambler... a great little bike, used to use it to ride trails and cruise through the woods.
posted by HuronBob at 8:33 PM on April 28, 2010

"Vincent Black Shadow".
-HST, (in elevator).
posted by ovvl at 8:36 PM on April 28, 2010

I see the need for a sub-site. moto-metafilter .... for those addicted to classic motorcycles...

required meetups on route 66 (and whatever UK highway is appropriate)
posted by HuronBob at 8:42 PM on April 28, 2010

The old Brit motorcyclist's wry joke was that "BSA" meant "Bastard Stopped Again."

And then there was the want ad: "New BSA for sale; needs work."

In 1970, I was lucky to have the chance to buy a new 650 Triumph in England--and learn to drive it on the wrong side of the road. I dearly wish I still had it, oil leaks, crappy brakes, Lucas electrics, and all.
posted by rdone at 9:07 PM on April 28, 2010

There's a great essay by T.E. Lawrence about riding his Brough Superior 100 miles (at 100 mph) getting groceries when he was in the RAF. I think the title was "The Mint," though that could have been the title of the collection of essays.

I was one of the founding members of the Michigan Norton Owners Association back in the late 1970s. At overnight British bike meets, it was a common practice to challenge somebody over the oil leak canard. Both bikes would be parked on newspaper overnight. Most bikes didn't leak.

The secret is to coat the gasket with silicone. It works like a charm. I had several British marques and none leaked.

I've never seen a Brough except in pictures. But many of the older British long stroke twins had gobs of torque. Awesome torque. My Royal Enfield 750 could idle along in top gear at about 10mph and smoothly accelerate from there to top speed. Slow turning, but massively powerful. I'd guess the J.A.P. v-twins had similar power curves. Dang I miss those bikes.
posted by warbaby at 9:26 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really hate the combustion engine and feel that its continued use at every possible level of modern transportation is rushing us all towards doom, but wow those are pretty motors.
posted by fartknocker at 9:28 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Fiasco's got it. That's the one. The Road in The Mint.
posted by warbaby at 9:28 PM on April 28, 2010

Lucas electrics

Old Joe Lucas, Prince of Darkness.
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:56 PM on April 28, 2010

SS100 World Records.
posted by adamvasco at 12:41 AM on April 29, 2010

Lawrence was reputed to set informal records from Dorset to London on his bike - records that are less than it takes now by going up on the motorway.

Incidentally, there is some mystery around his death. I know the stretch of road well: it's dead straight with open ground on either side and not a place where I've ever seen or heard of a crash since.*

One of the prevailing [conspiracy] theories is to do with a mystery black car reportedly seen in the area, and which some claim ran him off the road.

There is also an ownership dispute over Lawrence's bike: it used to be at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Hampshire but has now been removed.

*With the notable exception of the corner just by Lawrence's home at Clouds Hill, a couple of hundred yards away from where Lawrence actually died, where about twenty years ago a lady was parked up in her car with her dog and was run over by a tank. The dog survived.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:03 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was in college, two of the guys I worked with in the dining hall had motorcycles. One had a Honda CB 500 and the other a Norton 850 Commando. Everyone oohed and aahed over the Norton.
posted by tommasz at 5:37 AM on April 29, 2010

My '79 XS650 doesn't leak, it marks its territory. Which right now, is in the garage until I figure out why the gas and oil keep co-mingling despite my best efforts to keep them segregated.

Also of note, that's not just a motorcycle engine, JA Prestwich also used it in airplanes. So imagine having 2/9's the the rotary engine from a Mustang P-51 in your Panhead Harley, and that's your basic Brough Superior.

My late motorcycle collecting friend had a Norton, two BSAs and two BMWs. He seemed to always be riding one of the BMWs, but never once mentioned getting rid of the others. There's something about the quirk and snap of a British bike that makes them wonderful things on twisty roads. He'd embarrass me and my 650 twin on his 250 single BSA on sandy roads in the Carolina pine barrens.

HuronBob: MotoFilter!? I'd be all over that.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:00 AM on April 29, 2010

About Motorcycles - By Frederick Seidel. (doesn't seem to be behind a subscirption wall, mea culpa and mods zap away if it is)
posted by timsteil at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Triumph's relaunch has done a good job of employing classic British styling without the not-so-classic British reliability.
posted by electroboy at 8:13 AM on April 29, 2010

Brough's are nice bikes ... since I grew up in a British car owning family, I sort of picked up stuff about British bikes by osmosis.

It's interesting that the company is getting fired up again ... now all we need it AJS to start making a modern Matchless and a new Vincent Black Shadow (with a Hunter S. Thompson limited edition) and we'd be all set, you would be all set. I'm too uncoordinated to ride a bike (sadly).
posted by Relay at 9:13 AM on April 29, 2010

Sure .. hand-built, well-made and actually test-ridden before delivery ... but if I'm going with a twin, give me an Airhead or an Oilhead ... German motor engineering trumps British motor engineering. (I know, I know..."BMW=Bring Money in Wallet").
posted by aldus_manutius at 9:13 AM on April 29, 2010

My uncle had one as part of a collection, which was sold on his death at (according to my Dad, who was co-owner for a while but had sold out to my uncle), an enormous discount against the true value of the bikes. $50-100k for a Brough? Jesus. All 20 bikes went for less than $50k, albeit a decade ago.

MuffinMan: I grew up in Wareham and learned to drive on the road that TE Lawrence died on his Brough. Then once I got my licence I used to borrow my dad's car and on the pretence of driving somewhere much further away, used to spend half an hour tearing up and down that road as fast as I dared. I remember when the tank squashed that woman in her mini.
posted by dowcrag at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2010

To be fair aldus_manutius, they're made with different philosophies. The British philosophy is that travel of more than 1000 miles is physically impossible, while for a German, that's how far you have to go to get good wine. Also, if your bike breaks down in Britain, you go to the local pub, have a few drinks and wait for a mechanic to show up, while in Germany if your bike breaks down, you wander off into the woods and die.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:23 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, there is some mystery around his death

He swerved to avoid two boys riding bicycles on the road, he wasn't wearing a helmet, the road surface would not have been what it is now and, as this thread establishes, his motorcycle was capable of going really fucking fast. I don't see any mystery.
posted by IanMorr at 12:12 PM on April 29, 2010

Do the Indian-built British bikes (say the Royal Enfield) keep to the leaky British wonderfulness?
posted by QIbHom at 12:29 PM on April 29, 2010

We'll assume I shouldn't post before my coffee and I'll gently remind myself that the P-51 had a V-12, and we'll also just assume I was thinking of the P-47. (Which had a double bank, so it would rightly be 1/9th of the same engine, but I digress. Numbers are hard sometimes...)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:36 PM on April 29, 2010

Thank you. I deeply appreciate this post.
posted by Shike at 2:36 PM on April 29, 2010

dowcrag: snap! I learnt to drive on that road too. Although there was always something offputting about coming the other way (i.e. from Briantspuddle), going to make the right turn towards Clouds Hill and having to wait for a learner tank driver to pass ahead of you. Concentrates the mind somewhat...
posted by MuffinMan at 7:47 AM on April 30, 2010

British bikes, with a Coolness Factor measured in zillions, have Personality. The 6th page of Vol 1, issue 7 (October, 1978) of Norton Notice {Quick View} [PDF] briefly illustrates a few examples..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2010

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