Sunday, November 22, 2009

BSA 441 Victor


IN ABOUT 1968, maybe 1966 or ’67, after a really wet winter, my brother and I decided to take the family’s eighteen foot Old Town “Guide’s Special” wood and canvas canoe from the One Mile recreation area on Chico Creek about a mile east of downtown, to our house, about a mile west of down town. We donned our heavy army fatigue jackets for warmth this February day, and put in just below the One Mile Dam.

The creek was running full and swift. The two-mile run would probably take much less time than the hour or two we had planned.

Had it not been for the snag.

Winter’s rain had toppled an ancient sycamore. It lay partially tipped into the creek about a quarter mile upstream from our house.

The bow of the classic canoe slipped under this white barked skeleton and the current pushed the stern so mightily that the ribs of the venerable vessel cracked. Out we tumbled. Down the raging creek we were carried, weighted down by those damned army jackets. We struggled out of the water and hot-footed it back to the scene of the now-derelict classic. How we rescued its remains is of no consequence.

AN ENGINEERING STUDENT from Chico State, one who minored in industrial arts, was commissioned to repair the damage. He arrived one day on the most classic of all thumpers. A BSA 441 Victor.

He had modified the exhaust (meaning: chopped off) so his presence was advertised long before it was realized.

This single cylinder machine was as rugged as Steve McQueen and as powerful as one of the battleships on which he served in some war movie or other. The Four-Forty-One’s tank was yellow on the front and aluminum silver on the back half and with a red-winged BSA logo tattooed on the yellow part.

Simplicity. A couple of wheels. Knobby, no nonsense tyres. An engine made mainly of cast iron. A single headlight, black with a pitted chrome ferrule. A cracked and worn seat that had probably seen about a million miles. And the tank: Red-winged “BSA” on a field of yellow paint and scoured aluminum.

If there were poetry in anything mechanical, this thing epitomized it.

The student came and departed many times on the BSA. The neighborhood kids soon knew. And after that first visit, we listened for the distinctive, throaty thump of its British motor and while the young man worked, we just stared at his bike: little boys imagining adventures in Ceylon, or Rangoon, or Malaysia, or some other far-flung point of the empire, doing something pithy, something British.

The college kid didn’t fix the boat, but he had a hell of a bike.

No comments:

Post a Comment