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BSA Bushman RoadTest

Motorcyclist Illustrated December 1970

BSA Bushman

The Bushman a tough little gentleman from Birmingham were held for many miles. Over-revving proved impossible; with a top limit of 8000 rpm, the Bushman's engine was always many hundred away. 60 mph could be achieved with no trouble at all, but the high engine revs brought about overheating problems. Even with a tankful of five-star petrol, shocking pre-ignition took place, the situation demanding instant checking. Maybe it should not be wondered at, for the Bushman's top gear is approximately the same as a Bantam's third ratio.

Fine though it was on the road, tarmac did not seem to be the" kindest of places to test a trail 'bike, so I took the machine over to the Icknield Way, in the Chilterns. This ancient highway was exactly what the Bushman had been designed for. Too rough for roadsters to cover without some difficulty, but not severe enough to warrant a trialster. The going was over rutted chalk, tree roots, flat grass and mud, and the little BSA two-stroke romped in it. Grip was provided by a couple of Dunlop trials tyres. They proved themselves to be very necessary in wet going, and on slippery leaf mould in the woods invaluable; more so probably because, unlike trials riding, trail riding, because of its quickly varying nature of changing surfaces, including tarmac, does not encourage the use of ultra-low tyre pressures. I left the BSA wheels at 10 Ib both.

In hard going, the "soft," but tenacious power characteristics of the engine proved themselves ideal. Providing the track was not of the one-day trial type, second and third gears were adequate to deal with anything that came along, including mud and steep cambers. Carburation was always clean, and pick-up from low revs under the worst conditions unhesitating. As with all such riding though, the engine's performance cannot be spelled out in exact measures, for rider ability is of equal importance to the machine's. For a trail motorcycle, though, I was always satisfied and often impressed by the machine's performance.

The riding position too was a compro- ONLY ONE trail 'bike worthy of the name is currently in quantity produc­tion in this country—the Bushman. Its larger cousin the 250 Triumph Trophy, cannot quite match up to the name, selling as it does with roadster tyres. Green road rides, organised by the Green Road Riders Fellowship are obviously the coming thing among numbers of clubmen previously unattracted to active motorcycling. This is, or should be, the Bushman's market.

Like any other trail motorcycle, the 175 two-stroke will cause frustration if driven for long on the road, and sweat if ridden on the rough as a trials machine. To be completely honest, although unkindly so, it does neither properly, so should you want a roadster, get a Bantam, or a trialster, one of Bob Gollner's Bantam specials. But this is, after all, a trail machine; on its own ground, no less specialised than any other class of motorcycle. Nothing else will carry you along tarmac roads and over mud and tree roots with quite the same equanimity.

Cruising speed on the road was 50 mph, and that on the top gear of 8.1:1 required the engine to spin at 5500 rpm, only 250 rpm away from the maximum bhp output, but 600 over optimum torque. Altogether, a useful engine speed, for it did allow further acceleration to be carried out surprisingly briskly. Higher cruising speeds could and mise. Not quite roadster, but comfortable enough, and not quite trials, although near enough to allow easy standing up when required. Based on the Bantam it may be, but a Bantam it is not. Forks are the same as its bigger, four-stroke brothers, and'conse­quently more than capable of handling anything the Bushman is likely to dish out, but they were not faultless. Following in the pattern of all BSA forks since the early 1950s, they really needed more than small bumps at low speeds to activate them, so the Bushman's handling at path-picking walking pace was not all that it might have been. Instead of a grass clump or small branch being ignored, it had to be ridden due to its effect on the machine; not much, but enough to warrant notice. Softer springs and 5 SAE damping oil might solve the problem. Almost exactly the same comments apply to the rear units as well. But do not over-estimate my statements; the handling problems are slight, and to a rider unused to trials machine suspension, possibly non­existent. Handlebar and seat comfort was fine and so, after some while, was the high footrest mounting. On the road, handling was excellent, and roadholding above criticism. Whether a long fast bend, or a series of them, the Bushman always came out on top.

One thing above all else irritated, correction, infuriated the Editor, on the numerous occasions he rode it, and I to the point where only total destruction of the machine would have satisfied us-starting. On most occasions either one or two easy prods at the crank brought about the usual snappy exhaust crackle, but in the two months we had it, towards the end of its time with us something began to die. Whatever it was I hope the death was a painful one, for twice it caused me the agony of a broken toe. Starting was a few times as impossible as only an energy-transfer-ignitioned petroil two-stroke's can be. A spark, fuel in the combustion chamber, a new plug, good connections, no gas or air leaks, but no life. As well as that, the relation of the kick-start crank and footrests was a poor one. Either the right foot had to be turned sideways to kick downwards, or the movement had to be carried out with the ball of the foot to ensure that toe snagging of the footrest did not happen. That is all very well when starting is easy, but once, speaking for myself, tempers become frayed because everything except the firing stroke is perfect, then any kick goes. Twice, on different occasions, my toes were bent back to 90 degrees in ordinary shoes, and then immediately subjected to a 180 degree return journey following a backfire. And let nobody tell me that I should not be wearing ordinary shoes. On a little 'bike like the Bushman, it should be possible to kick-start completely naked without misery. We never discovered the trouble.

Despite their old fashioned appearance, as always, the Bantam/Bushman brakes showed themselves to be fine little units, and despite reasonable attempts to fault them, they always worked with an efficiency that far belied their appearance.

Lighting, was no more than acceptable, but without a battery, and on energy transfer ignition, that is to be expected. The horn was, of course, laughably, indescribably bad.

In spite of shortcomings, I seriously doubt whether a better motorcycle exists for either a novice who desires a touch of sport, or for a lightweight enthusiast wanting the green roads and unsurfaced byways of the country. Certainly it proved to be the most popular machine amongst a mixed half a dozen at a recent outing for some of our most eminent motorcyclists in the country. The more experienced riders like Sir John Whitmore and Don Whillans enjoyed the "tweakier" Bultaco, but those with an eye to a quieter life like Sir Ralph Richardson displayed obvious affection for the Bushman. It was dropped a dozen times, stalled hundreds, and had gears missed by the thousand. Its clutch was slipped until I could watch no longer, while long conversa­tions were held, and so on. Until you see a handful of people with no true expertise at handling machines, the amount of mishand­ling they can withstand just cannot be appreciated. Obviously this is what the Bushman is designed for.

The engine and gears are identical to the Bantam's. A rear sprocket, bigger by 10 teeth than the Bantam's, provide the ratio drop. Although upswept, the exhaust system is identical. A paper air cleaner element replaces the felt one. The front wheel diameter is larger by one inch, and the rear tyre section by half. Fork trail has been increased from 2% in to 3!4 in, and the frame both lifted beneath and lowered above so increasing ground clearance from seven to nine inches, and lowering seat height by half an inch to W/2 in. Somehow or other, all these variations have resulted in a machine one inch longer than a Bantam, at 79!/2 in.

Perhaps because the rear carrier had been overloaded at some time or another, the rear mudguard mounting bracket, also support­ing the seat and carrier, snapped, a few days before it was returned to the factory. I was sorry to see it go, for not only was I left without transport (most important) but the machine was a versatile one. Fast (for a trail 175)-over 60 mph; flexible-second gear starting; economical-over 70 mpg; and as good if not better, on the rough than the smooth, and strong. The sort of machine you could hurl over a slope too steep to ride down, then climb down after it and ride away.