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Harold’s Legacy

February 5, 2020

Growing up with motorcycles set many milestones in this youngster’s life

Story and Photos by Don Querido

I guess that most of us have milestones in our lives pinpointing significant times of excitement or happiness. The arrival of my Uncle Harold into my life was just such a time for me. 

He was my dad’s younger brother and only 11 years older than me, so the gap between us was not too much so as to get in the way of our mutual interest – motorcycles! They had always fascinated me, and this probably came from getting rides on my dad’s Ariel Red Hunter when I was two years old.

When Harold first came to stay with us, he was about 21 years old and the proud owner of a brand-new Velocette LE (manufactured by U.K.-based Veloce Ltd.). This was his daily transport to and from his work, and the bike proved to be not only a very unusual machine (because it was so quiet when running), but also because it had built-in leg shields that provided very good protection against bad weather. 

Harold soon made friends with other motorcyclists and, not long afterward, I was introduced to a wide variety of motorcycles that I hadn’t seen before. For example, John, who lived around the corner from us, had a 1942 ex-army Harley-Davidson with a sidecar and, for a young teenager, a ride in this sidecar was very exciting. Sometimes, John would remove the sidecar and ride solo. This bike had a huge saddle, called a “buddy seat,” that was large enough to accommodate two adults. It had two handles at the back for the passenger to hold onto and any passenger had to hold on tightly, as John liked to take off by revving the engine and then dumping the clutch so the machine would suddenly leap forward.

Mechanical Teaching

Then came the day when Harold came home with a brand-new 1953 AJS 18S (manufactured by U.K.-based A.J. Stevens & Co. Ltd.). This was a 500 cc single, and after he had rode the bike for a while he decided that he wanted to improve its performance by fitting a higher-compression piston. The original piston was of split-skirt design, which could run with a tighter running clearance than the high-compression piston, which had a solid skirt and needed greater clearance. I learned many things from Harold and he showed me that the AJS used hairpin valve springs, which were unusual in those days. The fuel available back then was low in octane, so in order to get the best performance from the engine’s higher compression, he added benzole to the fuel. 

That AJS gave us a lot of pleasure. I say “us” because Harold was kind enough to take me with him on rides often. I didn’t realize his motivation at the time, but he took me along in order to teach me how to ride safely and always try to anticipate what other road users could possibly do and make allowance for that.

One day, Harold came home and told me that he had ordered a brand-new BMW – a 600 cc R67/2 –which would be arriving in a few weeks’ time. 

Unpack and Assembly

Finally, the call came to tell us that the crate with the bike had arrived at the dealer and that we could come down to unpack it ourselves – a special request that Harold made when he ordered the bike. The next morning, we opened the crate. Inside was the BMW, all wrapped up in special paper and insulation to protect it in its travels from Germany to South Africa, where we lived.

That morning was spent degreasing the exposed parts and assembling the machine until finally it was clean, assembled and ready for its predelivery servicing. All the oils and lubricants were checked and topped up where necessary. Finally, Harold opened the toolbox lid in the left-hand kneepad on the gas tank. The lid was held in place with a lock and hinged downward to open. The toolbox contained a beautiful set of chrome/vanadium tools held…

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