When Brian Watson first sat astride a friend’s motorcycle as a fresh-faced 15-year-old, little did he realise it was to be the start of a lifelong love of all things bikes and biking.
Riding it off road, he instantly felt at one with the machine. He loved the wind in his face, acceleration at his fingertips, gravelly growl of the engine, waft of petrol fumes in the air and the power between his legs.
He admitted after that first ride on his friend’s modest 98cc autocycle: “I was hooked on bikes from that moment on.”
The first bike he owned was a BSA Bantam 150cc two stroke but, when he was just 17, he had traded up to get the bike of his dreams, a BSA A10 Super Rocket.
The Super Rocket is a classic motorcycle made by the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). Its creation was the inevitable result of the relentless drive for more and more horsepower.
Launched in 1957, the BSA Super Rocket had a new alloy head and Amal TT carburettor and racing camshaft. It was a beast.
Despite riding such a powerful machine at such a tender age, his mum was not, apparently, overly concerned about her young son’s well-being.
“I come from a big family and, to be honest, I think she was just grateful that when I was out riding with my mates I was out of her hair!” he joked.
Brian shelled out £175 for the two-year-old Super Rocket back in 1961. Incredibly, 55 years later, he still owns the bike and he still puts it through its paces occasionally.
It’s like going out with a dear old friend
In the early 60s it seemed that Triumph and Norton were cornering the market for big bikes, but Brian opted for the Super Rocket because most of his friends were riding BSAs. “I just followed suit, but I soon grew to love the Super Rocket.
“It was powerful and a very good ride. When I take it out nowadays it’s like going out with a dear old friend. It’s a joy to ride.”
Never in a million years did he imagine he would own the bike so long.
For several years the Super Rocket was used on a daily basis and was Brian’s only means of transport, a “workhorse”, but a thoroughbred one.
He’s not sure how many miles he’s clocked up because he never kept track of the mileage.
“Smiths clocks needed repairing or replacing on a regular basis” he recalled.
“Also, the gearing was altered to pull a big sidecar for a good number of years. Then, when solo, the gearing was raised from standard to give a more relaxed cruising speed.”
Brian did most of his own servicing and maintenance. The longer he had the bike, the bigger his toolkit grew, and the better he was at it.
“I did just enough to keep it on the road. At first it seemed difficult to work on but as I learned about it, it got a whole lot easier.”
Finding spare parts for a classic old motorcycle can be hard work but Brian used a local dealer, George Lathe, and for tuning parts he went to Vale-Onslow Birmingham and occasionally the BSA factory itself.
The bike has undergone many modifications over the years but he has tried to maintain its look as a “standard” Super Rocket.
There’s nothing I didn’t like about it
“I love the bike. There’s nothing I didn’t like about it, but I made modifications so it would better suit my riding style. But to look at it, you wouldn’t know it had been modified at all,” he said.
One thing that’s not changed over those 55 years is the colour – it was bright red when he bought it and it’s bright red today.
He’s never raced the Super Rocket but has enjoyed many track days on it. As validation of the bike’s powerful reputation he explained: “I’ve never really had it flat out in top, but I’ve had it showing 100 on the clock. Easy.”
The big bike was built for cruising and road trips and he regularly headed off for the autoroute and holidays in the south of France, Italy and Switzerland.
It hardly ever let him down. “Like anyone, I got the odd puncture and on one occasion the dynamo packed up. But very rarely did it fail to get me home,” he said.
Brian and the Super Rocket attended many rallies and he has been a regular at “the Dragon” in North Wales for an incredible half a century. The Dragon Rally, first held in 1962, is one of the UK’s longest running bike events.
In the sixties more than 3,000 riders attended regularly but it is still hugely popular today with up to 2,000 people in attendance when the weather is kind.
The Dragon is famed for its toughness and spartan facilities. It is held in winter and riders often had to endure miserable riding conditions to attend and, once on site, they were expected to camp without regard to the weather conditions.
Attendees at the first gathering were presented with a cloth patch, which soon changed to an enamel pin badge with a different design for each year – needless to say Brian has an extensive collection of pin badges.
Bikes have been a massive part of the retired maintenance fitter’s life, and he even made something of a career out of it working for 25 years as a motorcycle riding instructor.
Over the years he has had quite a collection of bikes, including his current machine, a Kawasaki W650. He has also owned a 1952 AJS 500, through to Hondas, Suzukis, BMWs and his all-time favourite, the 1500 Goldwing.
In fact, he still rather fancies a Goldwing but he would power-up to the 1800 if he had the chance today. That is supposing he could hold it up of course!
Bikes were my life
He confessed he has owned nothing as long as he has owned the Super Rocket. “Bikes were my life. I’ve always had them and the Super Rocket has been there all the time. It’s one of the fixtures. My dear old friend.”
One wonders how the Super Rocket would have shaped up against bikes on the road today, but Brian is in no doubt.
“There’s no comparison. The Super Rocket would be classed as a learner machine nowadays,” he says. “Today’s big bikes are raw power.”
Nowadays his bike interest takes something of a back seat as he spends a lot of time involved in country and western music and dance. He also has a special interest in Native American culture.
He said: “The bike stays in the garage and most weekends are now spent travelling to country music festivals and dressing up as westerners or Native Americans.”
He doesn’t bike to these festivals but he drives in his regular car, a Nissan X-Trail which he uses to tow his caravan. Today the 75-year-old is happy to forgo the speed, preferring instead to travel in comfort.
But, rest assured, bring on a bit of warming sunshine and he’ll be off in the countryside near his home in the West Midlands to open the throttle on his dear old friend the Super Rocket and feel the wind in his face once more.
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