Sunday, October 6, 2013


I have been riding the Rising Star a lot since the new year, it has been my daily driver since I left my Sportster "in the shop" earlier this year, and I feel it is only now that I can truly tell you what it's all about and what this thing is like to ride. As for any new motorcycle, it takes a little while before you feel like you really own it. I don't know, perhaps "own" isn't the right word; "get it", yeah, before you feel like you really get it.

To dispel any doubts let me say right now that the response is overwhelmingly positive: this little project of mine has met all my expectations and exceeded them, considerably.
You see, it wouldn't have been far fetched to imagine something that handles like a shopping trolley, or that would be way too temperamental to have any real use.

Instead (and this is something that transpired from the very first test ride) it turned out to be something that feels like a motorcycle designed by engineers and put together in a factory from a bygone era. I put this down exclusively to Mr. David Bird and his exquisite frame, and to BSA for having created an engine and cycle parts (OIF forks and wheels) that perform marvelously. What little credit there is left, I'll take it for having picked the components and frame dimensions that would best suit me, knowing that at the very least it would have looked right. As a result, I have a truly distinctive classic British motorcycle that is an actual daily driver. So, yeah, it can be done.

Two things are impossible to overlook on the Rising Star.
First and foremost is the handling, which is just sublime. I have ridden my fair share of bikes with reputably good frames (Featherbed, Ducati, Morini, Tonti-Guzzi to name but a few) but never have I known a frame that handles this well. The proportions of the frame are such that it is extremely stable through the corners yet easily flickable when you need it to be. This is because the whole motorcycle is very light and the center of gravity is close to the ground. I suspect that there must be a degree of flex engineered into the frame, for although you are always keenly aware of what the road surface is really like, it's not until you're on properly uneven ground that the ride becomes unpleasant. There is a directness of feedback from the road, especially when cornering, that I have never known from any other motorcycle: I can feel exactly and without mistake just how far I can push it, what trajectory I can pick and how fast I will be going all the way through. And because you get such unmistakable feedback, you also get the confidence to push it without having to guess how far you are from the edge of the envelope. Sure, this ain't no quarter-mile winner, nor is it a top-speed champion, but the point here is - and I cannot emphasise this enough - it doesn't need to be: while the speed freaks are risking life and limb (often not just their own, tut tut) for thrills at 170mph, I'm having fun, real fun at 45mph.
Something else I mustn't forget to confirm is that the OIF fork is also working really well, and that certainly helps (remember, it takes 190cc of oil per leg). The rear brake, in the astonishing conical hub, is consistently responsive and very efficient. The front brake took a little longer to sort out, for a number of reasons: firstly, the shoes were the ones fitted at the factory more than 40 years ago and, crucially, not used for probably half that time, which made them glaze over and become ineffective. Then there's the handlebar lever, which is probably not the most efficient: a longer type with a stronger clamp (such as the Tommaselli Matador, for example) would probably make this brake work even better. That said, with the new shoes and a careful sandpaper massage around the hub, this is now plenty good. I don't know exactly how much the air scoop really does, but it looks so... cool (get it?)
The second thing that can't be overlooked is the engine: BSA wasn't exaggerating when it called the Royal Star A50 "turbine smooth". Even in a hardtail frame, there is barely any vibration. Torque is always present, it never drops away. Acceleration is very adequate and overall, it feels like a really solid engine. Clutch and primary do their job well enough, although the clutch is really heavy, while the gearbox is reasonably precise, and strong enough for the job at hand. Of course it isn't a Norton/AMC gearbox, but then even modern gearboxes can't compete with that! Ok, there is still the issue of 4th gear being a little too low overall, but I understand why they did it that way, wanting to put out a motorcycle that people would have found lively rather than sluggish.
That said, combining such a smooth engine with such a precise frame, it's no shocker that the result is a motorcycle that feels surgically sharp through the corners, and downright tasty just about anywhere else. I really like how narrow and "distilled" this is, with nothing superfluous to distract you from the ride. The fact that there are no clocks and only a small headlamp for example, means that you get an unobstructed view of where you're going, which lets you hit the apex of every corner, every time. But really, I cannot overstate how good that frame is. You could have a lawnmower engine in it and it would still be great to ride. That frame is the only reason this motorcycle is -so- -damn- -good-.

This is a new motorcycling experience.

I can honestly say I haven't been this excited about a motorcycle in a very long time, and thinking back, the only other bike comparable in terms of sheer fun is the R100GS when riding hard on the mountain roads of Corsica.

My Commando, the way it has been until now, simply does not even come close to either the BSA or the BMW. I've had the Norton for a good few years now: has it all been wasted time?
Hopefully after the redux it too will be fun to ride, but it's undeniable: for all intents and purposes, I've never had fun on my Commando. I thought I did... but knowing - in your guts - what it feels like to truly have fun (see above), there is no mistake: I've never had fun on my Commando.


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