BSA and Brough – BSA Bikes and Motorbikes

Looking through a box of family souvenirs and very old sepia photographs, my wife, Patricia, came across a really ancient picture in a wooden frame that we hadn’t studied in any depth before. It was one that my late mother had cherished and saved over the years, and which had finally come down to us. It was a picture of my late father, Robert, born in 1880, proudly displaying his 1919 BSA K557 and sidecar.

A very similar-looking combo – the model E complete with sidecar – featured in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, a great film that came out in 1965. It was ridden by Stuart Whitman who played Orvil Newton in the film.

Lionel Fanthorpe's first bike
My family circa 1920 with BSA


This piece of family biker history with father and his 1919 BSA K557 and sidecar had us looking into the BSA background – and what a fascinating story that was! The company started in 1861 in the Gun Quarter in Birmingham when fourteen gunsmiths got together to take advantage of the new mechanised techniques of gun-making that had started coming in after the Crimean War of 1854. The Government gave the Birmingham team free access to the technical drawings and other facilities at the Enfield factory.

Lionel on first bike

My family circa 1920 with BSA

BSA Bikes and Motorbikes

The small arms trade was difficult and unreliable, so BSA decided to widen their range of products. In 1880 – the year my father was born – they manufactured the Otto Dicycle and then branched out into a range of BSA Safety Bicycles. In 1905 they made their first – admittedly experimental – motorbike; but 1910 was a crucial year for the company’s motorcycle development. The 3½ hp model was on display at Olympia, and again in 1911 and 1912. Every bike they made sold out in 1911, ‘12 and ‘13. By 1919 BSA Cycles Ltd had been set up as a separate venture to make both bikes and motorbikes. The BSA Motorcycles division was separated from the cycles in 1953, and in 1957 the bicycle business was sold to Raleigh.


BSA launched the 770cc side valve, 6 – 7 hp, V-twin, model E in November of 1919 ready for the 1920 season. It was a great bike for its time with interchangeable valves, and a total oil-loss system. It had an emergency hand pump as well as its mechanical one! There was an Amac carburettor, a magneto or magdyno at the purchaser’s choice, kickstarter, cantilever forks and a three-speed gearbox. The model V-twin E was chain driven. You could buy one in 1920 for just £130, which is well over £5,000 at today’s prices – but that’s still a bargain!

After World War II

My first bike in 1951 was a BSA 500 Gold Star, as I wrote in an earlier blog. I had no idea then that my father had been the proud owner of a 1919 BSA K557 and sidecar. The original inspiration for the BSA Gold Star came from Wal Handley who lapped the Brooklands circuit at well over 100 mph in 1937 riding a BSA Empire Star. He was awarded a Gold Star Pin for that great achievement and that led BSA to manufacture the Gold Star range.

Brough Superior

Our family had had no idea about 1919 BSA K557. Because my father had always talked to us during his later years of his Brough Superior. The pride of his life as a young rider. George Brough manufactured these superb machines in his works on Haydn Road in Nottingham from 1919 until 1940. My father had especially valued his because the famous T.E.Lawrence. Also known as Lawrence of Arabia, he had owned eight of them during his riding career. Another celebrity who loved the Brough was George Bernard Shaw, the writer. Every Brough was test ridden before it left the works. The famous SS100 model was taken up to 100 mph during its tests. There must still be a few of these magnificent machines left.

This Month’s Charity

There’s a wonderful charity called Aspire, which helps people with spinal injuries. Their Bikers to Beaulieu charity ride is scheduled for 4th September. Full details from

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