It’s a strange, and actually vaguely depressing, thing that pretty much all the bikes built for BSH competitions seem to just vanish into thin air the moment they’re handed over to the lucky winners of said competitions. Most, but not all…
This XS650 may look familiar to long-term readers of the magazine because it was given away in issues 31 and 32, back in 1988. It may also be familiar to those who watch Henry Cole’s ‘Shed & Buried’ television series on Quest as it appeared in an episode of the series earlier this year when it was found in the care of a gentleman by the name of Taff, bought by Henry, got going again by the famous Allen Millyard, and then, apparently, sold to the guy who’d won it originally all those years ago back in 1988.
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The programme was aired back in June, and a couple of months later we were approached by the current owner, Roy, who wanted to know if we wanted to, or knew anyone who might want to, buy it. The combined BSH coffers, sadly, contained about 13.5p and, anyway, I have two BSH bikes already, the Future Bike and the 45, and don’t have garage space for a third. Roy’d decided to sell it ’cos it’s kick-only and, like a lot of us these days, he’s not as good with kick-starts as he used to be (it’s our age, y’know – kick-starting bikes once you’re the far side of 50 isn’t as easy as it used to be). I immediately asked if I could photograph it for our 40th year issue and, not too long after, on a blissfully sunny day, made my way over to Oxfordshire to see a bike I’d only ever seen before in pictures.
Considering 35 years’ve passed, the XS is in pretty damn good condition – the chrome’s still good, and while there are some marks in the very sparkly purple paint they’re not immediately obvious and so don’t detract from its looks and, in fact, add to its patina. The incredible Don Blockside engraving on the engine and forks is still as perfectly executed as it was all those years ago (although one cam cap’s obviously gone walkies over the years, and been replaced with a plain one) and, overall, the whole air of the bike’s one that anyone’d proud to own – it really does, as the old saying goes, look as good now as it did then.
Where it’s been for the past 30-plus years is still a bit of a mystery (if only bikes could talk, eh?), and upon looking back to issue 31 the details of the bike as reported then are more than a little bit sketchy – it was built for BSH by the guys at Custom Fasteners when they were still in Redditch, before they moved to Wales, and engraved by the legend who was, before his passing, Don Blocksidge, so I got in touch with Steven Myatt, who commissioned the build all those years ago, and asked him about it.
“Hi Nik. Yes, I remember it well. Custom Fasteners were great supporters of BSH, and they did all the work. They were based in an industrial estate in Redditch then (they moved to mid-Wales), and ran a very impressive operation. Don (Blocksidge) lived not too far away further up the M5 (in Wychbold, I think, near Bromsgrove). He was a lovely guy, and so talented. He did all his work freehand, in the shed in his garden – he engraved a lot of shotguns and military stuff for officers’ uniforms (he made the big badges for the members of the Order of the Garter), and from 1946 he was an apprentice with gunsmiths Webley & Scott, and that’s where he learned his craft. John Reed introduced him to me in about ’81, and he did a lot of work on the Kawa I built in ’82, and we showed his work in Scootering in 1985, and he got a lot of business from that. Watching him work was wonderful.
“We picked the winner of the competition one morning just before Christmas. We were shutting up for the festivities that lunchtime so everyone went to the pub but, after a pint or two, Alastair and I decided to play Santa and take it to the new owner. We phoned him, but he told us later that he thought it was a mate pulling his leg. We had one of those Ford Sierra P100 pickups (scarily skittish backend) so we put it on the back of that and set off. He was working on the building of the tunnel under the estuary at Conwy, and living in a tiny stone cottage built into the Norman town walls. He couldn’t believe it when we turned up. Honestly, he was weeping with delight. He rounded up some friends, and a few bottles of whisky, and Al and I had far too much to drink before heading back to Manchester.”