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The BSA

Britain's largest and most successful motorcycle manufacturer was BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company). Their factory at Small Heath was a familiar Birmingham landmark for more than a hundred years and produced a wide range of motorcycles from the humble Bantam to the formidable Rocket with its three-cylinder ohv engine mounted transversely. The first wholly BSA motorcycles were built in 1910, before then engines had come from other manufacturers. BSA Motorcycles Ltd was set up as a subsidiary in 1919.

BSA motorcycles were sold as affordable motorcycles with reasonable performance for the average user. BSA stressed the reliability of their machines, the availability of spares and dealer support. The motorcycles were a mixture of sidevalve and OHV engines offering different performance for different roles eg hauling a sidecar. The bulk of use would be for commuting. BSA motorcycles were also popuilar with "fleet buyers" in Britain such as the Bantams for telegram delivery for the Post Office or motorcycle (sidecar)combinations for AA patrols Automobile Association (AA) breakdown help services. This mass market appeal meant they could claim "one in four is a BSA" on advertising.

Initially, after World War II, BSA motorcylces were not generally seen as racing machines, compared to the likes of Norton. In the immediate post war period few were entered in races such as the TT races, though this changed dramatically in the Junior Clubman event (smaller engine motorcycles racing over some 3 or 4 laps around one of the Isle of Man courses). In 1947 there were but a couple of BSA mounted riders, by 1952 however, BSA were in the majority and in 1956 the makeup was 53 BSA, 1 Norton and 1 Velocette.

To improve US sales, in 1954, for example, BSA entered a team of riders in the 200 mile Daytona beach race with a mixture of single cylinder Gold Stars and twin cylinder Shooting Stars assembled by Roland Pike. The BSA team riders amazingly took first, second, third, fourth, and fifth places with two more riders finishing at 8th and 16th. This was the first case of a one brand sweep.

The BSA factory experienced success in the sport of motocross with Jeff Smith riding a B40 to capture the 1964 and 1965 FIM 500cc Motocross World Championships. It would be the last year the title would be won by a four-stroke machine until the mid-1990s.

The BSA Group continued to expand and acquire throughout the 1950s but by 1965 competition from Japan (in the shape of companies like Honda) and Germany was eroding BSA's market share. The BSA (and Triumph range) were no longer aligned with the markets; mopeds were displacing scooter sales, superbikes were up at 1000cc and the trials and scrambles areas were now the preserve of two-strokes. Some poor marketing decisions and expensive projects contributed to substantial losses. For example, the development and production investment of the Ariel 3, an ultrastable 3 wheel scooter, was not recouped by sales; the loss has been estimated at some 2 million pounds.

Reorginization in 1971 concentrated motorcycle production at Meriden, Triumph's site, with production of components and engines at BSA's Small Heath. At the same time there were redundancies and the selling of assets. Barclays Bank arranged financial backing to the tune of 10 million.

In 1885, when German engineer and inventor Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler together with his son Paul tested a motor-driven two-wheeler (with the output 0,37 kW), which he constructed. At that moment he didnít certainly suspected, that he is starting a development of motorbike. However Daimlerís motorbike hadnít been called motorbike yet. Daimler himself called his machine simply a bicycle and he didnít intend to improve it further (his bicycle served him only as a test-machine for his petrol engine). The result of this test (Paul drove more than 9km) has shown, that the petrol engine is able to run vehicles.