I have been interested in motorcycles all my life particularly classic and vintage types and riding bikes since the age of six or so (off road of course!). I became aware of the Brough Superior marque when I was 7 or 8 and ever since have hoped to one day own and ride one. At present, given today’s prices, this is looking less and less likely and my motorcycling activities have had to revolve, out of necessity, around more humble machines which have provided great entertainment for very little outlay. In the mean time I read with great interest that the Tate Brough was to be restored and made available for Club members to use on a loan basis. Early in 2009 I wrote expressing my interest in the loan scheme and subsequently to my surprise and delight the application was accepted and I learnt that was to be the first member to benefit from this new loan scheme.
I had planned to ride the bike from Dave Clark’s home where it was awaiting having been expertly restored by Dave. Since the Tate Brough had been languishing in a shed for so many years before being bequeathed to the Club and that the one intention of the loan scheme was to introduce members to the joys of Brough riding it seemed appropriate to ride the machine home from Dave’s house. This plan shaped up nicely when Hugh Buttle kindly offered to give me a lift to collect the machine and combine it with visiting Dave and seeing his workshop. The forecast for the day did not look great with rain expected but in the event it stayed dry (just). On our arrival Dave showed Hugh and myself the Tate Brough and we were both very impressed with the restoration. It is a very original machine and has been rebuilt to a very high standard. Anybody who has done any restoration work will know how labour intensive it is and it was clear that a great many hours of care had gone into getting this machine back on the road and looking (and sounding) so good.
After a good look over the Brough, Dave talked me through the starting procedure which was quite straight forward and the big Matchless engine promptly burst into life after a firm prod of the kick start. It sounded magnificent and the motor soon settled down into that steady ‘lolloping’ beat so beloved by enthusiasts of V twin engines. After some further explanation from Dave about the details and quirks of this particular model it was time for me to have a go at starting the machine myself. Despite owning a few ‘budget’ post war classics and having ridden a number of friend’s pre war bikes I haven’t started many pre war large capacity machines before. It occurred to me that it would be very embarrassing if I had trouble staring the Brough at this stage. Thankfully it started surprisingly easily although this is more a testament to Dave’s workmanship in preparing the engine than my ability with my right leg! Although the MX 80 model is a large machine compared to what I am more used to, and accordingly quite heavy, it is also has a low centre of gravity giving a very stable solid feeling. After a few more tips and helpful advice I set out on a short ride ‘around the block’ to gain some familiarity with the machine.
When pulling away I was surprised by the light and smooth action of the clutch and found that once underway second gear could quickly be engaged thanks to the plentiful torque on tap. Before going to far I checked no other traffic was around and tried the brakes. Again a pleasant surprise, the back brake was very effective and the front unit made a very useful contribution to the stopping power. I have heard so many negative comments about Brough brakes over the years. The performance of these units reassured me that contrary to being some unstoppable beast this was a perfectly usable machine that, with care, could be enjoyed in modern traffic. The performance of the brakes is a credit to Dave, as well as setting them up very well he even went to the effort of stiffening the long front brake lever to allow maximum leverage without the lever flexing. Having completed a couple of laps of the neighbourhood and confirmed everything was working as it should it was time to bid farewell to Dave and his son, Matthew.
To help with the navigation for the first part of our journey from St. Albans Matthew kindly escorted us on his early SS80, this was an unexpected treat as well as being very helpful. Hugh kindly offered to follow me for the first part of the journey in case there were any unforeseen problems, bearing in mind that the machine had been off the road for many years and only covered some 50 local miles since its rebuild. Thankfully the machine ran beautifully and as the miles rolled by I steadily became more familiar with its character and the relaxed loping rhythm of the big V twin Matchless engine. The route was all on A and B roads making for a much more interesting journey than ploughing along the M25 and M4. After 30 or so miles I stopped to top up with fuel and grab a bite to eat. As the journey progressed I was surprised by how comfortable the ride was thanks to the long wheel base, stable handling and huge sprung saddle. Before long I was riding around the edge of Cirencester before arriving at my parents’ house in Minety. We were pleased with how well the journey had gone and I thanked Hugh for his help as he set off home. After a quick meal I was soon on my way but not before my parents and my young nephew and niece, who were visiting, had a good look over the Brough and were most impressed by it (best to start encouraging them from an early age!)
My ride onward to my own home in Bristol followed a route that is well trodden by me as I used to commute daily, via the back roads, to Bristol from my parents’ home throughout the year on my RE 350 Bullet. These last 35 miles were particularly enjoyable as the sky had cleared and I found myself riding West bound along winding B roads towards the low orange glow of the autumnal sun. It was a particularly atmospheric experience as I became completely absorbed in the ride, the machine and the beautiful surroundings whilst feeling very fortunate to have such an opportunity. After arriving home and checking over the machine everything was as it should be and once cooled it was securely locked away in the garage for the night having covered some 140 miles trouble free miles since late morning.