Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments


Mon, January 4th, 2010

1971-72 BSA B50SS Goldstar 500
It's slow for the displacement and vibrates like crazy, but it's genuinely fun to listen to the stuff thrash around inside the engine. Low-down grunt and raucous manners give it street cred beyond its power.
Oil-in-frame chassis is solid enough (for an old-style, steel-tube cradle design), and steering is admirably easy, but the swingarm is too skinny and too short, which can make things scary near the bike's (meager) limits. Suspension components and brakes were already sub-par when the bike was introduced back in 1971.
Traditionally British, possessing the dichotomy of sculptural grace and clunky details that implies. (Score is for the stock bike, with it's giant scrambler exhaust. The low megaphone and drag bars pictured on my old B50 were easily worth another full point.)
Just one-half point may seem harsh, but as a past owner, I feel I've earned the right to give it this rating. Many major components are very durable. But the devil is in the details, and these bikes demand constant fiddling and babying, and may still reward you with a catastrophic failure.
Ideal for leisurely Sunday afternoon blasts on wandering back roads — as long as you have a strong right leg and roadside tow service. Ill-suited to anything beyond that.
Equally brutish and wimpy, its charm is indescribable, incalculable, yet undeniably real. (Again, I'm scoring the stock bike; the sounds from my bike's lightly-muffled exhaust were also worth a full point bump.)
I'm glad I owned one, and claim to miss it dearly, but I really don't. I miss the idea of owning one.