Bike of the Month
1970 BSA A65 Lightning
by Paul Giese
Blue...A Survivor's Tale
Blue is a 1970 BSA 650 Lightning that found me more than I found it. While attending the Run-a-mucca event in 2006 I rode on my father-in-law's (now mine) newly restored 1966 BSA Lightning and was encouraged to enter the bike show Sunday morning. Another competitor entered his BSA and we got to making small talk. He asked me if I'd be interested in another Lightning his friend had down in Riverside, CA. Sure, send me pictures. The fellow competitor was none other than Ken Lighthouse, our prez' father. He said he was going down to SoCal and would bring the bike back on his return trip. So I made the deal and free shipping was included. I also won the "Vintage" category and got a nice plaque and $100 to boot.
That summer I got it running after pulling out several little green soldiers from the gas tank. The tranny was filled with water, so it was flushed and refilled with oil. I went through the carbs and added a new electronic ignition. The bike fired about the fifth kick. Just because you bring a Brit bike back from the dead does not mean all is well. There is a gremlin way down deep inside the crankshaft called the sludge trap. I was warned by at least two authorities that it was probably plugged or not passing the amount of oil required. Anyway I rode it around that summer and while racing up Washoe Hill at eighty plus, the engine started passing copious amounts of blue smoke. It got me home and as soon as it was cool enough I tore into the motor. The oil ring on number two piston was broken in half. The rod under that piston had enlarged its big end and the bearing was paper thin. I don't know what failed first, but I'm willing to bet the sludge trap either caused the failure or made it worse.
So now it was 2013 and Blue got torn down all the way. The motor's bottom end went over the hill to Raber's in San Jose where cases were welded, machining was done and a modern oil pump was installed. While I was waiting the rest of the bike was torn down and reassembled from the swing arm bushings out to the tires. Having one restored BSA, I decided to leave this one with all the original finishes. The bike was a survivor and I wanted the scars to show.
Now that the bike is completely done with all new power plant, 200w alternator with solid state regulator and AGM battery, oil filter/cooler and a few other modern mods its probably a better bike than when it was new. Blue isn't as fast as the red '66. but he's a lot sweeter ride. The frame and suspension really give an amazing, quality ride. The engineers really knew what they were doing. If ridden within limits, Blue will do anything I ask. Very comfortable at 60mph. The buzzing starts in the handgrips about 65 and continues with the foot pegs. At 70mph things start getting frantic and I feel like I'm pushing it.
Like anybody else, I'd like an Indian Four or a Vincent, but these old BSA's are closer to what I was riding fifty years ago and I feel very privileged to have them.