British Jam and German Toasters

A perfect New England August Sunday. The banks of the Connecticut River at Haddam’s Neck. Dollar-corn-on-the-cob. And a shit-ton of vintage bikes, mostly British, but plenty of Euro and Japanese candy, too.

I mean, how could you resist? I couldn’t.

So on this fine August Sunday, I took a (car) ride up to the 30th annual Brit Jam 2015. I skipped riding my Super Ténéré since my busted ankle—from my Planet Utah ride in July—is still in bone-knitting mode. Not quite the same arriving on four wheels as it is of two…but those are the breaks.

Brit Jam is sponsored by the British Iron Associaton of CT, which is not about well- pressed Saville Row shirts any more than “Brit Jam” is about quince paste. The former is a well-established club dedicated to the preservation and appreciation Triumph, Norton, and BSA motorbikes, while the latter is the annual gathering of their faithful. In truth, the event is open to aficionados of all vintage bikes, regardless of their provenance.

But here, the United Kingdom still rules…

One of the afternoon’s crown jewels was this Skye-blue-and-chrome BSA Super Rocket.

Its immaculate tank-decal was only to be outdone by another piece of graphic beauty…


I have to admit that I never actually knew that:

1) BSA stands for the Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd., which manufactured not just bikes for gunning, but guns for shooting; and

1) BSA was once the largest manufacturer of motorbikes IN THE WORLD.

I thought the old phrase was “guns and butter,” not “guns and putter.” Who knew? And speaking of putter, next I spied this:

I approached what I thought was an old beater Vespa, or maybe an overly-round German Heinkel, but was surprised to see that “British Iron” also includes…scoots. And not just by any manufacture; by the venerable Triumph marque. no less.

Is that a little retrograde gender bias I detect in the model name? Or just some opportunistic market segmentation? Maybe Triumph was just trying to make a splash with Mod girls. In any event, it was an unusual and cool example.

As you’d expect from an event entitled Brit Jam, there were many (Imperial) tonnes of heavier British iron to ogle at—the kind which would’ve appealed more to Rockers than Mods. Dozens of vintage Bonnies, Tigers, and Thunderbirds (BTW, maybe the Tigress was maybe meant for the girfriends of Tiger owners?)

But with all due respect to the British Iron Association of CT (and all the attending Brit-bike aficionados), to me many of these bikes just seem like well-patinaed versions of Triumph’s line of modern classic bikes that any jamoke can buy today. In fact, and in my very humble opinion, it seems like Triumph has been so successful at capturing the gestalt of their 60s and 70s machines with modern, fuel-injected, disk-braked homages, that it kind of takes some wind out of the carbs for me. The vintage offerings are cool…but they just seem like older versions of the newer offerings, which I park my Vespa or Ténéré next to at the train station.

I know, I know. I’m not of the faithful. I probably just don’t get it. It’s just that—for me—these bikes don’t hold the same rare-bird appeal as something like this sunny-side-up ’69 BSA 441 Victor Special.

Or this British period piece, a splendid, exotic, belt-driven 1923 Douglas.

It’s a period piece, literally. As in Douglas. Period. (How can you not admire a punctuated brand name?)

Besides the hand-sewn leather tank guards and picnic panniers and a wicker “top box,” the coolest feature was a primordial brass head lamp, essentially an enclosed acetylene lantern with a concave mirror to “throw” a beam generated by—quite literally—an open flame. This, accompanied by a hand-activated rubber-and-brass horn, which I guess was used to shoo errant sheep from the Bristol roadways…

Still, if the majority of bikes were British Sopwith Camels and SPADs, there were also plenty of German Fokkers and Albatrosen in the mix. Which spoke loudly to my Teutonic affiliation (even though I’m currently an ex-Beemer guy). Like this Red Baron, an über cool R75/5—not even a part of the show, but an attendee bike spotted in the outer parking grass (if the owner ever sees this post, email me. I’ll buy it!)

Inside the show, I ogled an actual BMW entry bike, this shadowy R- 90 cafe racer. Unusual for the “DCI” initials in the thematically-smoked Roundel as well.  I tried googling around, but couldn’t locate its origins. A smoker nonetheless.

There was plenty more German stock to be found. Ironically, most of them were scattered throughout the parking field, and not part of the show. I especially enjoyed the collection of airhead “toasters” out there, so nick-named for their evocative tank shape.

After all, what goes better with Brit Jam than German toast(ers)? Like this handsome R75/6.

Or this older R50/5, seemingly missing its rubber side grippers…

Or this blueberry toaster…

But my favorite bike of the whole afternoon was this crisp, mid-eighties R80 GS. GS was/is BMW-speak for Gelände/Straße, or “off-road/street”), and it is the grand-pappy of the ADV-bike genre so popular today—bikes like my own Yamaha Super Ténéré.

Only in this case, MUCH much skinnier. Maybe ADV bikes are part of the whole obesity epidemic? Here’s a comparo between the GS and my zaftig bike…

The old GS isn’t just skinnier. It’s way simpler. Here, ultimate in cockpit simplicity, including an analogue BMW quartz clockI hope the Germans make changing the clock battery less abstruse than the Italians—doing it  on my Vespa requires total head-unit surgery.

And speaking of Italians, there were a few Mediterranean supermodels in the mix. Like the “Italian GS,” this super slick Moto Guzzi Stelvio…

And its sibling, the Guzzi V7 Classic. It’s a super-appealing bike in the flesh, much more so than on the Internet…so much so that I was tempted to straddle it (but didn’t).

And then someone rode to Brit Jam on its flashier cousin, the V7 Racer, which with its crimson metal frame and seat stitching, honking chrome tank, and vented aluminum side panels (there’s also a number plate, but kinda hard to ride with that and not feel a little tool-ish) is either vulgar, or gorgeous, or both. I’ll call it…vulgeous. (Wait—that sounds kinda wrong…)

Finally, the only Ducati I spotted was this optically-related cousin to the V7 racer, but a chromed antique. I don’t know the exact model or provenance—it just looks badass, like one of Deus Ex Machina’s custom bikes.

Last in the chrome department (but certainly not least) was a 1966 Honda 300, sort of the “son” of the Honda Dream. It confirms that white, red, grey and black (in no specific order) is the perfect colorway for any two-wheeled machine. 

The Japanese may have knocked off the German toasters…but the toast is nicely done.

For 10 bucks and an idle August afternoon, Brit Jam was a little slice of New England heaven. Next year, I hope I get to ride either my Ténéré or Vespa GT up to Haddam’s Neck. And if it’s as hot as it was this year, I might even consider this…

2 responses to “British Jam and German Toasters”

  1. That’s my Super Rocket at the top of the page. My father bought it new in 1959 for the righteous sum of $399 dollars. It sat in my garage for 20 years before I decided to do a full restoration a few years ago. I’m very pleased with it and in the summertime it’s ridden almost every day.

    • Where did you get the tank decal for your Super Rocket. It looks like an original one. Hard to find and accurate reproduction one these days. I’m restoring a 1962 Super Rocket now.

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