March 13, 2016
British Cycle Supply Part II
BSA, Triumph, and Norton conjure visions of a bygone era in motorcycle history that some want to remember and others want to forget. For the vintage Brit bike restorer or racer British Cycle Supply Company is one of a few companies that can assist them with their project.
In the last episode, the founding of the company was detailed. One detail stuck in my mind when owner Mark Appleton explained the foundation of his company.
“Some of these old-timers… if you know half of what they forgot you would be a genius,” said as his eyes brightened with his personal experiences with some of the pioneers in motorcycles. “It is such a pity there is such a plethora of new models. Now it is hard for anyone to get as good on a specific model as they could get because technology stayed static a little bit longer back then.”
“You figure Triumph ran the same kickstart spring I know from at least 1936 until 1986. Fifty years on the same kickstart spring. That is why you still see British bikes today.”
” You could take the transmission gears and shafts out of the last Triumph Bonneville built to the old design before the new company took over. You could fit it into the 1936 model gearbox.”
As Appleton and I discussed British motorcycles and cars the topic of reliability and build quality came up. When asked about British sports cars he said, “People used to tell me when I wanted a British sports car it was like having two British motorcycles bolted together. It was the same idea; they required an hour of maintenance for every hour of driving.”
“That did not make them unreliable. Typical of things built at that time , they were built to last. You had to put in the time for maintenance. You cannot compare 1930’s technology with 1980’s technology. Everything back then was serviceable, now it is R & R (remove and replace).
This love of British motorcycles led him to the sale of the bikes at his Wolfville location. Eventually leading him to change his business name to British Cycle Supply in 1983 and selling of parts around the world.
“I started hearing about dealers who were selling out what they had,” said Appleton. “I started going around in a panel truck collecting parts. I had a 1969 Chevrolet panel truck pulling a trailer around the eastern Canada picking up what I could”
A phone call in 1983 became a pivotal point in the direction of the twenty seven year old’s company. The widow of Canadian Triumph distributor, Raymond-Burke Motors called and asked if he was interested in the entire remaining warehouse full of parts inventory of her deceased husband along with the list of dealers they has been distributing to.
After agreeing to purchase the parts inventory and dealer list, Appleton shuffled back and forth from Nova Scotia to Ontario realizing he was now officially a wholesale distributor, and had no place to put the multitude of parts. An abandoned rabbit slaughterhouse located outside the town of Wolfville was purchased. The slaughterhouse came with five acres of land.
The equipment in the slaughterhouse was removed and serious cleaning occured as parts began to be inventoried and shelved. “It stunk, it really smelled. It must have been years before the place started not smelling like dead rabbits. We called it the ‘bunnyfarm’ as opposed to the ‘funnyfarm’.”
“I was afraid the neighbors might object to the sound of Triumphs riding in and out all hours of the day and night so I bought 18 acres next door and eventually ended up with 23 acres.”
In 1987 British Cycle began stocking parts in Hackensack, New Jersey in his parents garage at first. The volume of parts became so massive that his parent’s basement and spare bedrooms filled with motorcycle parts.
Appleton recalled, “My mother, Dr. Anne Appleton, went to do laundry one day. She tripped over a frame and gashed her leg. She said, ‘Boys you’re outta here!'”.
“So we bought the building in the next town. It was 4,500 square feet.”
That is where the company stayed until December 2015 when, after 10 trips from the New Jersey location with his one ton dually with a large cap and 28 foot trailer plus a 53 foot tractor trailer the parts arrived at the Loring Commerce Center.
“Just trying to move the stuff I ended up wiping out a neighbor’s car,” said Appleton. That gives one an idea how close quarters the New Jersey location had.”
“I thought I should have shut down the Jersey operation years ago,” reflected Appleton on the recent move. “It is one of the most expensive places to do business. While there are advantages to shipping and population, I think the rural area works out real well. What we do is shipping. We ship all over the world.”
Appleton attrributes his loving wife, Lysa, to his success. He said,” I started the business when she was 10 yrs old and only met her 25 years later, after both of our first marriages had ended – we have a bit of an age gap. But, her support of my endeavors has made all the difference in my success, as well as my disposition. I spent too many years living alone in a house full of motorcycles and motorcycle parts. Having a smart and lovely partner in life is a tremendous gift!”
Lysa, who is from Toronto, is a former urban planner who now has a consulting business doing career coaching. They were married the week before 9/11 and were on their honeymoon when the attack occured.
One of the most influential person in his life is his father Hy who helped mold the character of his son. Hy was a paratrooper, a member of a MASH unit, and a MIT graduate. Appleton said this about his father, “He retired 12 years ago. A very interesting man, he served in the US Army in Europe and Japan in the 1940s, and in Korea in the 1950s.”
” Though he was a trained mechanical engineer and served as Chief Engineer at several manufacturing companies, he eventually joined the family wholesale distribution business, Wolf Appleton Incorporated, which was in business from 1909 to 1989. A couple of years after they closed down, I managed to convince him to work with me so I could take advantage of his engineering and distribution knowledge, one of the two best decisions of my life, the other having been asking Lysa to marry me.”
“My father only retired at age 80 when my mother had a stroke, and says if she had not become ill, he would still be at it. He is still going strong in his retirement at age of 92 ! When he turned 80, he gave me his Matchless 500 motorcycle and his Vanson leathers, which I still wear. ”
The Future at British Cycle Supply (BCS)
With the renovations ongoing at the Loring Commerce Center, Appleton sees his company moving forward in a positive direction.
“We are not having a lot of trouble getting a supply of things,” said the veteran of the vintage parts industry. “We are selling new and used parts. We are selling performance parts and parts for people who just want to get to work.”
“We are only selling parts for British motorcycles made post World War II to 1987. That’s a pretty specialized market. We are trying to be everything for everybody. At British Cycle Supply, our future is in the past.”
Frozen Motor Mayhem III Draws over 100 Entrants
Official with Frozen Motor Mayhem III estimated that over 100 snow sleds entered at Saturday’s events. A large contingent of vintage snowmobiles were on display as well as ten racing karts from the Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA).
Over 600 loads of snow ensured an adequate base for the races. Many downstate races had to be cancelled due to the lack of snow. Racers from all over New England made the trip to get a chance to race.
Sullivan Get’s His First Championship Win
Auburn’s Bryan Sullivan was grinning ear-to-ear after winning the main event at Frozen Motor Mayhem III. Sullivan races with the Pro Vintage Championship Tour run by Nick Huff of Unity. This is his first win. His next best finish was a second at Unity in 2015.
Sullivan attributed his win to staying power since only nine sleds finished out of the 20 that started. His 1971 Arctic Cat Puma single cylinder sled came back from a couple laps down when the leader went out with chain problems.
Shane Grindle of Belfast proved that he was in shape when he ran in five classes in the Frozen Motor Mayhem III. When asked if he was tired he said, “I am a little sore but wish that I could have swept all five races.”
The Belfast man won three races and had two dnf’s. He was leading the main event with a two lap lead when the chain broke near the end of the race putting him out of the event.
Griddle, a terminal operator for Sprague Energy in Searsport, races the Pro Vintage Championship tour as well as in the cross country races for Team Maine where he currently is in second place.
During the summer you will find him changing tires for two-time Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin as well as pulling his 2.5 turbo diesel truck. What little leisure time he has he rides his Harley motorcycle. Griddle spent two years in the County attending Northern Maine Community College in the Diesel Hydraulics program.
Running six classes and getting my Ironman Two award is 18 year-old Daytona Gould of Dexter. With a name like Daytona you know you have got to be fast. He had one DNF, a fifth, third, and two second place finishes for the afternoon.
“I feel pretty good,” said the youngster as he cooled off after the races. “That money helps. It was worth the trip.”
Caribou’s Dustin Haines raced his way to a tough third place finish after just getting nipped at the finish line.
Don’t forget about the hillclimb at Mars Hill Mountain next Saturday evening.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria