Year-by-year evolution of the BSA Bantam, a simple commuter bike that thousands learnt to ride on. It became the standard GPO ‘telegram bike’ in the 1950s and was a huge success, with 100,000 built in the first four years of production. It’s a story with interesting asides, like the Hummer, Harley-Davidson’s version of the DKW that inspired the Bantam, and survived into the 1960s. But it’s a sad story too – BSA failed to follow up the Bantam’s early success by developing it, and by the mid-1960s it was looking outdated, especially next to the new breed of four-stroke Hondas. That the Bantam was allowed to fizzle out in 1971 symbolised the state of the industry that produced it, but today there’s a thriving community of Bantam owner/riders. The book ends with a guide to buying a secondhand Bantam, along with useful appendices on specifications, engine/frame numbers, and contacts among the clubs and Bantam specialists. Every Bantam owner, or would be owner, needs this book - the Bantam Bible!
The BSA Bantam is one of the definitive postwar British bikes, perhaps THE definitive British lightweight built after World War II. It was certainly the most popular, with over 400,000 built over a 23-year production run – in the first four years, production broke all records. Yet it would die a lingering death, production fizzling out in the early 1970s as a neglected model of a manufacturer more concerned with building big, fast road-burning bikes. The Bantam might never have happened without World War II. The prewar DKW RT125 was offered to the Allies as reparations, taken up and produced in the USA, USSR, even Japan! In East Germany it was revived as the MZ, and in Britain it surfaced publicly in 1948 as the BSA Bantam, a very simple little 123cc two-stroke, with rudimentary electrics, no rear suspension and a lot of charm.
The little bike became part of Britain’s social history. Thousands of people learnt to ride on a Bantam, or had their first pillion experience on one, or rode one delivering telegrams for what was the GPO. Although many of those learners progressed to bigger, faster bikes, then gave up two wheels for family life, they won’t have forgotten the Bantam, which explains why there’s such a thriving Bantam community to this day – the club, the racing club, the spares specialists, and restorers, owners and riders all over the country. This might not be Britain’s most glamorous motorcycle, its fastest or most flamboyant, but the Bantam is probably the most loved.
About the author
Peter Henshaw has had an enthusiasm for anything with wheels from an early age – from bicycles to 500hp tractors. He was Editor of Motorcycle Sport & Leisure for five years before going freelance, and now contributes to a wide range of transport magazines including MSL, TAG, A to B and Tractor, as well as The Telegraph. Peter has also written over 30 books, including 10 about bikes, and is an all-year-round motorcyclist who does not own a car.