In the grip of nostalgia, you may be tempted to try to find your P&J from years gone by. We’ve found that strategic enquiries works better than the scattergun approach…
Every week we receive letters and adverts from previous owners asking to be reunited with their classic bikes. It’s a common theme; I loved that bike. I sold it when I needed the cash. Now I’m older, wiser and slightly better off, I’d love to buy it back and maybe, perhaps, just possibly rewind the clock to the halcyon days of my youth. It was a Triumph twin. Does anyone know where it is?
Look. Here’s one now, from Phil Lashley in the US of A. Phil says: ‘I’m originally from Halesowen in the West Midlands, but for the past seven years I’ve lived in Bakersfield, California. This is a shot in the dark. Back in 1995 I sold my TriBSA to a guy who lived in Bartley Green. I wish I hadn’t but I did. I tried to find it back in 1999, but no luck.
‘It was my first cafe racer and I loved it, but my ex-wife said to sell it and she would stay and work things out. I sold it and she left! I’m now married again and own a motorcycle shop in Bakersfield with my wife. I really want to find my old bike and try and buy it back and ship it over the pond. I really need your help, so if you could print a short begging letter to your readers I would really be grateful. It’s a BSA A10 roller and BSA gear box, with a Triumph pre-unit T110 bottom end with a T120 top end. The license plate is CFD 373B. Please pass my email and phone number to anyone who may help: 00 166 163 261 94 or firstname.lastname@example.org’
Right. Well, if you can send us an email then you can find out an awful lot of information yourself.
It took us less than one minute to visit the DVLA website [www.taxdisc.direct.gov.uk], go to the Vehicle Enquiry tab, and discover that an old bike is still riding around with the same registration number on it. We guessed that if the frame was BSA then the bike was likely to be registered as a Beesa, and indeed CFD 373B shows as being registered in 1960, fitted with a 650cc engine, still black in colour – and best of all, it’s been on the road in recent months as the road tax is due to expire next month.
If I was searching for my old bike then the next thing I’d do would be to send DVLA a letter, enclosing another letter for the current owner, with all postage paid and a friendly request to the DVLA to forward the letter. Enclosing a reward for helpful behaviour couldn’t hurt: no one ever took great offense at being offered a fiver to buy a drink or a box of chocolates in return for doing a stranger a favour…
You could try making the same enquiry by phone or email, but an email is unlikely to be answered, and the phone option might just suck your entire future existence into stasis while you are reassured that you are in a queue and will be answered shortly. Or you could pop around to your local DVLA (aka VRO) office and try the request in person. That means that you’ll need to find a DVLA office which hasn’t been shut yet; arrive when they’re not rushed off their trotters, and be your best, personable, friendly self. And of course it’s not an option for the man in California.
If the original DVLA enquiry comes up blank; if the registration number isn’t active or if it is shown as being attached to a different type of vehicle… well, don’t give up hope. The number could have been sold, or your old bike may be under a tarp in a shed. You may still find it, but it would help to have the frame or engine number. A photo is useful, but bikes can change an awful lot in a couple of decades.
So. Next step. Contact the relevant owners’ and riders’ clubs, both traditional and online. In this case that’s the BSAOC, the TOMCC and the VMCC, plus the all marques group based in the area where you think your old bike might be lurking. When you get in touch with a traditional OC, we suggest that you either join the group from the off (who knows, if you actually find your old bike then you’ll benefit from being a member), or at the very least offer a donation to club funds if they can help you.
Then you’re ready to post an enquiry on the club’s forum or message board. Of course, being a proactive sort of person you have already been posting similar messages on boards and Facebook groups all over the internet. Haven’t you? This is a much faster and more effective way of spreading the word than writing to a monthly magazine. Even if the owner of your bike doesn’t visit a particular forum, if you make enquiries in RELEVANT places (this is important; don’t pish off everyone else with your constant spammy irrelevant posts) then there’s a good chance that you’ll bump into someone who knows someone who recognises your bike. Trust me. I found a long-lost cousin who rides a Velocette through the internet.
But if the web doesn’t do the trick, then revert to traditional methods and the specialist marque / enthusiast clubs. Contact the machine registrar or dating officer FIRST. Don’t pester everyone on the committee. They’re all volunteers and have more than enough on their plates. If that person can’t help you, then ask the magazine editor to place a specific, short enquiry in their publication. Don’t forget to give all your contact details so that the current owner stands a chance of being able to get in touch. Most folk would prefer to email rather than pay for an international phone call to a complete stranger.
Then wait. At least six weeks.
Still nothing? OK, now you should try national and international general interest classic motorcycling magazines. An advert in the classifieds will be more likely to be printed than a letter to the editor.
We get dozens of these enquiries each month. So your chance of a letter on this subject seeing publication is very low. But almost all small ads are printed, and circulated on the Net too. You may have to pay to place a small ad – but then you can guarantee that your plea will appear. And the chances of it being read are very high. Just make sure you are concise: you only get 30 words or so – make them count!
The search need not stop here: you can keep going with forum posts ad infinitum. And it’s always worth repeating your classified ad campaign once a year or so if you’re really dedicated. You can’t be sure that someone will read one particular issue of any publication or be surfing when your enquiry is near the top of any list.
Should never have sold it, on …
Or… you could just buy a similar bike and be happy with that. Finding your original machine won’t actually reduce the size of your waistband or increase the thickness of your hair. The current owner may not want to sell it – or your interest might substantially increase its value. You might be able to buy a similar bike for considerably less. Ask yourself what it is you are seeking…
Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Phil Lashley
Yes, Phil is looking for that TriBSA. Someone be a dear and tell him where it is!