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Velocette: A short history and test ride

1935 Velocette Venom outfit
Neil on his Venom

Former Ulysses Club magazine editor and long-time bike tester Ian Parks (above) takes a 1965 Velocette Venom for a spin.

Velocette hit the streets of Australia in 1965 when Robert Menzies was Prime Minister, James Bond’s Thunderball was at the “flicks”, The Rolling Stones Can’t Get No Satisfaction and the average wage was £15, 8 shillings.

Velocette was a line of motorcycles made by Veloce Ltd, Hall green, Birmingham, England.

The brand acquitted itself well in racing from the 1920s through until its demise in 1971. In 1933, the single-cylinder 250ccMOV was created using overhead-valve operation. It was capable of 60mph (96km/h).

Probably the most recognisable Velocettes to many of us are the Venom and Thruxton models (1955 to 1970). These 500cc singles were capable of about 100mph (160km/h) producing up to 44bhp (32kW). The pinnacle of the Thruxton’s racing success is the win at the 1967 Isle of Mann Production TT.

This test bike is a 1965 499cc Venom which would have cost £500 ($1000) when new. It started life as a solo and was married to its sidecar some 18 months after purchase. The owner of this British thoroughbred is Gloucester Branch Ulysses member Neil McMeekin #64828. He has been custodian of his ‘Velo’ for about nine years.

Neil chaffers Ian (closed rod, so no helmets)`

Meeting the Velocette Venom

I’m approaching this test ride as I if it was 1965 when Neil bought the bike.

When I meet him, Neil is casually dressed wearing a t-shirt with the words, “With British Bikes, you’ll never walk alone!”1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Why a Velocette? I asked. “My very colourful Uncle Jack owns and races one. He’s the type of Uncle you fear allowing your children being influenced by. I love him, he’s great.”

We step forward to take in the view of the drop dead gorgeous motorcycle, a pinnacle of British engineering.

The ironing board seat has a height from ground of 31 inches (780mm) and will suit riders of slight build. The standard handlebars cause the rider to be bent forward, so, this requires the head to be tilted up. I suggest that riders of taller than average stature, may find this somewhat uncomfortable.

Time to ride1935 Velocette Venom outfit

We proceed to the Velo and I receive the relevant instruction for starting the massive 500cc beast. Turn on the fuel, ‘tickle’ the Amal carburettor, adjust the advance/retard, choke, decompression valve, switch on the ignition and then operate the kick starter. The beast fires, twist the throttle and allow it to warm up.

Pull in the light clutch, lift the right hand gear shift to first and away we go. Kick down the shifter and we’re into second, down again, all the way to fourth, the sweet spot of about 45mph (70km/h) being reached, I settle into the experience of this modern ‘dream machine’. Top speed for a solo Venom is up to 100mph (160km/h).1935 Velocette Venom outfit

I do a few circuits of town and get the feel of the machine. The handling is superb for an outfit, the adjustable steering damper control works a treat and the brakes are excellent.

I return the Velocette to the overly anxious owner and thank him for the experience.

It is difficult to imagine any future motorcycle being able to surpass this masterpiece of mechanical excellence.1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Vintage Velocette

Back to 2019. In this era, the Velocette is a classic Vintage motorbike. It’s a 54-year-old unrestored superbly maintained machine that Neil uses on a regular basis. Owning one is fraught with all sorts of dramas and should be very carefully considered before embarking on any proposed purchase.

He has ‘customised’ it with a few things to ensure his ageing frame can keep enjoying it for many years to come.

Engine starting is not user friendly as the kickstart throw is shorter than on a similar aged Triumph or BSA. About five years ago an after market electric starter was installed. The electric start also required the original 6V system to be converted to 12V. The engine management controls aren’t simple and virtually require a TAFE course.1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Spark is generated via magneto (yep, magnets). No batteries required! Just like the old Victa mowers we used back last century. Simple technology that’s still used today e.g. mowers, chainsaws etc.

The rear brake is a mechanical standard drum, which works acceptably. Neil paid for a twin leading shoe front which makes it more adequate. There is no sidecar brake. This all said, braking operation in all conditions requires planning. It’s a 1965 bike with brakes designed in 1935.1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Riding an outfit

If you’ve never ridden an outfit you’d be mad to buy one without having an experienced person teach you. It’s a completely different riding skill. Just negotiating a carpark is an experience, you have to be constantly aware of your extremities, and there is no reverse gear so choose where to park carefully.

Engine maintenance is pretty good, especially on a solo ‘Velo’, but remember, if the left side of the bike has a sidecar, it may require removal in some cases.1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Parts of the rear frame look pretty spindly. However, all the front-end and geometry must be pretty well matched as there is no need for leading links etc.

The gear ratios are a good match for the engine. Neil states, “Warming up the bike is essential as gear shifts are a ‘cow’ when cold; lots of false neutrals too”.

Touring? You can take the kitchen sink! The sidecar storage can swallow a passenger plus a big esky. Neil advises that the trick is to place the heavier mass at the back rather than the front.

The original tool kit has an array of Imperial British Standard spanners. It included a tyre pump not unlike the old push bike ones, just a bit larger in capacity. I asked Neil what he considered was an essential part of the ‘Velos’ toolkit for breakdowns? “A trailer”! was his answer.

Fuel tank capacity is 4 gallons (18 litres) which gives a range of about 160 miles (250km). Neil estimates the fun factor at 110%.

Resale value1935 Velocette Venom outfit

Resale value today? Well, depending on what you’re after, you could be looking at around the $35,000 to $40,000 mark.

Neil is unassuming, knowledgeable and has a wry sense of humour. The bike is no shortage of challenges either, many is the time Neil has had to scour the various clubs or the internet for information on what appears to be a perplexing halt to forward motion. During these times Neil will tell us to “ask me about the ‘Velo’”. Dutifully we ask and then receive the hand on forehead reply “I don’t want to talk about it!”

So what happened to the Velocette? The same thing that killed off much of England’s motorcycling industry … the emerging dominance of Japanese motorcycle manufacture.

The 1968 Honda CB750 was innovative, cheap, reliable, fast and had electric start. Add a dash of English complacency, and it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for all those great British Bike legends.

May Your Lid Never Skid, Ian Parks #11735