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Latest News: Last Updated : 27/07/10
(But published Nov 2010)
C.E.(Titch) Allen : May 6th 1915 - March 18th 2010

As has been widely reported elsewhere, one of the great names of the motorcycle movement, and VMCC Founder, Titch Allen passed away in June, after a prolonged period of illness and decline. When I gave my summer update this time last year, Titch, son Steve, myself and some friends had just completed the 2009 Mallory 1000 Bike Festival, and although Titch was not looking at his best, he had enjoyed the day. As it turned out this was Titch's last public appearance and he was taken ill about a week later. Although Titch battled hard, and had small periods of relative stability over the next 10 months, he was aware of the position and I think had accepted that his life’s work was done.
I am very proud and fortunate to have known Titch. I first met him in 1984 when he was looking for a new passenger to provide ballast for his then Norton outfit. I had just started racing a Norton plunger ES2 myself in the VMCC and was introduced to him by a mutual friend and ex Brooklands Gold Star holder - Bob Pike. Thus started the beginning of a friendship that continued up to his death, and which provides memories of many wonderful exploits and outings together.


Titch at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival

Titch on his last motorcycle outing - Mallory 1000 Bike Festival in 2006 when he rode his Big Plunger outfit, with myself in the chair

Titch at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival

Titch at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival in July 2009, Titch's last public appearence.
Titch fell ill and went into hospital the folowing week

And as a memberable and endearing part of that friendship, I feel very fortunate to have shared first hand his insight of many of the personalities and marques that shaped the motorcycle world.
Although best known for being the Founder of the Vintage Motorcycle Club, Titch was also a great journalist and historian. Much of what is written or known about the great names of the motorcycling industry today is as a direct result of Titch’s foresight in talking to those individuals when they were still alive and writing up their accounts into articles that, for me, were not only factual, but always seem to catch the more human and interesting side of a persons character. I think it was this ability to write such descriptive prose that stood him apart from the mainstream motoring journalist and for me he stands shoulder to shoulder with those other two greats Bill Boddy and Dennis Jenkinson.
Titch was also a wonderful speaker, and most that knew and visited him will have fond memories of sitting in his kitchen or study, drinking seemingly endless cups of tea while been transported back into a different world as Titch recounted anecdotes from a whole kaleidoscope of subjects. Bikes obviously, were often on the agenda, but he could also wax lyrical on a whole host of other subjects, and with each one, like all good story tellers, he had that ability to transport you into that story, so you felt you were there with him, a rare gift.
With an inherent shyness that sometimes could be mistaken for aloofness, the overriding memory that will remain with me of Titch, is that he was a person that always stayed young at heart and never lost that enthusiasm for life.
I hope Steve will not mind me for saying it, but Titch became like a second father to me and always a trusted friend, and just like many others I will miss him - but I am sure there will be little things that will remind me of him and make me smile .

Titch at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival

Another photo from Titchs last ride in 2006, this time with son Steve Allen I also made the ballast for Steve on the day - quite like old times!


VMCC Race Meeting 84

A relaxed picture of Titch in the pits at a VMCC Mallory race meeting, when I was first passengering for him, about 1984


Titch Round EnglandTour

A lovely period shot of Titch in the 1950's when, with an ACU official as passenger and observer, he attempted the Maudes trophy, by taking an Ariel Huntmaster on a complete coastal trip of the UK


Grass Tracking with Titch

. . . And something that not many people appreciated, was that Titch was also a skillful and fearless rider when he got the bit between his teeth!
As can be seen here when we first started grass tracking together (I can tell this is an early outing - we were still using the road race outfit) Titch is trying hard at the Chalfont hill climb, note front wheel in the air!


Mallory 1970's

This photograph was taken by my father in about 1970, at a very early VMCC meeting - also at Mallory (I was just a boy in the background at the time) . He is in his well known ISDT ex Lowrie Gold Medal winning Morgan - Old Yellow, and I believe his passenger is Marjorie Cottle. The metallic yellow helmet and the slat fencing in the background nicely date the photograph!






On Holiday Again?
First of all, the traditional photographs from this years holiday location - a very pleasant and private villa in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote. As is normal, I use this opportunity, not only to spend some time with the family, but also to catchup with some unfinished articles. I have just finished proof reading the second installment of the 1937 International engine build (yes, I do occasionally proof read - I'm just not much good at it!), and have also managed to make inroads into a further two articles I had started some time ago.

I am now publishing an (almost) regular newsletter, as a means of keeping customers aware of new products as they become available, or those in development. I have another one of these to publish - it will be the July\August edition, which has some further new products in it, but I have also just finished writing an article about the current woes of the Racing International which I wrote with a view to putting in the May\June Newsletter. This is a bit late, but I have now completed it, so will publish it as soon as I get back to blighty and have an internet connection again.

So, a brief update on what has been happening this year, and what’s in the pipeline:


Family Snapshot
Lanzarote, the current holiday destination.
Note older daughter, Abi, on the left is completely failing to hide her boredom at fathers attempt to take family snapshot . . .

Big Chain on Beach
Arty farty picture of big chain on the local beach.
Most motorbikes I saw on the island had the same patina


Steph at Lanzarote
Nice picture of younger daughter Steph sitting on the wall of Playa Blanca harbour at sunset. I now have to bribe offspring with ice-cream\money\taxying for them to pose like this

Sandy and bald git
With Sandy at local watering hole.
I gave up drinking 6 months ago (see text) and am still showing the facial expression of an alcholic in denial.






Continued KTM Tales
As I reported in a previous article earlier in the year I had some garage changes earlier this year. After many years of faithful service, the Gilera has finally gone to a new home. This was for no reason other than I fancied a change and needed the room. The Gilera (a very fast 180cc scooter with a Ferrari pit bike paintjob) had originally been purchased from a mate as a result of a bad prang that I had about 6 years ago, which wrote off my Fireblade and left me with a smashed kneecap. This bike turned out to be such a a convenient and cheap means of runabout transport after the accident, that I never bothered to get rid of it.
However these days working in London and Dublin so much, I need to go into my Leicester office less often and when I do I have a hefty laptop bag with me, so I don’t tend to ride the bike to work much anymore. it also occurred to me this year that it had been a few years since I had bought a new road toy, and I fancied something totally different. The result of this was the KTM 660 super-moto bike, which I talk about in another article. This has been great fun so far – although I have had a couple of near misses on it, which have reminded me I am not an 18 year old anymore and maybe need to ride it a bit more sedately.
One of these was shortly after I bought the bike. I had been round the bike doing my normal fettling and had noticed that there was a plastic skid guard on the swinging arm, for keeping the long rear chain from rubbing against it, which should have been held by two countersunk screws. One of the screws was missing and the thread in the swinging arm was stripped. I had managed to re-tap the swinging arm for a larger thread and fitted a suitable replacement screw, although I noticed the head of the screw did protrude just fractionally above the actual skid guard. I had been out the night before on the bike and this did not seem to cause any issue, so did not think anything about it when I rode the bike to work the next day.
Anyway while overtaking a long line of slow moving traffic, there was an almighty bang followed almost instantaneously by the back wheel locking solid. I was doing approximately 30mph at the time – luckily no faster, and I had a few scary moments keeping the bike upright as I slewed to an incongruous stop! The guy in the parked car next to me looked up with a look of surprise and slight shock on his face, having heard the long screech of my involuntary emergency stop. He asked if I was ok – hell, I’m alive, of course I’m ok!
Although the suddenness of the lockup had been unexpected, as I looked down and behind me I had already guessed (correctly as it turned out) what had caused it – the rear chain had snapped. I could see that not only was part of it wrapped around the engine sprocket, but another part of it was deeply embedded in the gap between the rear wheel sprocket hub and the swinging arm – SH**T!
As I was still stranded on the wrong side of the road, with a long line of crawling cars moving past me on the left, I man handled and dragged the bike over to the grassy kerb, no doubt with the sniggers of many car drivers, rightly thinking I had got my come uppance! Carrying out an impromptu inspection by the kerbside revealed the biggest fear we all have when a rear chain snaps – I could see at least one piece of fresh shiny casting around the gearbox sprocket area of the crankcase, bugger. On closer inspection it looked like the main crankcase was ok, and the flailing and bunched up chain had only taken away a bit of cosmetic casting, used to keep oil throw off the chain to a minimum.

KTM Rear End
KTM rear end after breaking chain while on the move. I spent the next half an hour after this photo trying to get the dam thing out from behind the swinging arm where it had locked solid

As I needed to be at work, my next thoughts were how I was going to get the bike home, and deliberated if I should walk – and come back in my own van, or ring the AA and let them help me (good old AA – knights of the road still in my book!). I quickly made the decision to walk, but before I could park the bike up, amazingly, another van pulled up and a very nice gentleman immediately offered to help me and insisted on me dumping the bike in his van and him taking me home. It turns out he was a hardened track day rider and although this was his main work van, it had also been used for putting his bike in. So this whole process tuned out to be less stressful than it could have been. I am not sure if he wanted one – but I couldent help but feel I ought to give him something as a gift for his help, so as I no longer have alchohol in the house, I gifted him one of my Norton T-shirts, which he seemed to appreciate.
That night after work, I had a closer look at the damage – mostly superficial, although one of the gearbox sprocket cover lugs was also snapped, but the biggest problem was that I could not get the rear chain out of the back wheel, it being well and truly locked up. Eventually having loosened off the rear wheel spindle which had no effect, I had to resort to careful use of my angle grinder and start chopping the chain links. It took me another 30 minutes, but eventually I managed to remove it all, leaving a couple of minor gauge marks on the swinging arm, where the chain had locked and a rear sprocket which was bent and well knackered.
As it turned out I had been very lucky. As well as surviving what could have been a nasty ‘off’, the bike had actually got away very lightly, with me being able to drill out and tap the sprocket holder casting to use a longer bott, and the replacement of the chain and sprockets being something I was contemplating anyway, there was little lasting damage done. It did give me the excuse to get it serviced now – a task I was about to do, so while they had it in I asked them to replace chain sprockets and a couple of other superficial bits damaged by the lockup. A couple of weeks later and job done, plus they gave the bike itself a clean bill of health, which was gratifying – that as suspected, I had not bought a puppy.

Anyway, the bike is now back on the road and running well. I am not getting much chance to ride it, but when I do. It's still very enjoyable.

Chain Loss Culprit
Ahhh - there is the culprit!
The hole behind the chain runner is where a round head bolt used to sit before it came loose and the chain decided to eat it - with predictable results!



Royal Oilfield - Back on The Road
It's not all bad news at the moment, after disgracing itself with me on its first ride last year (magneto packed up), the Royal Enfield Constellation is finally back on the road.
As well as getting the magneto rewound and re-magnetised - a job I have been meaning to do for some time now, as it has always been a dificult starter, I had also decided to strip the top half of the engine, as the left head gasket particularly was badly leaking and sounded like it was farting at low speed (a family trait).
Leaking head gaskets is one of the most common problems on a Constellation, there being two separate alloy heads, with only a very narrow gasket face between them. The 'Connie' also uses quite high compression pistons, and was fitted originally with solid copper head gaskets, all of which probably does not help, the net result being I have never been able to fully cure this problem. Incidentally, I gather that Royal Enfield must have figured this out for themselves, because I am told that the Interceptor, that followed the Constellation, used a different system with a special ring being fitted (a Dykes ring?) – which is fine but did not help us Constellation owners!

Strip Down
Anyway, while having the magneto off being re-wound (which meant taking the timing cover and exhaust off anyway), I decided to give it a thorough service as there were a few jobs I suspected needed doing. First thing I found was that the tappet clearance was massively excessive, as the tappets looked to be badly worn and had probably gone through their case hardening – this would explain why it seemed to have been rattling a bit more than normal! I took the heads off and removed all of the valve gear, giving it a thorough de-coke (a dying art now it seems, with the introduction of cleaner burning engines and fuels!). This was quite heavily built up, so it was satisfying to remove it all and see nice clean valves and head.

Royal Enfield Constellation
The photo was taken on my Blackberry thingy, so a bit hazy, but shows the Constellation on a barmy evening run, parked up at Great Central Railway's Quorn station
Royal Enfield Constellation
Looking black and oily, and gently steaming - the Royal Oilfield poses in front of GCR's Black Five . . .
  The other problem I noticed was an excessively loose timing chain – again adding to the general engine noise. On inspection I found that the stud that clamped the timing chain adjuster plate had stripped its thread in the crankcase (probably because Royal Enfield’s used ‘cream cheese’ aluminum for their crankcases!). This was a relatively easy one to fix, me re-tapping the hole in the next size up of cycle thread. Along with this were a multitude of smaller jobs, all of which I was hoping would add to a sweeter engine after the rebuild.
Once the magneto was back and rebuilt I started the re-build. I confess I do not like working on the Royal Enfield very much (and I have owned it from my father for about 25 years now), everything has always seemed excessively difficult to reach or just down right awkward, so I should have guessed this occasion would be no exception. However, although not a quick process, I actually thought this time I might have got away with it, because despite a few small hiccups, this time things went reasonably well, although it did take me a couple of evenings (this was in the middle of summer – so I was working to about 10.30pm).
I had been told by Hitchcocks (one of the best Royal Enfield specialists – great guys) that there was a new type of head gasket, which was similar to modern ‘crushable’ car head gaskets, so I had eagerly switched over to using these. Because of this, I had made a point of checking the torque setting – something I don’t normally bother doing, always tightening down by ‘feel’. What was most apparent was that they did not seem to be particularly tight at the point the torque wrench started clicking – but I forced myself not to go any further. I finished putting the rest of the bike together and at 10.30pm on the second night was able to start her up for a quick check. After a difficult 10 minutes getting life out of her, she finally fired up and sounded wonderful, lovely and sweet and amazingly quiet compared to normal. As always, at this stage I had only loosely placed the fuel tank on, so I could give the head bolts a final tweak after running it for a while – and it was at this point that things started to go horribly wrong
I went round each of the bolts again with the torque wrench and they all clicked immediately. So I thought to myself - just another 2lb’s of torque on each bolt – big mistake. I was on the very last bolt on the left head when there was a very loud ‘bang’ and everything went loose. . . ‘Bo**ocks!’
As you can probably guess, it pulled the thread out of the crankcase. To cut a long story short, another two weeks transpired while I had to strip the whole top end, carbs, barrel etc, and then rethread the crankcases out to the next size up and make a new crankcase stud with the bigger thread. Very, very annoying – but at least I know the torque settings were not far off the imit to start with.

Anyway, I am pleased to say that the Connie is now back on the road and running well. It is not overly fast (for a bike that was once regarded the quickest production bike you could buy) and has many quirks, but it is extremely comfortable and is a nice bike for longer runs. I did not put enough gasket compound on the timing cover, where the oil pump is, so I have a bit of a leak that will need tending to, but otherwise it is fine and nice for the odd run when I get the time.




Little Luxuries in Life
Although not a major development, but one small thing that I have done recently that has much improved my quality of garage life has been to paint the garage floor. A friend of mine had painted his garage floor last year, with a very fetching red paint. I had openly coveted his floor and was told he had a 5 Litre can left over, which I have been meaning to buy from him for some time.
Well, Christmas morning, imagine my surprise, when I opened this large, giftwrapped present to find it was the same said can of paint. Frankly, and I hope my wife won't mind me saying this, but it was the best Christmas present I got this year, so much so that I had my photograph taken, opening it how sad is that! Anyway, come spring, and on the first weekend of good weather, I took the plunge with my gardener (and occasional odd job man), and we embarked on painting the garage floor. I got up early and spent the first two hours, just cleaning out one side of the garage. That was not as easy as you might think, as well as having to take out all the bikes outt, I also had to clear out all the smaller clutter that seem to be taking up every spare space on the garage floor. Having got the bikes out, I handed over to Graham, my gardener, who had offered to paint the floor for me, and left him to it. An hour later, and the garage was transformed, but as suspected, as it started to dry it started to get absorbed into the concrete, and it started to lose its shine. Therefore it is clear that a second coat would be needed, which was done by about 3:30 p.m.

Garage Floor
Ahh, if only it always looked this clean . . .
Workshop looks half presentable with sparkling garage floor
Bikes Outside
Trying to avoid prying eyes, Manx's incongrously padlocked to the back of the transit, while the garage floor dries
Garage Floor
And a few more down the side of the house
This left a dilemma though, I was nervous about leaving all the bikes on the driveway, which I needed to do to give the paint a chance to dry. Some of the bikes I was able to put along the side of the house, where I could shut the gate to keep prying eyes from seeing them. For the other bikes, I ended up chaining their front wheels to the towbar of my van, which also helped hide them from anybody passing by. I finally managed to get the bikes back into the garage at about 11.30pm at night, by which time the paint was dry to the touch, although not hardened . I have to say the finished result is very pleasing to the eye, so much so that with the little bit of paint that was left, I did a similar exercise on the other side of my double garage, which is where I have my workshop. I didn't have a full half can of paint left, so I had to just work with what I had, and work around the large items which would not be practical to move, i.e. the one tonne lathe and the other large machinery. Nevertheless, the overall effect is a much cleaner and shinier looking floor which frankly, I now notice every time I go into the workshop, definitely a good result. The final benefit of doing this might just be my imagination, but it seems the garage floor collects less dust, and stays cleaner longer.
Finished Garage Floor
Finished garage floor transforms the look of the garage. Lovely red floor shines at me every time I go in now - definitely one of the little luxuries in life!
English Electric Lightning
English Electric Lightning hangs vertically from the ceiling - Brilliant!
English Blackbird
This fantastic plane was in the experimental hanger and looked like an English version of the Lockheed Blackbird
RAF Cosford Visit
Another friend had told me some time ago about a really good RAF aircraft museum he and his son had visited recently – RAF Cosford, near Shifinal, Shropshire. Andy Phillips (best biking mate) and I had talked about going for a ride for a long time, so decided this would be the perfect place to give a visit, with myself on the RE Connie and Andy on his Gilera tourer. After a pleasant ride we found the place, and what a great experience it turned out to be – fantastic place. If like Andy and I, your interest in things mechanical also stretch’s to aero planes, then this place is a mecca with a dazzling collection of aircraft all laid out open plan in spacious and warm hangers, where you can walk under and around planes – in some cases with walkways so you can even walk over them!
Another one from the experimental hanger, this is the TSR2B I believe
Messerchmitt Komet (rocket plane), with Avro Lancaster in backdrop
      And what an amazing variety, with warplanes of most of the major countries covered through the ages, including iconic planes such as Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, Lancaster, Electric Lightning, V-Bombers, Mig’s, Messerchimtts . . . the list goes on. Actually, the first hanger we went in, which was dedicated to experimental aircraft I could have happily stayed in all day!, it having an amazing collection of Cold War planes including as a centre drop the TSR2B, which I well remember a friend having an Airfix model of as a kid.
Added to this, that there was not an admission charge (yes, it is free!), it had a nice modern caferia, and a great shop – what more could you ask for from a museum, I would wholeheartedly recommend you take a visit. If you are interested, then their website is the following:
It is not every day I have the reflection of a Vulcan bomber shining off my bald bonce
De Havilland Mosquito as immortalised in the film '633 Squadron'



Road Bikes
Constellation on the right after its run out to RAF Cosford. It went well but as can be seen from the oil puddles, it has a bit of a leak from the timing case, as I was very reserved with the gasket gunge around the oilways - should be easy to fix though



Well, that about does it for now. As you have probably realised as you have been reading through this article, I started it many months ago, but as always, have put it on hold a few times while other things took priority. Hopefully the anecdotes still make some kind of sense, even if they are a few months behind. Right, now to go and get on with the next Inter rebuild article!

Best Wishes,
November 11th 2010.


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