Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Roland Pike story

For my very first post in my very first blog I decided to write about a BSA person rather than a BSA motorcycle.

That person is Roland Pike and there are a number of reasons for choosing him. First and foremost, he is someone that had interested me for a long time before I ever started my first BSA websites. Second, is that I've detected an increasing background count of interest in printed features, online postings and other websites over the last year or so. But the tipping point was an email from an aquaintance who has a longer standing and more personal interest in Roland Pike than I do. He emailed me to ask how I was doing and to point out a couple of errors in some material I had posted about Roland on my old BSA website. That was the tipping point - Roland was first up.

So in this post I'll introduce Roland Pike but in subsequent posts I will his unpublished biography of his time working with BSA.

Roland Pike was a development engineer at BSA between 1952 and 1957. After that he left to work with SU Carburetters for a while then emigrated with his family to the USA in 1959.

Taking a job temporarily as a sports car dealership mechanic in Roanoke, Virginia and after settling in, he went to work as a field tech rep for Jaguar in New York, and finally on to Volkswagen Atlantic, a several-state distributorship, where he did the same job and held schools for mechanics. He stayed there to retirement, then moved to Inman, South Carolina where for more years he had a backyard shop rebuilding VW transaxles. This was in the air-cooled VW era when US roads were still covered with millions of them. Roland was always fond of the air-cooled model.

Some years ago while researching BSA's Daytona Racers I tried to find Roland Pike as I had many questions to ask him about his work on these bikes and at BSA in general. I knew he had been living in the US for some time but I didn't have a contact address.

I eventually managed to get in touch with his daughter but unfortunately a week or two after he died. However, his daughter very kindly gave me a paper copy of his BSA memoirs with permission to publish these on a website as long as they were used for research and enthusiast purposes only.

So in the following posts are the memoirs, scanned, OCR'ed and mostly proofed (I'm still spotting some of my own typos) from the original handwritten notes. They are presented in the original form with chapters that start at 17 (I think the previous published volume had chapters 1 - 16) and with chapter 25 missing.

The memoirs are a gold mine of information for BSA enthusiasts or anyone interested in the internal workings of the British motorcycle industry during the early to late 1950's. As a snapshot of the politics and machinations they provide an interesting counterpoint to that presented in Bert Hopwood's book 'Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry'. As a piece of technical the memoirs provides a view at odds with some of the accepted wisdom about BSA motorcycles such as the MC1. They are also unashamedly opinionated, most notably in favour of the Gold Star.

But they show Roland to be someone who was too professional to let his preferences influence the effort or ingenuity he would commit, even to bikes he privately thought were developmental dead-ends.

For a few years in the early 1950's BSA arguably had the very best design and development team that ever worked in the British motorcycle industry. Bert Hopwood, Doug Hele... and Roland Pike.

Thanks to Bill Hoddinott for details about Roland's life during and -post BSA.
Thanks to Carol Smoogen for providing a copy of the Roland Pike unpublished autobiogaphy.

Next post - Roland Pike Autobiography Chapter 17. How the MC1 Racer brought me to the factory


  1. Mr. Pike finally retired to Walhalla, S.C. There was a group of motorcylists called the Clemson Cafe Racer in the 70's and early 80's. Mr Pike came to some of our club meetings and told us some tales of the golden era of motorcycles. He was certainly a touchstone to many of us. A true connection to the past. I feel very fortunate to have know him.

    Mike Ahern
    Mountain Rest, S.C.

  2. I read the Roland Pike biographies with acute interest, having "heard" about them in Kevin Cameron's column in Cycle World.

    I applaud your efforts to record the histories of BSA and it's riders.

    Born in 1943 I owned an A10 Spitfire scrambler, which put a good taste in my mouth about BSA motorcycles. In my "accidental" motorcycle collection I have a CCM 600cc MX bike, made by Clews from the remanents of BSA's racing department.

    I am currently heavily involved wit BMW airheads, owning several and participating on the Boxerworks fourm.

    Ken in Oklahoma

    1. Bill Hoddinott lives a few blocks from me. I met Roland a couple of times through him, as I worked for Big Sid Biberman of Vincent fame for 17 years.
      You would never believe what kind of bike Roland rode in his later years and really liked it.

      Stan Ellefson

    2. Roland lived here in SC. I did not meet him but a good friend of mine did. My friend said Roland had many friends that were hurt by the Japanese. It took him along time to buy the 250 Kaw. But he seemed to like it.