If you are a British motorcyclist of a certain age (!), there’s a pretty good chance that you will have ridden a BSA Bantam. The Bantam is a British motorcycling institution and a bike on which many of us cut our motorcycling teeth. Lightweight and simple to maintain, a good one is fun to ride (if a little slow by today’s standards!) and can make a great entry-level classic bike. Produced in large numbers from 1948 to 1971, there are usually plenty of good BSA Bantams for sale, as well as a number of cheap restoration projects if you fancy getting out the spanners!
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With a 125cc single cylinder 2-stroke engine (which was based heavily on a German DKW design) and a 3-speed gearbox, the 1948 D1 had a rigid rear end but provided sprung telescopic forks on the front. The bike was equipped with 19 inch wheels front and rear, and (with a nod to Henry Ford) was available in any colour you liked-so long as it was Mist Green. For sale at around £60 all in, the Bantam was a great success. Small and light, the bike was easy to ride and handled reasonably well, though with less than 5bhp on tap, performance was hardly electrifying. So successful was the D1 that production actually lasted until 1963, with many machines being sold to the Post Office. The Bantam was the favoured machine for telegram deliveries for many years! In subsequent years, the design was refined – the D3 Bantam of 1954 incorporated a marginally more powerful 150cc motor and by 1957 the 175cc D3 was available and a D7 Super version from 1959. The D7 featured a swinging-arm type frame, smaller (18 inch) wheels and improved electrics, and it is probably fair to say that by now the Bantam had come of age.
Throughout the 1960’s there were various styling changes including redesigned fuel tanks and exhausts that were intended to improve the looks of the bike, but it was beginning to look dated alongside similar sized offerings from Japan. However, BSA continued to upgrade the bike making Deluxe versions available and in 1966 the Bantam D10 was introduced which offered more power and better electrics. A ‘trail’ version (the Bushman) was offered which employed a 4-speed gearbox (all Bantams until then had a 3-speed) and a high level exhaust pipe. The BSA Bushman was particularly popular in the Australian market, and was available until 1971. The D14 model introduced in 1968 boasted over 12bhp, plus the 4-speed gearbox, changes which improved top speed to almost 70mph and made the Bantam much more useable out on the open road. By the late 1960’s the Bantam was entering it’s twilight years and 1969 saw the launch of the D175 which would continue in production until the model was finally dropped in 1971.