The 1980 CCM 500TE showed glimmers of promise like its solid Grand Prix-derived frame and Ohlins twin shocks used for the rear suspension.
(Sing along with the next paragraph if you wish.)
Imagine there’s no iPods, no e-mails too. No type approval or 2-stroke bans. Imagine all the people … could actually knock on the door of the managing director of a regular main-stream motorcycle manufacturer and have him build a bike just for you hoo oo oo.
Okay, this might not be quite as good as the original version. However, I did once date a girl whose second-best friend’s cousin had serviced Ringo Starr’s car before he became a Beatle. This fact, I would argue, makes me almost an honorary member of the band. To say the least, things were very easygoing and relaxed 25 years ago, nowhere more so than the small but so very, very lively CCM Company based in Bolton, England.
CCM was, and still is, best known for its 4-stroke motocross machines based, to varying degrees, on the BSA B.50 engine. The factory was the stuff of legends, beginning with the first bikes built in a suburban garage by the founder of the company, Alan Clews. Later, CCM became a small but well-established manufacturer with customers throughout the world. CCM achieved some remarkable successes against the odds in GP Motocross and thus its legendary status increased.
CCM had its share of loyalists, but there just was not enough wealthy customers in the world for expensive and fragile single-cylinder 4-stroke MX machines.
The problem was that the factory was always in some form of financial crisis for one simple reason. Despite what CCM enthusiasts screamed fanatically from the roof-tops, there just were not enough wealthy customers in the world for expensive and fragile 4-stroke motocross machines. CCM’s problems were no more complex than this.
I had good relations with the factory and was given a tip-off that they had just built a prototype bike for a customer. The bike was going to form the basis of a new super-sports trail bike which would be added to CCM’s range. Like many of CCM’s concepts, the idea was a good one, as was later shown by Honda’s all-conquering range of dual-sport bikes. CCM’s difficulty was that it lacked the finances to undertake the exercise properly.
The reality of the situation meant that the prototype also had to be a customer bike and paid for at full market price. The owner was a wealthy CCM enthusiast called Richard Flood. He was the archetypal customer for the new TE (trail/enduro) range of bikes, and when he arrived at CCM’s factory with a nice, healthy-looking checkbook, he was welcomed with open arms. The first version of the bike was basically a BSA B.50 bottom half with a 4-valve CCM conversion in place of the original 2-valve BSA barrel and head. The big problem (and it was an enormous one) was that all competition-derived BSAs were, and are, a nightmare to start, even with CCM’s clever electronic ignition.
Richard struggled with this and so the factory fitted a standard BSA head and compression plate beneath the barrel which made life a lot easier. What they couldn’t change was the weak, wide-ratio four-speed B.50T gearbox and the still far from reliable BSA-based motor.
In the 20-40 mph range, the bike’s performance was tops. At lower speeds, it coughed and sputtered; at higher speeds, the big single vibrated hard.
The cycle parts were a mixture of good and bad news. The frame was pure, 100% Grand Prix-derived CCM and very good. However, in order to get the price even roughly in the area where a normal enthusiast could afford a CCM, the front forks were taken from Marzocchi and the front hub was sourced from Grimeca. Neither was, at the very kindest, anything other than mediocre. By contrast, the rear suspension was good-specification Ohlins twin shocks and these gave a first-class ride and good traction.
The frame itself was compromised by having brackets TIG welded everywhere to mount bits which were not needed for motocross. Instead of the purity of a traditional bronze-welded, chromed, English-made metal artwork, Richard’s bike looked very much like the prototype it was.
Lots of the running gear was cheap (and nasty too), and the bike gave the general impression that this was a drowning manufacturer clutching at marketing straws. That the factory could get away with such a lash-up reflected the unregulated, laissez-faire attitude which was still prevalent in 1980, although fading fast. Basically, if CCM as a manufacturer said the bike was road legal then the Licensing Authority agreed: job done!
The Marzocchi fork and Grimeca front hub did not match the quality of the Ohlins twin shocks in the rear.
This led to some wonderfully creative engineering, the best of which was in the so-called “silencer.” As part of some top-secret project, the British military had discovered that if gas was expanded and contracted sequentially it eventually exited the end of an exhaust pipe almost silently, with no other method of sound reduction applied. CCM took what was an extremely complex idea and reduced it to having one expansion box and then a huge megaphone exhaust. This may have lessened the noise as far as GP Motocross levels were concerned, but the bellow from the TE could strip the bark from oak trees at 100 paces. Again, the word “prototype” springs to mind.
I had raced B.50-derived BSAs for many years and really had a soft spot for them. I had no trouble in firing up Richard’s CCM, which ran a very docile 8:1 compression, and there was still a delightfully anti-social crackle from the open “mega.” For the next couple of hours, I slid the bike around, burnt grooves in Richard’s private woodland and defoliated his trees with the CCM’s exhaust note. Kept in the 20-40 mph range, the CCM was on home territory and anyone who enjoyed dirt bikes would have fallen in love with the big, booming Single.
Unfortunately, below 10 mph, the CCM coughed and jerked like an asthmatic bison and above 50 mph the vibration was so severe that it really did threaten permanent damage to my manhood. In short, as a trail or enduro bike, it was useless.
Fans will be happy to know that CCM is back in the hands of its originator, Alan Clews, and will be run by him and his sons Austin and Russell.
I don’t know how many, if any, other CCM TEs were made, but certainly strong lessons were learned from the bike and later incorporated into the highly successful Rotax-powered, Armstrong Military Bikes which were made at CCM’s factory. Now these truly were go-anywhere bikes, either on- or off-road.
Just as interesting, for a bike which by any objective standards was a complete failure, the TE and any of its relatives are now worth serious money. I recently heard that the original bike I rode is still in existence and intact. If it were to come on to the auction block today, I would confidently expect it to make $15,000 plus, a reflection on the current price of nostalgia.
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