Memorable Motorcycle 1973 CCM Trail Bike

January 15, 2009
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

1973 CCM Trail Bike
A trail bike with lukewarm attempts at passing street-legal requirements, the 1973 CCM Trail Bike would never fly in our regulation-obsessed present.

Sometimes I feel really, really old. It’s not so much when I walk into the pits of a Superbike team and see everyone worshipping the geek with the laptop rather than the lads with the socket set. It’s not even when I hear a 1992 Honda Fireblade being referred to as a classic. The killer for me is when I think how we intellectually and emotionally fat, lazy Westerners have let successive governments rob us of our freedom. We have allowed ourselves to be shackled in the name of “Health and Safety” and for this we should be internally ashamed.

Travel on a plane these days and you will be treated as a criminal until you prove your innocence. Break any one of a million petty regulations and you will be viewed in the same light as a mass murderer.

Last year, British TV showed a serious documentary about our 200-year-old canals. The presenter, standing in the bow of one of the canal boats, was talking earnestly to camera whilst wrapped in a full, ocean going life vest complete with emergency light and whistle. The canal on which the boat floated was exactly three feet deep. The reason for the life-vest was “Health and Safety”. From what danger was she being protected? Getting damp feet or having her toenails nibbled by an angry carp who didn’t like his afternoon nap being disturbed by a film crew?

This sad state of affairs has come about with terrifying speed. Thirty-five years ago things were very, very different. In fact, it is difficult to imagine just how long in the past was 1973. No European Type Approval for Motorcycles. No radar speed cameras or computer records and a Police Force with far more interest in catching criminals than in persecuting road users.

In short, many, many things were possible in those halcyon days.

For example, a newsstand owner, with a flair for engineering, could set himself up as motorcycle manufacturer – and in the case of Bolton motocross enthusiast, Alan Clews, he promptly did. Buying up the remnants of the BSA competition department, Clews began building bikes commercially and, unencumbered by Health and Safety Officers, environmental targets or the latest EU legislation on how many ring spanners can be kept in one tool box, CCM soon became a legitimate, and highly successful, manufacturer. But only of motocross bikes.

Engine was bored and stroked BSA B.50 motor.
The CCM sourced a BSA B.50 single, bored and stroked to 608cc.

Not that Clews, or his buccaneering, Bolton-based agent, Douggie Hacking, would ever let trivia such as the lack of a road bike in the CCM range get in the way of a sale. No customer with cash in his pocket was ever going to get past the dynamic duo.

In theory, the idea was to build a dual purpose trail bike – in the same style as today’s dual-sport machines. Just like today, customers with a sufficiently thick wallet could purchase a true works replica. In the case of the CCM trail bike this meant an extremely accurate clone of the works GP motocross machines because CCM very much raced what it sold.

The chassis was a hand-made, bronze-welded work of art based extremely close to┬áthe BSA GP bikes. Light, strong and beautiful, this was as good as it got in dirt bike frames at the time. The hubs were electron (a magnesium alloy which was found on all the best race bikes of the day) cast locally to Bolton in the days when Britain had a flexible, fast reacting engineering industry – and the rest of the cycle parts were also 100% British. Thirty-five years seems a very long time ago!

The engine was CCM’s version of the BSA B.50 motor, this time bored and stroked to a whopping 608cc. The result was an unreliable, difficult to start, vibrating beast of a powerplant with more Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude than Chuck Berry in full voice.

The conversion to road trim was painstaking in its desire to ignore legislation. First, the two obligatory road number plates were added – one to the front and the other to the rear of the bike. After all, the law must be obeyed to the letter. A tachometer was fitted as a “speed measuring device” – the idea being that the rider remembered which gear he was in and then converted the rpm into mph – and a bicycle bulb horn provided a means by which an audible warning could be given. And that was the grand total of the modifications: dirt tires, un-silenced megaphone exhaust et al remained intact.

The brakes were 6-inch motocross items which were feeble in the dirt and a disaster on the road. Not that stopping the CCM was a problem. In 499cc form, the BSA engine was badly under-flywheeled. Bored and stroked to over 600cc, the CCM stopped dead just on engine compression the moment the throttle was cut.

As a young man  Melling always had a never say die attitude.
Showboating for the pretty girl, Melling tests the CCM leaning ability.

Assuming the rider was lucky enough to start the CCM – a bold assumption since, with a high-compression piston, the motor kicked back like a psychopathic mule on steroids – the resultant experience was incredible. The CCM would out accelerate any road bike of the day up to 70mph and was in a class of its own off-road. Even today the CCM’s performance would be an eye watering experience simply in terms of its sheer animal intensity.

As a practical motorcycle, the CCM trail bike was a disaster. Crude, unreliable and impractical it epitomized much that was bad about motorcycles, in general, and the state of the British motorcycle industry at the time, in particular. And yet…

Did anyone suffer as a result of these dinosaurs bellowing around British roads? Was anyone raped or murdered? Did drug taking increase in elementary schools as a result of seeing a CCM rider trying to start his bike? Did thousands of innocent civilians die in some foreign land because of the exhaust emissions?

On the contrary, a few happy young men, with more money than good sense, wasted their hard earned wages on having a ball. That was all the damage which was done to society. Well that, and a mass outbreak of hemorrhoids caused by the CCM’s intense vibrations being transmitted to the rider’s rear end.

CCM made very few of these GP-based trail bikes and even fewer survive, which is very sad for truly this was a bike which epitomized the freedom we all enjoyed.