Memorable MC: BSA A10 Golden Flash

July 5, 2011
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.

BSA A10 Golden Flash
While not as popular as the Triumph, BSA developed a solid rival in the form of the Golden Flash.

There are two, equally valid, ways of looking at the BSA A10 Shooting Star. One, and it’s the view you will most often hear being offered by Triumph enthusiasts, is that despite its polychromatic golden paint finish, the BSA is a dull, conservatively styled lump of a bike which looked old fashioned even when it first appeared in 1954. All this is true.

The second, more objective, opinion is that the A10 is, in every way but one, the equal of Triumph’s sexy, charismatic 650cc Twins – and in some respects is a markedly better motorcycle altogether.

The one missing ingredient, and it’s a magic one too in terms of making a motorcycle’s reputation, is styling. In the 1950s and early 1960s, nothing in the world looked as lust generating as a Triumph T’Bird – and later, a T110 and Bonneville. By contrast, BSA’s offering appeared worthy to the point of dullness – until you look under the skin of the bike.

We will come to the engine and gearbox in a moment, but let’s start with one of the great unsung heroes of motorcycle design: the BSA duplex frame. Received wisdom at the time was that there was only one frame in the world and this was the iconic Norton “Featherbed.” In truth, the Norton duplex frame does work wonderfully well when it houses the Single-cylinder Manx engine which sits low between the bottom frame rails and provides an exemplary center of gravity. However, put a Twin-cylinder engine in the same chassis and it is not nearly so good.

BSA A10 Golden Flash
The A10 Golden Flash suffers from a lackluster braking system that easily could have been upgraded by using the units off the Gold Star.

By contrast the BSA frame is peerless, not only as a home for the Twin-cylinder A7 and A10 engines but, with a slight kink in the right hand side bottom rail, also as the frame for the legendary BSA Gold Stars. And anyone who thinks that “Goldies” don’t handle hasn’t raced against one!

So, the A10 handling is a treat – and would be even better except for the penny-pinching brakes both front and back. The A10’s younger sporting brother, the Rocket Gold Star, had brakes lifted straight from the Gold Star’s parts’ bins and these should have been standard across all the BSA 650s but BSA accountants ruled the engineers, so the Flash comes equipped with feeble 7-inch hubs front and back.

The A10’s engine is, by the standards of the day, a real peach. It began life as a 500 just before the Second World War as a Val Page concept – and Valentine Page was the greatest of all the British motorcycle designers. Post-war, the legendary Edward Turner – he of Triumph Speedtwin fame – had a dabble with it but the bulk of the work was done by BSA’s Chief Designer Herbert Perkins.

The BSA engine is arguably a neater, more efficient design than its Triumph competitor. A single, four lobe camshaft – located neatly behind the cylinder barrel – lifts the pushrods and this gives a quiet, oil-tight engine.

When Bert Hopwood joined BSA in 1949, a hurried decision was made to re-vamp the 500c engine into a 650cc power-plant capable of matching Triumph’s all new Thunderbird. In just five months, Hopwood re-worked and significantly improved the A7 into a 650cc engine which was a match for the T’Bird in terms of performance.

BSA A10 Golden Flash
Hopping up to 650cc to match the T-Bird, BSA used iron for the cylinder heads which caused occasional overheating. 

Better still, it was a paragon of reliability and smoothness and the gearbox and clutch were first-class too.

The A10’s engine has iron barrels and cylinder head. This was a real drawback in its heyday in terms of overheating and so the sporting versions of the A10 had alloy heads. Now, when classic bike owners are not chasing performance, the quietness of the all iron engine is rather attractive and gives the Flash an air of sophistication.

What the A10 lacked was Triumph’s charisma. Worthy as the Flash was you could never imagine Marlon Brando riding into Carbonville on a BSA Twin: he would have been far more likely to be delivering gifts to orphans.

So this brings us to the present day and if you want a practical, highly useable classic then the Flash ought to be right at the top of your shopping list.

Critically, a decent A10 starts instantly and the original, highly robust powerplant can be further improved with modern internals. This is an engine which can deal with a 1000-mile trip without a moment’s hesitation.

Hopwood’s Parallel Twin runs near silently and never a drop of oil will appear on the motor. Nor for that matter does the BSA primary chain case leak oil. It is a robust, all-alloy construction and, once prepared properly, stays bone dry. In all, a very non-British classic in terms of oily incontinence. The rear chain is just as well sorted with an all-enveloping metal case which means minimal lubrication and long life.

BSA A10 Golden Flash
While it wasn’t the big seller BSA wanted it to be, it was still a solid mount for the everyday rider and an affordable classic.

The original A10s were good for a solid 90 mph-plus and so a classic today will happily run at 65 mph all day without a hint of stress. The four-speed gearbox is sweet, reliable and positive and the clutch, again with modern improvements to the friction material, utterly trustworthy.

Even the brakes can be tweaked so that they are at least capable of handling relaxed classic riding although if I had an A10 I must admit that I would be sourcing a 190mm Gold Star front brake.

Finally, the handling is impeccable and the large saddle comfortable. In fact, the whole bike is a paragon of virtue.

Now for the critical question: would I own an A10 rather than a T’Bird? The answer is almost inevitably no. Walk into your garage at the end of the day and you will admire the Flash and think warmly of its many virtues – but your tongue will hang out in lust for the Triumph.

And that’s why, condition for condition, the A10 is always cheaper than a Thunderbird or Norton Dominator.