We’ve featured a few of Nige Bamber’s bikes before, but I’ve never told you much about the man. That’s partly because his bikes are always interesting enough in themselves, and also because he invariably ticks the box marked ‘No Publicity’ (I had to wait till he was riding the bike away from the shoot to even catch a photograph of him). But in this case, man and machine can’t really be separated, their stories intertwine and weave together, a story and timeline that wends its way back fully forty years…
Those of us who’ve been around long enough, or indeed those who pay attention to such things, will have already realised that 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the National Chopper Club. The NCC came into being with its inaugural run on August Bank Holiday 1973, and has remained a driving force and core organisation within custom biking ever since. Of course, not many of the original members are still in the Club, 40 years is a helluva long time to belong to anything. In fact, there’s only one member who was a member then, and has continuously been a member ever since. And that’s my mate Nige Bamber. I put it to you, custom bikers of the country, that this fact represents no small claim to fame, even if I have to make it on Nige’s modest behalf for him. As someone who has been around custom biking as long as Nige, but has never had the motivation or dedication to be a good club player, I stand in awe of his commitment to a lifestyle he still believes in and holds dear. So it might come as no great surprise that, as the anniversary approached, Nige felt a deepening urge to do something to commemorate it in style. And what better way than to build a bike?
Nige started putting his first chop together in 1972, so it was on the road for that 1973 run. It was a Triumph then too, Nige never runs anything else, and being the 70s, it was also radical. ‘It was running long springers,’ Nige tells me, ‘And it was all rake, it had a genuine Triumph rigid frame, and like you did in those days, we took it down the tractor shed one night, cut an inch and three-quarters out of the top tube, pulled it back and welded it together. The springers weren’t quite as long, but it had narrow Z-bars, so it must have been harder to ride. But I was chucking bags of animal feed and hay bales around all day, I guess I had more upper body strength.’ Aye, and it was forty years ago too mate... But with that bike in mind, it seemed like a good plan to build something similar to celebrate it. Having been a bike builder and Triumph man for over forty years, Nige already had a fair bit of swag around him. The Cycle Haven frame had been in his possession for years, and since as he says, ‘I was into T140s when they were just cheap old motorbikes, so I collected plenty of old engines. One of them just happened to be engraved.’ In fact, Nige and I both know engraving didn’t really come in until a few years later, when John Reed (Uncle Bunt) brought Don Blocksidge’s skills to bear, but it seemed a shame to waste them when they’re so skilfully done and damn near period anyway – most people won’t know the difference. Nige also had a set of long springer forks, with round legs, but it was trading parts to get the super-long barley-twist ones that finally sealed the deal. They’re Kustom Korner ones from the mid 1970s, and they’d been on various Preston bikes for many years. None of us have actually measured how much over stock they are, but you don’t need me to tell you they’re l-o-n-g. To accommodate them, Nige put 2 inches in the frame top tube, another 2 inches in the down tubes, and added ‘lots and lots of rake’. And so the game was afoot.
Nige has built more than enough Unit Triumph customs to know what he’s doing, but in this case the real snag was time. With the deadline of August totally sacrosanct (well, not much point in building a bike for a 40th anniversary if you miss it – what you gonna do then, stick it in a cupboard for another ten years?), everything had to be done in short order. When I first saw the bike sat in Nige’s workshop, it was pretty much just a mocked-up bare frame and forks with a dummy engine, and that would be in late June. Oh, and the crank was sat on the bench with stripped flywheel threads. Yikes. Some things came together, some things didn’t. I won’t bore you with the comedy of errors that was the chroming, suffice to say successive promised deadlines came and went and no chromed parts appeared. When you think that the parts at the chromer’s included the entire disassembled forks, along with all the brackets and bits and pieces that hold everything together, and they still weren’t forthcoming with less than three weeks to go, you can see the scale of the problem. In desperation the wheel rims were powder coated at the same time as the frame and tank, as Nige puts it, ‘I just had to compromise somewhere, or it wasn’t going to get done at all.’ As it turned out, there’s so much more other chrome on the bike the polychromatic blue works quite well anyway – a deep lustrous colour that I wrongly assumed had to be paint to get such a vibrant candy effect.
And when I shot the bike, it was straight out of Nige’s workshop, without even the few road miles put on it needed before he could give the cylinder head its final torque down. So forgive any oily fingerprints and traces of Coppaslip under the bolt heads, it really was as new as that.
With a long motorway run looming, and with an eye to not being crushed by an inattentive European trucker, or failing to stop himself at short notice, Nige has made a few concessions to modern madcap traffic. A decent front tyre, disc brakes, and indicators were always going to be in the mix, as was a remote oil filter, hydraulic clutch and a belt primary drive conversion for reliability. The rear indicators are neatly hidden inside the marker lights, which have red LEDs inside them, while the headlights are a pair of genuine 1972 Lucas Square 8’s – which Nige bought to fit on that very first chop, but couldn’t get to work with the six-volt system, and had hung onto ever since. Synchronicity at work.
And there it is done. Don’t you just love it? Forty years of experience means it sits just right, that preposterous kicked-out front balanced by that equally unfeasible high rear, the cocktail shaker silencers in perfect alignment with the genuine period sissy bar (a look achieved by Nige buying a huge amount of stainless bends to get ones that were just right, echoing the ones on his first chop in 1972), and the stainless hand-made forward controls and narrow high-rise bars combining with the genuine 1970s K&Q seat to give that typical laid-back-man riding position. Then there’s the neat little touches like the little LED warning lights set into the top headlight, or the head-steady in the shape of the NCC diamond. It’s a remarkable bike, built by a remarkable man (you’ll just have to live with it Nige, I’m not taking that bit out), to celebrate a remarkable occasion. One day all bikes were built this way.