The moped culture of the early 70’s left the biking world with a host of great memories. The greatest tales of all have to be those concerning exactly which was the fastest machine out there. Stories of 50cc bikes achieving 70 mph were commonplace and yet, not once, to our knowledge, has any such event ever been witnessed by a third party, let alone officially recorded.
During a conversation with a few of the leading sports moped protagonists we suddenly realised that this situation could be rectified. At first it felt like the impossible. We had to get as many 70’s mopeds together, in the same venue and on the same day, to run them past a speed camera. Could it be done? Many said not, however, a few pulled together none the less and made it happen. The event was planned many months previously with all of the relevant owners clubs and websites alerted to our needs and requirements. Slowly but surely the bikes emerged as owners committed to being there. It would have been great to have one of each type but in reality this was never going to happen due to the vast amount of machines that were available during the period. There was some holes in the line up however, the Puch Magnum for example and the odd balls like the Gitane, Flandria and Kreidler all proved elusive. At the last count, over fifty different types of moped was on the market at various times during the period between 1972 and the end of the true nifty fifty era in 1977. If we had managed to secure one of every make, type and model variant, then we may well still be going up and down the airfield now.
If we allowed ten minutes per machine then, with the amount of bikes that we had, it would have taken three hours to run each one past the speed gun, add a little time for the odd break down or even a pee and the day would soon be gone. It just remained to be seen if the holy grail of 50mph would be achieved.
The disused RAF base at Manby affords miles of both empty, and wide tarmac. We could safely run each machine up to its top speed without worrying about other road users and, more importantly, we could group the bikes behind the camera car, ready for the closing tracking shot, something that simply wouldn’t have been safe on the public roads.
To record the top speeds we used the superb Bushnell speedster Radar gun. This compact and lightweight unit can record speeds from 6 – 200 mph at a distance of 1350 feet away from the travelling object. All this and with stunning accuracy.
AP50 owner, Pete Egan manned the gun, while fizzie man Steve Fitzsimmons, kept the scores. For the first runs part of the perimeter track was use and this involved a high-speed, curved approach to the speed gun. This was necessary as former RAF Manby is now home to the Manby Motorplex driving experience business, and they were using the straight runways for a customer to try his hand driving a 40-foot lorry, it was decided that we give this guy a wide birth.
The same technique was adopted for each and every moped, I used the outward leg to ascertain the power characteristics of the machine and then gave it the berries on the return run up to the speed gun. I purposefully used a stretch of over banding to run against so the bikes were passing the gun at roughly the same spot each time and thankfully the gun did lock on firmly to its target every time without fail. Most bikes felt familiar due to their obvious similarities, however some had very narrow power bands and needed a keen foot to keep the peaky engines on song while others had a right hand gearshifts and a multitude of patterns required to get the ratios.
The biggest shock came with the Fantic Chopper. The lengthy, 1425mm wheelbase, the huge rear tyre, the laid back seating position and a dry weight of 80kgs, all conspire to create a weird handling machine. This was not made any better by my attempts at getting down and aerodynamic on the machine, this attitude placed more load on the spindly front wheel than would normally be encountered if the “proper” riding position had been used and the result was a weird steering and very unstable bike, especially at speed. Even stranger was the view from the Fantic Chopper once in a racing crouch, the fancy steel work between the handlebars was like looking through an ornamental gate, and I felt like a Yorkshire terrier barking at the postman.
Some machines pulled straight into top gear and sustained it all the way around the approaching bend, while others, notably the Garelli Tigers, preferring to be over revved well into in third, before slipping into top at the last minute. Even with this technique it wasn’t really apparent if we were actually gaining speed or simply holding ground once top gear was home. On all of the bikes, attempts were made to make myself as small as possible by holding the fork leg, flat track style, or even folding my left arm behind my back. Once again the outward leg was used to see what style, if any, had any sizeable impact upon the top speed. This one handed technique was fine on all but the comically styled, and inherently unstable, Fantic Chopper. A fully flat racing crouch appeared to make little difference to the chopper with its huge backrest, come air brake, sticking out proudly at the rear.
With the first couple of attempts successfully completed, some owners where a little disgruntled, as the recorded speeds were not as expected, there was even the odd soft toy flying around. I assured them that I was riding each one the same, giving it every thing the tiny engines had to offer at all times and that the problem was one of a slight cross wind as we made the turn which then became a head wind on the run down to the speed gun. The decision was made to carry on as we were, recording all of the bikes under the same set of circumstances and then move to a better position, should time allow, later in the day.
Brent Fielder, author of the superb Bumper book of Sports Mopeds, had brought his most recent restoration project, a cracking looking Honda SS50. The machine smelt of fresh paint and was still a bit wet here and there, having only been completed the evening before the run. The SS50 is a personal favourite of mine having been my first real road bike way back in my youth. From the off this SS felt way different to the other peds, Brent had fitted a bigger capacity engine into the moped chassis and the power was simply huge by comparison. So much so that, unlike the peaky two strokes that required every gear in the box to get away from a standstill, there was no need to change down from top to first gear at the turn around point ready for the speed run. I had sussed the big engine out from the minute I cocked a leg over it but few of the others had. It was the very first time the bike had been run and I was under strict orders to run it in a bit. Even so, you should have seen the faces of ‘ped owners all around as the Honda simply whistled through the gun at an effortless 55mph; the few teddies that were left over following the first flare up had been well and truly thrown out of the cot with this development. Of course a standard Honda would have crossed the beam in the lower reaches of the 40mph zone, Brent had only brought his big bore SS for the benefit of the cameras, as we couldn’t find a willing Honda owner for the test proper, but it was funny to see none the less.
All of the bikes ran perfectly well throughout the day’s events, not one engine coughed or spluttered despite my best attempts to make them do so. The only mechanical defect of the day being a loose front wheel spindle on Duncan Egginton’s Gilera Enduro. The front-end felt a bit wobbly on the way down to the turn around point in readiness for the first run so, I stopped to check what the problem was. The spindle nut was completely loose and the forks were able to move around particularly under braking. I considered it to be ok to run it through the speed gun providing the nut stayed put. I could see it quite clearly throughout the run and luckily it played the game and didn’t move any further. I just couldn’t resist stopping the bike in our make shift paddock and whipping the spindle and front wheel out, much to the amazement of all.
We completed the runs with all of the bikes and then decided to move to a straighter piece of tarmac following a short lunch break. The lorry had stopped its experience runs by now and the main runway had become vacant; this meant we could get a good tail wind all the way up to and past the speed gun. Instantly speeds were increased by around 5 mph across the board, despite a lengthy up hill gradient before flattening off past the speedgun, and smiles were returning to ‘ped owners faces all around, they even started picking up teddies and putting them back in the toy box. The overall results remained the same however, with the wind playing fair and not favouring the slower machines completely vindicating the decision to keep on with the runs in the morning session.
All but the Malaguti Cavalcone Cross broke though the 45mph zone quite comfortably, with many nudging the magical 50mph barrier with ease. Seven machines did break through this figure, maintaining speed quite happily, while some may have cracked the mythical 60mph barrier had we persevered with them. One thing I did try to take note of during the runs was the top speeds seen on the bikes speedo’s. I didn’t have a pen and paper to hand, I was, after all, busy doing other things, but I can tell you that not one machine was doing anything like the speed the needle was suggesting. All of the Latin models without fail, were over reading by large amounts. The Japanese machines tended to be a little more honest, only over reading by a few miles per hour but even so this led the me to believe that both the Fizzie and AP50 were achieving over fifty instead of just under it. The Italians without fail felt faster, even the ones that set the same top speed as the oriental models. The combination of a stiff chassis and rasping exhaust just seemed to add up to a more exciting ride. Riding the bikes back to back showed clearly that the Japanese machine were buy far the best engineering wise being more civilised and user friendly while the Italian mounts just had that little something extra at the expense of a rawness and basic build technique.
Machine, Speed, Owner
Fantic GT Super 6,56mph – Ian Turley
Garelli Tiger mk1, 53mph – Ian Ritchie
Garelli Special, 52mph – Andy Carter
Fantic Super T, 51mph – Andy Carter
Garelli Rekord, 51mph – Dave Hooper
Garelli Tiger mk 1.5, 51mph – Jim Graham
Gilera RS trials, 50mph – Derek Bool
Yamaha FSIE DX, 49mph – Steve Fitzsimmons
Suzuki AP50, 49mph – Pete Egan
Garelli Rekord cross, 49mph – Gary Hughes
Garelli Tiger mk2, 49mph – Jim Graham
Fantic Super T, 48mph – Andy Carter
Fantic Chopper, 47mph – Andy Carter
Gilera Enduro, 47mph – Duncan Eggington
Fantic Caballero, 46mph – Ian Turley
Malaguti Superquattro, 45mph – John Sturdy
Malaguti Cavalcone cross, 35mph – Duncan Eggington
In the sin bin (eliminated due to owner cheating)
Honda SS50 (108cc), 55 mph – Brent Fielder
Moped Shootout Gallery
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