History of BSA Motorcycles


The Birmingham Small Arms Company, (BSA), was formed in Birmingham in 1861.   The premises were located in an area of the city called “the Gun Quarter” and the Company made guns, vehicles and military equipment.  In 1910 BSA began producing complete motorbikes.  Previous to this, the engines for their bikes had been supplied by other manufacturers.  1919 saw further development of the business when BSA Motorcycles was formed into a subsidiary company of BSA.  
 
BSA's motorbikes were marketed as affordable motorcycles for the everyday road-user, with the accent on reliability, the availability of parts and a good after-sales service.  The bikes themselves were OHV and side-valve machines which would mostly be used for commuting, though many were bought for use by the Post Office and the Automobile Association, (AA).
 
Following the Second World War, BSA began to explore the racing market.  A handful was entered into races like the TT, but it wasn't until the Junior Clubman races, (smaller bikes doing a few laps of an Isle of Man track), that BSA began to make its mark.  This is evidenced by the fact that in the late 1940s there were only a few BSA motorcycles in the races but by 1952, most of the motorbikes were BSAs.
 
In 1951, at the height of its popularity, BSA was the biggest manufacturer of motorbikes in the world.  In the same year, BSA took over Triumph Motorcycles along with Sunbeam, Ariel and New Hudson.
 
In 1954 BSA decided to enter a team in the Daytona Beach Race.  It was made up of Gold stars, (single-cylinder) and Shooting Stars, (twin-cylinder).  They took the first 5 places plus 8th and 16th.  In 1964 and 1965, Jeff Smith rode a B50, (500cc), to win the FIM Motocross World Championship.  The title would not be won again by a 4-stroke for another 30 years.
 
By the mid-60s, however, competition from the Japanese manufacturers was shifting the balance of the market and the Europeans were offering makes such as Husqvarna, Bultaco and Jawa/CZ.  Scooters were outselling mopeds and larger capacity bikes were making their mark.  In addition, some unfortunate marketing decisions added to the Company’s problems.
 
Heavily in debt, 1968 saw BSA adding a 3-cylinder bike, the 'Rocket Three', to its range of singles and twins in an effort to improve sales and to try and increase market share, the company announced its intention to concentrate on the American and Canadian markets.  Despite adding an assortment of modern accessories, this was not a successful venture.  In 1971 the Company went through a process of reorganisation and production was moved to Triumph's site in Meriden, with engines and components being manufactured at BSA's factory in Birmingham.
 
In 1972 a merger with Norton Villiers saw the Norton 500 single as a possible saviour, but few were sold.  Though BSA was excluded from the title, what was to become Norton-Villiers-Triumph would produce 4 models up to 1973: the Gold Star, (500cc), the Rocket Three, (750cc), the Thunderbolt, (650cc) and the Lightning, (650cc).  However, the idea of combining Triumph, BSA and Norton was resisted by the workers.  BSA and Norton closed down while Triumph managed to survive for another four years.
 
BSA motorcycles survive today as the BSA Regal Group which was created in 1991.  It is based in Southampton and specialises in the production of retro-styled motorcycles.
  
In its day, BSA was a leader and an innovator in the motorcycle world.  They were able to boast that one out of four bikes on the road, was a BSA motorcycle.  When you ride a 'Beezer', as they were called, you're not just riding a classic BSA motorcycle you're riding a piece of history.