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‘69 BSA Firebird – ‘Agnes’


Posted on November 11, 2013 by Andrew in Bobber, Classic. 50 comments

Like any creative pursuit, it always helps to have some form of inspiration for a bike build. It could be as simple as referencing another bike or builder that you like. Or maybe it’s a particular decade from history that gets your juices flowing. Whatever the case, we’re pretty confident when we say that you’d have a hard time surprising us with your choice. We’ve pretty much seen them all. Or at least that’s what we thought until we met Michael Alton. See, his inspiration was from none other than his grandmother, who also happened to be a World War II roller derby queen and a woman who liked getting around town on a ‘38 Indian Chief. Her name was Agnes; now meet the rather inspirational bike that bears her name.

“So the story starts about three years ago. My Aunt and Uncle happened to be in town visiting the family and we got into a conversation about my grandmother, Agnes. Now, I’ve heard these stories before but I was much younger then and truthfully I didn’t really remember them. My mom and my aunt go into stories about how my grandmother, while in her 20s and during World War 2, was a roller derby chick and how she rode around on her brother’s 1938 Indian Chief. At that moment I got a bit of inspiration. I would try and build a bike reminiscent of the time period, and dedicate it to my grandmother. I started looking for a Indian and quickly realized that they were out of my price range. I put it on the back burner for a bit and kind of forgot about it until my buddy Josh told me that he had a 1969 BSA Firebird basket case I could have, so I jumped on it.”

“Now, I’ve owned motorcycles, but up until this point I’ve never tried to take on a project like this. I mean, I’m a hairstylist not a bike builder – but I thought that I should be able to do it. I needed some inspiration on the look and typically I gravitate towards older bikes. I absolutely love the feel and esthetics of the 30s, 40s, and 50s motorcycles with the girder and springer style forks and the hard-tailed frames; they have to be my favorite. I have a web-based cloud completely full of bike images. I love the look and feel of road racing motorcycles, pre-dating the whole café look. So that’s where I would start.”

“Next came the narrowing of an original ribbed duck-tail Wassell fender, cutting up a BSA C 11 oil tank so that it would fit and would also have the look I was going for. I made the seat pan, battery box and license plate bracket. It took me about a year to find the perfect headlight assembly and tail light. I also managed to track down a set of inverted levers. I did all the leather work on the bike as well – with the exception of the tooling; my buddy Victor did that.

Then came the engine, which turned out to be a bit of nightmare. I wanted to break it all the way down to crank; this bike is a daily rider and I wanted it to be able to perform like one. I put a lot of quality and high end parts in it. The first case I had cracked while putting it back together, so I had to track down another and I somehow ended up with an A50 case. I eventually got everything back together, replaced the stator with an upgraded high output unit, replaced the oil pump with an SRM one, replaced the oil sump plate with and SRM one, new pistons and rings, all new bearings, everything. I like the look and function of the late model timing side cover, so I replaced it. The top end was replaced with Kibblewhite parts, springs, valves, and valve guides. I bought a brand new Amal premiere concentric 930 carb as well.”

“I’d like to thank a few people that helped me along this ride with their expertise and generosity including Anthony Aldridge, Josh Card, Daryl O’neil, Charles Gant, Junior Burrell, Victor Carmona and last but not least my wife for letting build a motorcycle in our dinning room, for 6 months.”

[Photos by Ben D’Avanza at www.bendavanza.com]








  • Novak Tomovic

    I would change only 3 things on it:
    1. Add basic gauges to make it street legal
    2. Put side mirror on the end of handlebar
    3. Owner – meee

    I couldn’t transfer the ‘perfect bike” vision to the build from my mind better than this is.

    • Michael Alton

      I’ve got a set of Smith’s chronometric gauges I’m gonna put on, just haven’t yet. And I couldn’t put a mirror on the end of the bar, because of the inverted levers.

      • Novak Tomovic

        then we should agree on the price 🙂 🙂
        Great bike!
        Regarding the gauges – in my country without them and all lights you can not register bike – European laws suck 🙂

        • ccc40821

          Depends on where in Europe; in most European countries motorcycles have to comply with the laws & regulations that existed when the bike in question was reg’d first time. Here in Denmark you can register a 1926 bike without front brake, a 1980 bike without turn signals, and any bike without instruments; as long as you keep a safe driving distance to the vehicle in front, or use hand signals, or don’t exceed the speed limit you’ll be ok.

          In some places – like England, The Netherlands (and probably more) – under some circumstances you can ride a competition bike on the street with only a brake light, though of course it is in daylight only.

          • Novak Tomovic

            Montenegro 🙂 Our traffic laws are so under-spoken that you never get what you want… in one time, they even didn’t had clause were you do not have to wear a seatbelt in car IF car does not have them (e.g. old-timers, old trucks etc). We are struggling … any case of custom bike or car is also difficult as hell to get road approval … and more stupid problems, e.g. Christini AWD bike can not be registered as street legal, as 2 in-line wheeled transportations (bike and motorcycle) are defined as one wheel drives.

          • ccc40821

            I symphatize. Denmark is also unusually strict compared to the rest of Europe, though they do have loosened up a bit lately. Minor mods like clip-ons or shortened fenders are now tolerated/semi-legal, but no way you can legally build a chopper from ground up with new frame and extended forks. One can get away with the hipster style featured so often here, but not much more than that.

          • Montenegro?!!
            You have some beautiful and twisty roads there Novak. The landscape in some routes is awesome 🙂

          • Novak Tomovic

            Landscape in all routes is awesome… 🙂 not to be modest – but over 95% f our roads in not ‘contaminated’ with factory landscapes or anything ugly… the diversity of things to see is huge… and we are still one of the few countries in the world where in the spring/ beginning of summer you can swim at the sea in the morning and then drive to the ski resort and ski in the afternoon 🙂 it is only 250km ride 🙂

      • Chris

        INVERTED
        LEVERS ONLY FOR MEN

      • Ron Campbell

        I am a bit late to the game, Love the build. where did you source the tank if you do not mind me asking. I have a similar build and need that tank

    • Ron Kempf

      It’s perfectly legal without gauges in Texas. I haven’t run any on my current bike in years.

  • John in Pollock

    Best bike in weeks.

  • Stephen

    Your bike…and your Grandma are very cool.
    I’d love to own that bike, it’s beautiful.

  • brad barber

    Beautiful build. Congratulations.

  • blaze818

    That bike looks GREAT!! love the lights

  • revdub

    Now, that’s a beautiful bike. I’d love to ride that. Great job, man.

  • coldsunshine

    That pinion pad looks…uh…cozy?

    • Michael Alton

      Not really made for a passenger, but for a race look and feel, but the wife can fit on it, if she chooses.

      • “if she chooses” I love this quote.
        Michael your bike is a beauty, congrats man!

        P.S. -This headlight is the definition of cool 😉

  • bill smith

    Nothing like a classic well built hard tail chopper that appears to be period correct. Beautiful!.

  • Hugh Roberts

    I like the photo of his Grandmother in the tax disk holder.

  • Eli Park-Yanovitch

    These are some of the most beautiful pics I’ve ever seen on this site. The bike is gorgeous but the image quality is absolutely impeccable. Any notes on the camera/lens from the photographer (“Ben”)?

    • Michael Alton

      you can contact Ben at http://www.bendavanza.com, he’ll be happy to answer any questions you’ve got about it.

    • Benjamin D’Avanza

      Thank you! I used a Canon 5d mkII but the image quality came from the main light source, a 3×6 Northlight box with a grid. The beautiful bike didn’t hurt either.

    • Link to Ben’s site just added to story. 🙂

  • JLKasper

    I love the contrast of the shiny chrome and the patina of the engine cases and brassware. Great build!

  • AndrésduVal

    PRECIOSA….!!!!!!

  • R_Melaun

    I am stunned. Brilliant design and execution.

  • Michael Alton

    Wanted to say thank you to my buddy Isiah Booth at City of Hate here in Dallas, for helping me out with the wiring. One more cog in this machine.

  • CAPT

    Your bike was posted on the Soviet Steeds site.
    Very Very NICE JOB !!! I also love the Cameo Picture of Agnes on the bike.
    I noticed the “Flatter” tire tread design which would be great for Bikes with a Hack.
    Could you get me info on the rear tire. I build a Ural to look late 40’s early 50’s ish
    Called the Kabul Kab Service that I have drive 2 pushers off.

    • ccc40821

      Tire looks like a Dunlop K70, classic 1970s style. Have a look at Avon AM7 Mk II with the zig-zag pattern; it’s a sidecar tire, but probably better than the repro zig-zag Firestones so many run with.

      • Michael Alton

        You’re right it’s a Dunlop K70 3.5″ on a 19″ WM3 rim. I chose the Dunlop mostly because it’s not that easy to find a rear 3.5 “x19” tire, the K70 can be used for the front or the rear.

        • CAPT

          Thanks, I’ll check it out for 4:00×19’s
          Also, sorry for the 2 misspells, It’s I Built, 2nd is Driven two pushers off.

  • duh

    wow…beautiful bike!! nice build.

  • 3s and 7s

    Love it, love everything about it

  • rosgo

    I was born in 69 wish I looked this good

  • sleevedout

    This bike makes me hard.

  • Travis Coover

    Love the bike Michael; you really knocked it out of the park. The photographs are stellar as well Ben! Cheers to you both!

  • bartsky

    beauty!

  • Classy little bike!

  • Aris Polymeroudis

    Sheer..class , that’s what I’d say. Great job, Michael.

  • Shawn

    Not hating or anything, but this is just a re-pop of Ian Barry’s Falcon Bullet. From the reversed levers, to the tool bag, even the seat and the taillight are the same. It’s a good copy, and a nice bike, but it lacks something of the Bullet.

    • redrumracer

      i really don’t agree with you on that Shawn. yes, it’s a british based bobber with some ‘similar’ period based british design features. girder fork, reverse levers etc. there ends the similarities between this and the Falcon Bullet 🙂

      • Michael Alton

        Yes there are similarities as you say Shawn, and I’d be lying if I say I didn’t think that when I saw the Falcon for the first time, I was blown away. But where as Ian says his bike its an interpretation on a board track racer, mine is more 30s style road racer. A lot of motorcycles during those times had a lot of similar attributes in styling and the lines can become blurred. Also those bikes all used the same manufactures for their parts, I tried to stay as period correct as I could. On saying that, thank you for the compliment to reference to Ian’s bike, even though I don’t believe mine can even come close to his brilliance and craftsmanship.

        • brad barber

          Michael, Beautiful Texas build. What front end did you use? I’m building a 1969 B25 for Bonneville and plan to switch to a springer front end.

          • Michael Alton

            I used an Indian made repop of a Norton 16h, I got it from a guy named Rohan that owns a business called Replica Metal. You can find him on Facebook. I’ve got over a 1000 miles on it, on some of the worst roads around and I’ve not had a single problem. But if owning an Indian made product bothers you, my buddy across the ocean, Jake Robbins now makes a replica front end that is amazing! Briton Bees will be selling them shortly.

          • brad barber

            Michael, thanks for the info. I’m Facebook friends with Jake & Briton and have been looking at those already. I’m having Framecrafters make a +2″ hardtail and need to measure a few things. Happy new year and congrats again on a beautiful build.

  • emeglasson

    Michael, I feel badly that I didn’t post a comment when this bike first appeared. But, as I am looking at it again, I am reminded of how beautiful your bike is. It easily ranks as one of my top 5 bikes of all time. Possibly top 3. The proportions are spot on perfect. The details are amazing. I wouldnt change a thing. I don’t mind no gauges or mirrors for street riding personally, though they are a convenience. And I do prefer bikes with rear suspension, but I would still be absolutely delighted to ride this and damn proud of it if I were the owner, let alone builder. Very nice work. Eric, from Spin Cycle Industries.

    • Michael Alton

      Thanks a lot man, it means so much. Believe it or not, it’s actually not a bad ride at all. BTW, you build some great looking bikes as well, funny thing I’m actually helping a buddy of mine build up a cb500, and one of his inspiration bikes is one of yours.

  • steven pruitt

    I live i texas also and have a 67 bsa . Fyi im stealing some of your ideas lol. Awesome bike. Very tasteful. Well done sir