My “Babetta board track racer” project

This page is a sort of diary to record the progress of my latest project which I could describe as a replica of a bike that the competition department of the Považské Strojárne plant at Považské Bystrica in Western Slovakia might have produced, immediately after the first world war (when Czechoslovakia was first formed as a country in its own right), had they had a competition department and had the factory even existed then, which it didn’t.

The inspiration for the project came from reading a history of the most dangerous of bike sports in the Jawa-CZ Owners club magazine, Torque, called Board Track Mayhem by Allan Jermieson. Board track racing took place, almost exclusively in America, from 1909 till the mid 1930s’, on wooden surfaced banked tracks, bigger versions of the velodromes still used for cycle racing to this day.  Read the full article yourself from the link above.
I was also inspired to make my own “board track racer” by this bike that I saw at the Stafford Classic Mechanics Show in October 2013. This was on the stand of a company called a supplier of motorcycle parts and accessories. The bike had been built by one of their staff, only identified as ‘Jerry’.  It has a half bicycle, half Puch moped frame and a 50cc Puch Magnum engine.  It is in the general style of a board track race bike incorporating some of the common features found in the original bikes.

Genuine board track bikes have a number of common features, many of which were carried over from the road bikes of the day.  These included large diameter wheels, pedals, low seat set well back, wide swept-back dropped handlebars, big single or v-twin engines, no front mudguard, just a very short rear guard, no brakes, no lights or other road going niceties. Many incorporate the white (or off-white) tyres that were common at the time.  There is still a lot of interest in these bikes, particularly in the USA, and even some racing of original and replica bikes.  Below are a few pictures of genuine board track racers.

These are, from the top - 1923 Harley Davidson, a beautifully original Indian, a Reading Standard, a 1915 Excelsior and two period pictures of board track racing in France.

Below are, from the top - a single cylinder Flying Merkel, a restored 1915 Indian, a Harley Davidson, an earlier single cylinder Indian, an as-found Indian v-twin, a very original Excelsior at a present day race meeting and another Excelsior.

An internet search shows that many other people share my interest in producing their own version of a replica board track racer. Photos of a few that I particularly liked are below.

Making A Start
From the start, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted white tyres. I searched for these and at first only found some far too expensive new-old-stock white tyres in the USA.  Further searching found some German made, cream coloured Schwalbe bicycle tyres on UK eBay.  These were 26”  “cargo” tyres in a choice of two widths - 2.15” or 2.25.  Knowing that I could get the tyres I wanted, I set about finding a suitable frame to modify.
I wanted to have pedals no matter what engine I finished up using, since the originals from the 1900s were still very close to their origins as motorised bicycles and mostly still had pedals, even when equipped with a large capacity v-twin engine.  As you see on the above pictures, the frames all closely resembled the bicycles with engines that were the very first motorised two wheelers. They all have solid rear ends and front forks were strengthened and later ones had sprung forks. An old, cheap, push bike frame was sought on ebay. Many old frames, particularly racing bike frames, are regarded as collectable or restorable and so command high prices.
I eventually found a rather tatty frame, suitable for 26” tyres, off an ex Post Office bike for only Ł33. This is British made in the 1940s or 1950s to be used for postal deliveries and includes lugs behind the headstock for mounting a large basket for the sack of letters. The front forks turned out to be too narrow at the top for my tyre to fit between so I found another, slightly wider, set of forks, from eBay again, off a later Raleigh bike with the correct length, 1” diameter, steerer. The bottom bracket, where the pedal shaft fits, is an old style thread less version intended for an enclosed bearing set that could be filled with oil - not now easily obtainable. I have found a bearing set that includes press-in bearing cups (instead of the currently more normal screw in cups) that will fit my frame after a bit of grinding to size, but I will have to do something clever with the Babetta pedal shaft to suit this set up.
I haven’t had anything to do with cycles for many decades, so this project opened up for me, a whole new world of cycle terms and conventions, a very complicated way of sizing tyres and rims and a bewildering assortment of thread types and sizes. Up until comparatively recently there were no widely accepted international standards for sizes, fittings and threads for bicycles and as a result fittings were made in a number of slightly different sizes making finding the correct parts a bit of a headache.

The story will be continued, in the meantime, here’s a couple of pictures of progress up to mid Oct.’04