Saving Sylvia

The 1958 Cub belonged to my wife's Aunt Sylvia in Ayr, who's in her 80's. She bought it in the early 1990’s to relive her misspent youth. But she struggled to start it and get it on and off the centre stand, so it ended up in the garden shed.

I've been with my wife since 2000 and knew about 'the Cub in the shed', but didn’t get a chance to see it until January 2019. It took ages to find the shed key, then a good dose of WD40 was needed to free the lock. Somehow I’d managed to convince myself that all the bike would require was a new battery, a carb clean and fresh petrol, but the truth was quite shocking!

When the door creaked open, there was the Cub, sitting under a hole in the roof on flat tyres.


It wasn't a pretty sight. The stand had gone through the floor and it was a sea of corrosion. After the initial disappointment I started to look for the positives, it was mostly there with only the battery box lid missing and miraculously the engine turned over. A ray of hope...


Clearly the bike had undergone a restoration of sorts, but it needed more than a wipe over with an oily rag.

Sylvia was furious with her bemused husband Alec for letting her bike get into such a state! It was agreed that the Cub needed restoring and that I could have it if Sylvia was allowed to ride it after the restoration. Unfortunately the battery box lid was nowhere to be found, neither was the registration document.

Once back in Gloucestershire I contacted Jason at Alien Bikes who battled February snow to collect the bike, now nicknamed 'Sylvia', and deliver her to my home.


I was keen to see if she'd run, so I cleaned the carb, set the points and connected a battery, amazingly there was a fat spark at the plug and the lights worked, despite the exposure to the elements that the switch had suffered.

Luckily the tank wasn't corroded inside so I fuelled up, put some oil down the plug hole, tickled the carb and after a dozen or so kicks she burst into smokey life. Result! Oil was circulating but she sounded a bit rough. At this point the kickstart pawl failed, queue total strip down.

Without going into massive detail, the frame, swing arm and nacelle went for powder coating whilst I cleaned up and painted the shocks and forks. New 17" stainless rims and spokes were ordered from the Devon Rim Co. I cleaned up and painted the hubs and replaced the bearings. Antig in Gloucester rebuilt the wheels and I treated them to new tyres. The swing arm bushes were clapped so I replaced them with a kit using metalastic bushes from Feked Ltd. The fork seals and steering bearings were replaced too.

I couldn't get hold of a battery box lid and missed out on a few on eBay. New boxes and lids were supposed to be coming available, at a price, but eventually I won an eBay auction and got a really good box and lid. All the tin wear went off to Dennis's Motorcycle Paint in Cirencester and he did a great job in Crystal Grey, the original colour.

The motor was a mix of 1950's and 60's, having a single row primary chain, later distributor type cases and square barrel and head. The clutch had to be unstuck and new springs were fitted, and I discovered that the drive side main bearing was rotating in the crankcase! Tom at Ryder Design in Cheltenham worked his magic and repaired it.

Fortunately the rest of the motor was OK and all I had to do was grind in the valves, fit new rings and replace the kickstart pawl.

Sylvia's reassembly was pretty straightforward. Once I had a rolling chassis, I rewired her using the original harness which was in good condition. The old plate rectifier was replaced with a solid state unit.

Because she had flat bars when I got her, I replaced them with another set that I had lying around. I was able to reuse the exhaust downpipe but the silencer had to be replaced. The centre stand needs repairing, hence the side stand.

All the rubbers were perished and Greystone Enterprises supplied replacements (along with loads of other parts over the course of the restoration). Once reassembly was complete it was time for a nervy first ride round the block. She started 2nd kick and ran well with no smoke or horrible noises. I love the sound and peppy performance of Cubs and Sylvia didn’t disappoint.


The only oil leak was from the rocker feed unions, which just needed nipping up.

The V5 never materialised so I got a replacement from the DVLA without any difficulties.

It was now January and not being a keen winter rider, all I could do was admire Sylvia in the garage and plan all the rides I was going to enjoy once Spring had sprung.

The season opener for me is the VMCC's Felix Burke scatter rally at the end of March, so I entered that and planned to enter the Signpost Rally in May. Sadly the Corona Bloody Virus has scuppered those plans so, other than for the occasional sneaky 'test' ride, Sylvia has had to remain in quarantine. It’s now May 10th and maybe Boris is going to allow us a bit more liberty in his address to the nation tonight. So hopefully, shortly, Sylvia and I will see you out on the road where we all belong.


And maybe Aunt Sylvia will get her first ride for 30 years!