Dr Glen Schaeffer and his travelling companion John Pickup certainly knew how to pick a mount for their photography expedition to Babylon, Baghdad and beyond in 1956 – here they are grinning toothily from atop their trusty 1950 BSA Golden Flash.
The 650cc Golden Flash was the first of the truly great BSA pre-unit 650s – it was ruggedly handsome, quick as a whip (it could hit 100mph without breaking a sweat) and it was a consistently good performer. During this period in British motorcycling history, ever-bigger parallel twins like the Triumph Thunderbird were arriving on the market to sate the voracious hunger for speed coming from across the pond. BSA had to really come up trumps to keep itself competitive, and this gold-ish coloured cruiser held its own against the big Triumphs for years. The bike’s A10 engine was a new design, different to the earlier A7, which was the first vertical twin BSA made and enjoyed great success.
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The next ‘generation’ A7s were based on the new A10, which featured light alloy con rods with conventional split big-ends complete with high tensile nickel chrome steel bolts. It wasn’t long before Road Rockets and Super Rockets took the mantle as the ‘hot’ A10s.
The A10 featured a central flywheel with the crank throws bolted onto it. This set-up is supported by a large roller bearing on the sprocket side of the cases. These motorcycles rolled off the production line outfitted with BSA’s own four-speed gearbox. The Golden Flash could also boast improved gas flow and porting, a new cylinder head design with integrated finning and improved front brakes to deal with the motorcycles new-found power. The motorcycle was made to work independently or with a sidecar, and was available with either rigid or plunger rear suspension.
This magnificent Golden Flash took these two gentlemen from Birmingham University across two continents on their foray into the mysterious ancient civilisations of North Africa and the Middle East. They first rode to Venice, where the motorcycle was allowed a respite as they took the boat across to Lebanon. From there they visited the ruins of three cities which, in a time long forgotten, were among the largest and most important cities in the world.
They visited Ur – an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia. Once a coastal city located near the mouth of the river Euphrates, Ur is now well inland. The city is famous for its royal tombs, which are remarkably well preserved even though they are over 5000 years old.
Dr Schaeffer and his companion Mr Pickup also travelled to Nineveh, which is an abandoned Assyrian city and capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, Nineveh was the largest city in the world for half a century. After a long and brutal civil war, Nineveh was eventually sacked by an army comprising of its former vassals.
The pair also rode to Baghdad. Bearing a distinct resemblance to the restless city it is today, Baghdad in the 1950s was a dangerous place following the Second World War. It was – and still is to this day – an intellectual epicentre for Islamic culture, with many important monuments and places of worship housed within its walls.
Of course, no journey to the heart of the Middle East would be complete without visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The men from Birmingham University stopped off in Babylon. This once bustling administrative hub houses the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and its renown is such that its name has stretched into popular culture – take the classic Rolling Stones album Bridges to Babylon as an example of how its fame has endured.
Once their sojourn into ancient history was complete, the Golden Flash swept them off to Turkey where they lived among Turkish villagers for a spell. Here Dr Schaeffer, who had renown as an experienced bird-watcher and nature photographer, took colour photographs of the wild flora and fauna. Clearly enjoying the BSA’s reputation as a solid and reliable cruiser, Glen and John rode back to Birmingham via Egypt – determined as they were to catch a glimpse of the pyramids at Giza before heading home.