Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

On Your bike: No rodent rage as bike gets mouse mascot back

The only trace was two small holes

When Jack Agnew first laid eyes on the small stylish Italianbike, there was a mouse on the front mudguard. He successfully negotiated to buy the machine from its owner in Italy but, when the bike eventually arrived at his home in Co Antrim, there was no mouse. The only trace of it was two small holes.

Jack explains: "The mouse was a period mascot from the 50s and the owner did not wish to be parted from it so it was not included in the deal."

But when Jack was restoring the MB bike, with its German-made NSU Fox 98cc engine with overhead valve, he never gave up hope that the mouse and the mudguard would be reunited one day.

Such was his faith that, when the machine was being painted, he told the sprayer not to fill in the two holes that held the mouse to the guard.

His determination was to win through and he persuaded the Italian owner to swap the mouse for a plaque commemorating an Ulster motorcycling event. The little MB machine was made in 1953 and is one of two bikes that Jack owns. He acquired it about 10 years ago.

He has a passion for motorcycles and it started long before he was even old enough to get a licence.

His father owned a garage in Dunadry, selling cars and bikes, and also had a coal business.

Jack couldn't wait to leave school and begin working alongside his father. When he was 16, he got his first bike - a 1929 BSA 500 "sloper".

"Its top speed was 50 and I thought I was going to take off," he recalls.

Jack has always had a fascination for Italian machines. He believes there is something about the Italians' flair for design and styling that helps to create a special bike - a view that will ring a bell with many.

In recent times, Ducati's 916 is an excellent example. And as a 15-year-old, I used to make a detour to gaze at a Ducati 200 in a local dealer's window in my hometown. I thought it was the most beautiful bike in the world.

Back to Jack. He soon realised that he had a natural aptitude for riding bikes - so much so that he went on to become Irish grass track champion, a title he held seven time, using Jap-engined machines.

His father was "mad keen" on bikes too and used to help Jack to prepare his grass trackers, including a Royal Enfield Bullet with a 350 Jap engine and a 500 Jap engine in a BSA frame.

Over the years, Jack has collected and restored various bikes, both road and race. Now he has downsized to the MB and a Matchless G50 racer made in 1959.

He bought the 500 single in 1974. One previous owner was Stanley McKee, one of our top travelling marshals, who used to race it. By the time the G50 had left Stanley's hands and passed through others before reaching Jack, the machine was in a pretty poor state of repair. But that did not put Jack off from tackling the restoration.

He is meticulous in all things, whether it involves the Northern Ireland section of the Vintage Motorcycle Club or organising bike events. Naturally he carries the same attention to detail into his restoration work.

"Billy McCosh told me the tank was not the correct one for the year. I found out who owned the one I needed, John Carson, and did a swap," Jack says.

Gradually Jack rebuilt the bike, whose rear hub boss had collapsed. Today the bike is immaculate.

When I gazed at the G50 - yes, I'm old enough to remember them racing - I have to confess to envy. No, not envy, too weak a word, but lust, pure lust. I would love to have it in my garage.

Jack Agnew is one of life's gentlemen. He is ever so knowledgeable about all things biking. His enthusiasm is still that of a teenager and meeting up with him is always a pleasure.

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