Mark Appleton strips crankcases in relative seclusion.
Few people know that Canada’s largest importer and exporter of British motorcycle parts is here in Kings County.
But Mr. Appleton, owner and president of British Cycle Supply Company Ltd., enjoys the more romantic aspects of his trade, including this idyllic setting on Melanson Mountain.
The self-professed vegetarian runs the $1 million business - with a worldwide clientele - from a former rabbit farm.
And indeed, beyond the ringing phones of the main warehouse, it’s a quiet, leafy spot.
Inside, 10 people are in the midst of what will likely be a long shift. "We’re working here until 11:00, so we won’t kick you out at five," says employee Martin Singleton.
"Welcome to the nuthouse. If you’d like to be in an asylum, it’s a fun place to work" Appleton, 39, deadpans.
The staff, who’ve "come from everywhere," enjoy the peaceful countryside, although Appleton’s 71-year-old father runs a branch warehouse with four employees in New Jersey.
Having the main warehouse in Kings County, far from the madding crowd, does slow down shipping
"In Ontario it would be possible to get stuff out in one day. But the quality of life here is enough to make it worthwhile," says Appleton, who could probably ply his trade anywhere if he had to, because he loves it.
British Cycle carries new and used parts exclusively for Triumph, Norton and BSA bikes.
The original manufacturers went out of business in the 1970s and early ‘80s, but "the bikes didn’t disappear overnight when the industry did," says Appleton.
Some of the submanufacturers went bankrupt, while others went on to produce other things "and kept the tooling in the backrooms."
The demand for parts didn’t die, and some parts makers were urged back into production.
Appleton carries current production from those outside companies, used parts salvaged from wrecked bikes and original inventory that never sold.
Up to 50 years old, this inventory is in mint condition and in the original packages -like the Stadium motorcycle goggles "especially designed to fit over spectacles." Appleton chuckles as he reads the flowing script on the box.
In the used-parts warehouse under his apartment, there’s a labyrinth of shelves stacked with vintage valves, brackets, fork assemblies and chrome.
"It's like a time warp," he says.
This museum-like warehouse is one of two, with two trailers and a freight container to boot.
Appleton set up this kingdom of parts in 1983 after running a small shop in Wolfville.
He repaired lawnmowers when he first came to the Valley at 21. He’d moved from Toronto after he and a college buddy toured Nova Scotia on motorbikes.
As a teenager, Appleton worked for Firth Motorcycles, the main Norton importer in Toronto.
In 1989, he bought them out:
"Everything they had left." The stock had filled a three-storey building.
In 1991, he bought a mountain of BSA parts from Firth’s rival, McBride Cycle, which had turned him down for a job as a teen. McBride was Canada’s main BSA importer, and Appleton hauled away a 40-foot tractor-trailer full of stock.
"McBride is still around as a dealer, but they stopped distributing BSA parts in the early '70s, shortly before BSA went bankrupt."
The Triumph stock came from Raymond-Burke Motors of London, Ont. "When the owner died, his wife sold, us everything he had left."
Appleton walks past a dark cubbyhole stacked with gas tanks - a former bathroom - into a cellar, pulling the chain on an overhead light.
"I’ve just got to get a set of crankcases to go out to Alberta," he says. He finds one that has lots of extra nuts and bolts.
"It’s a real global thing, motorcycles. You’d think everybody’d be provincial, but it’s one of the most global industries. It’s a universal sport"
He plunks the crankcase on a workbench and fishes in a tool chest for the right wrench.
"It’s amazing. I have to go around and visit suppliers. I’ve found people still willing to make stuff and go around trying to sell it," he says.
The wrench doesn’t fit. "One time you could look at them and know what size to use," he says, casting it aside.
"1 can’t think of too many countries we don’t ship to. Even in India, Turkey. A guy from Scotland came by today..."
He taps the vice-grips with a hammer. Nothing. He taps a little harder. Nothing. "I’m very upset I can’t find the right wrench." He opens another drawer.
"Luckily, English is universal. We have more trouble with Quebec. We have a very good Quebec competitor..."
He pauses. "There’s got to be an elegant way to do that!" he says with a note of exasperation.
Appleton says tinkering with parts seems stone-age in a world of computers. Not that British Cycle is any stranger to technology. It put inventory on-line in 1985 and publishes catalogues.
But unlike a lot of other machines these days, a motorcycle can be stripped down to the smallest nut, bolt and washer.
"Somebody made this form out of wood," he says, a hand on the crankcase. "It was the last gasp of the industrial revolution. Now people sit at keyboards."
Motorcycle repair is romantic in the "same way people can find romance in shipbuilding."
"It’s not practical. It’s out of date. You can’t rationalize it. It’s hard to qualify it in hard-core terms."
But part of the appeal is that it’s "all very direct and very basic."
Another part of the appeal is working with the people involved, he says.
"People still do travel around on these old machines. Some go fast, some slow, some to show off, or to not be seen. Some just want to fix them."
The Chronicle-Herald, September 5, 1995
British Cycle Supply Co. Ltd.
Owner: Mark Appleton, 39.
Originally from Toronto. First came to Nova Scotia on motorcycle tour.
Merchandise: Parts for Triumph, Norton and BSA bikes.
Sales: $1 million annually.
Appleton: "As far as what I make, it’s a labor of love."
Staff: 16 employees. "Everybody’s on overtime."
Location: Headquarters and warehouses in Gaspereau. Adjunct warehouse in New Jersey.
Imports: "..... our parts have to come from England, Italy, Spain, Germany Taiwan, the U.S., Japan, some stuff from West Germany." There are batteries from India and seats from Ohio.
Exports: "Can’t think of too many countries we don’t ship to."
Shipping: "Canada Post sends up a truck every day. . . . People fax and they like the items dispatched by Priority Post."