Hello, British Cycle Supply... Mark speaking... how can we help you tonight?" Tucked away near tiny Wolfville, N.S., is a business with six telephone lines, eight computers, eight staff members, two local warehouses (one in New Jersey) and a forty-five foot trailer full of parts. If you need a piece for a British bike, odds are that somewhere in all of that they will be able to find what you’re looking for.
It’s a going concern, a real Canadian business success story. The company is one of America’s biggest sources of parts for British motorcycles, and in fact has just bought several large inventories, including those of the venerable Firth Motorcycles and a recent huge clearance from McBride Cycle, both in Toronto.
British Cycle Supply Limited is currently dealing with more than 150 suppliers world-wide, and is handling parts that date back to the 1930s. Since a lot of manufacturers in those days shared the sources of some their components, you may well find carburetor or gearbox parts for your Velo or Royal Enfield as readily as for a more common Triumph or Norton. It’s worth a try.
Mark Appleton, owner and parts manager, became interested in motorcycles early in his life. As are many of us, he was a bike-crazy kid, fitting motors to bicycles and fixing old machines, all the while wishing he was working in an official bike shop.
Mark’s introduction to the business came from applying for a job at McBride Cycle in Toronto, where he was turned down! He went to Firth’s on the Danforth, famous for Nortons. Harry Firth hired him, and Mark began his tutelage under the direction of the late Roy Gregory. Mark speaks highly of Roy and to this day is constantly reminded of him since some of the Norton stock bin labels are still in Roy’s handwriting.
Mark later spent time in the Sudbury area with a Honda shop before making his way eastward. After moving to the Maritimes, his motorcycle involvement was solely for himself for a while.
Then he began to get dragged into working on other people’s bikes as dealerships failed or drifted into the Japanese line of sales. Slowly, this meagre start developed into a storefront in Wolfville.
Eventually Raymond-Burke Motors, the Triumph importer for Canada (based in London, Ont.), set him up as a Triumph dealer and then Firth’s made him a Norton rep. As British Cycle Supply became better known, the Nova Scotia dealers who had moved to the Japanese brands began selling their British inventories to BCS. As the specialized direction of his business became more evident, Mark discontinued the street operation and decided to emphasize a mail order parts distribution business.
"The old bikes just weren’t going to die." This became Mark’s raison d’etre, and soon he began to benefit from the demand as word got around. As a result of his operation, parts were becoming more available, particularly compared to the period of dislocation after the demise of "The Industry" in 1987, when Triumph Corporation as a historical entity gave its last chirp. Recognizing that the demand was only going to get greater as the machines aged, he continue expanding, buying up stock from other areas including large stocks from former importers as they closed up shop when the British cycle industry itself folded up.
The owner of Cycle Sports Unlimited in Toronto, who had bought up much of the stock in the local area, left the business and sold all his "pretty vast" British stock to the burgeoning Nova Scotia business in early 1980. In 1983 when Frank Burke (of the partnership Raymond-Burke) passed away, his widow and brother sold BCS all their British stock. This was probably the largest stock of British motorcycle parts in Canada. He bought a warehouse and moved out of Wolfville proper to the present location. And just in the last few months he bought a wealth of BSA parts from McBride’s and Ian Kennedy’s entire stock of British parts.
Not everything was in these parts stores, and to keep the shelves filled with the hard-to-find parts, he began importing from England. Manufacturers had sprung up to meet the growing demand from restorers, so parts were easier to obtain than they had been at any time since the downfall of the British motorcycle industry. Some critical parts were being remanufactured from original drawings, even including major components such as frames. The end result is lots of stock, good service, and a knowledgeable staff.
These days Mark’s personal interest in the "hobby" is limited to a few British machines and a couple of Harleys. One Triumph is rideable; the rest are projects, yet to be completed. He prefers to work on them when the business doesn’t have customers waiting or inventory that needs sorting. These times are few and far between. Sound familiar?
His own machine preference is Triumph. The other brands, he thinks, tend to be more maintenance-prone.
One of Mark’s favourite comments is about people who complain about the price of parts compared to the old days. He cited a piston, which from Firth’s in 1963 cost $5, when the average take-home pay was less than $50! Today’s complainers fail to realize that the same piston today in fact costs them less by comparison, and is likely made of better materials to boot.
It is possible to buy direct from British Cycle Supply, across the counter or by phone. They will, however, ask you if you are aware of your local dealer. Fifty per cent of their business is through their dealer network, so BCS will certainly recommend the closest one to you, particularly if you need any professional help in getting your prize back on the road. Help is as close as dialling 902-542-7478. You’re not likely to find any better advice on your old British bike anywhere.
INTERNATIONAL MOTORCYCLE MAGAZINE