Godden Weslake

Speedway motorcycle
There’s an unwritten rule that Bike EXIF does not feature bikes shot against a garage door. But this is one of the rare cases when I’m prepared to break that rule. This Colorado-based bike is a masterpiece of minimalist race bike design, and it popped up three days ago in one of my daily must-reads, the addictive Bring A Trailer email. It’s a speedway motorcycle, from a time when the sport was absolutely huge in Europe. And it was a dangerous sport: bikes like these will hit 60mph (100kph) in less than three seconds and have no brakes or gears. (Hence the giant sprocket on the back wheel.)

This particular bike was built by Godden Engineering, set up in the 70s by European grasstrack champion Don Godden. I remember Godden being known for their engines, but this racer apparently has a 500cc Weslake 4-valve motor in a Godden frame, built somewhere between 1978 and 1982. (According to BaT, “Don Godden had sole rights to the distribution of Weslake racing engines, and it was the powerplant that dominated the sport throughout the 70s.”) Owner Charlie Bigsby says, “I don’t have much history on the machine before I got it. It was used for its intended purpose in SoCal for quite a while though: I got it as a rolling basket case, and restored/refurbished it for local British car/bike shows. It won a couple of ribbons and got its pic in the Snap-on Tools calendar in 2008.” Head over to BaT for more background, and sign up for their daily email while you’re at it.

Speedway motorcycle
Speedway motorcycle
Speedway motorcycle
Speedway motorcycle

  • http://bikermetric.com trent

    love speedway bikes. crazy thumpers with no brakes for madmen.

  • Dexter Chapin

    Over 40 yrs ago, I bought a 1933 Rudge frame with a JAPrestwick motor. I was in NoCal so I loaded it into my truck and drove to SoCal on a Saturday. Got to the track very early. They let me “practice” since I had never even sat on it with the motor running. I hit the wall a bunch of times and found that by keeping the power on I could power off the wall, at least some of the time. My first race, I got off the line slowly. It was warm so my jacket was partly unzipped. At the end of four laps, I felt like the pillsbury dough boy I was so full of sand. I never got all that good but I will say that class A speedway racing was the most fun I ever had on a bike. I finally sold the bike to close a deal on a full-bore GP goldstar. I wish I had them both.

  • KIK

    I saw this type of bike used for ice racing in japan, hardcore stuff, no brakes and armoured boots, i believe they are also used for dirt track.

  • ken

    Surely not with a bicycle front fork?

    Love to try it though!

  • Mule

    The most beautiful bikes ever assembled have to be speedway bikes. Amazing to see ridden to their limits as well. I saw Ricky Wells, a top American who’s been racing in europe, last Saturday night. We had flattrack and speedway practice the same night. Absolutely unreal!!!!!!

    Back to the bike here…….super nice!

  • ambientdan

    Quality = Fitness for Purpose

    A winner on those stakes

  • Justin

    Great bike to see, thanks bikeexif, this is a ruthless machine, and finely detailed. I am impressed by the restoration and am sure the guy loves having a perfect bike for showing, always believe a bike should be rode myself though. Minor issue with an otherwise very interesting machine.

  • Thiago

    Stupid looking bike. Dissapointed with bike exif!!!!!

  • Lew

    I love this machine, pure function. It’s been made to turn left a lot and quickly, nothing else! Usually I hate to see a bike just for show. This however is an exception, race bikes for highly specific purposes sometimes should be left alone for everyone’s safety. I always wanted to try grass-track or speedway riding, but have never been able to.

  • Dexter Chapin

    You’ll notice the lack of a left footpeg. The right one is so low you could not possibly ride it in a right turn. Also notice the lack of an oil return. Oil goes through motor and onto the track. Ran on straight methanol (might have been ethanol, but not gas) because the compression was huge (14-15/1?). The is no kick start. You started it by spinning the rear wheel, usually by hand. Only could run for about 2-3 minutes before it would get way too hot and seize. So unless you have a speedway in your back yard, this is not a play bike, but if you ever get a chance to ride one, do not turn it down. It is incredible.

  • d2237

    Great bike for a single purpose, Go fast, Go left or Go Home. But why so harsh on Garage Doors?.

  • KIK

    maybe chris does not like garage built bikes?

    • http://www.bikeexif.com Chris

      I love a good garage build. I just don’t think that a garage door (or suburban driveway) is the best location to show off a bike, especially if the pictures have been taken on a compact camera. I’m constantly amazed at the number of photos I get sent where the door is in focus and the bike is slightly out of focus.

  • Charlie

    Thanks for showcasing my bike Chris!! you’ll have to forgive the “garage
    door” photos… Im a bike/car restorer not a pro photo guy. my tools are for making metal beautiful again not taking pics :]
    thanks again for including my machine on your GREAT site.

  • Jale M

    I have to say that i absolutely love it! I have only ridden Japs and Jawas, but a friend of mine has just finished building weslake and it sounded awesome. Cant wait to ride it around track. Cheers.

  • Harry Farquhar

    Actually the left foot peg is way up by the front engine mount just forward of the primary housing. Current speedway bikes haven’t changed much except for the laydown engine configuration, recirculating oil system and those odd ball leading link forks. Thiago please take your earliest opportunity to go to a Speedway GP event and tell pro rider Nicki Pederson what you think of his machine.

  • Peter B

    Wimbledon Speedway in south west London (yes near the tennis place) used to host greyhound racing and Speedway….and more besides.
    It was a huge spectator sport then, and a fantastic evening out. The bikes were pure and simple, the riders brave, the racing close and the sounds and smells as evocative as any in motorsport. Grasstrack racing is another pure and (I would argue) related form of racing.
    Ahh Castrol R…! Has anyone got a pic of a beautiful Grasstracker they’d like to share??
    Oh and Thiego you need to get out more…see one of these things in action and you’ll get the point….give it a go.

  • apprentice

    Awesome bike man!.Your pictures are fine,it doesn’t take a photoshopped photoshoot to see that beast..get that thing out on a track and then it’ll be even cooler…Either way beautiful piece of art

  • Aaron Burke

    Ah Speedway bikes! Love them. While a bit young to have seen the glory days of the Sydney Speedway, I got the chance to see the last few events ever held there. Watching guys go fast and turn left for 4 laps is the best. Sitting in the bullpen seats was fun too, go home covered in red clay dust!

    Great resto of a fantastic race bike. Would love to see it fired in anger with a few laps around the track. Maybe there is an opportunity for a Vintage Speedway meeting/race class?

  • johnD

    Hi!
    In Sweden we drive this type of bike on left turn dirt tracks. In opposite direction to the bike in the pics

  • http://www.popmag.com.au Rick

    BaT have been posting some neat bikes lately, glad you like the site Chris.

    It takes a person with bigger balls than I to take off on a 500cc with no brakes. This is just plain mental!

  • Brett

    Why Speedway? Because football, golf, rugby only need use one ball.

  • Den

    I love the vintage speedway machines and have never understood why there aren’t any speedway inspired customs out there, like all of the American dirt track and board track inspired machines (which I also love). This machine is absolutely lovely!

    I also have some fond memories of being pelted with mud pellets at the now defunct Claremont speedway in Western Australia during my childhood, it also was a multi-use venue, being part of the still in use Royal Agricultural Society showgrounds.

    As mentioned (ice riding) there are some great other forms of speedway out there, something I would love to see and know very little about is “auto race” from Japan, raced on tarmac with gambling, the late GP racer Norifumi “Norick” Abe’s father was a champion, the bikes have extra long and high handle bars on one side with only one footpeg (due to the cornering), they also still used Triumph and BSA twins well into the eighties! Some links:
    http://blackcountrybiker.blogspot.com/2010/05/auto-race-bikes.html
    http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2005/Jan/050111k.htm

    As an aside to you Sydeysiders, I believe that the sport is said to be invented in New south Wales.

  • mingh

    great bike. Such a purposeful bike should be leaning against a garage door but against a bunch of competitors in a hot fight. To me it’d look even better covered in grass or dirt.

  • Mattro

    love watching these bikes go round the track. where’s a shot with the horse blanket on?

  • Keith

    “There’s an unwritten rule that Bike EXIF does not feature bikes shot against a garage door.”

    looks written to me!!

    curious… what difference does it make whether a photo was shot against a contrasting backdrop such as a white Garage door?

    your site/ your rules…

  • Sid

    Thiago – watch some video of the Speedway races and then read your post again.

  • Chris

    Cheers for awesome bike, Love it.
    Jeers to Bike Exif for the snobby garage door rule or “unwritten” rule. Last time I checked bikes love bikes and don’t care if the photo’s are not pro.
    I get it that its your site your rules but openly stating secret rules comes off elitist.

  • rocky0

    My favorite bike so far.My first image of motorcycling racing was watching these bikes at the track in the early 70′s buzzing around the track with their back ends kicked out,how could you not fall in love with motorcycles?(what a lasting impression,indeed!)

  • http://blackcountrybiker.blogspot.com MotoFreako

    What a beautiful machine, nothing superfluous just pure function. Harry Weslake was an absolute genius and combined with the knowledge and experience of Don Godden, this machine was a real threat to the domination of the eastern european Jawa machines in the late 70s. Godden went on to build his own engines in the 80s too. I have lots more speedway, grasstrack and autorace bikes on my own MotoFreako blog, (as plugged on the comments from Den above – thanx) but none look as pristine as this bike, If I owned it I’d be sorely tempted to get it sideways and dirty. Go fast – Turn left – Kickin’ Up A Roost!!!

  • mule

    The more I look at this bike, the more I want it! So simple, so gnarly in it’s purpose, but at the same time, I don’t think I am worthy of trying to thrash it on a racetrack. I’ve said many times in the past that my dream bike is an older, restored speedway bike on a beautiful varnished wood stand in the living room. I could look at it while watching TV, eating breakfast, dinner or just stare at it for no reason. I would prefer a Rotrax-J.A.P. much older than this, but this looks good, so I emailed about buying it and they already have a deposit. :-(

  • Den

    I think, that Chris, as a creative knows that rules are meant to be broken, and as this site is focused not just on bikes, but on great photography some ground rules can give one a way in which to judge form and content. I have seen some wonderful photographs of sheds and garages (not all containing motorcycles), but I have also seen many many more that are terrible. Just like the cliche of a beautiful woman on a bike shot, I love bikes and I love beautiful women, but I have not seen that many (compared to the millions out there) great photographs of a woman on a bike.

  • Zyon

    I did not understand the purpose of this motorcycle when I looked at the pictures. There was some informative posts that helped me understand why this motorcycle is the way it is. It takes ball to go on something with no brakes! Great looking motorcycle.

  • http://moto.gp Moto.GP

    Fantastic machine. Although beautiful, its looks are irrelevant. It’s a race bike, not an affectation.

  • seventhskyline

    This makes up for every poxy ‘street tracker’ or ‘dirt track inspired’ rig posted, and then some.
    I would love to have a slider of that era in my shed. Pure fast, beauty which has arisen entirely out of function.

    Thiago said:
    Sunday 12th December, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    Stupid looking bike. Dissapointed with bike exif!!!!!

    And this is why people will build rubbish, form over function “customs” and be exalted for it. This bike looks the way it is because it is built to perform in two specific ways; to go fast, and turn left. Hang your cycling cap in shame.

    That is why you can’t really build a speedway inspired custom bike too. Add brakes, gears*, a light, rear suspension, instruments, a bigger tank, base it off a street bike etc and immediately it has nothing in common with a speedway bike. Nothing.
    Build it out of speedway bike parts and….its a speedway bike.
    Not really any latitude for customisation.

    *Clearly Japanese speedway, some ice race bikes and long track bikes being an exception.

  • craigj

    If you’ve never seen Speedway racing live … sell your first born and go!

    Admittedly I’ve only seen the Canadian championships, nothing like the full on nutters in the UK or eastern Europe, but it’s so intense it makes MotoGP look like a Sunday afternoon ride! If Saturday night short-track is the soul of NASCAR and American (car) racing, then Speedway is the soul of bike racing … 4 guys, 4 laps around a football field, inches apart, banging and passing … and no brakes.

    Then take the same bike and go ice racing. Hundreds of spikes the length of your fingers, lean angles approaching 85deg from vertical, 4 guys inches appart, no brakes … around a hockey rink! Oh, and if you go down? Hamburger!

  • Mule

    We had a flattrack practice a couple weekends ago and shared the track/evening with all the top So-Cal speedway guys. In the staging area, we waited for our turn to go out on the track as the speedway bikes railed around. From our vantage point, we watched Ricky Wells go into turn 3 about 20mph faster than the flattrack bikes almost backwards with the throttle to the stop, fully crossed up. The distance/closing rate between where we shut off and the wall was consumed so quickly by Mr. Wells that to see it was truely awe inspiring. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have beleived it. Meanwhile, Henry Wiles and Jimmy Wood were ridng about as fast around the track as is humanly possible on a conventional FT machine. They were not even in the ballpark. Not even close!

    So to Mr. Thiago, as everyone else has said, this bike would not seem so stupid if you knew what is was used for. Disappointed with Bikeexif? Educate yourself about the world of motorcycles and you’ll find it doesn’t get much better than Bikexif, even if you don’t understand what you’re seeing.

  • joe momma

    …mule….this is what i was quacking aboooot a while back……this is the udder end of the scale……the ultimate ice racer……one of my pals used ride these in Socal back in the day……when he rides on the ice you would swear the throttle is stuck wide open…..these bears are a handful……that thumper will tenderize your forearms and make you weak in the knees…..this what i wanted you to envision when the “hardtail with no brakes and strange tires” arguement ensued…..this is the polar opposite of the glx 2900 with flatscreen display and fatgirl to push….also, nearly everythang you know is wrong…..if you try to slow down by letting off the throttle….the rear tire will hook up and you accelerate, often with a wheelie…..