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Two wheels and the sound of home
He was 17 and living in Middlesex, England when the motorcycle caught his eye.
Gil Yarrow had recently bought a kit car from his uncle but when he saw “those guys flashing about” on their machines and heard those engines roar, he knew he had to get one for himself.
He traded four wheels for two, the car for a 1948 BSA 250cc side-valve model and took lessons, practising on English back roads. Soon, Yarrow felt competent enough that he and two friends started tinkering around.
He moved to South Africa, took up the trade of a joiner and, during his 12 years there, Yarrow fixed up a few motorcycles. He remembers his first rebuild — at the age of 19 — like it was yesterday: a 1948 Norton ESR 500cc.
In 1964, Yarrow moved to Canada and his love affair with the motorcycles of his homeland never wavered. He taught his two sons about bikes and about the importance of riding safely, complete with protective and reflective gear (in 2006, he broke a rib while riding his Yamaha XS1100 in California).
Yarrow often drove around North America to rallies and invitationals, mostly during summer months. Last year, he took his Kawasaki to Las Vegas; the year prior, Yarrow travelled to New York and back on his 1971 Norton Commando 750cc. Yarrow said he restored the “four-stroke, twin-cylinder, air-cooled OHV engine four-speed” roadster so well that it didn’t need any repairs on the 7,500-mile round trip from his Tri-City home — a feat that was recognized at last year’s Crescent Beach Invitational.
Still, it’s the 1960 BSA A10 Super Rocket 650cc he brought back to life a dozen years ago of which he’s proudest. In 1999, Yarrow drove to Billings, Mont., to collect “a piece of junk,” as his wife called it.
“I said, ‘Oh, just you wait.’ All the tin work was in excellent shape.”
Yarrow took a year to get new parts from England and renew the vehicle. “To be done properly, you can’t rush it,” he said, adding, “I love the achievement of making something look brand new that was previously a rust bucket.”
This week, the 81-year-old great-grandfather of three will show off his handiwork when he exhibits the Super Rocket at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show in Abbotsford. It will be part of the vintage motorcycle display being organized by the Westcoast British Motorcycle Owners Club, a 200-member strong group formed in 1985 that last month bestowed Yarrow with its first Member of the Year title.
Yarrow has won many accolades over the years. In 2009, he clinched three awards at the International Norton Owners Association (INOA) rally, winning first place for his 750 Commando and being the longest — and oldest — distance rider. In July, Yarrow plans to ride to another INOA event, this one in Buffalo, Wyo.
Besides the Norton and BSA Super Rocket, Yarrow also owns a 1970 BSA Lighnting, a 1968 Triumph Bonneville, a 1964 Matchless G12CSR and a Yamaha FJ1100. Japanese and German superbikes are good, he said, “but the enjoyment of riding these old British bikes, there’s something about the noise. You can’t mistake their sound.
“I guess for me, it’s the sound of home.”
• The Vancouver Motorcycle Show runs Jan. 17 to 20 at Tradex (1190 Cornell St., Abbotsford). Tickets cost $14/$9 (no charge for kids under six accompanied by an adult). Visit vancouvermotorycleshow.com.