A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Brian Woolley – Winning Losing and Learning

(The basis for this page is from a manuscript that Brian wrote for a magazine in 1987. I have added photographs and some words where necessary.)

"IN 1960 I took up 50cc racing with the ubiquitous Itom and I had enough success to spur me to look for a quicker machine. At the time, Itom were limited to three gears — it sounds unbelievable in light of what was to happen so soon afterwards but there it is". Picture: Brian Woolley on the No.10 50cc Itom at Catterick 1961

I was convinced that four gears would give me an advantage. It wasn’t until late 1961, though, that I actually bought a Kreidler from German-born two stroke development engineer Herman Meier, at that time working freelance out of Redditch.

The Kreidler was strictly a ‘mo-kick’ as 50cc commuter bikes were known then, but it did have four gears. It also had a fan-cooled light alloy cylinder with a Mahle-plated chrome bore, 40 x 40mm bore and stroke and an extremely robust crankshaft assembly, with a caged needle roller big end.

Part of the deal (I paid Herman £100 for the bike) was that he would advise me on tuning the engine but scarcely had he given me some elementary instructions than he had to depart for Spain to work at the NSU Lube factory on their 125cc racers. I think that the figures he gave me must have related to the ISDT Kreidlers  because when I’d faithfully followed his instructions, I could ‘pull wheelies’ in first and second gear but the top speed was hardly improved at all. Picture: 7 is West German rider A Lohner on a Kreidler10 is Swiss Rider D Steiner on a 49cc Kreidler

By this time I’d naively entered the bike for the first 50cc TT of 1962 and asked well-known 250cc rider Horace Crowder to be my jockey. In desperation I wrote to Kreidler OMBH and in return received a huge box of last year’s racing bits and pieces. Cylinders, pistons with Dykes rings and cylinder heads, even a 22mm Dell’Orto racing carburettor.

I was shocked by the height of the exhaust ports - 17mm or 42.5% of the stroke, giving an exhaust timing of 170 degrees. By contrast, my quite fast special Itom had a timing of a mere 152 degrees. But the long timing it was and the engine now began to pull like a racer. Top speed, however, was still pathetic, until I removed the large and luxurious dual seat and fitted dropped bars thus reducing the frontal area. That alone raised top speed from a beggarly 55mph to no less than 65 mph! Thus encouraged I worked afresh on the engine, progressively improving it until (still using the heavy pressed steel frame) the bike was capable of close on 75 mph.

I raced it once in this form at Snetterton and actually led the 50cc race for a couple of laps before I fell off at about 70 mph due to a combination of racing-car rubber on the road surface and trying to corner hard on strictly road going tyres.

Time was getting short and the TT was fast approaching. I bought a pair of Itom telescopic forks, used the Kreidler swinging arm and bodged up a frame. I used the Kreidler silencer as the basis for an exhaust and made a steel tank that fitted between the two rails giving as Phil Irving wrote a ‘curiously vintage appearance’.

The bike was finished about eight hours before we were due to sail to the Island. I rode it to the local pub and, thank God, it steered, stopped, even seemed to have a good turn of acceleration and speed. So it proved in the Island despite Horace Crowder’s shocked comments when he first saw it. Picture: Horace Crowder in the 1962 50cc TT, aboard the Brian Woolley Kreidler in front of Bert Fruin. 

No real trouble in practice. I, Jeep, was speaking the Dick Chalaye about Charlie Mates Itom and we began talking about the Florett moped. He mentioned that as the Kreidler team were over in the Island with their bikes and had passed over some race bits to Brian, they were interested in what Brian had done to the machine and gave him some advice to aid the running of his Kreidler. In the event the little moped gave no trouble at all. Horace finished in a very creditable 14th place behind eleven works Suzukis, Hondas and Kreidlers, and Mike Simmonds's Tohatsu. At the Post TT Cadwell meeting Horace broke the lap record.

As I got more and more power from the engine there was good and bad news. The good was that with only four gears the Kreidler was just about as quick as the new Honda CR110 dohc eight speed four stroke. The bad news was that it became unreliable. Wires in the coil ignition system broke and the fuel in the float chamber frothed because of the high frequency vibration. I re-balanced the flywheels and fitted a Dell’Orto ?oat chamber which did the trick.

We won some races and lost others. At Snetterton in the Racing 50 Club's 250 mile Enduro when five laps in the lead at half distance a piston skirt broke. We still finished, though not in the money. The winning side was my brother Thomas who simply walked away with the 50cc race at the Temple 100 near Belfast breaking the lap record three successive times and winning by something like 12 minutes ahead of many of the 125s.

I learnt a lot from the Kreidler. It won more often than it lost and it was raced regularly until about 1967. Last time out was in 1969 when a pal of mine blew up his Vann Veen just before he was off to the Dutch TT. Desperate for a ‘starting money’ bike (however much of a nail) he begged the loan of the Kreidler. He got his start money alright, and incredibly went on to finish and he wasn’t last!

After that the old bike stood and stood in a damp garage. Moving house, I un-crated it and was shocked to see how rough it was. At the time I had more to do than restore motorcycles, "who then was interested in old 50cc racers"?

A different story now, though. I’m making the effort and soon I hope I’ll be able to fire the old bike up and maybe even ride it in the odd CRMC parade. ( If I get the beer belly down a bit, borrow some leathers . . . or maybe someone else would like to ride it )- - - -


A few words from Richard Rosenthal

After Brian Woolley's death, I took over the first 50cc racer he built from scratch, a Kreidler. It was based on a 1961 Kreidler Florett, and he'd continually updated the machine with Brian Bulmer building the frame, swinging arm and front fork, while Brian W worked his magic on the engine, finding enough power for plenty of short circuit wins and two class victories at the Temple 100.

Even after the tiddler was retired in 1969, Brian fiddled with it on and off and even planned a restoration. Sadly events we have no control over took over On collection it was seriously dismantled and had been half-converted to electronic ignition with a kit Brian was building. Searching through the mass of Kreidler spares bought with another of Brian's Kreidlers (Florett roadster) we found all the missing racer bits except the rest of the ignition system. Needing the machine running for a promised appearance, I robbed a flywheel magneto from a circa 1962 Kreidler Florett that had spent at least 15 years in a shed that was flooded by a stream each winter.

The magneto was rusty, filthy and full of minute river flotsam. I spent a couple of evenings cleaning, reassembling, fitting and timing the ignition. Second bump, the Woolley Kreidler coughed and third bump we were in business. Like many 'bodge' quick-fix repairs, this magneto is still fitted five years later. A tachometer tells me the engine now revs to around its 11,000rpm limit, and cleanly. Starting is simple: flood carburettor, second gear, a little throttle and a pull or two on the back wheel with the machine on a paddock stand.

Some recommendation, indeed, but not all one-sided. We've some pretty good BTH magnetos fitted to machines and I've warm experiences of a Lucas competition magneto, too. Nor before WW1 was all this pioneer component expertise one-sided, for then, here in the UK we made some of the best tyres in the world.  Richard Rosenthal


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