1967 BSA Hillclimber
The Lone Ranger had Silver, Batman had the Batmobile, and Earl Bowlby had this BSA. Just the tools of the trade that help our heroes accomplish amazing feats.
With his trusty BSA, Bowlby could climb the steepest hill faster than a speeding bullet. . .and most other hillclimbers, which was the part that really mattered. It’s one of the reasons why Bowlby won 10 professional hillclimb national championships—more than any other competitor in AMA history.
Bowlby’s hillclimb weapon started life as a 1967 BSA 650. But Earl didn’t even get around to turning it into a race machine until 1976, four years after BSA went out of business.
“I had been the only BSA dealer in the area,” Bowlby says, “and I had too much knowledge and luck with BSAs over the years to change.”
So he went to work turning the 650 into a hill-devouring machine.
He gave it a stroker crank and bored it out, resulting in a 782cc final product. Bowlby knew no ordinary pistons would stand the abuse of the nitromethane fuel allowed in hillclimb racing, so he sketched a diagram of what he wanted, and Venolia made him a set.
In the transmission, every gear was removed except fourth, and the empty cavity was used as an oil reservoir for the engine. The main section of the frame, meanwhile, is original BSA, but the extended rear subframe and rigid swingarm were fabricated by Bowlby.
Finally, Earl created a tiny, lightweight front brake in keeping with a rule that said all hillclimb machines must have an operating stopper.
“Well, it’s a front brake and it works,” says Bowlby. “That’s all that’s required.”
When Bowlby completed the bike, he went straight to the 1976 Nationals in Muskegon, Michigan, where he set a record with his new machine. And he continued winning on it well into the ’80s, before moving on to—you guessed it—another BSA.
In 1991, Earl Bowlby retired after 25 years of competition. He was 57 years old, had won championships in four different decades and finished his career as the champion of the 800cc pro hillclimb class.
But in retirement, Bowlby hasn’t given up motorcycling. He has logged hundreds of thousands of miles on his road bikes, even traveling to Alaska a couple of times with his wife, Shirley.
If you’re ever in Logan, Ohio, be sure to drop by Bowlby’s Motorcycle Sales and say hello to a hero. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see the large BSA sign out front.