Barn find one

Barn Find Bikes


These bikes can transport you across time, as well as country

Damp, dewy air suffocates against the corners of the building, whistling under doors and rattling against every exposed finger.

The weather is sour – there’s no other word for it – but the view spread before us couldn’t be much sweeter. Just over 50 classic bikes, ranging from the filigree frame of a 1930 Royal Enfield Model A 203 to a pugnacious nineties Midi Moto, yaw and beckon through the gloom. Tomorrow, they’ll all go up for sale.

We’re at Brightwells, an auction house located deep in Herefordshire, in advance of their regular Classic and Vintage event. Their warehouses bristle with cars fast and past for any taste or budget but it’s the bikes we’ve come to see. A pair of Norton cafe racers and an ex-Kuwaiti police Laverda 750 are posed by the auction hall, polished to seduce a passing wallet, yet the real jewels of this sale are stacked four rows deep in the musty, rusty corner where we came in.

These mostly derelict motorcycles, numbering 37 in total, represent the lifetime inventory of a West Midlands collector who recently reached the decision to move his vehicles on at auction. Jim Henshaw, a lifelong petrolhead and one of Brightwells’ classic vehicle consultants, soon set to work on the process of collecting, cataloguing and consigning the bikes for sale. “This group was a particularly large job,” he explains, “We had to send two articulated lorries, a forklift and a pair of particularly strong porters over to the site before we could begin. Upon arrival, we had to unload the shed, erect a temporary photo booth, shoot the catalogue photos and start to sort out each bike’s paperwork.”

“We’re very enthusiastic here,” he continues, “What’s more, we can offer a ‘cradle to grave’ where we handle the entire process from consignment to sale.” That’s not to say the Brightwells team didn’t come up against problems along the way; a couple of team members have been working since the bikes arrived to sift through an incomprehension of spare parts, in an attempt to assign each piece to right motorcycle. Rifling through a dozen boxes, it quickly dawns that one rusted bolt looks very much like any other. It couldn’t have been an easy task.

Yet now the bikes are together – or, at least, as together as they’re getting – and standing sentinel for roadtrips yet to come. Tomorrow they’ll pass over the block, achieving a 100% sale rate and values as high as £3200, delighting the previous owner and auction house alike. Many of these motorcycles have a future as rechromed restorations but standing here today, shadows of days long past, they radiate a poignant, fragile beauty.

Wander through the lines and bike after bike beckons further inspection. Bluff-shouldered BMWs boulder towards the rear of the room and an acid yellow Suzuki TS80 scrambler sears under the fluorescent light but most of the collection hails from far earlier. Overwhelmingly, they’re local motorcycles from the post-war heyday of British bike manufacture, carefully curving machines from Royal Enfield, Triumph or, more often than not, BSA. Scabbed over fuel tanks and pitted crossbars lend an antique gravitas; suspected engine swaps and untraceable registration numbers hint at a difficult future for their new owners.

barn find ariel

The overall effect of so many milky headlights and frayed saddles is arresting, though some details dazzle over others. The frosted fuel tank speedo of a 1947 BSA B31; the glowing orange badge and raised numberplate of a 1956 Sunbeam S7; the delicate, barely there blue and yellow of a 1960 Ariel. Each enchant like an artefact, telling tales like a fresh coat of paint never could.

They may no longer function as bikes but the members of this collection can still transport you to another time.