For every successful brand like Harley-Davidson, there are dozens of motorcycle companies that didn’t make it. Just in the US, there was Crocker, Henderson, and Pierce-Arrow; even Indian went dormant for a time. However, just like Indian, some famous names are making a comeback. Including one well-known British marque that’s been reborn as an electric motorcycle company: BSA.
BSA was one of the biggest names in motorcycles
Many of today’s big names in motorcycling, like Ducati and Triumph, started out making bicycles. That wasn’t exactly the case with Birmingham Small Arms, Carole Nash reports. Founded in 1861, it was initially a gun company, which, like Peugeot, later diversified its industrial product portfolio. BSA would eventually produce cars, buses, taxis, and, starting in 1910, motorcycles, MCN reports.
BSA didn’t just make motorcycles, though; it also bought other motorcycle companies. By 1951 it owned Sunbeam, Ariel, and Triumph. Which, at the time, made it the biggest bike producer in the world, Hagerty and ClassicBritishMotorcycles reports. Because of this, some of its bikes had badge-engineered cousins: for example, the original Triumph Trident/BSA Rocket 3. However, that doesn’t mean BSA didn’t and couldn’t create some iconic models of its own.
One of its most famous models is the BSA Gold Star. Launched in 1938, it earned its name from the gold star pin given to Brooklands bike racers who topped 100 mph, Silodrome reports. After WWII, the Gold Star was available with 350cc and 500cc single-cylinder engines, Bennetts reports. And by the time production ended, BSA Gold Stars had won 11 Isle of Man TT races.
The Gold Star led to the BSA Rocket Gold Star, which swapped the single-cylinder engine for a 646cc parallel-twin, Silodrome reports. The Rocket Gold Star was also the basis for a factory Scrambler, made to compete in 1960s American flat-tracking events.
Then there were the BSA Thunderbolt and Lightning, which had very, very frighting performance for the time. Both were available with 500cc and 650cc two-cylinder engines, with the Thunderbolt having one carburetor and the Lightning getting two.
Neither was quite a match for the Triumph Bonneville, though they have their own charms, Motorcycle Classics reports. But their platform was used to create the BSA Spitfire Hornet desert racer, RideApart reports.
BSA is relaunching as an electric motorcycle company
Although BSA enjoyed great success in the 50s and 60s, it faced increasing pressure from Japanese rivals. Unfortunately, the British motorcycle giant couldn’t keep up in terms of quality and folded in 1973. After that, the rights to the ‘BSA’ name passed into various hands over the decades. Finally, in 2016, it was bought by Indian company Mahindra, Car and Bike reports.
Since then, Mahindra has teased a BSA revival, but nothing concrete ever emerged, MotorbikeWriter reports. That is, until now. After resurrecting Czech brand Jawa in 2018, Mahindra’s doing the same for BSA, The Guardian reports.
The first step is building a “research center” and factory in the UK, Hagerty reports. After that, BSA plans to produce both an electric motorcycle and a gasoline-powered version, RideApart reports. The gas-powered bike is expected to launch in summer 2021, while the electric motorcycle should follow by the end of 2021.
What we still don’t know about its rebirth
As of this writing, it’s unknown when or if BSA’s new electric or gasoline motorcycles will be available in the US. Jawa’s bikes, for example, aren’t sold here. And some of Mahindra’s other products, though not its motorcycles, have landed in legal hot water here.
Also, there’s the matter of how much a BSA electric motorcycle could cost. According to The Guardian, Mahindra is targeting a roughly $7000-$13,000 price range for its ICE model. Hagerty estimates the electric version will likely end up in the higher end of that range.
In the meantime, $7000-$13,000 is also the rough price range for a classic BSA motorcycle on Bring a Trailer. Even pristine Lightnings fall into that range, Hagerty reports. Getting a Gold Star, though, maybe more difficult. They’ve gained value in recent years, with good-to-excellent examples costing $15,000 or more, Hagerty reports.
Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.