These bikes definitely different

Trying to start the Velocette Venom 500 isn’t easy. I feel like it needs its own manual!

Pull this, push that, crank that, all in a specific order. I’m confused yet fascinated.

But John Brettoner, the owner of two Velocettes, can do it in his sleep.

That was the quirk, but also the appeal of these British bikes made in the 1960s.

While this pristinely restored motorcycle, clad in a crimson hue, is not necessarily considered modern, he has outfitted it with an electric start, not only for convenience, but because his knee has seen better days.

Motorcycle manufacturer, Velocette, started in 1905 and produced bikes up until it closed its doors in 1971

Motorcycle manufacturer, Velocette, started in 1905 and produced bikes up until it closed its doors in 1971
Photo: Alexandra Straub,

Even after a few tries, I still can’t get it to start rumbling, though it was a great experience.

I then ask him to press the electric start. I accept my defeat.

He tells me a little bit about his bikes.

About the traditional fishtail exhausts, about the bodywork that was put on his Venom to make it look sportier and to avoid frequent cleaning and polishing!

Going way back, Velocette was founded in 1905 by John Taylor (born Johannes Gütgemann, who later became known as John Taylor before formally changing his name to Goodman) and William Gue.

While the history of the company could occupy many columns, here are a few quick facts: their first bike was dubbed Veloce, the British police used them in their fleets in the past and in 1961, a 500-cc Velocette Venom recorded an average speed of more than 100 m.p.h. (100.05) for 24 hours

In the late ’60s, the company experienced various issues, so they were forced to close the factories in February 1971.

John Brettoner in 1960 with his first Velocette.

John Brettoner in 1960 with his first Velocette.
Photo: Alexandra Straub,

John Brettoner bought his first Velocette when he was 17. It was a 1953 model (purchased in 1960) and he shows me a photo with him and his then pride and joy.

He does this while standing beside his ‘new’ ones.

John bought one of his Velocettes from England and had it shipped over. The other was imported from the U.S.

Since the company’s demise, there aren’t a lot of service stations to assist in case things go south.

John explains, “You have to be a bit of a mechanic to own one.”

And that those who owned them loved to work on them.

John Brettoner with his old and new bikes.

John Brettoner with his old and new bikes.
Photo: Alexandra Straub,

I guess you would need to.

John jokes and points at a lever, “It’s a very good clutch when it works!”

Other than a nostalgic connection to the brand, I ask why this particular make.

He answers, “Because they’re different,” with a big smile on his face.

Being different is exactly what these bikes are.

Among its quirks, the gear shifter is on the right side of the bike (normally where the rear brake would be.) The gearing also goes one up and three down.

He offers to let me take one for a spin, but I’d rather ride on the back. We go for a quick ride despite the downpour.

I try to put myself in the shoes of those living in Britain at the time. The rain certainly helps with painting an appropriate picture.

I see how much joy these machines bring John. Heck, I can’t stop smiling as I get up close and personal with them.

The Velocette logo.

The Velocette logo.
Photo: Alexandra Straub,

But I’m not the only one who had or will have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about these quirky British bikes.

Taking place at the VanDusen Botanical Garden Saturday is the All-British Field Meet.

These motorcycles, along with around 20 more, will be on display for the masses. Alongside, of course, British cars.

Knowing the facts and the history behind the company is a good way to be introduced to them.

But finding out the stories that people have had with them is even more exciting

About Alexandra Straub