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The BSA Gold Star is an instant classic

A bike that will make you feel good every day of the year

Love at first sight for this beauty. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Today’s motorcycles have never been safer. You’ve got traction control, ABS, programmable ride modes, and adaptive cruise control. The very best motorcycles have technology that rivals an automobile, while still delivering scintillating performance that only a lightweight two-wheeler can do. They’ve also become quite complicated, too.

But when I first got into motorcycling, I purposely chose a simpler machine: a Royal Enfield Interceptor 650. It was affordable and beautifully styled, had a bellicose parallel-twin engine, and its only modern safety tech was ABS. To this day, I regret letting go of that bike for a more modern ADV.

And then I got the key to the BSA Gold Star, and I’m in love again.

It's perfectly proportioned and looks period-correct. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

As we’ve written previously, Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) was a giant during its heyday, but fell into bankruptcy in the ’70s when Universal Japanese Motorcycle started dominating the international market.

The brand was picked up by the Mahindra Group in 2021, and while the factory is in India, BSA’s headquarters—its spiritual home, if you will—is still in England.

“But it’s an Indian bike!” some snobs will say. And you know what? That actually makes it a better bike, in my honest opinion. India churns out bikes by the hundreds of thousands every year, and they’ve been doing it for decades, even subcontracting for premium brands like KTM, Triumph, and BMW.

BSA is proud of its roots in making firearms. Pity that's just a sticker and not paint, though. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The Brits make handsome bikes, but they’re honestly not that great at manufacturing…the whole reason why BSA went belly-up in the first place.

This time, the Brits pen the design and make sure everything that’s needed for “soul” is in the bike, and let the Indians bolt, weld, and cut everything together. It’s a formula that has worked wonders for Royal Enfield in the past, and the same is happening with BSA.

Except, the Gold Star has a more premium look and feel than the Interceptor I had for three years. On paper, the BSA is retro through and through. A big 652cc single-cylinder “thumper,” a five-speed manual, and 230mm front and 255mm rear discs by Brembo with ABS (of course). It’s shod by Pirelli Phantom Sportcomp tires.

The big thumper makes 45hp and 55Nm. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

So far, so good, but the proof is in the pudding. A closer look at the bike reveals attention to detail that will please anyone who gives it a look-see at a café stop.

The analog gauges have chrome bezels, and the upside-down speedometer and tachometer are eccentrically British. A third pod sits atop the headlamp for various idiot lights.

This being the Silver Sheen Legacy Edition, the bike is tastefully wrapped in chrome along the tank, the fenders, the grab bar, and the crankcase cover. Apart from the parts-bin look and feel of the switch pods, the BSA has a build quality approaching that of a Triumph. Maybe even better, actually.

The classic, round headlamp uses a 55/60W halogen bulb. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The 'Silver Sheen' gets you a chrome tank, fenders, and grab handles. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Chrome tank cap has a swivel cover for the key. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Upside-down gauges are quirky and uniquely British. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

I picked up the bike at Kustom Kulture along Tomas Morato, Quezon City, on a hot, early afternoon and was already dreading the slog along EDSA. It was not nearly as unpleasant as I thought it would be.

A low seat height of 780mm allowed me to easily flat-foot at stoplights. Engaging the transmission is easy with the light slipper-equipped clutch, and I just shifted clutchless after first gear. Throttle response is smooth and linear, and you need to jerk the throttle really hard to evince “whiskey throttle.”

Only the switch pods have a parts bin look and feel. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

After being spoiled by the rumble of parallel-twins with suitably noisy aftermarket exhausts, the gentle thump of the BSA’s single cylinder is an acquired taste.

At low rpm, it makes a gentle “dug-dug-dug” that never gets tiring to the ears, and at higher engine speeds, it makes a characterful “brappp.” It’s not nearly as refined as a multi-cylinder motor, but nonetheless sounds manly. I don’t know if an aftermarket pipe would sound better than the stock peashooter.

As for the vibration, it’s not nearly as bad as you’d expect for a big single. There’s definitely a slight buzz in the grips throughout the rev range, but going full whack doesn’t shake the chassis to bits. The bike feels stiff, with just a bit of flex in the frame for additional compliance and to absorb some of that vibration. However, the mirrors are useless above 4,000rpm as objects turn into blurry little things.

A low seat height and very rideable nature make it an ideal commuter and Sunday bike. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Another plus goes to the suspension and the brakes. I was initially tempted to write off the suspension as another disappointingly flaccid affair like the Enfield’s, but it seems they are not the same. The fork stanchions are covered for a period-correct look, and while they’re still soft, they’re not hopeless pogo sticks like the RE.

The rear shocks are actually on the firm side, which I prefer. And though they do stutter over rippled pavement, they’re up for a spirited ride in the twisties. It’s no sport bike, but a skilled rider can get this bike to hustle without much fuss.

The seat is genuinely comfortable and supportive. No need to swap this out for a better aftermarket option. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

With my first two days on the Gold Star just commuting within the city and enjoying every minute of it (and feeling quite dashing, too), I decided to spend my last day with it on a solo ride to Infanta, Quezon. After successfully navigating through the chaos of Antipolo, I made it up the twisties of the infamous Marilaque at a brisk (but not reckless) pace.

I couldn’t do that even if I tried, because 45hp is enough for the bike to get over the “ton” (160km/h), but that’s hardly going to set your pants on fire. The beauty of the engine is in its flat torque curve.

Anywhere from 2,000rpm to 5,000rpm, the bike just pulls effortlessly from corner to corner. I thought a five-speed was a tad too retro in this day and age, but the tall gear ratios suit the bike.

Neutral riding position makes it ideal for all-day touring. PHOTO BY ARNOLD LIBANAN

Acceleration is brisk, with the bike discreetly gathering speed without having to wind up the motor. Six smaller cogs would feel out of character with this kind of engine. One particular benefit of the single-cylinder design is that it’s more willing to change direction than a two-cylinder. There’s less inertia to counter, so leaning the bike from side to side feels effortless.

The bike’s upright, neutral riding position is also ideal for the kind of all-day touring most riders long for. The seat-to-peg distance is ideal for riders of average height; all the controls are easily within reach. No need to lean forward to reach the handlebar, nor twist the ankle just to step on the rear brake. It’s all natural and intuitive.

Brembo ensures strong stopping power. And what a lovely fender, by the way. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Brake feel from the Brembos is also superior to the RE’s. There’s not much mush in the lever pull, and you don’t need to grab a fistful just to slow down on a steep hill like you would with the RE. Incidentally, the braking system is not a full Brembo as the rear caliper is ByBre (Brembo’s lower-priced subsidiary).

I’m not particularly sold on the OEM Pirellis, however. My old RE had the same tires, and they flatted easily as well as having so-so grip in the wet. I’d change out those tires for better rubber if I actually bought one. I would keep the stock saddle, on the other hand. It’s wide and plush, and doesn’t sink you in over time. I only felt the need to stretch at the three-hour mark.

Apart from the non-switchable ABS, there’s no other fancy tech to help keep you rubber side down. No traction control, no ride modes. However, there’s a USB port above the left switch pod.

A bike like this will make you want to just go out and keep riding for hours. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Bringing the bike back to Kustom Kulture, I noted that I’d just logged nearly 250km on its final morning with me, and I was none the worse for wear. I had a great time just enjoying the ride, savoring the sights, and appreciating modern engineering techniques that now let us enjoy beautiful classic bikes that start up every single time. Try that with your average, retro “project” bike.

A base price of P512,000—or P549,000 for this particular variant—isn’t cheap. It’s higher than the benchmark Royal Enfield Interceptor, or retro-styled roadsters like the Kawasaki Z650RS and the Yamaha XSR700.

But the Gold Star definitely looks, feels, and sounds authentic. It captures the spirit of the ’60s so wonderfully while employing modern technology so you can enjoy it every day of the year.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.