|By Ed Hertfelder
Brought to you from the archives of Motorcycle Online & Trail Rider Magazine
Don't mean to run this Greeves business into the ground, but the more I think about it the more I realize the Greeves was a real breakthrough motorcycle. At a time when we were trying to ride your basic "street" machine over rocks and stumps and steep hills, with some deep water thrown in just for laughs, it was obvious that the motorcycles were never INTENDED for such use. Clutch plates that wouldn't even get warm on a coast to coast trip would fry themselves slick trying to break free from a little tree root hooked over a foot peg. Compounding the clutch problem was the street-style transmission gear ratios.
Some trail riders tried to correct this failing with monster rear sprockets up to almost rim diameter; they looked like saw blades from a lumber mill. The theory here was good, very good, but the application left everything to be desired. One problem was that top speed was reduced to engine valve float on four strokes and air strangulation on two strokes.
A secondary problem was the big sprocket meant the chain was running more or less constantly submerged in mud, sand, gravel and other nasties never even considered by the chain manufacturers. And all those small twigs and branches lifted off the trail by the front tire were ALWAYS picked up by all the drooping low chain and wrapped around either the front or rear sprockets, and sometimes both at the same time.
One benefit of an oversize rear sprocket might be felt if you happened to get the motorcycle hung up trying to cross a large log. (The modern term is "cased"; us ancients called it "overcentered"). The chain laying on the log might help crossing the log or, more likely, cut a groove EXACTLY like a chain saw as the rear wheel spun gloriously in mid air.
If this happened, any attempt to lift the motorcycle had to be straight up out of the groove or the chain would jam and anchor you right there--unless you got really lucky and were rammed from the rear by a heavy Matchless or, best of all, some dummy on a Harley 45.
Without question the Greeves was the first motorcycle designed 100 percent for trail riding. Their weight was kept near the 200 pound mark and they could be thrown off rocky cliffs with no, or very little, damage. Only thing was, they LOOKED like they could be thrown off cliffs with little or no damage. That is to say, they CAME with little dings in the soft aluminum fenders, and Cliff Ferris, the New Jersey dealer, told me that no two of them were ever exactly alike in wire and control cable routing. Not surprising, as we later learned they were constructed from the frame up by a single person who traveled back and forth to the parts bins and was then privileged to start the new machine and ride it to the shipping dock.
Greeves had a distinctive trademark: a trademark that was transferable to everyone who ever rode one. In fact, you could stand near the back of an event's rider meeting and spot all the Greeves riders easily, which was a big help if you needed to borrow a Greeves part or you needed assistance correcting a problem. They never advertised the trademark, for good reason, but it was very useful just the same. You see, all Greeves swing arms were square-sectioned, built up from stampings welded together with weld beads the size of your thumb. None of this round-sectioned water pipe everyone else was using that could twist just hitting a deep shadow.
At the top of the swingarm was a spring loaded cap, and at the bottom over the chain was a small needle valve. The idea was to fill the swingarm with oil and adjust the needle to lube the chain as you rode merrily along. And THAT was the trademark--the black stripe up every Greeves rider's jacket from the gunky dirty oil flung off the chain as it snapped off the rear sprocket. There might have been a correct needle valve setting, but taking into account the varying "G-loading" on the oil in the swingarm as it hammered up and down was just too much to ask of the existing technology, such as it was.
The story was, if the oil had soaked past the jacket, a flannel shirt, a tee shirt, and was smeared onto your skin well, friend, you just finished one hell of a good ride!
Smelling like a Shell oil refinery was a Greeves plus, as the odor was said to repel noxious insects, and petroleum based skin lotion is well known for reducing skin aging, flaking, crow's feet and the pain of psoriasis.
I know for a fact that a glove fingertip wiped across the left shoulder then across the lips worked well to reduce those painful lip cracks caused by riding in cold, dry, conditions. It was not only less expensive than Blistex, it could be applied, repeatedly, while averaging 24 M.P.H.
This treatment could even be offered to other riders, but refusal should not be taken as an affront.
Why the Greeves dealers didn't take advantage of the condition and sell jackets with a black stripe up the left side of the back and advertise them as a 'racing stripe' design worries me.
When I finish this I'm going to write to Frank Conley and suggest he have some pre-striped jackets made for his customers. Who is Frank Conley? He's just the Greeves top guru who had the ready cash to buy out--at distress prices I imagine, all the Greeves dealers when they went into cardiac arrest at the introduction of the Yamaha DT 1.
When the last Greeves on earth is started up for the last time, it will be big Frank stomping on the go-pedal. I don't notice that he's spending a lot on advertising, but he's VERY well known as the founder of the Greeves Owners And Breeders Association. If Frank can't find you a missing Greeves part then you better stop looking. He's even sunk to the level of buying up those decrepit wrecked Greeves that most of us have been keeping around in the hope that someone like Frank will come along and haul the thing away.
That's Frank Conley
13 El Cuenco
Carmel Valley, CA 93924