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60 Greatest Bikes: BSA DBD34 Gold Star

Published: 09 March 2015

The Gold Star took its name from famous racer Wal Handley's achievement of lapping the banked Brooklands circuit at an average speed of 100mph in 1937. He was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star for the feat, which he performed on a BSA Empire Star, and the firm renamed the bike a 'Gold Star' in 1938.


  • Year: 1956
  • Manufacturer: BSA
  • Model: DBD34 Gold Star
  • Claim to fame: The most famous BSA of them all and still regarded by many as the ultimate British Single
  • Did you know?: BSA was once the biggest motorcycle company in the world, producing 75,000 machines a year in the 1950s


Numerous versions of the bike followed in the post-war years and they were offered in such varied states of tune (from 18bhp to 42bhp) that they were suitable for competition trials riding, motocross and road racing as well as road riding and touring. The most beautiful version of the Gold Star for many was the DBD34 on 1956 vintage. It featured clip-on racing handlebars, a swept-back exhaust, finned engine and polished tank and was capable of 110mph. Even after production of the bike ceased in 1963, the Gold Star remained in huge demand with cafe racers and is still highly sought-after today. World-renowned photographer Don Morley owned ten Gold Stars, including several DBD34s, throughout the '50s and '60s. He used them to compete in road racing, trials and motocross and covered countless road miles on them for his job. Few people know the bikes better.

“The first Gold Star I bought was the one that Fron Purslow raced in the 1947 Clubmans' TT. I bought it in about 1952 to go racing but would also put Bobby-dodgers (lights) on it to ride on the road. It was a 350 model, which was the bike that most people preferred. It was better than the 500 because BSA had always focused their development on the 350 models so they were far more exotic. The 500 was only about 2mph faster, although it did have more torque. I had several DBD34s, the first being in about 1960, although I never owned one from new. I bought them just for using on the road and, to be honest, they were real pigs to ride on the road. They had a close-ratio gearbox - and don't forget they only had four gears - and the gearing was so tall that the bike was almost impossible to ride in traffic. You couldn't let the clutch in until you were doing over 60mph! So the DBD34 was a brilliant bike to ride on open country roads but if you rode up to Fleet Street as often as I did it was a bit of a nightmare!

“I was always a BSA fan and I think the Gold Star was the very pinnacle of BSA design. And even though the 350 was a more flexible machine, I always had a 500 Gold Star in the garage too. The DBD34 was really all about looks - people were buying them as a race bike for the road. It was a poseurs bike really. I suppose a more modern equivalent would have been Yamaha's RD500LC. I could have one just sat in my front room and look at it for hours on end.

“But the Gold Star in general was one of the most versatile motorcycles ever built. You could change the piston, change the cams, change the gear ratios and then do just about anything on it. You could even run it on dope instead of petrol for racing - I did that regularly in the '50s. I used to run it on a compression ratio of 30:1. To my mind, the most usable Gold Star was the BB34. It was a superb all-rounder and I used it for trials and motocross as well as road riding.”


To mark 60 years of publication, we are proud to prompt maybe the most controversial debate yet!
Between now and the end of the year we will keep the argument, over which of these bikes is the best that we've seen over our sixty years, raging and we want you to get involved. Cast your vote, send in tales and pictures as you make a case for your personal favourite.
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