Monday, December 13, 2010

Craven...the luggage equipment for British, European and Japanese motorcycles in the period 1950-1980...

Looking through the motorcycle periodicals in the era 1950-1980, you would be struck by one type of luggage equipment that was in use over all others....
Made by Ken and Mollie Craven, also known for the "Parti-tours" they ran to Spain and other European destinations, a scheme to escort groups of like minded motorcyclists often for their first "overseas tour", for they themselves were inveterate motorcycle tourers, now both sadly deceased, it is obvious that Ken, an engineer would come up with luggage equipment to do the job...
And do it he did....
Craven Equipment of 61 Eden Grove,London N7... dominated motorcycle luggage for nigh on 30 years. Ken retired from the business and sold it to Stadium Ltd, known for their helmets and other motorcycle accessories  and they in turn sold it on, likely to a company I obtained a catalogue from in the late 1970's when I had the idea to import the stuff myself to Australia following my friend John Galvin's giving up the distributorship around the same time. 
I wrote to them and the catalogue is all that remains of a venture from me that never got off the ground.

The distinctive Craven badge is illustrated, riveted to a rack and to the panniers and topcases. 
Craven equipment sold in Australia from the later 1960's period had a similar riveted on badge that said... "Galvin by Craven". As mentioned the first Australian importer was John Galvin.
Craven equipment used in the USA and manufactured by Dick Pearce had this distinctive badge....

Left click on the images to enlarge them....
This other firm who took over the manufacture was Craven Equipment (London) Ltd., and operated out of Cinderford in Gloucestershire.
I acknowledge the photo extracts I made and used from their catalogue.
Other photos are mine and from Jeff and Jo Wenden, Vincent owners from Sydney, NSW , Australia and  I thank them for the use of their photos.
I believe "others" may have taken up the name and continue to re-offer some of the product today.
But why am I writing this blog?
Partly for the history and the other to ensure current riders of earlier motorcycles will have some idea of what to look for at Autojumbles, Swap meetings and the like when after used luggage equipment suitable for their bikes...
A little history from "The MotorCycle" and "MotorCycling" of the time follows throughout this blog...
The first type of panniers introduced were made of a Bakelite material and called "Silver Arrows". Of a suitcase construction their lid opened outwards.
"Silver Arrows" from a catalogue from Craven Equipment ( London) Ltd.
From "The MotorCycle" 8th May 1958, the introduction of the "Chevron" panniers.
Introduction of the Craven "Dolomite" panniers in October 1958.
These were popular, made of fiberglass resin with fiberglass matted cloth, but the molds were destroyed by a fire at Craven's factory in 1970's.
Factory...well "61 Eden Grove" was two terrace type houses in a residential area of London...they were sort of gutted internally to make work areas....
Many businesses in the UK of the time were in reality very small.
Craven used a special tubular rear rack that he developed and the panniers attached via rubber sleeves onto hooks on the rack.
There were a series of different shapes...
 The "D" rack....
 The "L" rack, made with initially the same grid and several different length arms of the "L", Honda 500/4 used shorter arms, Velocette mid length and BMW /5 and /6 used longer arms.
 The Vincent "V" rack.
The "W" rack, often used for BMW R50/2, R60/2 and Velocette.
The hooks mentioned above are visible and the special length long support arms for each model bike. On these arms were clamped aircraft style "dzus" fasteners to enable the panniers to be quickly detachable.
The panniers available were as mentioned the "Silver Arrow", the "Dolomite" as well as "Safari", "Chevron","Concorde" and "Comet".
"Dolomite" panniers and a "Spaceman" top case on a my best friend, Jim Day's Velocette at a recent Vincent/Velocette Rally in NSW, Australia.
"Golden Arrow" panniers and a "Spaceman" top case on good friend John Edward's BMW R50/5 at the recent Vincent/Velocette Rally in NSW, Australia.
"Comet" panniers with a "Clubman" topcase.
"Safari" panniers with "Spaceman" topcase.

"Sportsman" topcase with "Concorde" panniers. 
The "Sportsman" is virtually a "Spaceman" topcase but higher.
"Superman" topcase with "Dolomite" panniers on a BMW /2.
The "Superman" was a wider topcase, the same as the "Fairline" illustrated below, but the same height as the "Sportsman".
The "Fairline" moulds were also destroyed in the fire at Eden Grove and never produced again I believe.
The "Fairline" topcase.
Advert from "The MotorCycle" 7th April 1960.
My 1972 BMW R50/5 with "Golden Arrow" panniers, photo taken in mid 1973.
Announcement of the introduction of the "Golden Arrow" panniers in "The MotorCycle" 29th December 1960.
Advert in "The MotorCycle", 5th May 1966.
Size comparison,"Dolomite" and "Safari" panniers.
In May 1980 copy of Revs Australian Motorcycle News, Ian Aitchison was advertising Craven Equipment for sale in Oz...

A photo I like a wife "The long suffering Judy" throws a snowball in the Snowy Mountains of NSW in winter. My R50/5 to the right with a "Fairline" topcase visible and a laprug...seemingly a possible Australian idea, like a fairing for protection...a shaped canvas that wraps around the riders legs and up to his chest, tucking in between the seat and petrol tank and secured around the footrests. I note I've a large German Harro tankbag ( Harro made leathers as well in the Black Forest region of Germany). The Honda 500/4 to the left has a Craven "L" rack fitted. The licence plate on the 500/4 is CE-OOO...
For Craven Equipment...the bike owned just before by John Galvin the aforementioned Australian Craven Distributor.
The BMW R75/5 partly obscured also has a Craven rack and topcase.
When...? October 1972 at a guess....
After I did the main post above, John Galvin contacted me and you will recall he was the Craven distributor for Australia early on.
John offered some comment and further photos....
"...I have a full set of "Chevrons" given to me by Ken Craven..they were produced for the Triumph Speed Twin and in Amaranth Red. To properly match the colour, Ken told me he acquired the colour mix from Triumphs. This was long before ICI supplied him with tints to produce many varied colours of  topcases and panniers.
More than black and white were done. I seem to remember a list of 15 colours that could be ordered.
The whole "Chevron" project was a commercial disaster. KC told me a total of 7 sets were made.He had a blue set for "Hetty" his Matchless twin. I got this set, so there are perhaps 5 sets out there somewhere.
Whilst this project was a disaster, it led to the "Dolomite" panniers and these were a roaring success.
I own the second produced "California" top did I get number 2?
My good mate, Dick Pearce,now deceased and then resident of LA and distributor of Craven Equipment in the West of the USA, produced the "California" to the absolute horror and without permission from Ken Craven.
Ken claimed it was far too large and would destroy the handling of any bike.
Funny world isn't it. After making peace with Pearce, Ken went on to sell vast number of the "California". Dick retained case 1. "
The cases had the distinctive badge, illustrated earlier in this blog fitted to them rather than the UK Craven badge.
"California" topcase made by Pearce of LA.
Craven "Chevron" showing internal construction.
"Chevron" with carry section removed.
A dusty set of Craven Triumph Speed Twin "Chevron" panniers.
The part of the "Chevron" pannier you took into a hotel.

Margaret Galvin with Ken Craven at Ken's house in Lyme Regis, UK.
And finally, recently loaned to me by John Edwards, a pic of himself with his BMW R50/5 ( the same bike featured above in the blog during Oct.2010 during a Vincent-Velocette Rally), complete with Craven "Fairline" topcase and "Golden Arrow" panniers, together with Ken Craven in Andorra, Spain during late June, early July 1971.

Since I posted this item, today July 2013, John Edwards has returned for a trip to the UK and alerted me to the current manufacturer of Craven Equipment...
 Craven Equipment, Road Street, Bungay NR35 1EE
website...( click on the word craven following)  Craven


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this excellent bit of motorcycling history, I am forever searching for Craven info as well as spare parts and racks to re-furbish my vintage panniers for my /2s....
By far the most informative collection of information, pictures and history on this company that I have come across....
Thanks again for sharing.



Anonymous said...

With the demise of the venerable Motorcycle Sport life has been somewhat sad, but now, thanks to the wonderful world of the www we now have velobanjopgent to light our lives!

I lived in Oz '68 to '71 so maybe we met sometime. Mind you, like me he would have been a trifle more handsome back then.....

My first bike in Oz was a BMW R26, and I needed help with the generator (changing a plug was a major event in those early motorcycling days) thus one evening I found myself talking to a chap called Gavin. He wasn't cheap.

Nice bike, but I sold it when I moved, now in a VW.

The world needs more Ken Craven's, BMS's, and Bruce Prestons (and that gorgeous wife of his! SWOON!!!!) There is a lack of 'characters' today, rough-hewn men of few words but with vision and great action. Today, such men are replaced by a chinese chappie at the end of a phone, banging-away at a computer.

BMS I met via Peter Fraser via Allen Dudley-Ward via Stephen Ward, his cousin, a medical man I met via London medical men I knew. Phew! BMS was a talker, by god he never stopped, the problem was he was into toy trains at the time. I might have been a wide-eyed lad but I'd left toy trains behind the day I sat in a BSA M20 sidecar - cor! Just like flying a Lancaster! - and from then on toy trains were just childish stuff for a grownup to rant-on about. Michenell (?) I met, and Ken Craven, they were talking to the Rickmans about making a car for them.

I liked Ken Craven, a quiet but eloquent gentleman. He liked to talk about places and people, and he knew a lot of both. Intertwined with tales of flying spanners and bike bits even an otherwise bored young lad desperately tried to stay awake.

There was a charm around motorcycling in those days of yor that seems lacking today. Too many revs and a lack of flywheel, I think.

And too many people in too much of a hurry.

michael C. said...

Agree and endorse all the thanks for putting up the info. Currently looking at the viability of refurbishing what, I suspect, is a set of dusty Dolomites that have been resting in my basement for a cool 35 years. The various catalogue and other pix are most useful and at least encourage me to think I have a chance to complete this project. Much appreciated.

Rapide said...

Wonderful read and well researched. I hope you are OK with us posting this article on our Vincent web site with link backs and full credit to you and this excellent blog.
Thanks and please continue offering excellent articles like this to us old bike riders.

The Velobanjogent said...

Thanks for your kind words, pleased you liked the article...feel free to utilise anything from my blog. If there is a credit to others, kindly acknowledge this...
My stuff is free for all who want to utilise it...

Zeller said...

Very much enjoyed the Euro pics and Craven info. I've seen nothing else like it on the web. It brought home some nice memories of my younger days.
The sound of the all the Gilera team machines running at once must have been fantastic. I suppose you know McAlpine's Gilera ended up at Greenfield's in Waverley NSW.
I owned a silver 1973 R60/5 for 14 years. John Galvin fitted a set of Golden Arrows and topbox for me himself. I should never have sold them with the bike .
Web research has given me the info to replace the Golden Arrows with what I believe will be the nearest modern equivalent ; 35 litre sized Caribou side cases with added silver duct tape on the lids . I'm purchasing a BMW F800ST soon and will modify the bike by dropping the high exhaust pipe to run horizontally and extending the Caribou rack to position the cases a good few centimetres lower so as to sit just above the flat muffler .
Anyway, thanks again & best wishes.

Les Francis said...

It was wonderful to here about Jon Galvin again. I purchsed Craven equipment and BMW parts from him when he operated from his house near Parramatta, Sydney so many years ago and the panniers and rack are still in daily use on my now ancient Honda CX650ED. Good gear costs money and is wroth it. Thanks for the blog. Les Francis

terry newman said...

,sydney aus
orginally fitted craven panniers supplied by john galvin at villawood to my 500 honda4 transfered them to my 750/4 modified them for my r100/7 and finally to my r100rs 1978model to which there still attached.simple functional and quality proven,money well spent.

Mike Cecchini said...

What an excellent set of pics and commentary for those of us just discovering these great old panniers.

I've just purchased a great R60/2 with R90S engine so I want to get some of these great panniers (along with a set of Brembo 4 pot calipers to get it to stop properly ;)))

Again.... thank you so much for a great blog.

My best...... Mike Cecchini, Bethesda, Maryland USA

Mike Cecchini said...

Thank you so much for this great blog and all this wonderful Craven Pannier information.

I've just purchased a 1965 BMW R60/2with a R90S motor, so I will be looking for a set of Cravens to make the bike work oh so well on trips.

Also putting some Brembo 4 pot calipers on it so it will stop now that it goes so well.

Again.... thank you !!


Mike Cecchini
Bethesda, Maryland

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I have a full set with rack and rails. Was just researching and found this blog. I don't need them and am interested in selling if you or anyone you know is looking. Can send pictures.

The Velobanjogent said...

"fragiletransit"...guess we need to know where you are in the world.....
Dennis Quinlan.
The Velobanjogent