The first wholly BSA motorcycles were built in 1910, before then engines had come from other manufacturers. BSA Motorcycles Ltd was set up as a subsidiary in 1919 - a British Company.

BSA motorcycles were sold as affordable motorcycles with reasonable performance for the average user. BSA stressed the reliability of their machines, the availability of spares and dealer support. The motorcycles were a mixture of sidevalve and OHV engines offering different performance for different roles, e.g. hauling a sidecar. The bulk of use would be for commuting. BSA motorcycles were also popular with "fleet buyers" in Britain, who (for example) used the Bantams for telegram delivery for the Post Office or motorcycle/sidecar combinations for AA patrols Automobile Association (AA) breakdown help services. This mass market appeal meant they could claim "one in four is a BSA" on advertising.

Machines with better specifications were available for those who wanted more performance or for competition work. Initially, after World War II, BSA motorcycles were not generally seen as racing machines, compared to the likes of Norton. In the immediate post war period few were entered in races such as the TT races, though this changed dramatically in the Junior Clubman event (smaller engine motorcycles racing over some 3 or 4 laps around one of the Isle of Man courses). In 1947 there were but a couple of BSA mounted riders, but by 1952 BSA were in the majority and in 1956 the makeup was 53 BSA, 1 Norton and 1 Velocette.

 

To improve US sales, in 1954, for example, BSA entered a team of riders in the 200 mile Daytona beach race with a mixture of single cylinder Gold Stars and twin cylinder Shooting Stars assembled by Roland Pike. The BSA team riders amazingly took first, second, third, fourth, and fifth places with two more riders finishing at 8th and 16th. This was the first case of a one brand sweep.

The BSA company factory experienced success in the sport of motocross with Jeff Smith riding a B40 to capture the 1964 and 1965 FIM 500cc Motocross World Championships. It would be the last year the title would be won by a four-stroke machine until the mid-1990s.

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