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Levis Popular

Levis Popular1924 Levis Popular

Simple and cheap, Levis' lightweight was typical of the bikes that provided everyday transport for the masses in the years just after World War 1. But with its quality of engineering, it was also perhaps the best of its kind and the name Levis went on to become a byword for two-stroke bikes that were reliable, light and quick.

Levis motorcycles were made by Butterfields Ltd, a Birmingham engineering firm started in 1906 by two brothers, William and Artur Butterfield. In 1910, they successfully tested their own two-stroke engine and produced their first bike which was only a little more substantial than a bicycle. With its 196cc two-stroke engine and direct belt drive to the rear wheel, it was capable of some 35mph. For their slogan, Butterfields adopted the Latin phrase Levis et celer meaning light and fast and took the name Levis for the name of the motorcycles.

When the bike went into production as the Levis Model 1, the engine size had been increased to 269cc, there was also a 211cc version, the Baby Levis. In the years before World War 1, Butterfields went on to offer a number of versions of these models, together with a 349cc De-Luxe. In 1914, the 211cc Levis Popular was introduced, along with a 175cc Levisette.

The war, of course, put paid to much further development, although the firm experimented with engines for the aircraft industry. But in the years immediately after peace returned, there was an urgent need for cheap transport, which Levis motorcycles stepped in to fill.

Levis had also begun racing and in 1920 entered 250cc bikes in the Junior (350cc) TT, which included a newly introduced trophy for bikes of 250cc or less in which they took first, second and third.

Among the bikes that provided Levis' bread and butter, the Levis Popular was perhaps the most important. It had a simple construction with a light frame and forks and a transmission consisting of a belt looped around the engine pulley, driving the back wheel. With no kickstart or gears, starting was by pushing off, using a decompression lever to help the engine turn over easily. A large external flywheel kept the engine running evenly, although it might slow to a slow or fast walking pace when pulling uphill. Brakes were simple with a bicycle-type stirrup brake on the front rim and a heel-operated rear brake.

But such simplicity did not mean crudeness. The Levis was well engineered and simple to repair. It even included such sophistication as separate oiling, at a time when most two-strokes relied on a premixed petrol. It was a formula that kept it in production until 1924 - a run of over a decade - when more apparently sophisticated models from both Levis and their rivals had come and gone.

Levis Popular

  • Years in production - 1914-24
  • Engine - single-cylinder two-stroke with drip feed lubrication
  • Bore and Stroke - 62 x 70mm
  • Capacity - 211cc
  • Carburettor - Amac
  • Tyres (front/rear) - 2.25in x 24in/2.25 x 24in
  • Weight - 118lb
  • Fuel consumption - 150mpg
  • Top speed - 35mph