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An engine-only view of a Velocette LE Mk1/2.
Velocette are perhaps best remembered for their racing machines (such as the KTT), and the popular Venom/Viper/Clubman 500cc singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Not long after the war though, the company decided that there was a market for a small, lightweight affordable motorcycle for the masses, so introduced the LE, a machine they had been working on for some time. It broke cover at the motorcycle show of 1948, and aroused a great deal of interest. Finances were tight for many people in the grim years following WW2, and new motorcars were in short supply, and usually priced beyond the means of many working people. It was this market, populated by people looking for an economical mode of transport, that Velocette pitched their new LE at.
Power in the Mk1 LE came courtesy of a horizontally opposed twin cylinder unit of 150cc, water cooled to help keep engine noise down to a minimum. For a simple machine, there were some nice design touches, not least the use of shaft drive to the rear wheel, although the hand-operated gearchange was a throwback to more vintage machinery, rather than the usual foot-operated gearchange of most other motorcycles.
Despite disapproving comments from enthusiasts more used to high-performance Velocettes, sales of the lightweight LE proved that Velocette were right to try their luck in this market, although this was to some detriment to development of their larger bikes. In 1951 the Mk2 LE arrived, looking all but identical to the outgoing model but featuring a number of useful updates. One complaint levelled at the original machine was its distinct lack of pace. In response to this Velo upped the engine size to a whisker under 200cc. The bottom end of the engine was also beefed up, and throughout production improvements were made in the clutch, fuelling and electrical departments, in response to customer feedback.
Many people remember the LE as being the mount of choice for many Police forces up and down the land, with a significant proportion of production ending up with the boys in blue, appreciating the sturdy no-nonsense reliability that the Mk2 LE Velocette offered them. The machine showed above is either a Mk1 or Mk2 LE (they were both very similar in appearance). In 1958 the Mk3 would be introduced, and this signalled the end of the hand-operated gearlever, as can be seen on the bike above.
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