Greeves Motorcycles was once a major player in the off-road competition scene, producing more than a dozen models over the course of its history. Though the British marque is best known for its decade of dominance in off-road competition from ’59 to ’69, Greeves also built some championship-winning road-racers. The historic brand is largely credited for changing many riders’ perceptions of lightweight bikes, and this particular Greeves is one of the few production street-legal TFS 250 examples the company manufactured, making it exceedingly rare. The fact this one is all original is only made cooler because it’s in relatively good shape.
The story of Greeves motorcycles starts several years before Bert Greeves founded the company. Greeves’ cousin, Derry Preston-Cobb was in a wheelchair and had supposedly complained about the lack of power, mobility, and range offered by his battery-powered device. While mowing lawns one day in Worcestershire in the mid-1940’s, Bert had the idea to fix a small lawnmower engine to his cousin’s wheelchair.
Instead of Greeves being told his idea was wildly dangerous, the concept took off and would eventually lead to Greeves further developing a vehicle for the disabled that would eventually become the “Invacar” (inva as in invalid) – a small three-wheeled car not too different from a BMW Isetta but powered by an air-cooled 147cc Villiers engine and specially engineered to cater to the needs and physical restrictions of wheelchair users. Greeves would found Invacar LTD and set up a factory just outside of Essex shortly before getting a seriously hefty contract manufacturing “motorized three-wheeled invalid carriage vehicles” for the UK’s Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.
After the success of the Invacar and at the behest of his cousin Derry, Greeves opted to expand into the motorized two-wheeled segment. Plus the Englishman was a passionate trials rider, so when it came time to diversify the choice was an obvious one. Around this time, Greeves had purchased a Norton CS1 that he thoroughly modified for competition, and after this he was hooked. Unfortunately, running Invacar LTD was Greeves’ main priority at the time, so all motorcycle development had to be squeezed in around regular Invacar scheduling and duties.
Nonetheless, by mid-1951 Bert and Derry found time to build their first prototype bike: a machine powered by a 197cc, two-stroke single sourced from Villiers Engineering. The suspenders on the proto-build were comprised of a ‘banana leading link’ front fork (as it would later come to be known) and a pivoted fork with rods connecting to torsion rubber mounted units that attached to the back of the frame. Greeves already had a patent on the rubber-spring system – which included adjustable friction dampers – as it was already utilized by the Invacar. This 1951 proto would be the first ever motorcycle to wear a “Greeves” badge on its tank, though by the Fall of ’53 Greeves would begin motorcycle production.
Greeve’s inaugural models were equipped with distinctive aluminum frames – partially thanks to their “down beams” – that were cast in-house at the light-alloy foundry which at the time was a recent addition to the factory. Though this was a substantial investment, Greeves’ frames were the company’s bread and butter. The British marque would use a technique in which the tubular frame member was inserted into a mold and the main frame was then cast around it. Between the aforementioned construction method, the use of high-grade LM6 silicon-aluminum alloy, and light alloy casting engine cradle plates, Greeves’ frames could seriously take a beating.
Derry Preston-Cobb was appointed as sales manager as the company started getting off the ground. After the release of three initial models, Greeves Motorcycles would continue to unveil new bikes, such as the “Fleetwing” – a 242cc two-cylinder, two-stroke with a claimed top-speed of over 60mph – at the ’54 Earls Court Show. At this point Greeves was still sourcing engines and transmissions from outside companies, but as time went on the British OEM would begin producing its own power-plants.
By the early 1960’s Greeves’ lineup had grown to include a dozen models. The manufacturer also teamed up with Queen’s University Belfast to better develop its off-road offerings. (This is the origin of the later “Greeves QUB” model). The company’s off-road bikes became increasingly popular, with the United States becoming the largest importer for the marque. Models like the “Scottish” – and then later the “Challenger” – were big sellers for the Essex-based outfit.
The 1960’s would also see Greeves achieve immense success in professional competition. The company wold hire Brian Stonebridge to race for its team, and eventually he would become Greeves’ competitions manager and development engineer. Supposedly while traveling through Europe for the then-newly-established FIM 250cc motocross event, Greeves and his new pilot/engineer would become aware of the fact the Brit bikes and riders were viewed as second tier by many from outside the UK, a realization that both frustrated the duo but more importantly motivated them to prove the stereotype wrong. Stonebridge’s success on the track would help to further propel Greeves Motorcycles into mainstream motorcycling.
Tragically, Stonebridge and Bert Greeves were driving home from visiting the company’s factory in a car when a head-on collision would end Stonebridge’s life and injure Greeves who was behind the wheel. Following the untimely death of Stonebridge, the company would ink a deal with Dave Bickers who won back-to-back 250cc Championships. Greeves would eventually go on to win a handful of other prestigious events such as the Manx GP, the Scott Trial, International Six Days Trial, Scottish Six Days Trial, European Trials Championship, and quite a few more. A Greeves machine would also become the first two-stroke bike to ever win the British Expert Trials Competition.
Over time, Greeves would become increasingly race-oriented as a whole. In addition to releasing some new sports models in 1963, Greeves would also be called on to provide the bikes for the British ISDT Team who until that point had been utilizing four-stroke vertical-twins. But that year Greeves gave said team something new to work with when they churned out a trio of race-prepped scoots powered by heavily massaged Villiers MK 36A engines. Instead of the regular Villiers crank, Team Greeves decided to use an Alpha assembly as well as squared-off cylinder barrels and heads that were cooked up at Greeves’ in-house foundry before being covered in a coat of matte black, heat-dissipating paint.
Two of those three machines would be piloted to gold medals (the third suffered mechanical failure) and a lone female competitor would manage to nab a bronze medal aboard a Greeves machine. A few years later Greeves began establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the road-racing world too with multiple records being set on Greeves’ bikes.
The UK-based brand had found a recipe for success using 250cc Villiers engines that were fitted with Greeves-designed cylinder heads and barrels. Unfortunately the quarter-liter power-plants had grown a bit long in tooth and Greeves’ engineers were struggling to squeeze any more power out of the square-barrel design. Finally enough was enough and Greeves opted to pull the trigger on an all-new engine. So the R&D team got cracking and by 1964 debuted a new all-aluminum 16hp Villiers 4T which would be used across the Greeves lineup. The new engines boasted larger fins and a redesigned combustion chamber, as well as several other updates.
The same year Greeves also released the TFS – predating Yamaha’s DT1 by several years – which was powered via the same 16hp engine as other Greeves sleds, though it had the benefit of a Reynolds 531 tube frame complete with cast aluminum cradle. The TFS would become a popular model for Greeves, though the vast majority of units sold were strictly off-road bikes. This particular example that is currently for sale is not only a factory dual-sport, but it’s also all original with only 1,000 miles on the odo.
The seller says this example doesn’t have any of the tell-tale signs that it’s been dropped, however some minor damage to the tank suggests an accident possibly suffered during transporting. On top of this TFS having its original factory paint, it also has the original stock controls, lighting, instrumentation, exhaust, seat, fenders, grips, foot-pegs, cables, wheels, and even the tires are supposedly the original Made-in-Great Britain Dunlop units which were wrapped around the bike’s spoked rims at the factory. The seller also says the original carb was recently rebuilt. All in all, it’s an impressive example that wonderfully encapsulates the technology of its era of origin. Plus, it’s just an awesome looking Brit bike from a special era.
You can find this 1965 Greeves TFS 250 for sale here on Craigslist in Los Angeles, California with a price of $6,500.