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Riding A Vintage Motorcycle - 1929 350 OHV Humber
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Most RealClassic readers are familiar with riding post-war classic bikes. Steve Benson goes further back in time to experiment with the Humber flat-tank experience...

A few days ago Bob Rodgerson (aka Humbernut) rang me up asking if I would like to try out a Humber around the leafy lanes of Cheshire. A bit of a silly question: of course I would! So a date was set and it then rain incessantly, but on the morning there was a break in the clouds. Ever the optimist, I set off for Bob’s house.

I have never had the inclination to ride a bike from the 1920s before. They never looked safe to me and conjured up an image of plus-fours and deerstalker hats (in my mind at least). But opportunities like this do not come every day so I was very much looking forward to having my views changed -- or confirmed. Either way it should be interesting.

The flat tank makes the '27 bike look much more than two years older.... 1929 350 OHV Humber, with a 1927 sidevalve Humber hiding behind it.

The bikes looked great parked in Bob’s drive; a 1929 350 OHV Humber and a 1927 sidevalve Humber. I took the OHV Humber as Bob said it was easier to ride. One thing I was determined to be able to do before we set off was to able to start the bike myself so Bob set the oil rate for the total loss system and I did everything else. Flood the carb till fuel pours out the float bowl; move the bike away from the pool of petrol, retard the ignition, find neutral on the hand change and kick away -- ignoring the decompressor because when cold the compression was not that great on the little 350 single.

The bike started easily and first gear selected… It was with some trepidation that I ventured out into the Sunday morning traffic, after checking the brakes worked, of course.

At first I had to keep looking at the hand-selector gates to change gear but before long I changing gear like a pro. The other road users were remarkably tolerant of me as I wobbled about getting used to the rather alien controls. One thing that surprised me was that the brake was on the ‘wrong’ side but as there was no gear lever to press in error you soon got used to it.

I followed Bob on his much slower sidevalve. When we hit the first hill I slipped my bike into second and it started to pull surprisingly well. I looked up and nearly ran into the back of Bob! I completely lost momentum, then found first and gave Bob the room to plod up at his own pace.

Some things were becoming quite evident. The bike was very forgiving. Who needs more than three gears? It pulled like a train and the brakes were well up to the job. I was starting to see the attraction of vintage motorcycling!

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Then we met the horses; horses are a very common hazard on the Cheshire lanes but today’s incident was more interesting than normal. I had given Bob some room to get up a hill and as I came round a bend to catch up with him, there he was stopped at T-junction amongst a group of horses and their riders. Unfortunately the road was covered in about two inches of mud with Bob to the left of me, three horses to the right and huge mound of mud in the middle… but the little Humber with the big heart performed faultlessly, and came to a stop with out any drama at all. My bike had no tickover and not being able to rev it because of the horses I let it stop and waited for the horses to pass, laughing my head off with the relief of stopping with out falling off or hitting anything.

Horse not shown.... 1927 sidevalve Humber, with a 1929 350 OHV Humber in front of it.

The rest of the ride was without incident and we visited the excellent Anson Engine Museum; well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Watching an atmospheric engine fire its piston rod into the air is a marvel for the mechanical minded.

So now I have real interest in vintage machinery. I have realised that these motorcycles can be ridden and enjoyed on today’s roads. So thanks to Bob for giving me a ride on such a well-prepared machine. I will indeed be looking with interest at older machinery in future and maybe even with a view to buying. Still not sure about the plus-fours though..


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