7th July 2011
Richard Jones had never been to the Banbury Run™ before. His first experience of the day was just about as good as it gets...
During June middle England saw two motorcycle events which, although completely different, were each exceptional entertainment. This goes to show just how much two-wheeled spectacle there is available for us to see in the UK. We are undoubtedly spoiled for choice.
The first event took place on Sunday 19th June 2011. The previous week Mrs Jones and I had taken a week's holiday and, on the way back on the Saturday, I just happened to mention that there was an opportunity to watch very old motorcycles being ridden around the highways and byways of Oxfordshire the next day. Nothing more was said during the journey but when the subject was broached later in the day Mrs Jones had found lots of things that required urgent attention - ironing and the like - and as such would be unable to attend the momentous event. Strange but true and so it was that I was able to attend the Banbury Run™ completely on my own.
Before setting off, and being an inveterate swot, I thought I'd better do a bit of research and the first thing I learned is that Banbury Run™ is a trade mark and in most of the VMCC literature the words 'Banbury Run' were followed by the symbol ™. Anxious not to upset the VMCC and its lawyers I have followed this convention so that whenever I use the term Banbury Run™ it will be followed by ™. If I forget, then here is a spare ™ for you to add in so that your enjoyment of the article is not spoiled [Don't blame me if this stuffs up the text on your browser. RM].
The second thing I learned was that the Banbury Run™ does not start in Banbury which goes to prove that some research was worthwhile - I would have been a trifle upset riding around the town and failing to find the event. Apparently in 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Banbury Run™, the event became simply too big for the town to manage and it moved to the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon some 11 miles away. Given the Run now has to cater for 600 entrants, the riders, their cars and trailers, visitors and an autojumble, it's easy to see why more space was required.
The entrants are restricted to pre-1931 machines and in that 600 entered this is probably the largest gathering of such machines in the world - see what I mean about spoiled for choice? Riders and machines are not just from the UK - enthusiasts and their machines come from far and wide including Sligo and Tipperary (Ireland), Angiens (France), Prajuab Kirikhan (Thailand) and Gorredyk (not sure but Netherlands perhaps?)
There are three different routes to choose dependent on the motorcycle's capabilities and two of these pass by Banbury so that there is still a link with the town. The Run is organised and managed by volunteers from the VMCC and it is a tribute to their skills and enthusiasm that such a large event can be run so effectively and apparently with no problems. Strangely I was unable to find a great deal more about the history of the Banbury Run™ - I would have thought that it would have merited a book in its own right. The only one I have been able to find is Men and Machines in the Banbury Run by J Boulton which I am trying to order even as I type - who says men can't multi-task? If you know of any others please let me know
Anyway, Tessie the Hinckley Triumph and I set off early without Mrs Jones but with camera and bottled water to get to Gaydon before the Run started at 10am. I want to have a look at the runners and riders before they set off, possibly taking one or two photos. It was only when I arrived at Gaydon that I realised just how big the event actually was and if what was in the bike park was a reflection of the rest of the day then I was in for a treat.
To be honest I wasn't sure exactly what I expected - I had vague thoughts of pudding basin and deerstalker helmets, probably with goggles; luxuriant facial hair (gentlemen only); tweed or waxed cotton jackets with plus fours; sensible brogues or dispatch rider boots. Most of all it would be about lots of old motorcycles with wonderful engines and lots of levers controlling the arcane operations necessary to make these engines run. There would be glossy paintwork but also a seasoning of rust, or patina as we must call it now. I hope you will see from the photographs that I was not disappointed.
There were Ariels, AJS, BSAs, Triumphs and Royal Enfields in large numbers together with a smattering of Ner-a-Car, Harley-Davidson and Douglas . Fear not - I am not going to bore you with every motorcycle in attendance but rather selecting a few of the lesser known makes and models, at least to my untutored eyes. I should also emphasise that any details come from the excellent event guide provided by the VMCC , the internet and a single reference book I bought years ago - where do you find books on the more obscure vintage motorcycles?
Luckily for me the VMCC have this clever system whereby numbered plaques are placed on the ground and the motorcycle with the same number is parked next to it. This then relates back to the event guide so even a bozo like me knows something about each bike. Simples! As such you should be aware that my knowledge of vintage bikes has been garnered since the visit to Gaydon so please don't take the following as gospel or think I know what I'm talking about
The first machine that really caught my eye was this Edmunds, mainly because it came from Chester where I worked in the late 1970s to early 80s.
This is a 1922 350cc machine built in Crane Wharf and was sold new to a customer from Birkenhead. Its claim to fame is an adjustable spring frame and the manufacturers stated that 'The saddle and footrests are so arranged that the rider must therefore be immune from all road shocks and engine vibration'. The bike still lives in Cheshire in Sandbach and its owner attests to the fact that the frame does give a nice smooth ride.
I was then taken with motorcycles with peculiar names and this Radco Ace K, which is 490cc dating from 1930, fell well into that category.
Radco seem to have been in production from 1913 to 1966 in various guises, the last being a 75cc minibike with a Villiers lawn mower engine. The name stems from E.A. RADnall & CO who began making machines with their own two-stroke engines. Between 1926 and 1930 they made a variety of four-stroke bikes using JAP engines with capacities from 246cc upwards and this is an example of the largest capacity machine built.
Also falling into the interesting name category is this 496cc Duzmo from 1920 which makes the grade too.
They were built in Enfield between 1919 and 1924 and models were a 496cc single and 992cc 50º V-twins designed by a John Wallace. Bert le Vack helped Wallace with development and between them created the Duzmo in 1920. Unfortunately Wallace ran out of money and the business was later sold.
Moving on to monetary value as a criteria for selection, this 1927 McEvoy outfit grabbed my attention
Sporting a 980 cc JAP engine I don't think I need to say anything about this example of Michael McEvoy's work as PUB has already made far more authoritative comment in a recent edition of RealClassic. Let's look at something rather smaller
This 1902 Clement Type B is 143cc and really puts the 'bicycle' back into motor-bi-cycle. I was unable to find anything about this machine unless it's a Clément Garrard in which case Charles Garrard imported the eponymous engines between 1902 - 1911 and mated them with a frame by James Norton. However I'm sure someone out there will know far better than I and I stand to be corrected
I know size isn't everything but I couldn't resist this big bruiser:
This is a 1913 3 ½ HP F.N. and, as can be clearly seen it is a four-cylinder engine with shaft drive. If my reference book is correct FN stands for Fabrique Nationale which was a Belgian armaments company that diversified into bicycle and, later, motorcycle production. Paul Kelecom, a designer, produced the 360cc four cylinder machine from 1904 with capacity increasing until 1923. After this overhead valve chain driven unit construction singles were manufactured; motorcycle production ended in 1965.
If you thought the F.N. was 'patinated' take a look at this 1920 2 ¾ HP Delux Douglas from Tipperary.
The owner reported that he had 'slackened the brakes, tightened the rubber band dressed it up in a new coat of rust lowered the saddle, put new carbide in, advanced the timing, retarded the rider' with the result that 'now the land speed record is under threat'. I like his style.
I last saw this Royal-Ruby at a classic show in Shropshire at Wistanstow Hall back in March where it was being shown by Peter Burrows together with a Sparkbrook he also owns:
The machine dates from 1915 and is a 269cc Lightweight model. Between c 1909 and 1922 Royal-Ruby used its own 275cc and 350cc engines together with Villiers 2 strokes and JAP V-twins up to 1000 cc. The company closed in 1922 and changed hands, continuing in production until 1932, principally using Villiers engines. The Ruby has also collected an RC award in its life.
I'm afraid I couldn't resist this motorcycle; it is glorious in its chrome and white tyre exuberance almost to the point of being brash - but then it is from the USA:
This 1915 Henderson is a 1068cc E Four Cylinder model and, given its date, is one of the in line machines built by Bill and Tom Henderson in Detroit before the company was sold to Ignatz Schwinn, the then and now bicycle makers, in 1917. This was the one motorcycle I wanted to see powering up Sun Rising Hill but I saw no sign of it until I had packed away my camera whereupon it raced past me at some speed! So if Mr Pete Reeves is reading this could I say I would be an extremely happy man if he would let me photograph his wonderful Henderson under power, preferably going around sharp bend.
Talking of Sun Rising Hill, this is a 'must do' if you want to see the machines out on the road and motoring along. It's on the A422 about seven miles from Gaydon and is half a mile of steep hill - it's 16% whatever that means - festooned with sharp bends. This makes it 'challenging' for some of the entrants but a lot of fun for spectators who gather there and it's also a relatively good place to take photos (unless you have trouble with your panning technique and then prepared to discard a lot of out-of-focus shots).
In part two, Richard leaves the car park and stations himself and his camera halfway up Sun Hill...
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