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29th November 2013

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The Classics at Motorcycle Live, NEC 2013

At a show which is supposed to be all about modern motorcycles, our man Richard Jones found a whole heap of interesting classic bikes to keep him (and you) entertained...

The NEC show - or Motorcycle Live as they want us to call it - is all about new motorcycle models, so let's start with a model on a new motorcycle.

I have lost count of the times I have attended this show to help out on Robin Hughes' stand for VFR New Zealand but one thing I have noticed over recent years is the growing presence of classic motorcycles at what is meant to be a showcase for new machines. I chatted to the man from BMW on their classic stand and his view was that people were looking for something more straightforward and simple. Given the preponderance of electronic bits and pieces on new bikes and cars, where the main selling point appears to be how you can connect to the internet with your iThingy, I have some sympathy with this view. I have also noted that, as classic bike numbers increase, the number of attractive young ladies clad in décolleté Lycra suits has decreased. I am sure that somewhere out there it will be possible to obtain a government grant to investigate this phenomenon.

Big Space

Once again the Coventry Transport Museum put on an excellent display of its classic machinery where this Revere caught my eye.

Revere

The Revere was a badge-engineered motorcycle believed to have been assembled for Walter Henry Whitehouse from 1915 at the Sparkbrook Works in Payne's Lane, Coventry. Mr Whitehouse, who himself was based at 16 Friars Road in Coventry, also sold machines with his own name on the petrol tank from 1919 but again they were manufactured at the Sparkbrook plant. He was an American who, prior to starting under his own marque in 1915, had been a works manager at the Premier Cycle Company. All of his machines, including this example, had 269cc single cylinder, two-stroke Villiers engines rated at 2½hp; purchasers had the option of direct drive or one, two or three speed gearboxes with prices starting from £35. This particular machine dates from 1922 and was £65 when new which, according to my ready-reckoner, is about £3000 in today's money. This must have been one of the last produced as manufacture ceased in 1922 and there is no record of what happened to Mr Whitehouse.

R&H

Paradoxically R&H Motorcycle manufacturers of Clay Lane in Stoke (Coventry, not on-Trent) were known as Hailstone & Ravenhall although the reason why the names were reversed seems to have been lost in the sands of time. George William Ravenhall was born in Birmingham in 1877 and was a press tool maker who moved to Coventry to become the works manager with the Rover Cycle Company. Here he was to lead a team of engineers to Russia in 1912 where he spent three years training the locals in motorcycle production methods. Back in the UK he captained the Rover works team at Brooklands and the Isle of Man as well as winning a gold medal in 1921 at the International Six Days Trial. The following year he formed an alliance with a draper from Kenilworth, John Edward Hailstone, who, having provided the funds and premises, left the responsibility for design and construction to Ravenhall.

Only about thirty of these machines were built and sold in the short production run between 1922 and 1925; the one photographed is believed to be the last surviving example, first registered in 1923, and was donated to the Coventry museum by Mr Ravenhall's grandson. After ceasing production under his own name in 1925, Ravenhall went back to his old profession of tool maker with Coventry Eagle; his other remaining connection with motorcycling had been made when his daughter married W. J. Green, the creator of the Omega motorcycle. Mr Hailstone continued draping, or whatever it is drapers do, as he was still in business in 1933 according to the 'Drapers and Milliners' section of the Coventry Directory.

Revere

Like his future father-in-law, William James Green was a man who moved into the motorcycle manufacturing centre of Coventry, this time coming from Beeston in Nottinghamshire in 1896 where he was employed by the Humber Company. Like Walter Whitehead he also worked for the Premier Company, employed as the Overseas Sales manager, and it was whilst he was here that he married his secretary, Margaret Hailstone, in 1906. Given Green was born in 1876, the year before his father-in-law, this must have provoked some interesting discussions around the dinner table…

In 1918 Green set up 'WJ Green Ltd - Motor Engineers' and began to build motorcycles under the name of Omega at Croft Road in Coventry. He developed and manufactured an engine of his own design and in 1919 exhibited at the International Motorcycle Exhibition at Olympia. Not satisfied with motorcycles he also built sidecars from 1920, a three-wheel car between 1925 -1927 and the Omegette in 1921;this was a chain-driven model with a 269cc Villiers engine and Burman two-speed gearbox. The example of the Omega at the NEC is a two-speed Model 6 with a 170cc engine which was good for about 35mph; it dates from 1928 which was to be the final year of Mr Green's enterprise.

Humber

Before leaving the Coventry Transport Museum stand I must show you two more machines, the first being this 601cc Humber with its 4.5hp flat-twin engine which was driven by, for the time, an advanced all-chain transmission and three-speed gearbox. It was a very quiet runner, known as the 'silent Humber', and was said to be 'Coventry's finest production' in its day. What caught my eye, apart from it being a very striking machine, was the wiring loom which was presumably exposed for ease of maintenance.

Hobart

The other motorcycle that I really caught my eye was this 1920 269cc single-cylinder Hobart TS. It was manufactured in St Patrick's Road in Coventry by Hobart, Bird & Company, an enterprise which is thought to have been founded by William Hobart Bird, a former blacksmith and bicycle manufacturer, and produced its first motorcycles in 1907 (there is another more complex theory as to the origins of the company but let's leave that for the present). This example has a Villiers engine and a Chater-Lea two-speed gearbox - the flywheel and the gear change are magnificent.

Victoria

BMW celebrated their 90th anniversary with an impressive display of classic machinery including this Victoria which was manufactured in 1921/1922 and thus pre-dated BMW's first 'own brand' machine wouldn't have appeared until 1923. So why was it included? Well in 1886 Victoria, which the reference books say should not be confused with the marque of the same name in Glasgow, started manufacturing bicycles in Nürnberg, Germany, and went on to build motorcycles in 1901.

The first Victoria model that achieved any success was built in 1921 using BMW's 494cc two-cylinder sidevalve engine which produced 6.5hp, later uprated to 8.5hp. The configuration was a fore-and-aft approach, as opposed to the boxer configuration later adopted by BMW, which may have made cooling the rear cylinder problematic. Victoria went on to use other engines, including FN, Sachs and Horex, as well as their own in house power units.

Arguably Victoria's most influential machine was the Bergmeister produced in 1954, a 346cc V2 ohv four-stroke engine, designed by Richard Küchen, which gained considerable success in hill-climb trials. The Victoria brand disappeared in 1968 after it had joined the Zweirad-Union group and had been swallowed by Fichtel and Sachs.

BMW Prototype Classic BMWs, on now...

Another interesting machine on the BMW classic stand was this 1947 R10 123cc two-stroke prototype. In 1946 BMW was given approval to manufacture machines with a capacity up to 125cc and work on this machine, a two-stroke boxer, commenced. However BMW felt that the capacity restriction should be lifted to 250cc and began work, apparently secretly, on a machine of larger capacity based on the pre-war four-stroke R23. In the event the restriction on capacity was increased and the R24 was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1948.

Although the most expensive motorcycle in Germany it was very successful and by the time it was replaced with the R50 in 1950 BMW had sold 12,000 units. However, as a result, this R10 was destined to be the only two-stroke boxer engine which, I suppose, makes this machine unique.

Suzuki

2013 is the 50th anniversary of Suzuki's arrival in the UK and to commemorate this auspicious occasion they had a number of classic bikes on their stand including this diminutive 49.5cc TR50-RK67 production racer. This example is number 33 of a production run of approximately 40 and was purchased new by Dick Sullivan in 1968 for various events and then sold to Dick Goddard in 1974. After its competitive career had ended it was sold and restored to its current condition before being added to the Team Classic Suzuki collection in 2010. Apparently maximum speed is 85mph although I would have said that it is going to require a very slender rider to get to that velocity - it is tiny.

Harley-Davidson

Not unsurprisingly the Americans were present and, as this is their 110th anniversary, Harley Davidson pushed the classic boat (or bike) out; this 1912 X8A Silent Gray Fellow was the pick of the crop for me. The Fellow is propelled by a 30.5 cubic inch single cylinder engine which apparently produced 4.3hp; it features an atmospheric intake valve and magneto ignition. As is clearly obvious, even to me, final drive is by belt and the bike has what has been described as a 'Ful-Floteing' seat which I think refers to a sprung saddle post. The free wheel clutch engages the belt wheel to the rear wheel hub and is actuated by a hand lever. The name refers to the colour, which is grey (or 'gray' as our cousins across the Atlantic would say), and the fact that it ran so quietly.

Now before I run out of space you now have to choose your classic of the future:

Moto Guzzi

Moto Guzzi's V7 Racer 750cc retailing at £8132 on the road or…

Enfield

Royal Enfield's Continental GT 535 retailing at £5199 on the road, or…

New Indian - Very Comfy

…the latest reincarnation of the Indian marque following Polaris Industries' acquisition of the Indian Motorcycle Company in 2011, I give you the 1811cc Chief Vintage which starts at £19,649 (not sure where it ends). Answers on a postcard.

As always, more photos from this event and many other shows at www.flickr.com/../cerrig_photography

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