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1st April 2015

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2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

Every vintage motorcycle which takes part in the Pioneer Run is over 100 years old. Richard Jones captured memorable moments as this year's participants set off on their challenging excursion...

In previous years I have seen the Pioneer Run at its conclusion on Madeira Drive in Brighton; this year I thought I would like to see the other end at Tattenham Corner in Epsom. Mrs Jones, on the other hand, declined the opportunity – I think the lack of the seaside and a very early start may have had something to do with it. So it was that on a cold, wet Saturday I went down the M25 to sample the undoubted delights of the Holiday Inn Express on the Epsom Racecourse. The actual track ran just behind my bedroom window but I had to rely on an alarm to get me up at 5.30am rather than the sound of thundering hoof beats – clearly the flat season has yet to start.

Julie Diplock of the Sunbeam MCC (the club which organises the whole event, and is open to all pre-1940 motorcycles) had warned me that things started early. So by 6am I was striding across the racecourse to the assembly area which was being set up by local resident, Dave Hodges. He had been up for at least an hour before me and as it was his 71st birthday I was very impressed by his devotion to the Pioneer cause. He was still there when I sloped off for breakfast later on, taking down what he had put up earlier before heading off to preach at a local church.

Just after I arrived a convoy of mobile homes and trailers turned up, what I thought were the first attendees of the day although a glance in a nearby field revealed a tent and a van with a bike in it. More devotion to the cause of veteran bikes.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

The convoy turned out to be a group of Germans who had set out on the previous Friday to get to the event. It just goes to show how popular the Pioneer Run is, not only in the UK but also Europe, the USA and the antipodes (more of which later).

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

One of the machines being unloaded with truly impressive Teutonic efficiency was this minimalist 1901 143cc Clement – it’s hard to believe that this was being used to ride over 40 miles to Brighton down some of the busiest A-roads in the country. Adolphe Clement was a French engineer, motorcycle and car pioneer who had designed a rather nifty 143cc, 1½hp, engine which an enterprising UK importer, Charles Garrard, sold as a kit with a tank, ignition and levers for adding to what would need to be a sturdy bicycle. Et voila, as they say. Later on complete machines were marketed using frames built by James Norton who, in turn, started building his own motorcycles using the Clement 1¼ and 2hp single engines as well as the 3hp V-twin. Great oaks from little acorns grow, as they also say.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

It is starting to get difficult to find veteran bikes I haven’t written about before and so it was with some relief that I saw this 1904 Auto-Fauteuil 270cc which belongs to VMCC luminary, Vic Blake. Between 1902 and 1906 cyclecar manufacturer Georges Gauthier of Loir-et-Cher, Blois, in France supplemented 4-wheel production with batches of motorcycles – sacre blue, mon ami. A fauteuil is an open type of armchair so you can see how the machine gets its name. Models included the 350cc and 430cc two-speed water-cooled engines as well as, presumably, this version. The low centre of gravity helped handling and, for some reason, they were popular with the clergy (or perhaps that’s a Google translation glitch).

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

Another machine I hadn’t photographed before was a Fafnir and, lo and behold, here was one right in front of the viewfinder. As I’m sure you all know Fafnir was name of the great dragon slain by Sigurd, the Norse version of the German hero Siegfried Fafnir (the motorcycle manufacturer, not the dragon) began building engines in Aachen ,Germany, in 1900 and by 1903 was producing its own complete machines. Initially building engines under license from the Werner brothers, Fafnir soon became the leading manufacturer of proprietary engines including a 1000cc V-twin. Production ended in 1914; this example dates from 1911 and has a 2¾hp single cylinder engine.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

Time now for a British bike, this being the only Norton on parade although it was brought over from Australia by owner Andrew Repton. In November 1910 The Motor Cycle announced Norton’s new 490cc, 3½hp, engine with measurements of 79mm by 100mm which remained in use until at least 1954 although some authorities quote 1963. This is an example from 1910 so must be one of the earliest of these long-lived workhorses from James Norton’s stable.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

I’ve only ever seen on of these in a museum before so it comes as no surprise that this one usually lives at the National Motorcycle Museum who are, along with Bonhams, one of the main supporters of the Run. It was being ridden by Wesley Hall , and engineer from the museum, accompanied by the museum director James Hewing on a Brown and Ben Walker from Bonhams on the museum’s NUT. It’s good to see that these machines are being taken out and given a run. AH Haden of Princip Street, Birmingham, had started designing and manufacturing motorcycles in 1905 and continued in production until the Depression in 1931, naming the marque New Comet to distinguish it from the Comet machine previously made in London. He started by using Zedel and Peugeot engines and then progressed to Sarolea, JAP and Precision singles. The Museum’s example dates from 1911 and features the 499cc 3½hp Precision engine complete with pedals and belt drive. The exhaust system features a baffle which can be opened by a lever to allow more power outside built-up areas –Mr Haden clearly considered the finer feelings of non-motorcyclists.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

LMC stands for the Lloyd Motor Company of Monument Road in Birmingham where one WJ Lloyd, formerly involved with Quadrant, start assembling his own machines from stock parts in his stores in 1903. 3½hp single Stevens engines were used at first, later joined by a 2¾hp vertical twin with the machines being marketed as LMC from 1908. More and larger models were added to the range and in 1915 a V-twin was introduced along with transmission options which, in 1916, included a countershaft gearbox. The marque then re-appeared in 1919 with a single and V-twin and then in 1921, the year prior to the LMC’s final disappearance, a 960cc V-twin with all-chain drive was introduced. This 453cc example dates from 1905 so must be one of the 3½hp models but, as can be seen from the tell-tale stain on the tarmac, it was not performing and attempts were being made to start it. This is a shame as the rider, Zachary Sagurs, had come from Bermuda to take part in the Run.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

We have to include a machine from the USA so here it is – Sam Savage’s 1912 Indian with its 498cc single cylinder engine. George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom set up business in Springfield. Massachusetts, in 1901 and between 1905 and 1908 sales had more than doubled from 1181 units to 3257; by 1913 it was 13,000. The year before this machine was built Indian had scored a 1-2-3 in the Isle of Man Senior TT and then in 1912 came 8-valve racers – V-twins with 4 valves per cylinder. This must have been a golden time to own an Indian and, to be honest, I much prefer this handsome single to the rather larger V-twins that characterise the marque today.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run More sidecars, less wicker, on now...

There were a few BSAs on the Run but I’ve included this 1912 500cc outfit more for its rider, Richard Lemon, who, together with Mike Sherwin on a 1913 Douglas 348cc, won a Rider Achievement award for taking part in 50 Pioneer Rides – as the younger generation say ‘respect!’

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

The Ray Newton Memorial Trophy for the Best V-Twin went to Peter Peschken from the Netherlands for his 1910 3hp Wanderer, the German marque which started life in 1903 in Saxony.

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

The trophy for the best Authentic and Un-Restored Machine went to Philip Clarke’s 1913 1000cc Excelsior X from the USA. I should mention that RealClassic’s very own Jacqueline Bickerstaff won the Best Lady Rider award on her 1909 Triumph 490cc machine (but I am ashamed to say that I failed miserably to photo either her or the motorcycle.)

2015 London to Brighton Pioneer Run

Let’s finish with the winner of the Lt Col Tiny Ayers Memorial Trophy for the rider with the Greatest Combined Age of Rider & Machine – 92 year old Len Perry and his 1913 3½hp Sunbeam, a grand total of 194 years. I think that this summarises the appeal of this truly unique Pioneer Ride – rider and machine ignoring the annoying implications of time and just having a great deal of fun.

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Details of other Sunbeam MCC events and information about the club itself are here: www.sunbeam-mcc.co.uk You’ll find more photos from this event and many other motorcycle rides and shows at Richard’s archive: www.flickr.com/photos/cerrig_photography/sets/


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