10th April 2012
Richard Jones attended the annual London to Brighton Pioneer run; a parade of veteran motorcycles ridden to the south coast...
I had never been to Brighton before; my local seaside was the Monte Carlo of the North Wales coast - Rhyl. Mrs Jones, conversely, being a southerner knew Brighton of old and was anxious for me to experience its many delights. We settled on a weekend in mid-March. I happened to mention there may be a few classic bikes to see on the Sunday. Mrs Jones adopted a resigned air and went off to make the travel arrangements.
The Pioneer Run was first organised by the Sunbeam Motorcycle Club in 1930 and owners of pre-1915 machines were invited to attend - the intention was to focus on these machines known as 'veterans' and encourage their preservation. The event has pretty much run continuously since its inception, interrupted only by minor 'inconveniences' including WW2 , foot and mouth disease, etc. The Run starts at Tattenham Corner in Epsom and then proceeds in an orderly fashion to Brighton's Madeira drive - according to Google it's about 43 miles.
There are three classes - machines manufactured no later than 31st December 1904, those manufactured between 1905 - 1910 and finally those first seeing the light of day between 1st January 1911 and 31st December 1914. In 1938 the Pioneer Register was established to authenticate the eligibility of motorcycles taking part in the Run from 1939 onwards - there are more than 1800 veterans now registered with around 35 to 40 new applications per year. If you are able to satisfy the dating committee you will receive a Pioneer Certificate: no certificate, no entry.
Anyway after a soaking wet Saturday, Sunday dawned dry with blue skies and, with Brighton looking absolutely spiffing, Mrs Jones and I tootled down to Madeira Drive.
Sammy Miller MBE epitomises something that immediately strikes you about the Pioneer Run - the longevity of not only the veteran machines but also their riders.
Mr Miller's age was advertised as 79 in the programme (so I'm not being indiscreet) and whilst I can't tell you how old the bike is (he was not riding the advertised 1914 Zenith Gradua but an Alldays Matchless built in Sparkbrook between 1903 and 1915 by Alldays & Onions) it can't be any older than 1914 so we have a combined age of 180 years if my maths is correct.
Mr Miller was by no means the oldest rider and the Lt Col 'Tiny' Ayers Trophy is awarded for the rider with the 'Greatest Combined Age of Rider & Machine'
From what I can see Mr Rex Light was, at 84, the oldest rider at the event with his 1914 349cc Ixion. The Ixion Motor Manufacturing Company was in existence from 1910 to 1923 and built bikes in Birmingham with proprietary engines from JAP, Villiers, Precision and Peco. Mr Light's example was one of the Peco variants and from what I can ascertain had it had two-speeds, Druid forks as well as the obvious belt drive.
Not everyone came on two wheels. Built in 1899 this 1.75hp Phebus tricycle was the oldest machine I photographed and it was in magnificent condition; you will hopefully be able to see the inset of the engine which positively glistened. The name derives from Phoebus - the Greek god who drove the sun across the heavens - and the marque was manufactured in Suresnes, Paris, between 1899 and 1903 by Noe Boyer & Cie. The great French rider Beconnais won the prestigious Coupe des Motocycles de l'ACF in 1899 on a Phebus bicyclette, covering 100km in 1hr 46mins. Bonhams - to whom I am grateful for this information - sold one at auction in 2010 for in excess of £29,000.
Some riders also dressed the part - this is Mr Mike Robinson piloting his 1912 499cc Rudge Multi down Madeira Drive. I hadn't realised that 'Multi' referred to the multiplicity of drive ratios rather than the number of cylinders so I've learnt something new. Rudge added a device that allowed the pulley flanges to open and close to an already patented clutch - as it did so, the belt would ride up the pulley, changing the effective diameter of the drive. Simples - if you're an engineering genius, which I am decidedly not.
This 1903-1904 464cc Dreadnought looks like a battleship and you wouldn't want to get in its way. The Dreadnought motorcycle is a unique machine constructed as a special by pioneer British motorcyclist Harold 'Oily' Karslake. In the first Pioneer Run in 1930 the Dreadnought was the bike chosen to start the event and on that occasion it was ridden by George Brough. Mr Karslake did record how he started building the special in 1903 - the engine was a 3.5hp BAT and he managed to knock down the vendor from £5 to £4.10s. Goodness knows what it's worth now.
I think it's you'll agree that Mr Richard Mummery of Dunkirk looks very relaxed riding this 1913 Wilkinson down the seafront. Wilkinson was actually Wilkinson Sword (then famous for, surprisingly, swords and bayonets but as we know more recently for razors and garden tools) and they produced motorcycles from 1908 to 1915 in Acton. The TMC motif seen on the engine refers to the Touring Motor Cycle which they produced from 1912 onwards. The bike was the BMW K series of its day with four water-cooled cylinders, three gears, shaft drive, suspension to both wheels and a bucket seat for the rider. Regrettably, like so much else, the motorcycle became a casualty of WW1.
The rider of this 1905 3.75hp Allright, Mr Horst Nordmann, is from Cologne, Germany, and he owns several of these machines. I am curious to know if his ride started in Cologne rather than Epsom - if so one can only be extremely impressed. Allright was a trademark of the Koln-Lindenthaler Metallwerke company and this machine may well have the 320cc Kelecom engine. If my research is correct the tank has separate containers for both petrol and oil and also houses the battery and coil ignition. Production of Allrights ceased in 1927 - another one bites the dust.
I have to admit some partisan bias here - with a name like Lloyd Thomas this had to be a Welsh motorcycle and as I'm Welsh and Wales had won the Six Nations the previous day then it had to be photographed. The marque was produced in limited numbers from about 1905 to 1910 using proprietary engines, initially a 3hp Antoine and later a 2hp Minerva. This is a 239cc Minerva engine and the bike had a Pioneer Certificate awarded in 1961, taking part in the Run that year. The previous owner had corresponded with a member of the Lloyd Thomas family about the experience of riding the machine in bad weather and received a lengthy reply sympathising with his ordeal. I have to say I'm surprised - a Welsh motorcycle that couldn't cope with the rain!
Given the current media obsession with all things vampire it seemed sensible to photograph the BAT, albeit ignoring its non bat-like colouring. The founder, Samuel Batson, had - so far as I have been able to establish - nothing to do with vampires and I suspect the clue to the marque's badge was originally linked to his name. Mr B set up business in Penge in 1902 to build motorcycles and one was soon setting records when ridden by F W Chase - the following year the logo was 'Best After Test'. Mr Batson sold the company to Tessier in 1905 and they had racing success in 1908 with a second at the TT and at also good runs Brooklands. This seemed to have been the high point for BAT - things appear to have gone downhill thereafter and production ceased in 1925. This example dates from 1908 and sports a 9hp JAP engine.
This one caused me some confusion - the runners and riders catalogue had it listed as a 1914 Edmund JAP yet even I can see that it's not. It's included because I like the name 'Invicta' and for no other reason. The machines were produced between 1902 and 1906 using Minerva and Kelecom engines and, from the tank badge, appear to have hailed from Coventry. Incidentally there was another Invicta company trading between 1913 and 1925, owned by Messrs Gordon Francis and Arthur Barnett - apparently they went on to found another marque of motorcycles whose name escapes me…
And finally a 1914 770cc Sparkbrook with a not-entirely-obvious 'Kevin the Bodger' who took the passenger's seat in the sidecar whilst Mr Mark Johnstone rode the bike. Sparkbrook first saw the light of day as a cycle manufacturer in 1883, once again in Coventry (there must have been something in the air). In 1912 they started building sidecar motorcycles using 6hp JAP engines, a two speed gear box, chain-cum-belt drive and Druid forks. An 8hp engine was added in 1914 but in 1915 production of the sidecar model ceased; the company was sold to Singer in 1925.
Kevin did say that the ride had been 'interesting' - at one point the sidecar tyre parted company from its wheel as Mr Johnstone veered sharply to avoid ending up on the M25. A Sparkbrook on the M25 - that may well have made the news.
I could go on and one but space and, I suspect, your boredom threshold means I have to stop here. However I will be adding these photos and lots more to my Flickr site over the next few weeks.
Finally I have to say a big thanks to Mrs Jones who not only put up with me getting excited by these machines but also let me go off taking photos while I left her with a cup of tea to guard the bags. She is a star amongst women.
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