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13th April 2004

Rides: The 66th Pioneer Run

Have you ever needed 'light pedal assistance'? Roy Workman rode to Brighton in the company of over 300 veteran and vintage motorcycles...

Listening to the weather forecast early on Sunday morning, I heard the announcer say that the stormy weather of the previous day was subsiding, but that the south of the country would get the worst of the weather with gusts of up to 55mph. This was going to be one of those days when I would be pleased to have a bike that was fitted with a stabiliser, in the form of a sidecar!

But the journey down to Epsom Downs stayed dry, and I spotted a fellow rider at Hampton Court, standing by his rigid frame AJS. I arrived at the Downs to find the area a hive of activity. Riders and mechanics were fettling their machines, ready for the off. With 324 machines entered for the run, the paddock was a very busy place.

Oh, the possibilites for a caption for this picture... Suggestions to the message board, please.

At 8 o'clock the Mayor of Epsom, Jonathan Reed, waved the first two entrants off. These were a pair of Leon Bollee Forecars, one dated from 1896 and the other from 1897. The early machines (pre-1905) were set off in pairs. The later Class 2 (up to 1909) entrants were set off in groups of four. Then the Class 3 entrants, the largest group, set off in groups of six. All 300-plus motorcycles were on the road in little over an hour. The last chap was away Bryan Marsh, riding his 1913 Triumph. I've met Bryan several times, as he also takes part in the Round Britain Rally.

The crowd of spectators following the run help to make the event. They ride everything from MVs to BSA Bantams, new machines and quite old machines, barn-finds to better than new.

'Pepper - Sit! Stay!'In the holding area close to the start one rider of a sidecar outfit had his dog, Pepper, seated in the sidecar, which was one of those open wicker types. The rider did a circuit to warm the engine up and the dog took fright, and promptly abandoned ship. It was eventually persuaded to return to its allocated space. Pepper did make it to Brighton; he was happily sitting in the sidecar at the finishing area. Pepper's chauffeur was dressed for the occasion, wearing a deerstalker hat and tweed clothes. Many of the participants dressed up for the occasion.

Following the machines along the road to Brighton it was interesting to watch all the levers being adjusted to gain an extra couple of miles per hour out of the machines.

Some bikes required a little light pedal assistance up the hills; some machines were noisy and others were almost silent. I felt sorry for the people whose machines were not fitted with clutches -- they were careful not to stop their bikes on up-slopes if at all possible.

I stopped off at Handcross, where there is always a large crowd, and where Verralls, the motorcycle dealer's shop, was open. It is well worth a wander around there as there are usually some nice machines to be seen. Whilst I was here Sammy Miller's back-up van drove through. Over the previous years I have spotted a Velocette Venom and a Norvin outfit parked there. They were there again this year. I spoke to the owners, who told me that they have only missed two Pioneer Runs since 1957 -- that's some record!

Every year since '57

I followed the 1897 Forecar for a couple of miles. A lot of judgement and planning went into dealing with the likes of roundabouts, etc, both by the passenger and the rider when they arrived at Brighton. The reason for them being extra careful was that they had a little problem with the brakes. The rider said that his human airbag in front did not go off, so they were fine!

The ride through the rolling Sussex Downs was very pleasant, meandering along the country lanes, through the groups of people who had gathered along the route.

A Hinckley Bonnie and Kawasaki W650... Hold on a moment...

The actual entry into Brighton seemed easier than normal, and the traffic was lighter this year. I had no trouble in finding a parking space. The local Council, in their wisdom, allow parking along the seafront, not far from the finish area. This parking area in itself is another show - nice to see machines like Ariel Arrows, Greeves, Velocettes and James. Lots of smaller machines seem to come out on an occasion like this.

The cafes and pubs along the seafront were doing a great trade in breakfasts and lunches.

And then the pedal fell off...One chap pushed his bike in for the last mile. He talked to the commentator at the Finish Line - he said that he had cooked his clutch in the Brighton traffic, and he had also overworked the back brake. Then, to cap it all, one of his cycle-type pedals had fallen off. He said that he was going to look for his mechanic, who also happened to be his father, and put in a warranty claim!!.

The commentator had a helper with a pair of binoculars, which he used to read the entry numbers of the approaching machines - unfortunately these binoculars did not help if the number was at the rear of the machine, and several numbers seemed to have disappeared altogether in the gusting winds.

I enjoyed the run home and took it easy, having been forewarned over the Sunbeam Club's tannoy that the Brighton Police had a mobile Gatso camera on the main London road out of town.

Yet again the Pioneer Run proved to be an excellent day out, well organised by the Sunbeam Club and their helpers.

Been anywhere good?

Note the brakes...


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