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28th March 2006

The 2006 Pioneer Run

John Blades has discovered that by far the best way to see the huge variety of classic motorcycles and old bikes on the Pioneer Run, is to turn tail and travel in the opposite direction...

What a beautiful day for the 68th Pioneer Run! Crisp and dry, with just enough warmth in the sun to thaw the cockles. Clearly the start of the biking year for those of us who no longer ride all winter.

The Pioneers - bikes and tricycles manufactured pre-1st January 1915 - chug and burble their way from Epsom to Brighton. I think that that's the theory but in practice several gazillion post-1915 cars and bikes turn out on this good excuse for an early spring run. And a good time is had by all.

If ever a picture demanded the caption 'bowling along' this is it...

Living in Surrey, and knowing the roads round Sussex to the south of Horsham, we decided to head for the middle section of the run to catch the Pioneers as they navigate through Handcross and down to Leonardslee Gardens where they seem to have a pit stop, or a cup of tea or some warming broth, or something. I remembered how we had watched from a layby north of Handcross last year and been astounded by the sheer volume of traffic doing the same run down to Brighton. So many in fact that each round about and junction through Handcross had a tailback. And too many of the Pioneers had to stop and push because of overheating engines, and rudimentary clutches and gear change mechanisms that were just not designed for sitting in traffic jams.

...or maybe *this* is it.

So this year the bright wheeze was to travel in the opposite direction. It was great. Not only did we not impede the progress of the Pioneers, but we saw many more of them, travelling in the opposite direction to them as we were.

All went well until Handcross. Once again the main street was crammed. Cars and bikes parked on both sides of the road, and one or two pioneers on the pavement a-tinkering. All the way into town from the north it was snarled up again. Cars in a queue, bikes of all type and hue filtering up the outside.

You can't beat a bit of red paint to go with your white tyres...

And where are the poor Pioneers?

Carved up and hemmed into the gutter, marginalized on their own event!

It struck me that there should be some sort of natural law to say that the Pioneers should have right of way and everyone post 1st January 1915 should move out of their way and give them a clear run. Think about it. Most of us have ridden low powered bikes at some time, and the older and more wheezy the bike the less it likes stopping and starting, going slow, or going fast for that matter. And the crunch time comes when you know that if you let the revs drop it will stall, or if you lose the cooling breeze of forward motion you will overheat. The last thing you want is a traffic jam, particularly one created by your followers…

Rant over. The run does have much open road and for the spectator it is a joy to see and hear these wonderfully varied machines (not to mention their wonderfully varied riders!).

Light pedal assistance may be required...
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Take a look and on the surface they (the bikes) look similar, various stages of the evolution from bicycle to motorcycle (or tricycle)(or, in the case of the Earnshaw a tricycle with an extra wheel forming an unusual diamond pattern!) The pre-1915 recipe seems to have included using a greenish frame and tank, long bent handlebars, not much in the way of brakes, and an assortment of wicker, wood and leather.

The biggest differences, though, are in their motive power. From the era when invention was increasing diversity (Cf. modern day homogeneity where the successful formula for something leads to convergence to the ideal design) the Pioneers have so many engine configurations that if RealClassic have not already done a special edition on the subject then perhaps someone should write it up for the magazine.

A load of old clunkers on the prom. And some motorbikes.

What did we see today? Many singles (doff, doff, chuff, chuff, or clank, clank!), twins of the parallel, opposing and V format (chugga, chugga, chugga), a tiny in-line 4 (each cylinder separate, with separate carbs,) (Purr, Purr, Purr) etc. Some with engines so small they were drowned by the sound of the pedals!

Steam - I think I saw some steam, but it was difficult to tell because of the oil smoke that comes from many an overheating steed stuck in a traffic jam in Handcross (there I go again!).

That's as close to the Honda as they dare get, in case it topples over.

If we disregard the modern bikes, and Harleys, that cluttered the road there were many good examples of the classic bikes we know and love best. Trumpets and Beezers, a few Nortons, a Brough, at least one Scott, and a gaggle of assorted Vincents and HRD. A tidy Black Prince also looked as though it was suffering overheating in the Handcross congestion. Royal Enfields - Several. Douglas, yes. An imitation Sixties Mini with a Union Jack on the roof. A Reliant Scimitar.

I'm gibbering now so its obviously time to finish. Tired after an enjoyable day.

Every bike should employ a piece of hairy string somewhere.

Just had an idea! Next year The Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club (who organise the Pioneer Run) should change the route at the last minute and only tell the Marshals, Pioneers and their pit crews. Everyone else will turn up and cause a traffic jam in Handcross as usual, and the Pioneers would get a clear run to Brighton. Brilliant! But then I'd miss seeing them too…

If you wanted to clutter the route on next year's Pioneer Run, see for all the info.

See you next year?

Photos by John Blades and Kevin off of the Real Classic Message Board


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