24th June 2013
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VMCC Training Day 2013
This very special event gives riders a chance to try their hand at riding vintage and veteran machines under controlled circumstances. Richard Jones enjoyed an enlightening encounter with a 1917 Allon...
I was reading an edition of The Motor Cycle from May 1935 the other day and it struck me how many of the correspondents used pen names. Names like Ixion and Torrens are still remembered now but Ubique, Wharfedale and Nitor have disappeared from our consciousness (is it me or does 'Nitor sound like something you would use to make tomatoes grow?)
What has also disappeared, at least from my view, is why pen names were used; was it due to the embarrassment arising from being associated with two-wheeled motorised transport perhaps? As we know, Ixion was Canon Basil Davies, a man of the church who was vicar at Bexhill-on-Sea from 1926 to 1940. However I don't recall motorcycling being one of the seven deadly sins nor can I believe that the proximity of Canterbury to Bexhill would have any bearing on the matter. Besides the original Ixion was hardly a pleasant character - according to Greek mythology he was the first person to kill a member of his family by pushing his father-in-law into a bed of burning coals and wood. For this and other transgressions Zeus had Ixion bound to a winged fiery wheel that was always spinning. Presumably this wheel inspired the name of the motorcycle and thereafter the pen name of the motorcycling scribe. I was thinking of having a pen name - 'Magneto' seemed appropriate but apparently Sir Ian McKellen has his dibs on this. Anyway this has nothing to do with what I wanted to write about, so on to the business at hand.
June means two things - the recently imported American 'tradition' of Father's Day and the great British institution of the Banbury Run™; this year they coincided. This was to be the 65th Run and, despite its name, it's held at Gaydon Heritage Motor centre and not Banbury which became too small as the event's popularity grew. The VMCC decided to make a weekend of it by holding their Training Day at Gaydon on the Saturday; this is an opportunity for riders to try out older machines which are kindly, and bravely, provided by their owners for the day.
I have enjoyed photographing and writing about these marvellous machines over the last few years and it seemed like a good idea to ride at least one of them on the basis of 'he who can rides; he who can't writes.' And so it was on a bright and sunny morning that Tessie the Hinckley Triumph and I set off from Jones Towers; five miles later we were soaking wet as the sun had disappeared and was replaced with a cloud burst. This proves the rule that if you want it to stay dry then wear your waterproof over-trousers, a rule that had completely slipped my mind.
We arrived at just before 9am in Gaydon to find the VMCC marquee erected and a line of eager participants queuing up to register with the organisers. Owners of the veteran and vintage bikes to be used were also lining up their machines and were looking remarkably unconcerned given their pride and joy was to be used by novices. Once registered we were given a briefing - listen to and obey everything you were told by (i) the owners (ii) the marshals - and then allowed on to the oval circuit formed by cones on a Gaydon car park. The riders all immediately headed for their favourite machines, there to be given instruction by the owners on the do's and don'ts of riding motorcycles of this age and (possibly) fragility.
One of the bikes I had never heard of before was this 1926 Dunelt Model G 500 two-stroke machine.
Manufacture started in Birmingham in 1919, the marque taking its name from its founders Messrs Dunford and Elliot. The original 500cc engines were equipped with double-diameter stepped pistons and the owner had kindly provided an explanation of the cylinder configuration and operation. The piston apparently ascends and induces as would a normal two-stroke; it then descends and induces a mixture as normal but also induces again by uncovering the inlet port. If further explanation is required then I think PUB needs to be involved as it's beyond a mechanical simpleton like me. From 1929 to 1935 a 249cc version was also used together with proprietary engines from Sturmey Archer and Villiers; late model versions also featured Rudge Python and JAP power units. From 1931 manufacture was moved to Sheffield and ceased in 1935, to be revived briefly in 1955 with a 49cc moped. Although not well known for their sporting successes, Dunelts performed well at the Isle of Man and won the 1930 Maudes Trophy, having travelled over 13,000 miles in 16 days at an average speed of just under 35mph.
Another handsome entrant was this 1911 Alldays & Onions Matchless machine which, it should be noted, had nothing to do with the Matchless marque. Once again manufacture was based in Sparkbrook in Birmingham and started in 1903, although De-Dion powered tricycles had been built since as early as 1898. The early motorcycles used Moto Réve engines although the Matchless model was believed to be Villiers-powered.
A firm favourite of the highly enthusiastic novice riders, who were by now queuing to get at the machines they wanted to ride almost to the point, dare I say it, to jostling for position in a very polite way, was this very pretty 1930 Rudge Whitworth. Speaking to one clearly satisfied customer who had ridden it, the attraction was based on it being relatively easy to master, provided a good riding experience and had a very helpful owner (although I have to say this latter characteristic was shared by all the owners present).
I liked the look of this 1928 Norton and, whilst chatting to its owner, asked if he was riding in the next day's run. He told me he had decided not to attend as he had been reprimanded, ever so nicely, in a previous outing for going too fast and completing the course too quickly. I have to say if I was riding a Norton like this I wouldn't be holding back either - it just looks ready to be ridden hard and fast.
Not unsurprisingly the truly unique 1904 464cc Dreadnought, built by pioneer British motorcyclist Harold 'Oily' Karslake and chosen to start the first Pioneer Run in 1930 when it was ridden by George Brough, was not one of the machines on offer. Instead it was being prepared for next day's Banbury Run; regrettably it did not start due to a broken frame which was a great shame.
Lunch time came, as it so often does, and provided the owners with an opportunity to do some fettling as well as consuming the food made available by our very gracious hosts from the VMCC.
So, you may ask, what machines did I ride to extend my experience of older motorcycles? Well I have to admit to being something of a failure in this respect. I'm not sure whether I mentioned it but I am not very good at learning new skills, particularly in a group. A lack of patience, no hand / eye co-ordination, two left feet and the need to master something immediately or give up does present its difficulties. I had heard some of the complex explanations as to how to ride some of the machines, and when faced by a motorcycle with four levers on the handlebars, a hand-gear change and various foot pedals with complex functions I decided discretion was the better part of valour for my sanity, the sanity of the owners and the bikes themselves.
I therefore took myself off to record the day photographically and chat to some of the riders and owners. It was whilst I was doing this I met Rhett Fisher who, with his son Christopher, had brought three motorcycles on his Bedford flatbed truck - two Douglas machines and a 1917 Allon.
Allon was what Alldays & Onions transformed into in 1914 when it began manufacturing 292cc two-stroke motorcycles in a new factory at Small Heath; the above is an example. Rhett's machine dates from 1917 when it was bought new by his grandfather's cousin and it has remained in his family ever since. In fact when Rhett came to re-register it following restoration he was able to get the correspondence forwarded to the same address that had been used when it was bought. After a great deal of encouragement from Rhett I actually took the decision to ride this machine, the main attractions being that it was small, only had two levers on the handlebars and could be ridden around the circuit in first gear thus avoiding me resorting to the hand gear change which controlled the Albion two-speed box.
What a revelation! I could actually ride it and, what's more, the experience was highly enjoyable. The throttle was the right hand lever, easily managed by the thumb; if you wanted to slow down (and change gear if so inclined) you could use either the rear brake or the left hand decompression lever; finally stopping the engine merely required the idiot Jones to use the decompression lever. As that meerkat would say: 'simples!'
Spurred on by my admittedly unremarkable success in the scheme of things I thought I'd then try Rhett's Aero Douglas. In 1937 Douglas announced its two model range for the following year, the larger of which was to be a 584cc fore-and-aft engine machine coded DC/38 which became known as the Aero. Although most of these machines had a hand gear change mounted on the right side of the tank this machine is unusual in that it has a foot gear change, albeit the mountings for the hand change are still in place. This, to my mind, meant it would be easy to ride - twistgrip throttle and a foot gear change would make it just like Tessie. Or not. Yes I could ride it but it was not the same experience as the Allon - the gear change required a lot of patience, was very long and, to be perfectly honest, I hadn't got a clue what gear I was in when I coasted to a halt in the pit lane.
I would like to say that I had also ridden Rhett's second Douglas, pictured being ridden by his son Christopher to clear the plugs, but I would be lying. This 600cc sprinter is run on methanol and is capable of 100mph, a speed that it can reach extremely quickly at venues like Thorney Island. Too much for me but a couple of the more intrepid riders did give it a good run including one young man who worked for Red Bull Racing. It wasn't Sebastian Vettel but he could well be a close relative given the confidence with which he rode the Douglas. Anyway Rhett should be at Thorney Island on 18th August 2013 for the VMCC Sprint if you want to see the Douglas in action
So what of the other participants? Well I think the smile on the face of this gentlemen riding 'my' Allon - I can be very proprietary - answers that question. People had come from places like Nottingham and Milton Keynes to take part and everyone I spoke to had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was no doubting their enthusiasm and willingness to learn how to ride these bikes and their pleasure was plain to see. The range of machines available was also really rather special and it's not every day that you get the chance to see motorcycles like this let alone ride them. I also have to congratulate the owners for being so helpful, supportive and patient (all three qualities were needed in my case so a special thanks to Rhett Fisher).
I would encourage everyone who is interested to go along and have a go next year - if I can do it anyone can. See www.vmcc.net
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