1908: Bikes @ Brooklands

Like the TT, Brooklands opened for business in 1907, but bikes didn’t race on the world’s first purpose-built racetrack until 1908. These reports and letters give a taste of those early days.

“NEVER BEFORE IN ITS BRIEF EXISTENCE has the famous motor track at Weybridge presented such a stirring and businesslike appearance as on Tuesday in last week. On that occasion the first motor cycle contest on the Brooklands course took place, when a really excellent performance was made by Mr WG McMinnies on a 3½hp Triumph motor bicycle. It is true that several cars were also racing on the track—for instance, a new six-cylinder Humber and a 100hp Renault, and a few other little things of that sort—but, taking it all round, we must admit as onlookers that the feature of the day was the debut of the two-wheeler. Almost as soon as the sun arose, two enterprising motor cyclists aroused the neighbourhood with the rapid reverberations of their machines as they raced round and round the track at terrific speeds. Clad in thick garments and well begoggled and helmeted, the intrepid riders flashed round the great motordrome at furious speed, learning the intricacies of banking and experiencing the peculiar feeling as one swoops down again on to the level. “By George!” said a bystander; “they have got the fever badly.” And meanwhile [Brooklands Club secretary] Mr Rodakowski smiled upon the enthusiasts, willingly agreeing to their suggestions, and taking as much interest in the matter as if he himself were riding. As the day wore on, spectators trickled in, discovering in some remarkable manner that a great event was taking place. How they knew we cannot say, but it seems to lend colour to the theory that human beings still possess some rudimentary organ which tells them what is ‘in the air’. At last the riders were satisfied that their machines were in good running order, and about 12.30 the word was given to go. The dramatis personae were as follows: One 3½hp single-cylinder TT Triumph bicycle; one 5hp light Vindec ditto—oh! and we must not forget the riders, to wit, Messrs WG McMinnies and OL Bickford. The Vindec machine appeared to be a light Tourist Trophy model equipped for the road. The Triumph motor bicycle was also a light TT model, but minus mudguards; engine, 84mm by 86mm. The gear was three and a quarter to one in each case. Other points in common were magneto ignition. Shamrock belts, Dunlop tyres, and footrests, no pedals. It should be mentioned that the trial was merely a private one, and arranged ‘just for the sport of the thing’ to settle a bet. It was very, very cold and windy, and the sky was overcast as the competitors toed the line just before starting off on their race round the track. One lap (2¾ miles) was the distance,

“Mr McMinnies making final preparations For his match with Mr Bickford. WG McMinnies covering a half-mile at the rate of 59.8mph at Brooklands last week.”

commencing near the members’ entrance. Upon the word being given, the Triumph got away first, quickly establishing a lead which it never lost. Though nothing serious at first, by the time the machines had reached the far end quite a hundred yards separated them, the gap increasing steadily till the finish, when the Triumph machine was leading by about 150 yards. The trial being a private one, the Brooklands officials refused to announce the times, but privately timed the 2¾ miles were covered in 3min 6sec, equal to nearly fifty-three miles per hour. The reason for the Vindec’s poor performance was found on dismantling the engine afterwards, a globule of metal having become wedged underneath one of the valves, thus impairing the compression. As the Triumph was behaving so well Mr McMinnes rode it twice over a timed half mile—the first time against and the second time with the wind. The results were highly satisfactory, the rate of speed being 57.88 miles against the wind and 59.8 miles per hour with the wind. In spite of these high speeds, one cannot help noticing a strange phenomenon when watching racing on the track. The competitors always appear to be going slowly—only about half of their actual speed. On this occasion, for instance, a stranger to Brooklands said to us, “Well, this is a poor performance; he is only crawling!” But to see his face afterwards when he learnt the speed was a picture! The total weight of the Triumph and its rider was 280lb; rider, 155lb. Mr Bickford weighs 174lb. Both riders were very pleased with the track, and thought it most delightful for motor bicycle racing. Not the slightest sign of overheating could be detected in either engine, both being quite as fast after running ‘all out’ for a long period as in the first half-mile. Taken altogether, the venture has been so successful that we look forward with pleasure to seeing motor cycle racing a regular feature at Brooklands. There would be no dearth of competitors.”

“WG McMinnies (3½hp Tourist Trophy Triumph) and OL Bickford (5hp Tourist Trophy Vindec): These two Oxford enthusiasts contested the first motor cycle match race on the Brooklands Track and are among the entrants for the first open motor cycle race at Brooklands on Easter Monday.”

“I WAS GREATLY SURPRISED to see in the last issue of The Motor Cycle the prominence given, not only in the editorial columns, but in the advertisement of one of our most esteemed competitors, to what was evidently intended to be a friendly match between two Oxford men. And, under the circumstances, I feel that it is only fair to riders of Vindec Special motor cycles to explain a few facts in connection with this event. In the first place, the Vindec Special ridden by one of the competitors was purchased by him in December, 1906, and has probably been ridden many thousands of miles, not only by the owner, but by various friends of his in Oxford. The machine when sold (and we understand it was ridden at Brooklands in the same condition) was fully equipped as a roadster according to the ACU definition of a touring machine, and was what the manufacturers designate as their Tourist Trophy model. According to The Motor Cycle, the Triumph machine was stripped of mudguards, but The Motor Cycle does not mention the fact that it had auxiliary ports in the cylinder, which was a fact. It, therefore, became without question a track racing machine, and the time made has been equalled on Canning Town track many times by much lower powered machines; therefore, it was nothing marvellous. The rider of the Vindec, unfortunately, drilled some extra vents in his induction pipe just previous to the race, and some of the borings got lodged under one of the exhaust valves, causing one cylinder to stop firing. It is, therefore, nothing to the discredit of the machine that he was beaten. The manufacturers of the Vindec Special have never catered for track racing, and confine their efforts entirely to fully equipped touring machines. If, however, the Triumph Company believe that their machine is faster than the Tourist Trop Vindec Special, I am quite willing to arrange a friendly match race at Brooklands, I to ride the 75×76 Twin Touring Trophy model Vindec against an 84×86 single-cylinder Triumph driven by a member of their staff, the condition being that no auxiliary ports are to be drilled in either cylinders, and that each machine will be so equipped as to come fully within the Tourist Trophy conditions of 1907, the matter to consist of flying start races over a measured mile, the best two out of three to be the winner and the loser to pay Brooklands track expenses.
WH Wells

“REFERRING TO MR WELLS’S LETTER concerning the race at Brooklands Track between two private sportsmen, the conditions of this match were well known to Mr Wells, who intended to be present but for the alteration of the original date. Mr McMinnies’s machine was his own3½hp TT Triumph on which he made a non-stop run in the quarterly trials, and Mr Bickford’s a 5hp TT Vindec Special 1907 model. Naturally both competitors left no stone unturned to get the fastest possible speed out of their machines, there being no restrictions whatever.We are too busy to accept Mr Wells’s challenge, and it does not concern us whether or not a 5hp Vindec Special can do over sixty miles per hour, and Mr McMinnies’s performance is quite sufficient to prove the speed that can be accomplished on a TT Triumph.
F Hulbert

“MR E DE RODAKOWSKI, THE SECRETARY of the Brooklands Club, is one of the latest converts to motor cycling. Two or three enthusiastic members of the ACU, elated at the prospect of a race for motor cycles on Brooklands, decided to take two or three machines down to the track and find out a few facts concerning it. Previously the only data on which they had to go were the reports of two gallant naval officers, who drove round till their machines became almost red hot, and the private match between Messrs Bickford and McMinnies…Messrs Straight, Reynolds, Wells, H Collier Snr and HA Collier went down to the famous motordrome to confirm that motor cycles could be kept within the inner circle where the public would be better able to appreciate their performances. To test the practicability of the idea, Wells and Reynolds, on twin-cylinder Vindecs, started at the top of the straight, and careered at full tilt down it. Wells travelled at a goodly speed, took the comer leading to the main track, went high up the banking, and almost landed in a patch of newly laid cement some distance farther on (the track is now under repair), while Reynolds was more cautions, since he slowed at the corner. Both then returned, and announced that at the speed at which they had been going the comer was impossible, as there was no banking at the very spot at which it was most wanted. This does not mean that the track is badly designed, as it was being used then in a manner the reverse to which it was intended. The riders were not, however, to be daunted, and each separately had another try, but with no better success. Collier, unfortunately, could not make the attempt, as his Matchless racer was not in such good form as it might have been. In the interval Mr Rodakowski was persuaded to try Reynolds’s light roadster Vindec. It was his first ride on a motor bicycle, and in this case we have an absolute novice initiated into the pastime on a fast 5hp twin! On his return he expressed himself delighted with the machine, and stated how much surprised he was at the total absence of engine vibration and the easy manner in which the machine was controlled. Various tests followed, which resulted in the decision that the machines should be started at a point almost opposite the pavilion, as it had been found that they then had not time to get up enough speed to be travelling at a dangerous pace when the corner was reached. Through the courtesy of Mr AG Reynolds we were able to try the track for ourselves, or at least that portion of it which was available. Riding on it was a delightful experience; there was a sense of unfettered freedom, which can be felt nowhere else, even on a straight deserted road in the Fen Country. The Vindec pulled magnificently, but was under-geared for the work, and so never slowed at all up the 1 in 30 gradient behind the hill. Along this section there is no need to take the banking even at a speed of nearly forty-eight miles an hour, and both here and along the straight the surface is practically perfect. Motor bicycles have never before competed on what is, humanly speaking, a perfectly safe track, so that what the result of the races will be may only be conjectured.”

For the first time the paddock at Brooklands was full of motor cycles.

“ON EASTER MONDAY MOTOR CYCLISTS had an opportunity of trying their mounts for the first time in open competition on the famous track at Brooklands.” It was a 5½-mile race with the choice of £20 or a cup for the winner; the 24 entrants were led home by Will Cook (Cookie to his chums) on a 984cc/9hp Peugeot-engined V-twin NLG (for North London Garages, where he worked) at an average 63mph, ahead of E Kickham (7hp Leader-Peugeot) and TT winner Charlie Collier on his 6hp International Cup Matchless-JAP). Cook was an easy winner some 1,000m ahead of Kickham, who led Collier by 100m at the line. Cook had put in 30 miles of practice at an average 68mph but was slowed during the race by a strong cross wind. “The owner and maker of the [winning] machine is Mr AG Forster, who with his brother is proprietor of North London Garage, 15, Corsica Street, Highbury, N. The Messrs Forster have for years taken an interest in motor cycling, but the winning machine at Brooklands is the first and only one yet made by them. Mr Cook’s success on this experimental machine should give sufficient encouragement to Messrs Forster to exploit the NLG still further.”

“First Brooklands Open Motor Cycle Race on Easter Monday; preparing for the start. W Cook (7-9hp NLG Peugeot), winner of the motor cycle race at Brooklands. His speed for about 5½ miles was equal to 63 miles an hour.”
“Competitors in the first Brooklands motor cycle race parading to the start.”
“Gordon Gibson (3½hp Triumph), winner of the Brooklands Motor Cycle Handicap Plate. Handicap start 2nin 20sec, speed 53 miles per hour The neat-looking Leaderracer fitted with 7hp Peugeot engine, ridden by E Kickham in both the Brooklands motor cycle races. In the first race Mr Kickham finished second, but on the 9th instant he was unable to catch up the limit men.”

“WE UNDERSTAND FROM CERTAIN OFFICIALS of the ACU that considerable trouble has been given by competitors who took part in the first Brooklands Motor Cycle Race, owing to the fact that great difficulty was experienced in getting back the distinguishing numbers which were lent to them on the occasion of the race. The competitors had to pay nothing for these numbers, but in future no entrant will be allowed to compete unless he deposits 5s 6d with the secretary, which will not be returned to him unless the numbers are given back complete.”

THE SECOND OPEN RACE AT BROOKLANDS was a handicap to ensure a closer finish: the 31 entrants ranged from 950cc, 7hp twins to a 270cc 1¾hp tiddler. Winner of the £25 1st prize was H Shanks (2¾hp Chater-Lea), ahead of HG Partridge (6hp NSU) and WH Bashall (3½hp Triumph)—“less than a wheel” separated Partridge and Bashall as they crossed the line; the highest speed recorded was 58mph. Spare a thought for AC Wright (1¾hp KD) “whose number plate fell off, caught in his front wheel, and threw him”.

“Start of the Motor Cycle Handicap Plate of 25 sovs. Great interest was displayed in this event and there was an exciting finish.”
“In the paddock at Brooklands, preparing for the Motor Cycle Plate. Mr H Shanks Jnr (2¾hp Chater-Lea 75x75mm), winner of the handicap with a start of 2min 45sec.”

☞Following the second, highly successful motor cycle race at Brooklands a local resident won damages for nuisance and noise, leading to the suspension of motor cycle races even though, as every motor cyclist knew, the big racing cars were far noisier than the bikes. The suspension stopped a race meeting that had been planned for Naval officers.

☞“Is there any hope that a motor cycle race will be held in the near future on the Brooklands Track? We may mention that we have just received from our works a specially built 8hp path racer, which we are rather anxious to try on the Brooklands Track, and, therefore, you will understand that we are rather keen to do so on the occasion of the next race for motor cycles.
NSU Motor Co Ltd

☞“In consequence of a legal decision against the proprietor of the track, the officials are desirous of preventing all unnecessary noise. They consider racing motor cycles make more noise than racing motor cars, and for the present they have stopped all motor cycle races on Brooklands. —Ed]”

☞“We note with pleasure that a motor cycle handicap race is announced for the next Brooklands meeting on October 3rd. This should provide a good opportunity for TT competitors to indulge in a little speed work on the finest racing track in the world.”

“GREAT WERE THE REJOICINGS AT BROOKLANDS on Saturday at the revival of the motor cycle races. The spectators really enjoyed them, and showed the greatest possible enthusiasm. Out of twenty-eight entries everyone turned up at the start. Unfortunately, the start took place at the end of the finishing straight almost completely out of view; at least so far off was it from the paddock that the men were practically indistinguishable…” Gordon Gibson (3½hp Triumph) won the 5½-mile Motor Cycle Handicap Plate at an average 53mph. The handicap system came in for criticism as it gave too big a start (up to 2min 20sec) to the smaller bikes. “The following big machines started from scratch and had no chance at all of being placed: WE Cook (7hp twin NLG, 80x98mm), M Geiger (8hp twin NSU, 80x100mm.), WBR Moorhouse (7hp JAP twin, 85x90mm), and CR Collier (7hp twin Matchless, 85x85mm). We should have liked to have seen the more powerful machines have at least a sporting chance.”

“The Brooklands Motor Cycle Handicap Plate. Scene in the paddock on Saturday last. The greatest interest was displayed in this event, 28 entries were received.”

CHARLIE COLLIER DECIDED TO GO for the world hour record, which had stood since 1905. Italian ace Giuppone had covered 63 miles 1,078 yards on a 12hp Peugeot twin at the Parc des Princes track in Paris. The obvious place for a record attempt was Brooklands and the obvious bike was the 10hp (964cc) ohv Matchless-JAP twin ridden by HV Colver in the TT. Collier smashed the old record, covering 70 miles 105 yards in the hour with a fastest lap of 72.9mph. The Motor Cycle was not unimpressed: “This splendid record made by Collier should do much to encourage motor cycle track racing…other British motor cycle makers will probably not be content to leave the laurels of victory with one firm. Messrs Collier and Sons deserve the heartiest congratulations on their success, which they have adequately earned by their enterprise and stolid perseverance. As regards Collier himself, it may be truly said that he rode magnificently… Collier complained very much of the roughness of the surface, and stated the drive had been somewhat of a strain.”

“HH Collier congratulates his son on a splendid performance. Notice how fresh CR Collier looks, notwithstanding the terrific speed he maintained. Right: CR Collier and the twin-cylinder machine on which he created a new world hour’s record of 70 miles 105 yards.”

“AS A RACING MOTOR CYCLIST of some years’ standing, and in the interests of the sport, I consider it is time that some steps were taken to improve the handicapping of motor cycle races. The handicap at Brooklands on the 3rd inst has, I should imagine, clearly shown the necessity of attention being drawn to this feature of track contests. In this race, the riders finishing first and second were each allowed 2min 20sec start, or, roughly, two miles. Now it is perfectly well known to me or anybody else that either of these men could attain a speed of fifty miles per hour on a track such as Brooklands. This means that for the scratch men to even draw level they must travel at a speed approaching eighty miles an hour. A glimpse at the entries reveals the fact, amongst others quite as ridiculous, that a 3½hp had to concede a start of 40sec to the winner on a 3½hp Triumph with an engine 57,000 cubic mm greater cylinder capacity, and, worse still, a 2¾hp NSU 75×75 was conceding 5sec to the same rider, whose cylinder dimensions were 84×86, and also to a 5hp FN, which finished second. Now when it is borne in mind that these identical machines have, by the abnormal starts allotted to them, finished first and second in no fewer than three important events within the last few weeks, I think everybody will agree that it is high time something was done to improve the handicapping. The general dissatisfaction expressed amongst the competitors at Brooklands can only have a detrimental effect eventually upon the sport.
CR Collier

“Brooklands—an impression of speed.”