1908: London-Edinburgh-London

“IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF MOTOR CYCLING there is nothing more remarkable than the ever-increasing popularity of [the MCC’s London-Edinburgh Trial]; this splendid competition, which year by year is better supported.” By 1908 that support had grown to 99 solos and seven combos and trikes; the first riders left Highgate at 10pm on a clear moonlit night with 24 hours to cover the 400ish miles to Edinburgh. It rained, and rained hard with “a bitterly cold ‘nor-easter’ that was blowing practically all the way, and it drove clouds of dust straight into the faces of the competitors”. W Sales (5hp Vindec) was the first to reach the Biggleswade control just before midnight “and for the next hour men came in thick and fast, demanding petrol and sandwiches, coffee and carbide, water for their lamps, and lubricating oil all in the same breath. Imagine that quiet, orderly, and sober town, all ablaze with headlights of a crowd of 50 competitors at once—a scene which must be seen to be realised. For one solid hour continuous streams of riders

“Flashlight photograph of the start of the London-Edinburgh ride. Nos 1 and 2—SG Frost and S Webb—waiting for the word to go.”

poured in, all enthusiastic despite the rain now pouring down upon them, and relating to one another the terrors of that patch of stones at Baldock. Williamson, the present holder of the End-to-end record, was one of the victims, and RC Davies, who arrived very late, was another…” At Nottingham local enthusiasts had arranged hospitality; it is recorded that competitors ate more than 400 eggs before tucking into a second breakfast at Wetherby. According to the contemporary report, “The run is creating more interest every year. Hundreds of people lined the route through the towns and villages…” Billy Wells (5hp Vindec) reached Edinburgh just before 7pm, the first of 70 riders to arrive in time and qualify for gold medals. As usual a hard core of stalwarts rode back to London against the clock to compete for the Schulte Cup and the MCC Special Cup. A dozen bikes set out at 12.30pm; 10 made it to Barnet by Monday night. “Tired and dust-begrimed they were, but cheerful and delighted at having accomplished successfully the double journey of nearly 800 miles. Some of the men had most elaborate route cards, carried in frames or glass-fronted boxes, which were illuminated by electric light.” First man home was RO Clark (four-pot FN), followed by SG Frost (4½hp Minerva), AG Reynolds (3½hp Vindec) and 0G Godfrey (5hp Rex).
Marque record of starters/finishers: Triumph, 26/21; Vindec Special, 15/12; Rex, 9/8; Minerva, 4/3; Bat, 4/3; NSU, 4/2; Matchless, 3/3; Moto Reve, 2/2.
☞“The Puncture Fiend Defied: Few competitors in the MCC London to Edinburgh and back trial can boast absolute immunity from tyre trouble, yet 0C Godfrey, whose twin Rex had tubes charged with Miraculum, had no occasion to use the pump at all. We understand that several nails and pieces of iron were removed from the tyres en route, but none caused delay.”

“In the hotel yard at Wetherby, preparing for the third stage of the run.”

Among the dozen competitors for the Schulte Cup was one HP Beasley who left a record of his adventures:

FOR SOME DAYS PREVIOUS to the closing of the entry list for the MCC annual twenty-four hours’ run I had not made up my mind whether to compete, but finally sent in an entry form giving particulars of my 5hp Rex motor bicycle, to which I pinned my faith to carry me over the four hundred miles separating London and Edinburgh in twenty-four hours, and also the return journey to London for the Schulte and Motor Cycling Club Cups. Preliminary details over, I commenced to prepare for my self-imposed task, the magnitude of which grew upon me as Friday, 5th June, the day for starting, drew near. As a training spin I rode from town to the ACU hill-climb at Sutton Bank, near Thirsk, Yorkshire, a distance of 223 miles. My only worry was tyres, and the difficulty was to obtain a cover on which I could depend to stand the strain of a 5hp twin over 800 miles, and also be free from punctures. I eventually obtained a 2½in Shamrock Excelsior rubber-studded cover, in which I fitted a Miraculum-filled tube, leaving the original cover supplied with the machine on the front wheel, but as things turned out, I found tyres cannot be too new at the start for a long distance ride. Two Rich detachable tubes formed my spares, and without them I should not have completed the trial. I also carried a good supply of inlet and exhaust valves, sparking plugs, nuts, bolts, and other small useful parts.

The Day of the Start.
On the Friday evening I made tracks for the Old Gate House, Highgate, arriving about 8.30, but on the way broke one of my pair of lamps over the vile surface of Finchley Road, and I thought this a bad omen at this early period. A large crowd had already collected, and a good number of competitors’ motor cycles and cars lined up in their respective positions on both sides of the road. Of the chief marshal I obtained my numbered armlets, two short streamers of green ribbon for tying to the handle-bar to denote ‘return journey man’, and also two bundles of numbered tear-off tags for handing to the checkers along the road. After answering many enquiries as to whether I was ‘feeling fit’ and attending to the ‘inner man’, I obeyed the marshal’s instructions, and lined up in single file with the rest, there being only four or five absentees from the record total of 135 entries. On the stroke of ten o’clock Mr FT Bidlake gave the first man word to ‘go’, and this was the signal for a hearty cheer from the thousands of spectators gathered around, who extended almost without intermission to Barnet. The cheering recurred at intervals as each man was despatched into the darkness.

“An amateur rider, CH Crole-Rees, who successfully rode his 6hp Advance in the London to Coventry and Back Twelve Hours’ Run, and the London to Edinburgh and Back Run.”

Rain at the Start.
Whilst waiting for my turn to start the sky became very black and overcast, and I felt a spot or two of rain. ‘Ten seconds,’ ‘Five seconds,’ ‘Get ready,’ ‘Go,’ and I found my machine being pushed by willing hands to get the engine to fire, which it did instantly. Once clear of the tramlines, I settled down to a steady bat, and, with the engine humming nicely, I soon arrived at Hatfield, where I came upon the official checker quite unexpectedly several minutes ahead of time. This sort of thing would not win me the Schulte Cup, so I went on a little steadier to Biggleswade, where I arrived dead on time. The rain about here made matters uncomfortable. After filling up with petrol I started off for Grantham, where the competitors had been kindly invited to breakfast at the George Hotel by Mrs Marshall. In the meantime my lamp gave up the ghost, and I rode behind a large car with powerful headlights for some distance until at 2.15am it was light enough to see the road. I passed several of the other competitors on this stretch, all of whom seemed to be going well. I was cold and hungry on arriving at Grantham, and scampered in for warmth and a welcome repast. By this time the rain had cleared off, and a fine day looked promising. The run to Wetherby seemed the longest hundred miles stretch of the ride, and, peculiarly, the second hundred on the return journey also seemed of indefinite length. I had nothing to trouble about, and ambled along at an easy pace, occasionally passing a competitor busy with his puncture outfit. My twin seemed to revel in its work, and Wetherby was reached with plenty of time in hand. Whilst partaking of the second breakfast reports came in of serious accidents in the dark to two or three competitors. Rumours of police traps were heard, and everybody henceforth kept a keen look-out.

Tyres the Chief Trouble.
The high wind in the teeth of the competitors must have set the low powered machines a severe task—in fact I passed several competitors pedalling on hills, but few appeared to have mechanical troubles, tyres causing the most stops. The next halt was Newcastle for luncheon, and the point which struck me most on this portion of the ride was the excellent marking of the route with the MCC arrows, by the Newcastle and District Motor Cycle Club. This was especially noticeable near Durham, which city was avoided by making a detour of two or three miles. Mr SW Carty was in charge of the checking sheet, and I signed on feeling as fit as the proverbial fiddle. Luncheon added renewed vigour, and after obtaining petrol and oil, and wiping some of the dust off the machine, I set out for Edinburgh on the last hundred. My only difficulty now was to find a comfortable position in which to sit, and my wrists also commenced to ache. The wind had almost dropped, and the dust contained a little less coal. At all the checking stations where I stopped there were numerous enquiries after the lady competitor, Miss Muriel Hind, and everybody admired her pluck and endurance. After leaving Newcastle the coast road was taken, and a refreshing breeze told me of the proximity of the sea, which shortly came into view.

The Finish of the Long Run.
Some of the competitors, after signing at Berwick-on-Tweed, where tea was provided, seemed to desire to reach Edinburgh in as short a time as possible, and I will admit I arrived at Levenhall with plenty of time to spare. We were then directed to the Royal Hotel, where we signed the final checking sheet, and the Schulte Cup competitors’ machines were locked up in a special garage by the officials, to be handed back to the owners half an hour before starting time on Sunday at midnight. After dinner, having recounted a few adventures with the other competitors, I turned in for a good night’s rest, with a very satisfied feeling. Nearly one hundred of those who started duly arrived in Edinburgh inside thirty hours—a very good proof of the reliability of the modern machine. I was not about very early next morning, and those competitors who had not to make the return ride started for home by different routes, some going by road through Kendal and the Lake District. On Sunday it rained nearly all day, and the return journey men rested quietly. Activities commenced again about 11pm, and we all made the most of the half hour allowed to prepare our travel-stained steeds for the return run.

Miss M Hind (5hp Rex) leaving the Newcastle control. She had quite an enthusiastic reception at Newcastle.”

Commencement of the Return Journey.
I was given the word ‘Go’ at 12.46, and was off again to cover that long distance separating the two capitals full of hope. The rain had ceased, and the night was beautifully clear—in fact, at 2am I dispensed with the lamp, as I could see well enough to avoid the rabbits which abounded. I kept company with Godfrey and Winslow, both on Rex machines, and we ran through to Berwick, which was the first breakfast stop, like clockwork. The only incident on this stretch was the difficulty experienced in getting over the vile cobbled surface of Dunbar. After feeding, I procured a gaiter for the front tyre, out of which a piece had been cut by some sharp stone, and repaired my rubber belt, the fastener having pulled through. Off again punctually to schedule. Perfect travelling conditions prevailed, the day commencing warm. A few miles out of Berwick my back tyre went down, the valve of the tube containing the Miraculum having pulled out, to which I do not attach any blame. I threw the tube away, and quickly fitted one of the Rich detachables. All the cup competitors’ machines seemed to be running perfectly, the lame ducks having dropped out on the journey north. Some of the competitors must have been endowed with the patience of Job himself, keeping so strictly to 20mph, actually arriving in controls within seconds of schedule. I found the short distance over which I kept strictly to time very tedious work. A very excellent system of secret checks was adopted, a car travelling in front of the riders dropping a timekeeper, who would secret himself in the hedge and take the competitors’ times as they passed, to be picked up later by another car following in the rear.

Two Policemen up a Tree.
On two or three occasions, until I became accustomed to this arrangement, I took the timekeeper to be an assistant in a police trap, of which there were several of the long-distance variety along the road, and in one place I espied two men comfortably ensconced up a tree. Only two or three competitors were caught, however. At Newcastle the second breakfast was ready, and once more replenishing the tank, we set out for Wetherby. Beyond care in passing several flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, I had nothing to do but steer and give the engine a pumpful of oil every few miles. Once I caught up the leading official car, but was promptly warned to keep in the rear, and popped along very slowly to the luncheon place, which marked the completion of three parts of my task. At Wetherby the competitors were warned that the police were everywhere as far as Grantham, and this proved rather awkward, as I had two or three punctures and had to make up time. I, however, managed to reach Grantham, where tea was waiting, to schedule, after going very slowly on account of a police trap outside the town. Then I experienced a whole host of tyre troubles. Five miles out I damaged my second spare tube beyond repair, and I had to insert a 2in tube, kindly lent me by a passing motor cyclist. This necessitated taking the back wheel out on the road, which delayed me an hour, and to make up I was obliged to travel very fast to Biggleswade, fifty-five miles away. Replenishing the petrol tank for the last time, I lit the lamp for the thirty-five miles to Barnet. The machine ran perfectly until about three miles out, when the belt fastener again pulled through. Nothing less than a 1in belt is strong enough for a 5hp twin. I was in a predicament, as the belt was now too short, but managed to rig this up satisfactorily, and duly arrived in Barnet about 11pm, where Bidlake again officiated with the watch, and I thus qualified for the Schulte medal. The return journey did not seem nearly so long as the outward run, probably because the ground was now more familiar to me. I felt quite fit bodily, but sleepy. I supped at the ‘Old Sal’, and then made for the west of London. Some of the riders seemed loth to leave the hospitality of the hotel, and slept there the night. Next morning, after a good night’s rest, I felt almost sorry I was not due away at midnight on the return journey again, so enjoyable had been the run. Barring tyre troubles and the belt pulling through, not a single detail of the twin- cylinder TT Rex required attention. The marking of the route and general organisation of the run were excellent, and did great credit to the officials of the Motor Cycling Club responsible.

“SG Frost, winner of the special cup in the MCC London-Edinburgh and back run. We understand that he very nearly won the Schulte Cup also. The machine is a twin-belt Minerva, with GA carburetter, Palmer tyres, Continental belt, and Brooks seat.”