1920

A number of spring frames appeared on the market but cost delayed their general adoption for decades to come. Power outstripped handling and braking (as would happen again half a century later); the phrase “speed wobble” came into common currency.

Utility scooters enjoyed a fad among wealthy youngsters. Ixion “seized every chance to handle the newcomers and swiftly concluded that scooters were absurdities”.

Ernie Walker maintained the American hold on the world speed record, hitting 103.6mph at Daytona on a 994cc Indian. But a sharp slump combined with a flood of cheap cars took a dreadful toll of US manufacturers leaving only Harley, Indian, Excelsior and Henderson.
Carlo Guzzi’s first Moto Guzzi appeared with a 497cc horizontal four-stroke single that was to be the marque’s mainstay for decades to come. Guzzi won its first race even before bikes had reached dealers’ showrooms.

Bayliss-Thomas, which made UK Excelsiors, moved from Coventry to Birmingham; a new manufacturer, Francis Barnett (formed by the sons of the founders of Lea-Francis and Singer) moved into the Coventry works.

The US Excelsior plant stopped making lightweight Triumphs to concentrate on ohc 498 and 996cc racers.

Charles Franklin, who had been in Indian’s all conquering 1911 TT team, came up with one of the classic US designs: the 596cc V-twin Scout.

Sunbeams crossed the Chanel to win the French Grand Prix and Italian TT. They were also in action at Brooklands, where George Dance set 350cc and 500cc flying kilometre records at 82.25 and 93.99mph respectively.

In the first post-war TT Eric Williams, who had won the 1914 Junior TT on an AJS, was back, but the post-war Ajays sported a hastily sorted four-speed transmission, comprising a two-speed gearbox with two primary chains, a la P&M. He set a lap record of 51.36mph before breaking down. Problems with the codged-up transmission forced His team-mate Cyril Williams to freewheel and push for the last five miles but he still won, 9min 50sec ahead of JA Watson-Bourne’s Blackburne. Another Ajay teamster was beset by engine gremlins that forced him out of the Junior and Senior races; his name was Howard Raymond Davies and we’ll meet him again. For the first time there was a 250cc Lightweight class, won by RO Clarke on a two-stroke Levis. Clarke might have beaten the 350s but for a puncture that caused him to crash. He finished a brave fourth with a buckled front wheel. Senior honours went to Tommy de lay Hay on a ‘long-stroke’ Sunbeam, followed by Norton, Sunbeam, Norton, Indian, Indian, Norton, Norton, Sunbeam, Norton, Norton, Indian, Norton, Norton.

George Brough stuffed a 974cc JAP V-twin into his beautifully designed rolling chassis and confidently named it the Brough Superior. His dad, who was still producing Broughs, was unimpressed by the choice of name.But George wasn’t the only designer to come up with a cocky name for his bike. From Anerley in South-East London (one stop down the line from Penge, where BATs were back in production) came the Superb Four. To be fair, its spec really was pretty superb. A light-alloy ohc 998cc in-line four drove via a three-speed box and all chain drive, but with that high spec came a high price – too high for the ferociously competitive market. Only a few sold, and this potential superbike lasted less than a year.

Another innovative bike with a self-descriptive name came out of Doncaster. The Danum All Weather had a full enclosure, disc wheels, a pressed-steel sprung frame and shaft drive. It shared the Superb Four’s fate, as did another enclosed design, Cyril Pullin’s Pullin-Groom with a horizontal (216cc two-stroke) single. But Cyril didn’t give up.

Unemployment topped 1,000,000. British motorcycle prices doubled within a year at the same time the rising cost of food and other essentials cut spending power. Cars sales suffered more than bike sales and by year’s end nearly 280,000 motorcycles were registered in Britain, more than twice 1914 level, Exports topped 21,000.

Work started on Britain’s first bypasses: The Great West Road from Chiswick, West London and The Purley Way, near Croydon.

Short-lived debutantes with optimistic names included the spring-frame Defy-All with a choice of Villiers and Blackburne engines; the Pax, the New Era (both had come and gone within two years), and the rather more pugnacious Bulldog.

This was boom time for flat twins, though in-line was more common than transverse. British manufacturers who came up with flat twins included WE Brough; Raleigh and Humber; Wooler (with plunger suspension at both ends); Zenith (a 350 with Gradua gear); ABC; Williamson (with exclusive use of a 996cc Douglas engine); Dalton; Slaney (one of several marques to use the 688cc Coventry Victor engine); and Economic (with an unusual US-made 165cc two-stroke, initially in line then transverse, with a foot clutch and a top speed that would barely match the 20mph limit. It survived less than two years).

BMW followed ABC’s lead by switching from aircraft engines to motorcycles. First up was the unfortunately named Flink (‘Speedy’), powered by a 148cc twostroke Kurier proprietary emgine, followed by a 493cc in-line flat twin proprietary engine named the M2B15. This was supplied to a number of small manufacturers including SMW, SBD, Victoria and Bison; it also powered the Helios which was built (but not designed by) BMW. The Helios was a bit of a pup so BMW began to work on its own design with a transverse flat-twin engine layout…

The fuel supply infrastructure was improving, with many ex-servicemen setting up garages, often with financial support from the oil companies. The first (hand operated) pump supplied from an underground storage tank was opened by Anglo-American Oil (Esso). By the end of the year the AA had set up 10 members-only filling stations. There were plans for 24hr petrol supplies using slot machines – the UK even made petrol from coal. I wonder why we stopped?

From Denmark came an FN-lookalike built by Fisker & Nielsen of Copenhagen, better known for vacuum cleaners. The Nimbus featured a sv, 746cc, inline 10hp four-pot air-cooled engine in a sprung duplex frame made of welded flat steel strips in place of tubing. It was called the a/b but the cylindrical fuel tank that served as a frame member gave the first Nimbus its nickname, Stovepipe.

The French Lutece also had an inline engine, in this case a twin displacing 997 or 1,016cc, but it lasted only five years.

A 944cc Indian managed 104.1mph at Daytona to set an official world record. Garelli started to produce twostroke 350cc motorcycles in Milan. Ettore Girandi rode one to victory in the first major road race from Milan to Naples, completing the run in 22 hours to average 24mph.

During a race at Brooklands Victor Horsman took the hour record to 71.68mph aboard a sidevalve 490cc Norton; before the year was out he raised it to 72.48mph.