1929

At Ariel Jack Sangster wasn’t short of talented designers: the team working for Val Page included Edward Turner and Bert Hopwood.

HS Perrey and FE Thacker crossed the Channel in three-and-a-half hours aboard a 497cc Ariel to win the Maudes Trophy.

Dangerous drivers in Bucharest were handcuffed and paraded through the streets with signs round their necks reading “BAD DRIVER”.

Reminding us that the French could still build bikes with panache, Automoto came up with a sporty cammy single in 348 and 499cc and a twin-port 175cc twostroke featuring a separate oiltank and metered lubrication, as well as more conservative 250 and 350cc twostrokes.

The AA reported that traffic outside major population centres had risen by 12% in the previous year – and by 500% in six years.

There were 48 British marques at the Olympia show, the same as the previous year. The Blue ‘Un noted that they “constitute the recognised standard by which motor cycles are judged in almost all parts of the world”. But it warned against any complacency, “especially in view of the progress which other European countries are making in motor cycle design”. Germany, Belgium, France and the USA had bikes on show. Matchless drew crowds with a 400cc narrow-angle (26º) monobloc V-twin, the Silver Arrow. It wasn’t fast, but it was smooth and comfortable, with a remarkably modern looking cantilever sprung frame.

Seven 350s were selected from AJS, BSA, Douglas, Francis Barnet, Matchless, New Hudson and OEC for evaluation by the Army. Before the tests were completed the War Office stepped in to set up a comparison between Douglas and Triumph, both of which had supplied successful DR bikes in the Great War. The Duggie L29 was selected over Triumph’s NL3 but a belief that twins were quieter led to orders for BSA ohv V-twins and Matchless Silver Arrows.

NSU sensibly stopped making sports cars to concentrate on bikes, and for the first time it appointed an agent in Japan, as did Guzzi and BMW. They were competing with a new range of 350 and 500cc sv singles and a V-twin 500 from the Japan Automobile Co (JAC).

Bert Le Vack raised the flying-kilometre world record to 129mph on his Brough Superior–his fourth world record. But after seven years in British hands the record was snatched by Germany when Ernst Henne on a supercharged 735cc BMW did 134.68mph.

Charlie Dodson on the ohv Sunbeam repeated his winning performance in the Senior TT including a new lap record of 73.5mph following a series of crashes on a wet, slippery track. Alec Bennett gave Norton second place. Henry Tyrell-Smith, riding a Rudge, was leading when he came off on the third lap near the Glen Helen Hotel, where he was given first aid, finally finishing third with three broken ribs.

Freddie Hicks won the Junior on a cammy Velo, beating former winners Wal Handley (AJS) and Alec Bennett (Velocette) and setting new lap and race records.
Moto Guzzi ace Pietro Ghersi was back on the Island, no doubt still smarting from his disquaification three years before. He led the Lightweight for five and a half laps before retiring with engine problems. Sid Crabtree won the race, giving Excelsior its first TT victory, though again it was Ghersi who set a 250cc lap record of 66.6mph. DOT and OK were second and third.

The three TT winners all crossed the Channel to win their classes at the French GP; Dodson also rode his Sunbeam to win the 500cc Belgian GP, where Wal Handley led the 350s on an alcohol-burning Motosacoche. Jock Porter and his New Gerrard once again took 250cc honours.

Bert Perrigo won the inaugural British Experts Trial for BSA, which also launched a three-wheeler car powered by a modified (transverse) version of its 1,021cc V-twin bike engine. It featured reverse gear, electric start and front-wheel drive. More than 5,000 would be built.

Tornado Smith from Boxford, Suffolk started a Wall of Death career that would last until the late sixties by which time he had ridden thousands of miles horizontally, often carrying a lioness. Mrs Smith rode the wall too, under the stage name Marjorie Dare. Rather than Spandex, bespectabled Tornado rode in brown riding boots, grey trousers, white shirt and tie, plus a black beret with a skull and crossbones badge. An unsung hero.

Scott joined the trend towards utility lightweights with the air-cooled 298cc Squirrel (basically half of the 596cc water-cooled twin).

More than 20 Italian marques were turning out advanced, high revving 175s. But the OPRA (Officine di Precisione Romane Automobilistiche) factory offered the shape of things to come: a 490cc ohc transverse four. The OPRA would evolve into the watercooled Rondine which in turn gave birth to the Gilera racing fours.

Frantisek Janecek’s Prague arms factory was short of work so he started to build motorcycles under licence from Wanderer of Germany. Combining Janecek and Wanderer gave the marque its name, Jawa. Jawa soon came up with its own designs, helped by George William Patchett, who joined from McEvoy by way of FN.

Eric Gill circumnavigated the globe on an HRD outfit, which helped revive HRD’s fortunes. An Aussie engineer named Phil Irving hitched a lift on Gill’s pillion and found work with Velocette.

A pundit advised: “Sight is the only sense by which good drivers can proceed with safety… deafness therefore should in no way affect the granting of a licence.”

With one eye on the export market, Depression-hit Harley Davidson launched a 497cc sv single. The Japanese persuaded Harley to sell them the rights, blueprints, machine tools to an obsolete 1,200cc ‘flathead’ with the loan of personell to show them how to set up a modern motor cycle production line. The Japanese learned about workshop cleanliness, precision manufacture of spare parts,  assembly line operations; in short, everything they needed to mass producemotor cycles. The Harleys the Japanese company built were dubbed Rikuo (Continent King) and became the standard mounts for the Japanese army. The Japanese began adapting the machines for military use straight away, and soon had a highly successful ATV with sidecar drive and plenty of ground clearance. Delegations from other Japanese factories visited the new plant.

From France came a Rene-Gillet 996cc sidevalve V-twin used by the police and the army.

Trials veteran Harry Baughan had been making motorcycles in Stroud, Glos since the early twenties, with engines by Blackburne, Sturmey-Archer and JAP. Now he built a trials outfit with a 500cc Blackburne TT engine and patented sidecar-wheel drive which was so good that many clubs banned it from their events (shades of the ‘barred’ 1908 Zenith Gradua).

HRD was bought by Phil Vincent and renamed HRD-Vincent. Initially power was supplied by JAP, Villiers and Blackburne.

US veteran Cleveland bowed out, only months after revamping its 746cc in-line four with a 996cc lump.

The expanding German industry produced 195,686 motorcycles – the Brits managed 164,000. By year’s end there were 731,298 motorcycles on British roads. Numbers would decline after the recesion and wouldn’t be as high again until 1950.

Velocette offered its positive-stop footchange as an option on all models, even its new GTP twostroke. It also offered the KTT to all-comers – the first pukka racing bike offered to the public sincer the pioneer days when there was, in any case, little difference between roadsters and racers. Rudge marked its success in the Ulster TT with the race replica four-valve Rudge Ulster with its trademark bronze head.