Ixion left behind him many memorable yarns, including the following blow-by-blow account of a day’s run back in 1903 marked by his usual dogged determination and one determined dog.
For the purpose of demonstrating the reliability of the modern motor bicycle to an interested novice, I was deputed to attempt the formidable task of covering two hundred miles in the space of time between the dawn and dark of a June day. On a journey of that length, and one which was covered in such a short time, scenery leaves on one’s mind an even more blurred impression than an ill-focussed cinematograph; but some of the incidents I will attempt to describe.
The route selected was a severe one, being a circuit of Devonshire: From Barnstaple through Bideford, Torrington, Okehampton and Tavistock to Plymouth; thence via Ashburton and Newton to Torquay; across Shaldon to Teignmouth and Exeter; thence to Ilfracombe via Bittadon; and finally back through Braunton to Barnstaple.
The Preparations Made
On the previous night tanks were filled,all screws and nuts tested, trembler readjusted, and engine thoroughly cleansed with paraffin, and given two full charges of oil. Thanks to the restricted ideas of makers, before facing such a run one has to hang bags and packages all over one’s machine, till it resembles a gipsy caravan. I loaded up as per photograph, a spare battery, two toolbags, and a valise containing two gallons of petrol, a spare lamp and carbide.
Then in the twilight I went for a preliminary canter. A quarter of a mile, when a savage roar from the engine announced the belt had gone. I knew that on the morrow I had to climb three separate hills a mile long, averaging one in ten, and so I had been over zealous in my tightening. The belt was now too short; jolly, this! However, the local man produced a new Lycett’s belt, with a dozen holes ready bored, and lined with copper. Belt tightening made easy – but it proved the be six inches short. But we hung a two hundredweight anvil on it for a couple of hours, and then it fitted the pulleys nicely.
An Early Start
Next morning broke bright and dusty, and in spite of the depressing effects of a seven o’clock breakfast, my spirits were excellent, as the engine firing briskly took me out of the sleeping town. On the first down grade I let it rip. On a long run I like to do the home stretch ahead of the last train, so my motto is to lay the miles behind me early. Round an easy corner pranced a stray bullock, who promptly challenged me to a tilt, but the pace served me, and I rushed past him.
Thence over the bridge, whence “Tom Tagus” leapt on his strawberry mare, nine miles on and across the muddy Torridge; thus to the switchback of Torrington – one mile down (one in ten and twisty), and one mile up (one in ten and twisty).
A Belt Trouble
Half way up the last hill I am blithely wondering whether I should not prefer the Bat pedals to the Excelsior pedals, when a sharp tang! and a bellow from the infuriated engine. The belt has leapt the pulley, and lies half a furlong down the road behind me. The only defect in Lycett’s new belt is that when it chances to come off, the fastener always seems to take delight in hiding itself amongst the roots of the nearest nettlebed.
Ten stung fingers are my reward for forgetting that there is a spare in my vest pocket. Then a fresh rush up the hill. Hills are the only places in Devon where it is safe to let a 2¾ “rip”, and if the rider likes to take them fast so does the MMC engine.
The Cattle Nuisance
Breasting the rise in Oakhampton, I encounter five more bullocks. They are less pugnacious than my earlier friend, but even in flight they are game. They lumber heavily up the long grade;but let me beat them? Not they! One, a bit of a laggard, disappears down a crosss lane. A mile on, I lose another in the same way. and at last at the top, the fifth takes the road down into the town, while I cut over Dartmoor for Tavistock.
Abusing the delay, I pull up the spark lever and begin to “move”. The road is wide and deserted, surface splendid, and gradient downhill.Gradually the speed increases, till I am glued to the saddle by the rush of the wind past me, and my cheeeks are forced back against their bones, as if by the hand of some invisible giant. Surely we are touching “50”.
I lose my Baggage
Suddenly a tremendous bump over a cobble – a crack! I peer cautiously over my shoulder and see dark specks in the white tape of road which the machine seems to be peeling out behind it. Woe! My carrier and impedimentia lie a mile away on the moor. I switch off, run back with the motor, jump on and rush back. One bar of the caarrier has given way. The two halves of the valise lie on different sides of the road, Pratt’s green tin peers tipsily out of the heather, the road has a top dressing of patent lavender carbide – but, wonderful to relate, the spare lamp is not broken. Amateur repairs – I am clumsy with my fingers – and a fresh start.
Through Tavistock – where I pass a 2¾hp air-cooled “car” going uphill ingloriously at the tail of the carrier’s van – and so through an unknown village, where I was hampered by an open-air meeting in the narrow street – the hymn breaking off short, to my regret, and the unnecessarily nervous drummer taking refuge behind a map-post. I was driving very slowly, but a mad elephant could hardly have been received with so much respect.
Climbing up to Plymouth, motors are more in evidence, and I receive many a friendly wave on my lonely trek. In Plymouth, as usual, I lose my way, and yelling at a loafer halfway down a steep hill, he points back frantically. I dismount, and, heavens! two policemen approach. But for once they are friendly. They prop me up between them, and run me up hill – two yards – and the engine is off again. In the arms of the law – absit omen!
A Quiet Interval
Thenceforth, I say – without regret – there are no incidents to chronicle, for a time. She – my beloved engine – licks up the dusty, undulating miles as a plane eastss shavings off soft pine. I pass dozens of military cyclists toiling laboriously against the east wind. (Why is the wind at Plymouth always easterly?) At Ivybridge I lunch with two of them, who with plans of tea at Torquay, have already “turned it up” as they never did against brother Boer. Then on again, and never even a puncture to delay me.
The detour to Torquay, the narrow lanes of Brent are all safely
accomplished, though I bestow most of my ignition spares on a tricylist in trouble. Shaldon Bridge is crossed, and I cool the engine for the villainous hill out of Teignmouth. I stands at right angles out of a crrowded street. It is very narrow ans bumpy, and towers up for a mile with a nominal gradient of one in ten, but the worst one in ten I know, and the stiffest bit right at the very top. No wonder the Teignmouth motorists like big engines. If any fendweller wants a cheap car or bicycle, let him run over to Teignmouth. There are “baby” cars and 1 1/4 hp bicycles to be had at the price of old iron.
A Devonshire Gem
Halfway up I wave to an acquaintance. I dare not stop and he wonders who this dusty, begoggled scorcher can be. Grumpily the engine puffs over the summit – the pedals swinging idle – and the switchback to Dawlish presents no difficulties. At this town – the gem of all Devonshire – I see friends and enjoy tea, also a bathe, being well ahead of my timetable. I filled the petrol tank first at Ivybridge, and now open it again, as I want to make Ilfracombe without another stop.
So far, barring the one stoppage for the belt and the other for the carrier, I dismounted only at my own pleasure, and so it was for many a mile
more, until at last impending doom begins to fall. But of the engine and the electrical gear I have no word of blame.
The Usual Dog
I was soaring gaily up a gentle slope out of a nameless village, when up came the inevitable dog. He was snuffling along behind the skirts of an old dame in her best alpaca on the right. I was humming along quietly on the left. Right across he ran in a bee line, came under my front wheel, and gave me the choice between the ditch and him! Gentle reader, do you blame me if I chose him? For the ditch was deep and nettlesome. But an evil fate gave me the ditch as well. I soared over the handle-bars and the machine wobbled gaily on, and took the void a dozen yards ahead of me. I crawled out, and rejoiced that I had had time to switch off. I hauled out the motor, which was apparently uninjured. So was I. How about the poor terrier which was squawking dismally in the rear? I went back, and not heeding its mistress’s complaints, incautiously picked doggie up. It bit my finger. I dropped it hastily. She picked it up, and kissed it. It bit her. She dropped it. Then she opened fire on me.
A Dear Dog
She would take £10 for that dog. Not from me, I opined firmly. Two ladies said it was her fault and it was a wonder the brute hadn’t killed me. Robert arrived, and I politely requested the favour of their address, as my only witnesses. They were so sorry, they were going on a long journey next day. Robert asked for my card. So did doggie’s mistress. I distributed cards freely. Robert hinted at furious driving. I pointed triumphantly to a lamp unbroken on the lower fork bracket. Finally, I departed, ruffled and expecting a summons.The terrier, luckily, was only frightened and bruised.
Thenceforward the machine settled down to its work over again, until I met friends, and had a second tea. Another Excelsior rider sped me a mile or so one the way, and then a scorcher friend on a pedal bicycle joined me. Darkness came on, three acetylene lamps for various unintelligible reasons failed us, and a tiny paraffin lamp was requisitioned. This meant cautious driving in the dark. Finally, at eleven pm, an awful scrunch saluted my horrified ears, and, ere I could dismount, it rose to a hideous earpiercing clatter.
I Lose some Spokes
The wretched carrier had fouled the back brake, which had calmly wrenched a score of spokes out of the rear wheel. The two hundred miles run had ended at one hundred and eighty-five. Over what followed, I must be brief, lest my feelings pervade my language. Tucking the saddle under my arm, I wheeled that heavy motor two miles to a village where we woke a farmer.
He propped the motor against the sideboard in his parlour, and went with us to wake somebody else. The people of Umberleigh are very longsuffering. We hammered at their doors at midnight, and they talked to us in dulcet accents and gave us food, and finally lent me a very passable push bicycle, on which I rode home. The motor cycle has now a new carrier, and its reliability has made many converts.