ACU Autumn Trial: ¡No pasarán!

Later described as the toughest one-day reliability trial to date, this Lakeland obstacle course included a hill so tough that the organisers apologised.

1912 ACU AUTUMN TRIAL AW“QUITE THE MOST severe one-day trial which has yet been held by the Auto Cycle Union started from Kendal on Saturday morning last. The entries amounted to 58…Tow Top was approached suddenly from the main road. It consisted of a series of sharp corners with a maximum gradient of 1 in 4 and a surface of loose granite. It was the first real test of the day, and accounted for many failures…Soon after Staveley a sharp turn was taken to the right up Glimmers How and Strawberry Bank,

The first two riders away were DH Noble and CT Newsome (3½hp Rovers). They both made non-stop runs and were among the five heroes who climbed Blea Tarn Pass.

long ascents through woodlands, culminating in a pitch of 1 in 5 or 6, which was covered with loose stones. The highest point is 1,054 feet above sea level, and the view of Windermere from the top is a sight to be remembered. Here many met their Waterloo. The Rovers, Sunbeams, Horsman’s Singer, Crawley’s Triumph, the Ariels, and the Indians made fine climbs, but Beal came to a full stop, his little NSU twin being geared much too high for such a severe trial. JA Lee (New Imperial) stopped, as also PN Gilbanks (Douglas), HC Wilkins, and C Lester (P&Ms) and the Humberette. V Underhill (3½hp Monarch) failed simply because he had to use his feet for steadying himself, and his low gear happens to be foot operated.
Among the best performances may be mentioned ST Tessier (twin Bat), who tore up the gradient at over 25mph (wobbling badly on the loose stones), SA Rowlandson (Rudge), W Pratt (P&M), and J Oliphant (Premier). AH Ratclitf (BSA) just got up by dint of clutch slipping…Mrs Hardee suffered a sooted plug in the lower reaches of the hill, and so elected to retire, as also did TJ Ross, who could not get a low enough ratio on his Triumph with NSU gear…

“Tow Top, a steep and stony zigzag climb. Left, Hal Harrison (3½hp Rudge Multi) passing stranded competitors; right, TC De la Heay on one of the two Sunbeams, followed by AH Ratcliff (3½hp BSA),

Through Winster and Bowness, over less difficult roads, a magnificent run was enjoyed by the side of Windermere to Ambleside. Here the riders halted for a moment or two at the arranged check, and then commenced the ascent of Kirkstone Pass. Commencing with a real hairpin, it is long and after over a mile of real climbing the last stretch zigzags for a quarter of a mile on a single-figure gradient. To make matters worse the road had recently been covered with stones, thick mud being used as the binding material. A track of about 2ft was cleared for the solo mounts or more would have stopped…The passenger machines suffered badly. Reed’s belt jumped off, the two ACs could not get sufficient grip for their back wheels, whilst HG Dixon came to a standstill momentarily; his engine, nevertheless, pulled like a Trojan, and with the passenger’s weight over the hack wheel the machine picked up again…

“Scenes on Blea Tarn Pass, which was climbed by only five competitors. This test hill was subsequently ruled out owing to the impossible state of the surface. In our opinion it should never have been included.”

Presently the pretty little lake known as Brothers’ Water came into view, and next beautiful Ullswater, whence there was a glorious glimpse back over the mountains through which we had just come. In this section Harry Reed suffered a puncture and South had the fastener pull through the belt. The final run into Keswick was over magnificent roads, but was marred by endless flocks of sheep. Helvellyn, which towered on the left, had its summit covered with a sprinkling of snow…The lunch which was served in the Royal Oak Hotel was of the very best. Among those who had retired in the section before lunch was Underhill (Monarch), whose hub gear seized near Scarfoot…
Over two or three miniature ‘Ballig Bridges’, round right-angle turns, through gates, and over a road through a meadow, the competitors struck the piece de resistance, of the trial, viz, Blea Tarn Pass, called after one of the many tarns of that name. Here the ascent zigzagged with an average gradient of 1 in 6½ and a maximum of 1 in 3 (according to the local surveyor), but what troubled the riders was the loose surtace of soft earth and stones, which provided no adhesion for the tyres. Big ruts were soon churned up by the wheels. The scene at this hill has never been equalled in our experience of reliability trials. It could be likened to a battlefield, for all the way up riders were struggling with their machines to prevent them running backwards, others had been hastily dragged aside to make way, and at one point not more than two hundred yards from the foot there was a bunch of five or six. When the two leaders, Newsome and Noble, on three-speed Rovers, came along and got up with foot assistance at the first time of asking, followed by JR Alexander Jnr (7hp Indian), it was thought that the climb would not trouble the competitors so much. Lakeland motor cyclists had gathered here in force in anticipation of seeing some fun. We gathered that they were jealous of the fuss made of Porlock in the Six Days’ Trials, and all were keen on proving that the Lake District boasts one better. But whether it is a fair climb—ask the fallen ones. The successful riders say yes. Our own opinion is that it was distinctly unfair, simply because it was not a matter of engine power, but only the lack of surface for the driving wheels to grip, which caused all the failures. For nearly half an hour the competitors continued to fall off their machines, some having two or three attempts without success, but still one more was destined to show the way to the summit, and this was Crawley on the Triumph, fitted with a Sturmey-Archer gear. He started well, but was soon performing weird gyrations, his front wheel first pointing one way and then the other as the back wheel slewed round. He stuck pluckily to his task, and his effort was rewarded with success. But it was a most exciting and daring exhibition not unattended with risks. Several riders performed remarkable evolutions in determined attempts to retain their non-stop records. Tessier’s Bat was really fast, but a huge skid landed the rider in the bank. FC North got near the top, but his back wheel suddenly slid from under him and in a second his machine shot up a bank. GD Hardee ran off the road and charged GN Norris, who had removed his machine several yards on to the grass. Poor Pratt was much upset when he was brought to a stop, and there were many others who said nasty things about the man who selected such a hill.

“Competitors sorting themselves out on Blea Tarn Pass. The three depicted skidded into each other. Observe the state of the surface which accounts solely for so many failures.”

There is no disguising that fact that the so-called test was a farce. The passenger machines were eagerly awaited, but all were doomed to failure, though Frank Smith must be given the credit for the best showing. He got over the worst part by dint of much jockeying and other extraordinary methods, but on the last bend but one he ran on to loose surface, and the Glyno’s wheels stopped, though the engine at once picked up again after willing watchers had given him a push off. South (Rudge) pulled his belt through, and was equally unfortunate at the next attempt.
As the rearguard of the competitors were leaving Blea Tarn it began to rain, and the mountains were left shrouded in mist. The little Tarn giving its name to the now famous mill looked dreary in the extreme. One other hill had to be surmounted, and this was Foolstop, a few miles from Ambleside. It was fairly short, but very steep, and accounted for about a dozen failures. The rain became worse and the roads were soon very wet and greasy. At Ambleside, at the White Lion Hotel, The Motor Cycle provided tea for the competitors—an institution which, some are good enough to say, is much appreciated. There was a good deal of grumbling about Blea Tarn which the officials duly took into, account, and after the conclusion of the trial the following notice was posted in the official hotel: “Owing to the surface of Blea Tarn Pass having churned up worse than was anticipated, the judges have decided that failures on this hill shall not be recorded as a stop, and a latitude of ten minutes will be allowed in consequence at Kendal. On the other hand the certificates of those who made specially meritorious ascents of Blea Tarn Pass will be endorsed to that effect.”
The trial was a great success and splendidly organised. Not an arrow was missing, and the marshalling was excellent. The only mistake was the inclusion of Blea Tarn, and that the officials remedied.

“The Autumn Trial in Lakeland. HG Dixon (New Hudson and sidecar) rounding one of the bends on Kirkstone Pass. The state of the surface will be noted.”

Autumn Trial Notes
WITH THE COURSE so severe, including hills with single-figure gradients every twenty miles at least, it is not surprising that the percentage of non-stops was low. Nineteen out of fifty-four starters gained non-stop certificates; 14 solos and five passenger vehicles managed non-stop runs.
Which is the more difficult climb, Biea Tarn Pass or Porlock in the mud? Most consider that the former is.
It was almost certain that the Lakeland terror would, be ruled out. Even a motor bicycle of 1920 may not succeed unless the surface be altered.
Some said the first arrivals at the Pass had the best chance of success, owing to the surface being more even. Seeing that Nos 1, 2, and 5 got up, there may be some- thing in this, but Busby was No 26 and Crawley 44. All five successful soloists, of course, trailed their feet to steady themselves. There was no such thing as an absolutely clean ascent of Blea Tarn.
A useful suggestion emanating from Mr. HFS Morgan was that before a surprisingly steep hill is definitely selected that a 15hp. car should be sent up. If it be unclimbable by a good 15hp, it should not be included in the trial.
Some rode nearly five hundred miles to compete in the trial. Mrs Hardee, for instance, rode her P&M from town, along the Great North Road to Kendal via Skipton and Settle.
Even the panting and crestfallen competitors on Blea Tarn Pass could not refrain from remarking upon the gorgeous view.
Many started back by road from Kendal, but owing to drenching rain most decided to take train after reaching a town where the service was good.
Odds were offered before the trial that no machine would get up Blea Tarn. A number who had faith that their machines would climb anything willingly accepted the wager, and were poorer on Saturday night.
Another trial like Saturday’s in the Lake District will put a stopper on amateur entries. A number whose machines were somewhat battered were asking themselves where the fun came in on such indescribable hill surfaces.
The first few miles of the course were through extremely narrow lanes; two sidecars or cyclecars could not possibly have passed.
One description of the route was that it resembled the edge of an enormous saw, the competitors riding up and down the teeth.
Harry Reed’s Dot-JAP was fitted with a three-speed counter-shaft gear, the first drive being by chain and ths second by belt.
If rumour be true, someone has invented an indicator which will automatically register all stops in road trials. Mr Loughborough told us he had long ago suggested an indicator to register the average speed throughout a trial. A combination of the two in one instrument would save a lot of trouble.

“FC North (3½hp Ariel), who made an exceedingly plucky attempt to climb Blea Tarn Pass. He had reached the last bend when his machine leaped sideways and mounted the bank as seen in the photograph.”

ACU Autumn Trial: Judges’ Report.
THIS TRIAL, HELD in the Lake District, starting and finishing at Kendal, proved a good and severe test, both for machines and riders, although the course of 103 miles was shorter than usual.
The weather was ideal for the purpose, first severely cold, then mild and windy, the day ending in heavy rain. The cold proved that the protection of carburetters, either by shields or by exhaust heating, is still not fully provided for. There were several stops owing to frozen carburetters. The mild and windy part of the day proved that overheating of air-cooled engines has still to be contended with, as witness
the failures on Underwood Hill and Dunmail Rise, and the fact that many engines that did not actually stop here were labouring heavily and getting dangerously overheated. And, lastly, the condition of machines and riders at the finish, and also the beltslip noted on the few rises between Ambleside and Kendal traversed in the rain, proved that there is yet room for much improvement in the mudguarding both fore and aft. The magnetos in this trial gave no apparent trouble and caused no stops.
The route was a splendid one for the purpose of the trial, and, with the exception of Blea Tarn Pass, not too severe for the proper testing of the modern motor cycle. The road surfaces were on the whole good, and hardly any tyre trouble wasreported. This was also largely due to the fact that the quality of tyres has greatly improved of late, and that motor cycles are not so under-tyred as they used to be.
The condition of machines at the finish was, from a mechanical point of view, good. In a few cases steering heads were loose. On one machine the wheels were badly out of track (pointing to frame weakness). Most engines were noticeably free from waste oil, while several left much to be desired in this respect. Front brakes still require the closer attention of manufacturers. Most of the motor cycles entered proved reasonably silent. The performance of the machines taken as a whole was very good, mechanical breakdowns were very few, and with two or three exceptions the engines seemed most efficient. The power developed by the engines of the Morgan, the three GWKs, the Clyno, and Chater-Lea was especially noticeable. The ability of several riders was very poor, and gave the impression that the men had very little experience in districts abounding in sharp turns and steep hills. The old fault of neglecting to lower the gear early enough and trying to change up too soon was noted again and again, and caused several failures, as did apparently too little knowledge of carburation and ignition. On the other hand, the expert driving of the majority of the competitors is deserving of great praise.

PS: “A Mystery: Is it true that a certain rider, who is credited with successfully climbing Blea Tarn in the autumn one-day trial, never put in an appearance at the hill at all? There is such a report current in Kendal, confirmed by the local observers.”