ACU Six Days’ Trial

1911 ACU6DAY A:W

THE 77 VEHICLES that left Harrogate at the start of the 1911 ACU Six Days’ Reliability Trial comprised 72 solos, four combos and a three-wheeler; 53 were one-lungers, with 24 twins; 57 had belt transmission, 16 relied on chains and four had both (no shafties); 58 had variable gears. Teams were entered by Douglas, Enfield, Zenith, P&M, AJS, Premier, Scott, James, Rudge, Rover, LMC, New Hudson, Bat, Humber, NSU, Triumph, Alcyon, Quadrant, Indian, Clyno and Morgan.

Each day’s run started and finished in Harrogate; total mileage was 1,012¾ and there were 10 test hills. One observer remarked: “The accommodation must be improved for another year, or a new body will spring into being and organise an opposition trial. Competitors will not submit twice to the discomforts endured this year.” Speed was also an issue: “The 20mph average should be made a fact and not a farce. The number of gold medals would then be halved or quartered, for there were very few who did not save their gold medals at least once by a prolonged scorch after some comparatively lengthy stoppage.” What follows are excerpts from a report compiled by one of the competitors.

The Clarendon Hotel yard from breakfast to lunch time was full of machines, most of which were undergoing tuning operations, and even at an early hour competitors were putting finishing touches to their mounts, seizing the last few moments that remained, after the lapse of which the time for attention is all too limited. Tuning, however, was quite a side line in the morning’s work, as the chief duties of the officials were to examine and seal in the blazing sun.
The hotel yard is capacious enough, but lock-up accommodation was scarce, quite as scarce as sleeping apartments, which, in Harrogate, are well nigh impossible to get. The ACU has made a mistake this year in holding the trial so late, as Harrogate is at the height of the busiest season it has had for many a long day.
The start of the first day’s run of the Six Days’ Trials was made punctually at eight o’clock on Monday morning…The first day of the great Six Days’ Trial was gloriously fine, though in the early hours a mist hung over the country, which cleared off about an hour after the start…It was after Whitby that the fun began. First of all a good steep hill had to be climbed to get into the town, and then the load was narrow and hilly, turn succeeding turn, and hill succeeding hill…The rest of the morning’s run ended with the zig-zag climb up to the Zetland Hotel, Saltburn, and many complained of its severity. After haggling over petrol, the arrangements for distributing which were chaotic, the men enjoyed an excellent lunch, and then set out for Thirsk via Guisborough and Stokesley…

Tuesday’s run started in fine, dull weather, which turned into glorious sunshine…The beginning of the run was over ordinary country, which became prettier as we penetrated farther into the wilds, but the most renmarkable feature of the route was the number of villages in which there were steep hills, the negotiation of which called for a good deal of skill…Suddenly, without any warning, the beginning of Arkeugarthdale Hill—the pass over the moors—was encountered. The observed portion was quite short, and consisted of a bridge, after which the road turned sharply at right angles, then ascended with a gradient of about 1 in 7, finishing with a somewhat severe turn, after which the hill became easy for some distance, the surface was covered with loose granite, rough as any Scottish acclivity…Davies made quite a sensational ascent, flinging the stones far and wide…Eggington dismounted and baulked Wilberforce, who cleverly slipped in between him and the edge of the road. Slatter skidded at right angles in the loose stones, but made a smart recovery and a clean ascent…for many a mile was in an appalling state—so loose and rutty that even on the level and downhill those who had low gears were glad to make use of them. How the lightweights stood it no one knows, but evidently it will teach the makers how to build colonial models…
Many people have grumbled about the surface to-day, but it must be remembered that the route through Arkengarthdale and over Tan Hill is a main road, given in the Contour Book, and Scarth Nick is just the hill that some people ride up and write to the papers on their achievements, and then object to climbing it in competition…There was some grumbling as regards the distance of the Brough check from Leyburn. The distance on

“Competitors scrambling to sign the checking sheets at Leyburn.”

the route card was given as 27¾ miles, but a number of competitors afterwards proved by their distiince recorders that the exact distance was 31 miles. This, of course, led to several competitors being late, and many marks were lost thereby…Poor Applebee, ever unlucky, noticed that his engine was running freely after climbing up to Tan Hill Inn, and, dismounting, found that the rear belt pulley had been lorn from the wheel rim. He was towed home by a farmer’s cart, and had to retire…A number of riders found that they were some time ahead [of schedule] and they were all amused at the energy of V, Busby, the Steellhouse-Precision rider, who actually took the cylinder off and scraped away the carbon, eventually checking in to time, his task completed…
Near Kirkby Stephen, Eggington and Cooper, while taking a corner, suddenly encountered a herd of cattle. Eggington hit one and finished in the ditch. Cooper lectured the farmer in charge on the subject of loose cattle on the highway, which so roused the ire of the latter that he started to chase the offender, and had not Cooper’s engine fired the result may only be conjectured. The other competitors who had now arrived were much amused by the incident…

Wednesday morning was dull and somewhat cold, and the first part of the run through Knaresborough to York was quite easy. The tramlines in the city were freshly watered, but fortunately there was not very much of them…For thirteen miles out of York the road was good and over flat country; then Garrowby Hill loomed into view. It is a sudden rise over the flank of hills which break the monotony of the great plain in which York is situated. The surface is fair, and I do not think the gradient is much worse than 1 in 8. Consequently there were few incidents. Holroyd (Motosacoche) got up comfortably with pedal assistance. Slatter’s little Alcyon made quite a good ascent. Smith (Clyno) and Godfrey (Indian) made excellent performances, while Tassell’s Matchless was another passenger machine which did almost as well. Of the fastest motor bicyclists, Weatherilt (Zenith), Edmond (Premier), Pratt (P&M), and Newsome (Triumph) may be mentioned as shining conspicuously. Finn (Enfield) ran alongside…

Riders take a breather in Driffield during Wednesday’s run.

The road surfaces were exceedingly good, and the long run along the coast with all too brief glimpses of the North Sea was much enjoyed. The first to stop this morning was WF Newsome, who suffered a back wheel puncture. Really the luck seems to be all against the Triumph team this year. In York crowds had collected along the streets to witness the long procession of competitors, and many were the comments of the man in the street, as 10 which type of machine he considered best. Most certainly the buzz buzz of the Scotts excited their admiration, and the ease with which the competitors with change speed gears got away after stopping for the check was duly appreciated…
The coast line was reached at Skipsea, and then the competitors struck due north, passing through Carnaby and Bridlington. Here two riders retired—P Grout, through the connecting rod brasses of his Douglas giving out, and P Smith (Clyno), who experienced trouble with his experimental four-speed gear and decided to give up, not because it was an irreparable breakdown, but simply because he felt too ill to set about putting matters right immediately. He has been off colour for over a week, and was in bed until the day prior to the start. Effecting a repair in the afternoon he returned to Harrogate by road…Crossing a patch of stones in a bunch, AJ Sproston, 0C Godfrey, and GT Gray all drew up simultaneously with cuts in their tyres. Godfrey’s tyre had a 3in gash, and, borrowing a gaiter, he first used his bootlaces to secure it, and later, when it gave way again, his mother’s waist belt was utilised! Mrs Godfrey vows she will inspect the tyres before she ventures with her son again. Eventually a gaiter lent by Mr John Gibson, who was passing, enabled Godfrey to reach Harrogate with a minimum loss of marks.

While the men were getting their machines ready, Mr Nisbet announced through the megaphone that, in view of the railway disturbances [there was a national transport strike] there might be a shortage in petrol, and consequently riders were advised to carry as much as they could, as it might be difficult, if not impossible, to get any more…BH Davies suffered a seized engine bearing one hundred yards from the finish last night—an incident which so disheartened him that he said he would retire. However, this morning pluck and perseverance prevailed, and he freed the bearing and started…Immediately after Pateley Bridge Greenhow Bank is encountered. Here numerous competitors stopped to alter their pulleys or shorten their belts, and in some cases to pour water over their engines to cool them quickly—which certainly appeared to be a dangerous proceeding.
The P&M team was busy as usual with the cleaning rag, so that after this attention the enamel and plating were resplendent. Berwick (Humber) stopped at the foot, and, like several others, ran back some distance to get a good start…After the hill had been surmounted the route lay over moorland country, which included several stiff ascents to Grassington, and through fine scenery to Linton, Gargrave, and Settle, where lunch was served. Three miles from the latter town F. Dover (3½hp Premier), was forced to withdraw from the competition through a faulty plug which could not be withdrawn from the valve cap, and two and a half hours were wasted in sending it to a repair shop…After lunch the route lay through Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Hawes to Aysgarth, where the check was in charge of Mr AA Scott, the clever designer of the machine which bears his name…Many failures were due to those who had change-speed gears not knowing how to use them, and dropping into the low gear too late…
A notable feature of Kidstones Pass was the number of bad caniveaux which were found on both sides [as well educated 1911 motor cyclists knew, ‘caniveaux’ are gutters]…The. dust was white and thick as flour and most unpleasant…The King was expected in Bolton Abbey, and the competitors passed through a large crowd which was awaiting him.

EW Merrall and P Shaw ride their 3½hp P&Ms on Tan Hill during the second day of the trial. P&M shared the trade team prize with Douglas. in for the Team Cup.

Friday morning was rather dull, and a strong westerly wind was blowing, which would affect the riders perceptibly on all the hills as far as Settle. Many competitors were attending to their valves this morning, as the run was to be the stiffest of the six days… On account of the strike, 2s 6d per gallon had to be paid for petrol…Cooper, while crossing the moors, struck a big stone which threw liim right on to the grass; these boulders and gulleys require careful watching. Berwick (Humber) struck the big caniveau on Keighley gate and completely smashed up his rear wheel, so that he was forced to retire, thus spoiling the chances of the Humber team, which up to that point had lost no marks.
Nearing Colne one and a half miles of tramlines were encountered. Colne was the third case of incorrect measurement on the route card, and the wet lines were not appreciated by those who were anxious to make up time. Coming into Settle Pollock (James) crashed into the wall of a bridge, hurting his hand badly and cutting his knee…Fontaine (Quadrant) was delayed through tyre troubles. He had hurt his leg in the Scottish trials, and had to remove a bandage to strengthen a weak place in his cover…Babbington punctured just short of the control at Masham, and was almost reduced to tears, while Atkinson suffered the last of his 13 punctures near Boroughbridge…

To-day’s run has been a mere holiday jaunt compared with its predecessors; in fact the only reason for its existence was to make up the mileage to 1,000…Near Selby about thirty or forty competitors drew up outside the town, as they were, as usual, ahead of time, and the interval was spent in cleaning up and making adjustments. Wilberforce found nothing to do to his Douglas, so he lay on the grass and basked m the sun. Philipp and the other Scott riders did likewise. BH Davies, however, was busy with his belt. His arrival created a stir, as one sleeve of his coat was black with oil, some kind person having spilt a tin of this ‘matter out of place’ over it. Petrol was pretty dear at Selby, and, in consequence, the threepenny toll was not appreciated. How much more annoyance, therefore, was caused by another threepenny toll which was encountered unexpectedly a few miles further on, the big gate of which was guarded by a policeman…
Cooper, who always appears to have an affinity for loose animals on the highway, had an exciting chase after a runaway horse. Robbins had a puncture, and Silver several…The catering arrangements at the luncheon stops have been, on the whole, very indifferent. York Station was guarded by soldiers, and the whole neighbourhood upset by the strike. Petrol was 3s a gallon. All the sixty-five starters arrived safely at Harrogate, the first man coming in at 3.30pm. Of the seventy-seven starters on Monday there were only twelve retirements, so that the general behaviour of the machines may be regarded as excellent, and a striking advance upon any former demonstrations of reliability, notwithstanding the increased severity of the test.

“Competitors signing the checking sheet at the end of the most severe trial ever organised. The group in the photograph are Owen Wells, TC Atkinson, Jesse Baker and CS Burney.

More excerpts, this time from the Blue ‘Un’s ‘General Impressions and Observations of the Trials’:

UNDOUBTEDLY THE MOST severe six days’ reliability trial not excluding the Scottish trial was the general opinion, yet thirty-three were successful in gaining the premier award.
Which was the more unfortunate, to be obliged to retire on the first day or the last?
Only four riders of single-geared machines successfully climbed the ten test hills. They are worthy of special mention: S Crawley (3½hp clutch model Triumph), HE Ashley (a private owner of a 3½hp LMC), ST Tessier (5hp Bat-JAP), and E Babington (7-8hp Bat-JAP).
Until Friday there were four teams in keen competition for the special team prize without a single mark lost. They were the representatives on Zenith, Humber, Douglas, and P and M machines. Berwick’s buckled wheel in crossing a gully at Keighley Gate, and Duke’s failure on the very last test hill owing to screwing his gear so low that the free engine came into operation, were unfortunate accidents that would have tried the patience of Job.
Some of the unobserved hills caused more failures that others under official surveillance. This suggests the desirability of withholding any announcement as to the observed climbs in future, which would automatically put a stop to the practice of cooling engines at the foot of every test hill, and constantly altering gear ratios, tightening belts, and making other necessary adjustments.
Atkinson and Munroe shared twenty-five punctures on Friday’s run alone, mostly caused by small stones. Their determination to keep going is another example of British persistency. It may be added that six minutes is the usual time lost in fixing a repair patch. How many tourists take less than a quarter of an hour?

ND Slatter (2hp Alcyon) doing a spot of puncture repair on Tan Hill.

Slatter (Alcyon) and Holroyd (Motosacoche) are surely deserving of premier awards for completing such an arduous test on their small single-geared single-cylinder machines…It was no course for lightweights.
On the second day a group of competitors, desirous of being in fashion, threatened to strike unless the times of the Brough check were ignored.
Though many were the complaints of the noise of some of the machines, the buzz of the Scotts was immensely appreciated.
As a test of accessibility it was intended to time a member of each team while he took out the rear wheel. RW Duke took out his Zenith wheel and refitted it in 11½min. Arter was also busy with a James, but here the matter seems to have ended, to the delight of the competitors who did not relish the work of providing such useful data.
The majority of the competitors returned to their respective homes by road last Sunday; for that matter, the train service was still very uncertain.
The following facts provide food for thought. A competitor who was awarded a gold medal finished with practically all the spokes missing from one side of his wheel. Another was included among the best, although he had a blowhole in his cylinder which hissed ominously. Several gold medal winners failed on one hill. Compare the two following cases: Young Crawley (still in his teens) climbed every hill with a single gear, and was but four minutes late at one control owing to a puncture. He only gets a silver medal, which fate also befell Babington for precisely similar reasons. The obvious query is, which is the more serious —to fail on a test hill or to pick up a nail in the tyre? The ACU decide differently from everybody else.
Everybody in Yorkshire called it a race and probably took more interest in the event on that assumption. Even a leading Yorkshire daily referred to the trial as ‘The Great Six Days’ Motor Cycle Race’.
A cute Harrogate motor cyclist, anticipating the petrol famine, sold his motor cycle and bought as much petrol with the proceeds as he could store. Three days later he sold the whole lot at 4s 9d per gallon.
The railway strike at York proved an interruption to an otherwise uneventful day’s run. Missiles were thick in the air at one time in the neighbourhood of the station, and
one, so it is said, nearly hit a competitor.
There were far too many punctures and there appears to be still room for improvement in motor cycle covers. It is difficult to say that one tyre is better than another.
In the open country competitors kept up a high average speed, sometimes to make up time after a stop, and sometimes to keep a little in hand in case of trouble. This fast driving adequately tested the machines, but there was too much of it, and something ought to be done to keep down the speed within reasonable limits. Probably next year surprise checks will have to be instituted, so as to catch those who are travelling in excess of 20mph.
Great credit is due to Major Nott-Bower, Chief Constable of the North Riding, for the splendid manner in which he placed his men at dangerous and doubtful points along the route. On Saturday constables with uplifted hand slowed down the men in certain villages, and waved them on again when the road was clear.

The accommodation at Harrogate left some competitors distinctly unimpressed. One of them made his feelings clear

THE ACU SPECIALLY invited private owners to compete in their Six Days’ Trials, implying that to compete will make a very jolly week’s holiday. Personally I am always pleased to see amateurs riding in these events—their performances mean more than those of trade riders, who bestride specially picked and tuned machines, and who have previously familiarised themselves with every inch of the course—especially the hills! But I am not thinking of the difficulties of the road, the hustling at the checks, or the limitations of a close time schedule, but simply of the headquarters’ accommodation, which deprives the men of all ease and comfort in the short intervals between their exhausting rides.
This year the headquarters were at a small hotel, which in the ordinary way could probably house thirty or forty people in tolerable comfort. Competitors, officials, press men, trade representatives, etc, must compose a total of at least 100, and though many of them were sleeping out over shops, etc, the discomfort was most pronounced. The over-burdened staff could not possibly minister to our needs, at meals we often waited ten minutes between courses, the bath rooms were turned into bed rooms, etc, etc. Much the same applies to garage. Forty of the machines were crammed into a small two-chambered laundry, entered by a single narrow door 3ft 6in in breadth, while the remainder were tightly packed into three small and odorous stables. All our work during the daily adjustment period (7.30-8am) was done in the open, and the heat wave did not render the work an easy task. The arrangements were simply scandalous.”

When the dust had cleared Archibald Sharp, the ACU judge at the trial, gave his verdict on the event and announced the winners.

“THE 1911 SIX DAYS’ Trial, with Harrogate as a centre, has been the most severe yet the most successful of the series. Each day’s route included long stretches of rough moorland road; ruts, stones, and dust inches deep, in many places making severe tests of the riders’ skill. The riders were required to ride to schedule between speed limits of 18 and 20mph, their times being checked at intervals of thirty miles on the average, under a penalty of one mark lost for each minute outside the maximum or minimum time. They were further required to make clean ascents of ten hills on which observations were made, pedalling being permitted only in the cases of machines having single-cylinder engines less than 300cc capacity, or twin-cylinder engines less than 340cc capacity. The observed hills were Wass Bank, Sutton Bank, Arkengarthdale, Scarth Nick, Garrowby Hill, Blue Bank, Greenhow Hill, Ividstone Pass, Heaton Woods, and Brownstay Ridge.

P Weatherilt (Zenith-Gradua) and F Philipp (Scott) at the top of Blue Bank, one of the observed test hills.

“The conditions for the awards were: A gold medal to the entrant of a machine which did not lose any marks on time checks, did not fail on more than one hill, and finished in good condition; a silver medal to the entrant of a machine which did not lose more than 100 marks on time checks and did not fail on more than two hills; a bronze medal to the driver who finished within two hours of his maximum time on Saturday evening, but did not obtain any other award. These conditions were so onerous that before the beginning of the trial and even after the completion of the first day’s route, the most liberal estimate was that ten to fifteen gold medals might be won. The great number of gold medals won (thirty-three out of seventy-seven starters) is a tribute to the excellence of the machines, to the skill of the riders, and (not an un-important factor in such a trial) to the splendid weather conditions from start to finish…In future trials, the regulations might be framed so that the machines should climb the hills on the run, without stopping to cool engines.”
As every rider in the Douglas and P&M teams won gold medals they shared the trade team prize. The Yeovil &DMCC team also made a clean sweep to record the best club performance. Six ‘private owners’ recorded perfect scores. Sharp said: “I have no data to determine the best performance of the six, but if the award were left to my discretion (or caprice) I might award it to FG Boddington. His machine has a 4¼hp Precision engine, 600cc capacity, Phelon & Moore chain drive, two-speed gear, and Chater-Lea parts and his performance might be said to include the design of his machine.” Boddington duly won The Motor Cycle gold medal but it was so close that special silver medald were issued to EW Merrall, PW Moffatt, GE Whitworth, Jesse Baker and JJ Day. Sharp said: “The performance of WD Slauter, on a 2hp Alcyon, with a small engine, 248cc capacity, and only a single drive, was remarkable. He failed to make clean ascents of Wass Bank and Sutton Bank, but succeeded on the other eight hills. He also lost five marks on time checks. The award of a special medal is recommended.”

FG Boddington (4½hp Precision) won the Private Cup.

He concluded: “This year’s trial reveals a considerable improvement in the reliability of the motor bicycle. The conditions were more severe than those of last year’s trial, yet the percentage of gold medals is more than doubled. For next year the conditions must be made still more onerous, so that the percentage of gold medals awarded may be again lowered to a reasonable figure.”

When competitors with experience of all the major trials subsequently swapped notes it was generally accepted that the 1910 Scottish Six Days’ Trial had been the toughest to date, followed by the 1911 SSDT, with the 1911 ACU Six Days’ Trial in third spot.