Here’s a passionate appeal to waverers to join the growing rank of motor cyclists with advice on picking a good ‘un. After which you’ll find a report of a first ride which gives an insight into the perils of riding in 1903. Some things never change.
DON’T HESITATE a moment longer if are you–ever so vaguely–contemplating geting a motor bicycle.
That motorcycling is the king of sports is my firm opinion, and will be yours too, without the slightest possible shadow of a doubt whatever, if you give it a trial. Initiated some three years ago, I already feel 10 years younger for the experience. As a man is no older than he feels, see what an advantage this is. So true to indecision get a motor bicycle, and you will never regret it as long as you live. And if you take this advice, you will live much longer than you otherwise would.
Don’t imagine motor cycles are difficult to manage: they are not. If you are a cyclist used to a free-wheel you an drive a motor bicycle safely on a quiet stretch of road within five minutes of being introduced to it. In a fortnight, you understand it fairly well. In a month, you are its master, and at the same time enslaved for life. For never again will you be content to ride a mere ‘push bicycle’ except for gentle pottering around, perhaps. You suddenly discover you never really lived before but were simply a creeping insect. You enter a new world. The smell of petrol is most fragrant perfume to you; the rhythmic beat of your engine–which scoffers call a ‘beastly row’–is sweetest music in your ears; and life is at last worth living.
No tired feeling
Your spine is no longer of gothic architecture when awheel. You lose that ‘tired feeling’ you used to know so well. You wear gaiters, and thus balk the casual cheeky boy of a chance to yell after as of yore “Go it sparrer legs!”
Instead of ‘hanging on’ to cars with superhuman efforts, you ‘pip’ them up the hills, and, leaving them scrunching along on their first speed, you disappear in the distance like a swallow on the wing. You revert to the practice of wearing braces and a waistcoat. Your lank locks begin to curl again through passing your oily fingers through them so often in ecstasy. Ah ha! almost persuaded are you?
Don’t think the expense is ruinous. Go easy! If you cannot–or will not–afford a brand-new machine, there are plenty of sound serviceable mounts to be had second-hand; and I do not know but what you, as a novice, are just as well-suited with one of these. If your first outlay is low, you are less shy with the thing, and you can perhaps trade it away at a profit later on to your fiancée’s brother.
Many keen enthusiasts with a craving for the very latest ‘fads’ discards their twelve months’ old machine while practically equal to new. This is the tyro’s opportunity, but it is advisable to requisition the services of an expert friend before making a purchase. People with things to sell are so disingenuous, and you do not want to acquire the nucleus for a scrap-heap.
You are young and active, and want all possible speed for your money. Very well! A front-driving Werner, if in good condition, will afford you a vast amount of enjoyment, and is not only the most efficient motor for its horse-power ever put on the market, but is the simplest of any to manage. The engine never overheats, all the taps and levers are on the handle-bar within easy reach, the machine is very light compared with most, and a ripping hill-climber; what more would you want for £20 or thereabouts? (No I have not one for sale!) Sideslip? Well, theorists state this type is more prone to slip than others, because of the position of the engine. I can only say I rode one some thousands of miles, and never experienced anything of the kind. Perhaps I was lucky; perhaps the theorists are wrong. They are sometimes, you know!
If you are content with something less fierce, and do not wish to exceed the legal limit by more than an extra ten miles an hour, there are plenty of early ‘Minervas’ to be had; but beware of those 1¼hp; they are very tame. A 1¾hp at least should be your choice. Or there are Ormondes, Quadrants, rear-driving Werners, Westfield’s Autobikes and others, all good examples of the various types and procurable at the modest figure of £25 or £30 second-hand.
Supposing you decide to start off with a brand-new mount, you have a much clearer course.
Mistakes and Difficulties Overcome
The mistakes made, the difficulties and dangers encountered during the past few years, have most of them been paid for and overcome by willing pioneers, and to-day immense facilities exist for buying–and trying before you buy–out of stock the wonderfully reliable and perfect machines of 1903. Things were very different in the early days of bicycling. It was, “That’s our price; take it or leave it,” then.
But a word in your ear: there are ‘makers’ and ‘makers’. One of the most popular engines of the present time is the Minerva–not “Minorca” as I heard it called recently by a man evidently on the wrong lay–and they are being used extensively by high-class firms of established reputation with most satisfactory results, as witnessed the large number flitting about the country far and wide.
But on the other hand, I have seen them–and other good engines too, for that matter–slung on to so-called bicycles on which I would positively blush to be seen dead. A shoddy garret-made cycle is bad enough; but when a motor with all its fitments the risk is fearful. Fortunately, most cyclists are well able to take care of themselves in this matter, but caution is necessary. I speak from observation.
Surface versus Spray Carburetters
Don’t worry about ‘surface’ versus ‘spray’ carburetters! A lot of ink was splashed around some years ago on this subject, and it has recently been hashed up again; but nobody is much wiser. Both types are good; neither is perfect. You are safe with either though each has its weak points. The ‘surface’ sometimes floods and causes trouble that way. Remedy–remove the superfluity of petrol from the carburetter, and transfer it to the tank. Your switch handle will make a capital means of doing this if you have nothing better handy.
The minor inconvenience of surface carburetters getting the -mixture- upset occasionally by the violent surging of the petrol when riding fast over lumpy roads is receiving the attention of experts, but it is not of sufficient consequence to trouble you anyway.
The ‘spray’ type is accused of getting its pipes and passages choked with foreign matter. That this does sometimes happen is true. I myself have dissected these puzzle boxes by the roadside and very interesting work it is, if the rain is not descending unpleasantly hard. But it is not a very arduous task to blow a few particles of grit from a piece of gauze or to clear out a small tube, unless indeed, the only probe you have at hand is a stem of grass and that is broken short off inside the concern in which case you yearn for a more expressive vocabulary and a piece of fine wire, so always carry it (the wire) in your toolbag.
In the main, both ‘spray’ and ‘surface’ give reasonable results if treated with intelligence; that is to say, if you feed them with petrol one end, gas comes out of the other. Nothing can be simpler. It is probable the ‘wick’ variety may get another look in, but nobody seems to want to discuss it right now. I covered considerable distances with one with most excellent results.
Don’t accept as gospel every croak you hear about ‘stale’ petrol. Personally, I am beginning to think this is a big bogey, as I have never had any trouble that I could trace to this cause. I never owned a ‘densimeter’ nor felt the need of one; never emptied my tank, but just filled up as occasion required. Of course petrol vaporises more freely when it is fresh, but it appears to me while there is petrol you can always get gas; but this may be heresy.
Automatic versus Mechanical Valves
Don’t delay your initiation till the controversy re ‘mechanical’ versus ‘automatic’ inlet valves is finally settled, because it may never be settled. You can go fast enough with either type to get fined. Engines fitted with the mechanical inlet valve appear to run more steadily on hills without any tendency to ‘gib’ when going at a slow pace even with a heavy rider, but when travelling at speed give me the impression of lacking the elastic swing and life of those with the automatic inlet valve. Fortunately, an automatic inlet valve once adjusted properly requires little or no attention, while it is just possible the mechanical inlet valve may need a considerable deal to maintain the increased efficiency claimed for it. It is too early to say yet, we shall know more later.
Don’t ask my opinion on chain versus belt drive, because I am prejudiced. I have no use for more than one chain on my machine, and that is on the pedalling gear.
My excursions on chain-drivers have been brief and not of such an enjoyable nature as I could wish. I missed the smooth, silky running of the belt drive, and progress seemed harsh and jerky. That chain driving is reliable none can deny, and I have never in my travels happened on a rider with the broken chains which are said to be so common. Belts have been responsible in the past for a vast amount of unpublishable language, but nowadays thanks to the ‘Lincona’ and its numerous imitations, our troubles are considerably minimised if not entirely removed. The V-shaped, three-ply riveted belt does seem to be very popular and satisfactory, and bids fair to oust the twisted belt entirely.
Expense of Upkeep of Motors
Don’t run off with the idea that the upkeep of a motor bicycle is expensive, as it is not. The outlay for petrol on a trip rarely exceeds the amount a perspiring pedalling cyclist would absolutely need to spend upon liquid refreshment, and the cost of charging up accumulators, purchasing lubricating oil, and occasional sparking plug, etc, is really trifling.
It is well to remember, too, that it is not imperative to lay out a small fortune on leather clothing. The motor goes just as well if you wear your cycling suit, with gaiters and a covert coat for severe weather. Personally, I have an idea that we shall find leather clothing recede from favour for motor cyclists. It is not aesthetic, hygienic or smart. Some of the woollen materials being supplied by the specialists in that particular line are much more taking and equally serviceable.
In conclusion, I am prompted to these few remarks by a fraternal desire to encourage any hesitating to take the plunge into the fascinating sport of motor cycling, in comparison with which pedalling a bicycle is as the weakest of cold tea to the strongest wine; and the joggling, laborious penance of riding on horseback as unsatisfying as it is ridiculous–when you know better. That’s all.
by Archie Barr
And here’s a taste of what it was like to take to the road in 1903…
My first motor bicycle ride–my feelings and impressions, by an old Cyclist
My initial experience took place on a fine afternoon in June last, when, at the invitation of a kind friend, I borrowed his machine–a brand new imported mount bearing a good reputation (vide advertisements) for reliability and speed powers. It was with a beating heart and a joyous and expectant mind that I started. There was no doubt about it: learning to ride a motor bicycle was as easy as rolling off a log; it was mere child’s play, in fact, and as I dashed along I laughed sarcastically and said rude things about those strange individuals who were so fond of writing to the papers about the troubles of an embryo motor bicyclist…I whistled to myself, and the busy little engine, as it throbbed away, seemed to beat time with the melody…
I nearly ran into a boy–boys are so stupid–through pushing the ignition lever forward instead of pulling it back. I comforted myself that an oversight of this type was the natural outcome of a want of experience.
Once clear of the town all went as well as the oft-quoted marriage-bell. The sun was shining brilliantly…the birds were carrolling sweetly, and everything (including myself) seemed to combine into one harmonious whole, with the pulsing motor as its centre. Yes, life was worth living. Said I: “Out upon those scurvy knaves who pretend they can find no joy on earth. But a panacea is at hand even for them. The must motor cycle. It is the finest, best and most glorious invention–.” Great heavens! What was that? The healthy throb of the engine had suddenly ceased and in its place there came fiftful sobs. Confound it! The machine was actually stopping…After trying the effect of retarding and advancing the spark several times, and then finally having a tug at the compression lever, and finally experimenting with both levers at the same time, I thought it advisable and expedient to switch off the current. I have it, I thought. The engine is not being sufficiently lubricated otherwise it would not be so hot. I examined the lubricating tap. Lo! And behold! The tap was off. I immediately put this right and I gave a sigh of relief. I calmly lighted my pipe and took a seat on a mossy bank that was handy, and passed a few minutes in quiet reflection, allowing the engine to cool.
Eventually I began to think it was time to move. Hang it, why do people break down on hills? Pedal as I would, and manoeuvre the levers as I might, I could not make the engine puff…with my Sherlock Holmes powers of divining things I had deduced that even a motor bicycle could be a bit of a nuisance…my machine was no longer motor driven. It had resolved itself into a common pedal-pusher, and a heavy one at that. I examined the contact breaker and the fat spark told me that my trouble was not due to faulty ignition. The world did not seem quite so joyous and peaceful as it did half an hour before. I felt depressed in spirits, and even the signing of the birds–how they did chirp away, to be sure!–irritated and vexed me.
Suddenly a happy thought occured to me. Such things come to even the dullest of us. I wonder if my petrol supply is all right. Why on earth had I not thought of this before. With feverish haste and with trembling fingers I unscrewed the milled stopper at the top of the petrol tank and gazed into it…the tank was as dry as a bone. If words could have hurt the person who had lent me his machine his death would have been painfully sudden. I was perfectly stranded and quite two miles from the nearest shop at which spirit could be obtained. Confound it. I wish I had never seen the blessed machine.
I philosophically told myself that it was no use crying over spilt milk–who except the cat ever does?–and so I started on the return journey. It was all right riding downhill, but along the level I did not find it a particularly charming pastime, whilst uphill–no words can express my feelings.
I eventually got my tank replenished and, feeling confident that all my troubles were now over, I again set forth. What a change, and how beautifully the machine went along! My spirits had risen above their normal pitch and the soft breezes cooled my burning cheeks. Gradually a feeling of exhilaration seized me, and I even burst forth into song. In my wild excitement I extended the accelerator to its fullest limit and got up top speed. A policemen looked at me, but, fearing the exertion of running after me, he did not impede my progress. What cared I in my perfect abandon for the speed regulations?
My train of happy thoughts came to a sudden stop–so did my engine. Dash these motors; why are they so fickle in their behaviour? Bang again. The motor was giving strange and uncanny explosions. Presently these ceased. Surely it could not be the petrol this time. No the tank was nearly full and the lubrication seemed satisfactory. Perhaps the ignition had gone wrong, I thought. Said I: “I will see if I can get another ‘fat spark’.” I lingered on the words “fat spark” lovingly, for I am fond of technical expressions, and the owner of the refractory machine had fully impressed upon me the advantages of such a phenomenon and the particular corpulency of his spark. With eager hands I took the cover of the contact-breaker and started playing with the switch on the handle-bar. Ye gods! I could get no spark at all, not even a thin one.
The perspiration on my forehead turned to an icy dampness; a cold shiver ran down my back and my teeth almost chattered. What was I to do now? I was no electrician, and did not know anything at all about the wires. I could not even distinguish a high tension from a low tension wire. They were as mysterious to me as the wires on a telegraph pole.
I gave another despairing glance at the contact-breaker. Then I groaned, for lying on the ground was a small piece of spring steel blade with a platinum point on it. The trembler blade had snapped and there was not a spare one in the saddle-bag. I really believe I swore. Never again, I raved, would I get astride a motor bicycle. It was the devil’s own invention and was merely sent to try the patience of poor suffering mankind. I pushed the machine into a ditch and sat down by the side of the road and ruminated upon the situation. I was some miles away from home and there was not even a house in sight. My heart was wrung with anguish. I felt done.
I threw off my coat and then took off the driving belt. I had made up my mind to pedal the thing home. It was slow–very slow. And then, pedalling as hard as I could over a rough piece of road I managed to kick the left pedal out of the crank. Perdition seize motor bicycles.
With a feeling of disgust, I flung the machine against a bank. I was feeling abominably hungry, whilst the quenching of my thirst would have meant at that moment a small fortune to the proprietor of a fully-licensed house. I would sit and wait for a cart. I sat and sat–and sat. I fumed and then I tried the pleasant occupation of pushing a hundred and forty pounds of tyred steel. And it was uphill too. Every muscle in my body was aching, my hands were in blisters, and my tongue was swollen and as hard as a brick. In a fearfully exhausted condition I managed at length to reach the top and, panting, I sank down by the side of a ditch and closed my eyes.
I fancy I must have nearly dozed off, for I finally came to my senses by hearing the rumble of a cart. The joy of that moment! A shipwrecked sailor on a raft out at sea never experienced such an exquisite feeling of thankfulness as I did at that moment.
The cart was driven by a venerable man who had behind him some cans of paraffin and other wares from which he had been serving country customers. There was no room for the machine on board. I felt almost sick. Then a brilliant idea–the conception of which I flatter myself was a real stroke of genius–struck me. I would mount the machine, hand on to the tail of the cart and get the old fellow to tow me home. This he agreed to do, and although at times I felt as if my arms were leaving my shoulders, I managed, as dusk was beginning to fall, to reach home. How I blessed that good-hearted old man!
Did I give up motor bicycling? Of course not. I am now the proud possessor of a machine made by a well-known manufacturer, and would not desert the pastime for untold wealth.