From Big Bang to suck-squeeze-bang-blow and beyond
Images of Yesteryear
The photo gallery whimsically entitled Illustrative Melange was inspired by images kindly supplied by my chum Francois who has also put together a series of excellent pictorial reviews of motor cycling in the equally excellent Leicester Phoenix MCC website lpmcc.net (I strongly recommend a visit to lpmcc.net which is a unique cornucopia of stories and pics devoted to motor cycling rallying, touring and club life). Francois and LPMCC editor Ben have allowed me to reproduce those features here so here are parts 1 and 2. As we used to write at the end of stories back in the day, m/f.
As Francois is responsible for the words and pictures on this page it seems apposite to tell you something of his motor cycling credentials. Since 1970s he’s done several hundred rallies throughout Europe and found time to write for Europe Moto Magazine and the daily newspaper La Montagne Centre France. Having founded the Gueux d’Route movement in the late ’70s he edited its monthly rally mag and organized a good number of road riding events. Nowadays he lives in Thailand but still gets to French rallies as and when.
Francois, mon ami, over to you…
Memories of Yesteryear. Part 1: Motorcyclists ALTHOUGH MOST OF THE MOTORCYCLISTS of yesteryear depicted in these shots weren’t rallyists in the literal sense of the word, they were nevertheless keen motorcyclists like you and me, and amongst them were undoubtedly some true enthusiasts. Whatever these motorcyclists of days gone by used their machines for; social, domestic or competition doesn’t matter; the common brotherhood that binds us all remains the same. Whether it’s their pose, the outfits they wore or the machines themselves, everything perfectly reflects the atmosphere of the time on two or three wheels.
Memories of Yesteryear. Part 2: Speed racers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries
FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, the pioneers of motorcycling used their machines simply to enable them to move from one place to another, but on unreliable machines and unmade racks that passed for roads, this proved extremely difficult at times. Imagine riding at the end of the 19th century on mechanical monsters comprised of a simple frame, rudimentary engine, small tank and a primitive saddle; all with pretty non-existent brakes, and then launching yourself at full speed down roads with no smooth tarmac and no road signs! The motorcycle owes much of its early development to WW1, when the motorbike became an indispensable military transport vehicle. Later at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s it became the symbol of freedom we acknowledge today, but the motorcycle has also benefited throughout its history from competitions which fostered innovation in design and performance. I have set out below a brief history of motorcycle competitions from the very first participation of motorcyclists in a race in Italy in 1895 to the first World Motorcycle Championship in Belgium in 1905.
1895 May 18, 1895 sees the very first record of motorcyclists in a race. Indeed, two motorcycles and three cars participated in the Italian race Turin-Asti-Turin. The following month, from June 11 to 13, two motorised two-wheelers were on the starting line of the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race, but neither of them reached the finish. Paul Millet fell during his outward journey to Orléans and Georges Osmont had to retire in Angouleme on the return leg.
1896 The following year, in May 1896, a certain M Lotz on a Hildebrand & Wolfmüller machine finished the first stage of the Bordeaux-Agen-Bordeaux in last position and subsequently retired. On September 20, 1896, eight riders competed in the Paris-Mantes-Paris.
1897 From the year in which the word ‘motorcycle’ was coined by the Werner brothers, things got better for French riders. In the first Critérium des Motocycles, organised on April 4, 1897, Léonce Girardot and Gaston Rivierre finished in 4th position on a two-seater, two-wheeler of unknown brand and on June 20, 1897, in the first Coupe des Motocycles, run between Saint-Germain and Ecquevilly, Gans de Fabrice managed to ride his two-wheeler Wolfmüller to second place among the competing cars. The inauguration of the Stade-Vélodrome in the Parc des Princes in Paris on July 18, 1897 was the perfect occasion for motorcycle; races. Gaston Rivierre on a De Dion-Bouton motor bicycle won the first series and posted the best time of the day at 40.8km/h. That same year, the very first motor bicycle’ race between two riders, also on De Dions, took place in England at Sheen House.
1899 For the first time a competition was exclusively open to two-wheelers. The Critérium des Motocyclettes ran from Etampes to Chartres over a distance of 100km with Eugène Labitte winning on a Pernoo. From July 16-24 the first meeting of the Tour de France Automobile was held, with 19 cars and 25 motorcycles starting a course of seven stages over 2,216km.
1901 In the summer George M. Holey, one of the few American pioneers, built his first single-cylinder IOE, (inlet-over-exhaust), winning the first motorcycles-only race in the US: the Boston-New York.
1903 The story of city-to-city racing ended tragically in May due to eight fatal accidents in the Paris-Madrid. A new form of racing then appeared, but this time in a velodrome. These events were held most of the time at the Parc des Princes and at the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The two great champions of the age were Alessandro Anzani and Marius Thé.
1904 On September 25 the newly formed Motocycle-Club of France (MCM) organised the very first international motorcycle race: the International Cup. It ran over 268km, with the French team competing against four others: Germany (DMV), Austria (ÖAC), Great-Britain (ACC) and Denmark. The resulting French victory gave the host the right to organise the race again in 1905. Following this event, delegations from the five countries taking part met on December 21 at the famous Ledoyen restaurant in Paris to create the International Federation of Motorcycle Clubs (FICM), the ancestor of the current FIM.
1905 September brought the first World Motorcycle Championship organised inside the Zurenborg velodrome near Antwerp, in Belgium. Alessandro Anzani, won the race on an Alcyon equipped with a 330cc Buchet single-cylinder engine he developed himself, thus becoming the first world champion in the history of motorcycling. Born in Italy, Anzani moved to France in 1900 and became the most important engine manufacturer of the time.
I guess these great old timers, racing over a hundred years ago, must have possessed enormous courage and daring, to be able to challenge their competitors on such unpredictable machines, in the most crazy of events. Take a good look at them on the images below, testaments to the outfits of the day with their handlebar moustaches and daredevil appearance. The real men of yesteryear who knew no fear. I have only one word to say about them: Respect!
Memories of Yesteryear. Part 3: 1914-1918—The Great War in the saddle
IT WAS DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR that the military motorcycle made its debut, although it had also appeared with the forces of Pancho Villa in the earlier Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa discovered that the big Indian motorcycles were ideal for his raiding parties, realising that motorcycles offered the speed and agility ideal for hit-and-run raids. The Great War set the tone for the mechanisation of war and the motorcycle proved to be a very viable replacement for the horse, with the military making extensive use of this new method of transport and communication. Technological breakthroughs are often driven by necessity during war and the Great War was no exception. The increased need for motorised transport unsurprisingly directly influenced motorbike production, greatly accelerating their evolution. These were bikes built out of, and during a crisis—bikes designed for rugged applications. It’s no coincidence that many early motorcycle manufacturers were also manufacturers of guns and armaments. Detailed below is a photographic record of some of those military machines of yesteryear.
That concludes Part 3. Part 4, covering 1920-25, will be uploaded soon so watch this space. You’re in for a treat—the images Francois has selected really are excellent. He’s also sent me a good selection of uncaptioned pics from the Great War; these, with a number that I’ve accumulated, can be found in the Illustrative Melange. And, of course, there are plenty of stories and images from the war in the main Timeline—Ed.