This isn’t part of the timeline but it’s just too good to leave out. In 1937 Ixion wrote a four-part ‘history of the motor cycle movement’ from the Butler Petrol-cycle and Daimler Einspur to British global supremacy in the years after the Great War. No one was more involved in that history and no one could have recalled it so beautifully. This is a yarn to read and read again. Ixion, over to you.
The Days of the Pioneers
Red Flag Days and After: Experiments with Petrol-Driven Two- and Three-wheelers
THERE WERE BRAVE men in the last century. Brave enough to wear bushy side whiskers and long droopy moustaches; to love girls with ringlets and crinolines. But none brave enough to stick an engine on a penny-farthing bicycle. So the Butler ‘Petrol-cycle’ (drawings shown at the 1884 Stanley Show) was a trike. Three largish wheels, with the driver seated between the front pair; two cylinders cuddling the back wheel – one on each side; coil ignition; float-fed carburetter; rotary valves; and a pedal which yanked the rear wheel up on two small side castors while you started up.
Did it ever run? Possibly a few yards on private ground by 1887. If it ran, Butler didn’t like it, for he expended all the capital of his syndicate on building a Mark II, and then closed down. After all, with a 4mph limit and the expense of engaging a man with a red flag to trudge ahead of you, motor cycling could hardly be worth while.
Germans suffered from no such tiresome restrictions, so when, in 1885, Gottlieb Daimler wished to try out an air-cooled engine, he had a brainwave. Why not mount the experimental engine on two wheels? Eventually, he felt quite pleased with the ultimate engine (a twin) and promptly built a four-wheel chassis for it, thus ranking as the ancestor of all those pseudo motor cyclists who ’vert to cars at the first possible moment.
But Gottlieb built (and either rode or paid somebody else to ride) at least two motor bicycles. No money would induce me to ride either of them. They were just steel hobby horses with artillery wheels, and a line drawing of either of them is calculated to throw anybody into a cold sweat.
Imagine the controls of his MkII. Its handlebar was coupled to the fork by a flat belt, and when this slipped you either couldn’t go into a bend of couldn’t come out of one. Should you, in these trying circumstances, elect to stop, you twisted the entire handlebar sharply. This manoeuvre tightened two cords, one of which (with luck) freed the engine by hauling a jockey pulley off the driving belt, while the other (again with luck) applied a shoe brake to the tyre of the rear wheel.
British engineers viewed these foreign experiments with interest, jealousy or derision, as the case might be, but the red flag law law made it useless for inventors to get busy in these islands, and the first essential was a campaign for legal reform.
This battle was approaching victory in October 1895 when Sir David Salmons borrowed the Tunbridge Wells agricultural showground for our first ‘Great Horseless Carriage Exhibition’. Two motor cycles graced this event. The better of the two was a ½hp De Dion tricycle scaling no more than 90lb; the other was a slightly heavier model on similar lines by the Gladiateur Company.
Parliamentary opposition was now being overborne, and our engineers frenziedly studied Continental developments in readiness for the anticipated boom in society circles.
In 1895 a German Hildebrand & Wolfmüller bicycle was demonstrated on the Coventry track by MJ Schulte. It had an open frame, with tank and batteries between the front down tubes, and its rear wheel was direct-driven by the conrods of a horizontal engine. It inspired Colonel Holden to bring out a water-cooled flat four of 3hp with hollow-cranked conrods, mounted on a cross-head, driving a tint back wheel direct. It was beautifully made, ran nicely at a fair speed, but was terribly unreliable. A number were sold between 1899 and 1902.
In 1896 the greatest engineering quack in history, EJ Pennington, landed from America and built a couple of motor bicycles for which he extorted £100,000 from credulous financiers and investors. The nation went crazy, expecting an instantaneous transformation of our whole transport system.
One machine was a solo and the other a tandem. Both had twin-cylinder engines that projected horizontally astern of the rear wheel. There was no carburetter, and the fuel ran down inside a rear frame tube directly into the inlet pipe. The fuel was alleged to be paraffin, and its efficiency was ascribed to a “long mingling spark” invented by Pennington. This spark was actually an ordinary coil-ignition spark, the current being derived from dry cells and boosted by a coil.
Pennington used a fake densimeter to persuade the credulous that his fuel was paraffin, whereas in fact it was the finest petrol. As the cylinders of his engines were plain steel tubes devoid of any finning and air-cooled, the marvel is that the machines ever ran at all. They were governed on the fuel feed, had a speed range of 8-30mph, and demonstrations were usually terminated by a failure of the contact-breaker spring.
A weird period of financial buccaneering ensued. Personalities like HJ Lawson, Pennington and their satellites captured the popular imagination. Britain waited breathlessly for an immense output of cheap motor vehicles – cars, tricycles and bicycles, on which everybody was to tour at high speed, leaping rivers and hedges in their stride.
Some of the financiers actually believed in these dreams, and were fighting to secure the rights of all the successful Continental inventions. But actual manufacture moved very slowly.
In 1896 Accles produced a British copy of the De Dion tricycle, but trouble was sustained with its dry-cell-cum-coil ignition, and instead of curing the trouble, the sponsors adopted ‘tube ignition’, This consisted of a short platinum tube inserted through the wall of the combustion chamber; its outer end was heated by a small blowlamp resembling a primus stove. What with choking, blowing out and conflagrations, this ignition put a heavy brake on progress.
In the same year the first Beeston tricycle appeared, followed by a two-seater quad. Two years later the same firm produced a 1¾hp chain-driven motor bicycle which could actually travel at 27mph.
In 1897 the famous Stanley Cycle Show staged several machines, including Humber and Beeston petrol motor cycles and a freak electric Humber tandem, deriving its energy from accumulators and designed for pacing cycle races. Anon the Coventry Motor Company produced several motor bicycles, propelled through a wooden engine pulley which drove the rear tyre by friction. Mrs De Veulle received a diamond ring from HJ Lawson as a reward for riding one of these dreadful machines from Coventry to London.
But nothing could popularise motor bicycles at this epoch. What with difficult starting, gross unreliability, a one-speed engine devoid of any control for slow running, lack of power, no gears for hills, the risk of fire, bad tyres, extreme discomfort, and incessant trouble with dogs, horses and cattle, not to mention the eternal risk of skidding on the greasy roads of the period, even the most enthusiastic adventurer thought twice before he attempted a serious journey.
The dawn of the real motor cycle era was thus postponed until about 1900, when motor tricycles of real utility began to appear on the market. The De Dion was freely imported, and a British edition was built under licence and called the MMC. The British Ariel, largely copied from the De Dion, was superior to it in workmanship and a great favourite. Its engine was in front of the axle, instead of behind it as on the De Dion, so the front wheel did not fly up when one hopped at the machine to get a start; and its gearing was encased (the naked gears of a De Dion could be heard at the range of a mile when they became worn).
Some people towed their passengers in trailers, which were often wide, two-seater affairs of great comfort; others anchored the rear half of a ladies’ bicycle to the rear axle; others again mounted a quad forecar in lieu of the front wheel.
As soon as the tricycle became firmly established other firms entered the market – Enfield, Eadie, Allard, Dennis, Swift, etc. Presently FR Simms bought the rights to the Bosch low-tension magneto and adapted this form of ignition to a complete power unit built inside a small wheel which was employed as the rear wheel of a motor cycle and the front wheel of a tricycle. Miss Muriel Hind (later Mrs Lord) rode one of his open-framed machines for thousands of miles, and did much to convince the country that motor bicycles possessed a future.
As this machine (built by Singers) was blessed with a genuinely reliable ignition it was more reliable than most motor vehicles of the day, which found their Achilles heel in the ignition. By 1900 some fifty concerns were turning out a small trickle of motor vehicles, the majority being three-wheelers.
The year 1900 brought the epoch making Thousand Miles Trial which attracted eight motor cycle entries, viz, two Ariel trikes, one Ariel quad, one MMC trike, one (French) Empress trike, one Enfield quad (entered by Mr Edward Iliffe, now Lord Iliffe) and two French Werner motor bicycles.
The bicycles did not actually start, but they turned the minds of the trade in a new direction. Odd as it seems today, the real value of this Werner was that it sterotyped belt drive. The belt, being of the twisted-hide pattern, was as bad a belt as could possibly be devised for the purpose, and caused incessant trouble. But it eliminated the harshness characteristic of previous drives; it enabled machines to remain light; and if it open stopped the rider, he could always repair.
This Werner was a terrible brute to ride. Carrying its engine high up over the front wheel, its top-heaviness provoked skidding of a virulence unknown today. Its tube ignition set fire to everything when the machine toppled over. At the best, one had to stop every dozen miles or so to pour oil from a bottle into the crank case; and its construction was so poor that it seldom achieved a ten-mile non-stop run. But its lightness and cheapness made us all realise the possibilities inherent in a type of motor cycle which had yet to be born.
Experiment followed experiment in quick succession. By 1903 the Werner brothers had evolved an improved model with the engine mounted low and centrally fed by a spray carburetter a driven by a flat belt. Almost immediately afterwards the Excelsior people produced a really good machine with cycle fittings of the finest British workmanship, and fitted it with a 2¾hp MMC engine (copied from the De Dion) slung below the front down tube. Its tyres were too light and its single untrussed fork blades too weak, while the De Dion contact-breaker was tricky to adjust; but this machine was genuinely roadworthy. The writer drove one for 15,000 miles with practically no trouble apart from tyres and belts, after converting the ignition to a wipe-contact with trembler coil.
Then came the Quadrant which operated its ignition, throttle control and compression release by means of a single lever. Motor cycling was now launched as a genuinely practical hobby and an economical method of transport.
Part 2: The Two-wheeler’s Rapid Progress
A Host of Different Makes: How the Motor Cycling Club Assisted Development: The Advent of Brooklands and the TT Races
BY 1901 THE MOTOR bicycle was firmly established, and the popularity of the motor tricycle dwindled. The present generation can revive these dead years by a comparison with the early phases of aviation, which closely resembled the pioneer years of motor cycling. Both periods display the exploitation of a new transport by novices. In both a host of petty makers produced a trickle of weird machines, faulty in design, and evincing no trace of standarisation. In both, the manufacturer hardly began to build unless and until he received a firm order. In both, the general public regarded the pioneers as a little crazy.
Trouble was the rule rather than the exception. Belts slipped; forks broke; timing gears sheared; valves snapped in halves; tanks leaked; brakes went out of action. But still the enthusiasts persevered. There is no record of the annual output of machines in such years as 1901, 1902 and 1903; small as it was, it was divided between a great many builders, most of whom purchased their engines in France or Belgium, or shamelessly copied the more successful foreign engines.
Some of the cycle factories produced one or two models of motor bicycles as sidelines. Other machines were erected by small assemblers, who often experienced extreme difficulty in keeping the broker’s men at armed lengths, possibly extracting advance deposits from their customers wherewith to pay the first installment on the components which were needed for erection.
There were a lot of different makes: Werner, Excelsior, Quadrant, Humber, Phelon and Moore, Pearson-Aster, Minerva, R and P, Bradshaw, Phoenix, Clement-Garrard, Raleigh, Enfield, Shaw, Singer, Chase, Ormonde, Kitto, Lawson, Triumph, Matchless, Hillman, Rex, Bat, Booth, FN and many others. The ranks were swollen by the surviving motor tricycles and by many now forgotten machines asembled from components by local cycle dealers, who put their own transfer on the tank and perhaps never turned out more than one machine which they failed to sell, and kept perforce for their own riding.
The year 1903 proved decisive in the development of the motor bicycle. It did not usher in any boom in trade or any epoch-making novelties in design. But it saw the year-old Motor Cycling Club organise riders in the Metropolitan area and institute the first in a long series of road trials which were destined to identify the weak spots in design and construction, to convince engineers that a perfected machine could furnish cheap and reliable transport, and to galvanise an embryo industry int life and power.
Since no machines of this date could climb steep hills, thanks to undependable transmissions, low-powered, woolly engines, and the limitations of a single gear, the first tests were remarkably simple. The machines were assembled on a Saturday or Sunday at some point just clear of the London traffic, such as Redbourn, in Herts, and were set to cover fifty miles non-stop over a simple circuit. This short distance usually sufficed to eliminate most of the entry with some breakdown or toher; but we learnt by our disasters.
The distances were gradually extended. Each rider lasted longer as his experience ripened. By August the committee actually ventured to organise a 200-mile non-stop and a ‘Happy Pair’ competition was held for passenger models in October 1903 which produced ten entries – three forecars, three tandems and four trailers. Five of them completed 100 miles without a stop over a 25-mile course from Godstone (Surrey) to near Lewes, although two exceeded the allowed speed (17mph) and one was too slow (10mph).
Thus encouraged, the MCC organised the first London to Edinburgh run in 1904 as a great national demonstration of the capacity of the new transport.
Seventy entered, 46 started and 22 reached Edinburgh within 24 hours. Many of the failures were due to the crude lamps of the period. These were carried on brackets of the cycle type, with small gas generators under the burner, the gas flow being steadied by a small rubber bag in the lamp casing.
This run was historic because Elyard Brown appeared at the start with a huge sheet-metal case on his carrier containing no fewer than four 20Ah accumulators – probably the first serious attempt to apply electricity to this purpose. He duly reached Edinburgh by 10pm, although history does not record how many ampere-hours remained in the battery cells; the batteries of the period simply dripped paste off their plates under the vibration of motor cycling.
Later in the year the MCC endeavoured to rope provincial riders into the new enthusiasm, and the first club team trial was held on 27 August 1904. The premier award was The Motor Cycle Cup, and there were five club entries: Coventry, MCC, Peterborough, Guildford and the Southern MC. Marks were awarded at the rate of one for each mile covered without a stop, and the maximum possible was 600. Coventry scored 485, MCC 381½, Peterborough 245½, Guildford 202, and the poor Southern MC a beggarly 101½. These mileages, registered by the finest cracks of the day, afford a picturesque impression of reliability standards in 1904.
Two riders in each team of six were compelled by the rules to drive some form of passenger vehicle, and an easy hill at Aynho, near Banbury, was responsible for some hefty pedalling and a great many lost marks.
The year 1905 produced great advances. The high-tension magneto, coupled with improved sparking plugs, banished three-quarters of the ignition problems; reliability had never been possible with many feet of flimsy flex coupling a shoddy accumulator to a dubious coil, a rickety contact breaker and a dud plug. Transmission now displayed itself as the Achilles heel of the motor bicycle, but there was still much room for metallurgy to perfect engines.
In this year the Triumph Company sought publicity for their new all-British 3hp machine by setting it to cover 200 miles a day for six days. It broke its frame near the end of the first essay, but completed its task on a second attempt. Nevertheless, the rider used at least one exhaust valve daily, and the piston rings were so worn after 200 miles that there was no need to use the valve-lifter for starting purposes.
The Auto Cycle Club was beginning to wrest the reins of development from the MCC, and in 1905 it organised a 750-mile Six Days Trial. Thirty-one machines started, 21 finished and six earned gold medals. Greatly courageous, the organisers included the ascent of Birdlip Hill. Three machines climbed it under power. One was a single-geared 5hp Ariel, which was forced up the long ascent by a determined rider with super leg muscles. The other two were prophetic – both were two-speed Phelon and Moore machines with chain drive. The gear consisted of double primary chains and sprockets operated by tiny metal clutches on the countershaft, and goggle-eyed men, lying purple-faced and panting by the hedges half-way up Birdlip, stared incredulously at the machines as they climbed steadily under their own power.
A further advance in reliability was seen in 1906. Motor cycles were fair timekeepers provided they encountered tolerable weather and were given easy roads. The MCC actually dared to offer the Schulte Trophy for ride from London to Edinburgh and back—800 miles of easy going. Eleven out of 12 aspirants completed the double journey.
Passenger machines were still extremely uncertain – only four of 15 starters in this class covered the 400 miles to Edinburgh. In this same summer the ACC ran its Six Days Trial over the Land’s End-John o’ Groats course. It secured 73 entries, but only 13 managed to average 15mph over the classic route, and several of the machines that finished were mechanical wrecks.
Any intelligent student of the record up to this point would remark that a severe racing programme was required in order to provide metallurgical and other data for a better power output and loftier standards or reliability. Hitherto, the value of high-speed tests had not been realised. In the earliest days, primitive motor cycles of freak design and high power had been employed to pace cyclists on their tracks, but these racing machines were monstrosities with no kinship to road models.
As far back as 1904 the French Club offered a cup for an international road race, but its stipulations imposed a maximum weight limit of 108½lb, which neutralised any influence it might otherwise have exerted on tourist machines. Our entry was a fiasco.
Similar rules held for 1905, when 19 British machines contested a Manx eliminating trial to select our team of three riders. Most of these machines were big-twins, scaling inside the set weight of 108½lb, and all of them were ridiculous. The industry realised the folly of such regulations and in 1906 only five machines entered for the team-choosing tests at Knowsley Park.
But we were learning our lesson, and 1907 was to prove a real landmark. It witnessed the opening of Brooklands Track and the organisation of the first Tourist Trophy races in the Isle of Man. The word ‘tourist’ should be underlined, for it identifies the original value of these races. In conjunction with Brooklands they provided a laboratory where any manufacturer could obtain any desired data both about the methods of extracting horsepower from a given cylinder capacity and of instilling genuine stamina into his products.
An amusing incident illustrates this point. A manufacturer of the assembler type found his sales impaired by a rival who used the same brand of engine, the ‘X’. An inventor brought down another engine, the ‘Y’, which easily beat the ‘X’ up the works’ test hill.
The manufacturer was on the verge of contracting for 1,000 ‘Y’ engines when his chief enginer asked permission to contrast the two engines at Brooklands. On the track engine ‘Y’ was far slower than engine ‘X’, and died away in a lap or two. They analysed the characteristics of the two engines, and ultimately combined the best qualities of both for their new engine!
Part 3: The Coming of Variable Gears
Lessons of the First Scottish Six Days Trial: When the TT Course was Lapped at 42mph: Variable Gears Come to Stay
THE YEAR 1908 WAS one of promise rather than of achievement. Nothing very exciting happened, yet powerful tendencies began to harden. For example, pedalling gears were barred in the TT, a change which automatically set designers musing on how to ginger up their engines, and eventually drove them to experiment with variable gears.
In this same year two epoch-making engines appeared. At Bristol two firms (Barter and Fairy) had lost hundreds of pounds in the effort to sell a flat-twin engine, and the Douglas people suddenly made a success of the enterprise. The smooth running, easy starting, silence and good power output of their 350cc unit created a sensation. But a wild sensation was caused at the Newnham hill-climb of the Coventry club.Here every summer the Big Chiefs on the industry feverishly contested a little family combat, where strangers were tolerated but always humiliated when the prize awards came out.
In 1908 an unassuming nonentity from Yorkshire, in the person of AA Scott, walked off with all three events on formula, and his new two-stroke boasted an admirable kick-starter, an open frame and a lovely exhaust.
Scott is an eternal argument in favour of non-standardised education. His parents sent him to a freak school, Abbotsholme, where everything was poles asunder from the normal public school. Abbotsholme boys could play cricket, provided they first made their own bats and wickets; they could boat, but they must make their own boats. So Scott staggered the pundits with a machine bristling with originality in every feature.
He did not convert the industry to open frames or to two-stroke engines, but he forced kick-starters and variable gears on a lethargic world.
The following year preached a trenchant sermon on the text which Scott had placarded; and the sermon was launched in Scotland, where the Edinburgh MCC organised their first six-day trial (really a five-day event).
Twenty-six victims were shepherded north for this violent frightfulness. Ignored and unrestrained by mellowing trade influences, the MCC sketched a long circuit of mountainous roads. None of the official cars could manage the course. The motor cyclists pedalled and pushed, and ran alongside, and panted, and fell exhausted in the heather.
Everybody returned south convinced that the motor cycle of tomorrow must have a variable gear enabling it to climb hills surely and without murdering its owner; moreover, every motor cycle must have some method of engine starting which would work against a gradient; stoppages on a hill must not force the owner to return to the bottom. This was pure Scottology.
The issue was both blurred and postdated by the ACU during the same summer. Their Six Days was pusillanimous by comparison, obsessed by trade influences and the gospel of salesmanship. It would never do to let an English public know that motor cycles could not climb steep hills. Three test hills were listed – Birdlip, Dinas and the Cat and Fiddle. Twenty-five bonus marks were offered for each hill.
It was thought that if the time scheduled allowed a long stop for cooling engines at the fot of each hill, and riders were allowed to screw down their adjustable engine pulleys and fit new belts, most riders would get up. Actually only 10% of the entry earned full hill-climbing marks , even under these easy conditions, and the organisers kicked themselves. But what they mistook for a minor tragedy was in reality a godsend. Variable gears increasingly entered the limelight.
Most people fought shy of the 1910 Scottish. The trade refused to enter, because the far-north offered few sales and too remote an advertisement, but seven of the 19 entries employed variable gears. This innovation unveiled a fresh hoodoo, for the engines of that day wilted of they were freely revved up long hills on low gears.
The whole process culminated in 1911. The ACU developed both cunning and virility. Some genius suggested a Junior TT race, foreseeing that nachines of the featherweight Douglas type would make a great appeal to many potential riders, and therefore deserved the stimulus which a race would impart.
Simultaneously, it was clear that tiny engines could never climb Snaefell on a single gear. As the majority of manufacturers were interested soley in much larger engines, they offered no great resistance. A half-hearted attempt was made by the trade to permit the tinies to use pedals, but the big firms had no serious interest or belief in the Junior race. And when the Motor Cycle vigorously supported the ACU in its ‘no pedal’ policy, pedals were barred. Luckily, the Armstrong people seized this moment to bring out a heavier version of their three-speed hub. The first Junior race secured 34 entries, of which 30 had variable gears – more than half using the Armstrong hub. They lapped the full Mountain circuit at the astounding speed of 42mph and touched 55mph on the level. In doing so they established variable gears as part of the essential specification of all good roadster machines.
Actually, the practice period of the Manx event was hectic and humorous. Only two entrants in the Senior event went to the Island intending to race with variable gears – Scott and Phelon & Moore. But practice opened many eyes as single geared 500 riders watched the variably geared tinies conquering the Mountain.
The Colliers hastily faked up emergency gears of the variable-pulley type. Frantic wires sizzled from Douglas to Coventry imploring the factory engineers to send over some sort of a gear by the next boat. The single-geared brigade anxiously eyed the Indian team which smiled happily in the possession of two-speed countershaft gears with all-chain drive. These Indians finished 1, 2, 3 despite frantic efforts by the Colliers; the fastest single-geared machine to finish was 20 minutes behind the winner, and most of the single-geared 500s were actually out-speeded by variable-geared tinies. This 1911 race killed the single gear, and administered slow poison to belt drive as well. The transmission battle was over.
Followed the Scottish Six Days with a crazier course than ever. It attracted 35 entries – 20 of them on variable-geared machines. There were 15 golds awarded, and 10 of them went to machines with the new transmission.
The whole atmosphere had changed within 12 months.
Mind you, most gears of this date (except Indian, Douglas, Scott and Phelon and Moore) were poor things at the best. But the worst of them felt like the millenium after years of hill-dodging, or that awful business of rush and pedal until the cardiac revs peaked.
On the crest of this movement the ACU rode to triumph. Its 1911 event was a hub-and-spoke Six Days with Harrogate as the hub. Eighty-three entries included 65 variable-geared machines. We of the Motor Cycle who had worn our nibs flat for half a generation advocating gears could sing our Nunc dimittis at long last. Never again could any fool arise to urge that variable gears were an unnecessary complication. The whole trade was hot-foot to standardise and perfect the innovation.
Part 4: Variable Gears and All-chain Transmission Established: The Post-War Boom—and Slump
WE HAVE SEEN how the year 1911 finally established variable gears as an essential item in motor cycle specifications. From 1911 till the outbreak of war in 1914 designers strove to perfect gear design, and wrestled with the new transmission systems and other structural changes which gears imposed.
Their vision did not clear instantaneously; they had to choose between
belt drive,chain-cum-belt (primary chain with final belt) and all-chain. And if all-chain drive ultimately triumphed, its victory was not immediate, and naturally necessitated a considerable stiffening up of both frames and engines, together with the insertion of shock-absorbers to soften the acerbity of the more rigid transmission. These innovations added a deal of weight. Moreover, the riding public had to be educated to realise the merits of the new drives.
Then the War stunned development for four long years; innumerable machines were built for military purposes, but solidity rather than speed governed their design. The riders joined the Army mostly via the Royal Flying Corps, the Motor Machine Gun Corps or the Tank Corps. The plants were converted to munition work. Petrol was first rationed and finally restricted to essential national purposes. Ordinary motor cycling died a temporary death, although a few cars continued to run on coal gas or white oils.
When the Armistice was signed recovery was unexpectedly slow as the entire industry had to be reorganised; and as the demand for new machines far exceeded the supplies, prices steepled. The most interesting of the early post-War designs, the 398cc transverse flat-twin ABC, was catalogued at £160, and in spite of this extraordinary price its producers (an offshoot of the Sopwith aviation interests) lost all the capital which they had devoted to its production, and the machine died before it ever became really mature.
One rider early in 1919 paid £345 for an American four-cylinder machine with sidecar, and a couple of years later was glad to accept an allowance of £35 for it in part-exchange for a new machine.
As post-War production simmered down the three-speed all-chain machine soon stood out as the standard type. Meanwhile, various factors began to exert potent influences on the industry. The cessation of all normal manufacture during the War years inevitably created a famine in many commodities during 1919 so demand was temporarily exaggerated to absurd dimensions. Few people foresaw that the shortage would be rapidly met and that plants organised to grapple with such a famine would then face blank order-sheets.Hence a slump ensued after a year or two.
The War had taught our engineers the principles of mass production, and it soon became clear that the day of a multitude of small factories constructing motor cycles (or indeed any other articles) more or less by hand was over for ever. So the number of firms engaged in the trade began to dwindle at a rapid rate. Bankruptcies and ‘mergers’ became the order of the day. Many famous factories closed down;many machines with long and honourable reputations vanished for ever; and the motor cycle industry became concentrated in comparatively few hands.
Simultaneously, the car trade was changing under similar pressure, and ere long the cheap baby car made its appearance. It could never tempt the sporting type of rider. But the leisurely potterer soon found himself able to pick up a part-used baby car at the price of a decent motor cycle, and if he had a wife or sweetheart the transfer often appealed to him.
So the sidecar and the pillion lost some of their appeal, and motor cycling tended to become the hobby of the sportsman or the traveller who could not afford the higher first cost and heavier maintenance charges of a small car.
Technically, motor cycles continued to improve at a very rapid rate. During the War the urgent demand for light aero engines had inspired research in air-cooling, regardless of cost. Aviation engineers had made innumerable advances both in metallurgy and the perfection of air-cooling many of which were commercially applicable to motor cycling.
The speeds of the TT races increased substantially from year to year, and were reflected in the superb performances of commercial motor cycles. British machines rapidly established a supremacy and were literally without rivals anywhere in the world, while our lavish programme of road trials and races soon raised our riders to a parallel eminence.
At all Continental speed events British machines and British riders showed themselves absolutely invincible, and Continental engineers began to copy our designs in the most unblushing fashion. More than one Continental nation found itself too impoverished by the War to develop large sales of cars among its nationals, and was thereby driven to regard the possibilities of the motor cycle very seriously indeed. So motor cycling came to be fostered in various ways. Lightweight machines were relieved of all government imports in such countries, and even government subsidies were paid to leading engineering firms to assist in developing ther motor cycle designs and to advertise their wares by racing.
If you enjoyed that as much as I did you’re in for a treat: here’s Ixion’s glorious romp through his early years on two and three wheels.