Monstrous motor cycles

The following appeared in the very first issue of The Motor Cycle. More than most stories from the earliest days of motor cycling, it indicates how much things have changed.

by HO Duncan
PICTURE TO YOURSELF a motor cycle fitted with four huge cylinders, long raking handle-bars, exaggerated petrol tanks, hideous silencers, etc, such as made its appearance to compete in the hill-climbing competition at Gaillon last season, not to speak of half a dozen other weird monsters of the same type and similar eccentricities, which also turned up on the same occasion.
No one who has even an elementary knowledge of what a motor cycle should be imagines for an instant that the construction of machines of the above kind will help on the evolution of motor cycles for practical use; but supposing a machine of this description had managed to rush up to St Barbe Hill in the quickest time on record, what flaming advertisements would appear in the Parisian dailies, puffing up the speedy nature of the brute, and very possibly referring to the supreme and excellent qualities of the construction, with a view to quietly foisting on the market an entirely different article.
The 1903 catalogue will include the list of competitions won on the ‘Bluff’ machine, amongst which will appear, “First Price—Gaillon Hill-climbing Contest, in record time, beating 40hp motor cars.”

1902 gaillon
This trike was among the competitors at the 1902 Gaillon hillclimb,

The 1903 private purchaser will be in total ignorance of the monstrosity that in reality ‘did the trick’, but the manufacturer has obtained his point on the way of utilising a freak machine which no sensible man would ever purchase, to advertise his wares! In all probability the standard 1¾hp motor bicycle placed upon the market would not get halfway up the hill without the assistance of laborious pedalling, and in all probability would stick halfway. The owner would have to dismount and push, or, possibly, call in the assistance of the small boys, who for a few pence ‘represent extra horse power for weak motorists’ on Sundays and fete days!
Taking another view of the situation, what mechanical or commercial value can be placed upon these monstrosities, used as they are upon a straight mile or kilometre, or, what is an even worse test of their efficiency, upon the cemented racing paths.
They certainly do harm to the sport, and even more to the pastime, from the mere fact that the spectators, seeing a motor bicycle, perchance for the first time, get quite a wrong impression as to what the ideal machine should in reality be for daily use and for touring purposes. The non-spectators or likely purchasers are apt to be led astray by ‘ficticious advertisements’ which are often the outcome of these competitions.
Such machines may produce a ‘new sport’, but no one can say such monstrosities used in competition do good to the industry in finding out ‘weak points’ in the motor or in the machine, in order that the manufacturers may rectify the defects before the standard model is manufactured.

1902 gamet
The 1902 Gamet developed 16hp.

We all admit the beneficial results of the experience gained from the big long-distance races—Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Marseilles, Paris-Berlin, or Paris-Vienna. These celebrated contests made the motor car what it is today—a practical touring vehicle—as all kinds of defects, such as bad material, wrong designs, and inventive fads, were brought to light or remained en panne [broken down] by the roadside, for the ingenious to ponder over their errors or to mature ideas and inventions for alterations and improvements.
These are well-known facts, which must appeal to all practical minds, and the importance of them is realised throughout the industry. It appears to me that the practical and businesslike way in which most motor car races, contests, or competitions are usually carried out should not be made an excuse for the absurdities of the motor cycle monstrosities. The cycle industry has been in existence for a great number of years, and from time to time important improvements have been introduced, until today a pedal bicycle or tricycle is an instrument thoroughly well known and appreciated in every little detail. The bicycle of today has undergone many modifications, and is the outcome of amy years experience gained not only in the drawing-office and workshop, but from races and competitions on the path, road, and hill-climbing contests. Numberless fads, inventions and also monstrosities have seen their day and disappeared, but the accepted design of bicycle has always proved its superiority upon the racing path and road.

1903 trike
Trikes offered plenty of scope for squeezing in big engines.

My point is, we all know what a bicycle is, and we also know that the horse-power of motors must attain a standard marketable limit, which is generally supposed to vary between 1½hp to 3hp; consequently it is quite unreasonable to find firms turning out racing monstrosities of the description named in this article, which do a considerable amount of harm to the sport, pastime, and industry. As previously mentioned, the public are led astray by fictitious advertisements, by false announcements in catalogues, and the motor freaks in question create a wrong impression generally upon spectators at race meetings or competitions, exactly like the tricycle within these last few years, which has been almost ‘killed’ in France by over-powered motors.
About eighteen months ago, it will be remembered, a certain inventor appeared at Gaillon for the hill-climbing contest with a terrible elongated looking vehicle fitted with an enormous motor, and did fast times up the hill, beating legitimate racing cars and other competitors. The ‘Inventor’ responsible for this awful fad was led astray by the publicity given at the time to such an extent, in fact, that he called upon me at my office. To my great surprise, the object of his visit was to ask me in all seriousness if I considered it worth my while to sell the patents (?) to an English syndicate. Never was I so astounded, as it did not say much for the inventor’s idea of British commonsense. A racing man recently appeared at Dourdan upon a 32hp monster tricycle to attempt to beat the world’s records, as an advertisement for a certain make of motor; but for all practical purposes, what would such records prove? If photographs could be secured of all these machines—we only give a few—and reproduced, it would give the public a good idea of how some firms obtain these so-called ‘records’ with the aid of these ‘unsightly brutes’. In other words, it would prove that widely advertised records have been secured by machines upon which no sensible man would care to risk his neck, and the Paris-Vienna race showed monstrosities were not necessary. It would be a good thing if the automobile clubs would resolutely refuse to time officially all monstrosities, and to discourage the use of such machines, and in fact, disqualify them from taking part in any official competition. Their presence upon any occasion is absurd and ridiculous, and, personally, I should blush to have to manipulate them.

…and here’s a description of a bike that would have given Mr Duncan palpitations…

A monster motor cycle
FOURNIER IS A name associated with speed when talking of anything that is motor driven, and the latest news from Paris—the home of the speed monstrosities of the motor cycle breed—is that Maurice Fournier is the possessor of a machine capable of attaining a speed of about eighty miles an hour.
The latest swallower of kilometres is driven by a two-cylinder engine, air-cooled, and of 22hp; each cylinder is 4⅜in bore by 4¾in stroke [2,332cc]. It is interesting to note that the drive is by a chain, as the motorshaft pinion has twenty-one teeth and the driving wheel thirty-eight teeth. The gear is rather tall; approximately the road wheel gets with two cylinders an impulse every half revolution.
To provide for slipping while starting, the motor pinion or chain wheel is held between two discs or washers of leather. This takes the shock off the chain, and no doubt makes a fairly elastic drive.
The front fork is Truffault’s patent, and consists of a spring fork like those used on the De Dion racing tricycles. The frame is of the utmost simplicity, and consists of one tube of enormous diameter, which runs from the bottom socket lug down under the motor crank chamber and up to the seat lug. The motor is attached to this tube by two angle lugs. The tyres are 26in by 3½in, and the weight ready for riding is about 360lb.
This machine is to be ridden on the Parc des Princes track, which we hope will be sufficiently banked at the corners to prevent the plucky man who rides it from being killed.
Some of the manufacturers of motor cycles on the other side are evidently paying more attention to the production of these nightmares than the perfecting of a reliable mount for the tourist, if we are to judge from the exhibits at the show in Paris, where British-made motor-bicycles, although few in number, quite outclass the foreign article in finish, design, and the methods adopted for operating the various levers for carburation and ignition.

1903 mauricefournier22hp
Maurice Fornier with his 22hp ‘monster’.

Sometimes these ‘monsters’ mixed with more conventional sporting motor cycles. Clearly the crowds at Canning town took them for granted, and their riders were clearly at home on smaller bikes…

Motor cycle racing at Canning Town, July 18th
IT HAD BEEN a dull and showery day in London, and when we reached the famous track at three in the afternoon the weather looked by no means promising. The sports had hardly begun when down came the rain in sheets, and from the cosy shelter of the press-box we had the pleasure of witnessing an amusing contest—not a motor cycle race or a hundred yards flat race, but scores of spectators trying to see who could be first in getting under cover. Meanwhile thunder and lightning, the later being as close as was desirable, lent effect to the scene. As the afternoon wore on matters became gradually better, and though the condition of the track was too dangerous for high speed, Messieurs Cissac and Marius Thé treated us to a high-speed stately procession round the course for about three miles.
The machines of both competitors allowed the exhaust gases to escape freely in the air, consequently they tried and almost succeeded in emulating the recent thunder in the noise they made. A word or two about these machines will not be out of place. That of M Thé was fitted with a 16hp Buchet engine of enormous dimensions. We also remarked the large gauge of the tubing of which the frame was constructed. M Cissac’s machine was driven by a 14hp De Dion engine, and was fitted with a brass petrol tank, and had the frame painted Royal Mail red—a veritable imposing monstrosity. One novel arrangement which we have not seen before on a motor cycle was a device wherby he could alter the lift in the inlet valve, which projected a slight distance above the dome, and was operated by a lever conveniently placed near the saddle, as was also the spark lever.

1903 buchet
Marius Thé at Canning Town with his Buchet-powered ‘monster’. He first raced in 1896.

On the whole the performances of the two Frenchmen, of whom we expected so much, hardly came up to our expectations, though perhaps the fact that the track on which they were riding was new to them may have largely accounted for this. The first event on the programme was an attempt at a ten miles race between the two famous Frenchmen. After two false starts it became evident that Cissac’s machine was not up to the mark. having been probably damaged en route, so Marius Thé handed his machine over to his confrere for him to essay to break the ten mile record. Soon the ponderous machine was thundering round the course, but the speed it developed was not nearly so great as we expected, the record time not being reached by six seconds. Besides the two racing monsters, Messieurs Cissac and Thé had two lighter machines, which they entered for the handicaps. All the machines they rode had about twelve holes bored about two-thirds from the top of the cylinder. This was to enable the exhaust gases to escape more freely, and we also noticed that Martin had followed their example in the case of his Excelsior. Immediately Cissac’s attempt at record breaking was concluded, Harry Martin announced his intention to break the five miles record. Not only did he succeed in accomplishing his desire, but he had the satisfaction of doing the fastest mile ever done on Canning Town track in 1min 1.5sec; world’s record.
The next event was the first heat of the five miles motor handicap. The competitors were: Marius Thé, scratch, on a Caneau fitted with a Soncin engine of about 4hp (he was unable to start, unfortunately, owing to a cracked cylinder); JF Crundall on his now famous Humber, also scratch; HA Collier on his much knocked about Matchless (which for all that looked as fit as its rider), 10sec start; and G Perkins Jnr, on a Crownfield, 30sec. In the course of this heat Collier retired owing to the failure of his machine. Crundall finished first and Perkins second.

1903 cissac monster
French ace (and future world record holder) Cissac was in action at Canning Town with a bright red 14hp De Dion.

In the second heat the total number of competitors appeared at the starting point: H Cissac, scratch, on a Peugeot; H Martin, also Scratch; Tessier, on his Bat, 20sec; Leonard, on a Humber, 40sec; and Parry, on a Minerva, 1min. Martin had rather a bad start, which brought him only second place, though his splendid riding should have given him first. Cissac started in a cloud of smoke, which he left behind him for several laps. Result of the second heat: Tessier (1), Martin (2).
In the final Martin acquitted himself as well as on the former occasion we have just mentioned; but at the eleventh lap someone lifted up his hand showing him four fingers meaning he had four more laps to run, but he took this as a signal to stop, and to our surprise switched off 200 yards further on. He was told to continue, however, and in spite of this delay he succeeded in finishing winner with a time of 6min 2⅘sec, Crundall being second in 6min 4⅘sec.
Before staring, Tessier had the misfortune to find his exhaust valve was broken; but Martin came to his rescue, and in a most sportsmanlike manner lent him a spare from his own machine, which, like the Bat, was fitted with an MMC engine. Unfavourable as the weather was at 3pm, it cleared of beautifully in the evening.

‘Racing monstrosities’ at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Top left, Marius The; top right, Anzani; bottom left and right, Sigonnaud, who topped 62mph.
This Italian pacer was rated at 10hp.