By 1903 the best motor cycles were pretty reliable in the right hands, and a hard core of motor cycle obsessives were treating motor cycling as a pastime rather than adventure. One such describes a day in the saddle with some reflections on how to do it to best advantage. Lookout for his reference to twistgrip controls for advance/retard and throttle; revolutionary features for the time.
BACK IN OLD Dover after a short trip on the Continent, and find my trusty motor steed with its freshly charged accumulator waiting for me. Fine, but somewhat cool, the map before me; the accumulator plates a healthy brown with a purplish tint, denoting a full charge, which on the voltmeter test discloses the top reading of 4.5 volts; tyres and everything apparently in the pink of condition.
The route is now decided upon as follows: Dover, Folkestone, Hythe, New Romney, Rye, Winchelsea, Hastings, Bexhill, and Eastbourne; thence home by way of Battle, Ticehurst, Tunbridge Wells,Tunbridge, Sevenoaks and Farningham.
Those who know this country will recognise that the route indicated embraces some of the longest and stiffest hills in the land; and it was chiefly for this reason and to test the hill-climbing powers of the machine that it was decided upon, although for variety of scene, grand panoramic views, and general beauty, it would be hard to beat in any part of England.
About the machine.
Perhaps now I had better say something about the machine. It is chain-driven and fitted with the Bowden free engine clutch, and, of course, the full Bowden equipment in the matter of two rim brakes and exhaust lift, in addition to which the throttle valve and the advance sparking are bother operated by the all-conquering Bowden wire, the current being shut off by the left-hand lever before the brake on the driving rim comes into action.
The two handle grips are felt-covered and of the twisting variety. The action of turning either to the right or ‘clockwise’ serves to decrease the speed, or in the reverse direction to increase it. The left-hand grip retards or advances the sparking, whilst the right-hand one regulates the amount of gas passing to the engine by means of an ingenious throttle valve attached to the carburettor.
The general scheme is to secure full and delicate control in driving without the necessity for relinquishing the grip on the handle-bar. Thus speed and power are obtained by the rotary movement, a quarter-turn of either hand giving a marked effect on the speed of the machine.
A discourse on brakes.
In the usual position and within easy reach of the fingers are the two brake levers, the left one operating on the back rim and also effecting the break of primary circuit by a slight movement; in addition and within reach of the first fingers of the right hand, is a smaller lever operating the exhaust valve or ‘exhaust lift’. Thus all the control motions are instantly available, the only exception being the lever that throws the clutch in and out of gear, this being fitted on the top bar of the machine, and usually used only when starting or when descending very long steep hills, so that by throwing it back the clutch is liberated, disconnecting the engine, and the machine simply free-wheels downhill with both chains at rest.
The engine is the well-known FN, and the float feed carburettor of the same brand. The crank chamber lubricating device is another special feature, affording positive and visible action of the oil flow, measuring out a definite quality.
Except for ‘up and down the road’ kind of runs, I had not previously had practical acquaintance of chain driving, each of my previous machines being fitted with some form of belt drive, the weak point in which is hill-climbing; hence my choice of a very hilly route.
It being no part of my programme to swallow up the biggest stretch of road possible between sunrise and sunset, the morning was devoted to a look round Dover, its ancient castle and busy Admiralty pier, a start being made at one o’clock. All roads out of Dover are uphill. That to Folkestone is a steadily-increasing rise almost five miles in length, being particularly trying to an air-cooled engine by reason of the steep half-mile at the finish. Added to this I had to face a very strong breeze from the south-west; but the machine was now in fine order and raced along in gallant style, caring naught for wind or grade until that last bit. Then, coax as I would, the beats got slower and slower until to reach the summit, and when only a hundred paces away, I had to assist by pedalling, and here I experienced a slight mishap by the engine chain coming off the wheeel and getting jammed between the back stay and large gear wheel face, fortunately doing no further damage than removing a little nickel plate from the latter.
A too slack chain.
This I discovered to be due to running the engine chain too slack, as when I sprinted with the pedals, the pedal drive over-ran the engine, so that the top half of the engine chain, instead of driving the big gear wheel, was drive by the latter, and away went the chain on top of the gear wheel teeth. The moral of this is that, in a new chain especially, a keen eye must be kept on adjustment, which should be rather on the tight side.
The delay in replacing and adjusting the chains was but slight, as the machine is fitted with eccentric bracket adjustment for the pedal chain, while the engine chain is adjusted in the ordinary way at the back fork ends, the duplex chain adjustment being a necessity by reason of one chain being of greater length than the others.
A steep run down into Folkestone, where a short stay was made, then on again through Sandgate, Hythe and New Romney to Rye, this being a fairly level stretch and the longest bit of easy country in the tour, the surface being also good. The pace was very hot, but the penalty hdd to be made by mistaking a turning near Romney, which cost a detour of some seven miles; however, this did not matter in the existing mood of the engine.
From Rye to Winchelsea.
From Rye to Winchelsea is another stiff climb which the machine managed splendidly with little loss of speed, and the magnificent view out to sea, together with the quaint old historical place and lovely surroundings caused me to cry a halt, and eventually I decided to stay quietly for the night, as my two nights of broken rest in crossing the water left no inclination for late hours of excitement, such as might have been obtained further on at Hastings.
Including the detour the run would be about forty-two miles, over which nearly five hours were occupied; but this by no means represented the rate at which I travelled, for numerous stoppages were made, though none of them enforced ones except in the case of the chain incident.
Next morning on inspecting the machine I discovered one of the rear mudguard stays had ‘gone’ at the back fork clips, so a temporary repair was made with a leather bootlace; also one or two nuts had worked loose through vibration.
Take a look round.
This prompts me to caution all motor cyclists to take a look round the machine each morning, as no matter how well it may have travelled up to the stopping point the night before, it will invariably be found that some small adjustment is needed, or that the running in some way be be improved; then it is a good plan to wash out the crank chamber with paraffin and the valves with petrol, thus removing any gummy tendency. Tyres should invariably be inspected, the petrol supply gauged, and the crank chamber given a full dose of oil. The sparking plug should be inspected for sooty deposit, and the contact breaker surfaces examined for cleanliness, while last, but by no means least, if there is the slightest doubt about the accumulator, its voltage should be taken, or the test lamp applied to the terminals.
I had almost forgotten to add a few line as to the special tools, etc, to be carried. Leaving out ordinary spanners and screwdrivers and usual cycle outfit from the list, I had the following: cutting pliers, ordinary pliers, three oiltins (one each for lubricating oil, paraffin and petrol), a four-volt lamp, a voltmeter, four spare sparking plugs, a small flat file, a ring of stout copper wire (bare), a length of insulated flexible ditto, and another highly insulated piece long enough to replace anything in the secondary circuit, also a few screws and nuts and large fixed spanners.
On attempting to make a start for Hastings, I failed twice, although I had just, as I thought, overhauled everything; and as generally happens on such occasions, several cyclists and others were interested spectators. A third and a fourth attempt proved no better, so out came the spark plug again, but it was clearly no fault in the ignition, so I did not worry; yet, as no explosions could be produced, what could it be? Obviously, I thought, the missing link must be the supply of gas, which proved to be the case, as no petrol was passing the carburettor, evidently choked with some particle of grit or other substance.
However, before taking it to pieces, I tried the plan of wheeling the machine with the clutch in, and at the same time holding up the float stem, when very shortly the welcome flooding of petrol came through, and away went the engine with impatient energy, so that the nine miles to Hastings, being mostly downhill, were covered well within the half hour.
At Hastings I was informed that the town was not nearly so busy as on the previous day (Monday); but nevertheless there appeared to be quite a constant stream of motors and motor bicycles running about the place, and ample evidence was supplied of the rapid strides being made by the motor bicycle.
The twenty miles to Eastbourne through Bexhill proved sufficiently interesting in every sense, except that nothing whatever went wrong with the machine, and after a short stay in each passing place Eastbourne was reached in time for lunch, and I decided to spend the rest of the day thereabouts.