As motor cycles evolved from playthings to practicable means of transport some hardy souls were determined to find out just how good they were. Rather than racing them they simply wanted to ride… and ride… and ride… but once it had been done someone always wanted to do it faster. Prepare for some truly ripping yarns.
END TO END
THE END TO END RUN: 874 miles, according to the RAC, much of it on winding B-roads, particularly up at the top. Even with a 21st century bike, riding gear and road network, riding non-stop from Land’s End to John-o’-Groats (more usually t’other way round to take advantage of the extra daylight) is not something to be undertaken lightly.
Now step back in time to the start of the 20th century. You’re riding a heavyweight bicycle with half the power of a Honda C50. There’s only one gear so be prepared to pedal up hills (euphemistically known as LPA for ‘light pedal assistance’). No clutch, minimal braking, total-loss lubrication (remember to use the manual oil pump at regular intervals). No rear suspension; maybe no front suspension either. Obviously no electric start but no kickstart either so you’ll be using the valve lifter and pedalling on the stand, ‘paddling’ along or running alongside every time you stop. Slipping belts, stretching and/or snapping valves, regular plug changes…are you sure you want to do this? Because the bike’s only the start of your problems.
To quote Ixion, “there wasn’t an ounce of Tarmac in the kingdom”. The road surface will be dirt, rolled stone, stone ‘sets’, cobbles or wooden blocks, lubricated with grease dripping from cart axles and rose fertilizer dropping from countless horses. As well as poo the horses shed horseshoe nails which, with other assorted detritus, makes puncture repair an everyday chore. Signposting is at best haphazard. No streetlights outside built-up areas; no 24-hour sources of food, drink or comfort, let alone petrol. No phones to call for help, no navigation technology outside a clumsy map and a torch. At least you can have an electric torch; your headlight will be running on gas.
‘Robert’, the contemporary collective noun for the constabulary, was not averse to hiding behind hedges with stop watches (they were sometimes derided as ‘hedge hogs’) and hostile magistrates routinely fined speeders £5 plus costs on pain of hard jail time–compare that with a skilled working class pay of five bob a day. Following the repeal of the red flag law the national speed limit was 20mph but there were plenty of 10mph sections. This was not a pastime for the faint-hearted, but pioneer motor cyclists were not faint-hearted.
HALF A CENTURY later Ixion reflected on those early adventures: “Though the Grampian Road ceased to magnetize our faster toughs in 1911, up to that date the Land’s End-John O’Groats record ranked as the blue riband of the day. It lost none of its glory from the fact that it was never recognized or supervised by officialdom. Many motor cyclists are still unaware that their pedalling cousins wax every bit as passionate about their muscular records on road and track as motorists beam about Brooklands, Silverstone, Goodwood and the rest. Indeed pedal cyclists possess an extremely live body, the Roads Record Association, with strict laws and able officials who take great pains to exclude anything phoney from their annals.
“These stalwarts were the first to recognize the magic of the End-to-End route, which led from the porphyry rocks and cruel seas of Cornwall right up into the northern mists and the land of the midnight sun. Their supreme champion, GP Mills, pedalled its full length many a time on almost every form of cycle–the tricycle, the bicycle, the tandem; indeed he scorned no type except the fairy cycle, and on all he was victorious.
“Such examples tickled the hungry minds of early motoring advertisers. At first, to cover the ground, irrespective of time, was a gigantic achievement. Henry Sturmey, first editor of The Autocar, achieved the distance on an American Duryea car. Hubert Egerton, of Norwich, in September, 1901, blazed the trail. Quite incredibly, he coaxed a crude and precocious Werner motor cycle, rated at 1½hp, over the whole distance–900 miles in four days nine hours, an average speed of approximately 9mph. The journey was designed simply to show that a primitive motor cycle could cover the most famous course in these islands. A single mechanical stop near Bristol lasted ten hours!”
And here, for your delectation, is Hubert’s story, in his own words:
“IN JULY I WAS LENT A WERNER (a very old one by the way) by the Motor Manufacturing Co. My first ride was from Norwich Station right through the heart of the city and out to my home. I found no difficulty in the traffic, nor did the darkness trouble me at all. Next day I rode to Newmarket, and was delighted with the running of the machine. Satisfied that a motor bicycle was a very reliable and powerful vehicle, I induced the Motor Mfg Co to allow me to ride one from Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s, and a machine of ordinary type but with extra large oil tanks having been got ready for me, I took the train from London on Wednesday, July 31st, and safely reached Land’s End Hotel next day. At dawn the following morning a thick mist, which turned to rain, delayed my departure till the morrow. On Saturday morning the weather was fair, and I left Land’s End at a quarter to five, but had not gone two miles when the sticking of an inlet valve caused a few minutes’ delay. I mention this, as it is one of the very few troubles which I experienced with the motor bicycle. I made good headway, and a very good average speed, but had to do a fair amount of pedalling on some of the steep hills of Cornwall and Devon, but when it is remembered that I had not ridden 100 miles on a motor bicycle of any description prior to leaving Land’s End, it will be realised that the machine had not a fair chance. Apart from my inexperience, my machine, being fitted with a 28in front wheel in place of the ordinary 26in, was more highly geared than the ordinary standard type. Later on, hills troubled me but little, even Helmsdale Hill and the much- dreaded Ord being surmounted without difficulty. After a halt at Exeter, my journey was continued through Taunton and Bridgwater towards Bristol. All went well- until within about ten miles of the latter town when a slight hissing sound and a very marked loss of power warned me that a joint had gone somewhere. Moving my hand around the engine as I rode along, I soon felt a rush of air from the inlet valve seating, so dismounted, unscrewed the valve, and prepared to fit a new washer. Alas! after a hunt in my bag, the terrible fact dawned on me that no washers were there. Probably they had been jerked out of the bag, which I had foolishly forgotten to shut on more than one occasion. There I was—washerless—without even so much as a bit of asbestos to stop the leak. There was nothing for it but to go ahead. Of course the en gine, owing to the leak caused by the absence of the inlet valve washer, only gave out a very small percentage of its power. Nevertheless, by dint of hard pedalling I managed to get over the intervening ten miles, and safely arrived at the Royal Hotel, Bristol. Before doing anything else I took a cab and went asbestos hunting, but as it was the Saturday before Bank Holiday, and shops were closed, I was fain to return to the hotel after a fruitless search for an hour or so. Before retiring to bed I promised large rewards to anyone bringing me a piece of asbestos, and at nine o’clock next morning the reward was claimed by a waiter, who arrived with a most meagre supply. With this I extemporised a washer, and left at ten o’clock, thus terminating a delay of twelve hours. I made fairly good headway, and finally reached Preston. My progress during the few dark hours that I rode would have been better had my lamp not gone out with exasperating regularity every half-hour or so. Finally, its constitution having been undermined by a long struggle with Wigan cobble stones, it fell to pieces. I sought shelter in the nearest town (Preston), and rising early next day passed safely through Lancaster and Kendal, and so on to the far-famed Shap Fell. My engine pulled magnificently, and I rode triumphantly up the hill, until the very steep bit at about two miles from the summit was reached. Here I dismounted, and gave the engine a short breathing space, so as the better to tackle the coming piece of one in ten. Then the perversity of the motor, combined with my own mismanagement, caused me some trouble. Rushing down the
short hill, and closing the compression tap within a few yards of the bottom, I turned on the switch, expecting the machine to bound forward at full speed, but alas! no such luck, and after pedalling desperately to aid the few intermittent and feeble explosions of the motor, I had to get off. I searched for the cause, tried all the wires, tested the level of the petrol in my carburetter, and finally tried the spark. It was very feeble—in fact, almost non-existent. I came to the conclusion that the accumulators had run down (they had run over 400 miles). Hoping that the power still remaining would be sufficient to cause explosions when the motor was not doing heavy work, I pushed the machine to the top, after first slipping off the belt. It is certainly a very great advantage to be able to disconnect the engine in so simple a fashion, and makes the stopping on a hill a matter of very little importance. On reaching the top I made further investigations, and found that the real cause of the trouble was that the platinum had worn nearly through on the trembler. When I had replaced this with a new one I found that the accumulators gave a perfect spark, and away I went again at full speed. Carlisle, eighty-eight miles from the start, was reached without further adventure. Here I found, besides petrol, a can of ‘D’ oil, which I have always used with the greatest satisfaction ever since Mr GH Smith of the United Motor Industries first brought it to my notice. After getting under way again, a puncture in the back tyre- brought me to a standstill. Ready help was at hand, and I was soon going again. Just beyond Moffat I took what is called the ‘New’ Edinburgh Road, and found myself in for a climb of many miles over a kind of mountain pass with roads for the most part exceedingly bad and dreary. Even the grass at the roadside was in many places preferable to the track itself, and the descent on the other side, which should have compensated for the climb, had to be made at a very slow speed for fear of disaster. I reached Edinburgh in time to fill my tanks and catch the last ferryboat at Granton. While at the Douglas Hotel, Edinburgh, a gentleman, who had been listening with interest to my conversation, presently came over to the table where I was seated, and to my astonishment introduced himself as the very first man who ever accomplished the journey I was then engaged upon. In proof whereof he showed me a large faded photograph, which he took from his pocket-book, and which depicted himself and his tall bicycle standing outside John-o’-Groat’s house. This was in the seventies, and we both marvelled at the extraordinary coincidence which should have brought us together. Having crossed the ferry to Burnt Island, I successfully climbed the long and steep hill out of that place, and was looking forward to an uneventful run to Perth, when rain set in at nightfall, and by the time the descent into Perth had begun I was wet through and dispirited. The electric lights at the bottom of the hill dazzled me to such an extent that I could not keep in the middle of the road, but wobbled from side to side, and eventually, though travelling not more than seven or eight miles an hour, crashed into the pavement, and fell rather heavily, snapping the brake lever and advance spark lever, but otherwise doing no harm either to myself or the machine. I tied the wire which connects the brake lever with the band brake itself firmly round the handle-bar, and for the remaining 250 miles operated it by leaning down and hauling on the wire itself. I also worked the advance sparking by moving the vulcanite plate itself by hand. Next morning the weather was brighter for the first few miles, but from Dunkeld right away to Inverness the rain scarcely ever ceased. I ascended the pass of Killiecrankie at a fine speed, and after leaving Blair Athol had a most exciting race with the train for several miles. The incline is a very heavy one as railway gradients go, and the engine made hard work of it. My little motor, however, showed up to its very best advantage. The rain which was falling converted it pro tem into a water- cooled motor, and the way it dashed up that long hill, heading the train and unpedalled almost all the way, was a revelation. The passengers quite entered into the spirit of the thing, and so also did the driver. I was very sorry when, on reaching the summit, the driver of the train waved his handkerchief to me, and the race came to an end. While it lasted it was most exhilarating. At Carr Bridge Hotel, where motorists will always find a most hearty welcome, I got my clothes dried. The weather showed signs of moderating, but before very long the rain came again, and I was soon as wet as ever. I had a lot of minor troubles, and reached Inverness later than I had anticipated. I was induced to cross by the Kessock Ferry, and have repented it ever since. The boat was full of sheep and old women. The sail persisted in knocking my hat off, the sheep trod on my toes, and the dogs worried my bicycle tyres. Moreover, I had to stand up the whole way and was in momentary terror lest the stampeding of the sheep, which occurred about every two minutes, would cause the demolition of my poor little machine. Furthermore, instead of getting on a perfectly level road, such as I should have had via Beauly, this delightful ferry landed me at the foot of mountains, and I was informed that the road to Dingwall was straight ‘ower ther torp’. Well, ‘ower ther torp’ I went, and down the other side through Dingwall, Alness, and Tain to the Meikle Ferry. This ferry cuts off twenty miles, and if the boat is on your side, and the tides and the wind, it is a decided advantage, but on this occasion the boat was on the wrong side, the tide was dead against us, and there was not any wind, so that, estimating my average speed to be up to the legal limit only, I lost about ten minutes by taking this charming short cut. Having been directed on to the wrong road, I soon found myself in Dornoch, and in re gaining the right track had to pass through a wooded district, where there was much slimy mud to contend with. The piece of temporary road at the Mound Station, up which I had to make my way on foot, had scarcely been left behind when down went the back tyre. It would have been a serious matter to effect a repair without assistance had I not discovered by practical trial that the Werner can be easily and safely turned topsy-turvy. The only thing that it is necessary to do before turning the machine upside down is to remove the accumulators, an operation which does not take thirty seconds. Much patching was required, and the delay was a long one. Moreover, to effect this repair seemed to tire me more than riding the machine twenty miles. Darkness had come down when I got to Golspie, and I had very reluctantly to abandon my intention of riding straight through to John-o’-Groat’s. The thought of tackling the Ord of Caithness and the much-dreaded Berriedale Hill in the dark, to say nothing of the rain, was too much for me, and I called a halt at the Sutherland Arms, and there waited the dawn. Next morning I successfully climbed the Ord, descended Berriedale, passed through Invergordon, and reached Wick by half past nine, a distance of about sixty miles. After despatching a telegram to the makers of the machine, I set out on the last stage of the journey, viz, the eighteen miles intervening between Wick and John-o’-Groat’s House. Alas! I had only just passed the second milestone out of Wick when a clumsy cyclist coming along on his wrong side crashed right into me, notwithstanding that the road was perfectly straight, and it was, of course, broad daylight. He was palpably on his wrong side, and held his course until it was too late to avoid the catastrophe. The impact was terrific, and the cyclist performed a most remarkable aerial flight. I picked myself up, and found seven spokes gone from my front wheel, and two deep gashes in my leg, caused, I believe, by the cyclist’s pedal. I could not even wheel the machine, owing to the state of the front wheel. Just at the psychological moment, however, a cycle agent on his way to Wick arrived on the scene with a cart. Taking in the situation at a glance, he offered me his assistance. My machine was soon lifted into his cart, and I clambered in after him. Arrived at the Caledonian Hotel, Wick, I unshipped the front wheel, which was promptly taken to be repaired, and my leg meanwhile was bandaged. Both operations being completed, I was soon on my road again to John-o’-Groat’s. This time I got through in safety. I spent twenty-four hours in the delightful district, and was sorry when it was time to leave. Just a word or two in conclusion about the Werner itself. Much has been said about the difficulty of steering it, but I did not find any difficulty at all, neither did my wrists or arms feel in the least tired at the end of the journey. The simplicity of the
engine and the extremely easy method of attachment to the frame are points in its favour. The carburetter needs a little knowing, but experience soon makes one at home with it, and then it gives no further trouble. The belt is one of the most perfect transmission devices I have seen. When new, it requires cutting pretty often, but this operation, when a belt punch is carried, can be performed in less than two minutes. On one occasion I rode 200 miles without cutting the belt at all. The accumulators which I put in at Land’s End were still quite healthy when I removed them for safety and replaced them with others thirty miles beyond Inverness. As regards skidding, I did not find any trouble on this score, though I rode for hours in pouring rain, and frequently on exceedingly greasy roads, and, what is more, I rode at full speed most of the time. Now and again the back wheel would skid, but never in a way which was at all serious. Altogether, I am delighted with the machine, and am going to keep one for my own use. The cost of running is next to nothing, a gallon of motor spirit taking it one hundred miles, and leaving a good margin at the end. The cost of lubricating oil, petrol, and battery power on this journey of approximately 900 miles would certainly work out at less than a sovereign. I do not think that any cyclist who had once tried a motor bicycle would be without one, if he was in a position to keep it. The gross time occupied in making the trip was four days eight hours, and the following are the distances covered on the several days: First day, Land’s End to Bristol, 200 miles; second, Bristol to Preston, 190 miles; third, Preston to Perth, 240 miles; fourth, Perth to Golspie, 150 miles; fifth, Golspie to John-o’-Groat’s, 90 miles. Grand total, 880 miles. As to the tyres, which were Dunlops, the front, which, of course, does all the work, and carries the bulk of the weight, did not puncture once. It shows a uniform flatness on the tread, but is not seriously cut anywhere. In the back tyre I had one genuine puncture from a wire nail, but the cause of the gash referred to was not from the road, but the rear mudguard, which was fitted in a great hurry, came loose, and positively cut the rubber off all round one side of the cover, and through this not being detected soon enough, actually cut through the strands of the ‘Flexifort’ fabric so badly as to allow the air tube to come right through before I knew what was happening. This serious damage naturally took a long time to repair satisfactorily, but, of course, it was not the fault of the tyre itself. Beyond this, I had no bother whatever from the tyres.”
Ixion takes up the End-to-End story: “The cycling world scoffed. They announced their intentions in advance. They rode against the clock. Pansies by comparison, these opulent, knock-kneed motorists kept their departures a secret, saved the £20 fee of an RRA time-keeper, and might be guilty of all kinds of surreptitious cheating. Stung by such jibes, EH Arnott, elected captain of the Motor Cycling Club, decided to tackle the run under strict RRA conditions in July 1902, selecting a 2hp French Werner as his mount. His time was no better than 65hr 45min, though, when we allow for the crudity of his machine, the feat was perhaps the finest ever recorded.
“In June 1903 Tom Silver, on a 3hp Quadrant motor bicycle, cut the record to 64hr 29min…Tom failed to keep within many hours of his schedule. It proved about as possible of achievement as the General Staff’s plan for any major engagement such as the Somme battle. He was supposed to arrive at, say, Perth at 7.29am, when willing Quadrant hands would attend to his machine while he swallowed some eggflip and a sandwich of two. Racing cyclists would then steer him through any awkward turnings until their calves failed on some flat stretch and he puttered on solo. Similarly, a Quadrant customer would meet him at every dubious road junction and wave him down the correct arm. “All along the route, food guides and supplies awaited him. Meanwhile his RRA timekeeper would be yawning and dozing in the slow trains which would ultimately deliver him to the Land’s End hotel well ahead of Tom. One option was permitted. The potential record-breaker could choose between riding round the two firths which crossed the crow line–Beauly and Forth–or having a boat waiting with steam up to ferry him across. The choice did not guarantee any appreciable difference in time. A couple of steam ferries cost anything up to a further £30, according to the respective bargaining powers of the ambitious factory and the canny Scots mariners. It is on record that many record-breakers enjoyed the brief relief from the saddle, and that one even undressed and hung overboard on the tail of the ferry during the brief water interlude. Use of the ferries shortened the actual ride by some 20 miles.”
TOM SILVER LEFT his own account of his run which appeared under the wonderfully precise heading, ‘From John-o’-Groats to Land’s End on a Motor Bicycle in 64hr 29min–The Record Breaker’s Account of his Ride’: “The start northwards was made from Land’s End at 6am, the roads being very heavy. The greater part of the journey to Worcester was done through a tropical rain, so that on arrival I had to procure an entirely new rig-out, which caused a delay in Worcester of two-and-a-half hours. The wet continued until beyond Kidderminster, when the roads became fairly dry, and good progress was then made to Carlisle, the next stopping place. From Carlisle to Edinburgh was a very hard run, owing to the north-east wind prevailing.
“I was met at Edinburgh by Mr HG Priest, who made arrangements to ferry me to Burntisland. From Burntisland to Blair Athol all went well. Towards dusk I left Blair Athol on a journey which never ought to have been attempted after dark. The surface was one mass of boulders and loose stones, due to the floods caused by melting snow coming down from the Grampian Hills. The consequence was that in the semi-darkness it was impossible for me to steer clear of the obstacles, and I had the misfortune to be thrown four times in seven miles. I should not have minded this, except that in the last fall I received some internal injury which rendered my further progress a matter of impossibility.
I have thought it well to give particulars of my ride northwards and the failure because it undoubtedly had a great effect, so far as my health was concerned, on the return journey.
“After resting a few days, I started the return journey from John-o’-Groats at midnight (Thursday morning) in fine weather, the roads being in a sad condition, grass growing between the stones, the road here being merely a loose track.
“Berriedale Hill is something terrible, as is well known to tourists who have been in that district, yet the engine took it in splendid style from bottom to top. This hill, as also another very much like it–Muir of Ord–is a terror to all cyclists, for the reason that it winds with very sharp and dangerous bends, so much so that when riding up one part of the hill you look over your elbow to see the windings of the road you have already passed over. The sides are precipitous, and a fall would mean a drop of several hundred feet.
“I had a fine run to Meikle Ferry. Reaching there in the early morning unfortunately I could not find the ferryman, which caused me a delay of two-and-a-half hours. The running after this to Inverness was fairly good and without incident. I was now approaching the spot where my northward journey came to an end, but as I reached it in broad daylight I was able to get over the rough section by wheeling the machine.
A splendid run was made from here to Edinburgh, and on to Galashiels; but at the latter place, when darkness set in, I unfortunately took the wrong road, and went 27 miles out of my way, going via Melrose, instead of via Selkirk. While wandering around this part I dismounted to repair a puncture. Feeling drowsy, I fell fast asleep and slept for some hours, and when I awoke the sun was shining brightly. However, I made up my mind not to fail a second time, although I had still 477 miles to do.
“The celebrated Shap was negotiated in splendid style, notwithstanding the looseness of the surface. I made good time to Preston, and during this portion of the ride I somewhat recovered my strength and spirits. The road from Preston to Warrington, through the factory district of Lancashire, was something shocking, even to remember, the roads being very bad and a large proportion of them paved with granite sets. Warrington to Worcester was done at a fast gait, but just outside the latter town I struck the rain once more, and on arriving at Bristol (my own home), through a hitch in the arrangements there was no provision made for a supply of petrol for my machine or any sustenance for the rider.
“Rather than delay I pushed straight on through the wet, after obtaining petrol but without partaking of any food, as such cold viands as were available at that early hour of the morning I was quite unable to touch. The rain continued heavily over the Mendip Hills all the way to Exeter.
“Shortly after leaving Exeter the downpour of rain ceased but the roads were soft and rutty, which state of things continued to the end of the journey. I must say, however, that I rode the last 120 miles quite mechanically, being, of course, extremely tired; and to add to my misfortune, about 10 miles from the journey’s end I had a puncture, which, owing to my worn-out condition, took me more than half an hour to repair. Finally, I reached Land’s End at 4.29 on the afternoon of Saturday, June 20th, and very thankful I was to receive the assistance of Mr Urry, the official time-keeper, in effecting a dismount. It may be interesting to note that the machine and engine (a 3hp Quadrant) are the same that so successfully carried me through the Glasgow to London non-stop ride.”
Tom Silver went on to design his own bike which he marketed as a Silver. He even rode one in the TT.
WITHIN WEEKS AN attempt was made to better Silver’s time: “Mr BC Holmes, of Dowsby, near Bourne, a well-known Lincolnshire racing cyclist who has now turned his attention to motor cycling, recently made an attempt to break the record from Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s–a distance of 876 miles–which stands at 64hr 29min.
“The weather was all against him, but notwithstanding the drenching rain and the dangerous condition of the roads, he performed remarkably well. In his first 12 hours he placed 238 miles to his credit, which was 70 miles in front of the record. Unfortunately, he was overtaken by an accident on approaching Warrington. When within five miles of this town his motor skidded as he was rounding a bend and he came down heavily. He was badly bruised and shaken, and a pedal crank of his machine was broken. Notwithstanding this reverse, he pluckily remounted and rode to Warrington, where he was advised to discontinue the attempt, which he reluctantly did. Up to this point he had covered 257 miles in 19hr 25min and was 92 miles in front of the record. He rode a 2½hp Vinco (Minerva engine), manufactured by Messrs WR Heighton of Peterborough, and it stood the test remarkably well.
“It may be mentioned that Mr Holmes has had a most successful career on the cycle path, from which he has now retired in favour of motoring. Altogether, he has won no less than 45 first prizes (including 11 scratch races), 16 seconds, 13 thirds, four lap prizes, and two fast time prizes, making a total value of close upon £350.
“Mr Holmes volunteered for active service during the late [Boer] war, and was accepted. He was shot through the leg at Nitral’s Nek, and although he was confined to hospital for several weeks, the injury, happily, left no ill-effects. He is an enthusiastic motorist and intends to have another try to break the Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s record.”
IXION COULDN’T RESIST joining in: “In 1904 I recognised two facts about the record. The first was that even the crude models of that date could knock lumps off Tom’s time if they were sufficiently lucky to get a non-stop. So I thought I had better help myself to the record before it suffered a heavy cut from someone else. Secondly, the tip was to start from Groats at midnight, and not from Land’s End as others had done. On a June midnight at Groats, if the weather is clear, no lamp is necessary. So all riding in the dark should be reduced to the one short summer moonlit night on the fast roads round Carlisle.
“Consequently, I chartered a good RRA timekeeper to guarantee bona fides, concluded a good bargain with the Scots ferrymen at both firths, and rode up from Cornwall to Groats in order to memorise all turnings (who says ‘Poor boob?’). Meanwhile Arthur Goodwin, the Ormonde manager, feeling a bit above himself because one of his best mechanics had registered 60mph in some speed trials with a Paris-Madrid Ormonde model at Phoenix Park, agreed to tune up my Ormonde ferociously, and to go fifty-fifty with me over the expenses.
“Shock No 1 for me was the parlous condition of certain road sections. The Grampian road is now a marvellous highway. In 1904 the long stretch from Struan to Dalwhinnie was no more than a barely visible grass-grown moraine of three-ply formation (two wheel ruts with a central hoof-devastated strip) across the barren moors. Even worse were certain ‘repaired’ strips further north. In 1904 a road repair was not entertained until some heavy farm carts had broken their incredibly sturdy wheels over deep subsidences. The ‘repair’ then took the form of dumping a myriad tons of broken stone over the devastated section, which might be several miles in length.
“I had next to no experience of rough riding. I was tough and could stand the frightful bucketing, but no existing motor cycle was fit for such a hammering. However, my arrangements were made and I could not decently withdraw. But as the Ormonde Company had no cycle branches, and no official retailers, it was not possible for us to organise guides. I must rest content with my two ferry boats and a few pals at set intervals who joyfully agreed to have food waiting for me–food which I would eat while they filled my tank and gave the model the once-over.
“On the way north I doubtless took a lot out of the model–another proof of my suckership. But I decided that the route was not too twisty to be memorised, and I was graduating as a rough-rider. But shock No 2 awaited me at John O’ Groats house. Entering its bar whom should I met but FT Bidlake, the famous RRA timekeeper. My sinking heart recognised that somebody else must have simultaneously shared my ambitions, even if he had failed to deduce that a midnight start from Groats reduced the dark riding from two nights to one and had started, instead, from Land’s End. ‘Who are you timing?’ was my ungrammatical greeting to Bidlake. ‘GP Mills!’ came the crushing reply! Worse still, Bidlake calmly informed me that the Raleigh people had designed a special bus for the job. The machine was never marketed, but was pedal-less, and distinguished by a simple two-speed gear of the three-chain variety, while my Ormonde had a single-geared drive of 4.5:1 ratio, plus a high pedalling ratio to sustain my climbing speed under “lpa” (those initials–the worst under-statement in the history of language–stand for ‘light pedal assistance’). The Raleigh further boasted a sprung handlebar.
“Shock No 3 was the arrival of Mills in pouring rain next morning in 56hr 46½min, a time which chopped nearly 14 hours off the existing record and imposed a cut of many hours in my maximum schedule. Worse still, the condition of both Mills and his Raleigh sketched in high relief the ordeal which awaited me. Mills was as near the verge of physical collapse as an athlete can well bear. He could hardly see out of his eyes, which had been battered almost to pulp by night hailstorms. He had been slowed by a series of punctures, and during the later stages had repeatedly pumped up tyres leaking from feverish patching. He tottered to bed, slept twice round the clock and rose fit as a fiddle. Meanwhile the weather cleared, and my spirits rose as I started south under a clear sky. The rest may be dismissed briefly. Just two items stand out in my dim memories. Down the Ord of Caithness I was probably doing between 60 and 70mph when I ran plunk into a small bevy of sheep asleep on the roadway, invisible as their colour blended into the road surface. A parabola over the handlebars, and I regained consciousness after an intervals of x minutes, wondering where on earth I was. I was lying on my tummy surrounded by a tall forest of scraggy heather amid a waste of whitish sand. I rose stiffly, and I remembered.
But where was the Ormonde? I was some 30 yards off the road, but there was no sign of my machine. I ultimately discovered it, very little bent, some 70 yards further down the hill, admirably camouflaged in heather. After kicking it straight, I mounted and rode on. So far I had averaged well over 30, and the bends the machine had suffered were not important.
“But from that point the engine became afflicted with progressive and pernicious anaemia. I was no mechanic, but it did not take long to discover that the valves were barely lifting at all, though the tappet clearances were in order. Deduction: since the heels of the tappets operated direct on the cams, Goodwin’s special strong racing valve springs had caused the heels of the tappets to gnaw through the light case-hardening of the cams; the cams were ceasing to ‘cam’, and were swiftly becoming truly circular. With much hefty pedalling I staggered as far as Pitlochry, where I ignominiously retired.
“Worse was to follow. I was recommended to an hotel to await the arrival of fresh cams from London. Little did I know that in the season this hotel contested with King Leopold’s Chateau des Ardennes the title of being the costliest caravanserai in Europe. Moreover, the weather was blisteringly hot, and my single suit consisted of a special Hoar motor cycle outfit, constructed of thick Harris tweed, interlined with the finest sheet rubber to render it stormproof. “So for the next four days I sat ruefully in my bedroom, clad only in my undies, paying the extra house charge for ‘meals served in guests’ bedrooms’, and periodically bribing the hotel porter to ransack the Pitlochry bookshop for volumes which I had not read or might force myself to re-read (I get through an average novel in 45 minutes).”
WITHIN WEEKS Mills’ record was also beaten, by Harold Williams on a 3hp Rex, who cut the End-to-End time to 48hr 36min. Williams’ record stood until 1908 when The Motor Cycle reported: “During the last four years the honour of holding the Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s record has remained in the hands of Mr Harold Williamson, who, riding a 3½hp Rex, on July 30th, 1904, bettered Mr GP Mills’ splendid performance on a 3hp two-speed Raleigh by 2hr l0min. From that time till last Wednesday no further End-to-End ‘record’ rides were made, though occasionally rumours of attempts and failures reached us. Now the victor’s laurels rest on the brow of Mr Arthur W Bentley, an enthusiastic amateur rider, who, mounted on a sealed standard 3½hp Triumph, beat Williamson’s record by 7hr 8min, having accomplished the ride in 41hr 28min, and also beating the car record which stands at 42hr 5min.
“Starting on Tuesday, the 9th inst, at 2am from John-o’-Groat’s, in the light of the early morning, the gallant rider was dispatched from that picturesque corner of Caithness, where it never gets dark at this time of the year, by Mr DK Hall, whose name as a timekeeper is not unknown to motor cyclists, and excellent time was made along the good roads of the extreme North. News of the ride had got abroad, and even in Wick many people were about to give him a cheer as he rode southward. Berriedale, however, nearly proved his undoing, as Bentley never realised the severity of that sharp corner of this hill of hills, and only presence of mind and skilful riding saved him from rushing over the precipice into the sea.
“At Beauly an excellent early breakfast was provided, and here Mr Bentley’s brother and Mr AM Lomax both met him and followed him for some distance.
Both Mr HM Bentley and Mr Lomax were competitors in the MCC London-Edinburgh run, and the latter, who had trouble with his magneto armature, got the defective part replaced, and though he failed in the aforesaid competition, he hurried to the North and rendered the aspirant to the record valuable assistance by giving him three butt-ended tubes.
“As he journeyed southward Bentley rapidly gained on his schedule, despite the fact that he experienced three punctures caused by long nails. The road over the Grampians was greasy at first, and then rough, but fair on the whole, and there was no wind to speak of at this stage of the journey. Refreshment was taken at Perth, and again at Lockerbie, where a crowd gathered. This point was reached about 4pm. Messrs Tatham and Draper, both competitors in the London-Edinburgh run, were to have met Bentley on Shap, but somehow or other they missed him, and he continued on his way alone till he reached Whitchurch at midnight, where his troubles began.
“Here arrangements were to have been made for dinner (the only proper meal he was to have had throughout the journey), but the assistant mistook twelve midnight for twelve noon, and after fruitless attempts to rouse the proprietors of several hotels the journey was continued alone in the dark, and from here be began to lose time.
“Three hours ahead of his schedule at Whitchurch, he rapidly fell back. It was pitch dark, and a slight rain was falling as, supperless and fatigued, he tried to find his way along an unknown road against a strong headwind with his lamp burning badly. However, he struggled on till day broke at Bridgnorth. Gloucester was reached at last, and here LW Bellenger (a former exponent of the Quadrant) met him, and to him Bentley owes much of the success of his ride.
“At Gloucester the feeding arrangements again broke down, and nothing but some coffee could be obtained. From here to Launceston Bentley could give but a confused account of what happened. Faint from want of food and stiff after a fall during the night, he describes this section as a nightmare. After Exeter, Bellenger and a companion who were following experienced some trouble, and had to stop, when, to their surprise, they saw Bentley tearing back in the reverse direction. One of them followed, and sent him again along the right road, when after travelling a few miles, their trouble being set right, they found his machine jacked up, and he asleep by the roadside.
“Left for an hour to rest, he was revived, and continued to Launceston where after a good meal he quite recovered and made a splendid run to Land’s End, which he reached about 6.28pm on Wednesday. Unfortunately, near Truro he followed a car, which led him astray into the town, causing him with this detour, and the fact that while feeling unwell he travelled several miles back along the road by which he had come, to cover about 900 miles instead of 888. The timekeeper at the start was Mr DK Hall and at the finish Mr Samson Turner, of Penzance, who was checked by Mr Hall, who travelled from John-o’-Groat’s for that purpose. The total time was 41hr 28min.
“The only point in which the machine differs from the standard is that it possesses a capacious tank. It is in splendid condition throughout, while the tyres (the latest type of rubber studded Clinchers) show little signs of wear, and have stood magnificently. The only mechanical trouble experienced beyond the three nail punctures to which we have referred was a broken exhaust valve. The whole performance reflects the greatest possible credit on Mr Bentley, who drove with consideration in towns and populous places and yet maintained a decent average, for piloting the machine so skilfully, and on the manufacturers for the success of their production.
Had Mr Bentley been properly looked after all along the route, he would undoubtedly have made much better time, but, despite the 25 hours without proper nourishment, he looks well. He enjoyed a good dinner on his arrival at Land’s End, and a good sleep afterwards, though he was up betimes the next morning, took a walk before breakfast, rode to Penzance, and caught the midday train to London.”
…AND HERE’S THE same story in Arthur Bentley’s own words: “By the time this article appears in print I know full well that the Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s record may rest in other hands, and, indeed, I almost hope that this may be the case, as I am very anxious to have another run over this course with all my arrangements properly made. It was only utter exhaustion and fatigue, due to 25 hours without any proper nourishment, and the misery of a night spent endeavouring to find the way long an unknown road, that caused me to lose precious time during the last stages of my ride.
“Some people say that these fast long-distance runs are injurious to motor cycling, inasmuch as 20mph is almost continuously exceeded. I must decline to agree, and for these main reasons: As everybody who has travelled in these parts knows, the road for the greater part of its length is singularly quiet and deserted, notably from John-o’-Groat’s to Perth. Consequently one may drive at high speed the whole time without fear of annoying any living beings other than the black faced mountain sheep, hares, and rabbits that scamper up the mountain side immediately the purr of an engine is heard. And then, again, it must be borne in mind that a great deal of the ride is carried out during the night and early morning, when, of course, there is nobody on the road at all. Lastly, if the rider has not the common decency to study the feelings of his fellow creatures, he will at any rate for the sake of avoiding a smash drive carefully through towns and populous places.
“In order to make a success of a run such as the End-to-End it is absolutely necessary that arrangements be early and properly made and everything cut and dried some weeks before you are due to start. This is a lesson I have learnt by most bitter and painful experience, and I shall not readily forget it. After sundry and manifold calculations as to routes, times, pilots, feeding arrangements, and suchlike details, I managed to land myself within a week of my ride absolutely and completely at sea, and with everything in most complete and absolute chaos.
“The last week before actually starting I think our gardener lost nearly a stone in weight, owing to the frequent excursions he made to the post office in order to despatch telegrams, and I believe that I personally have shortened my life by some years, owing to dire anxiety and most distressing perplexity. On the Friday evening before Whitsuntide, however, feeling and looking somewhat limp and woebegone after my exertions, I caught the night train up North, with my machine safely packed in a crate at the end of the train, and with a large assortment of literature and provender in my travelling bag. I had decided to start from John-o’-Groat’s and work southwards. Have you, dear reader, ever made that journey up to Wick? If you have you will condole with me; if you have not you will take my advice—never to think about it under any circumstances.
“Luckily, Mr DK Hall, who had kindly consented to act as timekeeper, is one of the very best companions on a long journey, and he managed to liven the weary hours with stories of some of the famous rides in which he has taken part.
“Well, we did arrive at last, and with all due reverence we superintended the hoisting of my machine on to a handcart and its conveyance to Mr Robertson’s garage, which had been kindly placed at our disposal for the night. After writing a final batch of letters and dispatching the last complement of telegrams we composed our minds to rest, and were soon sleeping the sleep of the just in the station hotel, which we had fixed upon as our headquarters for the night. Sunday morning was typically Scotch; by this I mean a steady misty drizzle did its best to drain our spirits for the whole of the day, and, failing in this, it decided to show us what a beautiful evening it could provide for us if it really cared to do so. At about six o’clock we decided to start on the journey to John-o’-Groat’s, I on my bicycle and Mr. Hall on the front seat of Mr Robinson’s car, which was kindly driven over with a full complement of passengers. The roads were very greasy after the rain, but as both my wheels were fitted with rubber studded covers I did not trouble much about skidding, and in a very few minutes we were standing outside the John-o’-Groat’s Hotel, the most northerly point in Scotland, and the scene of many a famous start and finish in days gone by, and I hope in days to come.
“After we had done justice to a very substantial high tea we went for a short stroll along the beach, and after taking several snapshots, the time being 9.30, but still quite light, Mr Robertson bade us good-bye, and we were left to possess our souls in patience for the ensuing twenty-seven hours or so, and to pray that the good weather we were now enjoying would hold for the next few days.
“We were gladdened on Monday morning by the sun streaming into our bedroom windows, and a clear cloudless sky overhead promised well for the run south. After breakfast we repaired to the garage, which is situate a short distance down the road, to place the numerous spares I was carrying snugly and safely in the saddle bags, and to carefully tighten up nuts and see that everything was in order. This did not take long, and before eleven o’clock I was again in bed in order to rest as I knew that the next two days would be full of hard work, and that I should have need of all my superfluous strength and energy to successfully cope with the numerous hardships that inevitably crop up on a long run against time. Unfortunately for me they were building an iron house immediately beneath my window, and although I tried bribery and corruption in a vain endeavour to stop the noise, I could not overcome the conscientious scruples of the Scotsmen, who, anxious as they were to please, were none the less anxious to finish their work, and sleep being out of the question, I made the best of a bad job and spent the remainder of the day reading The Scarlet Pimpernel and about fifteen telegrams that arrived at intervals from Huna. I am afraid the poor old fellow who acts as postman up at Hina will not readily forget me. I think he made that journey–about one and a half miles each way–about eight times during the day.
“At intervals during that day Mr Hall kindly brought in the latest reports as to the weather, and from him I gathered that my journey South would not be disastrous from a weather point of view at any rate. At nine o’clock (four hours before I had arranged to start) I could stay in bed no longer, and, donning my motor cycle garb, I went down to the garage, which, however, I found heavily padlocked. On enquiring indoors as to the reason for this, I learnt that a chauffeur had stored a car there during the night, and had carefully locked the doors and forgotten to return the keys, which were now probably 100 miles away.
“They say that ‘love laughs at locksmiths and, although I cannot answer as to the truth of this from personal experience, I can only say that we did. There are plenty of heavy stones up at John-o’-Groat’s and we found them excellent hammers for breaking padlocks. By the time I had finished strapping on the last impedimentia Mr Hall arrived on the scene with seals and copper wire, as I had particularly asked him to see to this, so that nobody could accuse me of riding more than one machine during the run. Not only did Mr Hall seal the frame of my machine, but he also sealed the cylinder of the engine, and these seals are still intact.
“Leaving the garage, I went for a short stroll along the beach, so as to waken up a good appetite for dinner, which I had ordered for eleven o’clock. The day had been rather windy, and a few showers of rain had fallen; but the evening, though somewhat cloudy, was absolutely quiet and calm, with scarcely a breath of wind to disturb the unruffled face of the waters, and even as late as this the sun was bright in the heavens.
“Walking alone with no human being in sight and no noise save the occasional cry of some cormorant or seagull as it lazily flew away to its home across there in the Orkneys, the setting sun shining out across the North Sea likening it to a vast lake of gold, the small islands of the Orkneys indiscriminately dotted about, their dark, gaunt, rugged coastlines sending great shadows stretching far out into the water, the small white cottages of the fishermen standing out in bold relief against the dark background, and far out at sea the lighthouses dreamily flashing their lights round and round in one vast circle, and here and there some small fishing smack gently drifting back to the well-known port, the failing wind scarcely filling the sails, it is small wonder that in contemplating this most perfect scene I quite forgot for a few minutes the mission that had brought me to this quiet spot.
“Slowly, very slowly, the sun sank, the shadows gradually lengthened, and I was left alone to reflect upon the wondrous works of Nature and to let its beauty and grandeur sink deep into my mind. It was almost with a start that I looked at my watch and saw how late it was, and hurrying back to the hotel I found Mr Hall (who had kindly consented to pilot me down to Beauly) already seated at the table and dinner waiting. As this was the last sit-down dinner I expected to have for about two days I hardly need say that I did full justice to the really first-class fare they had without a murmur prepared for us at this late hour.
“We rose from the table at 12.30 and sallied forth into the night and, having lit the lamps, proceeded to warm up the engines. My dear little machine fired with the first stroke of the pedals, and I placed full trust in it for the most trying and severe and trying test to which a motor bicycle can be put.
“At ten minutes to one I was at the door of the hotel anxiously waiting for the start as the minutes slowly passed by: 12.56, 57, 58, 59–I flooded the carburetter, buttoned my coat well up, as the night was cold, and adjusted my goggles–15 seconds, 10, 5, 3, 2, 1. ‘Go. Good-bye and good luck to you.’ The words rang in my ears as I turned the corner by the garage and my engine settled down to a steady hum. Mr Robertson had started a couple of minutes ahead of me, and upon him I was relying to pilot me down over the first 130 miles to Beauly; but luck was against us. First of all his lamp crashed into the road, and he continued for some distance without one, and then his back tyre gave out, and I was perforce left to find my way as best I could. Somehow or other the news had got abroad that an attempt was being made on record, and I was much surprised at the enthusiasm and keenness that prevailed among the hardy Scotch sportsmen.
“At last I came to cross roads, and the inevitable signpost which I was most devoutly pleased to see, as I thought that now, at any rate, I should get back on my right road.
Leaning my bicycle up against a tree, I laboriously clambered up the wall, and, striking a match—no easy task, as everything was wet—I peered anxiously at the names written on the four arms of the fingerpost.
“They might have all been written in the deadest of the dead languages for all the use they were to me. I knew none of them, and I had no option but to ride along until at last I espied a house just off the road I was traversing.
“Leaving my machine in the road, I went up to the front door, and knocked loudly for some minutes, and, failing in this to attract attention, I used the bell handle. At last I heard an upper window open and an angry voice assail me out of the darkness.
“With many excuses and with many modest blushes I addressed myself to a gay young spinster, and after I had explained my enviable position to her I am glad to say that the voice lost a great deal of its severity, and the directions given were most precise. If she had thought of casting a cake of soap out of the window at me I think I should most certainly have devoured it, but as she did not appear likely to do anything of the kind I thanked her, wished her a very good night, and trudged out into the darkness again.
“The story of my experiences during the remainder of the night is too painful and miserable a one to recount in detail. Suffice it to say that a number of times was I obliged to repeat this performance, and always a voice trembling with suppressed emotion would answer from above. The owner of the voice would listen to my tale of woe, and give me directions as to the road I should take. In this manner I progressed; it seemed to be nothing but stopping, starting, climbing walls, and barking my shins.
“Once I nearly put a finish to the ride by coming down heavily in rounding a sharp corner I did not notice in time. All thanks for this be to my two ‘trusty’ lamps, which were both clean out. I might really have given up at this point, but as day was beginning to break and my little steed seemed still anxious to be getting along I hopped stiffly into the saddle, and, dropping the exhaust lifter, I pottered along until daylight found me once more on a known road at Bridgnorth.
“I now practically dozed for the whole of the run into Gloucester, or rather I should say that I was in a comatose condition, and took not the least interest in anything. Nevertheless, I made really fast running through Kidderminster, Worcester, Tewkesbury, and finally into Gloucester, where Mr Bellenger was awaiting me, having arrived in Gloucester somewhere about midnight. He had since been busy with another machine of mine he was riding, and which refused to behave satisfactorily, and it was only a very few minutes before my arrival that he induced it to behave itself in a proper and docile manner. Although he was standing right out in the middle of the road when I arrived I did not slow up in the least and should have ridden straight out on to the Bristol Road had he not caught hold of my coat as I passed, and in this manner attracted my attention, and, incidentally, aroused me from the pleasant doze I conclude I must have been enjoying.
“Upon dismounting I enquired anxiously after my breakfast, and my joy (?) can be imagined when I learnt that in no way had he been able to induce the proprietors of the hotel to prepare a breakfast for me at so early an hour, and that all he had been able to get for me was a plate of cold mutton and some warm coffee, which the ‘boots’ had kindly but not very ably concocted for me. I had now travelled from Perth, a distance of 38S miles (with a bad night thrown in) on five bananas, an apple, two plates of soup, and one or two biscuits, and in consequence was feeling so empty and ill that upon attempting to eat the cold mutton I felt so sick that I had to desist and content myself with the coffee, to which was added a small dose of brandy. After drinking this there was nothing for it but to resume my little journey, which by this time I most fervently wished was at an end, as little by little my strength was leaving me, and I realised that it was touch and go whether I could hold out against this drastic challenge against nature.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not know which, the brandy immediately found its way into my head, and in consequence of this, for a little time, I forgot my hunger and fatigue and drove at a really good pace through Bristol, Cross, and on to Bridgwater, after which time I was in so deplorable a condition, having had in addition to my other misfortunes several spills on rounding corners too fast, that Mr Bellenger made me dismount and drink some coffee at a wayside inn. While this was being prepared I put my head under a pump for a minute or so, after which I managed to keep going until we reached Cullompton where I had to stop again, this time for a cup of tea with an egg beaten up in it.
“[ did not realise now what I was doing, and in fact I did not even know that I was driving a motor bicycle at all. I had covered the first 600 miles or so at an average speed of about 26mph, including stoppages for meals, three punctures, etc, and those 600 miles include some of the very worst roads it has been my misfortune to traverse in England or Scotland. Although I was too dazed at the time to remember anything about it now, I am told that frequently when I came to a hill I would practically let the machine stop before I realised what I was doing, and that when I did tumble to what was going on I would dash everything open with one fell swoop, in spite of which terrible driving the engine would at once answer to the throttle and swoop up the hills at almost full speed. A machine that will stand the fearful jacketing that my Triumph endured during those 41hr 28min has nothing much wrong with it.
“At last Exeter came into sight and it appears that breakfast was ready for me but I was so thoroughly dazed that I did not know that it was Exeter we were passing through, much less that a breakfast was ready for me, and I didn’t even hear the shouts to stop that were levelled at my senseless head. I rode straight through the town, and by the time Mr Hobgen, who awaited us here, had caught us up we were miles down the road and it was too late to turn back. If only I could have been made to realise that I had to stop here and eat some food it might have saved the situation, but as it was I struggled on to within a few miles of Launceston, where things began to look very black indeed.
“From what I have been subsequently told it appears that both Mr Hobgen and Mr Bellenger had trouble hereabouts and that I continued my ride alone. In about 20 minutes they were surprised to see me tearing back along the road into Exeter, and not taking the least notice of them, disappear round the corner. Luckily Mr Hobgen had mended his puncture, and in under a minute was in hot pursuit, and after a keen chase caught me and made me return with him along the proper road. Somehow or other I managed to get ahead of them again, and when they next saw me I was snugly lying at the side of the road fast asleep.
“As no amount of persuasion, either gentle or otherwise, made the least impression upon my inanimate carcass, it was decided that Mr Hobgen should ride into Launceston, and order food, etc, and that Mr Bellenger should wait with me and see what could be done. I do not know how long I slept there, but the next thing I remember was riding up to some hotel in Launceston, dismounting, and eating some proper food which Mr Hobgen had carefully chosen, and which seemed just what was needed to stiffen me up for the last burst into Land’s End. In a few minutes I felt as fit as the proverbial fiddle, and it was not long before we were through Bodmin, Mitchell, and Redruth, with only 28 miles separating us from the coveted goal and the end of this most unlucky ride. Knowing that we had the bicycle and also the car record safe I did not endeavour to finish at any great pace, but keeping at a steady 28mph we ran through Penzance and out on to the last 10 miles through the winding little lanes of the most extreme south-west of England.
“At last the Land’s End Hotel loomed up on the sky line, and outside the door we saw quite a large crowd of spectators silently waiting with their eyes glued to the strip of road we were traversing. With a final ‘all out’ burst the exhaust valve was lifted and we were over the finishing line, having covered the journey in 41hr 28min. After answering a hundred and one questions about the numerous experiences that I had undergone on the way down, I sought out Mr Bellenger and having ordered dinner we detached ourselves from the precincts of the hotel and went for a stroll along this beautiful coast in order to quietly go through all the ride together from beginning to end.
“We estimated that fully 930 miles had been covered, as the total distance going the best and shortest route is 886 miles, to which must be added about 14 miles when I came back along the road before Launceston, and some 30 miles that I went wrong during the night. Of the arrangements we had a lot to say, and next time I go I will see to this part of the programme with the greatest care, as upon successful management a great deal depends, more than can be imagined from a perusal of this short article. Of my machine I cannot speak in high enough praise, a broken exhaust valve being the only trouble—truly a marvellous performance—and I think the Triumph company should be congratulated upon such a splendid machine which, it must be remembered, was an ordinary standard touring machine (except that I had a larger tank fitted). The rubber-studded Clincher tyres also stood up splendidly, only three nails–and large ones at that–causing stops during the whole journey. As regards the transmission, I have to thank Mr Stanley Webb for a really first-class belt and fastener. And in conclusion I should like to thank all those who so kindly assisted me, and to whom I owe so much. Good luck to the next man!”
THE NEXT MAN was Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies, a member of the Coventry and Warwickshire MC, who made several successful attempts on the record from 1909 to 1911, always riding 3½hp Triumphs. Ixion, no softie himself, said: “He possessed incomparable stamina and could keep going at an intermediate gait almost indefinitely without fatigue.” Having trained by entering a number of long-distance trials, Hart-Davies left John-o’-Groat’s at 3am and reached Lanark exactly 12 hours later. By 9.30pm he was at Wigan. And at 3.20am he made it to Gloucester. Exeter was reached by 7.50am and he made Land’s End at 12.22pm. Total time, 33hr 22min, knocking 7hr 16min off the previous record. He weighed 14st 2lb in his riding gear; his Triumph, loaded with spare belt, two tool bags, lamp and generator, and half full of petrol and oil, weighed 196lb. The 1909 season was off to a flying start. Many years after the glory days of the End-to-End a correspondent in the Blue ‘Un recalled: “Hart-Davies always called at my barber’s shop; as a lad when he towered above me, I insisted on attending him. He always came to us before he had a wash, and I had the job of shampooing out of his hair all the dust he had collected in his 900-mile record sprint. I well remember how he dropped into the chair after his record run on a single-geared Triumph, eyes bloodshot and strained, face as black as a coal heaver, but full of fun and telling tales against himself.” Ixion added, “Hart-Davies was indeed as tough as a panther, and many are the tales of his motor cycling feats.”
A FEW WEEKS later Vivian Olsson set an End-to-End ’passenger’ record of 65hr 14min on his 7hp Vindec Special (VS) with a Mills-Fulford fixed wheel sidecar. Olsson, with Charles Talbert in the chair, left John-o’-Groats at 1.35am, rested at Blair-Atholl for 35min and reached Lanark at 10.15pm. Here they rested till 2.30am. After an hour’s stop at Carlise they reached Wigan at 1.50pm, rested for 40min and were down to Worcester by 10.15pm. They rested again until 3am and, after a 30min rest at Bridgwater reached Land’s End at 6.49pm. They had to fix a couple of punctures, adjust the operating rods for low gear and replace bolts holding the front of the sidecar twice—the first time Talbert “just saved himself from going out backwards”. Average speed, including stops, was about 15mph.
AMID THESE tales of success on the End-to-End route, spare a thought for Tom Peck (3½hp Rex) who made two runs. His first, unusually, started at Land’s End. He made it to John-o’-Groats but at 40hr 38min was seven hours outside Hart-Davies’ record.
Undeterred he left the seals on the Rex’s engine and left John-o’-Groats on his second attempt as 4.02am. He crashed on a steep hill to the south of Wick damaging his wrist. This made control difficult and he crashed again at Lanark. Despite a swollen arm, he covered more than 640 miles to reach Tewkesbury at 3.40am the next day. Here a doctor took a look and told Peck he had broken his wrist. Peck persuaded the doctor to strap up it tightly and was back on the road within 15min. But when he was within 16 miles of Gloucester the pain meant he could no longer hold the handlebars. He turned round and managed to ride back to Tewkesbury one-handed where the wrist was splinted and plastered.
The record attempt was over but Peck still refused to get off his bike, He managed to ride to The Motor Cycle office in Coventry where, they reported: “We examined the seals which we had placed on the machine the previous week, and found them to be intact. The wires to which the seals were attached were then cut and the cylinder and carburetter removed, and we were thoroughly convinced on examination that the machine was capable of completing the run if the rider had been able to do so. It was really a most plucky performance to motor cycle from Berriedale (Scotland) to Berkeley Road (Glos) in the time taken by Peck. It is not only a remarkable feat of endurance, but to ride with a broken bone in one’s wrist, which was rapidly causing the arm to swell and give extreme pain, is one of those instances of bulldog courage for which Peck is noted.”
MEANWHILE, ON t’other side of the Irish Sea, CE Murphy rode his 3½hp Triumph the length of Ireland in 13hr 6min, breaking his own 1907 record by 2hr 42min. He was awarded a gold medal donated to the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland by The Motor Cycle.
WITHIN A MONTH of Olsson’s record-setting run Arthur Bentley, having broken the record on a solo, decided to have a go on three wheels so he enlisted his brother Horace: “We were disconsolately walking down to the City one morning; feeling somewhat bored with things in general, when we began discussing Vivian Olsson’s record with his 7hp VS and Millford sidecar, and as we both had a few precious days of holiday left, it occurred to us to spend our vacation attempting to improve this record. We had both ridden 5hp Rex de Luxe machines with sidecars earlier in the year, so the question of what to go on did not trouble us.
“The morning in question was just seven days before we actually started from John-o’-Groat’s for Land’s End, and as we had not definitely decided until three days before we journeyed up North, it can well be imagined that there was not too much time for making those arrangements which are of such vital importance in connection with a long distance record. The machine and sidecar were at the Rex Works, and, having paid a hurried visit to Coventry to settle a few details about spare parts, we arranged that the combination should be packed in a crate and sent straight up to Wick all ready for the fray. We naturally had a fairly lively time during the next few days, and after finishing work in the City on Friday had nothing left but the purchase of sou’-westers and complete suits of oilskins, which we thought advisable in view of the unsettled state of the weather.
“We started out of King’s Cross at 7.55pm and after a comfortable journey arrived at Inverness, where we changed over to the Wick train. This sadly reminded us of the Metropolitan Railway, as it apparently pulled up every mile or so, and at most houses of whatever size.
“To anyone who is not familiar with the methods of travel in these parts, the story of the engine driver who stopped his train in order to watch a fish being played in a loch adjoining the line, what time he shouted encouragement for the best part of three-quarters’ of an hour, may appear a trifle tall, but we are assured is none the less true. However, we reached Wick about 4.30 on the Saturday afternoon and pounced upon the massive crate in which reposed our machine and car, all coupled up ready for the record attempt.
“For the benefit of others who may contemplate an attack on this record, we would here interpose transporting a motor bicycle and sidecar by train, while undoubtedly convenient on occasion, is nonetheless exceedingly expensive, as a visit to the stationmaster speedily showed. The carriage amounted to precisely £20 9s 6d! [The exclamation mark is justified; it equates to more than £2,200 at current prices.] This high rate was because the combination had to be carried in a crate on a separate truck. We were more than a little embarrassed at the prospect of having to pay and could think of no more at first than to agree with Mr Mantalini, ‘O demm the pence!’ A friend in need is a friend indeed, and J Roberts very kindly offered to help us in this our hour of need and in a short time we had the machine unpacked down at his garage. Here we checked over the spares and equipment, after which we enjoyed a good tea at the Station Hotel, where we had booked rooms for the night.
“A walk through the town and we retired to rest and were soon fast asleep, in spite of the continuous blasts from a high-powered steam organ which was doing its duty nobly at a fair which was in full swing a short distance from the hotel. Sunday opened wet and lowering, but, as is so often the case in Scotland, the sky soon cleared and shortly after breakfast we were enjoying a splendid run over to John-o’-Groat’s—the more enjoyable as our engine was pulling with plenty of vim. We were joined shortly afterwards by three motor cyclists whom we knew (en passant, many thanks to them for the splendid file, belt punch, etc, they kindly lent us), and we all had a good walk along the beach before dark, and after a rousing evening turned in at about twelve o’clock. We were due to start at eight o’clock on Monday night, and on that account stayed in bed most of the day. At six o’clock we rose and had supper, and at a quarter to eight wheeled the machine to the hotel door.
“We had arranged to make a start at this time under the impression that it would hardly get dark at all so far north, but had not realised how late it was in the year, and that naturally we should have to light up quite early.
At ten minutes to eight J Robertson, who had driven over in his car, sent us on our way, and making a good start we had soon left Wick behind. Hereabouts it started raining heavily, and kept on more or less continuously for most of the night. In ordinary motoring cycling ‘guaranteed’ waterproofs we should have been wet to the skin long before daybreak, and it only emphasises the fact that for continuous riding in rain oilskins are the only garments that are really satisfactory for keeping out the wet. Owing to the intense darkness and to the fact that the lower roads were more or less under water we were not surprised to find we were running behind time, but as it was quite unsafe to drive fast we contented ourselves with plodding steadily along without worrying about schedule.
“In spite of our caution we very nearly had a bad accident at the top of Berriedale, although we were prepared for the dangerous corner, having been there before, as upon applying the brakes the whole caboose swung bodily round, and the passenger narrowly averted disaster by embracing a stone wall somewhat in advance of the sidecar wheel. For a time we were even more careful, though after crossing ‘The Mound’ we made a good run along the Cromarty Firth, through Dingwall, and so along the Beauly Firth into Inverness, where we sat down to our first meal at the Palace Hotel. After a first-rate breakfast we were once again on the move, and after a knockabout run over the vile setts through Inverness, turned to the right and the Rex was soon making light work of the steady ascent.
“We were told at the Palace Hotel that a number of cars had come up by train in order to avoid the road over the Grampians, which after the summer traffic looks like a dried-up watercourse, and in many places is little better. We thought the accounts of the road must be exaggerated, but we had perforce once more to close the throttle if we were to stay on the road at all, and so rode quite gently most of the way to Blair Atholl, whereabouts the surface improves considerably. By the way it is often quite easy for a solo machine on a vile surface to pick out the only little bit of road that is really fit to ride on, but it is a very different game for a two-track machine.
“Once past the Grampians we managed to liven things up a bit and made good time into Perth, where we stopped for our second meal. Having filled up with petrol we made a clean ascent of the long hill out of the city, and so on to Stirling, after which we commenced one of the most depressing parts of the ride. From Cumbernauld onwards, until one eventually crosses the bridge over the river and turns sharp to the left up the Lockerbie Road, one passes through a countryside of gloom into which the sun seldom if ever seems to penetrate; the inhabitants for the most part appear resigned to their molelike existence; the sky overcast with the great drifts of smoke which pour unceasingly from the gaunt chimneys which tower up on all sides. We were heartily glad to get clear of this depressing stretch, and as the weather had considerably improved we enjoyed a glorious run through the hills. On this beautiful summer afternoon the sight of two travel-stained maniacs in oilskins provoked no small amount of merriment as we made our way to Lockerbie. Here, much to our surprise, as we drew up outside the King’s Arms Hotel we noticed a very businesslike Rex with an extra wide tank like our own for long-distance riding, and on going inside were delighted to find FW Chinn with a good sensible meal ready for us.
“After a brief delay to shorten the belt, Chinn led the way at a good bat and we were soon over the Border bridge and through Carlisle, making a desperate effort to cross Shap before nightfall. This, however, we failed to do, and had the somewhat unpleasant task of tackling it in complete darkness, but thanks to the Lucas lamp, which was burning well, were able to make fairly good progress. By the time Kendal was reached we were both feeling very hungry, so while the generators were being replenished we seized the opportunity to get some food. Quite a crowd had collected by the time we were ready to start, and gave us a good cheer as we moved off into the inky darkness.
“The gentleman who wrote a letter recently to The Motor Cycle anent present-day records, preferring them done off one’s ‘own bat’, would have come rather sadly to grief in this district unless he happened to know the road like a book. The course is really very hard to follow, and we very gladly followed Mr Chinn’s light over what seemed endless miles of tramlines, and, thanks to his skilful piloting, made fair time until Warrington was reached, where we found AJ Moorhouse waiting for us. We had originally intended to make a stop at Wigan, where H Timberlake had kindly made preparations to receive us, but we ran through the town and were far on our way before we realised our mistake. On again, after a brief halt, through those weary hours before the dawn, to the accompaniment of a steady drizzle, which lasted until just before Bridgnorth, when the rain ceased as the sun got up, and life was worth living once more.
“Just outside Tewkesbury we had rather a serious collision and buckled the sidecar wheel badly. This caused a long delay, but eventually an ordinary motor cycle front wheel did the trick, with the aid of sundry washers to pack it out. Moreover, we suffered a further delay in this neighbourhood owing to a broken roller on the tappet lifter.
At Tewkesbury we partook of breakfast, and by the time we were ready to continue it had started raining heavily. This was hardly encouraging, as we were now some eight hours behind our schedule, and had the certain prospect of a third night on the road. Accordingly we continued our journey in no very merry frame of mind, but pressed on all through that day without talking much or stopping longer than necessary for food, since there seemed a very fair prospect that towards the break of Thursday morning–having last gone to bed on Sunday night–we might run casually into a ditch or wall or what not through want of sleep.
“Towards eight o’clock we reached Exeter and stopped at the Bude Hotel for supper, which we had ordered by wire. And here we said goodbye to A Moorhouse, who had ridden with us all the way from Warrington, on smooth racing tyres, which caused him to exhibit a very nimble bit of riding, especially through Gloucester, where in one place he skidded clean round and was almost facing us when we drew level. To add to his discomfort, we found that he had ridden the whole distance on the lightest of racing saddles, which was not improved by the fact that both its apologies for springs had broken early in the proceedings. It would be hard to imagine a more sporting action than that of Mr Moorhouse, who originally intended to leave us at Tewkesbury, but seeing that owing to the awful weather the ride had developed into rather more than a joke, rode with us right down to Exeter, and by his continual cheerfulness encouraged us considerably. [Arthur Moorhouse clearly put this experience to good use; the next year he set his own End-to-End record on that businesslike Rex.]
“By the time we were ready to leave it was quite dark, and within a few miles the rain had started again–very steadily this time, and looked like lasting. Never since we started motoring has either of us put up a poorer average than we did that night–pitch dark, raining hard, greasy roads, and incessant lamp troubles, as the last dose of carbide was a dead failure. Figuring out the mileage and time afterwards, we found that over a good deal of this stretch we could not have averaged much over 10mph, so that with better luck we could easily improve on our record by several hours.
We had hoped to pick up time over Bodmin Moor but so thick was the mist which blew in from the sea that at times we were almost brought to a standstill through sheer inability to see the road. Another time we might be more lucky.
“At about 2am, the hour when vitality is normally at its lowest ebb—ours had almost reached vanishing point—we had to stop and knock up the occupants of a wayside inn. They very kindly turned out and gave us have some brandy, which warmed the cockles of our hearts and kept us going. We soon regained our spirits after this and went forward at a fine pace, nearly annihilating a little rat of a black piglet, which woke up abruptly on our approach and scuttled ahead of us at a fine pace. Over the next stretch we will not dwell, but as day broke we quickened our pace and ran through the deserted streets of Penzance with only ten miles of hilly roads ahead of us, and here the two-speed came in very handy.
“Land’s End at last, and the engine pulling as well as when we started 900 miles back. We were met by JT Taylor, of Penzance (who was kindly timing us), and four or five other gentlemen whose names we do not know. They had spent that dreary night in a car, and were as glad to see us as we were to see them. As it was too early to get any food we drove back to Penzance where we had a shave and a good bath, and after breakfast boarded the train, and at 11.15 were sleeping peacefully in the London express. It is a great tribute to the Rex spring seat and the riding position in general that neither of us felt the very least stiff or tired, and physically were perfectly fit at the end of the run, although naturally the mental strain of keeping awake for the 59hr 7min of the ride was bound to have its effect.”
ANOTHER HEROIC effort but the Bentley boys had faced enough problems that, with a little luck, their time could clearly be beaten, and it was, within six weeks, by Martin Geiger and William Lamm on a 7hp Vindec Special and Mills-Fulford sidecar. They left John-o’-Groat’s at 3.53am on a Tuesday and reached Land’s End at 7.38am Thursday with only two 20min breaks (at Warrington and Gloucester) and a couple of 10min breaks. They didn’t stop for meals; food was carried in the sidecar. The toolkit was lost early on (fortunately the engine ran perfectly), blizzards and heavy rain slowed them down, and after the actylene generator failed they rode through the second night in the flickering light of a handheld ‘stormproof stable lantern’. Their time of 51hr 45min, cut 7hr 22min from the Bentleys’ record.
ON TO THE 1910 season and Arthur Moorhouse bought a 3½hp single-speed Rex to have a go at Hart-Davies’ record. As the Blue ‘Un’s report makes clear, he had the bloody-minded attitude that seemed to be in the DNA of the End-to-End fraternity because before success came failure: “Luck did not favour Arthur Moorhouse in his attempt on the End-to-end motor bicycle record last week. Starting at 6am in unsettled weather from John-o’-Groat’s house on a 3½hp Rex, he made good progress except for a spill on the Ord of Caithness. He reached Inverness (155 miles) at 11.30am, fifteen minutes behind his schedule. Perth was left at 4pm. The weather being bad Moorhouse was greatly hampered by having only one brake, the shoe of the other having disappeared.
“At Lanark the time was 7.10pm, and then he was lost by his followers. The weather had now improved considerably. Near Carlisle the attempt was concluded. Moorhouse left that city at 10.10pm, but a mile or two outside suffered a puncture. He decided to ride back to Carlisle on the rim and have another tyre fitted, but he lost much valuable time as the garages were closed, and, consequently, he was reluctantly compelled to give up the attempt. Bad luck, bad weather, and insufficient preparation accounted for Moorhouse’s failure. A great many experienced riders considered that he was attempting the impossible, having left it so late in the year. It was quite dark by 8.30pm and barely daylight at 5.30am, and seven hours of night riding is a severe handicap.”
AFTER WHICH the Blue ‘Un reported: “The opinions of several experienced riders at that time was that he was attempting an impossible task, owing to the late season of the year [late August]. Mr Moorhouse tells us that this remark, which we published, was partly the reason why he decided to try again, and prove that these opinions were wrong. The paragraph acted as a stimulant, and he was all the more determined to try his luck again.
Good fortune smiled upon him on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, as he succeeded in reducing the previous best time, made by Ivan B Hart-Davies in July 1909, by 1hr 9min. On the Monday he was so uncertain about starting due to the weather—it had rained nearly all day—that he wired to Coventry to know the state of things further south. A reassuring telegram from W Williamson decided the question, and he retired to snatch a few hours’ sleep.
“Moorhouse, riding a 3½hp single-geared Rex, weighing, with outfit and spares, 218lb, left John-o’-Groat’s on the 20th inst at 5.2am, timed by J Robertson, the well-known Wick cycle and motor agent, who has despatched nearly all the End-to-end motor cycle record- breakers, or timed them in if they preferred to ride in a northerly direction.
Accompanying Moorhouse at the start was AH Alexander, who held the record-breaker for 160 miles but was left behind at Carrbridge. From this point to Pitlochry the rider was alone. The standard gear of 4¼ to 1 was used throughout with the exception of Berriedale, where it was deemed advisable to alter the adjustable pulley to give a 5 to 1 ratio.
At Inverness, which was reached at 9.50am, a halt was made tor a few minutes, where tanks were replenished; then on southwards and over the Grampians, where it was none too warm even in the daytime. This touch of cold gave an impression of what was to follow when darkness enveloped the rider and the cold wind made its presence more noticeable.
“At Pitlochry Quentin Smith chipped in, and rode in attendance all the way to Carlisle. Several other riders also joined the record-breaker at in tervals. J Adamson met him at Perth, and retired in twenty miles with a puncture. J Baxter (Joppa) joined the string at Lanark, and was placed hors de combat inside six miles through a mishap. Such falling, by the way, is a good illustration of how Moorhouse was travelling. Accidents happen at End-to-End speed to the record-breaker and his followers which do not occur under ordinary touring conditions. However, we have Moorhouse’s assurance that every consideration was shown for other road users, and it was only on deserted stretches that real speed was attempted. Anyone seeing him in the streets of towns on the route would have taken him for the mildest tourist on holiday bent.
“At Lanark an FRS lamp and two generators were picked up at 4.15 pm, these having been left off the machine purposely during the early portion of the journey as it was found on the previous attempt that they got damaged through a fall. This time they were not carried until actually required. Petrol and oil were also taken up and the rider snatched another hasty meal. From Carlisle, which was reached about 6.40pm, well in front of time, Hugh Gibson hung on, and rode with Moorhouse to Penrith where he had a slight mishap but continued later and caught up again near Kendal. In the meantime Moorhouse went on over Shap Fell alone and in the dark and luckily escaped injury though a drove of sheep which blocked the road (of course without any warning light to show their whereabouts) and very nearly spoilt his chance of success.
“The cold increased as the night wore on and although wearing a leather vest, woollen muffler, and a suit of overalls, besides thick ordinary clothing, the rider suffered very much from cold. The welcome he experienced at Kendal was therefore doubly acceptable. Here J Braithwaite met him with oil, petrol, hot tea and sandwiches. One of the Rex riders, HW Hands, then rode with him to Lancaster, where he was detailed to telephone to Warrington and order some water-cooled oil to be warmed so that it would pour into the tank and be drawn into the pump barrel more readily. Moorhouse had previously been troubled with the oil congealing through the coldness of the air.
Nearing Preston, JHE Loxham and H Houlding were ready to pilot him through that town. As previously mentioned, Hugh Gibson had caught up just below Kendal, and rode in close company with Moorhouse till just south of Wigan, when he took a wrong turning, but regained the route at Warrington.
The warmed oil, petrol, and other supplies having been duly dealt out, Warrington was left behind at 11.43. Hugh Gibson and W Heaton were in attendance, the former as far as Acton Bridge, where he punctured; the latter had a mishap at Hodnet and was forced to retire. Near Tarporley, Broadhead, and a number of other Manchester friends were waiting to cheer him on his way; they also brought him an additional sweater, which proved very welcome. From Hodnet to Kidderminster Moorhouse was alone, but he continued to travel well, and passed through Whitchurch at 12.45am. The mist was most troublesome at this stage, and was so thick that the light of the lamp could not penetrate it. In consequence at times the speed was very slow.
“In Kidderminster Harold Williamson and a local rider were in waiting, but they both took wrong turnings at two different points, and were not seen again until Tewkesbury. In Worcester Moorhouse himself made the first false move. Instead of turning to the right at the fork for Tewkesbury he went straight on and found himself travelling towards Evesham. There was nothing to be done but to return. Following the Severn Valley, it is only natural that more mist was encountered, but Tewkesbury was reached at about 3.50am. The local rider from Kidderminster had reached Tewkesbury before Moorhouse, having evidently gone through Worcester while the latter was on the Evesham road, and much amusement was caused at first among those who were waiting at the Bell because they mistook the local follower for the record rider. Moorhouse left Tewkesbury in company with Clifford Wilson, and between that town and Bristol a rabbit ran into his wheel and, marvellous to relate, lodged between the forks without throwing him off.
“At Bristol WW Douglas was the pilot through the city and out on the Bridgwater road. Ten miles from Bristol Moorhouse suffered the first puncture, and three miles further on the same tyre went down again, so out came the wheel and in went a new air tube. The time was 6.30am, and there were 8hr 20min remaining in which to get to Land’s End in time to beat the old record. Leaving Wilson to pack up the tool kit and tools Moorhouse sped on and never saw anyone concerned in the ride till Taunton was reached at 7.20am, when a Mr Stone met him with petrol and oil. Exeter was left behind at 8.45, and here R Lord was waiting. The record was now fairly safe and, beyond changing a valve spring between Bodmin and the End, nothing occurred to hinder the rider, who rode up to the door of the Land’s End Hotel at 1.15pm, where he was timed by A Taylor of Penzance, having ridden the distance, 885 miles, in 32hr 13min.
“The cylinder and frame were sealed by The Motor Cycle and the seals at the finish were examined by A Taylor and found to be intact. Moorhouse’s machine was equipped with 2in Palmer cord studded tyres, B and B carburetter, Bosch magneto, Lycett saddle, FRS lamp and a Lyso belt, which we are assured was not changed during the ride. As a precautionary measure three spare wheels were deposited, one each at Perth, Carlisle, and Tewkesbury, but only the Perth spare was used. This was necessitated through hitting a boulder at speed and denting the rim badly. We look upon the new record as a particularly meritorious performance. It was set up very late in the year, the night was long and cold, there was a period of about eleven hours between sunset and dawn, and the rider weighs 13 stones.
“In course of conversation, Moorhouse told us he thought the record would eventually come down to 28hr.”
ONCE A RECORD has been set someone always wants to do it the hard way. A 3½hp Triumph was perfect for a solo run but bolting a sidecar on and making the run with a single-speed transmission was a foolhardy idea. Hugh Gibson and George Wray made the run in 46hr 57min; it was later described as ‘the finest ride on record’.
Gibson recalled: “After a restless night I rose at midnight, feeling quite fit, and was cheered by Robertson’s report that there was a following wind, and the glass high. Accordingly I raised the gear to 4¾ to 1, determined to male a good start. A cold wait to obey the photographer, and Robertson and two friends pushed us off with a cheer. One last glance Groat’s and then eyes on the road.
“With the engine pulling well we made a good ascent of the first and then settled down to a brisk speed somewhat over legal. Dunbeath proved a regular miniature Sutton Bank, but with a dangerous right-hand turn near the top. I rushed the hill, skidded round the corner, and with light pedal assistance reached the top. Berriedale was approached with a 6 to 1 gear. The first view took our breath away. I crawled round the fearful top corner, my patient victim making some inarticulate expressions as we got round. The descent safely made left me unprepared for the rush necessary yo climb the north side. We struggled up a good halfway, and Wray’s agility in jumping out was remarkable. We made another start, and I actually got up another 200 yards before our faithful 3 and a bit warned us. Wray was left behind to admire Berriedale, whilst I took the empty sidecar up to the summit. We afterwards raised the gear to 5 to 1.
“Three miles farther south we found the road closed. Mr Robertson had warned us of this, and we made a detour of one mile via Ousedale Farm, and had a struggle to reach the main road again, the byroad having a severe gradient which again called for ‘light pedal assistance’.
“We passed two herds of red deer and hundreds of mountain snipe, grouse,rabbits, etc. I mean to bring my gun with me in the Six Days’ Trials. The Ord is most distressingly barren country, and for the next ten miles I had some fine practice in corner work. A quick right-hand turn followed by a V left, generally on an up-grade, tested the engine severely, yet the Triumph picked up wonderfully well every time, my sole concern being to keep out of the gutter when swinging round to the left. On through Brora and Golspie, and we now began to pick up more time. At Clashmore we were careful not to lose our way, and soon Bonar Bridge appeared in view, the scenery hereabouts (though somewhat blurred) being particularly fine.
“We had now reached another unknown stretch, viz, the mountain road over the Aultnam to Abler, Strurie Hill. This road cuts off eight miles from the Tain road. We geared down to 6 to 1, and climbed the first mile in good style. At the corner we stopped to cool down, driver and engine being overheated. The rest of the hill was climbed with ease. Good time was made to Daginal, where we were alarmed to find that our petrol tank was practically empty. Luckily, it was 7am, and a garage was open. We arrived at Beauly, our first depot for food, etc, at 7.25, having averaged close upon 24mph. Mr R Morien had an excellent repast ready, and the hot porridge was wonderfully invigorating.
“Nearing Inverness, we struck a rather unfriendly wind. We got through the town with only one wrong turn, and then tackled the long drag from Inverness to Carrbridge. The engine pulled finely, and although we were slowed considerably we never had occasion to stop. Nearing Aviemore, we were considerably cheered by meeting JW Adamson, of TT fame, who had come out from Perth, and over one hundred miles of bad going, to pace us. This is the kind of sportsmanship! Adamson took us a fine pace through Kingussie over the Grampians to Pitlochry. Here we deemed it advisable to take in petrol. Perth was reached at 12.50. My back tyre had suffered most cruelly over the fearfully loose surface on the Grampians, and it was deemed advisable to change the cover. We were hungry and happy.
“David Adamson, another fine rider, now kindly showed us the way through Stirling to Lanark. From Stirling we struck an unmistakably strong head wind, which continued to beyond Lanark. At Lanark we said good-bye to Adamson, and then had our second tyre trouble, the back cover having crept and pulled out the valve at the seating. Ten minutes saw us on the move again, and in a few miles we met a friend on an NSU, who had been sent out from Lockerbie by Messrs Hetherington and Son. We continued at a good speed to within four miles of Lockerbie, where we again ran out of petrol. Two bulbfuls from our unnamed friend just saw us in to Lockerbie. Messrs Hetherington and Son had everything ready for us at the Blue Bell Hotel.
“Between Lockerbie and Ecclefechan we broke an exhaust valve, this being the first and only engine trouble that we experienced on the ride. When one thinks of the revolutions per minute made, when driving with a 5½ to 1 gear at thirty to thirty-five miles per hour, it is extraordinary that we did not go through many more valves. We reached Shap at 9.15, and stopped to see that lamps and generator were in order. On this section I reclined in the sidecar and Wray brought us over from Shap to Kendal in some thirty-six minutes. High Borrow was simply eaten up by the Triumph. Steady going at 20mph eventually saw us in Wigan at 12.50am, still gaining on schedule. The Royal Hotel had a most sumptuous repast. Messrs. Leigh and Holford Jones rendered great assistance at Wigan, and also accompanied us for some distance.
“Hart-Davies, who had punctured near Whitchurch, was making the sleepy birds stare in amazement at the charm of his voice! When I passed him, however, I had another great henchman at my command in the person of Rupert May, whose knowledge of this bewildering stretch of road is second to none. May soon had me (despite unhappy memories) going ‘all out’ and my engine seemed to improve every mile. The hills that abound near Bridgnorth were taken in fine style, and Hart-Davies from the rear was astonished at the way we got along. May, whose help had again been of immense value, had magneto trouble at Bridgnorth, and was reluctantly compelled to say good-bye, which he did in his own quaint way by nearly hitting me in the eye with a piece of belting or insulating tape. I freely forgive him.
“Hart-Davies now took me in hand, and accompanied us right through to Land’s End. Near Tewkesbury we ran into a heavy thunderstorm and lost ten minutes putting on our overalls. Belt slip was now prevalent, and we ran for a few miles on a leather Watawata belt which, fortunately, I carried.
“At Gloucester our arrangements were in the hands of A Hart-Davies at the Bell Hotel, and this depot was most efficiently managed. Outside Gloucester I changed belts three times before I got the right gear, and then we made a very fast journey to Bristol. Davies knew the road through Bristol, and after innumerable twistings and turnings at length reached Bedminster Bridge. Further on the long hill proved too much for our high gear, the roads being very heavy and greasy. Just at this point Davies found a 2in nail through his back cover and we hurried away out of earshot. Within five miles he had caught us up, having effected a marvellous repair within five minutes. For the next few miles we found the hills particularly trying.
“The surface was greasy and heavy, and much ‘light’ assistance was required, whilst on one or two occasions my passenger had to go through his celebrated acrobatic performances to enable me to take the sidecar up solus. We reached Exeter safely at 12.35—in my opinion the most strenuous section of the whole ride. Thunderstorm, rain, and severe gradients had made this section a very trying one.
“We had a long stop at Exeter (fifty minutes), for we had tons of time to spare, and felt that the record was safe, barring a serious breakdown. In view of the long and severe climb from Exeter to Okehampton, I decided to change the valves. The carburetter was also cleaned, and a new back cover fitted for safety’s sake. We meant to leave nothing to chance. Our gear was 6 to 1. Two friendly motor cyclists, one of whom, Mr Saunders, came right through to Land’s End, caused us some amusement. They confessed that they had come to see the fun on the hills, and as we disposed of one pimple after another their astonishment knew no bounds. First they concluded that we had a secret two-speed gear concealed somewhere up my arm (by the way, my wrist and arm did feel like an operating rod); then after this theory had been exploded they wanted to know ‘what the engine really is’.
“Hart-Davies had been tantalising me all the way by just keeping in view. Over Bodmin Moor we could see nothing beyond twenty yards on account of the mist, yet we climbed Bodmin without pedalling, Mr Saunders hanging on to our back wheel to see how it was done. At Bodmin Davies was waiting with petrol can in hand, and we were soon on our last stage of the long ride. After Redruth the roads were appalling, and I had a nightmare, thinking that either the sidecar axle or frame would break. We soared up the few hills between Hayle and Penzance, and reached Penzance just at six o’clock. I had become possessed of the idea that I had to finish at 6.30. Why, I do not know, and when we found the road up, the surface atrocious and heavy with rain, I swore inwardly, the climax was reached when I stuck on the steep hill out of Penzance owing to the belt slipping. The last four miles were comparatively good going, and letting it all out the wonderful little engine pulled like a demon up to the last yard of the 886 miles. My first hand shake was for my partner, Wray, who had shared in my triumph.
“To all who helped me on this memorable ride, I wish to say the arrangements throughout could not have been better, and I tender my sincere thanks.”
Specification: 3½hp, 1910 pattern, 85x88mm Triumph, Mills-Fulford sidecar, Shamrock-Excelsior tyres, SG belt, Bosch magneto and plug, Lucas lamp, Shell spirit, Price’s oil. Driver’s weight, 9½ stones; passenger, 8½ stones; machine loaded, 200lbs; sidecar loaded, 100lbs.”
They did it again in July 1911, this time using a 550cc Bradbury with NSU two-speed gear, and completed the run in 38hr 47min, beating their own record by exactly two hours.
GIBSON AND WRAY were not the only End-to-Enders hellbent on making a hard run the hard way. No sooner had they done their thing with a single-speed 3½hp combo than Harold Cox determined to have a go with his extremely lightweight 1½hp Singer. It had already carried him from Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s in the ACU Six Days’ Trial so why not ride back down non-stop? Mr Cox, you have the floor: “My original intentions were to make the run back to Land’s End after completing the Six Days’ Trial, until I was prevented from competing in the latter beyond Warrington owing to a damaged flywheel. After dismantling the engine I took train to Coventry and had a new engine fitted, proceeding the next day by road to Warrington. From there I took train to Inverness and rode easily to Wick. Monday morning arrived and the start was now only a few hours distant. Repairing to Mr Robertson’s garage, I donned overalls and slowly rode over to Groat’s. After duly recording my intentions in the visitors’ book, the word to ‘Go’ was given to me at exactly 11am by Mr R Lord (who rode an Excelsior in the Six Days’) in the presence of Messrs V Underbill, C Cross and BV Jones, all of whom had been competitors in the Trial.
“The morning was somewhat dull but improved as I went further south, and I was fortunate enough to have a following wind. At Wick quite a crowd of enthusiastic Scots had gathered, and I stopped here to receive some telegrams which had arrived since I left for Groat’s. The ride from here was uneventful, and I ran into Golspie half an hour ahead of schedule time. Here, while my machine was filled up with ‘the necessary’ and my belt shortened, tea was served, and I left after a brief stop of about fifteen minutes, accompanied by Mr Campbell on a twin Rex, whose intention it was to ride with me as far as Dingwall. This, however, he was prevented from doing owing to tyre troubles shortly after passing Bonar Bridge, although he was up with me again by the time I left Dingwall, where I had again stopped for supplies. The sun had now come out in all its splendour, and the scenery was grand. A beautiful road now led right into Inverness, and I was an hour ahead of time. I again stopped for food, and left the machine in the hands of Mr Urquhart, who filled up for me. On riding out of Inverness I was met by Mr B Allan Hind on his NSU and Mr Gordon L Fletcher with his redoubtable Douglas. These two riders had promised to accompany me right through to Pitlochry, though Mr Fletcher came as far as Kendal.
“Now commenced the run over the dreaded Grampians, but I found the road in much better condition than I had anticipated, though rather loose. The summit of the pass (1,484ft) was reached at 11.30pm without the aid of lamps. We now lit up, at the same time putting on additional overalls as it was somewhat cold. Half an hour we stopped here and then we set off for Perth. At Perth I was met by Mr Robertson’s car, which carried much appreciated refreshments and supplies. Had it not been for Mr Robertson’s intimate knowledge of the road I should undoubtedly have lost my way in the Stirling district, but as it was I pulled up to Lockerbie one and a half hours ahead of my schedule and sat down to a good breakfast.
“My average speed so far had been practically 20mph. Not bad for 1½hp. It may be of interest to know that up to this point I had only used my pedalling gear three times—once on Berriedale, once shortly after Bonar Bridge, where the road rises up over the mountains, and once on the Grampians. Shortly after leaving Lockerbie I had punctures, caused by nails, against the ravages of which even Palmer covers will not stand. This caused me to lose much precious time, and when I reached Carlisle, what with punctures and driving dead slow over miles of police-infested roads, I began to get behind time. Nearing Penrith, Messrs Tinkler and Co sent a man out to meet me, and I stopped about half an hour in that town. Shap presented no difficulty, and I came right up without a single touch to the pedals.
“Approaching Kendal I was met by a friend, Mr Ruscoe. At Kendal I said good-bye to Messrs Robertson and Fletcher. The Lancashire district was now getting near but I had been fortunate enough to obtain pilots through most of the towns. At Warrington I stopped at Mr Forster’s shop where, while the machine was adjusted and oiled up, I partook of much-appreciated refreshment. Altogether I think I stayed here about three-quarters of an hour, and left practically one hour late, accompanied by a member of the Warrington club and Mr Forster. Mr Davenport, of Tarporley, also met me here, and these friends came on with me until I met Mr C Rice-Oxley and another member of the Shropshire club. At about this point, friend Ruscoe was obliged to stop, owing to punctures, and this was the last I saw of him until I reached Taunton.
“At Wellington (Salop) I made a short halt for supplies, and after saying good-bye to my friends of the Shropshire club I left, accompanied by Mr Neville, of Wellington. He came nearly as far as Kidderminster, where lamps were lit. The road from here to Bristol was quite familiar to me, and I made good time to Worcester, where I was met by several of my own friends from Birmingham.
“Tired, sleepy, dusty, and hungry, I determined to have a good rest before proceeding further. By the time I left I was about four hours behind time. The road to Bristol, through Tewkesbury and Gloucester, being familiar and easy, I hummed along splendidly, but never made up my lost time. Arriving at Bristol–a most difficult town to negotiate–about 5am, I found that my pilots had gone. I got through the city all right, but, unfortunately, a few miles beyond lost myself hopelessly. At least an hour and a half must have been wasted before I again struck the right road.
“Once more in the right way I got along well, and, arriving at Taunton, was agreeably surprised to find friend Ruscoe and the trusty Triumph awaiting me. I hastily partook of breakfast while he looked after the machine and off we went again through Wellington (Somerset) towards Exeter–two nights without sleep, blazing sunshine, glaring white roads, cruel dust. Several times I nearly went to sleep on the machine. At last, after two punctures, Exeter was reached. Off again—still 120 miles of it, cruel sun, scorched faces, long hills, and more punctures. How I had dreaded those Cornish hills, and here we were, worn out, right amongst them. But, wonder of wonders, after 750 miles of all out that little engine simply romped the machine along as I gently opened the throttle, and I never once had to use the pedals. I was grateful. Okehampton, Launceston–getting nearer.
“Now on to Bodmin Moor—open, treeless country, no shade, more punctures. Still, they had to be mended, so mended they were. How, I don’t know, but they were. Something happened to Ruscoe’s machine and he had to stop. At Bodmin I had my last meal, and left there something like six hours late, only to lose my way again between Mitchell and Redruth. On the right road again, and into Redruth. Only 28 miles now. Would the machine stand up? Well, if it didn’t I’d take off the belt and pedal it to Land’s End, for now that I was so near I was determined to get there. Camborne—Hayle. Looking down I discovered that the exhaust valve rocker pin had come out but the engine was still running at about 3,000 revolutions, so I went on without troubling. At Penzance I had half a gallon of petrol and left there at three minutes past eight with the last ten miles in front and 876 behind. Was the engine worn out? Was the compression gone? Well, I think not, for the last ten miles were covered in twenty-three minutes.
“Through the hamlet of Sennen, where one passes under the first and last tree in England, and then shortly Land’s End Hotel comes into sight, and a little group of people frantically waving hands. I just had time to glance at one of the most glorious sunsets I have ever seen when I ran past the door of the hotel, while someone shouted, ‘Don’t go any further—it’s ‘Scilly’!’. Mr Priest, of Penzance, was there with the watch and gave me the time as 8.26pm. My run from End-to-End on a lightweight machine was accomplished, the total time occupied being 57hr 26min.
“Adding up the times I stopped at various places for food, supplies, rest, to send telegrams, etc, the actual riding time comes out at about 47½ hours. I went, altogether, about eight miles out of my way, the cyclometer giving me 893.9 miles from End-to-End, whereas the actual distance is 886 miles. I cannot speak too highly of the behaviour of the machine. The way it took me up the long hills and purred along for mile after mile was really marvellous.”
MOTOR CYCLING IS A MULTI-GENERATIONAL obsession. My Aunt Gwen rode a Scott in the 1920s (and family legend says she wore a colour-matched mauve leather coat while doing so); my cousin Andy rode his much modified CBR600 on numerous track days and, I’m proud to say, rode a GS850 Beemer from the far north of Alaska to the tip of South America. Now that’s an End-to-End run you wouldn’t want to try against the clock. So what has this to do with this review of those stalwarts who rode the length of Britain? Quite simply, Harry Cox has a grandson named Tim Thomas who naturally knew of his granddad’s exploits (let’s not forget his 3rd place in the 1912 Junior TT) but had not read Harry’s first-hand account until he came across it in this timeline. Tim got in touch to report: “This year, inspired by the account, I took my Honda VFR 750 down to Land’s End and then up to John O’Groats. While there was some motorway used, I chose to ride on A and B roads and explore a bit. And then instead of turning round and driving all the way back non-stop I chose to continue round the North Coast 500 with the most amazing scenery and roads down the western highlands. 11 days driving, 2,695 miles. Absolutely brilliant! My Grandfather would have been quite a bit younger than I am now when he accomplished his record but even so, the thought of driving 57 hours and 26 minutes is truly remarkable. My journey was so much easier but it certainly has given a huge appreciation of what he did.” Like all sensible End-to-Enders Tim made his run in mid-summer, leaving his St Albans home on 16 June, following in Harry’s tyre tracks after 102 years. Harry, no doubt, would have been impressed by the superb VFR. And I’m equally sure that he would have been extremely proud to know that the motor cycling gene lives on in his family as it does in mine.
BACK TO 1910, WHICH HAD its share of failures, notably on the combo front: “Vivian Olsson first set out on an 8hp Oxted-JAP and Millford sidecar, but after making splendid time to Inverness the spring fork of his machine broke, causing his retirement. He wired for one of another make with the idea of making a further attempt but this did not fit the frame properly, bringing the engine too near the ground.”
Sydney Thomson of Dundee and Campbell McGregor of Edinburgh started from John-o’-Groat’s on an 8hp Bat-JAP and sidecarbut gave up at Crieff. Thomson reported: “We started at 5am from John-o’-Groat’s in the rain, and by the time we reached Wick puddles were beginning to collect on the road. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the turnout weighed over 800lb our 3½ to 1 gear enabled us to cover thirty-one miles in the first hour. Soon after, the roads being now in a state of flood, belt troubles began, and continued with remarkable regularity for the whole way.
“Coming down the Ord we had to take the byroad past Struy Farm, the main road not being repaired yet, and here, thanks to some six inches of mud, we wasted half an hour. Once on the harder road again we made up time quickly in spite of numerous belt breakages. At Bonar Bridge we changed belts. Nearing Inverness the back tyre went flat, and a horse-shoe shaped heel clamp, size 11 (at least!), was extracted. A butt-ender was put in, with a gaiter over the cut, but the tyre deflated again soon after so we decided to fit the spare wheel in the hope of overcoming our tyre trouble. As we had no pilot to assist us this wasted a lot of time, and we were finally three hours behind schedule at Inverness. After Inverness, where the roads were particularly heavy, the control slides of the carburetter started giving trouble through jamming, and, as everything by this time was wet and sandy, it was impossible to clean them properly, necessitating numerous delays in eftorts in free them.
“Crossing the Grampians we were making up on time, and were in hopes that the weather was going to improve as the rain actually stopped for five minutes. This, however, was not to be. By the time we reached Crieff we had only completed 271 miles in I5hr, being 4½hr behind our schedule. Our three belts having been unable to stand up to I5hr continuous rain, we decided to give up the attempt. Had the weather improved at all we should have continued, as I believe that on dry roads the waterlogged belts would have recovered considerably. During the whole day the Bat never misfired once, and it was only on account of its great speed that we were not much further behind our time. Of course, sideslips were non-existent, but thick mud choked every portion of the machine. Considering the lower power of Mr. Gibson’s engine, his time to Perth, which is a very stiff section, is little short of marvellous, and his total time is likely to withstand a few attempts.”
AND SO WE pass on to the 1911 season which turned out to be the last, for reasons that will become clear after we’ve heard from the final two successful End-to-Enders and a couple of heroic failures. There was a heavyweight solo record and a lightweight solo record, in that final season came a middleweight record, or maybe it was a heavier lightweight; that question generated an intense debate. In any case, it was a 2¾hp Douglas and The Motor Cycle, as always, had the story: “A brawny West-country man, with the merest touch of stoicism, but a broad sense of humour, Eli Clark is the type of man who ‘does things’ but can only with difficulty be got to talk about them.”
Clark, who tipped the scales at thirteen stones, wasn’t an obvious choice to go for an End-to-End record on a tiddler but he made the run in 39hr 40min and clearly didn’t find it too diffcult to talk about it: “I was lucky, very lucky, for I never had to touch the machine at all, and I hardly expected to get through without putting my hand on the tyre pump. The machine I had was the same I’ve been riding in competitions this year. It’s done the London-Edinburgh, London-Land’s End, and ever so many other runs, but when I got to Penzance on Tuesday the little engine was pulling better than ever. The worst trouble I had was losing time by not knowing the road. Asking the way and going back to find it cost me at least three hours. But there, if I’d known the road better probably I’d have had tyre troubles or something else worse.
‘I had arranged a schedule on a 39 hour basis, and I finished up not very far wide of it, but I managed at one time to get a long way ahead of my time, and then I lost it all through taking the wrong road, till at one place I was a good deal behind where I ought to have been and had to put on a bit of pace. I started from John-o’-Groat’s at midnight in the company of a Mr Ware, on a Bradbury, and we rode together to Inverness. I made up a bit of time on this stretch, as Ware knew every inch of the road and set me just the right pace. In some ways it’s a pity I got along so well, for I was too early for my helpers. I had arranged for petrol and food at every 130 miles, but between Inverness and Lanark I could only get the petrol for they hadn’t got my tea and stuff ready, and of course I wasn’t going to wait for any kettles to boil.
“The Grampians were in a bad state, the surface was everywhere very loose indeed and cut up, and to make matters worse I ran into a good old genuine Scotch mist. I think my little Douglas would have taken me up Berriedale without assistance but IT was too cold to miss a chance of exercise so I gave it a bit of help and we went up first class. Somewhere about here I lost my tool kit and my number plate, but they were picked up and I got them at Bristol.
“I rode to Lanark not only without any food but without any companion, but when I got there I found Phillips, another Douglas rider, whom I’d been able to wire to and who knew I should be ahead of my time. He’d got a monstrous pile of hard-boiled eggs ready for me—enough for a family—and I just squeezed them into my pockets with some chocolates and ate them as I went along. All went well until we came to Penrith. Here we were an hour and a half in front of our time and our helper was nowhere to he found. He was going to guide us through Preston, Wigan and Warrington, so we had to make the best of a bad job and get along without him. But we had a terrible time of it, neither of us knew the way and we had to ask every hundred yards. It came on dark by the time we got to Wigan, and we were never really comfortable and happy about which way we ought to go till daybreak. Getting out of Warrington cost us a good ten miles. Our road was through Tarporley and Whitchurch, but some silly cyclist put us wrong and we found ourselves at last on the Shrewsbury road. So back we had to go.
“However, at last we got to Whitchurch and here we reckoned on coming to the end of our troubles, for we had arranged for Grout, another Douglas rider, to show us the way through the night. We found him all right, as our losing our way had badly cut down the time I was in front of my schedule. Up till Warrington I’d been doing well. At Beauly I was three-quarters of an hour ahead, at Blair Athol, where I checked, 55 minutes, at Lanark, an hour and a quarter, at Kendal an hour and a half, and at Preston an hour and three-quarters. Well, we hadn’t gone ten miles before we were in trouble. Grout was leading, and in going round a sharpish corner he took things a bit too thin and his footrest caught the bank. Over he went, and I was so close behind I had to ride over him and down I came too. Phillips was behind, and seeing the two lights on the ground, he pulled up.
“Bent handle-bars was the worst of my trouble, and we soon had that right, so, leaving Grout to put his machine right, away we went for Wellington. Here we had the worst time of all. It was after midnight, between 2 and 3 to be exact, and we couldn’t find our way at all. We went every road but the right one and lost over two hours running round and about. We had to go to houses and knock the people up, and they did their best for us hanging out of their bedroom windows. Grout, of course, knew the road, and it was really to get us through Wellington that he came with us, so as soon as he got his machine all right on he came and left us behind. We picked him up again at Kidderminster, where we met Cox, the Singer End-to-ender.
“It was a case of ‘open-throttle’ till Tewkesbury, and Phillips and I left all our helpers behind, for our machines were going in first-rate style. Phillips rode his Irish trials machine. There was a Douglas enthusiast at Tewkesbury who got us tea and petrol, and off we set for Bristol, getting there in good style and having covered the 420 miles from Lanark in as near as possible 16 hours. Here Phillips gave his machine to Thornhill who accompanied me as far as Exeter, where I picked up with W Douglas. We rode together to Land’s End, having no further incident on the way except to meet bad weather and roads at Bodmin, but we found them dry again at Redruth. We got to Land’s End at 3.40pm my total time being, therefore, 39 hours 40 minutes.
“My machine was an ordinary standard touring twin-cylinder lightweight Douglas with two-inch ROM tyres. I used a ¾in Stanley Dermatine belt, and never had to shorten it all. For caution’s sake I changed a belt at Bristol, but it was quite unnecessary. I used a Bosch magneto and Lodge plugs, also a P and H headlight.”
BACK TO THE Blue ‘Un: “Clark’s machine weighed 140lb fully equipped, so his performance must be regarded as the best of the medium-weight class. The motor bicycle records are: Heavyweights, JB Hart-Davies, 33hr 22min; mediumweights, Eli Clark, 39hr 30min; lightweights, HJ Cox, 57hr 26min…The whole controversy shows the necessity for a well defined and clear dividing line between the light, medium, and heavy classes, as at the present time there is nothing to prevent a similar divergency of opinion over some machine which is on the border line between the medium and the heavyweight. For the moment, it appears to us that while this definition is lacking—and, of course, it should be an official definition, and accepted from year to year by the ACU—the fairest way will be to inscribe Mr Eli Clark’s ride as the Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s record for twin-cylinder lightweight motor bicycles, and Mr Cox’s ride as the existing record for single-cylinder lightweights.”
SOME TIME later the following report appeared in The Motor Cycle: On going to press last week we received a telegram signed Merton as follows: ‘Beat Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s lightweight record by three hours; time, 35 hours 42 minutes.’ In the absence of names of any of the checkers or time-keepers, we withheld publication of the telegram pending the receipt of fuller particulars. It will be at once perceived that the time in which the journey is claimed to have been done is three hours better than that accomplished by Eli Clark on a Douglas, and yet Merton’s attempt, of which we were advised beforehand, was made on a 2hp MR., and during September, when there are nearly twelve hours of darkness. We have since received from Merton some details of the ride, and while we should be the first to congratulate him on achieving such a record, we cannot help feeling more than a little sceptical about his claim, as in no instance does he inform us where he stopped, whom he saw or met until he arrived at his destination, when he pays a tribute to the kind welcome he received from Mrs Calder, landlady of the local hotel.”
UNDETERRED BY THE groundswell of opposition Messrs Gibson and Wray slashed the End-to-End sidecar record to 38hr 47 min on a 550cc two-speed Bradbury and, inevitably, a Mills-Fulford sidecar. Soon after the Gibson Wray run The Motor Cycle reported: “H Gibson and his passenger, G Wray, will in all probability be disqualified by the Auto Cycle Union for exceeding the legal limit of speed in their recent successful attempt on the End-to-end sidecar record. If this disqualification takes place, both riders will, of course, be unable to take part in the Six Days’ Trials, for which both have entered.” [The ACU did subsequently expel Gibson and Wray.]
Gibson didn’t let the Blue ‘Un’s remark go unchallenged: “You state that I (Hugh Gibson) and my passenger, G Wray, will probably be disqualified from taking part in the Six Days’ Trial for exceeding the speed limit. Now I could fill several columns of The Motor Cycle with arguments and reasons why I should not be suspended by the ACU, but as I know that space is precious, I will be brief, and will just repeat one or two paragraphs that I have taken from your columns. Reporting upon the Scottish Six Days’ Trials, your correspondent says ‘Here—for the first time in the trial—we had a chance to make up time and ’Teeteeing’ was freely indulged in. I regret to say that more than one machine came near covering these fifteen miles in fifteen minutes. I even saw three riders with their heads down doing a good forty-five miles per hour along the tramlines into the Aberdeen control. The secret history of many a gold medal for ‘reliability’ would be interesting readmg, and a little TT experience comes in handy when one has pushed up a two miles hill.’ Again: ‘…assembled crowd to a thrill, and tackling the hill at 40mph hit a grid projecting 6in from the roadway, over which his machine leapt a foot into the air, concluding with an S swerve, and a frightful conking under the very eyes of the Chief Constable.’ I notice that one competitor, Mr BH Davies, was dogged throughout the trial by tyre troubles. This rider was credited with mending numerous punctures and changing his back wheel and fitting three new covers without being once late at controls. As the schedule was worked out on a 20mph basis, I leave readers to judge at what speed Mr Davies (and other competitors) had to drive in order to reach the controls to time.
“Remember, there is the time lost in signing checking sheets, climbing hills, taking in petrol, etc, in addition to roadside repairs, all of which has to be made up somehow. Further on I note that Mr BH Davies was awarded a gold medal. This is rather different treatment from what the ACU is dealing out to Wray and myself. Being barred from all ACU events will not detract one iota from my pleasure in the sport of motor cycling. It is not the being suspended that I mind, so much as the inconsistent, Gilbertian attitude of the ACU in suspending me for averaging 23mph (or driving at 30mph if vou prefer to look at it in this way), when in the past (and certainly in the future) Six Day’s Trials every competitor, and more particularly the offcial car and other observers, have driven, and will drive, most consistently at 30mph, and a bit over occasionally.
“Of course, there is no ACU fee attached to a record attempt, and probably this fact has more to do with the ACU’s attitude than people think. However, I must remember my promise to be brief, and in conclusion wish to say that I am not a spoil sport, and I sincerely wish the ACU officials and competitors a jolly good time in Yorkshire—free from all police traps.”
IXION CLEARLY thought the End-to-End had had its day: “From a sporting point of view we should all thoroughly enjoy watching the gradual reduction of the time down to 20 hours or so—whatever is the minimum period in which a fearless lunatic on a high-powered racing machine could cover the distance. However, the time has arrived when the powers that be ought to consider whether they will allow further attempts on Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s records by two-wheeled machines. I have been participating and assisting in such attempts for many years past; and I say in all solemnity and speaking of what I know, that not one but a dozen riders have at different periods careered along portions of this route in a mental condition appproaching insanity. The danger of such physical and mental exhaustion is, of course, vastly reduced when a rider trains hard for twelve months or so beforehand,and is an athlete to begin with. But there is no check upon the aspirants.
“Any madheaded young fool of inferior physique who cares to start, can start—on a 7hp racer if he likes! Nor can any check on the stamina of aspirants be introduced, for there is no road association which dares to have a finger in such a dangerous pie. If only our best known cracks make the attempt, the chances of a bad accident are not enormous. But I have personally prevented two men from making attempts whose chances of reaching Land’s End alive and immune from arrest were, to put it mildly, infinitesimal I assert without fear of challenge that on every attempt serious risks have been run. On any attempt with which I have been associated, as principal or as an assistant, a herd of sheep at any of a hundred points along the route would have meant the sending of three or four men to the hospital or the mortuary. Fatalities may easily result from further assaults on the existing figures, and if they do, the conscience of the rulers of the sport will not be comfortable.
“I am of the opinion that the time has arrived for the ACU to put its foot down and prohibit further attempts, under penalty of five years’ suspension for the rider, a penalty to be extended to all machines of the make he rides if it can be proved that the makers were privy to his dash. Needless to say, none of these objections apply at present to attempts on the passenger record…But as soon as the average speed of the passenger machines is in excess of the limit the same arguments will apply to them.”
Many enthusiasts shared Ixion’s view, as summed up by this reader’s letter: “The present glut of records is very depressing reading, particularly law-breaking six days’ rides, and I beg to enter a protest against such records, and hope motor cyclists will join in a movement against them. This sort of thing is bringing the sport into great odium, is highly dangerous to the public, and is certain to lead to more systematic and constant police traps all over the country.”
IVAN HART-DAVIES closed the account on his 3½hp Triumph with a time of 29hr 12min. The Blue ‘Un, having called for an end to the End-to-End, said: “Ivan B. Hart-Davies is once again the record holder, and, quite apart from the legality of such a ride, his performance must be designated a magnificent one.” Rather than the usual blow-by-blow account, the Blue ‘Un simply proclaimed: “Hart-Davies is not the sort of rider to take undue risks to himself or other road users; for that matter, it would be the height of folly for any record aspirant to do so.”
And so it came to pass. The ACU announced that no more records would be ratified and no timekeepers would be provided. We are left to look back with admiration at that small band of stawarts who, with their chums to help them, showed what could be done with a well fettled flat-tanker and endless determination. Heroes all.
The End-to-End run: some dates and times
1894: GP Mills (bicycle) 77hr.
1899: JW Stocks (Ariel trike) DNF, broken exhaust valve at Kendal.
1901: Hubert Egerton (1½hp Werner) 105hr.
1902: Edward Arnott, Captain of the MCC (2hp Werner) 65hr 45min.
1903: Tom Silver (3hp Quadrant): 64hr 29min.
1903: BC Holmes DNF, broken pedal crank, Warrington.
1904: GP Mills (one-off Raleigh special): 50hr 46min 30sec.
1904: Harold Williamson (Rex) 48hr 36min.
1908: Arthur Bentley (3½hp Triumph) 41hr 28min.
1909: Ivan Hart-Davies (3½hp Triumph) 33hr 22min.
1909: Tom Peck (3½hp Rex) 40hr 30min.
1909: Tom Peck (3½hp Rex) DNF, broken wrist at Wick but struggled on to Goucester.
1909: Vivian Olsson and Charles Talbert (7hp Peugeot-engined V-S combo) 65hr 14min.
1909: Arthur and Horace Bentley (Rex Combo) 59hr 7min.
1909: Martin Geiger and William Lamm (7hp V-S and Mills-Fulford sidecar) 51hr 45min.
1910: Arthur Moorhouse (3½hp Rex) 32hr 13min.
1910: Harold Cox (1¼hp Singer lightweight) 57hr 26min.
1910: Hugh Gibson and Gearge Wray (3½hp Triumph combo) 40hr 57min; described afterwards as “the finest ride on record”.
1911: Eli Clark (2¾hp Douglas) 39hr 40min (in response to Eli Clark’s run on a tiddler, but his Duggie was not so much a lightweight as a middleweight).
1911: Hugh Gibson and Gearge Wray (550cc Bradbury with NSU two-speed gear and Mills-Fulford sidecar) 38hr 47min.
1911: Ivan Hart-Davies (3½hp Triumph) 29hr 12min.
AN HONOURABLE MENTION for W Aspinall of the Walsall Polytechnic Cyclin Club. In 1903 “the idea occurred to him that he would like to ride his Ariel motor bicycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, and, considering he got through the distance in a riding time of 58hr 40min, the performance is certainly one that cannot be lightly ignored”. However, Mr Aspinall was sensible enough to take six days: “The rider practcally toured from one end to the other, sleeping at inns, and taking his meals in the oridinary manner–in reality a most delightful holiday.”
WITH THE DEMISE of the End to End campaign hard riding enthusiasts looked around for other ways to prove their bikes and themselves. Albert Catt of the Northamptonshire MCC covered 1,882 miles in six days on his 3½hp Triumph (92½ hours in the saddle), breaking the six-day endurance record that had been set by Ixion on his Advance in 1905. The Motor Cycle said: “We have great pleasure in congratulating the intrepid rider on successfully accomplishing the sternest feat of pluck and endurance yet recorded in the annals of motor cycling…The weather throughout the, week was atrocious. Skiddy roads were the smallest handicap with which the record-breaker had to contend, although he probably did not enjoy more than 100 miles of dry going. Snow, sleet, ice, rain, hail, fog, cold, gales, and darkness combined to render the task positively stupendous, yet but for an inexplicable mishap at 8am on the last day, the total mileage would probably have touched the 2,000 mark.”
The run was made in November; each day’s run began and ended in darkness. No spare belt was carried or needed and, remarkably, the Triumph didn’t suffer a single puncture. A valve broke at the 720-mile mark (and was replaced at the roadside), there were problems with mud and water in the carb and some fluff in an oil line caused a seized big end that was sorted at a village forge. “The only modern achievements which are worthy to rank with the Triumph’s performance are sundry long-distance cross country rides performed in America and the colonies; and few of these can claim accurate verification. The ride was conducted with every consideration for the public. Mr Catt was forced into a ditch by a recklessly driven trap, but his own driving was unexceptionable. He charged a cart near Coventry on the fifth day, but the cart was standing broadside across the road in the dark without its lamps being lit. Luckily, a bent footrest was the only result of the accident…”
Catt’s feat was celebrated at a celebration dinner in The Stag’s Head where the Mayor of Northampton presented him with a huge inscribed silver bowl from his club and a silver cup and gold medal from Triumph.
HAVING SET HIS six-day record in November Catt was well aware that a number of riders were preparing to have a go in the spring of 1911. Albert was having none of it and in May defied some awful weather to do it all over again. What follows is The Blue ‘Un’s report of his adventures, interspersed with his own recollections: “A marvellous achievement! Thus we sum up Albert E Catt’s new six days’ record accomplished last week, during which period he covered a distance of no less than 2,567 miles–675 miles more than his previous best. It is without doubt the most convincing testimony of the reliability of the modern motor cycle yet provided. This big distance has not been accomplished by riding at excessive speeds, but mainly by the rider’s remarkable exhibition of pluck and endurance in remaining in the saddle long hours every day. For instance, on the first day Catt started half an hour after midnight, and did not put his trusty Triumph to rest in Edinburgh until twenty-four and a quarter hours later, having meanwhile covered the MCC London-Edinburgh gold medal route, besides the route from. Northampton to London—altogether 461 miles.
“Despite the huge distance traversed, Catt was not by any means lucky so far as freedom from trouble was concerned. His 3½hp free engine Triumph ran faultlessly from start to finish, except for a valve stretching, but only thirty-three miles had been covered when a puncture was experienced.” Catt later wrote: ‘It was 2am, pitch dark, and rather a heavy shower came on, but by the aid of the lamp I found that the tyre had been punctured by a piece of glass. The hole was soon repaired, and I was on my way again.’ “Nor did Catt escape from the clutches of the puncture fiend that day (a nail in the back tyre near Doncaster; a chunk of flint in the back tyre at Ferrybridge; a ‘long strip of hoop iron’ through the front tyre at Spennymoor).
“On arrival at the Newcastle and District Motor Club’s premises, where he had been invited to tea, both tyres were flat, and while he obtained refreshment the members kindly effected repairs.” Catt recalled, ‘Whilst having my lunch, Messrs Middleton and Magirk repaired my punctures in both front and back tyres. I could hear them outside, blowing, up the tyres whilst I was within, devouring a nice chop and chips.’. “At the 415th mile, at Cockburnspath, the exhaust valve had stretched [“a few strokes with the file soon put matters right”], but from that point onwards no engine trouble whatever was experienced, nor were the valves changed. It should be interposed that The Motor Cycle had sealed the cylinder to the frame before the start, and the seals were found to be intact at the conclusion of the ride.”
Catt subsequently recalled: ‘A few miles out of Dunbar (it was pitch dark) someone shouted out, “Hi, is that you, Catt? ” and I pulled up immediately, to find my friend Hosick on his lightweight Humber, who had come out about 30 miles to meet me. It was raining heavily, and he had no protection against the wind, which was blowing a gale, and he said he had almost given me up. He was a very good sport, and brought me along through Musselburgh to Edinburgh into the Rossleigh Garage in record time, at a lively bat, his little lightweight travelling magnificently. On reaching Edinburgh I was tired out, and was soon asleep.”
“On Tuesday morning Catt left Edinburgh at 3.20 after less than four hours rest, and this day he covered 412 miles, ultimately finishing at Barnet after a most gruelling ride. This day was probably the most adventurous of the six. Catt started badly, suffering a badly burst tyre at 4am [“large enough to put a two-shilling piece right through the outer cover”]. Near Dunbar the road runs parallel with the railway for several miles. It was 5am, when a luggage train hove in view, and as both the driver and Catt were losing no time a spirit of emulation seized both, and an exciting duel ensued, the driver of the train urging Catt onward.
“Later in the morning it commenced to rain, and altogether he rode for 300 miles this day under the most discomforting conditions. The rain played havoc with the rubber belt, which broke on three occasions. At 10pm, nearing Hatfield he experienced an extraordinary adventure; whilst riding along the belt flew off, and turning his machine round Catt was dismayed to find the belt had disappeared from the road altogether.
It took ten minutes before his search in the dark was rewarded, the belt eventually being discovered in the long grass by the roadside. But Catt was now beginning to feel the effects of the long hours [“I had been riding over forty hours out of forty-four”] and was in a comatose condition. Instead of turning his machine round again for Barnet, where DK Hall was waiting to check him, he commenced to retrace his wheel marks, and had gone some distance before he realised his error. Overnight the tyres were changed.
Wednesday’s run was to the West.” Catt reported: “Once again I was early astir and
off again at 3.50am. It was a miserable, damp morning, and bitterly cold. When I readied Bagshot I had to dismount and run beside the machine to restore circulation.”
“On and on Catt rode, wondering whether he was not attempting the impossible, until, nearing Exeter, he had practically decided to give up, his poor head reeling. Again British pluck spurred him on to complete his self-imposed task. At Yeovil Catt was hailed by a motor cyclist, who proved to be a record aspirant himself, presumably disappointed at Catt’s attempt to improve upon his original six days’ ride.”
He later wrote: “After leaving Yeovil I began to get weary of riding, so I stopped by the wayside and picked a nice bunch of primroses, which I thought my wife would be pleased with. The next stop was at the White Hart Hotel, Salisbury, for dinner. After restarting the rain came down in torrents, and the wind was very erratic…I had to shorten my belt at Basingstoke, and going up the hill at York Town the belt broke again. I arrived at the Marble Arch at 7.18pm, where I checked and had tea. I was in an awful state and wet through, and nearly done up. A hasty tea and I was soon on my way again. It did not stop to rain in places, it simply fell down, and on my arrival at St Albans I was obliged to shorten the belt again to get up the hill going into that town. I suppose I overdid it, because just before reaching the top bang went the belt again. So I pushed my machine into the Red Lion Hotel Garage, explained my mission to the young man in charge, and also to another gentleman and told them I was about done, and really didn’t think I should get to Northampton. To this the young gentleman replied, ‘Go on, you’ll do it, once you get in the saddle; I ride a Triumph–stick to it.’ And I did so.” “He reached home at 11.15pm, arriving wet through to the skin, after covering 428 miles.” [“Before going to bed, I gave strict instructions that I was not to be called if it rained in the morning, because I should no do it. I had had enough of the bad weather in November, and I was not going through it in May. When I finished up on Wednesday I had been on the road about nineteen hours that day.”]
Thursday’s route was to Holyhead and back. Catt wrote: “I was called at 3.30, but I really could not get up and my request for another half-hour was granted. At 4 o’clock I said the same, but at 4.30 my friends begged of me to make a start; they said I should feel all right once I got going, and it was a fine morning. So I jumped up hastily, and was on the road at 4.48. After twenty-five miles I came to level crossing gate, which was closed, and on putting my foot out to dismount my knee gave way, and off I fell, the machine on top of me. The petrol, poured out of the tank all over my clothes, and I seemed practically helpless to lift the machine off for some minutes. The fact was I was fairly exhausted, but having a Thermos flask full of Oxo I drank three cups of it, boiling hot, and rested awhile before proceeding for a few more miles, when I had some more of this matchless corpse-reviver…On arriving at Menai Bridge I found Mr Lomax waiting for me with his little twin Enfield. After we got going a remark on the nice running of his machine elicited the fact that ‘it was the fastest machine on the island’. On coming to a piece of straight uphill road I asked him to open the throttle, which he did and it turned out that it was the fastest machine until I got there. Of course, it must be understood, dear reader, that my machine was in perfect tune and on top gear, but I give him credit—his little machine could do its forty-five miles an hour… I was astonished when I arrived at Shrewsbury to find that W Barratt had come all the way from Northampton to meet me on a 3½hp Zenith, I was very pleased again to have his company for the 100 miles home, and after a good substantial tea rogether at Salisbury we were soon on the road again.”
“It had been arranged that Barratt should meet Catt and repair any punctures should it become necessary, but the amusing part is that Barratt’s machine was the one that punctured, and Catt eventually had to help effect the repair! 407 miles were covered that day after 18hr 22min on the road.
“On the run to Southampton on Friday Catt was welcomed thirty miles from that town by members of the local club, with whom he lunched. Outside Blandford there is a steep hill, and it so happened that a tremendous flock of sheep impeded his progress; the drovers informed Catt that there were 1,000, and it was here that Catt benefited by his choice of a clutch machine, for by judiciously slipping it he climbed the hill without a dismount. Tea at Towcester, supper with Frank Hulbert at the King’s Head Hotel, Coventry, and a final jaunt to Northampton, brought Friday’s total to 423 miles, and he was now well in front of record.
“For the final effort a start was made at 4.12am. The first breakfast was arranged at Highgate, where he arrived at 7am, returning to Northampton for a second breakfast. On this day especially Catt’s vitality was at its lowest ebb, and the tremendous strain was having its effects. In a semi-dazed condition he continued to Attleborough (Norfolk), where after dinner he decided to return to Northampton and so avoid several miles of narrow roads and greasy tramlines to Yarmouth, his pre-arranged stopping point. At Attleborough Catt found a telegram awaiting him from the Mayor of Northampton asking him to finish at 10pm. Prompt to the minute Catt rode up to the Thomas-a-Becket Well, a historical spot where the Mayor and members of the Corporation were waiting lo welcome him. Catt had a most enthusiastic reception, his record attempt being the talk of the town. Naturally, there was a large concourse to witness his arrival. Saturday’s mileage was 425, making a grand total of 2,557. Catt told us that £1,000 would not tempt him to continue for another day.
“Catt was guest of honour at a dinner organised by the Northants MCC at the Stag’s Head Hotel, where he was presented with a gold watch and chain by club president and Mayor of Northampton) Alderman S Yarde. Mauritz Schulte of Triumph presented Catt with a silver tea service, remarking: ‘Mr Catt is a man of very different kidney from many so-called amateurs as he paid full price for his machines, made all his arrangements for his record rides, and neither asked nor expected any reward from the makers of his machine when he was successful.'”
Would Cat be interested in a third six-day run? It seems not: “Whoever has the pleasure of taking this record from me can have the honour of holding it as far as I am concerned, for nothing would induce me to undertake such a ride again, so badly did the continuous riding make my hands, feet, and neck swell.”
“At the extreme points, viz, Edinburgh, Exeter, Southampton, and Holyhead, it was arranged that a motor cyclist should meet Catt and pilot him to the hotel. He wore a white band on his left arm so that strangers could recognise him. A number of telegrams and postcards signed by witnesses were addressed to The Motor Cycle recording Catt’s progress.”
Monday: Northampton to Edinburgh via Highgate. Start, Midnight; finish, 10.45pm; mileage, 461.
Tuesday: Edinburgh to Highgate. Start, 3.20am; finish, 10.45pm; mileage, 412.
Wednesday: Highgate to Northampton, via Exeter and Marble Arch. Start, 3.50am; finish, 11pm; mileage, 428.
Thursday: Northampton to Northampton, via Holyhead. Start, 4.48am; finish, 11.10pm; mileage, 407.
Friday: Northampton to Northampton, via Dorchester, Southampton, Oxford and Coventry. Start, 4.45am; finish, 11.15pm; mileage, 423.
Saturday: Northampton to Northampton, via London; Northampton to Northampton again via Norwich. Start, 4,12am; finish, 10.03pm; mileage, 426.
Within a week C Williams of Yeovil set out to beat Catt’s record. Like Catt, he rode a 3½hp Triumph. Williams covered 880 miles in the first two days but retired on day three.
IXION WAS clearly impressed by Catt’s achievement: “Hearty congratulations to AE Catt on setting up a new six days’ record which will very probably stand for all time–unless indeed we get special motor roads without a legal limit, and in spite of alleged physical deterioration we manage to breed a Jehu who can sit a motor bicycle for a whole week without sleep while it is travelling at a high rate of speed. Even then I should be quite prepared to see this undaunted rider turn out in about his 70th year and set up a new record, his long grey beard waving merrily behind him.
“I do not personally consider that his record has taught us anything we did not know before about the motor bicycle. I have watched many modern machines complete several thousand miles straight out of the factory without trouble in the hands of raw novices, and any sensible motor cyclist was already aware that a good 3½hp could manage 2,500 miles without serious trouble or serious attention. But apart from this, Mr. Catt has first of all scored a great personal triumph, and shown us that he can remain in the saddle world without end, so to speak. Secondly, he has compressed the expert’s knowledge of the powers of a modern motor cycle into tabloid form, and dished it up for public consumption. If we knew a motor cycle could do 2,500 miles off its head, the general public were not so well instructed, and Mr Catt has exposed the folly of their incredulity. Thirdly, he must have silenced those wiseacres who said motor cycling was bad from a health point of view.
“He rode a colossal distance in 144 hours–in fact, if he had adhered to strictly legal speeds he would have been in the saddle 127 odd hours, leaving only seventeen hours for six nights’ sleep and a score or so of meals. In spite of this prolonged and acute strain, he finished in very creditable physical condition. His eyes, of course, were inflamed by dust and wind and the sustained strain, but otherwise there was not much amiss with him. Hence we must all congratulate Mr Catt on his personal triumph, and thank him for advertising the reliability and the hygiene of the modern machine so convincingly. I must, however, add a word of warning. Envious of his fame, a crop of rash aspirants may consider attempts to smash his figures. Probably not half a dozen riders in the kingdom can do so with any tangible hopes. Mr Catt lives on his machine all the year round in the course of his business, and consequently is always in training for feats of this sort.
“Even if other men possess similar training they should remember that the nervous strain of such an undertaknig is colossal. The tame doctor of our staff asserts that for most men such a race would spell chronic insomnia, and might even shorten the term of life by ten years. For a comparatively untrained youth to assail the record in the buoyancy of iuvenile enthusiasm would be the height of folly.”
SOON AFTER Ixion returned to the topic, under the forbidding headline: ‘The Medical Aspects of Six Days’ Records’: I have been talking to several medical men about the physical effects of excessive long distance riding, such as is represented by a modern six days’ distance record, and the general verdict is such that no manufacturer ought to permit, still less order, an employee to attack this record, and that no amateur ought to attempt such a ride until he has undergone a very searching examination at the hands of a reliable physician. Without entering into technicalities, the general effect of the prolonged strain is to dilate the heart; the consequences may not be perceptible to the hardy rider for some time, and, indeed, an exceptionally strong man may never be conscious of any ill effects. But it is common knowledge that many famous athletes have gone out like candles within a few years of their exhausting feats.
“The history of the University Boat Race is full of instances; magnificent specimens of muscular humanity, after rowing in several punishing races, have within a few years collapsed under what seemed to be a mild attack of influenza or other common complaint. To quote a popular advertisement, such feats are simply ‘an overdraft upon the bank of life’.
“BH Davies, who first set up a six days’ record some six years ago, tells us he felt the effects of it for several years; he only covered 1,200 odd miles—half AE Catt’s distance—but as his machine was slow and feeble compared to those of to-day, he spent about the same time on the road, and was further exhausted by hours of ‘lpa’ on hills. Both he and Mr Catt undertook their rides against the advice of the Triumph CycIe Co. In like manner Mr Catt finished in a very exhausted condition. His face was skinned, his eyes inflamed, his back sore, his wrists and feet swollen; he could not sleep at all the night he finished, he dare not trust himself to face the traffic in Norwich, he lost all sense of perspective so that he felt he was riding into a flat oil painting instead of into a solid landscape, and his heart was unsettled for some time afterwards. I hope enough has been said to deter any manufacturing firm from sending an employee out to beat this record, and to warn any light-hearted amateur against entering upon a task which may strike twenty years off his lifespan.”
CLEARLY UNIMPRESSED by dire warnings, Doncaster rider WJ Clarke spent six days riding his 3½hp Rex to Mablethorpe and back, starting at 12.15am on a Tuesday and finishing at 10.05pm with 492 miles under his drive belt. Wednesday, 3.55am-11.45pm, 450 miles; Thursday, 3.55am-12.30am, 429 miles; Friday, 8am-12.30am, 450 miles; Saturday, 3.45am-8.45pm, 450 miles; Saturday, 8am-11.55pm, 429 miles. Clarke raised Catt’s 2,567-mile total to 2,700 miles.
WITHIN WEEKS Clarke’s record was also broken, by J Guzzwell of Grimsby on a 3½hp Triumph. He calculated his daily mileage from Gall and Inglis’s Contour Road Book as he made six circular tours of the North country, clocking up daily mileages of 553, 411, 404, 469, 435 and 529—a daily averge of 429 miles and a total of 2,801miles. The Motor Cycle reported: “Guzzwell, who is of powerful physique, and showed little signs of exhaustion, said the only thing that had affected him was that he wondered why he could not hear the throb of the engine, and everything seemed strangely quiet. He had two spills. On the Monday morning he buckled the back wheel; and, although able to ride from Lincoln to Grimsby, he had to have a new wheel of the fixed engine variety fitted until he could get to Coventry, where a free-engine wheel was replaced. He estimates that he lost from seven to nine hours owing to this, and that it spoilt what chance he may have had of making a 500 miles a day average.
“There were a good many police-traps, which he managed to dodge, and only once was he challenged by policemen that being on the Newark Road from Lincoln. ‘Then,’ as he put it, ‘I was in too much of a hurry to stop.’ Guzzwell estimated that he only had eleven hours’ rest in the six days. He rode practically continuously for forty-eight hours during the later stages of his run. and on no occasion did he rest more than four hours at one stretch. ‘I took a meal when I had the chance,’ he said. ‘Generally speaking, meals were not ready when I wanted them, and I could not afford to lose the time to wait for them. During the last three days I existed chiefly on milk and Brand’s meat extract lozenges, which I found quite sufficient, for I had no desire for a hearty meal. The only liquid refreshment I touched was milk, which was both food and drink.’”
THE SIX-DAY record, like the End-to-End, attracted riders of lightweights. HV Swift of the Sheffield and Hallamshire MCC rode his 2¾hp Douglas from Sheffield to Holyhead and back on a Wednesday in June 1911 to cover 347 miles. On Thursday he rode to London and back; Friday, Newcastle-on-Tyne; Saturday, Yarmouth; Sunday, London; Monday, Bridlington, twice… in a telegram sent to The Motor Cycle at the end of his final run Swift reported: “Finished 9.30pm, 2,025 miles in six days. Little Douglas stood the great test remarkably well.”
J HEALEY OF the Dublin &DMCC rode from Dublin to Cork and back every day for six consecutive days on his 3½hp. Rudge multi to cover about 2,000 miles. By starting at 5am and timing himself to do 320 miles in 16 hours, he almost kept to the legal limit. It only stayed dry for two days; on the first day it rained solidly for ten hours.
THE LAST WORD goes to the Blue ‘Un: “The number of riders who are attempting to cover the greatest possible distance in six days continues to increase, and there is a fresh aspirant to fame practically every week. When the ACU announced its decision to suspend all riders who exceeded the legal limit of speed in connection with road records, we made it particularly clear that we concurred with the Union’s desire to prevent any excess of the limits prescribed by law and reason. Suspension, however, does not seem to have had the slightest effect, and the nature of the attempts is becoming almost farcical.
“We fail to see that anyone can prove that such records are of any benefit to the pastime, because were it necessary to demonstrate that a machine would run six days without being fitted with new parts, it would be more sensible to employ a relay of riders to ride the machine until it would run no further either owing to failure of some part of the mechanism or to destruction of the tyres. Every motor cyclist, and practically everv prospective motor cyclist, knows that, with ordinary running repairs to tyres and relays of riders, a good make of motor cycle is capable of a continuously higher speed than has been accomplished in one of these six days’ records. It is, therefore, more a trial of the man than the machine, and has developed into a physical endurance contest which is illegal. In addition the checking is becoming more difficult, and not enough precautions are being taken to check the actual mileage covered.”
OFF TO THE SEASIDE
WITH THE COPS, the ACU and The Motor Cycle frowning on rides against the clock End-to-End and six-day runs dropped off the agenda. So for a change of pace Fred Dover of Sheffield rode his 3½hp Premier round the coast of mainland Britain, taking three weeks to cover 3,396 miles. Here are some excerpts from his diary: “Two punctures and lost exhaust pipe. Scenery best I have ever seen, and I’ve seen Switzerland, perfect weather. Had a bathe in sea outside Girvan. Lost drain tap, engine seized, soon off again. Got lost twice. Feel fit, but lonely…Bad roads have made me rather tired, weather cooler but fine. Rode many miles alone. Milked a cow on roadside, had real new milk, gummed a postage stamp on cow’s horn…
Roads so loose came off eight times, smashed back brake. Rode 22 miles up and down hills without it some mountain hills 3 miles long, average 1 in 6. Broke belt. Average speed, 15mph. Thee hours rain. Lost way four times, went miles out…Scores of horses on road and hundreds of sheep. Went 20 miles wrong on fearful road. Do not hesitate to say had it not been fine I could not have got along at all. The scenery is beyond my pen, and is worth a lot of trouble to see. 10.30pm and daylight. Am well…I am now out of the West and am glad of it. The roads are said by all to be the worst in Scotland. I met one, a mile long, pebbles 2in to 3in deep. Had eighteen tries and came off each time. Gamekeeper came and fetched donkey and rope, and was pulled up by 1dp. Engine would have gone up, but could not keep in saddle. 11hrs doing 90 miles.
“Better roads now…started just before Hart-Davies at 2.30am, who is out for the End-to-End record. At Berriedale my speedometer twisted up, and although I tried for an hour to put it right, could not do so. This coast is very different from the West, small towns every fifteen miles or so, and perfectly flat. Have had a fine day, but a strong cold head wind…Up to noon a bitter head wind and several hail showers, afterwards mixed sunshine and rain, and following gale, was tempted to have a look round and go to a music-hall, being first large town for ten days… A very uneventful day, fine, strong head wind. Have been unable to make 20mph on these twisty roads. Rather tired of riding alone, want someone to dust up with…A perfect riding day–no sun, no dust, and no traffic…A very trying day, fine up to noon, but after that pouring rain up to finishing point. Intended doing 250 miles, but was wet through and had to give up. Rain, rain, rain! A very strong head wind all day, and bitterly cold…”
The Motor Cycle added to the yarn: “When our representative strolled round to Lawrence’s Hotel, Liverpool, on June 25th, at noon and in a deluge of rain, Dover and Sawer (his riding companion for the last four days) rode into the Square looking fit and well. The 3½hp Premier, beyond being very dirty (it had not been cleaned during the whole of the ride), was in excellent order. The footrests were bent, the speedometer out of action, and the horn dented, but nothing else was amiss. Mr Dover informs us that the sparking plug was never taken out or the exhaust valve removed, and it was pulling as well during the last twenty miles as at the commencement.
“No attention was paid to the carburetter, and no tools were used on this portion of the mechanism, neither did the Bosch magneto receive any attention whatever, except for lubrication at different periods. Dover’s tales of the North-west of Scotland will not encourage the motor cycle pastime there, for he says he averaged one hundred dismounts per day, most of them to enquire the way. The usual answer to this query was ‘Nae sae far,’ an estimate that often proved to be thirty miles.
“Time moves so slowly in these districts that the inhabitants have no idea of expedition as we know it. On one occasion a funeral party was disturbed, who were carrying all their food and utensils for a long journey, and they could not have travelled less than fifteen miles on foot from the nearest place from which they could have come. In many places the crofters ran away when they heard the machine’s approach, and in some of the villages the inhabitants were so frightened by the engine explosions that they would not go within ten yards of the machine. At one place in Scotland, after suffering eighteen spills in one day owing to the loose state of the road surface, Dover decided to cut that bit out and take the steamer to Thurso. Upon making enquiries, he was told that the steamers ran often, but this proved to he once a month, and as the steamer had left three days before his arrival he was compelled to finish the journey by road.
“Dover told us that, with the exception of the North-west of Scotland, he was ready to go over the whole journey again. He summarises the whole trip by saying that he would not undertake it again without a companion. The long journey is too lonely, and the long distances mean all riding and sleeping, with no time to look round and admire the various points of interest en route. For a long tour of this description Dover thinks that one hundred miles per day is quite sufficient, provided one takes an intelligent interest in all the architectural and scenic beauties of the route.”
A FEW WEEKS later the Blue ‘Un reported: “F Dover, of coast ride fame, added yet another laurel to the records he has made on his 3½hp Premier. Last week he climbed Turner’s Hill, which has a gradient of 1 in 3 and a surface made up of round cobble stones, and is crossed every ten feet by a gutter running at right angles across the same. Mr Dover’s machine now has an Armstrong three-speed gear. The first attempt was a failure, owing to Mr Dover letting down the stand of his machine to act as a sprag in the event of the engine failing, but in crossing the second rise—a gutter face—the side of the carrier caught in the nick of a boulder and broke the side mounting up into the back wheel and throwing the rider over the front. The second attempt proved successful, the speed of the machine being about twelve miles per hour.”