The following excerpts come from the contemporary preview and report on the SSDT, which were bylined Basil H Davies. It’s hard to imagine how The Motor Cycle’s readers could fail to recognise Ixion’s style. Also included is the report on the event by the ACU judges, which gives their view on the way the bikes had evolved since the previous SSDT. We can only marvel at the fortitude of our illustrious forebears. Get yourself a cuppa and prepare for a good read.
Before the trial
OWING TO THE large number of entries (seventy-five) two alterations have been made in the route, the selected hotels being unable to accommodate so large a crowd. John-o’-Groat’s will not be visited, the inland cross road to Thurso being preferred, and Amulree Hill has, unfortunately, been deleted, owing to hotel troubles…The following are the entries for the team prize: LMC, Bat, Humber, Rover, Douglas, Bradbury, Rudge, Quadrant, Indian, New Hudson, Premier, Ariel [teams of three]. There are no marks or timings for the hill-climbs, the ascents being so formidable that a man is held to have performed with credit if he reach the next control in schedule time, but performances on the following climbs will be ‘observed’ and taken into account in the awards for all the special prizes: Rest and be Thankful…The Devil’s Elbow…Hill near Hope (a quarter of a mile dead straight, so steep that a racing 7hp, with flying start, can barely top the crest)…Appagill (covered with loose stones a foot deep; the hill on which Fred Dover failed eighteen times on his coast ride, his machine being hauled up by a donkey)… Roads near Drumnadrochit, Rinloan, and Lairg are announced to be in process of repair, and almost impassable. Yesterday a large car shed its engine attachment bolts in trying to negotiate a two-mile stretch near Lairg. Altogether, some of the English trade entrants are likely to receive eye-openers both in respect of bad going and of gradient…
Hanover Street, outside the rooms of the Edinburgh and District MC, presented a remarkably busy scene this afternoon, when most of the competitors presented their machines for labelling.
The trials are run in a very free and easy fashion, and the machines are not sealed in any way, the remote and desolate character of the places visited rendering substitutions
impossible…A centre of attraction was Frank Smith’s 1913 Clyno sidecar, shod with 3in. tyres on all wheels, both cycle wheels and the sidecar wheel being detachable in half a minute and interchangeable…there were probably more Armstrong hubs to be seen in Hanover Street than have ever been collected together before outside one maker’s stores. W Creyton appeared with his Junior TT Humber. If he earn a gold medal, who shall dare to say that the Manx machines are not roadsters? At least two riders hope to get through on single gears…Two of the sidecarists are essaying extremely herculean tasks. PW Bischoff is taking round the only lady motor cyclist winner on Brooklands, Miss Beatrice Langston, and in practice they found that the ratios of their three-speed Triumph were a shade too high for the worst hills, so they wired for a Stunney-Archer Triumph, which arrived late last night, and have spent the interval fitting the old engine in the new frame, Miss Langston proving herself quite an expert as mechanic and chauffeur. Miss M Hind brought up her new twin Rex fresh from its Irish victory in the End-to-end trial.
Monday: 166 miles
The weather was unpromising at the start this morning, for a sea soaker in drizzle came up the Forth at daybreak. Several competitors sustained heavy falls on the greasy tramlines in their two-mile ride out to Murrayfield car terminus where the trial actually began. Murrayfield car terminus where the trial actually began. The non-starters were H. Bevir (LMC), HE Ware (LMC), Chas Fraser (Campion-Precision), JRM Larnach (3½hp Kerry-Abingdon), making seventy-one starters. The LMC team thus fell through… Hutchison (Rex-Jap and sidecar) withdrew as his machine was delayed on the railway from Coventry. PW Bischoff was’ nearly late at the start. He finished transferring his old engine to the new frame late on Sunday evening, and en route to Murrayfield for the official start: he was several times delayed, his magneto timing wheel shifted, and a plug sooted.
Rain fell steadily throughout the preliminary preparations and at eight o’clock precisely the first quartette departed on their arduous task. The entry was effectively strung out by starting in fours at two-minute intervals…The valley road striking west towards Loch Lomond was like corrugated iron and the lakeside road was much _jougher. There was no question of leaning in or leaning out on corners, for the trouble was to keep the machines on the road at all…The afternoon route rounded the head of Loch Long, crossed over Rest and be Thankful to Loch Fyne, passing Inveraray Castle, then hugged the loch side to Lochgilphead and along the sea coast into Oban. There is no finer scenery in the kingdom. We were glutted with continuous panoramas of lake and peak and forest, whenever the pot-holes and innumerable blind corners suffered us to glance off the road. On one stretch there were actually twenty hidden hairpins in a single mile.
Rest and be Thankful is an unusual hill…the road surface was smooth round the corners for anybody who swung wide, but the inside of the hairpin was a mass of 4in granite chunks. Clean ascents were few and far between, being largely confined to the men who had competed in previous years. The others took the corner close in, where the stones lay deep on a 1-in-3 grade, and they mostly paid the penalty…
The first man up was Angus Macmillan, who purred round in clean style on his Scott…Hugh Gibson roared up on his Bradbury sidecar as if he were on the test hill at Brooklands. When he cut in the stones threw his gearing out, and his frightened passenger forgetting to lean out, he nearly took the ditch, but just cleared it, and scraped up by clutch manipulation. Returning, he laughed to see’ how simple the corner is when you have seen it. Munro (Douglas), fell and Keiller’s Rudge Was brought over by the recumbent machine. At Keiller’s second attempt, White (Alldays) played him a similar trick, but he got up next time with the aid of much legging…Allan Hay (Quadrant), the sexagenarian humorist, lost his steering in the stones, charged the far bank with his engine roaring, popped neatly over the handle-bar, and got up laughing…
Tuesday: 179¼ miles
“More circus riding” was the curt comment of one rider a few miles from the start this morning, and it was fortunate that the bright sunshine continued, for the roads were quite trying enough without the grease…Bumps and corners cruelly blinded us to most of the scenery. One wag remarked that the road reminded him of an inebriated corkscrew spinning on a lathe…An official car and several competitors rode for half a mile down a turning when the road suddenly petered out, and it proved that they were on the rough foundation of an unmade road, but it had felt just like the ordinary highway.
Near Crianlarich the surface improved, and sometimes straight stretches nearly 100 yards in length were encountered…wherever the surface was really good, for a mile or two, the police were obtrusively busy…our one excitement consisted in trying to acquire a permanent squint so as to watch the gorgeous scenery with one eye and the road surface with the other…
Tom Silver skidded on a skew bridge near the Pass of Brander and cut his head open. Fortunately his accident occurred near the residence of Mrs Campbell, whose husband is a claimant to the Dunstaffnage peerage, and she happened to have a trained nurse at hand who attended to his injuries. Munro sustained a similar mishap with his Douglas, knocking his front wheel into the shape of a kidney, and both men have retired. Houghton broke the axle of his Bradbury sidecar near Oban, and his passenger was somewhat hurt. Houghton is continuing solo. He started with his passenger on the carrier, but left him at Dalmally after a skid and fall…From Pitlochry we cut across to Kirkmichael, commencing with a long pull very trying to small-engined sidecars, and containing three bridges nearly sharp enough to foul a crank case…Gibb (Douglas) shot
up with a gigantic skid on the bend; judging by the shouts he mistook the road and drove into the farm yard at the second corner…Begg (Rudge) came up at a ridiculous speed, and took a toss: his second shot was very good…Donaldson legged to steady himself…Morrison (Bat): Neat and workmanlike. Miss Hind (Rex): Splendid. Cocker (Singer), Vack, Lord (rex), and Houghton (Bradbury, rushed up in a clump, leaving poor Vack stationary, exhausted by pedalling…The big AJS and sidecar had an ugly smash this morning owing to the handle-bar coming loose on a corner. Both men were rendered unconscious, and the passenger was an hour coming round. They pluckily repaired, and got into Grantown after dark…Bischoff turned into the hotel yard after twenty yards of the hill; while he had a drink and lowered his gear, Miss Langston walked up the hill. Bischoff ran and was helped by a pusher on the opening portion…Alan Hill was very late. As he coasted down into Braemar, a competing Rover and a non-competitor charged him over from behind and broke his handle-bar; half of it was, so to speak, hanging by a bit of skin. This upset his Indian grip control, and with bad roads and fierce corners, he did well to proceed. Whitehouse’s single-geared Rover and Hood’s Brough both appeared very late, and their engines failed low down.
When I rode up the hill later, both men lay exhausted on the bank halfway up, while kindly spectators pushed their machines up…Eight miles out I thought my machine was bumping a little more than usual, and dismounting to examine my tyres, found both down, the front cover gashed through with a stone, the back one gashed, and pierced by a nail in addition! This gave me a total of seven punctures for the day!
Wednesday: 211½ miles
To-day’s route was a real rim-denter, and we are now all used to riding over rough stones. Graham Dixon’s gudgeon pin bush came out through the cylinder wall yesterday, and he has trained home. Thomson broke the stem of his forks a mile or two outside Grantown last night, but inserted a liner, and got through to-day’s run rather late…In Inverness Wood hit a sheep and had to pay £2 for it, besides shearing his wheel kep by violent braking…Over Aultramein Hill there was a novel surface composed of innumerable very small stones, which caused our back wheels perpetually to dry skid three inches or so, and made the riders look very curious when viewed from behind…News now came through of further smashes. The entire Quadrant team was in the wars. Cass charged a bridge and bent his frame, while Allan Hay missed a corner and rammed an iron gate…
At Inver Inn we turned sharp right up an almost perpendicular hill, partly covered with boulders and with a surface of loose sand inches deep. Only one in two men made clean ascents, several conking out on the bottom ratio of three-speed hubs ; the, swerves and plunges were ludicrous to behold…Near the coast the roads grew worse and the scenery became gorgeous—indigo mountains, ultramarine lochs, green bracken, purple heather, white road, grey seriege—a veritable riot of colour embodied in the grandest shapes and masses, but to look about spelt a hair-raising wobble. Near Hope the minor gradients were all single figure and very rough, while a mistake at a bend often meant a deep drop clean into the sea…The officials are having trouble with some of the competitors. Some unmannerly spirits let off fireworks at the dinner table in a first-class hotel at Granton last night. One firm have sent their men spare tyres ready mounted on wheels. Even our long-suffering judges baulk at such replacements!
Thursday: 190 miles
We have had our first drencher to-day. Some of us heard the rain beating down on the roofs at Thurso at one o’clock ths morning, and when we, at six, looked out of our windows we could scarcely see across the road so thick was the Scotch mist…at Dunbeath it was as dark as twilight. Towards Bonar Bridge the drizzle changed into a torrential downpour, and everyone was quickly soaked…The morning’s incidents consisted of Hugh Gibson’s Bradbury sidecar catching fire at the Brora check, when he restarted after filling his tanks, and of yet another accident to the unlucky AJS sidecar, which collided with the well-known skew- bridge at Alness Moor. The poor passenger, who was unconscious for an hour after their first smash, is again badly cut, and the sidecar has been withdrawn…
The subsequent proceedings interested me only by deputy, as I broke the high tension brush of my magneto, took the magneto to bits once in pouring rain to recover the pieces, and then took it down again in a stable to remove the water. In addition, I had to rebuild my front cover with canvas, and to mend four punctures in the back tyre, and so for the rest of the day I figured as an ‘also ran’ and report by hearsay. Quite a number of men were despairingly talking of retiring at lunch, until the sun came out…Just beyond Strathpeffer a TT maclune was seen resting against Contin Bridge with its forks looking very drunk. It turned out that poor Creyton had misjudged tile bad corner, but escaped with a sprained wrist…this particular death trap is only honoured by a red triangle, though in England it would be guarded by a perfect forest of boards. A mile or two further on a six-cylinder limousine, lying sideways in a ditch, gave eloquent testimony to the roads.
Poor Gibson has been less amusing than usual to-day ; he has been gradually educating his passenger in corner work, and rumour asserts that he has been seen violently thumping his drowsy cargo when a sudden corner loomed up. But to-day his back wheel covers have given trouble, and, owing to the wobble, his back tyre rubbed against, the stays until it burst. Pratt’s foot is still troubling him ; it turns out that crossing the “new road” at Lairg he fell over the side of the cause- way, and his overalls catching on his machine, he was unable to extricate himself…There was a great plague of midges along the lochside towards Gruinard, and at the turn of the bay the sand lay much deeper across the road than usual…A bee flew down Fenn’s collar, and as the Gairloch midges have also taken a particular fancy to him he is very unhappy. Hill has fixed up his broken handle-bar with a walking stick, but finds left-handed corners rather awkward, as the improvised bar fouls the tank…Frank Smith ran off the road while he was bending down to oil, and broke a stay of his sidecar frame…
Some controversy has been aroused about the use of spare parts. Alan Hill, after being charged on the Devil’s Elbow by a non-competitor, wired for a spare handle-bar, but the judges refused permission to fit it, and only allowed him to repair the damaged bar in running time. This apparently stern decision was doubtless inspired by the cool audacity of other competitors, whose troubles were purely due to the fault of their machines. It is said that one well- known rider was actually caught in the act of mounting an engine borrowed from a non-competitor’s machine, while several men walked calmly into the Oban and Grantown hotels with new wheels in their hands. As a consequence, the judges have taken a firm line. GT Gray broke his magneto HT brush, and was towed six miles by the judges’ car. He found this so uncomfortable that he decided to attempt a repair, and as the judges had pressed a tow upon him, they decided he should not be disqualified if he finished by midnight. The mishap occurred on Aultnamain Moor at 11am, and after being towed to a farmhouse where he could work out of the rain he put things to rights and reached Gairloch at 11pm.
Friday: 130¾ miles
Out of the original 70, a depleted band of fifty-three stalwarts faced the starter. Up to the Loch Maree Hotel the scenery was perhaps the finest of all we have seen. For the next ten miles to Auchnasheen the going was atrocious. The dips in these dirt roads often sink through the foundation, and then a canny Scot comes along and builds a cairn of stones over the place, and we ride over them and fall off.
After Garve the roads were good through Muir of Ord and Beauly into Glen tlrquhart, where a terrific thunderstorm burst right overhead, and in half a minute the roads were awash with water. Lightning seemed narrowly to miss one or two riders, and the down pour was tropical in its intensity. Belt troubles followed instantaneously. One or two men, notably McMinnies and South, had started the trials with belt shields. Others had improvised guards during yesterday’s rain; Brough, for instance, had a huge sheet of lino surrounding his crank case. But the remainder were popping along at 10 or 12mph on their bottom gears, and engines roared if the throttle was timidly opened. The drivers of
belt-driven sidecars had to dismount and run up perfectly contemptible hills…Gibson appeared with Cocker in his sidecar, the latter’s frame having collapsed near Invermoriston. Gibson has surmounted his cone troubles, but the puncture fiend visited him on seven occasions before lunch.
Frank Smith’s Clyno runs as rigidly as ever the broken lug being safeguarded by a broomstick, straps, and lashings of cord…The first arrivals at Fort Augustus enjoyed some little excitement, for there was no checker, no petrol, no oil, and lunch had not been ordered. However, a car presently rushed up and everything was put to rights. As the day’s run was very short (130 miles), and Fort Augustus is a most charming place, the judges granted us two-hours for lunch. The first person we met was WB Little, of whom we knew nothing except that he had retired near Oban on Monday. He was limping and bandaged. The back tyre of his Premier burst when he was travelling at 45mph.
Saturday: 178½ miles
J Donaldson (3½hp New Hudson) overslept himself, and though the official start was timed for 8am, he did not wake till a few minutes before nine. He scrambled into his clothes, rushed to the garage, flattened his nose down on to the lamp bracket, and raced over the mountains. Having no watch or speedometer he was quite ignorant how he stood, but he reached the check at Kingussie, forty-five miles away, with a few seconds in hand…We had scarcely got away from Pitlochry before another Highland thunderstorm burst upon us…Rain fell in sheets for most of the fifty-five miles which separated us from Edinburgh, and belt-slip hindered most of us.
The back cover of Alan Hill’s 7 h.p. Indian burst thirty miles from home—a sickening contretemps ijith a gold medal almost in one’s grasp. We saw him under the trees with his back wheel out, assisted by passing motor cyclists, and we thought his medal was doomed, but a little later as we trickled through a ten-mile limit he roared past at terrific speed, and he just got in to time, amidst general congratulations.
The crowd at the finish was as large as ever, in spite of the mud and rain. The flooded roads gave us one piece of information. We thought the gigantic pot-holes for which most of the Scotch main roads are remarkable were ascrib- able either to carelessness or to parsimony, but we saw to-day that they serve one very useful purpose. We passed through one village where there was a deep pot-hole full of water to each square yard of road and a duck in almost every pot-hole!
DESPITE EVERYTHING the Highlands could throw at them 29 SSDT entrants won gold awards for losing not a single mark; they met every deadline and made a faultless climb up every observed ‘special’ hill. A further 11 won silver and six won bronze; some with explanations in the results table which include “Lost way and punctured”, “Helping Miss Hind”, “Hit a bridge”, “Collision, sheared hub key”, “Broken spokes, front wheel”, “Broken steering steam” and, less sympathetically, “weak on hills”.
As well as the medals there were some special awards: Private Owners’ Prize (The Manufacturers’ Union Trophy), RA Macmillan (3¾hp Scott); Trade Riders’ Prize, W Pratt (3½hp P&M); Passenger Machine Prize), CM Keiller (8hp GWK cyclecar); Lightweight Prize, AUR Downie, 2½hp AJS); Team Prize, The Indian Team, JR Alexander, BA Hill and GE Cuffe (7hp Indians).
“Round the Scottish Trials as a Free Lance
by The Motor Cycle Representative”
After the SSDT report had been published the Blue ‘Un’s man on the spot (BH Davies, who we know as Ixion) offered his thoughts on the week’s activities.
AS A CAMERA MAN feelingly observed to me, in every trial the pressmen have about twice as much work as anybody else, and they get no medals when all is over. This particularly applies to the Scottish Trials. However, like the rest, I had a thoroughly enjoyable week, and came home bronzed and carrying extra weight…I thought Bischoff’s easily the finest performance in this class, even though putting a 3½hp sidecar round this route is a freakish job, like going out to shoot lions with an air-gun. He enjoyed splendid luck, escaping without a puncture for instance; but I do not think there are many men in England who could duplicate the performance…
My worst moments of the week were as follows:
1. Arriving lunchless at the foot of Cockbridge Ladder about 4pm after ten hours’ work; I knew I was ahead of the men, and dashed up to the hotel door with my purse out to read the following notice, “Closed till 6pm”. Luckily I coaxed the landlord down from the worst corner.
2. Getting a huge staple through the back tyre after twelve hours’ work, when I was still sixty miles from our destination for the night.
3. The carburetter got full of water, and after taking the usual methods to empty it, I found it necessary to dismantle. I was using an experimental carburetter of peculiar design, and in my hurry I broke the jet in half. I was miles from anywhere, it was pouring with rain, and I had no jet of any sort or kind. Luckily a Triumph passed, and the rider had a spare. Then my trouble was to make the large hole in his jet as small as the original, which is essential when your air supply is invariable. I soldered it, and borrowed a drill from a watchmaker; the drill dated back to the Stone Age, being of the bow-and-pulley order, and I shudder to remember how often we had to grind a new point on that drill.
4. Breaking the carbon brush of my magneto in pouring rain. When the engine stopped I tested the spark and found it good. I wasted twenty minutes (like a fool) searching in every other direction. Then I came back to the ignition, and this time there was no spark, to my joy, for at least I had narrowed the field. Traced the cause to a broken high tension brush, and tried to remove it by external means, fished with a bent wire tipped with solution; no catch. At last hung my waterproof over the back wheel, so making a little tent, sat beneath in the sopping road (my mackintosh unmentionables are seatless!) and took the magneto all to bits; recovered the fragments of the brush, which had caused a lot of sparks where J did not want them, and joy! found enough of the brush’s stump left to get a spark by a little faking. Subsequently I found water had got into the magneto despite my improvised tent, and I had to seek the shelter of a neighbouring farm, where I soon put things to rights. The farmer put me in a shed with about thirty young turkeys—execrable farmer. When the engine started up there was a tremendous fluttering and clucking of young turkeys. However, who cares when the engine is going? Further on I borrowed from a local rider of a Triumph a full length carbon, and my magneto troubles were at an end. I shall carry a spare carbon brush in future.
In conclusion I should like to mention the organisation and management of the Trials, which reflect the greatest credit on the Edinburgh &DMCC.
Judges’ Report of the Scottish Six Days’ Trial.
THE JUDGES ARE particularly pleased with the manner in which the competing machines have fulfilled the conditions of the Trial, and the large number who have gained full marks in what is admittedly the most severe test ever yet organised. The number of retirements is phenomenal, no less than forty-one having retired for various reasons. Many were due solely to the lack of reasonable care on the part of the competitors…The hill-climbing performances of the majority of machines was excellent, and the greatest improvement is perhaps traceable in the manner in which many machines were able climb for two miles at a stretch on a low gear without betraying symptoms of overheating…they cannot recommend anybody who contemplates touring in Scotland in any portion over which the route extended to attempt motor cycling on a single-geared machine.
The judges were particularly disappointed at the poor service given by the supposed waterproof magnetos, scarcely one of which was really rainproof in the correct sense of the word, and during the wet weather caused a great deal of difficulty to the competitors, especially in starting. They are of the opinion that this could be improved without difficulty. As regards the sidecars, the judges cannot give quite such a favourable report, as the majority of the sidecars were in a broken-down condition at the completion of the test. The judges were disappointed at the manner in which sundry fittings failed to withstand the test, broken mudguards, carriers, and the like being too numerous, while the same applies to the more minor fittings. Several cases of broken frames are reported, and the judges do not think this satisfactory, nor do they think that the forks fitted to many of the machines were of a sufficiently sturdy nature to be fit for the work required of them, and the twisted forks, admittedly caused by the careless riding of many of the competitors, were too frequent. The judges have to notice that the hill-climbing powers of the competing machines were not so good at the conclusion of the test as they had been during earlier periods of the trial, and they are of opinion that there should be no material loss of power after a journey of 1,000 miles, which constitutes about a quarter of an average year’s run. This loss of power is mainly attributable to an excess of lubrication, which is, or ought to be, unnecessary.
The judges are quite satisfied with the manner in which tyres stood the test, several of the competitors going through the whole journey without a puncture. They, however, would point out that the users of one particular make found great difficulty in negotiating corners even where the roads were dry, there being too great a tendency towards dry skidding.
In conclusion, the judges are fairly pleased with the condition of the machines at the finish, and much of the damage noticeable was due solely to the lack of care on the part of the riders, and not to fault on the part of the machine, and it speaks well for the general improvement that so many of the machines finished in good condition.
Like the TT, the long-distance trials were speeding up the evolution of durable, reliable go-anywhere motorcycles. Hills that had been all-but insurmountable were being conquered as a matter of course—no sooner had the SSDT ended than the search was on for a 1913 course that would be tougher than ever.
However, the ACU published another postscript to the SSDT :
“WE REGRET TO report that the behaviour of a certain section, of the competitors at certain hotels left much to be desired. The riders stayed in every instance at first-class hotels. Some of them off fireworks during the hotel dinner in one town, and at another they wrecked the largest smoking room, which looked next morning as though it had been bombarded, while they made a great uproar until well on in the small hours disturbing the regular guests. We may say two things about such conduct. It is a pity to create an impression that motor cyclists as a class are bounders, and it is a pity to complicate the already very difficult task of arranging hotel accommodation. The insertion of a rule that a repetition of such conduct would entail disqualification appears to be the best remedy for such absurd manners.”