The Scottish Six Days’ Trials had already earned a reputation as one of the most gruelling tests of man and machine. To a certain breed of motor cyclist that made them irresistible. Here are some hair raising excerpts from a contemporary report…
MOST OF THE thirty-seven entrants arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday, and as there was no official parade of the machines until 7am on Monday, the interval was spent in attempting freak hill-climbs. Competitors mustered at the Murrayfield car terminus, a dozen having been working at their machines most of the night. An Edinburgh rider trained up to London and back on Saturday to fetch parts, but he was there up to time… Pennington had trouble with a big-end of his 1910 Triumph on his way to Edinburgh, and fitted an engine borrowed from a 1908 Triumph, which he had formerly owned. The weather at tlie start was ideal, fine and not too hot; and, indeed, some consolation was needed to atone for the atrocities of the ride into Stirling, which was a nightmare of cobbles, pot holes, bumps, tramlines, dogs, bare-legged children, and ugly villages. Half a mile from the start I espied the ever radiant Hay pedalling his engine on the stand enveloped in clouds of smoke…
As we struck off west towards the bonnie banks and braes of Loch Lomond rain began to fall heavily, and continued throughout the day. Long before the luncheon control at Arrochar was reached most of the riders had been suffering with slipping belts, and if some astute dealer had turned up with a big stock of leather belts he would have done a roaring trade. Hay’s Alcyon was the only machine unaccounted tor when we left Arrochar after lunch; and, rounding the end of Loch Long by an execrable roaid, we struck up into the pass of Glencoe to tackle the famous ascent, which terminates in a hairpin bend at ‘Rest and be Thankful’. As this climb covers five miles of road, it is impossible to say who made clean ascents.
From the summit the roads were atrocious for sixty miles. The hard stony patches were pleasant compared to the deep soft rutty patches, which hurled the back wheels in all directions and led to several heavy falls. Rain fell incessantly, and the vile surfaces combined with countless blind and slippery corners and many short steep hills, made the day exceptionally trying…
The first excitement on Tuesday morning consisted in the belated arrival of Allan Hay, Donaldson, and Gerard, who turned up just before breakfast. They were delayed at Arrochar until dark on Monday, and crossed the perilous mountain road by night. The three men had but one lamp between them, and that was carried by Hay, who had no brakes. Hay’s trouble was punctures. Donaldson’s cylinder was noticed to be lifting at Arrochar, as his crank case had cracked across, but he merely complained that he was losing a lot of oil. However, he finally had to go back to the smithy at Tarbet, where the Scotch Vulcan improvised two large iron clamps. Gerard’s magneto proved his bete noir. The trio had many adventures in the darkness. We had asked Hay at Edinburgh why he entered a 2hp this year, since in l909 and 1910 his 3½hp had failed on all the hills. “Man,” he retorted, “if she’ll no climb I can carry her, but I canna carry a 3½hp.” True to his word he carried his Alcyon over the Rest, with some help from Donaldson. At 7am the three reached the Crianlarich Hotel in such a pitiable condition that they were refused admission. However, the compassionate proprietor provided them with breakfast in the street. We had hoped for a fine day after yesterday’s downpour, but the proverb which says “Always wear oilies in Scotland” was justified, for the heavy rain which had been falling most of the night soon recommenced…
The day’s run was short, but undoubtedly severe, the roads varying from dry to greasy and from greasy to flooded during the 106 miles…Several men took heavy tosses. Leaving Dnnkeld a wicked V corner introduced us to a steep twisty hill with a treacherous surface; it witnessed many failures…for a few miles the surface became dry and hard before Kirriemuir. This is a villainous little town entered by a short stiff hill, at the top of which you twist sharp right and sharp left down narrow alleys. One well-known rider thought to treat the 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 eves of the Chief Constable. Leaving Kirriemuir for Edzell the rain recommenced, and this time the downpour was of the ‘clear-the-streets-in-ten-seconds’ variety. The roads were soon awash, and belt- slipping was the order of the day. Poor Ware had a succession of six punctures in the driving wheel of his Chater-Lea sidecar…
The road on a patch of 1 in 12 was covered with soft sand, mud and broken bricks to a depth of eight inches for two hundred yards. A semi-practicable cycle track had been left at each side, but the rain had soaked this narrow avenue (not a foot wide) into the semblance of a ploughed field. We did not see one rider surmount this patch, but a labourer told us several men had buckjumped along the outer side, skirting the steep drop into the valley; most of us tried the right-hand side, and got stuck in a deep mud hole half-way along…For sixteen miles the road was undlating, rough and twisty. It was composed of a soft red sandy material, in a state of liquefaction, scarred by deep ruts, and the tracks showed that the machines had been jumping about in the most vivacious fashion, while deep slashes in the soft mud at every corner’ proved that spills had been frequent. However, the rain had ceased, and fifteen miles from Aberdeen we ran on to a hard, dry, broad, and straightaway highway. 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…a little ‘TT’ experience comes in handy when one has pushed up a two miles hill.
We had only 143 miles to cover, and except for a few light showers the weather was fine. The roads were broad, hard, and practically level, though in many places they were atrociously bumpy, owing to the heavy traction engme traffic between the distilleries and the railway; wherever trees overhung the road, there were real possibilities of a bad skid…The route was very scantily marked with arrows, and many of us went astray on several occasions. Allan Hay got in late last evening, having driven his Alcyon up Cairn-o’-5Iounfc with a couple of resfs to cool Gordon Fletcher turned up smiling at 5.30 this morn ing, and has recommenced to iini officially. He took his Douglas to Perth by train, had a new timing pinion made, rode back to Aberfeldy, and started at 8 p.m. on Tuesday to cover thg route on which we had started at 10 a.m. His impressions of the Cairn—ridden in darkness—were lurid. It remains to be seen what view the judges will take of the fact that his machine did not cover a few miles of Monday’s route under its own power; but as he is permitted to check in he will presumably be awarded a bronze medal if he finishes…
Elce lost his way, and had a heavy fall while scrapping to regain lost time, cutting his hand so severely that a doctor’s services had to requisitioned. The machines I saw most of during the day’s run were the Big Bats, the Rudges, the Douglases, and Colver’s Enfield. The gigantic Bats reel off the miles at high speeds, with their engines barely ticking round on 3 to 1 gears, but Thomson had his front wheel bearing out at Inverness. Fast as the Bats are, the tiny Douglases keep level with them, in spite of only being geared 6 to 1 on top. These rapid little engines can touch 40mph on this gear. Colver’s Enfield is always spluttering away in the van, its exhaust having the true Junior TT crackle. Houghton’s Rudge is another very fast machins, being a single-geared TT model with dropped bars and cellar door filler holes. This rider is usually half an hour ahead of time at the controls, and has shaken many of his fittings to pieces by hard driving, but considering that he has only a single gear, he is putting up a very fine performance, especially on the hills…Several riders have had serious trouble along the road.
Gerard has thrice broken the driving chain of his Enfield, and when last seen he was coaxing a lady cyclist to let him remove sundry small bolts and washers from her machine to mend his chain with. Bostock is not in yet, having suffered a host of minor troubles with his Humber. His engine developed a squeak, which he ascribed to a broken piston ring. In removing the cylinder he twisted the compression tap in half, and wasted a long time in obtaining a bolt to fill the hole…Campbell McGregor has now forfeited all his marks, and is riding along comfortably, with no hope beyond the finisher’s award. He broke a big end bearing of his Bat a week before the trials, and at the end of last week had to train up to London and back for spare parts. He Just got his engine reassembled in time to start, but it was in very poor form, and he was gradually tuning it up throughout Monday’s run. As a consequence he had many stoppages on the hills, and when he tried to run alongside on the stone-strewn grades he fell over, being a small light man. He had six tumbles from this cause on a single hill. These falls bent his front forks, and when he scrapped into Aberdeen last night his front wheel lay over at 75° with the machine vertical. Kind friends told im to drop his Bat on its other side a few times to straighten it but he took the front wheel out this morning and wrenched the forks true with a huge crowbar. His ill luck continued, for his adjustment pulley went wrong to-day. He procured a new flange from somewhere, but it did not fit, and the delay in getting the thread combed out cost him another 60 marks. So he took matters easily, and went to a concert in Inverness…
AD Scott (single-geared BSA), who was missing last night, is rumoured to have withdrawn, after nearly killing himself in trying to push up the last mile of Cairn-o-Mount. Davies and Silver looked very exhausted last night for the samae reason. Davies had scrapped the Rudge handle-bar wire control of his NSU gear in favour of the German tank lever type, and hopes to have no further trouble with the gear. He has had a trying time, as he pushed up the last mile of the Cairn on Tuesday, owing to gear troubles, and on Monday his carrier broke and gashed his Kempshall cover through to the canvas all round. However, by hard riding he avoided loss of marks on both occasions. The slower riders report having encountered heavy rainstorms which the earlier starters and faster men escaped.
The scenery was absolutely superb, according to those who travelled in the back seat of the official car. All the motor cyclists had to keep their eyes glued to the road and could see little else. A little way beyond Garve we turned down a narrow, grass-grown, rock-strewn cart track, and the going was simply villainous for about eighty miles. The narrow track wormed in and out between loch and mountains, dropping and rising at Nature’s behest. Most of it was bordered by a deep ditch on one side and a giddy precipice on the other. The six-foot ‘fairway’ between was freely scarred with deep ruts and potholes, twisted into the craziest hairpin bends, zig-zagging across countless hunchbacked skewbridges, etc. One rider said he had never imagined such a road in a nightmare, even after partaking of dressed crab and porkpie at midnight.
The surface was indescribably bad. The road’s central hump was generally piled with loose 2in granite lumps, protected on either side by deep ruts of soft red loam, outside which large potholes, full of water or rubble, warned you to keep away from the ditch or precipice. No wonder that spills were frequent, and serious smashes not altogether unknown. The men never knew what was in store round the next corner. To quote three surprise packets: near Poolewe a wicked corner ended in twenty yards of loose broken granite a foot deep; at the apex of Gruinard Hay a sand-drift a foot deep guarded the approach to a skewbridge; and past Gairloch Hill a bad hill that needed rushing had a
patch of deep quagmire clean across it halfway up. Each of these claimed its victims…at all points a mistake was literally perilous, and the tracks of the wheels showed that skids, wobbles, and spills had been innumerable. We were all filling our tanks brimful wherever we saw a petrol can, as considerable doubt existed whether further supplies would be obtainable for 100 miles or so; these regions are considered quite populous if there is a shepherd’s hut every ten miles, and for leagues together we did not see a soul. Graham Dixon has been the most unlucky. A red car forced him off the road among the mountains, and his back wheel was buckled. He rode on to within four miles of Dingwall, where a 6in arc of the rim cracked clean off. Ware’s sidecar played the Good Samaritan, and brought in both Dixon and his machine in addition to its usual load.
Fontaine came over very heavily through taking a stony hairpin near Auchnasheen at high speed: he is badly cut about. Davies mended two punctures and took out his back wheel to fit his third cover since Monday, all without once being late. Donaldson is reported to have smashed up his Norton near the foot of Little Gruinard, and was last seen carrying his machine into a solitary house there quite early this morning (it transpired the next morning that Donaldson was not injured, but blew his cylinder off once more, and spent many hours at the Gruinard smithy). Some anxiety is felt about Bostock, who is reported to have charged a cottage at Poolewe, while no news is obtainable of Alan Hay, but we never expect him till next morning when the day’s route is severe (Hay got in at 1am, having lost most of his time in ministering to Bostock, who smashed up his Humber through a bad wobble at high speed on a treacherous part of the road). Elce’s pluck deserves special mention. He cut the guide of his left thumb in a smash yesterday, started in defiance of the doctor today, and rode all day practically one-handed.
To-day has again proved a regular nightmare. The arrangements were particularly bad, as the men were set to do one hundred miles before lunch, and in addition there was a delay of two and a half hours at Fort Augustus, for the purpose of the optional hill-climb up Glendoe. When the men reached Fort Augustus no officials were present, and the timing telephone had not been laid down. Moreover, the road from Dingwall to Fort Augustus was poorly marked with arrows, and several riders went up to twenty miles out of their way, while those who adhered to the official route had considerable difficulty in keeping inside maximum time, owing to the indescribably treacherous surfaces, especially up Glen Urquhart…
The fastest men did not get in to lunch until 3.50pm, and had tasted no food since 6.45am breakfast. Hence complaints at the official arrangements were loud and numerous. Graham Dixon built a new rim on to his damaged wheel last night and started this morning, but it presently collapsed again, and he has now finally retired. His partner, George Bell, on the other New Hudson, has had similar trouble with his front wheel to-day, and has also retired. EB Ware and BH Davies have had endless tyre troubles. Davies has used up three covers and four inner tubes in the five days and, owing to his inflator connection breaking to-day, had to race into Newtonmore control with his back tyre practically flat. He presented a weird sight as he tore round the flooded road bordering Loch Loggan, rolling fearsomely all over the road and sending out a whirl of spume from his front wheel like the bow wave of a motor boat.
Several men have executed smart changes of covers on the road, Alan Hill getting his Rudge back wheel out and in again within eleven nimuLes. Houghton broke an exhaust valve, and Mouat a valve guide. Elce had to change a cover, and lost a lot of time through the collapse of a fron twheel cone. Frank Smith and his sister are having an anxious time with their Clyno sidecar. They have not lost a single mark, and their machine has performed magnificently; but on Tuesday morning the outside crankshaft bearing fell off, and the engine driving sprocket has been kept in place for three days by the key only. The day’s ride falls into two sections—100 miles before lunch and fifty-six miles after lunch. The former was perhaps the most exacting of the entire trial, owing to the greasy surfaces. Rain was falling when we left Dingwall, but the going was fast as far as Beauly. From Beauly to within ten miles of Newtonmore (one hundred miles away) a bad skid was always possible. A Bat rider drove in front of me for thirty miles with his feet trailing the whole way. Scarcely a hundred yards of the road was straight, the surface consisted of grease, deep soft ruts, and pools of water, while most of the corners were ‘blind’. Quite half the men missed the turn for the bridge at Invermoriston, and travelled some distance towards Cluny. At Fort Augustus we were compelled by the foolish regulations to spend two and a half hours at the foot of a lonely hill with no shelter from the rain, and no food, drink, or petrol available, after which we had to negotiate sixty miles of atrocious road before lunch at 3.30pm.
Fortunately we ran into sunshine near Newtonmore, and the run to Aherfeldy afterwards was quite a picnic. The sun shone brilliantly all the way home, and the Pass of Killiecrankie has never looked half so lovely.
The last day of a trial is always the most anxious, and we all started in a half-concealed anxiety lest some serious trouble should crop up and nullify our week’s hard work. The half-hour before the start from Aberfeldy was exceptionally busy. The back tyre of Frank Smith’s Clyno outfit had split yesterday for 5in. along the bead, and he did well to fit a new cover within thirty minutes. Mouat replaced his broken valve guide, and Davies had a rare wrestle with his back cover. Overnight he had noticed the tube showing through a stone cut close to the valve, and it took three men to get the bead into the clinch. About 11am [following an observed hillclimb] we all got the word to continue on our way towards Edinburgh, and within 100 yards Davies was seen with his back wheel out fitting his fourth cover of the week. A flint got wedged in the stone cut sustained yesterday and gashed right through the stout gaiter into the inner tube. Alan Hay was for once well up to time, and his Alcyon roared down into Crieff with the pedals spinning round at 3,000rph.
A little further on Elce was seen gingerly picking his magneto to pieces with his uninjured hand. He lost nearly an hour, most of which he afterwards recovered by fast riding. The ride into lunch at Callander was singularly lovely, the scenery along the wooded banks of Loch Earn and Loch Lubnaig being marvellously beautiful. Dry roads gave us almost our first opportunity to gaze about us, though now and again an atrocious pothole or a wicked hog-backed bridge brought our eyes back to the road with a jerk. After lunch the ride into the finish through Stirling, Falkirk, and Linlithgow was abominably dull and bumpy, while a blinding drizzle drove in our faces for the last few miles, so that the dreary car terminus at Murrayfield outside Edinburgh seemed a veritable haven of rest. Here Messrs Tolfree and McMullan overhauled the machines which finished, and at about 5pm we were free to depart in peace.
Men, machines and clothing showed signs of the severe buffeting they had received. The route was undoubtedly easier than that of the 1910 trial, but the veteran competitors are inclined to regard the two trials as equally exacting in view of the fearful weather which has been experienced this year. I should like to emphasise Frank Smith’s wonderful achievement in driving his 5hp Clyno sidecar outfit round this terrible course without losing a single mark. The feat is a record for the Scottish trials, no sidecar having previously gained even a silver medal, and the Clyno could not have put up such a faultless score if it had experienced trouble, for no passenger machine could hope to average more than twenty miles per hour on this route and Smith plugged steadily away all the week at about this pace. Some of the credit goes to his passenger, Miss Evelyn Smith, who looked after the times and the route; the pair were greeted with a tremendous ovation at Edinburgh, as was the veteran Alan Hay, who did well to coax a single-geared 2hp machine over such roads, and acted a Good Samaritan to all the injured, and general mirth provider to the men.
One of the riders caught a hedgehog last night, and when a competitor went to bed after rather too many ‘wee drappies’ of the native liquor, the hedgehog was put to bed with him, but the ‘wee drappies’ were so potent that the victim did not notice his prickly bedfellow till next morning. Ware on the Chater-Lea sidecar would have equalled Frank Smith’s performance but for never-ending tyre troubles. On Saturday alone he took his back wheel out seven times, and must divide with Davies the unenviable distinction of breaking all records for tyre troubles. His engine has run magnificently throughout and has seldom required first speed; it conquered Glencoe on second gear with ease.
DESPITE EVERYTHING the Scots could throw at them 29 riders completed the trial and 15 of them won gold medals for faultless runs The rest got silver or at least a bronze, for finishing the course. The team prize went to Rudge; there were trophies for the hillclimb sections. But there were no losers; this was the kind of event that would have been impossible a decade earlier. The motor cycle was evolving fast, and was being pushed to its limit and beyond. The riders were keen as mustard and hard as nails. Modern riders can only revere their memory.