Sparklets: Hints and tips for pioneers

1903 sparkletslogo

From the earliest days of the movement pundits in the nascent specialist journals were ready and eager to share their wisdom with novice riders. If some of these tips seem laughably basic remember they date from an era when there were no motorcycle dealers, no local clubs, no older friends or relations with motorcycling experience. Everyone was on a learning curve which, as some of these ‘Sparklets’ reflect, tended towards the precipitous. They offer an unmatched insight into the first years of motor cycling. So remember: do NOT turn your bike upside down…

Even those old cyclists who are thoroughly practised at repairing the pneumatic cycle tyre are somewhat non-plussed when dealing with the motor cycle type for the first time. Owing to the petrol, accumulator and lubricating oil, to say nothing of the weight, the machine cannot be turned upside down. In lieu of having portable jacks fitted, such as McCurd’s arrangement, a good length of stout wire should always be carried, and with this the cycle can be slung up to some handy projection such as the branch of a tree or gateway, when the repair can be made. Many motor cyclists, however, consider it is quicker and far less trouble to remove the wheel entirely from the frame.

When filling or emptying your tank be careful to keep all your friends who are smoking at a good distance. Neglect of this has caused more than one flare-up, the principal cause of danger, being, of course, a lighted match.

In these days of police traps, and for other reasons, it is useful to be able to see behind one when driving. Gamage sells a device termed a Retro-opticon, which is an adjustable mirror to be fitted to one end of the handle-bar. The rider of a machine so fitted can without turning round in the saddle see what occurs behind him. The writer had occasion recently to be thankful for the fitment, for he perceived in the mirror a figure in blue step into the road behind him and signal ahead.

With the approach of colder weather the careful driver will don heavier clothing than he has previously been wearing during the last few months. The evenings now are extremely chilly, and heavy clothing is necessary to avoid a chill.


A very useful addition to the motor cyclist’s valise is a small half-round file and a few pieces of thin sheet steel about 1/16in in thickness. It is surprising how handy the file will be found at times, while the pieces of steel make useful cotters, wedges etc, such as are required in the valve stem, below the spring and washer, etc. It is always as well to cut one of the small cotters as a spare ready for use, as there is considerable wear on this little piece of metal, and it is not pleasant to be ‘hung up’ for such a trivial detail.

The outsider – by which I mean the man who has never sat astride a motor cycle – imagines that it is a “dreadfully dangerous thing”. I once heard a man who had never gone further in this, the coming branch of cycling than to decline an invitation to mount one and try, say, “I am a married man and you do not suppose I would risk my life by being run away with by a thing like this which I could not control.” I want to assure him that there is no machine, so far as I know, that is so safe as a motor cycle.

A tame genius of our acquaintance proposes to charge his accumulators by surreptitiously obtaining current from the electric tram wire.

If we had our way, a law would be passed to prevent any motor being fixed to a bicycle frame which is not sufficiently strong for the purpose. To do so is little short off suicide for the rider, and what is more little less than manslaughter on the part of the man who advised it being done.

How remarkably quick some ladies are at picking up motoring technicalities. Only the other day a fair passenger on a forecarriage was heard to suggest when for a moment a slight trouble puzzled the driver: “Perhaps there is something wrong with the contract breaker!” The same lady, on seeing a big steam car standing by the roadside with its burners uncovered, and roaring cheerfully, remarked to her companion: “That car is over-heated!”.

Now that the Surrey magistrates have decreed that six miles an hour is an illegal speed for a motor cycle drawing a trailer, it is not unlikely that they will next turn their attention to the pedestrian. Cases of “furious walking”, perhaps, may next figure in the next charge sheets.

It is a very awkward thing to find when dismounting parts of your engine for examination or repair that one of the bolts or nuts is affected with what mechanics call “a drunken thread”, ie that the thread of the nut has by some means got out of truth. The remedy is simple: proceed to the nearest blacksmith’s and het him to heat a pair of tongs, apply these to the nut and the expansion of the heated metal will in most cases cause the nut to move.


With regard to the luggage to be carried this depends on the length of the tour; but it is advisable to carry the following personal requisites: One spare shirt, two washable ties, a pair of stockings, half a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs, toothbrush, comb and light hair brush, small tin boxes of tooth powder and vaseline, also some lint and sticking-plaster, which may come in handy in case of a spill.

A well-known London motor cyclist, who has also a reputation for being a fair boxer, was recently travelling towards Dorking with another cyclist who overtook a couple of roughs walking in the middle of the road when one put his stick in the wheel of the machine and upset the rider. Words led to blows, and it is pleasing to record that the pir of roughs got as sound a thrashing as they had probably ever before experienced. Doubtless they will thin twice before molesting motor cyclists in future.

Horses in the past two or three years have become exceedingly docile, as regards the motor. On a ride of a hundred miles last weekend not one animal – and a very large number were passed – took the slightest notice of the rhythmical note of our engine. The nervous motor cyclist need have no fear, therefore, of the risks of accident from startled horses, as was the case a year or so back.

Motorists will soon be numbered – like the blest.

Shall we see fifty miles in the hour covered on an English track this year? It is a question of whether the tyres will stand the ordeal, for at high speeds a tremendous strain is imposed upon them.

“Motor Hooligans” is the flattering epithet given to motor cyclists by the writer of a letter to the Cuckfield Rural District Council in which he protested against all and sundry who drove mechanically-propelled vehicles. The clerk to the RDC showed his good sense by referring the enraged one to another body.

One of the highest compliments a man considers he can pay a woman in the hunting field is to tell her that she is not in the way. He means it as genuine praise. The same remark applies to motor cycling. If you do not do foolish things you are not an unmitigated nuisance to other people, and in the end you get on far better by not being too ambitious and maintaining a steady average than by attempting to show off or ride road races with your companion.

The problem of constructing a motor bicycle acceptable for ladies’ use must certainly be faced with the leading ideas of (1) lightness, (2) low gear, and (3) simplicity of control.

The metallic strains of the gramaphone are occasionally apt to fall on unsympathetic ears. At any rate, several hours continuous ‘gramaphoning’ nightly on the part of a certain family in a London suburb goaded an annoyed neighbour to prompt retaliation in the way of rival, if less musical, discords evolved by his motor bicycle. Whilst the one family did its very best with the mechanical music, the other ran his motor cycle on a stand, with its silencer off, for all it was worth. At the present moment neither appears willing to give in. What the neighbours in close proximity have to say to the rival harmony is not recorded!

Except when an extra passenger is to be propelled by the engine, my view is that 2¾hp and upwards are quite unnecessary, since a motor of 2½hp or even 2hp is sufficiently powerful for all rational purposes… The class of motor cyclist who is not satisfied with the speed to be got out of a 2hp motor cycle kept in good order and driven over average country, is the class off rider whose furious pace brings discredit upon the pastime, as well as causing discomfort to himself. A good 2hp engine fitted on to a high-grade bicycle, and not allowed to fall into state of crockiness, will do its twenty miles inside the hour day after day.

Objection is being taken to the manner in which some American motor cyclists attire themselves for racing events, and the NCA of America is asked to take such steps as will prevent the exhibition “of men in long trousers, shirt sleves and any old clothes” – a form of attire which is likely to bring discredit on both the sport and the participants.

Trick riding on ordinary cycles is hardly considered risky or exciting enough nowadays, and we are surprised that, as yet, no clever performers have pressed the motor bicycle into service. Fanciful riding on motor cycles would be a change at any rate.

The motor cyclist must often be amused at the remarks passed upon himself by the public. With the small boy the prevailing expression seems to be “Get off and shove it!”.

A pair of ordinary cycle footrests clamped to the front forks affords a change of position which will be welcome on a long drive. If the tanks of the machine admit of the rests being placed on the down tube so much the better, as the steering will not be affected thereby.


Motor cyclists have been considerably amused by the appeal made by a Member of Parliament for the establishment of a force of motor cycle policemen, these men to be employed for restraining furious driving in crowded streets. We do not think any good purpose would be served by mounting police in this way – it would check one evil by substituting another, as it stands to reason if the alleged furious driver is to be caught the motor cycle policeman must ride at a higher speed still; and assuming the pace to be dangerous on the part of the motor cars, that of the policemen will be still more dangerous.

The advantages of a forecarriage are more than ever emphasised by greasy roads.  In many of the orders which Phoenix Motors, Ltd., are receiving, customers definitely state that they wish to have the Trimo attachment fitted in order to be able to enjoy motor cycling at this period of the year when the roads are in such a condition as would preclude their riding at all on a single track machine. Their attachment can be supplied to fit any machine, and is extra-ordinarily good value at the price mentioned, namely, £15.

It is worthy of note that the standard 2¼hp Ariel motor bicycle ridden by Mr Herington at the hill-climbing contest held by the Birmingham Motor Cycle Club on Rose Hill, Rednall, and reported in The Motor Cycle of October 21st, was the only machine of its class to mount the hill un-assisted by pedalling.  Riders who know the hill in question, which is one of the steepest in the Midlands, will appreciate the importance of this.

Do not delay taking out a licence. You may get stopped some day, and then, in addition to the usual reckless driving charge, will be added another for owning a carriage without a licence – maximum penalty £20. It is not worth taking the risk for 15s.

It is good policy, owing to the extra wear on motor cycle tyres, to have an additional shield or band fitted as soon as the cover has worn sufficiently smooth. In fact, where the covers are smooth surfaced when new, or are of such pattern as allows the fixing of an extra band or shield, we advise the immediate fitting, as the tyre itself is thus prevented from any great wear and remains fairly intact, while the band or shield can be replaced when worn. It is an initial expense that quickly pays for itself in the saving of tyres.

Don’t attempt to take your engine apart unless you are thoroughly acquainted with all of the parts and their functions, and even then the childish desire of “seeing what’s inside” should not be given way to unless necessary. The very best course of instruction is to watch an expert dismounting and reassembling the engine.

The name of Mr Marconi, the celebrated inventor of wireless telegraphy, has just been entered in the candidate’s book of the Automobile Club, and it is also reported that he has placed an order for a four-cylindered 16hp petrol engine. As is well known, Mr Marconi has been a motor cyclist for some time, but we trust he is not going to fit this high-powered engine to his motor cycle!

Nothing impresses the public more than to hear of bicycles travelling from Paris to Vienna or travelling at Deauville at the rate of sixty miles an hour. These are proofs that silence the detractors who were at one time inclined to treat the motor cycle as little more than a plaything.

There can be no doubt as to the popularity of the motor cycle. A comical reference to a “motor bike” is made in one of the latest music hall songs.

If a motor cycle has been stored in a closed place for any length of time it is never wise to bring a naked flame into close proximity. And electric torch light or a safety lamp on the Davy principle should be used by every motor cyclist who wants to be on the safe side.


The heavy rains of the latter part of June have prevented the roads in the South from breaking up as early as usual. To be able to finish up a ride without machine and rider being covered in dust adds much to the pleasure of an outing.

At present an excellent feeeling of comradeship exists amongst motor cyclists, and very rarely does a rider pass another who is in trouble with his machine by the roadside without enquiring whether he can be of any assistance. This excellent feeling reminds one of the early days of the bicycle, when a spirit of fellowship existed among all riders.

The opinion recently expressed by the chairman off the automobile club, to the effect that he anticipates that motor bicycles will exceed eventually in number any other kind of vehicles on the roads, is one which coming from such an authoritative source should give encouragement to those bicycle makers who are vacillating in doubt as to thee permanency of the pastime of motor bicycle riding…the doctrine of ‘no pedals’ is introduced, and prognostications are indulged in that before long motor bicycles will become so trustworthy as never to need the assistance of pedals.

“Drive your engine with as much air as possible.” This is one of the golden rules of motor cycling.

Motor cyclists should drive cautiously through Bromley and Beckenham. A trap was laid at both places last week, several motor cyclists being stopped. The police are also vigilant around Westerham, particularly along the flat piece of road which runs through Brasted to Riverhead.

One of the tests imposed on the Bat motor cycle is to mount the steep hill leading from Penge and skirting the Crystal Palace grounds to the broad terrace in front of the big glass house. The hill is indeed a stiff one, and no machine is passed unless it climbs it with a normal gear.

Anyone who dislikes the look of plasticine round the joints of his magneto will find that good results are obtained by painting the vulnerable places with Seccotine, which quite effectively keeps out water even during the negotiation of water-splashes.

Who will be the first to cover fifty miles in the hour on an English track? This is the ambition of most of the motor cycle cracks, and the recent ride of Barnes, when he covered close on forty-nine miles in the sixty minutes, proves that the feat will soon be done.

By the way, there is no truth in the rumour that the Auto Cycle Club derives its name from the fact that most of the members are old and lazy men of the cycling past who ought to cycle – but don’t.

With the exposed plug on the motor cycle, a puzzling short circuit may sometimes occur on the sparking plug surface, owing to a “blob” of mud thrown up by the wheels sticking to the porcelain and thus forming a conductor for the high tension current, which, instead of jumping the points inside the combustion chamber shorts to earth through the mud. It is a very good plan to take a piece of ordinary rubber gas tubing and slip this over the plug, protecting it from mud and rain.

In contradistinction to most animal organisms, that very essential vegetable product (to motor cyclists) india-rubber, flourishes most and has the longest life when kept away from warmth and sunlight, as it has been conclusively proved that exposure to these latter produces the chemical process of oxidation, generally known as “perishing.” This being the case, the careful motor cyclist will keep his machine in as dark a corner as possible, and also we may mention that an occasionally sponging with a twenty per cent. solution of pure glycerine is of benefit.

On certain well-known spray carburetters the air entrance is provided with a wire gauze to prevent dust and dirt from being drawn into the carburetter. An unsuspected cause of carburetter failure may be traced to the fine meshes of the gauze getting choked up, and thus shutting off the air supply. There is little chance of this occurring should the rider occasionally clear the gauze with a rag or brush.

There is no doubt that a wide bar on a motor bicycle is an advantage, as it renders the steering easier, and lessens the vibration to some extent. One that spans less than 20in. across is not recommended. On a good many well-designed machines it will be found that the bar measures from 20in to 24in.

A great many tyre troubles are caused by patches rubbing off the tube through the heat engendered by fast driving, and gives trouble in this respect. Sound advice to bear in mind when repairing a puncture is to allow the solution to become so dry that it will not stick to the fingers. A patch applied in this manner should never leak or come off. With a motor cycle tube it is also a good plan to select a patch on the large side.

Even in so simple an affair as that of loosening or tightening a nut there exists a right and a wrong way of going about it. The right way is always to have the jaws of the wrench pointing in the same way as you are pulling. The reverse has a tendency to prise the jaws of the wrench apart, while at the same time giving you a weaker hold upon the nut with a greater liability of taking the corners off it. Always screw the wrench tight to the nut before applying power to it. It is abuse of the wrench that ruins nuts and bolt-heads on the engine and the machine.

Messrs the Begbie Manufacturing Co have just sent us a new pattern sparking plug which in future will be sold under the name of the “Begbie Oleo.” The price is reasonable, and the insulation is perfect. The Aster Co., who would not adopt an article of this description unless it was of the best, have after a long trial, decided to send it out with all Aster engines for 1904.


We saw AA Chase mounted on a Chase with side-car attached mount the stiff hill leading from Penge to the Crystal Palace Parade in fine style the other day.

The latest comer in motor cycle engines is known as the JAP, the initials of the manufacturers, John A Prestwich and Co of Lansdowne Road, Tottenham, N. It is beautifully made and finished, every part being accurately machined to gauge.The bore in 70mm by 76mm, and at 1,600 revolutions is rated at 2¼hp.

At present the trade seems to have settled on 2in tyres for motor cycles, but with the greater weight and speed of the present day machine we shall not be surprised if slightly larger tyres com into vogue before long. There is no simpler or more effective anti-vibrator than a large tyre. For this reason we expect to see tyres of 2¼in or even 2½in adopted.

Beginners are almost all inclined to over-do it at first. It is better to commence with short rides, gradually increasing the distance as one becomes accustomed to the machine. Rushing off for a long journey at first generally results in the rider arriving home fagged out. The strain of driving, the novelty, not to mention the vibration, all conduce to fatigue the tyro should he venture too far afield without having previously seasoned himself to the work.

JF Crundall is certainly the crack motor cyclist of the hour. His recent splendid performance on the Humber motor cycle at the Canning Town track is little short of marvellous. If the tyres of his racing motor cycle will last through an hour’s trial, Crundall, we feel sure, can put the record for the hour at over fifty miles at any moment.

It is not often that a motor cycle can be seen among the unredeemed pledges at a pawnbroker’s. At Kennington, however, one of our contributors noticed a motor bicycle that looked rather the worse for wear ticketed ‘for sale’ outside a pawnbroker’s shop.

There is a decided tendency amongst the younger riders of motor cycles to over dress. A large peaked motor hat set off with a pair of Paris-Bordeaux goggles may be necessary on a high-speed car, but they look quite out of place on a cycle, though when the wearer is walking along the sea front they may possibly give passers by the impression that he is a ‘motor carist’.

The Rex Motor Manufacturing Co of Coventry offer to the rider of a Rex King of motor bicycles who travels the greatest number if miles during August and September a free gift of one of their latest models 3hp vibrationless Rex motor bicycles, value fifty guineas.


The Motor Volunteer Corps will be glad of the services of any motor cyclists who may feel disposed to assist them in their duties in connection with the autumn military manoeuvres.

We are informed that his Highness the Rajah of Baria has purchased two Singer motor cycles for the use of his two sons; these machines have lately been on view at Messrs Singer’s Depot, 17, Holborn Viaduct, London.

The other afternoon a stranger called at the residence of a motor cyclist to inspect a machine of his, which he had advertised for sale. He did not appear to know anything about a motor-cycle–indeed, confessed that he had never been on one. He seemed pleased with its running on the stand, and after several questions concerning the machine asked to be allowed a short trial of it on the road with “the taps set at the slow speed”. Half doubting whether he would be able to start it, the owner consented, and after the caller had clumsily mounted gave him a good push off. Then the prospective purchaser slowly sparked down the road, and disappeared round the corner, since when neither he nor the motor cycle has ever been heard of. Moral: Never allow a would-be purchaser to try a machine unless you are quite sure of his identity, or he has previously deposited the value of the machine with you.

Although possibly well read in motor cycle knowledge, the motor cyclist when purchasing his first machine, or second for that matter,should not rely soley on his book knowledge, but should listen attentively to the explanation and tips, and what may at first sight seem the fads, of others, as to the so-called mysterious behaviour of carburetters, sparking plugs, low tension and high tension wiring under different conditions. The membership of a motor cycle club should immediately be consulted, and if there be no club in the particular locality, the society of other motor cyclists should be sought. Acquaintanceship is soon made on the road by a little friendly advance on either side, as the motor cycle often acts as an introducer to other owners of petrol cycles, and the nucleus of a club is soon established, which in every distance will benefit the members individually and the pastime generally.

At 60deg Fahrenheit, petrol in good condition should show .680deg specific gravity when tested with the densimeter. From this point the specific gravity varies one degree for evry two degrees Fahrenheit upwards. Deduct one for density or specific gravity downwards, and vice versa add one for every twp degrees rise in temperature; thus the thermometer registering 80degF the densimeter should show petrol at .670, or at 30deg F .695, With the advent of the general use of spray carburetters, however, troubles traceable to petrol density have become less frequent, a well made spray effectively carburating petrol at any reasonable density.

Under the Local Government Regulations, it is necessary to have two effective brakes, which may be applied both to the front wheel or both to the rear wheel, or one to each wheel, as desired, provided that the wheel shall be effectually prevented from revolving.

In the design of several foreign motor cycles it is surprising to note that no oil cock is provided at the bottom of the crank case, for draining off waste oil. It is in little details such as this that the English designs score.

The motor cyclist who purchases platinum for fitting himself should make sure that he is buying the pure metal. This can easily be done by obtaining a small test tube, purchaseable at any chemist’s. Procure also a small quantity of strong nitric acid, boiling the same over of forced gas flame of Bunsen burner type. The platinum being genuine will not be affected by the heat.

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One can keep the finger nails clean by just scraping them across a piece of common soap. It prevents dirt and grease getting under the nails when repairing or cleaning the motor cycle.

With petrol there is always the risk of fire from some unfortunate oversight, such as the unconscious throwing down of a match. Consequrntly, it is always policy to have a heap of sand, earth, or any equivalent, kept close to the motor cycle house, or in lieu of anything else, rugs or clothes. Water thrown on burning petrol will not extinguish it, but only add to the danger by floating the burning petrol.

After a long ride over loose, dusty roads it is advisable to examine the tyres. Generally several sharp pieces of flint may be seen firmly embedded in the cover. These require to be carefully picked out, as if allowed to remain they may cause a puncture when next you mount the machine.

In summer, as soon as it becomes warn, it is advisable to feed the engine with a good, thick bodied oil. Previously you may have been using a thin oil, which in cold weather is not so likely to clog your pipes. Always keep your reservoir well filled. Some riders when replenishing the petrol tank are in the habit of overlooking the oil supply.