By the time these words are read Easter will be upon us and the racing season will be in full swing with minor National events happening up and down the country. The International brigade will be down at Pau on the Franco-Spanish border and should be ready to start a very full season of Circuit events, week-end after week-end. Just before every season one hears of all sorts of people who are going to join the “continental circus” group, but over the years the numbers seldom get very large and seem to maintain a happy medium. Of perhaps a dozen prospective runners only two will make the grade and get “in,” while of the dozen or so regular British members one or two invariably retire from activity, or, regrettably, pay the price of the risk involved when you race every week-end on pure road circuits, which is a fatal accident or, if you are luckier, a mere disablement that puts you out of racing for good. It may seem morbid to ponder on such thoughts, but in any modern high-speed activity, whether on the ground or in the air, the risk gets greater as the speeds increase and in motor-cycle racing speeds keep going up and up.
While the professional “circus” riders are already under way, the professional “works” riders are still in training for the first round of the World Championships. Our own Isle of Man T.T. is the first in the series this year and already there is quite a lot of activity on the T.T. circuit. The Germans seem to be tackling the job in their usual thorough manner, concentrating on making their riders learn the circuit first, both B.M.W. and N.S.U. being thus engaged. The Italians have a slight advantage in that they all have English riders in their teams, whose knowledge of the T.T. circuit is excellent. Guzzi take a very practical approach to their proving, by using the Ospidaletti road circuit at San Remo, which is a real tester for brakes, gearboxes, acceleration and general handling. Gileras and M.V.’s on the other hand tend to concentrate on Monza, which is in between their respective doorsteps, there perfecting their machines for the last possible ounce of speed. Of our two English teams, Norton and A.J.S., a comic situation has arisen in the sporting world by the rising of the ugly head of big business on the production side, the result being that the Plumstead firm now own the Birmingham firm financially. The two racing departments will continue to be keen rivals in all outward appearances, but somehow one cannot see A.J.S. letting Norton get away with any technical advantages that accrue from the brains being paid by them. So far Nortons have not admitted to anything new except a rather dubious-looking fully enclosed 350-c.c. model on which the rider lies in a semi-prone position. This, however, cannot be taken very seriously for Gileras and Mondials tried the same idea about three years ago and discarded it on the advice of the riders, who found it impossible to cope with crosswinds. Maybe Nortons have designed a gyroscopic stabiliser to combat this, but I should not like to be the rider who has to take avoiding action. So far their testing has been confined to aerodromes and the Montlhéry track, while the parent firm from Plumstead seem limited to the Lindley proving grounds at Nuneaton. However, this season will see the T.T. starting the Champions rolling, and with so many British riders on foreign machines, there is quite a reasonable possibility that the T.T. will be International in a small way.
While on the subject of the T.T. it is amusing to see that one of its keenest supporters has been advocating in the weeklies that it be withdrawn from the World Championship series, mainly due to the feeling that the other nine classics are out of step with the T.T. Truly the T.T. is out of step with the other Grand Prix meetings and it always has been. Being the oldest race still running it would be a nice gesture to put it on a pedestal on its own and run the World Championships over the other eight events which do bear some similarity. The T.T. should not be abandoned, but should be left as a very special event which counts for nothing but stands as an all-time measure of riding ability, so that anyone feeling he was losing form could use the T.T. to obtain a certificate of raceworthiness to justify his competing in the pure classic races. There is no doubt at all that only a “star” man can put in a 90-m.p.h. lap, always assuming he has a “star” motor-cycle, and having done so he can then reckon he is capable of tackling racing anywhere except for one thing: that is, the effect of having become used to riding on his own in the T.T. time-trials, the sudden realisation that there are 25 or 30 others of equal calibre leaning on him in the first corner may put him off a little. But as no one rides solely in the T.T. that is only hypothesis. The thought of the T.T. not being in the classic series is by no means hard to bear, but the thought of it being abandoned altogether is unthinkable. Before leaving the subject of the World Championship series the question of the Ulster Grand Prix is an interesting one, for it looks as though authority is going to force it to be held on the Dundrod circuit instead of the traditional Clady circuit. Apart from sentimental reasons this appears to be a good move; for the Dundrod circuit is a road circuit as good as they come and would appear to be receiving official support in its construction and facilities. If this change of venue takes place there will many who bemoan the loss of the Clady circuit, but in a few years Dundrod cannot help but become a classic in its own right.
Leaving racing for a while and viewing normal motor-cycling the last of the season of motor-cycle Shows took place recently at Geneva, and it was rather significant that German and Italian machines dominated the exhibits. British machines were there in very small numbers and not even representative at that, which rather looks as though British motor-cycles are not as popular as they were. It will be interesting to view the motor-cycling population of Switzerland again this season, for so far over the past few years it has been very noticeable that German machines were being bought by the everyday rider and the specialist was looking to Italy for his sports motor-cycle. One exhibit that interested me personally was the little Spanish Montesa 125-c.c. touring model that had electrically heated handlebars and saddle. I covered quite a mileage on the prototype model and found the heated twistgrips a blessing, though the saddle top with heater elements inlaid was not too comfortable. While it worked admirably it gave one a peculiar feeling in the nether regions. It really is time some manufacturer got down to this problem of the cold on a motor-cycle, for every day during the winter you hear people complain of the impossibility of keeping their hands warm. The temperature is one thing that will stop motor-cycling from becoming really popular and one would have thought that the brains of the industry would have turned to this problem long ago. In the car world it is almost a waste of time to try to sell a utility vehicle that has not got a heater installation, yet the motor-cycle manufacturer goes gaily on churning out the same old hand-freezers year after year leaving the glove manufacturers to try to solve the problem. Could it be that there is a business tie-up somewhere? Happily, we can look forward to a few months of warm handlebar clutching, but it would be nice to see some attempt to solve this problem appearing for the next Earls Court Show.