Early Motor Cycling and the Result.
By F. W. BARNES, M.I.A.E.
Mr. F. W. Barnes, who is well-known to all Brooklands habituees, tells some of his early experiences in the following notes. Apart from his career as a speedman, our contributor has done much valuable pioneer work in developing motor-cycle design and construction, the Zenith-Gradua Gear being the best known of his inventions.
Some of the trophies won by Mr. Barnes are depicted on the right of the heading. THERE are many motorists still on the active list
who can well remember the days of the inception of motor road vehicles ; and from these one hears from time to time many really interesting experiences. The annual Motor Shows in particular, when pioneers of motoring meet together, are excellent times for such recollections ; and a book containing these would certainly be well worth reading. Perhaps we shall see such a book, which has often been suggested, at some future date, while the pioneers are still with us.
The Old Crocks’ stand at the Motor-Cycle Show of 1924 did much to remind one of the old warrior days of motor-cycling ; although it is possible that some of the spectators who did not live through the early days may not have been quite so appreciative of their presence amongst the highly finished machines of the present day. But those “old crocks” should certainly be highly respected, not despised for their ungainly design and shabby appearance. They presaged the birth of a great industry ; and, though weird now in appearance to most of us, they were wonderful in their time. Try to visualise the early designers, struggling against unprecedented difficulties, ever groping onwards for an orthodox design ; attempting and discarding in turn various transmission types—belt, shaft, friction, loco, and chain ; but all fired with the same high spirit of progress, and all equally taking part in the new development.
An Early Friction Driven Machine.
How many readers remember the Wolfmiiller motorcycle, with a horizontal cylinder on each side of the rear wheel, transmitting power direct ? This was the Loco drive—a real “buck-jumper,” and a feat to sit on, even on the smoothest of roads. There was another type of drive, scarcely ever heard of, known as the ” Rail ring drive ; in the invention of this I had some share, and about 1902 it was adapted to an existing make of motor-cycle. The design aimed particularly at levelling out uneven road surfaces, and it certainly did this to a remarkable degree. As will be seen from the illustration, the rear road wheel was a spokeless one with a specially designed rim having a raised centre portion known as” the rail.” To this the power was transmitted from a frictional driving disc supported on a cross tubular beam having a roller guide at each end spring, operated for the purpose
of maintaining a vertical position of the outer or road wheel which was free to oscillate to and fro within limits, independently of the frictional driving wheel with its constant centre, so that on meeting a pot hole or obstacle the outer wheel would remain stationary for a moment while the rest of the machine continued its progress, the frictional driving wheel advancing its centre in relation to the road wheel and so laying its own rail thus considerably reducing the shock.
Certainly in practice the design did all that was expected, but, with other disadvantages, it was too costly to be advantageous, and so did not assist very much in the progress of design. Its fate was the fate that has followed so many other would-be revolutionary ideas.
During several years onwards, manufacturing ideas and designs gradually simmered down to a more or less standard form ; and it was at this time that competitions, particularly of a reliability character, came along. Competitions have indeed, played a very great part in the progress of design. The early Land’s End to _John O’Groats runs, for instance, and the Six Days’ Trials, were largely responsible for the rapid improvements. To gain any sort of an award in those days was really something of an achievement, taking into account fixed gear ratios, belt drive, surface carburettors, high frames, and the ever troublesome accumulator and coil ignition ; to say nothing of tyres that were not too good, and engines that could scarcely be called reliable. The pedalling gear undoubtedly saved many an award ; but there was need for much physical fitness on a Trial such as the Six Days.
The ” Barred ” Gradua Gear.
Hill climbing competitions also provided many thrills. For such events a steep hill with as many bends as possible was chosen ; and it was generally a hairraising performance to negotiate the bends at a speed high enough to ensure surmounting the hill. I only remember two such climbs myself on a fixed gear, necessitated by an unlucky failure of the Gradua variable gear ; the choice of the correct fixed ratio presented a very pretty problem. I might say here, that I was rather fortunate in hill climbing competitions ; as from 1906 onwards all my Zenith machines were fitted with an infinitely variable gear of my own inven
tion, known as the ” Gradua ” gear. This provided an infinite variation in gear ratio between roughly 31 and 7i to 1, and by thus enabling me to select the right gear for any gradient or bend gave me a considerable advantage over my brother competitors. No doubt many can still recall the days when certain clubs barred this gear from hill-climbs, by arranging their events to exclude variable gears. At that period there were very few such gears on the market, and certainly no other make of machine than the Zenith-Gradua was equipped with a variable gear for competitions ; but the ban gave rise to the Zenith trade mark “Barred.”
Even in straight events on the level I used to find this gear very advantageous, particularly in the getaway, and on days of high winds. One particular occasion stands out in my memory, the combined motor-cycle and car B.A.R.C. Easter meeting. As was usual in prewar days all races were given a Paddock start, nearly at the end of the Finishing Straight : probably Reuben Harveyson can best remember the line, from the occasion when he failed to pull up at the end of a race, could not negotiate the bend, and flew on. over the top of the banking ! On this particular day my handicap was hopeless, and by nothing short of a miracle could I win. My turn came when most of the competitors were off the mark, but, having a fairly low gear, I made an excellent start. A very high wind was blowing, and to my astonishment, on my second lap, I began to overhaul numerous competitors, and appeared to be leaving them practically stationary. The Gradua gear had enabled me to keep up a high engine speed on a low ratio against the wind, and, of course, on the other side of the Track, with the following wind, up went my gear, and I finished the race in a blizzard and was facing the photographer before the second competitor crossed the line—not only a great surprise to myself, but certainly a considerable score for the bookies.
However, step by step the real luxury touring machine developed, and the two or three-speed gear-box came into being. At first the pedals were retained for starting purposes, but later the kick-starter crank become universal. Gear-boxes at present are of course quite indispensable even on racing machines, but their standardisation has been of slow growth. The part played by speed in design development is no mean one ; and here again, the element of competition has been responsible for the rapid changes, and for the alarming increases in speed of late years. It is only a few years since the L000 c.c. Solo short-distance record stood at just over go m.p.h. ; while now we see a 350 c.c. engine exceeding roo m.p.h. over the same distance. In 1920, the is000 c.c. Sidecar record was 72 m.p.h. ; while to-day the 350 c.c. engine pulls a sidecar over the kilometre at more than 82 m.p.h.
The Value of Classic Trials.
Many persons will deny that racing is worth while, and ask what it has done towards making the ideal touring machine. These figures show the lessons we have learned in engine efficiency combined with considerably improved mechanism and materials. Gearboxes, Clutches, Magnetos, Oil-pumps, and Frames, and many other vital parts, all provide examples of the lessons set by Speed, and of the improvements incorporated on touring motor-cycles. Certainly, there are points where Speed cannot help us ; Mudguarding, Silencers, Chain-cases, Saddles, et cetera, these must be left for improvement by Touring class competitions. Much can still be done in such accessory work, even though the modern motor-cycle can certainly be regarded as approaching its zenith so far as luxury is concerned. By its nature the two-wheeler can never offer complete protection from the elements ; although the motorcyclist of to-day, equipped with suitable attire, is becoming more and more an all-weather rider. This is proved by the large increase in the number of entrants from year to year for Winter Trials such as the LondonExeter run.
This classic trial, amongst others, has done much towards the progress of the touring machine ; every year one sees many gadgets for mud protection, and experimental ideas tried out by the manufacturers. But even such a Trial, though fairly strenuous for the rider, does not present much difficulty to the modern motor-cycle in capable hands. In preparation very little need be done compared with the extensive overhaul necessary in the early days. The use of copper wire and insulating tape is not now so much in evidence ; in fact, a machine practically in ordinary trim can successfully negotiate the course of a London-Exeter run, except for a few minor details such as are always necessary for an ordinary tour. At the same time, the great element of doubt about completing the course in the early days certainly created quite a different aspect of the sporting side of Trials.
Hints to London—Exeter Competitors.
At the present day, then, one can count with reasonable certainty on a no-trouble run ; but all the same to
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