THE 2(AND OFTEN 3-) WHEELER REMINISCENCES OF H. L. BIGGS
PART 1-1920-1924 [In November H. L Biggs suggested that we should devote more space to sporting motor-cycling. In spite of being convalescent after a long illness, he backed his suggestion with an account of his own efforts In the early post-I918 days, of which the first part appears below.—Ed.]
IHAVE no doubt as to when my interest in fast motor-cycles was aroused, as I have before me a copy of “Motor Cycling” describing the 1914 T.T. Races, purchased on my way home from school In those distant days.
In 1916 I obtained my first driving licence and appeared as a new menace on the roads, riding a fixed-gear Levis twostroke, sometimes using a foul paraffinpetrol mixture to eke out the small quantity of fuel then obtainable. After trying my hand both in aircraft and engine factories and discovering that armament production was of first importance, the instruction of the yotmg being subjugated to this all-important fact, I went up to the London Polytechnic in 1918 for a three-year course in Motor Engineering. This started just before the Armistice was signed and the industry commenced to look around for some peace-time occupation for their plant and employees. We would regularly walk down Great Portland Street to do homage to the 400-e.c. A.B.C., that highly advanced design of Granville Bradshaw, which was, I believe, one of the first post-war motorcycles to be put on the market, and which, ridden by Jack Emerson, won the first race run at the Track when it was reopened in 1920. About this time (early 1919) I purchased an ex-W.D. Douglas and was becoming adept at the usual roadside repairs of the more intricate nature very often required in those days. By the summer of 1019 I was delighttd to find that a local firm, previously engaged on armaments, had obtained the services of a brilliant designer, John Wallace, and had commenced the manufacture of a highly efficient single-cylinder 81-h. p. motor-cycle called, somewhat optimistically, the Duzmo. The prototype was 88.9 mm. bore by 76.2 mm. stroke (475 c.c.) and had parallel valves in a detachable head, solid crank with plain big-end and side bearings, outside flywheel and dry sump lubrication, oil being
supplied and scavenged by two plunger pumps operated by eccentrics. Many details in design gave evidence of Wallace’s war-time aircraft experience. I arranged to go to the firm as an apprentice as soon as I had completed my time at the Polytechnic, and meanwhile, during 1920, the DUZMO, in the hands of Bert Le Vack and Wallace, was making a
favourable impression at speed trials and hill climbs ; it also put up a good show in the Senior T.T., although it did not finish. When I went down to the firm in 1921 it was entirely under Wallace’s manage ment and the design of the bicycle had
been somewhat modified. The bore and stroke were now 89 mm. by 79 mm. (496 c.c.), and the solid .rank and outside flywheel were replaced by the more orthodox crank pin and inside wheel assembly, dry sump lubrication being dropped in favour of wet sump, using a
proprietary Best-and-Lloyd mechanical pump. The standard models in 1019 and 1920 had fixed gear, with belt drive, although several had been turned out with chain drive, either two-speed Enfield or three-speed Sturmey-Archer. One experimental twin, a duplication of the single with outside flywheel, had also been built and had won the unlimited, experts-barred class at the Luton speed trials in July, 1.920; it did not appear again in competition, but ‘Was sold to a private owner.
In August, 1921, we went down to the Essex M.C.C. meeting with a three-speed Duzmo, which showed great promise. Unfortunately, it burst its oil tank in practice, which necessitated some ingenious jury rigging with wire tourniquets; to make matters worse, going up to the start we discovered that the outer valve spring of the inlet pair had broken. I removed this with a pair of pliers and much blasphemy and blisters, but the weak single spring limited engine speed to such an extent that the machine could not do itself justice. For the September B.M.C.B.C. meeting Wallace and Eekersley, a private owner, entered two 496-c.c. Dimino sidecar outfits for the One dour Junior Sidecar Ra.ee. We worked late into the Friday night on these machines by the light of acetylene lamps and left about midnight for Weybridge. I shall not forget the run down, as we ran over the feet of a very militant tramp, who, the night being warm, had decided to spend it in a hedge at Hershain I In the actual event I rode as passenger with R. C. Chawner (494-c.c. Sunbeam). All went well until the twelfth lap, when, as we shot under the Members’ Bridge, there was a “pop ” and the inlet valve cap blew out. Eckersley and Wallace retired on their sixth and seventh laps, respectively. At the works we commenced construction of a 1,000-c.e. twin, a duplication of the single, fitted experimentally with
steel cylinders of 76-mm. bore (716 c.c.), thus being eligible for the 750-c.c. class.
It ran at two meetings without success and, converted to 908 c.c., was sold to a private owner. Thus ended a year of disappointment. For 1022, in the experimental shop, we were working on a very special single cylinder engine, using basically standard parts and doing everything possible to coax extra power. Special valve gear was constructed with very light push rods running in tubes through guide bushes at each end to prevent bending, flywheels and con.-rod were extensively lightened, and a special cast-iron piston was used for the original bench test. Our engine test house was fitted with a Walker fan-brake dynamometer, the drive to the brake being through a coupling, using rubber rings to cushion the drive ; these rubbers had a habit of shooting out when a high rate of speed had been attained, and would bounce round the test house like shrapnel, the plan being to get on one’s face until they had come to rest ! After many modifications, including the fitting of an eluminhun piston 3 ounces lighter than the east-iron
pattern, on March 10th we obtained a maximum reading of 19.75 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., using a special high-lift cam. A very special frame, later to become standard, was brazed-up, giving the engine an inclined position parallel with the front down tube, and wheels with hub brakes, an innovation, were built up and fitted with tyres of 3″ section. The completed machine was loaned to Kaye Don for the April meeting, but, alas ! the clutch key decided that the power output was too much for it and promptly sheared as soon as the wick was turned up in top. We sorrowfully returned to the works and dealt with the matter, entering next for the S.M. Centre hill climb at Kop on April 29th. The “jinx” still pursued us here. A push-rod jumped out and the end cap disappeared into the blue.
After checking every detail which might develop trouble, we started in the One Hour Race at Brooklands on May 6th, the rider being Wallace, who had only just recovered from a road accident. Although the Duzmo was going very well, he had to retire at half-distance owing to fatigue affecting his only recently healed leg. For the next meeting, the Essex M.C. Royal Meeting (run under the patronage of the present King, then Duke of York, himself an enthusiastic motor-cyclist, who had entered a 494-c.c. o.h.v. Douglas and a 998-c.c. eight-valve Trump Anzani), our Duzmo was ridden by G. H. Symonds, now better known as the driver of an “R “-type Midget end the B.H.D. Spider. He broke an exhaust valve after covering the mile at a speed in excess of 80 m.p.h. 1 At the Wellingborough speed trials we did the standing half-mile in 33 sees., then broke a con.-rod and suffered extensive internal damage. After the subsequent -rebuilding it seemed that at last the evil spirit had been exorcised ; we went down to the Wallington Club’s speed trials at Betchworth Park, Arthur Leeding taking second place in the unlimited class to Reg. Green, riding the new o.h.v. Norton, one of the first to be delivered to a private owner, and four-fifths of a second slower than fastest time of the day, made by Cecil Volk, of Brighton, on his fast o.h.v. Douglas. We were invariably up against these two marques with their extensive resources and longer experience. At the Surrey M.C. Club’s meeting, P. M. Walters, riding the same machine, took the 500 and 1,500-c.c. classes ; it was then sold to third, a private owner— I rather think we were not sorry to see it go I Other machines of our manufacture had obtained successes during the 1922 season. Symonds, who was at the works at the time, had bought our works hack, a 1920
old-type, with outside flywheel and twospeed Enfield gear, and tuned it to perfection, taking two firsts and a second at Marlpits hill climb, missing F.T.D. by two-fifths of a second from a worksprepared machine of greater capacity ; he used that grand sprint carburetter, the Binks “Rat Trap,’ now only a memory. Some will remember that it had no throttle control, only a variable choke, speed being controlled when flat out by means of a magneto cut-out switch, which tough speed men would fix to the handle-bars somewhere out of reach to save the temptation of cornering slowly. These carburetters were noticeably hard on the engine and would tend to wash the cylinder walls below peak r.p.m.
Early in 1922 the newly-formed Enfield and District Club had arranged a hill climb at Newgate Street, Herts., a grand hill about half-a-mile in length, with an ” S ” bend on an acute camber and a loose gravel surface. I entered with a 1921 two-speed flat-head Duznio, and in practice had a bad crash through hitting a spectator’s sidecar outfit which ran out into the centre of the road. I cut the back completely off the sidecar, which certainly surprised its occupant, who, fortunately, was a friend of mine. The damage to the Duzmo was slight—bent bars and footrests only, easily straightened—but as I personally made a large hole through a particularly tough blackthorn hedge, suffering a cut eyelid and wrist which required several stitches, my ability to handle a fast solo was not improved. However, the gear change was on my sound side and I was able to collect four firsts and fastest time. We also had several wins at Southport and smaller club speed trials and hill climbs, by private owners.
I had persuaded the Sun Vitesse Co., who were experimenting with a rotaryvalve two-stroke of 250 c.c., to lend me a machine for the S.M. Centre hill climb at Brighton early in 1922, as they had a special class for two-strokes up to 300 c.c. I managed to run second to Julian, of Reacting, on a T.T. Levis, third was Worters, who became famous as a rider and tuner, more recently in connection with the Multi-Union. To my suggestion that I should run the ” Sun ‘ in Track events during 1922 the firm agreed, changing the sprint tanks for Milks of larger capacity and, after a little timing, returning the machine to me with the statement that as it had been timed at 52 m.p.h. I should be able to do some good with it ! As I should be up against the 3,O00-r. p.m., side-valve J.A.P. the new o.h.v. Blackburne, and Le Vack’s o.h. camshaft J.A.P., I wasn’t so confident I Actually, I never finished in the first three in any event, although. I did, increase the maximum speed by 10 m.p.h. Having finished fourth in the 250-c.c. Championship, I returned the cycle to its makers, who very sportingly wrote thanking me for my efforts and agreeing that their product had not the speed necessary for success. Towards the latter months of 1022 ‘Wallace completed his design for a hemispherical head with inclined valves, interchangeable with the flat head ; he also conducted experiments with a built-up
crank and outside flywheel. This was discarded as the bobweights continually shifted. An engine was built-up using the new head, with the standard ” downstairs ” assembly, bench tested, and mounted in the sloping frame, becoming the prototype 1923 model. We entered this for the September Kop hill climb, but a valve broke on our way down to Risborough, so that was that! Suitable valve steels were not so easy to find in those days. We fitted a sidecar to this cycle and took it down to the Track for tests on the new Binks “Mouse Trap” carburetter, a touring version of the” Rat Trap,” fitted with a throttle slide. It was a day of thick fog, but we managed to put in some satisfactory speed work before extensive winter road tests. On one ” destruction ” test to Cambridge we broke two valves, which we replaced on the spot, and finally sprung the gearbox mainshaft, returning to the works with the box in a sack. On one such test we met George Eyston on an oil-cooled flattwin Zenith Bradshaw, which he later rode at the Track.
In addition to these special jobs, in the course of our normal production we had turned out three machines similar to our own 19-b.h.p. “Special,” one of which was entered for the 1922 T.T., the second being sent to Belgium as a demonstrator and the third run in the Ulster Grand Prix.
The 1.923 hemispherical head model appeared at the Show after intensive day and night work, culminating in getting it on to our stand on the opening morning.
Early in 1923 I commenced to build up a special 496-c.c. ” single ” for hill climbs and speed trials, and a twin was put in hand for Wallace ; this was again a duplication on the single, with articulated con.-rod assembly, hemispherical heads and a 54″ wheelbase. I used the Enfield two-speed gear, and both machines used the new Webb forks with shock absorbers. Wallace and I entered for the Newgate Street bill climb in July; the course was timed with a flying start. I used the racing “Rat Trap” cerburetter and Wallace a Wex. Unfortunately, I crashed on the loose surface, without damage other than a torn crash helmet and ripped leathers. Wallace won the Unlimited Trade Class at 48 m.p.h., 4 secs. slower than my standing-start run of the previous year. F.T.D. was put up by a 494-c.c. o.h.v. works Douglas; one of the first chain-drive Zeniths delivered to a private owner, of which much was expected, also crashed.
After this event we got down to preparing the twin for the Ealing and District Club’s 200-mile sidecar race, more notable alterations being the fitting of a Terry spring-top saddle (an innovation at the time) and an improved B.T.H. magneto. We were using 700 x 80 tyres and had built up a steering damping device, as such were not, at that time, on the market. Ghost silencers were necessitated by the then recent disturbance raised by St. George’s Hill residents, which terminated in the design of the official Brooklands silencer. The Swallow sidecar carried 4 gallons of fuel, with a pressure pump to transfer this to the tank on the machine ; this was more or less universally adopted for such events. Owing to the 1,000-c.c. group recognition colour being yellow, the fact that it rained heavily during the practice period caused my appearance after several laps to look decidedly Oriental ! As for the race itself, although the outfit was decidedly quick, we made several stops for carburetter adjustment, and just when the machine was starting to make up lost time I was hit in the car by a large piece of extremely hot rear cylinder—a piston had broken and the con.-rod had ripped up the side of the cylinder. Finish During the last three years normal production had been maintained and the firm’s financial resources, never great, were getting severely strained, so much so that further competition was dis continued, although assistance was still given to private owners. I had been making a good many visits to Cambridge to attend C.U.M.C.C. events, as my friend, S. S. Tresilian, was running an ErieLongden J.A.P. in the car classes. I had got to know many of the motor-cycling
fraternity, among these being D. E. Calder, who drove a Horstman in the J.C.C. 200 Mile Rate, and C. A. C. Birkin, who was running a ” Special ” 498-c.c. Blackburne-engined Cotton. Calder was, at the time, using a 1611 s.v. Norton and wished for something faster. He also owned a Douglas cycle-car which had been raced by S. L. Bailey, and, being struck by this, in a rash moment I made a level exchange for my Duzmo, now fitted with a three speed gearbox and “Mouse Trap” car buretter for road work. After learning to drive on this car I sold it and, Woking
round for a machine for 1934 events, decided to rebuild and modernise a ” 7/9 ” Indian. I purchased a single-gear, clutch-model road racer of early vintage and com pletely stripped and rebuilt it, lightening and rebalancing, replacing the old vertical Hedstrom carburetter by a modern large bore Wex, and polishing and enlarging the ports. I had my eye on the coming Newgate Street hill climb, at which I intended to have a crack at the record. With this in view I stiffened the forks, making up and fitting shock absorbers and a steering damper and replacing all worn bicycle parts. By March the work was completed and the job taken to the hill for practice, escorted by friends, who rode closely on either side to hide the fact that the exhaust system consisted of two 8″ x 1 r pipes with sheet steel flame guards to prevent my legs from being burnt. Runs up the hill were very satisfactorily timed and I had great hopes, but, to my bitter disappointment, the club an nounced that, owing to complaints made by the local residents after the last event, the police had been compelled to withdraw their permission for its use. I
was so annoyed that I sold the Indian to a local enthusiast and decided to temporarily give up fast motor-cycles, buying a 147-c.c. Excelsior Villiers for utility purposes. After scouring the district, the local Club discovered a new hill in the Waltham Abbey area and announced an opening event in May. My interest in competition work at once returned and I made enquiries for a suitable bike to tune and/or ride. I turned to a friend, Stanley
Braham, who had been passenger in the sidecar when I was involved in my cresh in 1921, and who still bears the scars. Be had recently bought e 350-0.0. s.v. B.S./X., a most unlikely machine for speed, but being a great enthusiast he decided to carve the cycle about in an endeavour to gain performance. The usual lightening, polishing, balancing and stripping was resorted to, small sprint tanks end a larger carburettor were fitted, and, as Braham himself was riding solo, I borrowed a Watsonian featherweight Sidecar and entered in the sidecar classes.
The results exceeded our expectations. Braham took the 3i0-e. c., 1,000-c.c. and Unlimited classes, was placed in the two remaining classes and made fastest time of the day. I made fastest .sidecar time. In all classes we were up against keen competition. In July the club staged a speed trial on the slight uphill approach to this hill. We entered the B.S.A., suitably geared, with the addition of a throttleless carburetter somewhrt on the lines of the ” Rat Trap,” which I had made up. Braham, riding solo, took the 350-c.c., 500-cc. and 750-c.c. classes, but was beaten for fastest time by a 970-c.c. Coventry Eigle by a mere two-fifths of a second ! I was delighted to be able to borrow a 490-e.c. o.h.v. Norton for the sidecar clesses ; there were still very few of these privately owned, this machine being the property of Braham’s brother.
It made fastest sidecar time, beating the next fastest outfit, a 976-cc. P. & P. J.A.P., by 3 secs. I had also cnthred the 1-47-c.c. Villiers for fun, but broke a magneto contact arm and was unable to start.
In August we were faced with very heavy opposition and could only secure a second in the 350.e.c. class, which was won by one of the latest o.h.v. A.J.S. ; I ran third in the sidecar class to the big Coventry Eagle and a 494-c.c. Douglas complete with the usual twin carburetter plus pressure-balanced induction system used on all these fast but temperamental machines at that time ; these two machines tied for first place. My little Villiers “Special.” now fitted with a heavy section contact arm made up by Villiers, caused some astonishment by averaging 39.13 m.p.h. over the course, crossing the finishing line, according to ” The Motorcycle,” at over 50, and being fourth in the 350-e.e. class. During the same month Wallace decided to have another shot at the 200 Mile Sidecar Race, and had designed and built a supercharger of the pump type, with radially disposed pumping cylinders, with the intention of blowing a 490-ec. ” single ” for this event. The firm was now in sad financial straits and had vacated the :old premises ; therefore we Set about preparing the Outfit badly hampered by the lack of equipment and
workshop facilities. I can -still remember late at night supplyirng. manual power to the lathe, whilst Wallace faced up the timing case cover to receive the B. & L. oil pump. We soon realised that it would be impossible to get the necessary mountings and drive parts machined up for the blower, and at the eleventh hour decided to run unblown, still with the blown compression ratio of 61 to 1, as there was no possibility of machining the head. The outfit was completed in the early hours of the actual race day and, after an hour’s sleep in a particularly uncomfortable ‘r-type Ford lorry, we departed for Weybridge, starting in the race with an outfit which had never been given a test. On the sixth lap an inlet valve broke, due, we discovered later, to an error in machining not apparent to ordinary inspection.
This was the last appearance of an ” official ” Duzmo in competition, and, in addition, my time with the firm came to an end shortly after. Braham, seeking a faster Mount, went down to Bristol and bought the 344-c.c. double-port Zenith J.A.P. which the well-known George Tucker had run in the 200 Mile Solo Race. In correspondence with Tucker, concerning a pair of 350-c.c. o.h.v. Douglas barrels and heads, he offered me a position in his racing department, which I accepted early in 1925.