Sports Motor-Cycles of the Vintage Era

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36

Continuing a Consideration of the Characteristics, Good Features and Failings of Some Classic Machines

Part 1-1925

Continued from the October issue.

The same rider conducted the next trial, this time of an o.h.v. “S.S. 100” Brough Superior solo. Described as “an engineering production unsurpassed,” the Brough could certainly get along. Brooklands was not within the orbit of this test, but on the road just over 90 m.p.h. was reached with a pillion passenger, and along a mere quarter-mile of clear road at that; 70 m.p.h. was attained in 2nd gear, without the passenger realising it wasn’t top gear. The model was still accelerating when the taps had to be closed and the real maximum was estimated at “well over the hundred mark.” Sitting upright, the rider then demonstrated “hands-off” at 75 m.p.h. on a fairly rough surface. One-hand steering, too, induced no wobbles as it was prone to do on some motor-cycles, while the front springing absorbed all bumps save one fearful pot-hole that would have broken most front forks and many frames; the Brough merely jolted, but it did dent its front mudguard, which was too close to the front exhaust pipe. The riding position was splendid, the comfort first-class with merely a Terry saddle-top and no saddle springs, the handlebar screen gave protection without being in the least unsightly, and a lady weighing a mere 8-stone and not normally a motor-cyclist manoeuvred this big-twin on wet grass as if it were a push-bike. Road holding was excellent, likewise the foot-change, braking effective, and the single-top-tube frame had lug attachments throughout and Harley-Davidson type forks, while the magnificent tank held enough for at least 200 miles. At cornering the “S.S. 100” beat a certain 2-stroke regarded as a paragon in this respect. Cruising at 60 m.p.h. with no more than a burble from the exhausts, it was possible to enter a town at 40 in the mistaken impression that one was doing a mere ten m.p.h. Verily, like the Bentley and “30/98,” the Brough-Superior refuses to “date.” Reading of the performance of this “S.S. 100” one is apt to forget that it was tested in 1925, until noticing the gas headlamp, bulb-horn and leather tool-bag in the photographs that accompanied the write-up.

Criticisms of this magnificent motorcycle were confined to a weak front brake, possibly imperfectly adjusted, a sight-feed unworthy of that fine tank, the difficulty of lifting the machine on to its stand, a rather ugly front mudguard and a badly-placed magneto, this last recalling a sweltering day in Epping Forest, when the contact breaker of an “S.S. 80” had to be removed for adjustment, because the sidecar aim came right down in front of it, and made inspection impossible.

Next, please! Well, a brand-new “Sports Model” Ner-a-Car was used to cover part of the A.C.U. International Six Days’ Trial, involving a very strenuous 800 miles’ riding without the manufacturers’ knowledge. Radclyffe admitted to thinking of the Ner-a-Car as a “scooter,” but vastly modified this view after the test. The model tried had the 348-c.c. o.h.v. Blackburne engine and 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox. It steered impeccably, wobble and other disconcerting vices entirely absent. Indeed, Radclyffe frequently filled his pipe, commencing these operations at 40 m.p.h. and slowing to a crawl to light-up, without touching the bars. He found that an imperceptible movement of the body sufficed for negotiation of most main road bends and quickly became used to the fixed mudguard ahead of him. As his Ner-a-Car had a speedometer which first of all lied unashamedly and then got its driving-gear well and truly chewed up on the front wheel, fortunately at low speed at the top of Porlock Hill, maximum speed was a matter of conjecture. But Radclyffe put it in the region of 60 m.p.h.

This oddly-laid-out machine certainly endeared itself to him. It caught up most of the early numbers in the A.C.U. “Six Days” in spite of starting in the wake of No. 47 and ascended Broughton with a touch of 2nd gear, finished a climb of Middle Down in 2nd, took Kings Settle in the same ratio and needed bottom gear only momentarily for the short rise out of Bruton’s main street. So it went on. Draycott was successfully climbed with only a suspicion of wheelspin, without a chance to pick a good course due to spectator-encroachment. Beggars Roost was taken on the inside of all the hairpins without anxiety, and Fingle Bridge, then a new discovery, was a perfect bottom gear ascent. If the machine bounced off the ground it landed firmly on both wheels; stability was at all times outstanding. Weather-protection was admirable, skidding almost entirely absent and comfort, with 3-inch tyres and excellent springing, of a high order. Incidentally, the 5 1/2 to 1 top gear was a thought too low for main road work and there was a big gap between that and the 8.96 to 1 second gear. Moreover, first was 14.6 to 1 and it was felt that any of the ” Six Days ” hills could have been climbed on a 12 to 1 ratio.

One criticism of this Ner-a-Car was that, while the hand brake was adequate for touring and the other internal-expanding pedal-operated rear brake quite powerful enough for emergencies, down gradients of the Alms Hill order (1 in 3) called for a front brake — although it was admitted that the front-wheel layout would make such an addition both costly and complicated. Then the model was unquestionably noisy, due to the unenclosed engine and lack of a normal tank, especially under 40 m.p.h., and the new second-speed gears tended to whine. However, Radclyffe was philosopher enough to say that to enclose the valve gear would be a shame, as the rider would be deprived of the pleasure of watching the valves working on uninteresting roads! A wet plug gave the rider occasional shocks and starting from cold was difficult at first, until the settings of the B. & B carburetter had been mastered, perhaps because the tank was under the saddle and the inlet pipe and hot-air pipe rather long in consequence. The foot-boards were strong, scraped on sharp turns and ground clearance wasn’t abnormal. These grouses apart, the Ner-a-Car came through with flying colours, especially as it averaged 110 m.p.g. of petrol and 850 m.p.g. of oil throughout the trial, over bad surfaces and driven hard, and its H.S.3 plug never misfired once in spite of a little oil being used with the fuel. Clearly, the Sheffield-Simplex Company had made a good motor-cycle.

A s.v. 350-c.c. Connaught-Blackburne was the next machine taken out on test. Selling at £42 10s., this 2 2/4 Sports had the same frame and gearbox as the more expensive o.h.v. Blackburne-engined job. This machine looked rather frail, but stood up faultlessly to a strenuous ride over some bad country. It was docile in traffic, the clutch lever on the end of the left handlebar being found very convenient. After adjustment of the steering head the Druid forks functioned very well, and the duplex tank tubes of the frame and cast-alloy tank attachment clips were appreciated during examination of the plot, likewise the stays from the stout carrier to lugs on the main back forks. The saddle was too small, the wheels could have been stouter, thus improving appearance, while the long gear lever fouled the rider’s knee. The gear change itself was very easy, and second was a very pleasant gear, offering exceptionally good acceleration. The ratios were a bit too low for fast work; the gears themselves were quiet.

At the outset performance was disappointing, the Amac carburetter being set for economy. [In those palmy days, why, oh why? — Ed.] A “modem” 2-jet Binks put speed up by 10 m.p.h., the maximum then being 50+, while Alms Hill, a trifle greasy in parts, was climbed clean. The Amac carburetter gave a consumption of well over 100 m.p.g., while oil consumption, with a mechanical pump feeding to a drip-feed on the tank, was also very modest. Both brakes were internal-expanding, of good dimensions, and permitted a faultless descent of Alms Hill without locking the wheels. The D-section guards were efficient for a British machine, the handlebars stout and with good curves and other good points were excellent weight distribution, resulting in good steering and cornering and an absence of “bucketing,” a decent finish, and provision of grease-gun lubrication. The Connaught seems to have been one of the better inexpensive motor-cycles.

The last two mounts to come up for trial in 1925 were Americans. The first was a 4-cylinder Henderson, actually a 1926 model, for the year was drawing to a close. Radclyffe remarked that he had never contemplated buying a secondhand Henderson himself, he supposed because of unsporting appearance and, perhaps, complication as an unlaid ghost in the background. Brought face-to-face with a Henderson combination, he readily admitted that the lines, if not sporting, were excellent and compact and the comfort factor high (and he had seen semi-T.T. ‘bars on a Henderson before now), that the weight, although considerable, was actually less than that of one English big-twin, that the low saddle permitted both feet to reach the ground, and that complication was obviously less than that of the easily-maintained Austin 7, because it was not water-cooled.

Comfort seems to have been the Henderson’s greatest feature. It was possible, both solo and sidecar, to negotiate a really fearful piece of road, in daylight and at night, all-out, without the rider or sidecar occupant noticing the bumps. On its balloon tyres the Henderson remained absolutely controllable, and our tester failed to recall having been astride a more luxurious motor-cycle. So far as urge went in those days Alms Hill had not been closed and the Henderson went up it, mit large touring sidecar, heavily-loaded, accelerating in bottom on the steepest position and taking second gear above the Cannons. This with the exhaust baffle shut, making conversation possible between rider and passenger — with the baffle open a nice Bentley note was emitted. The descent of Alms was not so good and the help of three stalwart Oxonians was needed to lower the big machine over the worst part, because the rear braking wasn’t adequate with the sidecar attached; there was no front brake. Actually the brakes, of sensible diameter and easily operated, were quite sufficient solo and the internal-expanding one incorporated a ratchet in the pedal gear, described as useful in places like Guildford High Street.

The machine tested had sidecar ratios, yet would pull away in top from a standstill. Accessibility was found to be very good and overheating not present, the lubrication system working well, and the dark blue finish with yellow wheels was praised. The test was supplemented by some notes by F. J. R. Heath, who had had extensive experience of the solo version. This owner had fitted fork dampers, high-pressure tyres and a steering damper, the h.p. tyres being considered more suitable for trials, but making the forks, lively even with balloon tyres, apt to permit bouncing. In 5,000 miles no adjustments to wheels, steering head, spiral-bevel primary drive, clutch, gearbox or helical timing gears were needed, only the final chain drive and brake adjustments needing occasional attention, while the engine ran 4,000 miles between decarbonisation. A 1924 fully-equipped solo did 86 m.p.h. and climbed Alms Hill on a 5 1/2 to 1 second gear. It would cruise all day at 50-55 m.p.h. at 55 m.p.g., higher speed reducing consumption to 40 m.p.g. Oil consumption could be regulated indefinitely, and the 5 1/2 pints drained at anything from 1,000 to 3,000 miles. Front tyres lasted 12,000 miles, back ones 5,000 miles, trials included. The engine was so flexible, the lack of a hand-clutch control was never noticed and on a 4 1/4 to 1 top gear 30-60 m.p.h. occupied 7 1/2 sec. Normal top was 3 1/2 to 1 and an 8 1/4 to 1 bottom gear was ample for scrambles and 7 1/2 to 1 for trials. So much for the Henderson.

The last machine we have space to deal with in this instalment was an Indian “Scout.” After paying due tribute to the Indian models, the old single-geared, the Red Indian, Blue Indian, Powerplus, Scout and Chief and remarking that to own one of the old Red Indians was in its day equivalent to 1925 ownership of an aeroplane, largely due to the bite given by the Schebler carburetter, Radclyffe turned to the 1926 Scout. The only criticisms he found were the badly-located gear-lever, cured by bending it forward, the indefinite second-gear position, the aesthetically unhappy electric-horn mounting, exhaust-lifter and aluminium silencer and the aurally-disturbing crackle of the starter segment returning to normal position.

The double-tube frame was famous for its strength; Radclyffe’s own Indian combination crashed into a six-foot ditch one night, bending its forks 40 degrees out of true, but not damaging its frame, which was still in use. Mudguards and chainguarding were equally stout, and the off-side chain location made removal easy, with a sidecar attached. The adjustable front springing made it possible to eliminate fore and aft motion when balloon tyres were fitted. The tank held 2 1/2 gallons of fuel and 2 1/2 quarts of oil, lubrication being by mechanical means, supplemented by the usual hand pump. The 596-c.c. engine had enclosed side valves, detachable heads, a Splitdorf magneto giving a good spark at 35 r.p.m. for easy starting, helical primary drive, now far quieter than on earlier models, and a belt-drive dynamo. The English version of the Scout had soft sports bars, easily bent to the desired position, and with enclosed control wires. Comfort was of a really high order, and cruising speed 50-55 m.p.h. all day, while with a loaded sidecar a kilometre was covered on Brooklands at 65 m.p.h. The sweet top-gear pulling was not quite so evident as in the older models, but the acceleration possible with the foot clutch, Schebler carburetter and a right-hand free to operate the gear-lever, was delightful and overcame the snags of this type of clutch. Steering and stability were outstanding, the steering damper being needed only with an empty sidecar. The rear channel-section stand allowed an easy pull-up, but might have been cranked a little to give a downward slope. The electrics worked well, and without them this Indian cost £72 10s; in the States the model was never sold without lighting. (To be continued as space permits.)