Sports Motorcycles of the Vintage Era

A Consideration of the Characteristics, Good Features and Failings of Some Classic Machines
(Continued from February issue.)
Part V — 1929-1930
The K.T.T. Velocette come up for test in 1929, and was ridden by that cheery and versatile soul, W. S. Braidwood, who was actually entered by Dunham and Haines of Luton for that season’s Junior T.T. The Velocette was a quite standard K.T.T. and a bicycle of surprising smoothness and mechanical silence on the road.
The machine felt absolutely in one with the rider right from the word go, and the “one kick, one gear” foot-change, pioneered by Velocette, was greatly appreciated. So splendid was the road-holding and so ably did the foot-change enable Braidwood to clamp both hands on the ‘bars, that, contrary to his usual cautious habit, he rode flat out dawn Bray Hill in practice and in the race.
So far as speed went, Alec Bennett’s “works” Velocette was held for much of the T.T. lap, and up the mountain, when Bennett stayed in his higher top gear while Braidwood kept in second, the Motor Sport entry actually gained. This happy duel came to an end when Braidwood ground-looped on a patch of sticky tar, bending the near-side ‘bar, splitting the tank and damaging the back brake. Some attention at his pit got him back in the race and he finished at an average speed of just over 64.5 m.p.h. The engine was going nearly as well as when he was flagged away and he was warm in his praise of an £80 machine which lapped during the race at a fraction under 69 m.p.h. The only trouble in practice was spreading of the brake linings, cured by changing to another make of lining. And that, apart from praising its ordinary road manners, is all your motoring journalist of twenty-one years ago had to say about a machine lent to him for a complete T.T. race. But, as a K.T.T. Velocette had been ridden to victory in the Junior T.T. that year, perhaps comment was superfluous!
Next, a two-stroke—interesting, because the Vintage Motor-Cycle Club is anxious to encourage such motor-cycles amongst its membership. The one tested in 1929 was that old favourite, the 172-c.c. Francis-Barnett. The appearance of this latest model was at last thought by the writer to be reasonable, the saddle-tank in good taste and devoid of lumpiness. There was ample comfort for a large rider and no cramping was experienced. The Villiers automatic pressure-lubrication system ably looked after the running-in of a brand-new engine. As the initial stiffness wore off, quite high average speeds were found to be possible, with about 55 m.p.h. as a reasonable maximum. There was probably a trifle more to come, given a little mild tuning.
The new parallel-action forks provided better roadholding than the earlier Francis-Barnett rocking-action fork, and the “large machine” and solid feel was present over colonial surfaces, coupled with lightweight handiness. The success of these machines in trials was touched on, and praise was bestowed on the new gear-lever position, on the tank instead of directly on the gearbox, the light and sweet clutch action and the generally easy control.
The brakes, too, had improved, and both were extremely powerful without being fierce, and they didn’t require adjusting throughout the test. The brake pedal, however, was easier to use after it had been bent outwards a trifle, as otherwise the foot had to be moved inwards to operate it. The direct lighting system was satisfactory, but the headlamp bulb was difficult to replace when inadvertently broken, nor was the crude lamp switch inside the fork blades liked by our tester. The automatic lubrication system, as we have said, was entirely satisfactory, but oil was also added to the petrol to make quite sure of not burring-over the piston-ring grooves when starting on a rich mixture which might wash oil from the cylinder bore. The price of the 172-c.c. Francis-Barnett in 1929 was £36.
Only one motor-cycle was tested by Motor Sport in 1930, four-wheeler matters presumably proving more pressing. The sole two-wheeler test was devoted to the 497-c.c. Ariel, an o.h.v. combination costing £59 17s. 64. in solo guise.
The Ariel felt and performed as it looked, in a “solid” manner. The enclosed push-rods, grease-nipple-lubricated rockers, neat piping, with a minimum of bends and union nuts, of the dry-sump lubrication system, the oil gauge in the top of the tank, the adequate cylinder finning, and the ribbing on the lower half of the crankcase, were noted with approval. In London traffic the excellent tick-over and smooth, light, clutch was much to the rider’s liking, while on the “open road” an excellent maximum speed was obtainable. The riding position ensured comfort and lack of strain on long runs, and then, down at Camberley—today verboten to motorcyclists—the willing slogging of the 81.8 by 95-mm. engine and the stability and robustness of the Ariel showed up extremely well. Starting good, brakes excellent, mudguarding somewhat above average, were other praises bestowed on this 1930 motor-cycle. The fishtails on the silencers, it is true, were liable to jab the rider’s legs painfully when the machine was being pulled on to its stand, and the sidecar, quite comfortable and roomy, had a door that was rather awkward to open and close, due to lack of stiffness in the body panel. In general, however, this was a thoroughly good machine, with 7-in. brakes, a Burman gearbox giving ratios of 4.75, 7.6 and 13.9-to-1, Amal two-lever carburetter with twist-grip control, and 26-3.25 tyres. The weight, in touring trim, was 370 lb.
That concludes this survey of vintage types tested between 1924 and 1930 by Motor Sport. If your vintage machine today gives you half as much fun as these gave our testers when they were the latest, newest of showroom models—well, you will be getting very good value indeed. The Vintage Motor-Cycle Club is very willing to assist those genuinely interested in pre-1931 motor-cycles and can usually place them in touch with suitable machines, the upkeep and running costs of which certainly represent the most economical thing there is in sports motoring. The V.M.C.C. Secretary is: R. A. Beecroft, 65A, Wembley Park Drive, Wembley, Middlesex.