Chain Chatter, March 1953

By “Carrozzino”

Having dealt at some length last month on the international aspect of motor-cycling sport for the coming year, it will make a change to view some of the home activities. Having put the road-burner, with its 2-1/2-in. ground clearance, away for a time, I did the rounds on a Douglas-Vespa, which served more than adequately during a month’s use. This lower speed travel encouraged one to look in at local events, namely trials and scrambles, and a number of interesting things came to light. Not having seen any trials for some while, due to racing commitments, I was more than impressed by the enormous popularity that the half-day sporting trial still retains, entries of over 200 being the order of the day, while the efficient preparation of the motor-cycles, and sidecars, was so good that one tended to take the complete entry for granted as far as suitability of machine was concerned. It was only the very occasional tatty bicycle that caused one to appreciate that perhaps 50 or 60 machines had gone by all in first-class trials-going condition. This surely indicates that the competitors are taking the whole game much more seriously, while for years now manufacturers have been offering specialised trials models. That the right bicycle for the job is half the battle was most evident in one event I attended, in which a section of the entry comprised regular army riders, on army machines. One felt like weeping for the poor D.R.s struggling along with out-of-date machines that were virtually useless off the hard road, and the odd one or two who knew how to ride were really wasting their time with the army-issue bicycle. I hope the D.R.s never have to use their motor-cycles for war purposes, but if they do and the roads get blown up they might as well throw the machines away, rather than try to ride across country on them.

These half-day events over the rocks and through the mud really are an excellent thing for the ordinary clubman and to watch 40 or 50 of them go through a section that looked impossible, with about as much effort as most people use to go through our village, made me realise just how safe these chaps must be in traffic going. I got the impression that the majority of trials riders are much safer on their bicycles than on their feet, and riding in a trial came as easy as most people ride to the coast on a Sunday, with far less risk. It would not be a bad idea to extend the R.A.C./A.C.U. learner training scheme to a sort of post-graduate course of colonial going, for it does develop the sense of balance to an incredible degree. After all, sense of balance is one of the main essentials in any sort of two or three-wheeled riding and if all motor-cyclists were as proficient as the worst rider in any of the trials I have been watching recently, then I feel there would not be so much hue-and-cry about accidents and wearing crash-helmets. Putting a cover over your head to protect it is all very well, but surely it is much better not to fall off, so that any ideas to improve the riding-standard of motor-cyclists are worth far more consideration than protective methods for people who cannot ride. Even so, there still a great deal of animosity towards trials, as any organiser will tell you.

Watching a scramble recently, this theme was warmed up again, to an even greater extent, for the ability of the average scramble rider to negotiate rough going at speed showed a remarkable skill in balance, throttle control and the ability to make high-speed decisions, while reflex actions were being tested to the utmost. One can easily start a discussion on the benefits to ordinary motorcycles to be gained from competitions, the racing motor-cycle of today, etc., technical advances proved by competitions and so on, but one tends to overlook the human angle. The competition rider must of necessity raise his standard of riding and his skill far above that required under normal road conditions, so that when he is on the road he must automatically ride that much better than the ordinary man, without making any special effort, for a good competition rider does not have one style for the event and another for the road; yet time and time again officialdom frowns upon anyone connected with competitions and automatically assumes them to be more dangerous than the individual who only goes out on fine Sundays. One thing that does worry me is that I find that a road-racing rider, whom one is used to seeing tucked away on a 110-m.p.h machine laid over until the footrests are nearly digging in the ground, never looks very safe on an ordinary road machine. This may be erroneous, but time and again I see well-known racers borrowing a touring bicycle and I never have any confidence in their ability, yet lend them a Manx Norton or a KTT Velocette, and, even if they aren’t going to race it, they inspire confidence the moment they start it up. With the trials rider or scrambles rider I get the reverse impression, they look confident no matter what the bicycle or the conditions, and I would say, though I stand to be corrected, that trials breed the best type of everyday rider, the one most suited to ride a motor-cycle on the public highway. Under normal riding conditions there probably is not much to choose, but riding on public roads produces numerous conditions that are far from normal, and the reaction to any of these is purely a reflex action. Then it is that the trials rider will make a better rider than the Grand Prix rider, for his reflexes are conditioned to the unpredictable due to riding his bicycle on rough going, whereas the racing man very seldom comes up against unpredictable conditions; most of his actions are cut and dried and a sense of judgment is the important thing. The racing rider will probably have quicker reflexes, due to practice at high speed, but they will only react to known circumstances, whereas the trials man’s reflexes have become accustomed to reacting to the unpredictable, which must surely stand him in better stead among the vagaries of the average road user.

Looking around the spectators’ machines at some of these local events it stood out rather noticeably that the “blood-and-thunder” machine of not so many years ago has virtually disappeared. Nowadays parking spaces seem full of machines that all have the same characteristics, merely having different tank transfers. There are a large variety of models, but the variety among the variety is very small. The average motor-cycle today is so refined and smooth that anything in the “hairy” category has to be hidden away under a hedge for fear of embarrassment. When the “boys” used to meet on a Sunday morning not so very long ago, you would get such an assortment of exciting machines as a Rudge Ulster, Big-Port A.J.S., Pendine Brough, Manx Norton, B.14 Excelsior and T.T. Replica Scott. Nowadays the same type of “boys” are all mounted on 500 or 650-c.c. vertical twins and it is a case of  “the blue one is Bert’s.”  I must admit, though, that on paper the moderns are said to be much faster and more manageable.

However hard one tries it is quite impossible to get away from racing activities, and the Secretary-General, Major Loughborough. recently sent me two official F.I.M. publications which appear annually and are invaluable to the practical racing man and the armchair racer alike. These are the official list of World’s Record: standing at January 1st, 1953, priced at 7s. 64., which tells you all you want to know about records and will prove any argument, while the other is that very-useful little pocket book at 2s. 6d. which gives really detailed information about the 1953 International Calendar, and the general. At the same time the official rules for the 1953 World Championship series arrived and it is nice to see that the French G.P. has been reinstated, making a total of nine events to count as classics. Although one talks freely of a world championship, these events only cover Western Europe, so that the title is rather misleading, but as Western Europe is the hub of motor-cycle racing activities the events will no doubt remain world champion races. Even my Utopian outlook pales a bit at the thought of true world championship. In glancing over the results of the series in the past four years, the idea being started in 1949, one name stands out, and that is Eric Oliver.  He is the only rider to achieve a hat-trick, being sidecar champion in 1949, ’50 and ’51. The nearest approach is Duke, with 350-cc. honours in 1951 and ’52. Duke and Ruffo share with Oliver the distinction of having their names in the list on three occasions, but not in the same category all the time. In other words, no one has monopolised any of the solo classes in the way Oliver has monopolised the three-wheeler class.

One final word on the subject of reading matter, and that is about an excellent little publication produced by Stone & Cox Ltd., 44, Fleet Street, London, which comprises photographs, specifications and price lists of all the current British motor-cycles of 1953. It is divided up into sections under type categories, such as Section lll  —  Standard Touring Models over 200 c.c., which makes for easy reference providing you know what, you are looking for, but proves rather baffling if you want to check on how many models B.S.A. make, for example. However, if you have the patience, it is all there, from the 30-c.c. Cyclaid power unit for push-bikes, to the 1,000-c.c. Black Lightning Vincent, and is a jolly good 3s. aid to a failing memory.