The Henderson.

By ARNOLD RADCLYFFE, with Notes by F. J. R. HEATH.

THERE must be hundreds of prospective Henderson owners in England who are put off buying one for four reasons : first, complication ; second, weight ; third, unsporting appearance ; and, fourth, nationality. Now I am not trying to sell Hendersons through the medium of my columns, but I think it a duty to explain away some of the objections that are often raised against this machine. To me it has always been an ideal machine, and yet, like many others, I have never owned one though many makes have found a place in my stable. Previous to testing the Henderson, it had never occurred to me to analyse this fact, that despite continuous admiration for the massive motor, I had never even contemplated picking one up second-hand. Out of the four objections,

latter taxes one’s brain to keep it in order. Actually there is an added complication to the Seven, as it is water-cooled, which, of course, the Henderson is not.

I will not enter into a discussion here about the comparative merits of four cylinders against one or two. It is a well recognised fact that the first arrangement is better for car practice, but if you wish to hear more on the subject, it is only necessary to adjourn to a place where two or more motor-cyclists are gathered together and there shall you hear every argument for and against. No one could call the Henderson a sporting looking machine according to our British ideas, but, nevertheless, it has most excellent lines in its 1926 form and its compact appearance is a joy to behold after regarding

I think I must place unsporting appearance first, with perhaps complication as an unlaid ghost in the background. Weight and the fact that the Henderson comes from the States would never have affected me. Complication should not have, but all of us are brought up to think that a four-in-hand needs more managing than a pair.

Now to disperse these bogies. The weight of the Henderson is certainly great, but it is actually lighter than one English big Twin; it is, however, easy to raise it on to its stand, and when astride the low saddle position permits one to place both feet firmly on the ground, so that, unless one is disabled or very puny, the Henderson should not take any more managing than any other machine, since it is a perfect steering vehicle and seems to balance itself at absurdly low speeds. The Henderson is no more complicated than an Austin Seven, and surely, no one can complain that the

some machines whose designers main effort is to build a bike with as many gaps in it as possible. The Henderson is without doubt a sports mount of the highest quality and its comfort should easily outweigh a minor point like its handlebars, and, after all, I suppose those could be ordered to suit. I have seen semi-T.T. bars on a Henderson before now.


I am going to deal first with the machine which was delivered to me to test. This particular outfit was a combination which had several thousand miles to its credit and should, therefore, be in an ideal con dition for a test. At the conclusion of this test, I am pleased to say that I could find not a single loose nut or bolt on the whole machine ; it is regrettable that this is not by any means the case on some machines which one has to test.

Let me say at once, without fear or favour, that I have yet to find a more comfortable machine than this particular balloon-tyred Henderson. It may seem a large statement, but so impressed was I by the absolute comfort and stability, both solo and sidecar, that I feel compelled to admit that I fail to remember having been astride a more luxurious motor-cycle. But this complete isolation from road shock is not accomplished by sacrificing controllability at speed : there is a certain patch of road which is in the process of being widened, and therefore during the past eight months has not been touched. It resembles the effect caused by a stone dropped in a pond. It is possible on a 30-98 or similar car to take this at speed, it is a beastly experience on a motor-cycle with high pressure tyres. It was taken all out both ways on the Henderson, both in the daytime and at night, and the passenger (when the sidecar was attached) complained of no bumps whatsoever, and the driver did not notice them. The surface here is really bad, so bad as to cause a car to jump into the ditch on one occasion. So much for the steering.

Acceleration and Deceleration.

As might be expected from a four cylinder, the acceleration of the Henderson is good : so good, in fact, that the cowpuncher’s saddle fitted is really necessary if one is to retain one’s seat in a dignified manner, when the throttle is inadvertently opened wide and with a twist grip this is always liable to happen at least once in a lifetime.

Deceleration cannot be said to be as efficient as it might be if a front wheel brake was fitted ; this is really an important point which I am led to believe is at present exercising the minds of the designers. As usual, Alms Hill was included in the test as it forms a very good comparative hill, and the descent was made in a very undignified manner as the one braked wheel was insufficient to resist the forces of gravity and the combination was gently lowered over the worst piArt by three stalwart Oxonians. In the case of the machine solo, the brake was quite sufficient, but the heavy sidecar needed more braking power than one wheel could deliver. Nevertheless, the brakes that are fitted are of sensible diameter and their method of operation is easy, yet powerful, the internal expanding one incorporating a type of ratchet in the pedal gear which is very useful in Guildford High Street and similar acclivities.

The ascent of Alms with a heavily loaded two seater sidecar proved child’s play for the Henderson, second gear being engaged above the Cannons, and acceleration was indulged in on bottom gear while climbing the steepest portion. This climb was made with the baffle shut, which rendered speech possible between driver and passenger. The latter’s comment was ” Good climb.” The note of the Henderson with the baffle open is extraordinarily pleasant to the car of the speedman, resembling as it does the throaty rumble of a Bentley without in any way causing undue attention to be directed towards it by the man in blue.

Top Gear Performance. in mind that sidecar ratios were

Bearing strictly in mind were fitted on this particular machine, the following occurrence

is nevertheless a remarkable tribute to the four-cylinder engine.

Passing through Henley, we had just reached the centre of the town and were taking the white line round the bend when a cyclist approaching from the opposite direction and entirely unconscious of our approach, as we were only proceeding at about 5 miles per hour (at which speed the Henderson is nearly inaudible) ran straight at us; braking hard I locked the wheel round to the left and by completing the circle gave the man the little room he needed to avoid us. This had brought us to a standstill, but to my surprise the Henderson picked up on top gear without sign of knock or pink. Truly a remarkable effort.

Cooling. ” “

” Doesn’t she get very hot ? ” was the question put to me by someone, and it is a question I myself have put to Henderson owners. This particular machine by no means remained as cool as some singles do, but its warmth did not seem to affect its performance in any way, no appreciable difference being noticeable in the engine revolutions when cold or when it had been running for an hour or so. The efficient oiling system accounts in large measure for this, as the oil pressure remains always steady, thus the engine is always working under as ideal lubricating conditions as one can at present obtain.

I will close my article with a few words about accessibility. The Henderson at first sight gives one an impression of being solid, and the effect obtained naturally spells inaccessibility of tappets, valves, plugs, etc.; on close examination, however, each of these points were cleared up, and it was found that if anything the Henderson was pleasantly accessible as regards all the important adjustments.

Finish is in dark blue, and pale yellow wheels are fitted to the latest models; the design is quite attractive, and the very wide mudguards combine with the big tank and solid construction to give the impression that the machine is built to last. Not being able to have one of the latest solo models out on test, I requested Mr. Raymond Heath, who is

well known to most readers of this journal, to send me a few notes on his machine. I transcribe them here, almost word for word. Naturally having been a Henderson owner for many years his impressions will be of great interest.

Extracts from Notes by F. J. R. Heath.

It is difficult for me to write in an unprejudiced manner about the Henderson, for one is bound to be an enthusiast for or against it, I think—and if one knows anything about it, it is inevitably enthusiasm in favour.

However, the following jottings may be of interest. I. My motor is non-standard as regards the following points :

(a) Fork dampers (Hartford) are fitted.

(h) High pressure cord tyres are fitted.

(c) Steering damper is fitted.

I fit high pressure tyres because balloons are still an unknown quantity in trials. Fork dampers are less necessary with balloon tyres, but are still desirable as the fork is on the lively side, and on certain types of surface bouncing is apt to occur. The steering damper is there because I like the head of any machine to be stiff.

II. In something over 5,000 miles of heavy work no adjustments to wheels, steering head, primary drive (spiral bevel), clutch, gear box or timing gear (helical gears) has been necessary, and my experience has been that such adjustments are seldom required. Consequently, the only parts that need watching are the final drive chain and the brake adjustments—both extremely simple and not very often used.

The motor will run 4,000 miles without being decarbonised (although I have heard of 9,000) and tappets do not require adjusting in this period. Incidentally tappets are not inaccessible, and all the eight can be adjusted in about 15 minutes or less given an assistant to turn the motor round by the kick starter.

The machine as a whole has been designed for troublefree heavy duty work, and this aim has been achieved, but when things must be done they are easy to do, e.g., no need to remove engine from frame to decarbonise it.


III. Maximum speed I don’t know. I had 86 m.p.h. from a standard fully-equipped 1924 model, but have not fully tried out the later machines. Alms Hill can be comfortably climbed in second gear 51 to I. The motor will maintain touring speeds of 50-55 all day long, and should give 55 m.p.g. If, however, high speeds are required the consumption drops to 40 m.p.g.

Oil consumption can be regulated almost indefinitely. The engine holds 51 pints, and anything from 1,000 to 3,000 m.p.g. may be obtained according to how often it is drained.

Although I always scrap tyres early because of trials I expect to get 5,000 miles from a back tyre and 12,000 from a front one, and on account of the large sized tyres such things as dented rims and loose spokes are unheard of.

My Bonniksen has 21 second intervals between the readings, and the following accelerations were obtained on the level ground on calm days.

Beginning of 2/ secs. … 30 40 50 m.p.h.

End of 2/ secs. 40 50 60 m.p.h.

In other words, from 30 to 60 in 7i secs. This was unfortunately done with a trials gear of 41 to 1 on top as I had not my 31 to 1 sprockets available at the time. The figures were obtained several times in both directions, and can be taken as fairly accurate.

IV. Steering is excellent, controllability on rough stuff absurdly easy, and the forks are reliable. The electric lights work, and in my experience go on working, though the head lamp is pointed down too much for fast night driving.

The lamp will take a 4 amp. bulb instead of a 3 amp. (standard), and this in conjunction with a slight raising of the angle of tilt of the lamp enables one to maintain touring speeds by night as well as by day.

I ought to mention here that one of the chief points about the motor is its slow pulling; I find an 8f to 1 bottom gear amply enough for Scramberley and frequently don’t use a lower gear than 71 to 1 for such trials. The motor is so flexible that the lack of a hand clutch is not felt even on acute hair-pins like Inverfarigaig, etc.