SPORTS MOTOR-CYCLES OF THE VINTAGE ERA
A Consideration of the Characteristics, Good Features and Failings of Some Classic Machines PART 1-1925
MEMBERS of the comparatively recently-formed and enthusiastic Vintage Motor Cycle Club will be especially interested in how the ymachines of the nineteen-twenties performed when they were presented to Mown SPORT for Press testing. These tests took place in those happy, faraway days when you could buy all the petrol you craved and the open road was yours to enjoy—a happy age indeed for a keen young motor-cyclist eager to discover for himself the outstanding features and possible shortcomings of the then current sports models. So today, when a vintage motor-cycle offers the most inexpensive sporting motoring there is, let us look back and discover how our testers fared with such motor-cycles when they came to them for trial as new machines.
The first experience which “Open Throttle, Junior had was to take over a 989-c.c. V-twin solo Harley-Davidson ” Electric ” model, so called because it had coil ignition and electric lamps, whereas its opposite-number merely employed a magneto and an acetylene generator. Perhaps the Wintry weather was responsible, but not many roadimpressions were given. It was stated that the maximum speed was somewhere about 85 m.p.h. and, recalling a pillionride on one of these machines at the age of 12 (from which we returned to announce seriously that we felt “years younger ” !) this can be believed. The pedal operated clutch worked well, but the tester wasn’t sure that he didn’t prefer a lever controls while he also seemed to dislike the collapsible footboards. The new-shape saddle was considered very good, but bouncing was apt to occur unless the rider put his full weight on it. The 84.1 by 80 mm. i.o.e. engine ran more quietly and evenly than the 1924 version and the Schebler carburetter, twist-grip controlled and with three single-lever settings, received warm praise, while the tank held four gallons of petrol. Steering, too, proved admirable, while the forks now had two large springs behind the cylindrical metal tool case. Finally, the ease with which the Harley could be raised 3 inches on to its stand deservedly got a paragraph and a photograph on its own account. Another V-twin, in the form of a solo 680-c.c. Zenith, came along next. Arnold Radclyffe, who rode it for this paper, couldn’t find a single thing to criticise, save the hard saddle, which, personally, he preferred. The “handlebars, tank and saddle all at the same latitude” proved, unexpectedly, as comfortable as the lower riding positions afforded by 1925’s dropped-frames. With a 44 to 1 top gear and chain-drive in lieu of the 84 to 1 top speed and belt drive of the famous 5-0 h.p. ” Gradua,” the ” 680 ” was still a goer. The maximum was in the region of 62 to 63 m.p.h., yet you
could walk beside this Zenith in top gear. It was inaudible if a flying helmet was worn and quite vibrationless. Ridden hard for 100 miles with pillion passenger the machine showed no signs of distress, was comfortable on softly-inflated 26 by 8 Avons and negotiated a foot-deep flood without misfiring. The 3-speed SturmeyArcher gearbox was quiet and the gears could be changed with the knee if desired, while the clutch was efficient. This was the era of hand oil pump to supplement the mechanical pump—the Harley also had had one—but hard use of the former did not induce the s.v. J.A.P. to smoke, while the AMU carburetter gave very good results, although to obtain fierce acceleration use of the gearbox was called for. The internal-expanding front brake was described as ” the most efficient front brake I ever tried,” while the rear belt-rim brake was also efficient to the last degree—so much so that it earned praise from a policeman after saving the life of an elderly lady! In traffic 2nd gear could be used nearly all the time and the clutch was quite happy, while on the open road a cruising speed of 50 to 55 m.p.h. was possible without noise or vibration, while the maximum of a welltuned solo was estimated at 64 m.p.h. It was pointed out that 55 m.p.h. should be possible with a sporting sidecar. In short—the ” 680 ” Zenith was tops. The only criticisms were that the gear-lever was inclined to impede the rider’s knee in top until adjusted, that without a passenger a fork-damper was desirable to obviate a tendency to ” buck ” at speed and that the greasers were rather small ; later models were, however, likely to have grease-gun lubrication. So much for a very nice motor-cycle. Radclyffe’s next Press outing was on a 84-h.p. Longstroke Sunbeam. This side valve “350,” catalogued as “The Speedman’s Machine,” had two trials ” Golds ” to its credit when taken over and was used to cover the Southern Scott Scramble at Camberley. It looks from the photographs a most insignificant machine to modern eyes and even in 1925 was described as “taking up no room on the road” and looking even smaller than it was by reason of the allblack enamel and inconspicuous finish of the tank. Yet, after a bad ” flat-spot ” had been cured by substituting a 41 jet for a 38, the little Sunbeam acquitted itself nobly over the Scramble course. The really remarkable brakes slowed the machine very effectively before corners and the short wheelbase aided the absolutely perfect steering, while the D. & B. stabilisers, one each side of the forks, ironed out front wheel bounce before it happened. Several laps of Camberley’s-worst resulted in nothing more serious than a bent foot rest, which did not impair the separatelymounted pedal brake. Wild and Woolly, Red Road and Devil’s Drop were nego
tia t ed without faltering and almost without wheelspin and with liberal use of the auxiliary hand oil-pump the engine kept very cool. The E.I.C. magneto was nicely sheltered high-up behind the ” pot ” and gave floodless, single-prod starting from cold. The Sporting Mum ” gas-works ” was generally good, but might have been improved by a small-range variable jet. The ” Longstroke ” was normally supplied with an ordinary chain guard, but this Press-job had Sunbeam “little oilbath” chainca,ses, which Radclyffe thought worth a little extra weight and loss of accessibility. The 3-speed gearbox, with Sunbeam’s dog-clutches actuated by rack and cam, gave very quick changes and was extraordinarily silent. The ratios in use were 10.5, 7.0 and 4.6 to 1, and with spark fully-retarded negotiation of 10 m.p.h. speed-limits was very attractive, as 6 or 7 m.p.h. was possible without snatch, in top gear. The clutch, too, was sweet, and acceleration rapid. The tank held 11 gallons of petrol and a quart of oil, and 50 m.p.g. was averaged on the 41 jet. The riding position and location of controls were first-class, although, again, the gear lever sometimes fouled the rider’s knee. First-gear would not engage without a crash from a standstill, incidentally. Off to Brooklands, 73 to 74 m.p.h. was reached, which is good
going for a twenty-three year old, s.v. design. Clearly another winner !
Next on the list for road-test in 1925 was a 350-c.c. Four-Valve Rudge combination. Radclyffe had it for a long week-end but at first he wasn’t very enamoured. The quadrant change for the 4-speed box, having no positive notches for gears other than top and bottom, made rapid changes impossible until one had had about 100 miles’ practice and careful selection ruined the accelerative capabilities of the outfit. Then, with an empty sidecar there was frantic steering wobble, necessitating both hands on the bars at over 20 m.p.h., although with the skiff-shape ” chair ” occupied all was beautifully balanced. The saddle was considered useless for anyone over fourteen. Finally, nearing Byfleet, lots of noise became evident which the rider attributed to the push-rod gear actuating the four o.h. valves—until the engine seized solid and the outfit slid in a straight-line for nearly 40 yards ! Actually this last bother was our tester’s fault, as he had let the oil tank dry up before replenishing it and an air-lock had starved the pump. However, the bigend (fortunately roller-bearing) survived and, consoling himself that sound hubs are of greater worth in a 142 (solo price) machine than a super-saddle, etc.—value in the machine rather than on it, in fact
—Radclyffe continued. Ile soon forgot he was astride a “350,” especially when returning to Staines from Brooklands, the cx-Zborowski Merc6des came by with a roar, to be held until the straight beyond Runnymede, the Rudge sometimes in top, sometimes in third, during this ten-mile all-out ” dice ” and none the worse for it.
Later, trying “colonial sections,” Radclyffe found that the enclosed-coilspring front forks worked silently, unobtrusively and without bounce, having no need of fork dumpers, and that the false-rim brakes were easily operated and effective, front and back alike. When the correct mixture setting had been ascertained starting proved easy. The dry-plate clutch was sweet and positive ; the constant-mesh doublehelical gears emitted a just-noticeable, not unpleasant, hum. Silencing was efficient and carburation by the Senspray well nigh perfect. Consumption worked out at over 60 m.p.g., the tank holding two gallons. The magneto was positivelydriven and high-up ; the four-valve mechanism of the 70 by 90 mm. engine was noisy only at very low r.p.m. and some 35 m.p.h. could be attained on 3rd gear. No absolute maximum speed was given. In conclusion, the Rudge emerged from its test far better than it began. [To be continued]
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