This will, I think, be the last event of my Gentleman’s Excursion from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. In September I received a letter from Alan Hummerstone, the long-serving Chairman of the Cyclemotor Section informing me that I was to be awarded the Lee Warner Trophy for a notable exploit on a cyclemotor.
Peter Lee Warner rode around the world on a Sinclair Godard Powerpak in 1953 – 4. He rode over 15000 miles on a butcher’s bicycle modified to carry a larger reservoir of petroil and two gallons of water. (There is a short newsreel of him setting off here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/power-pak-cycle) He had wanted to visit Australia as he was thinking of emigrating and originally planned to ride there and back, going down the east side of the Mediterranean and coming back on a western route crossing North Africa to take a ferry into Spain. In the event he changed his mind and carried on by ship to the United States and crossed that west to east. In 1955 Peter Lee Warner did indeed emigrate and passed out of the annals of cyclemotoring. The idea of receiving a trophy remembering him for my own sedate efforts is humbling enough – he travelled 15 times further than I did and in very much more insecure circumstances!
A Powerpak at the road run today.
It becomes even worse when you read that he had a distinguished war record and a reputation as something of a daredevil. Unworthy as I am, it is nice to be recognised by one’s fellow sufferers and so I decided I would make the effort to attend.
The Rudge/Trojan Mini Motor has received a thorough clean up since its return in May and has been, as far as possible returned to a 1950s sort of look. The only problem was I’ve had to stick to my very efficient and inauthentic Hebe sidestand as the bicycle kept falling off a period Suresta, which singularly failed to live up to its name.
The engine was also stripped as the crankshaft seals were starting to weep (they weren’t the only ones in that Vale of Tears between Penzance and Thurso). As I expected, when I stripped it, apart perhaps from an occasional de-coke, the engine had stayed in one piece since it left the factory in Croydon in 1951. It was very gummed up with carbon and I replaced the seals, bearings and piston rings. When I finished it at the end of the summer I took it for a ride up my test hill. It passed easily and today was the first run since.
A Vincent Firefly roller-drive mounted on a BSA folding paratrooper’s bicycle
I was worried that it might, like the children, misbehave itself at this grown ups party after it had been so well-behaved all holiday. Things started well. In company with a few other of the roller drive bikes pictured here we set out in sunshine along the lanes around Ickford.
After less that four miles the Trojan would only run when the tickler on the carburettor was pressed. Too embarrassed to stop I kept messing as the others overtook me. As they disappeared into the distance, the miniature barks of their willing little engines tally-hoing off the sepia hedges, I accepted the inevitable and stopped for a repair. A gentleman accompanying the ride on a veteran BSA asked what was wrong and I said fuel starvation. “Ah,” he said, “a blocked jet”. This was not something that had happened in 1100 miles but as it’s a one screw job I decided to accept his tip. I blew through the jet, checked the spark plug for whiskering (there wasn’t any) and off we went.
You knew it was coming, the inevitable breakdown shot.
Two miles further on I decided I was sick of the roller slipping on the damp tyre (it had been dry on my test run). After a voluntary stop, a few turns on the adjustment of the engine engagement cable sorted that and we felt once again like man and machine in harmony. It was a very strange sensation on the day I did my test ride. As soon as I sat on the Rudge I felt almost like it was part of me. (For a full rationale of this see Flann OBrien’s The Third Policeman) Today was different. We have spent a month in the Moselle Valley with our pedelec bicycles and it was a while until I felt comfortable on the Mini Motor. Well perhaps comfortable is too strong a word. The roads, although quiet have the most atrocious surface and I was moved to think at one point what species of idiot would want to ride this from Cornwall to Caithness? The day was a typical late autumn one, warm in the bright sunshine and perishing when the east wind caught you in the shade. The route looped back on itself near the end so I had the dubious pleasure of seeing those I had started the ride with heading back as I continued away.
I’d tried to make one or two ‘improvements’ to the bike during the rebuild. The vibration of the engine is such that the numberplate bolted to the rear of the tank (which serves as the engine mounting) can and does crack.
I’d used the old numberplate that the Trojan had originally been given as a backing plate on LEJOG because it had a light mounting. The ride had wrecked it so I obtained a new old stock moped rear plate and stroke of genius, I thought, mounted it on two of those rubber bushes which were used for a Mini exhaust.
The vibration took one of the rubber bushes out first outing, no problem. Back to the drawing board or sugar paper and wax crayon in my case.
The AGM was in a restoration workshop with some very interesting cars and bikes about. It was good to say hallo to some familiar faces. The meeting was extremely calm and friendly for such conventions can be very tense and acrimonious. Not here, there was even a most welcome buffet.
The list of recipients on the back of the trophy includes quite a few people I know and at least two who offered me advice on LEJOG. Stuart Metcalfe (2011) had ridden his Mini Motor back from Spain and Andrew Roddham e-mailed me during the trip to offer his encouragement (and a donation to Alzheimer’s Research). He did his own LEJOG in 1983 (I assume from the list) on a Cyclemaster.
A Cyclemaster at today’s run.
So that’s it. Thanks to the VMCC Cyclemotor Section for a good day. The Rudge is back in the garage for the winter.