The Vintage Motorcycle Club’s Cyclemotor Section Annual General Meeting, 18th November

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.

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Disappointed

It’s about a year now since I began preparations for LEJOG but odd echoes occasionally drift on the wind. This one concerns the Royal Enfield bicycle with Mini Motor attached that I purchased on the morning I left Worcester.

My immediate thought on seeing the bike, that it was completely original, was more right that I could have known. Its only owner registered the bicycle KNP 240 in October 1951 when it became a motor vehicle and put it away sometime before the tax expired in December 1953. The tax disc was on the bike along with front and back numberplates. This owner passed away in 2017 and the auction sale which resulted included the bicycle. So it had lain unused in its early 50s road-dust for 64 years.

With the kind assistance of Nigel Prichard, the vendor, I was able to get a letter from the auction house that had sold the deceased’s effects to confirm that the same owner had registered the bike in 1951. Phill Wright of the National Autocycle and Cyclemotor club supported an application to retain the original registration, following an inspection by Phil Nuttall of the machine. Stowford Lawrence of the National Cycle Collection opined in writing that this was a very original example of a motorised bicycle.

I had hoped that presenting this evidence would persuade the DVLA to re-issue the original registration. No, they said, unless an old log book was present or the registring authority had recorded the frame or engine number at the time, the vehicle must be re-registered with an age-related number. I appealed. Surely, I said, the bike was registered to this individual in 1951 and sold as part of his effects in 2017 bearing the numberplate recorded by the Worcestershire County Council. It has to be the same bike. The evidence they said was ‘circumstantial’ if you haven’t got a document etc, etc.

With the state the world is in just now this is not an important matter. Nevertheless it is a small example of how bureaucracies are allowed to create rigid procedures which have the force of regulations which cannot admit exceptions. There are much more serious examples of this creating injustices as the recent scandal over the treatment of some members the Windrush generation demonstrated.

Nevertheless the fact that a vehicle remained in the same ownership for 66 years and lay unused for 64 years in its original condition should surely make it an unusual enough survivor to entitle it to retain the identity it demonstrably has a title to? Is it reasonable to expect that our owner who had left his machine untouched for 64 years would, in putting his affairs in order before stepping off into the chasm that confronts us all, have thought to himself, now where did I put that log book in May 1951?

Enough of this dyspeptic rant. There are more important things to complain about.

Barton Bike Night – Saturday 14th July

Nothing at all to do with cyclemotoring or LEJOG except in the sense that any sort of powered two-wheeler is welcome and it was the latest bike event I attended. It seemed a funny way to celebrate Bastille Day but according to reports 20000 bikes attended in the afternoon and evening last year (when, of course it wouldn’t have been on 14th July).

I went on Aardvark, an old man’s folly, the Moto Guzzi Nevada. From here, once you ride out of Doncaster, the route through North Lincolnshire is largely rural and, if you avoid the motorways, offers some interesting roads.

When I was planning the excursion I read Francis Pryor’s The Making of the British Landscape (2010) which said that 2263 deserted medieval villages had been recorded. Gainsthorpe, one such, is located just off the old Roman Ermine Street (A15) south-west of Barton on Humber and I decided to make that my first stop. To be honest, to the untrained eye the site of the village looks like a rather lumpy field.

It was apparently the first deserted village in Britain to be photographed from the air in the 1920s and I imagine an aerial view in a setting sun would reveal rather more than the brief stroll I undertook.

Barton Bike Night really does what it says on the tin, there are an awful lot of bikes in Barton, except that unofficially it starts after lunch. The townspeople are exceedingly welcoming. Crowds are sitting outside their houses waving as you ride in and the church halls are open offering tea, cakes and a place to leave helmet and riding gear at very reasonable prices. If you are looking to feel that badass outlaw vibe you probably need to go elsewhere. Any other sort of biker seemed to be made very welcome.

There were a smattering of the type of machine this blog is generally concerned with.

A very nicely presented Excelsior Consort:

An unusual Honda Stream (the little Yamaha in the background was in very good condition):

And this, whatever it is, which was attracting loads of interest and had bags of attitude:

The only thing about riding through an arable landscape in the evening sun is the amount of flying insects about. The Aardvark was covered in streaks, smears and unnameable winged remains by the time we got home. Fly paper might be a better name for it.

The time limit on the donation site (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit) is nearly up and I was very pleasantly surprised to be notified of a very generous donation from Pat and Paul, two regulars at the Sars Poteries gatherings.

The Rudge is still in pieces, albeit rather larger pieces and I think I now have all the evidence available to try and retain the registration number on the Royal Enfield Mini Motor I bought while on LEJOG. All things are moving slowly in the Great Heat.

Martin Squires

Martin sat and did a pen and ink drawing of the Rudge at Stafford and it has appeared in Classic Bike in Martin’s regular column. It’s a lovely portrait of the old bike and a very nice write up and I’m touched.

The magazines devoted to old bikes, both professional and club fanzines, take a bit of a barrage of criticism at times but those that have given notice to the ride have all been very supportive of the Rudge’s LEJOG.

To be fair The Barnsley Chronicle too were more than kind about the excursion although as a fully paid-up slacker I was a little embarrassed by the headline. It’s not really dedication to do something you enjoy is it? Ah the fatal attraction of alliteration for the headline writer:

Nothing much else to report at the moment but the Rudge is coming back together slowly after its post-LEJOG refresh. More on this later.

NACC Coast to Coast 23rd – 24th June

We received a cash donation last week to Alzheimer’s Research UK taking the donation page total to just under £2200 – thanks very much Kenneth. https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit

Latest small bike event was the NACC’s Coast to Coast from Crimdon Dene just north of Hartlepool on the North Sea to Whitehaven on the Irish Sea over two days, about 70 miles each day. Ian McGregor asked me at Randos Cyclos three weeks ago if I would help this year as the usual organiser, David Casper was unable to attend. It was four years since I had done the ride and more than twenty since I laid out the route so I was very happy to agree.

Ian arrived early at the start point and set up the signing on table and tea bar. Eventually 25 bikes and riders were enrolled and the 20th NACC Coast to Coast was underway.

The most common bike was the ‘Step-thru’ design with both Honda and Yamaha variants present in 50, 75, 80 and 90cc sizes. One of the Yamahas was an earlier two-stroke design which is less often seen.

There were also some more traditional NACC machines with a couple of 60s sports mopeds, a Beta and a Bianchi, two autocycles, a much modified James and a Francis Barnett Powerbike, various brands of moped including a couple of NSU Quicklies, a three speed Puch, a Zundapp and a Mobylette. There were also some more recent 50cc machines including a Yamaha FS1E (with a YB100 engine in it), a Honda SS50, a Yamaha trail 50 (ridden by Ali, one of only two women riders) and a Fantic.

Finally but certainly not least there were a group of more modern mopeds including a couple of the Yamaha shaft drive models, a Peugeot 104, a Honda Camino and a ‘Step-thru’ Honda LAC which looks like its geared siblings but is actually a true automatic moped.

Slightly confusingly the Japanese moped standing in front of the French one is wearing the onions. (And why has the French bicycle mounted onion seller become such a part of English popular consciousness? I can just remember my father trying to practise his night-school French with one more than half a century ago.) All the first three bike were French registered.

There were no cyclemotors this year. It is, particularly in bad weather, a hard run for a powered bicycle as I can attest from my own crossing on the Rudge in 2013.

The route goes through the old Durham coalfield villages into the more agricultural westrn part of the county and up over the moorland to Alston, the highest market town in England. This final section from Middleton in Teesdale has a wild beauty viewed from a steadily climbing road. The pub at High Force is one of the regular stops.

The second day climbs the Hartside Bank from East to West. We usually stop for a cup of tea at the Cafe but sadly it has burnt down. The view from the top is wonderful as the Lake Distict is laid out in front of you and to the North you can see the Solway Firth and the south Scottish coast.

After the run down to Penrith the route takes a northerly traverse of the Lake District via the Sun Inn at Bassenthwaite to Cockermouth and then south-west to its finish at Whitehaven. My favourite section on the second day is from the turning to Heskett Newmarket to the pub at Bassenthwaite with the Northern Lake District hills including Skidaw looming over your left shoulder as you climb Caldbeck Common. There was little ‘looming’ this year as the weather was superb both days.

There was very little mechanical trouble although the little grey Mobylette, on its eighth Coast to Coast, was off colour and the three-gear Puch valiantly struggled up the steeper inclines in its very low bottom gear.

And my ride? Well with 79cc and four gears I felt like I was cheating. On my first route-mapping ride in 1996, on a Honda XBR500 that I had at the time, I came back over the Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.

Isn’t time unkind?

In 2014 I did the same on my Honda 90 so I felt it was the Yamaha Townmate’s turn. No skill is required: you sit while it slowly winds its way up in first and then gingerly hold the brakes as it winds its way down. Hardknott is the steeper of the two and the little Yamaha did itself proud by climbing the straighter and less steep Wrynose mostly in second gear.

Arkwright’s Fowl and I did 411 miles in the three days – all credit to the bike not the rider.

Randos Cyclos at Sars Poteries, near Avesne sur Helpe, France

This was our latest bike related trip, the 27th Randos Cyclos in northern France. There are a band of NACC members who go every year and have been doing so for most of the event’s history. John Redding, the discoverer of the Sars Poteries gathering as far as British participants are concerned, has attended 26 times. The ride attracts entrants from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain every year. There have also been riders from Switzerland and this year the organisers were pleased to welcome a rider from Germany, the first for some 15 years. It’s a very convivial event held in a very French way with an autojumble at the sign on, a meal in the Sal des Fêtes, a ride to a halfway point, a drink in a cafe and, after the return, dessert, a prize giving, speeches (translated for Anglophones) and the result of the raffle. The raffle is always for an old moped and the winner is expected to bring the bike back restored to a future Randos Cyclos. This year a bike won in 1993 returned for the first time so there may be something of a backlog. The atmosphere between the different nation represented is always very friendly and for the enthusiast there is a chance to see machines that are not present in the UK. The countryside around Avesne is bocage (basically meadows) with quite a number of woods. It’s fairly quiet and the riding is excellent for these small capacity machines. If you have never been and would like to try it an email to: randocyclo.sars@gmail.com will put you on their mailing list for next year. The run is on Sunday 2nd June 2019.

The signing on and autojumble. Over 100 machines participated in event.

‘Le Sauvage’ an unusual cyclemotor. We liked the engine guard with ‘visor’ like a medieval knight’s jousting helmet.

Ian McGregor’s Vap 4. One of the few true cyclemotors to complete the run in 2018.

Simplicity in miniature with all the bits in the right place (unlike so many cyclemotors) and no, I have no idea what it is.

The drinks break in a very French square.

Beautifully presented sports mopeds are a feature of the event.

Other news more related to LEJOG: The Rudge is still in bits while its cycleparts are serviced. The Sturmey Archer gear hub has been returned to Peter Williamson for his ministrations. (petermwilliamson@yahoo.co.uk). New tyres await fitting and its LEJOG accessories have been removed and its period fittings re-attached. I am going to check the engine over too.

The ‘new’ Royal Enfield Mini Motor bought during the trip is in the process of trying to recover its old registration number. This is not straight forward but help has been received from Worcestershire Archives, the Cycle Museum at Llandrindod Wells, the vendor and a local auction house. It may not be possible to prove the provenance to the satisfaction of the DVLA in which case an age related number will be issued. That would be a pity for a machine in such original condition.

The machine is an almost exact contemporary of the Rudge. The bicycle is from 1948 – 1949 and the engine was registered in October 1951. The difference being that this has been an item since the latter date while the April 1952 registered motor on the Rudge was fitted in 2011.

Another £40 has been received for Alzheimer’s Research UK since the last post. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit) Visitor numbers to the blog had fallen as expected but suddenly rose again last week to the level of the week after LEJOG was finished. The mydonate site is open until 9th August so it seems worth keeping the blog ‘live’ with occasional posts of loosely relevant material until that time.

A lovely 1934 French-owned Morgan seen on the Baie de Somme en route to Biarritz

A rather less lovely Simpson SR50 demonstrating the East German state’s flair for flowing lines and swooping curves – nevertheless interesting, beautifully restored and exploring the Baie de Somme two-up!

Finally a BSA B31 engined custom bike. Not one for the purist but well executed and very suitable for exploring the Peak District where it was photographed outside the Old Smithie Cafe in Monyash.

Post script 2

When I was staying in Worcester (Day 6) after I’d had a chat with my landlady, written the blog, missed the food service in the pub and dined magnificently on olives, crisps and nuts, I was idly flipping through my phone when I realised that a bike for sale that I had been watching was actually located in the town. A message or two later and I had an appointment to view before I headed for Ironbridge.

There was, of course, a perfectly logical reason why I was interrupting an attempt to ride a Mini Motor powered bicycle to John o’ Groats in order to consider buying another bicycle with a pretty much identical Mini Motor attached.

When you reach the age I am at now it becomes obvious that things are not going to continue as they are forever. So in my garage loft there is a ‘step through’ frame (formerly referred to as a ‘ladies’ frame) which was awaiting rebuilding with a motor for the time when I can no longer mount a bicycle with a crossbar (notice how I cleverly avoided the phrase ‘leg-over’). However, although the fact that I had united the engine and bicycle on the Rudge gave me a freer hand in peparing for LEJOG, the idea of owning a machine that had actually been used as a cyclemotor at the time appealed. You are following this aren’t you? There is a test at the end.

The ‘logic’ bit resided in the fact that the bike advertised appeared from the photographs to be untouched since the 1950s but only a viewing could satisfactorily confirm that. Nigel’s Mum’s bungalow was in another area of beautiful South Worcestershire countryside. As soon as he showed me the bike I knew it fitted the criteria. Not only was the 1953 tax disc still on it but it was obvious nobody had cleaned it since. It had the authentic oily crud that only a Mini Motor can produce (and which has taken hours to scrape off the Rudge this week).

Anyway to try and draw this to some sort of conclusion – Dear reader, I bought it and collected it today.

There has been some discussion since I got back as for me this is a treasure: The authentic dirt from the year we were born, the tax disc issued when I was 3 days old, the ‘War Grade’ tyres… For Barbara this looks like expensive, time-consuming scrap.

There will always be Philistines amongst us, David, rise above it.

As far as the fundraising goes there have been a couple of generous donations. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)

I need to thank Jane Lea-Jones who not only got Barb the gig on Penistone FM but also contacted the Barnsley Chronicle who did us proud last Friday. I must thank Macky Chell and Jane Hobbs too. Having spent some time cleaning up the old awning we gave them at the end of last season and finding that it wouldn’t fit their van, they donated the whole of the proceeds of its sale to Alzheimer’s Research UK.