Training? What training?

That I have a strong interest in (some might call it an obsession with) two-wheeled vehicles, powered and unpowered, may well have struck the reader if they have waded through this blog. And well done if you have, by the way, my nearest and dearest inform me that, if you have managed to stay awake as well, you have unusual perseverance and a high boredom threshold. (Thanks guys 😐)

Despite this passion I am not actually much of a cyclist so as soon as I committed to LEJOG I needed to address the question of ‘training’. The exercise instigated by riding the Rudge is generally light with prolonged periods of moderate effort and occasional bursts of frantic lung-busting, leg-breaking hyper- ventilation to keep some sense of forward motion on steeper hills. What could best prepare me?

The consensus appeared to be that for cycle touring ‘real’ riding was better than the gym (phew!) and the Lonely Planet guide that provided the route actually set out a plan of increasing weekly mileages.

Not wanting to wear out either the motor or the bicycle before my 13th April start, I started with my ordinary cycle. Ride One (about 4 miles up a hill and back) went well. Ride Two (same ride two days later) hurt. Why was I doing this to myself?

The West side of Barnsley is all hills and being of an age when one’s thoughts turn to electric bicycles I decided an excellent training aid would be a Khalkoff ‘step through’ electric bike which Barbara and I could eventually share. (I got in trouble this week when visiting Geared Up Cycles in Wombwell for referring to this as having a ‘ladies frame’ – quite right too. Sorry.)

Initially I was a little disappointed in the pedelec system as it’s the opposite of the Trojan; the more you pedal the more it helps. On the Rudge the more you pedal the more the Mini Motor puts its feet up and hums while it watches the (slowly) passing scenery. However, riding with my son Rob, who has been able to beat me up hills since he was 14, I felt the benefit. Eat my dust you whipper snapper. And so the ‘programme’ began:

  • October – 3 rides
  • November – 6 rides (improving 👍)
  • December – 2 rides (family illness, Christmas, bad weather)
  • January (first half) – 1 (1 😲 !?!?) Going backwards.

Our scene moves to Spain…

First three weeks: 11 rides (including one 32 miler unpowered – Whow! 👏) Last three weeks: 7 rides (2 uphill!!! See above.)

Return to the UK: Fog, rain, wind, snow.

The plan:

My ‘record’ so far:

It’s not going to make a difficult ‘spot the difference’ competition is it?

Like dogs, training programmes grow to look like their owners. In this case indolent, undisciplined and ill-coordinated.

Advertisements

I say, isn’t that rather cheating? (2)

There are two basic theories about how an old motorcycle should look: ‘concours’ – stripped down, repainted, re-chromed, re-engineered and re-assembled to look as near possible exactly as it came out of the showroom in 19-blah or ‘with patina’ – mechanically sound and with any deterioration that would threaten its survival addressed but showing the ‘finger marks’ of the humans who have ridden it. In the latter camp the ‘period accessory’ is much admired – a part added by a former owner (or bought by the present owner and discretely bolted on) which leaves the machine looking as it might have done in 19-blah + n (where n is the notional number of years before the bike became hopelessly obsolescent and was relegated to the shed where it languished until it became ‘collectable’).

The cyclemotor, by its nature, is in the ‘with patina’ camp because the bolt on engine is a period accessory. The (very small) world of enthusiasts for this type of machine is made up of bikes that look as they might have done in say 1954 before increased prosperity and the purpose built moped swept these Heath Robinson contraptions from the highways.

William Heath Robinson died in 1944 before the Cyclemotor Boom but we can detect that, like Leonardo De Vinci, he foresaw the direction of future technological developments – the W Heath Robinson Museum, Pinner

The Rudge normally attempts the ‘with patina’ look but the intervening 64 years have increased the density and speed of road traffic to such an extent that further ‘cheating’ has been deemed necessary for LEJOG. A short proving trip mistakenly undertaken in the murk of a Barnsley tea-time in December re-inforced this view. The British may have an innate love of nostalgia and eccentricity but they have a very low threshold of tolerance for vehicular ‘otherness’. (Discuss with relevance to ‘the national character’ at your leisure.)

So starting at the front the tyres of the old fashioned 26 x 13/8 inches size are Schwalbe Marathon Plus. These are claimed (and have thus far proved themselves) to be puncture resistant. (I refuse to write ‘puncture-proof’, remember the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic?) The rusty wheel rims were replaced with stainless steel items. These are ‘period’ because they were available at the time, although not possibly in 1949 when there was a raw materials shortage following the Second World War and as a result of war production for the Korean Conflict.

The second real cheat is the front brake. Cyclemotors don’t stop very well. When I first motorised the bike in 2011 I discussed this with David Casper of the NACC and he suggested that ‘back in the day’ riders used to rig up a double front brake. A double cable block with adjusters from eBay (mega-cheating – no eBay in 1954) and a period accessory Sturmey Archer braked hub laced into the stainless rim tackled this.

The front panniers are Ortlieb waterproof items which is a partial cheat as the originals would have been canvas but authenticity would have involved risking soggy spare Y-fronts and socks – not good for concentration.

The handlebars are mostly period although re-wrapped in cork tape and with new rubber grips to replace the very hardened John Bull No 2s (that’s a precise description not a euphemism for constipation). The big cheat on the handlebars will be a bicycle Sat-nav that should prevent me having to stop at every corner to consult a map – once I have mastered how to programme the route into it. A lesser secondary cheat is the modern LED front lamp. The Rudge has a dynamo to power its original headlamp but as my friend Phil Nuttall pointed out, “if you get stuck the lights will go out”.

The bottom or pedal bracket was stripped and re-greased by Geared Up Cycles of Wombwell but that’s sensible maintenance not cheating. The addition of a water bottle cage also doesn’t count as that’s sensible maintenance for the rider.

The saddle is a Brooks B67 with springs. A minor cheat as the bike came with a B17 (no springs) but the extra weight of the engine dropping into potholes was very uncomfortable. A matching toolbag is a (ridiculously expensive) modern period accessory.

The rear caliper brake behind the saddle is a nuisance with a Mini Motor. It gets in the way of the engine and is too close to all the grit picked off the tyre by the roller and chucked in its direction. I’m trying some Kool Stop Continental salmon brake blocks which definitely look like they’re cheating as they’re pink.

The 4 speed Sturmey Archer rear hub is a long term period accessory/cheat. The Rudge originally had a dynamo in the front hub and 4 gears in the back. This later hub which has 4 gears and the dynamo was checked over by Peter M. Williamson of Cambridge for LEJOG and allows the front brake hub cheat.

Finally there’s nothing worse than having your lunch and spare undies smelling of petrol and two stroke oil so I have made a little rack for each side under the engine to carry these essentials. The amount of time it took me to make and then re-make these after I had to re-position the engine lifting hoop means this can’t really count as cheating. Oh and the side-stand is a modern one as the reproduction period accessory Indian made item looked likely to collapse once the bike was loaded up.

The first donations on my sponsorship page (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit) have come in even before I start. So a big thanks to Pam and Haydn, Rex Hake, Tin Snail and Graham and Christine Pointon. The page is telling me there’s only 39 days to the start. That’s scary.

The engine:

As most of you who have found your way here probably have some idea about the Mini Motor I don’t propose to give a detailed history. The ‘Mini Motor’ section of the web’s ‘The Moped Archive’ will give you more information than you probably ever really wanted to know. ‘The Stink Wheel Saga – Episode 1’ by David Beare, Andrew Pattle and Philippa Wheeler (2004) describes the cyclemotor boom in book form and has a whole chapter on the Trojan Mini Motor.

Very briefly the Mini Motore was designed in Italy by Vincent Piatti as an auxiliary engine to drive lathes and similar devices. Its possibilities as a crude way to motorise a bicycle were quickly apparent and may have influenced the design. It is quite ‘large’ for a cyclemotor with a bore and stroke of 38 x 44mm giving 49.9ccs.

Its beauty is its simplicity. The crankshaft has a magneto on one end and the drive roller on the other. The two stroke engine is ‘piston ported’ so cut outs in the cylinder walls align with cut outs in the piston to allow pressurised mixture in the crankcase to be forced up into the cylinder. There are therefore just three moving parts: the crankshaft, connecting rod and piston. (This is not quite true as a set of points, activated by a camshaft cast into the magneto side journal of the crankshaft, time the spark.) The carburettor, which is needleless, is unusual in that turning the air filter adjusts the mixture to the engine and is used to fine tune the engine once warm, weaker on the flat and richer for the hills. With practice this can be done ‘in-flight’ by stretching a ‘blind’ left hand behind you while controlling the bike with the right.

Image from: http://www.Buy_Vintage.co.uk

The tank acts as the engine mounting frame and is hinged from the seat post. A cable to the handlebars operated by a large lever with a catch raises and lowers the engine. The engine was built from 1949 to 1957 and its ancillaries were developed and improved over the first four years. One of the most significant of these changes was a ‘toggle action’ mechanism which held the engine more positively on and off the tyre.

Mark 5 engine with ‘toggle action’ lowering mechanism. (Photo from the Trojan Motors Museum)

Probably because the position of the engine leaves the bicycle’s own transmission intact (and therefore able to assist the engine through an existing gear system) the Mini Motor was quite a successful as a long distance machine. Three Italian riders rode three machines to the UK in 1948 to find a British manufacturer willing to produce the engine under licence. Once Trojan started production George Murray Denton, an enthusiast for the engine having seen the Italian version in action on holiday in the country in 1948, became sales manager and with a team of other riders promoted the motor in a series of long rides, some against the clock.

A Mini Motor rider clocks in on a timed long distance event in the 50s (photograph believed to be from Denton family archive now owned by Tony Dent)

Motor 1

The engine I originally fitted in 2011 is a Mark 3 (prefix C) sold new in April 1952 in Leeds. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ – so apart from adjusting the timing, cleaning the carburettor and changing the spark plug I have left it alone.

I bought it off the son of the original owner. As a boy the vendor lived in Bradford where his father was a school caretaker. At lunchtime the boy used to meet his father who worked in another school not far from the one he attended. When the boy was a young teenager his father was transferred to another school on the other side of the city and lunch together became impossible. Refusing to be beaten, the boy dragged his father’s old tandem from the shed which at that time had the Mini Motor attached. Ingeniously he covered the engine (which he was too young to ride) with some home-made cardboard panniers. Lunch with Dad was on the menu again. All appeared to be going well when an apologetic police officer overtook the innocent looking outfit and flagged the young cyclist down. “I am sorry sonny”, he said, “I had to stop you to let you know that there’s smoke coming from underneath your luggage. I think you tyre must be rubbing somewhere.” Further investigation led to the miscreant’s father being fined 17s 6d for allowing a motor vehicle to be used by an unlicensed driver.

Motor 2 (the spare)

I have built up a second engine to try and head off the bad luck that is almost certain to follow my having left Motor 1 to its own devices. It was an eBay special ‘with compression and a spark’. The seller neglected to mention that it also had a cracked cylinder head, damaged piston and broken Woodruff key which ensured that the spark wouldn’t actually have made the engine run. Luckily a misspent middle age has left me with a large plastic box of Mini Motor components and the engine runs now although not as well as the original.

One crucial factor in the LEJOG ride with be the roller’s relationship with the back tyre. Trojan produced three types of roller: the ribbed (as in the picture from Vintage Bikes), the carborundum and the herring-bone. The first grips moderately but wears very quickly, the second grips well but destroys the tyre and the third neither grips particularly well nor wears the tyre rapidly. Motor 1 has roller type one and Motor 2 has type three. This should ensure 850 miles of roller slippage but not too many new rear tyres (which are a pain to fit).

Motor 2 on its first proving run – that power! That sound! That vibration!

A particular history of the Rudge Pathfinder

Although the Rudge has been in my extended family since new, until recently I knew very little of its first decade apart from the fact that it had originally been bought by my Uncle Bob. Recently, however, my cousin Sue Langford turned up these photos of Bob and Kathleen on a cycling holiday in the very early fifties.

This is what the Pathfinder was intended for and the pair cycled from the Hampshire – Dorset border along the South Coast and into Devon. They then headed up to reach the North Devon coast. There is no photograph of them with the bicycles as far as Sue knows. It was not about the bike… Except that talking to my Aunt Kath recently she said that they enjoyed the trip but returned never intending to repeat it. Cycling in the Devon hills had been really tough.

Bob and Kath met at a youth club and it seems likely that group cycling, which was very popular at the time, may have been one of the activities. After they married in 1953 the cycle was relegated to more mundane duties and that by the end of the fifties was surplus to requirements. As far as I know neither of my cousins, who are both younger than me, remember Uncle Bob owning the Rudge.

I believe I remember my father having a black bike before the Rudge and him riding to nursery with me before I started school in 1958 but I can’t be sure. The Pathfinder was following the general trajectory of cycling in the late 1950s and was bought by my father to cycle to work. I know my father valued the quality of the Rudge but what preserved it intact into the millennium was an unwillingness on his part to replace or indeed spend any money on it. During the forty years of his ownership it gently decayed: the four gears became three, the Brooks saddle hardened and cracked and the frame lost its bright blue, fading to silver and then the black of its undercoat. The lights ceased to illuminate, the tyres cracked and the wheel rims rusted. Through to the early seventies it commuted to work on fine summer days but a move to North Devon (again!) meant it saw little use. When my parents retired to South Devon it returned to use for shopping trips until developments in cycling finally overtook it and it was replaced by a 21 gear hybrid.

Initially I asked Father for his old bike simply to stop it being scrapped although he was not exactly known for recklessly discarding possessions. It was only after he had suffered with Alzheimer’s for a number of years and no longer knew me that I thought about reviving the old Rudge as a way of maintaining contact with my memories of him.

To be honest motorising a bicycle ruins it and the better quality the bicycle, the worse the sacrilege. I knew I wouldn’t use the bike as it was, however, and discarding everything except the frame and rebuilding it as a modern bicycle seemed to miss the point. I had already owned a couple of Trojan Mini Motors on other cycles, one of which Father had ridden in a few old bike events, so buying a third such engine, while it hardly suggested wisdom, was appropriate.

In its new guise the old Rudge took part in four adventure in 2012/13. It completed the Sars Poteries Rally in northern France twice, stormed the 100 mile cyclemotor run and managed the NACC Coast to Coast Hartlepool to Whitehaven event run over two days via Alston and Hartside. The first of the Sars Poteries runs was touch and go, largely because it had taken me seven years to renovate my first Mini Motor engined bicycle (A car had run over the frame and flattened it) so this time I just bolted the engine on and went for it. It is surprising how frightening a bicycle stuck at a permanent 20 miles per hour can be. By the Coast to Coast it was the inadequacies of the system rather than any particular weaknesses in this particular example that had become glaringly obvious. I had done the ride before on my original Mini Motor but it had been in warm, dry weather. Mercifully I have largely forgotten the torment of getting the Rudge up some of those hills in the mist and wet. There will be plenty of opportunities to recollect after 13th April.

An Aside

If, on reading the previous post, you found it surprising that it was necessary for me to apologise for the fact that my old bicycle claimed to be a ‘Rudge’, you might need an explanation.

Not only is the world of old bicycle and motorcycle enthusiasts divided into competing sects and churches based around different marques or countries of manufacture but also, as with any other human activity, it has been necessary to construct a class structure to rank these enthusiasms into a recognisable hierarchy. At the apex of the triangle are marques that, for example, had an illustrious racing history, were exclusive and expensive in their day or were particularly technologically sophisticated. At the base are small capacity two stroke machines of purely utilitarian design. Even if all this is news to you, the position in the hierarchy of a ‘bogus’ Rudge with a 49cc two stroke engine driving the rear wheel by means of a roller is probably apparent to you.

The original Rudge Whitworth company on the other hand is, if not aristocracy, then at least gentry. Dan Rudge was one of the pioneers of the British bicycle industry and, although his early death (in 1880) precluded him taking full part in the development of the safety bicycle, the company he founded played an important role. Rudge Whitworth formed in 1894 went on to produce what they modestly described as ‘Britain’s Best Bicycle’.

Moving into motorcycle production before the First World War they introduced the Rudge Multi which offered differing ratios on the belt drive by means of an expanding pulley and won the 1914 Isle of Man TT. After the war they became well known for their spoked wheels for cars. In the late 1920s and early 1930s they built sporty motorcycles in the 350cc and 500cc class with four valve heads in parallel and later radial configurations. With these machines they again won their classes at the TT.

Rudge Whitworth had cachet and class. Their Wikipedia entry, although it acknowledges a decline, doesn’t even stoop to mention the acquisition of the name by Raleigh. Like a poor relation at an illustrious family funeral my poor old Raleigh Rudge has been looked straight through.

A generic biography of my LEJOG bicycle

Attending a gathering of old motorcycle or cycle enthusiasts is rather like going to an ecumenical meeting. As you enter all seems peace and harmony but as you circulate you sense the depths of the schisms and divisions that lie under your unwary feet. So, although it says ‘Rudge’ on the headstock of this bicycle, no devotee of the true Rudge Whitworth faith would acknowledge it as anything other than an illegitimate progeny.

The Rudge Whitworth company was sold in 1935 to EMI and then again in 1942 to Raleigh. The production of all vehicles for private use was practically discontinued in Britain during World War II and fuel for private motoring was unavailable so cycling flourished. In the years of shortage after the war the cycling boom continued and cycling clubs were popular with young adults. This was Raleigh’s ‘hybrid’ bike of that period. It was possible to commute to work on it during the week but it was sophisticated enough to take out on club rides at the weekend.

The Raleigh Lenton Sports (model no 28) was announced in 1948 to sell in the middle price range of quality mass-produced bicycles at £14 16s. The Rudge Pathfinder (no 128) along with the Humber Clipper (no 328) were simply re-badged versions of the Lenton featuring different colour schemes, respectively: green, blue and lilac. The frame was made of Reynolds 531 tubing, essential for any bicycle with pretensions to performance at the time. There were steel drop handlebars, a dynamo in the front hub for the lights and a four speed Sturmey Archer gear in the rear hub. All of which rather negated the effect of the weight saving tubing used in the frame. This 1949 model has aluminium mudguards but later production models were equipped with celluloid guards. Frame colours changed over the years with the Pathfinder in gold and then eventually maroon but this was one of Raleigh’s most successful models with a production span from 1948 – 1963. Women’s framed models of the cycle were also produced providing an excuse for an excruciatingly patronising piece of copy from Raleigh.

My uncle and father’s bike remained in a totally original and untouched state until it was motorised in 2011 and there are a few places, originally covered by clips or brackets, where you can still see the vivid bright metallic blue of its paint.

(The information here is indebted to Peter C. Kohler’s article ‘The Raleigh Lentons’ on the late Sheldon Brown’s Retro Raleighs website.)

LEJOG by Cyclemotor supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK

I say, isn’t that rather cheating? (1)

My donation page (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit) is telling me that there’s 82 days until the 13th April start of the excursion so time perhaps for a little information on my means of transport.

Looking like an exhibit in a bizarre museum, the old Rudge awaits the spring.

The title is something a well-dressed woman, ducking into a pub on the main street of Heskett Newmarket in Cumbria one Sunday lunchtime, shouted after me as I assisted a labouring engine up the not inconsiderable incline. The answer is both yes and no.

Yes it is cheating, because on a level plain a Mini Motor rider can sustain a speed of 20+mph without pedalling once the bike has been propelled to a sufficient speed to start the engine. The engine is of a very simple design and can be fairly reliable. As a two stroke there’s no valve train to worry about and no clutch or gearbox.

No, it’s not cheating because adding an engine on the rear carrier of a push bike turns a lightweight, smooth running, fleet of foot almost-being into a noisy, unstable, vibrating, smoking contraption. The drive is by roller onto the rear tyre and unless it’s completely dry slips leaving the engine revving wildly while progress slows. The effect of carrying the weight of a medium sized sack of potatoes at almost saddle height is to ruin the handling of the machine making for wobbly starts and uncertain stops. The brakes were never intended for these speeds or this additional weight and the rear wheel rim is constantly showered with unburnt two stroke fuel (which contains oil) and a fine coating of minced rubber particles which the roller chews off the rear tyre. And then there’s the hills… Although the Trojan Mini Motor has a healthy (for this type of design) 49cc, below about 12mph it has no torque. This means that to climb a hill it needs to be kept at this speed whatever the gradient. Bikes of this era had only either three or four gears so in hilly country the rider is left breathlessly windmilling the legs to keep the machine, which weighs approximately 50% more than a normal bike, to a velocity which it is almost impossible to sustain for any length of time with the gearing available.

There’s very little to go wrong but it almost invariably does. For a start almost everything on the engine is at least 60 years old. The tiny carburettor blocks its jet and starves the engine or the float sticks and floods it. The magneto readjusts itself or the woodruff key breaks so the spark happens at the wrong moment. If all else fails and the engine needs a break it will seize solid only freeing off when it has cooled. A bicycle was not designed to carry this extra weight constantly, nor to be ridden at these sustained speeds nor to be subject to constant high frequency vibration. Nuts come undone unexpectedly, mudguard stays mysteriously fracture, frames break and potholes encountered at speed become the stuff of nightmares.

There will be days, believe me, when it will feel like I am cheating shamelessly but there will be other dark dreary hours when I would cheerfully hacksaw the engine into four neat pieces and chuck it over a hedge to continue on my way on the unencumbered bicycle.