The name Aldo Carrer will be familiar to readers of the AMCA’s facebook page here. His daily posts are the best thing on the page, typically there are 4-5 photos from the early days of motorcycling. Many feature women riders, or pioneer machines in France, or soldiers at war in some faraway place. The images vary, but there is always an old motorbike and sometimes an odd one at that. (Disclaimer: This author has a preference for odd machines!). Which leads us to Aldo’s latest book: Tricycles, Quadricycles and Light Cars. 168 pages, published by Schiffer several weeks ago and available via ABE books from $31 and Amazon from $45. My friends at the local bookshops would like me to remind you to buy local if possible. If not, ABE is a good source to find rare books around the globe.
This book is like his others (more info below), and features photos, advertisements and postcards from the old days. This particular book, as the title mentions, features the machines from the turn of the century with additional wheels. Most of the images have not been seen elsewhere, but a few may be familiar to the very astute reader. I asked Aldo how he finds all these images, and the answer should not have been a surprise. He spends a significant amount of time each year travelling all over Europe to find these items. From his home in Treviso, Italy it is a short jaunt to Switzerland or Germany or France. He visits the small towns and asks all the people that he sees “Do you know old motorbikes?” The swap meets and auto jumbles also yield some scores, but he must then negotiate with the sellers who have now learned his motivation. This is a double-edge sword however, as they will grab up items and hold them in anticipation of his next visit, but they will know his eagerness to buy! He travels as far as England, and his knowledge is not limited to the machines of his homeland. The earliest machines of France roll from the tip of his tongue (even if I cannot quite understand all the words on our Skype calls). And the strange machines and men of Italy or some of the Eastern European countries are not out of reach. The familiar Indians, Harleys, Triumphs, Rovers, De Dions, etc are all present and accounted for on the pages. Plus some oddballs like Phebus, Marot Gardon, Motette, Perfecta, Bruneau, Charon, Austral, even a silly Pennington.
Each image is accompanied by a short bit of text. Just a small caption that describes the country, the type of machine and maybe a note about the circumstances. The words are written in Italian, English and German. There isn’t much story there, the images are the feature and many of them are blown up to be spread across two hardbound 9”x12” pages.
It is great fun to study these men and women and machines. After a minute we realize that almost all the machines have since been demolished for their scrap value. All the people and the dogs have died, and probably their children and maybe grandchildren too. We cannot change that, nor can we go back in time. But we can enjoy the photos and hopefully enjoy the machines in their memory.
The flavor of pioneer motorcycles is an acquired taste. We know that 1% of people ride motorbikes. About 1% of those ride classic bikes. Then a further 1% of those classic bike fans are crazy for the very earliest machines. In America, we have 300 million people. If my math estimate is correct, there are 300 people here who are head over heels for pre WWI machines. If you’ve read this far, likely you are one of those folks. This book is for you.
Readers of the Bibliography Page will know that I only feature books here that interest me, and hopefully you too. I liked this one so much that I bought 5 copies and gave them to friends. Granted, those friends are into 110 year old motorbikes more than the average Joe. But I think that the book was done well. Please enjoy it.
The word Motosacoche translates to “motor in a bag”. and you can see why in the top left images.
To buy Aldo’s books, check the internet as I mentioned above. For his earlier books, he may still have copies in his office. Try his email at oldbike1 (at) virgilio.it That is a number one after the word oldbike.
James Robinson, and his Rex Acme. He is the editor of my favorite magazine, and this is a special R-A that was one of the factory race bikes built for the Isle of Man TT races. Wal Handley laid out the bike design, with a few interesting features in the chassis geometry. Later in the summer James asked me to ride the machine and give him my thoughts, which was great fun!
The frame features dual top tubes over the fuel tank extending from the headstock to the rear axle. The tube under the tank has to curve around the head, like many of the 1920’s OHV and OHC bikes. Typical accessories include the Pilgrim oil pump, 76 AMAL carby, round M-L magneto, Burman gearbox, etc. The bike was restored recently, and James has been working out the little bugs that always appear on such a project. Now it runs as good as it looks.
This special was on display at the Banbury. A Francis Barnett frame and a James V twin motor I think. It looks very handsome in raw metal, with the various brazed joints and dinged up paint visible. The frame is built from a multitude of straight tubes, bolted together at various points to create triangulated support. Have fun trying to count the number of tubes! I got up to 16 not counting the forks or rear stand. A wonderful bike, but I didn’t have time to find out the name of the builder. If any readers have more info, please leave a comment.
Another wonderful machine. The place was filled with them! I didn’t have time to photograph all 600+ bikes, but this one is a DOT. Note the scalloped joint on the bottom of the petrol tank. The tank bottom piece has the scalloped edges so that when it is folded up over the side piece there is additional surface area for the solder to adhere to. It helped to prevent cracks and leaks. Norton and Husqvarna used this method too, among others. (the web tells me that Husqvarna is spelled with a Q without a U! )
Looking very nice is this Premier of Nick Jonckheere from Belgium. It has a countershaft gearbox with footstarter, and is a 1914 model. My ‘13 has the 3 speed rear hub without a footstarter but it otherwise similiar. Premiers featured the little kangaroo on the fuel tank logo until they stopped production during WWI. The 500cc models had the novel auxiliary exhaust port to breathe out the hot exhaust and lengthen the life of the main exhaust valve. About 100 machines remain today.
I sure had a great time. Here we are very early in the morning before most of the bikes had been moved into their starting positions in the parking lot.
Isn’t this NUT beautiful? They were often painted this brown color, but I think that I’ve also seen one colored grey. The nickel plated straps to mount the fuel tank are punched with a series of holes, which is very eye catching. This one has a nice Tan Sad pillion seat and a later front brake added.
Ivan Rhodes is chatting with Dai, standing over the very first KTT Velocette. The radial ribs can be seen on the crankcase to support the main bearings. This one was raced on the Isle of Man, and while it is the first bike to have the new crankcases, it wasn’t actually stamped KTT for the motor number. They did that on later bikes. Ivan is the Chairman of the Velo Club, past president of the VMCC and the Association of Pioneer Motorcyclists, etc. And he’s the author of Velocette, Technical Excellence Exemplified. Don’t pay $200 for a copy though. I’ve heard that he is working on a new revision that should cost a lot less!
This early Triumph was very shiny!
The left foot controls the little toe-and-heel lever for the magneto timing, as well as the rear brake. And the foot lever to open or close the exhaust is just below the footrest too. Plus the left foot does some pedaling to start the motor and for LPA on the hills. Also note the Davison sight glass in the fuel tank, Triumph’s own two barrel carby, the leather water shield over the mag, etc.
What a wonderful Odd Engineering Contraption. The OEC front suspension was novel, there is no doubt about that. It looks good, and works well, but as Phillip Tooth wrote a few months ago in TCM, they really like to go straight!
A Henderson 4 and an Ajay at the bottom of Sunrising. I spent a bit of time here and was able to see a lot of neat machines ride past.
Kim and her mount for the day, the AJS 500 of the Robinson family. She loved it so much that we are now on the hunt to find a similar bike!
A 1920’s two stroke Velocette looking good before the start.
Dave Masters and I. Thanks again Dave for the invite to the Banbury! What a great time.
Now that the riding season is temporarily on hold here in Alta California I have some time to dig through the hard drive to find pics from earlier this year.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of the 1913 Veloce, the plan was to restore the bike and to ship it back to its birthplace in England to participate in the three biggest rides: The Pioneer Run from London to Brighton, the Banbury Run and the Irish Rally.
The 75th Pioneer Run was cancelled due to snow (!) for the first time ever. So we’ll have to wait until April 2014 for my report on the rescheduled 75th. But the VMCC’s Banbury Run came off just fine, with 600 bikes riding through the middle of England. The Banbury made it onto my bucket list because of the sheer number of early bikes. Registration is limited only to motorbicycles made before 1931, which is the cutoff for the VMCC’s definition of “Vintage motorcycles”. So your 1931 bike is old, it is actually a “Post-vintage” machine according to the rules. And the limitations of the rally site keep the quantity of bikes to 600. Each year the event is over-subscribed and hopeful riders must send in their request 6 months before the ride. With such a number of Veteran (pre1915) and Vintage machines on hand, I was experiencing sensory overload all day. Adding to my troubles was the autojumble (UKspeak for a swap meet) with lots of good parts, bikes and projects for sale. Also vying for my attention was the wonderful Heritage Motor Center, a museum of early cars and bikes.
With all that in mind, it was an early start to my busy day. Waking at 5ish wasn’t too hard due to my terrible jet lag, but the fun of the night before meant that extra coffee was required. We had met up with James, Simon, Anne and Bryan Robinson to swap lies and sample beverages and desserts at a local hotel, and the good times had lasted until bed time. Velo guru Dai Gibbison had carried the Veloce up to meet us in the big parking lot, which was starting to fill up with bikes and blokes, even at 6am. Then it all became a blur of nickel plating, gauntlets and goggles, friendly faces, foreign tongues and strange English (?) accents. And everybody was happy to welcome the two Yankees dragging two children around the parking lot. This is probably a good spot for me to insert a public apology for my terrible, terrible memory of names. I do a decent job of remembering faces, and I’m better at remembering bikes, but names escape me! Regardless, it was great fun to shake the hands of so many readers of the Occhio Lungo website. Bumping into local fellows from the Midlands was fun, but then more from Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and even South Africa was just too much! But there was never enough time for more than a hello and howdoyoudo before the next person and bike popped into view.
At some point the local Mayor came by to thank Kim and I for traveling from San Francisco, and that was another very nice thing. At these big English events, the mayor stands at the start/finish line and waves off each and every rider, about 5 bikes per minute. The oldest bikes have a fairly short route, and doing the math will show that when the last bike leaves, only a few minutes pass until the first bikes are back in the parking lot! So the show for the spectators never really stops all day long.
Another Banbury Run tradition is to get lost, which of course I did. There are three routes that can be chosen; short, medium and long. The short route is pretty flat, and is suitable for the 1890’s-1910’s machines, or the lowest powered 1920’s bikes. The longer two routes both go up in the infamous Sunrising Hill. Now with 600 bikes all departing in waves, then making various turns according to their route sheets, it can be easy to just follow the guy ahead of you. But at some point the revelation occurs that either he is lost, or he is actually following one of the three routes that you don’t want! So the best advice given is to follow your own route sheet. But I think the best advice is to not worry about the inevitable event of getting lost. I spent a good hour alone in the beautiful English countryside, occasionally stopping and asking the locals where the old car/bike museum might be. And they were only wrong 50% of the time, so that helped somewhat. And a little liquid sunshine dropped whilst I was on the lookout for a fuel station, but it wasn’t enough to cause the bike’s drive belt to slip. Now that might sound like a bad thing, but the smile on my face couldn’t be wiped away.
Sunrising. We must address that. To a driver or a passenger in a car, it is barely noticeable. If fact Kim didn’t know it that was even it when she rode up on the Robinson’s 1925 AJS. She crested the top and saw that crowd and stopped to see if something had happened! But the crowd knows. They are there to see the early bikes try to climb the hill. Hundreds of spectators line the road along the incline. The hill has a history, and has been used by bike makers and testers from the early days to evaluate the performance of the bikes made nearby in Birmingham. It must be about 1/2 or 3/4 mile long in total. Starting from the flat lands, the road heads up a gentle hill with a first curve to the left. Then there is a sharp right hander, with the road surface being flat camber which makes it hard to lean into the corner. By the middle of that right hander, the incline becomes noticeably steeper, with the last 300 yards being straight, but steep, to the top.
In length or in grade, Sunrising doesn’t compare to many roads here in San Francisco. Riders in the Colorado Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas or even the little Blue Mountains of Idaho wouldn’t pay attention to a hill the size of Sunrising. But the catch is that the Banbury bikes are old, underpowered and working hard. That right hander scrubs off so much speed that the following rise must be begun from minimal motor rpms just above a walking speed, with a clean acceleration and all the torque that the rider and machine can muster. Vintage bikes with two or three gears can simply change down into first, declutch, rev the motor up into a powerband and go. The clutches might get hot and smelly, but not much damage is done. But the engineer will tell you that Power and Gearing is needed to do the Work of lifting the weight of a bike and rider up that elevation.
Which brings us back to the old Veloce. The 500cc’s give a nominal 3.5hp, an actual power of maybe 5 or 7hp. Without a clutch and without gears, hills like Sunrising loom large in the rider’s view. Some of the Rudge Multis with their 500cc’s and gearing failed the climb, and Dave didn’t bother to attempt it on his 2.5hp 293cc Veloce IOE. So how did we do? I saw the hill just before the climb began to that first left hander, then slowed way down for the tight right hander and stalled the motor. Among the crowds of people who line the road to watch, several people jumped up to volunteer to push the bike up the remaining 300 yards. But regular readers will know that I’m stubborn. So I turned the bike back down the hill for a bump start and another run up the hill. Run #2 was filled with slow traffic on newer bikes. They all stopped in the road at the second turn (tight right hander), pulled in their clutches and shifted to first, waiting for the traffic. I came to a stop and without a clutch the motor died. Run #3 I made it a little bit further by giving the bike L.P.A. (Light Pedal Assistance, using the bicycle pedals and chain). This is also a great way to lose weight, pedaling a 200lb bicycle up a hill with poor gearing and wearing leathers and boots…
Run #4 I adjusted the pulley to be a little lower gearing at the bottom of the hill, but the belt slipped while climbing. Run #5 went just a bit better, around the corner and towards the summit before a stall. The guys were still asking me if I wanted help to push the bike up the hill. One more time I told them. Before run #6 I tightened the belt a bit more and got a good run up the hill, around the first corner, around the tight second corner, slowed to walking pace and opened the two levers on the B&B carb slowly to accelerate on the hill. More LPA pedaling and I could see the crest of the hill when the motor finally stalled 50 yards from the top. By this time, Banbury riders had been passing me for the last hour, and bike #600 had already come and gone. I grudgingly asked the volunteer for his help and we huffed and puffed and pushed the bike to the top.
After destroying my credit card and traveling all the way from San Francisco to attempt Sunrising, I really wanted a clean ascent of the hill. But I’ll have to wait until another day. I’m not sure if any one speed direct drive single cylinder bikes made it to the top, but it seemed possible to do it and I’d love another chance.
Thank you to Dai Gibbison for helping this to happen, as well as Dave Masters, the Robinson family and the VMCC for hosting the event.
Dave Masters is on the right with his 1913 2.5hp Veloce IOE model. This is the only existing example of that model Velo, and Dave invited me to bring my ‘13 Veloce 499cc sidevalve over to England to join him for the two bikes’ 100th birthdays celebration. Pic by Nick Jonckheere.
Kim on the Robinsons’ 1928 AJS 500 that she borrowed for the day. Pic by Nick Jonckheere.
At the starting line
A great BAT sidecar rig.
This Brough is a wonderful bike. Donated to the VMCC by a member and restored last year. Those great front forks and great silencers too.
Flat tank Terrot.
A nice Rudge Multi.
Taking off from the staring line. Run and jump.
A Velocette in the jumble
Flat tank Norton in the jumble
Dave and Maggie Masters. His and hers early Velos.
Dave’s IOE Veloce. Two speed, overhung crank, etc.
Getting his ajay ready to go.
Tom Holthaus from Quality Machine Shop in Santa Clara gave me a pile of old photos. –Get in touch with him if you have a pre 1916 bike or car that needs service. He does it all, from pouring babbit bearings, to grinding cams to rebuilding wood bodies, etc.
He was digging around in an office and found these photos that were taken in the 1970s at some pre16 tours. He thinks it was at Hollister, and maybe the photographer was a doctor who attended some of the events back then. No other details are known, except that Tom has written the names of some people that he remembers. Just a few of these guys are still active in the pre16 tours, and it is really fun for me to see them in younger days. The pics were really underexposed, but thanks to the wonders of modern computer programs, I was able to brighten them up. A few are out of focus, but I couldn’t do much about that.
Here is Tom himself, on his 1915 Excelsior twin.
Bud Ekins on his Pope motorcycle. This might be my favorite photo that I’ve seen all year. It is Bud, it has a Pope (OHV, rear suspension, etc. engineering exotica), he’s riding down the road, and his smile and plaid flannel just make me happy.
Another good one. Today you’ll know Steve Huntzinger as one of the very top restorers of early machines. But 30 years ago he was a shirtless stud posing on his HD belt drive single with his Vans tennis shoes and a giant belt buckle.
I don’t know who this guy is, but he rules on this Indian. All extra weight has been removed, bars are set low and he’s itching to go fast. And remember that this bike isn’t in a museum, he’s on the road fighting the traffic and the stop lights. A hero.
Start ‘em up! This rider is on the pedals to get this other early Indian to fire. White tires were still available back then, and you can see the adjustable handlebars and the infamous Indian control linkages that would sometimes telescope just far enough to fall apart when the rider turned the handlebars just a bit too far.
A neat Thor single.
That cowboy is watching closely. Fearful of Indians?
A 1913 Excelsior twin.
Lysle Parker lived up in Volcano, CA and hosted some pre16 tours up there. Here he is on an Indian, but his grandson has shown me pics of some of his more exotic machines.
An early HD single. I don’t know these very well. What is the year and model?
Two pics of Sam Merrill on his Pierce single.
Dick Bigness was a local SF area rider of early machines. Victor Boocock has spoken highly of him several times.
There was a great variety of machines on the tours back then. I’ve heard that it was common to see 50+ bikes all pre1916 models on a three day tour. And not just HDs and Indians. Hendersons, Thors, Popes, Exclesiors, Pierces, etc are all shown just in this group of photos. It must have been a lot of fun. Today’s rides are terribly fun too, but we don’t see over 50 early bikes, more like 20-25.
Three pics of Thor singles and twins.
There are 20 more pics in this series, I’ll post them soon.