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Making Spark Plugs

April 8, 2015

Ron Fellowes famously rode his 1910 FN four cylinder 14,606km from Nepal to Belgium in 2012. You can buy his book about the trip here. I’ll have a review of the book in a few days, but first I wanted to share his notes about making his own spark plugs! He mentioned in the book that he had a little bit of trouble with the modern plugs he carried on his trip and decided to make his own when he returned home. Fascinated by the idea of home made sparking plugs, I asked him for more information…



“During my journey I met Michel Bovy, who had original spark plugs fitted to his FN4. I admired them, took lots of photos and said I would like to replicate them. Next day, Michel brought me working drawings that his friend had made the night before.



I used hex steel to make the lower body which I threaded to 18mm and an internal taper of 2 degrees was machined to form a seal between the mica washers. The mica washers were purchased from India. These were of .2 + .1 thickness, mounted on a mandrel and ground with a matching 2 degree taper. I drilled cooling holes in the appropriate places.


The top cover was originally made from Bakelite or ebony, but as I did not have either material, I made my top cover from Tufnol, a manmade compressed fibre. The centre electrode is turned from a Grade 8 bolt.




To adjust the gap (firing point), mica washers are either added or subtracted from the centre electrode.


When I used the mica spark plugs I was happy with the performance, but I found the heat range a little high. I’ve been studying the drawings closely and feel I need to remove some of the mica washers in the cover end to make them run a little colder.


It’s not time consuming to adjust the electrode gap but I do need to put a dummy centre electrode in from the spark plug terminal end to keep the two degree taper in order. I am running .018inch gap.”



  (click on the photos to see larger images)DSC_0076

Ron is continuing to test the new plugs with rides in Australia. I’ll ask if he has any new comments in the coming months.

Click here for about 50 more How To articles.


Above photos are copyright 2014 Ron Fellowes.


early plugs

Tony Held, R.I.P.

April 3, 2015

The latest VMCC Journal arrived today with the sad news that Tony Held has passed away.


Tony was a very friendly face to all who rode on the Irish National Rally, and to many events near his home in Southern England. We had loads of fun; here’s a few pics from last year’s Irish. He always was joking around! And his old Norton Manx was not the shiniest bike, but I seemed drawn to it and took pics of it every year. It is sad to think that he won’t be attending anymore and pulling my leg with his tall tales.2014-08-29 11.39.14

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Tonight we’ll have a toast to Tony. RIP my friend.


2015 Pioneer Run part 1

April 2, 2015

The 76th Pioneer Run was held Sunday March 22nd, departing Epsom Downs near London and travelling south about 45 miles to finish on sunny Madeira Drive, Brighton. The Mayor of Epsom was kind enough to start us off with a wave of his flag and his counterpart in Brighton & Hove greeted the finishers as we turned onto the seafront. The Pioneer Run is the largest event in the world for motorcycles made before WWI, with about 350 starters this year and a few less than that at the finish line.

 2015-03-22 07.17.18

After last year’s run on the 1913 Veloce, I didn’t plan to attend the Pioneer Run again so soon. But the VMCC generously allowed me to ride the club’s most outstanding machine; Harry Karslake’s 1904 Dreadnought. Much has been written of the bike before. Click here for some notes. The short story is that Karslake built the bike to get the performance that he was after for the trials and tours of his time. The 400cc BAT motor was customized with an additional exhaust port and cooling fins before being dropped into a frame that fit his 6’4” stature. He continued to develop the bike for decades, and was still competing in trials like London to Edinburgh, trips to Lands End, etc. and he and the machine continued to be competitive against much newer machines. George Brough famously started in the #1 position on the machine in the very first Pioneer Run of 1930. Shortly before Karslake died he bequeathed the Dreadnought to the VMCC and it is used on special events like the Pioneer Run and an occasional Banbury Run, typically ridden by the club President. Knowing the history of the machine, I jumped when given the chance to ride it. Now I must publically thank my wife and my credit card company for allowing me to fly 5000 miles for the long weekend. And I’m eternally grateful to Tim Penn, Mike Wills, Harry Wiles and the rest of the VMCC officials for their help in my endeavor.

 2015-03-21 15.16.56Note the additional exhaust pipe and the new old stock AMAC carb. The latter was fitted recently and does wonders for the low speed tractability of the motor. Starting and low speed riding was simple with no worn carb parts to influence the idling speed.


2015-03-21 16.23.07There are a lot of fins added to the cylinder head. And Karslake obviously drilled the multitude of holes in each of them before he welded the fins on.

P1020250The drive side view shows that the machine is long and tall. The footboards don’t quite scrape the roadway, but float just above the tarmac. Being 6 feet tall myself I had to trouble scrambling onto the bike during bumpstarts.


2015-03-21 15.20.50Previous riders of the machine had written that it was a tough ‘bike to manage. But I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was pretty simple once I learned the various controls. The bike has been adjusted, tuned and engineered over the decades to provide sufficient power and reliability. The fixed gearing does require the pilot to jump on and off the bike at every stop, but it was an easy starter. Once underway a thumb’s push on the lever throttle gave a comfortable cruising speed of approximately 25mph I’d guess. Whatever speed it achieved was fine with me, as I was in no hurry to finish the ride!


2015-03-22 08.04.27Uwe came up from Germany, with about 25 of his countrymen. Here he stands with his 1904 Peugeot 330cc. Be sure to say die grüße if you see him at the cement track races in Bielefeld Germany later in the year.


2015-03-22 07.32.26As a mechanical design engineer, I just love these De Dion Bouton three wheelers! I should blame my father for that, since he bought me a Honda ATC 110 threewheeler for my 10th birthday. Oddball vehicles have fascinated me ever since then.

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2015-03-22 07.32.58Note the wheelie bar! The center of gravity on these DDB trikes is pretty far back, and they have been known to flip over backwards. So this machine features an arm to prevent too much rotation.


P1020263The little seat springs can just be seen in this last photo.


P1020253Vic Blake brought out this wonderful 1904 Auto-Fauteuil. Vic and his wife were all smiles in the grass at Epsom, but I understand that he had a spot of bother on the way down to Brighton.


2015-03-22 07.22.53 I think that this Quadrant was from 1902 or 03.

2015-03-22 07.22.59The tank top levers control the surface carb located inside the fuel tank.

2015-03-22 07.23.09The aftermarket stands are a nice addition to the Quadrant, and allow the rider to pedal-start the motor on the stand to warm it up. A close look shows the contracting band brake on this end of the hub.


2015-03-22 14.36.57-1M.A.G. motors were used by many manufacturers in the veteran and vintage eras. Here a twin cylinder motor powers a 1914 Matchless that also features a countershaft gearbox.


2015-03-22 07.56.07-1Multiple American Excelsiors attended again this year. I counted four or five. Here are a 1912 and a 1913. Both are chain driven 61” 1000cc twins. The 12 has a lot of accessories, including an acetylene tank, spare tube holder, pillion seat, spare spark plug holder, klaxon horn, clock and speedometer. Manfried brought it up from Germany, while the 13 lives in Hadstock, England.


P1020323If you look closely at these three photos of the 1902 Clement, you’ll see that it is three different bikes! There were actually four of the 1901-1903 142cc Clements on the run this year.


2015-03-22 07.36.09 




This Douglas looked brand new! Note the curved links on the front forks, and all the shiny nickel plating on the motor. We stopped at the school in Handcross for tea, but I never had a chance to find the owner and congratulate him on his fine restoration.


Stay tuned for Pioneer Run parts #2 and #3 coming soon.

Stolen 1920 Indian

March 11, 2015

STOLEN MOTORCYCLE ALERT: Over the weekend, this 1920 Indian Board Tracker was stolen in Gardner, Kansas. The machine was recently on display at the AMCA Santa Fe Chapter bike show in Lawrence, Kansas. The engine serial number is 77R010. If you have seen or know the whereabouts of this motorcycle, please contact your local law enforcement agency. You can also find out more information about the machine by contacting Jim Sneegas at 785-766-8963 or Jerry Juenemann at 913-938-4554. PLEASE SHARE this post and help the owner get their prized machine back!11021405_357860904415627_4956975998220515461_o




Sleeve Valve Indian. Cannon Ball Baker?

March 9, 2015

Geert sent in these photos of an old c1912 watercooled Indian single cylinder motor that his father bought in Florida in the 1990s. The seller claimed that the motor came from Cannon Ball Baker. It has horizontal rotary sleeve valves atop the head, à la the Cross layout, but with two spinning valves instead of the more common single valve layout. The history of the motor is not known to Geert other than what the seller had mentioned. 

Ed Youngblood wrote of Baker’s work here. But it seems that he started in 1929. Is there any chance that this old Indian could be tied to Baker? If you have any info, please post in the comments below.


The valves were driven by chains on the timing side of the motor. The chains are gone, but the sprockets can be seen in the first photo. The sleeves are still in the head (shown in the middle pics with two drive dogs each and their rectangular ports). And the drives with their two engagement slots can be seen in the last pics.


Rotary sleeve valves were promising in the 1920s as they are today. But they have always been hindered by the difficulties in sealing the valves during operation, due to thermal expansion. There may also be some issues with valve timing, but likely the issues could be solved with some modern numerical modeling, analysis and materials. Ceramic seals are an option that Baker could only have dreamt of.  We’ll see what the future holds.


indian 001


indian 002

   indian 004 

indian 007 

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indian 006


1896 Roper Replica

February 27, 2015

The story of Sylvester Roper and his steam bikes is very well known. Click here for some of the story. He built several of the earliest steam powered two wheeled cycles (although a very great number of other steam vehicles of 3-4 wheels predated his by several decades). I’m not going to waste any time debating who built the first or what the definition of a motorized cycle is. Let’s see some images:

4668bc480a61[1]roper 018

Recently a new replica of Roper’s last bike has been created in Huesca, Spain by Guillermo Ximeno with Manuel Parra and the team at Cometa Restauraciones.

stbike1aroper 002

Guillermo first started work two and a half years ago, and Cometa was able to display the bike for the first time this week at the ClassicAutoMadrid 2015. Manuel was kind enough to send over several photos and a description of the bike. Guillermo began with many original 1896 parts, including a Columbia Pope bicycle frame, seat, fork, handlebar and hubs. The team also sourced a period pressure gage, taps, valves, etc. so that the bike seems very authentic.  Many parts were blacksmith and locksmith fabricated and also cast via the Galicia foundries.


The photos above show just how well the replica mirrors the original bike. Which is a point that we sometimes overlook. It is much more difficult to make an accurate replica of a machine, or a perfect restoration, than to build a one of a kind custom. Being correct or incorrect is very cut and dried with these bikes as the original must be replicated exactly or the photos will show obvious deviations. We should applaud the best efforts that result in such perfect reproductions.roper 004

  roper 006

 roper 007The burner box would be filled with coal, but coke or charcoal will also work. The boiler cannot be seen, but is above, hidden inside the wood. And the plated water tank is atop that.


roper 009

The motor, valves, cranks and other bits are fully functional. Thus far it has been tested using compressed air, but the firebox has not yet been loaded with coal and burned. Cometa is eager to to that, but has the bike for sale and has chosen to let the new owner decide when to fire it up. The fire will lead to some oxidization, etc. that will slightly diminish the bike’s finishes, hence the wait. But OcchioLungo and our readers will of course want to see the machine being used! And hopefully soon we can share that.

roper 013Water filler, pressure gage and hand pump.


roper 025 

roper 022 

The rear wheel is the crankshaft for the motor. The crank can be seen on the right end of the rear axle, with the connecting rods and valve timing rod linking to the motor. Materials are obviously brass, with some iron, steel and wood. Aluminum would have been useful, but wasn’t commonly available back then.


roper 024
On the center left is a regulator to control the steam into the motor (it looks a lot like a steam whistle). The operating cable can be seen going upwards, eventually connecting to a lever on the right handlebar and the device operates much like a carb on an internal combustion motor.

Between the two knobs is a sight glass to show the water level. A simple footpeg is on the lower right.


roper 031

The extension on the front forks was built when Roper found that the bike sat too low, and would high-center on rough terrain. The replica has the same extensions, rather than simply starting with revised frame/fork geometry.

Excellent work guys!


chip perry coburn bensen and the roper

As a special addition to this article, here is a photo of the the real 1896 Roper, taken a few years ago with Chip Perry and Coburn Bensen. Thanks to Chip for sending it! Note the the exhaust pipe is set in the low position here. It can be moved up or down to affect how the exhaust gasses flow.

2015 Rides

February 26, 2015

Mark you calendars! There are plenty of rides in 2015 so that you can enjoy your pre1916 motorcycle the way its maker intended.

1. Steve Wright & Bud Ekins Memorial Tour: Atascadero, CA. April 16-18.

2. King City Tour: King City, CA. April 23-25.

3. Modoc Small Car & Pre16 Motorcycle Tour: Alturas, CA. June 29-July 2.

4. Minden Tour: Minden, NV. date tbd September?

king city


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