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Pioneer Run, London to Brighton 2006

January 17, 2011

The Pioneer Run happens every spring, a one day tour from London to Brighton on pre 1915 motorcycles.  It is held by the Sunbeam club, whose member in fact are not all Sunbeam owners, but riders of many different types of bikes. This year’s ride is the 73rd annual and will be held March 20th, leaving from Epsom Downs.

A perennial list of veteran (pre15) motorcycles is kept by the club officials, which ensures that the bikes on the run are genuine ‘old’ bikes.  However some reproduction frames and possibly repro motors have been spotted at recent runs.  If you are in the market to purchase an eligible machine, you would be well served to ask around for details to find if the bike will be awarded a dating certificate from the club.  Without it, the bike will still be loads of fun 364 days a year, but that bit of paper is required for this one ride each March.

If you can arrange to be in London on the date, you should attend with a bike or without.  Many notable heroes from our hobby attend, the top shelf restorers, the magazine publishers and authors, suppliers of specialty bits and the owners of shops and salesrooms, pro and armature photographers, possibly even an emcee from some of the motorbike auction houses or a rock star.  😉

The author and Ian from Verralls waiting for the starting time.   Bikes are released in groups of 3 each minute or so, to prevent clogging the roads with over 300 bikes of medium, slow and really slow speeds.

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The weather is not quite what we enjoy here in California, with rain and mid-30’s the norm at Epsom.    Dressed warm, with the 1912 Quadrant single speed and the c1904 Fafnir automatic inlet.

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Riding the early bikes is a fun challenge, with the fun increased by riding on the wrong side of the road, in the cold with all the various fiddly bits of the bike needing attention.  There were not too many stop signs to blow off, as they use a lot of roundabouts in England, and the marshals do a good job of pointing the riders in the right direction.  The marshals are really something.  Folks standing at a corner all day long, wearing Day-Glo vests and pointing towards the exit of a roundabout for each and every bike that passes through.  Plus the mounted marshals ride along on more modern machines, trying to keep the cars and lorries a safe distance from the old bikes.  I didn’t get a count, but there must have been hundreds of volunteers.  Yes, hundreds!  With over 100,000 spectators along the route, this is the largest motorcycle event in the UK each and every year.

Stopping for tea and pastries in Handcross.  Here is a  Zenith Gradua.  The coffee grinder handle above the petrol tank engages the Gradua drive.  This is a clever bit of engineering:  The belt pulley on the motor spreads apart to lower the gearing.  But the linkage also moves the rear wheel backwards to keep the belt tension contsant.  A fairly complicated way to have gearing,but it was very effective in the early 19teens before countershaft gearboxes were used.  Zenith won so many hillclimbs with the gearing that they were barred from some events.  Zenith’s marketing dept jumped on that, with a new logo in the trade magazines “Zenith Barred”

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At the same time that Zenith had their Gradua, Rudge had the Multi.  It had linkage that varied the width of the front pulley and the rear pulley at the same time.  It worked well, with Cyril Pullin winning the Isle of Man TT in 1914 at an average speed of 50mph!  This particular 1914 example used to be mine, but I sold it to a nice chap in the UK a few years ago.  It was a clutchless race bike, but he has since fitted it with a clutch to make it easier to ride on city streets.  The long brass cylinder on the end of the crankshaft is the clutch, fitted with a million little metal discs.

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Some of the bikes and spectators on the waterfront in Brighton

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Any early Ariel.  This was made just after the heyday of the Ariel three wheelers, around 1905.  This isn’t a bike for a short fellow.  The tall tanks fell out of favor shortly after that, and seat heights came down around 1912.   Can you spot the stirrup rear brake mounted under the pedals?England_Paris 024

Another early Ariel.  Plenty of levers for the rider to play with.  Let’s see, from the back, right hand: throttle, then timing on the front of the tank.  Right handlebar is front brake, left handlebar is the cable to the exhaust lifter.  Left tank top is carburetor air.  Left hand also is responsible for the oil pump at the front of the tank and the bulb horn.

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BSA with wicker sidecarEngland_Paris 030

A lot more levers!

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A very tasty AJS vtwin with a countershaft gearbox.

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This Rex was parked in Handcross and caught my eye.  One of the earliest bikes with telescoping front forks.  This bike also has an aftermarket speedometer fitted to the front wheel.  The package tray on the rear of the bike pivots down to become the stand when parked.  The rider probably tired of that exercise, and just leaned the bike against a convenient pole!  Spot the little toolbox mounted just ahead of the rear wheel.England_Paris 005

Here’s something not often seen on the streets of England, a Flying Merkel.  The rear wheel is suspended by a monoshock in that tube under the seat.  This was several decades before Yamaha, and Merkel wasn’t the first to do it either.  Front forks are telescoping, but it is tough to see.England_Paris 020

Another Rex, this one is a bit earlier.  It has a surface carb, inside the tank.  The little barrel on top of the tank has two levers that the rider uses to adjust the air flow, and he can ‘turn up the wick’ to expose more fuel to the air.  Automatic inlet valve.  No silencer, not even an exhaust pipe.  The exhaust exits the motor directly through that square screen on the side of the barrel.  Slow bike, but beautiful.  Lots of curls on that horn and a big twisty bell with a thumb lever.  Direct drive, run and bump.  No suspension.  Wooden grips on the handlebars.

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1904 Rex

Yet another Rex, this time from the driving side.  See the little tire pump mounted on the front of the forks?England_Paris 018

The famous DreadnoughtEngland_Paris 025

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Precision Vtwin

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Chater Lea.  Circa 1912ish.  Note the spring arrangement for the seat, and the cross over drive, probably with a clutch, any gears?  No bicycle pedals are fitted.  A complicated set of front forks, reminiscent of early Premiers.

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Bradbury in the photo above, another in the photo below.  The bike above has an NSU two speed fitted on the end of the mainshaft.  Turning the coffee grinder throws the little planetary gears and squeals the metal clutch discs.  But Bradbury was famous for its crankcases.  Note that the frame tubes seem to go right into the motor, without any nuts and screws.  The center portion of the crankcase is iron, and the frame is brazed to it.  The outer portions of the motor bolt onto the iron ring.  Quite a bit of work to eliminate a few screws, but it is very interesting.  Again, note that the timing chest is very similar to the Triumph, BSA, Veloce, White & Poppe, etc from 1913ish.

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A rarity, a De Dion Buton 2 wheeler.  They were known for their three wheelers and four wheelers, but made bicycles occasionally.  Clip on motor, dates to around 1898-1902.  This one has seen some modern restoration, possibly it is a modern creation from some old parts?

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NUT from Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Maybe you’ve enjoyed a Newkie brown beer?   mmmm.  Strap mounted round tank is distinctive, with typical cycle parts of the era.  Druid forks, Best and Lloyd semi-automtic drip oiler, carbide lighting, but I think that carb might be a late 1920’s Amal…

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White and Poppe motor, likely an Ariel cycle, but they were used on other biks too.  You can spot the W&P from the widespread valves compared to more typical motors.  But the lower half of the motor is very similar to a period Triumph, therefore similar to the Sarolea, Veloce, BSA, etc.  This is a direct drive bike, but is fitted with the curved rear stand legs from a 3 speed model.  Another Ariel can be spotted directly behind the bike, again with the White and Poppe motor.

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Wilkinson.  Now the company is famous for razors, but they used to be famous for motorbikes and swords.  4 cylinders, parlor chair seating, elliptic leaf spring rear suspension, water cooling, shaft drive and a gearbox.  Quite a bike.  And good for the owner to get it out and ride it instead of installing it on a restaurant wall.

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Brighton Beach.  No rumble in Brighton tonight, just a bunch of greybeards telling stories.

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Links to more info:  here and here and here

15 Comments leave one →
  1. jon szalay permalink
    January 17, 2011 3:29 pm

    whatya say pete lets bring the cannonball bikes over?

    • January 17, 2011 3:32 pm

      even better, let’s do a pioneer run here in the US every year!

      • March 24, 2011 4:07 pm

        Hi Pete
        Just fell over your pics from the Pionneer Run, reminded me what a laugh it was.
        This year , for my sins, Irode a direct drive BAT.
        8.30 am start Epsom.
        Arrived at the shop just after nine , Bloody marvellous!
        One of the most intense, and enjoyable motorcycle rides going!.
        ( I dont get out much you know)
        Further down the route, stopped at the Bull, just past Partrige Green, and watched the run go by.
        Afraid the BAT refused to fire up again so down to Brighton in the van.
        Brilliant time at Brighton and back home to vat of chilli and MOTO GP,
        (whatever that is!)
        Hope your all well

      • March 24, 2011 4:28 pm

        Ian! Great to hear from you. It was a fun day when we did that. I’ll be back to Brighton in 2013 with the Veloce. I’d love to see some photos of the BAT. did it have the sprung seat and footboards?


  2. Richard McKenney permalink
    January 17, 2011 5:08 pm

    Just when I’d worn out the Cannonball site and was moaning about not enough pioneer stuff
    Occhio Lungo lands in the mailbox, phew! And he’s in Nirvana.

    Drop dead gorgeous old bikes, great article, top pictures, but Pete, you sold a Rudge Multi?
    He sold a Rudge Multi? Doh! I’m stunned.

    Cheers Richard

    Ps. He sold his Rudge Multi?

    • January 17, 2011 5:32 pm

      It was a fun bike; a TT Multi model made for racing. But no clutch and no pedals and the super low ‘bars made it tough to ride on the streets of San Francisco. But the real reason I sold it was that baby#1 arrived in a fury, and it was time for a house move. I’d love to have a Multi again someday, but I’d really prefer to find an 1904 Ormonde or maybe a steam bike. Or a forecar. Or a De Dion 3 wheeler. Or maybe a Rex. Or a ’14X or Thor. And a 15 Indian would be nice with the rear suspension, but maybe an NSU with the rear suspension would be ok too. Griffons look good, and the other French Peugeots have neat little details. Hard to top an Invicta or an Orient…

  3. Russell permalink
    January 17, 2011 10:28 pm

    Thanks for an excellent report Pete, I don’t get to see many of the older bikes in my travels, many and varied they are…must be fun to ride for the first time…

    Velo Fello

  4. Matt permalink
    January 17, 2011 11:32 pm

    Great write up and pictures!
    Living in the UK, I’ve made the trip south to see the Pioneer run a few times. Hope to get back there this year.

  5. Jim Abbott permalink
    January 18, 2011 8:48 pm

    Pete: On the England – Paris 036 labeled “a lot more levers”, just what are your feet supposed to be doing? Maybe steering??

    Jim A. Tucson, AZ

  6. Jim Abbott permalink
    January 18, 2011 8:52 pm

    p.s. I’m looking for a /5 cam and gear for my Venom. Any leads. Thought I’d hit my local hobby shops first.

    Thanks, Jim A.

  7. Lee Samuelson permalink
    January 18, 2011 10:42 pm

    Friend of mine, from S. Africa, now in Sherwood Park, AB is rebuilding a Multi from a passel of parts he brought with him.
    Lee, took 3′ of snow from the garage roof today.

    • February 12, 2011 11:30 am

      Lee, would like to talk to your friend in Sherwood Park. I’m in Calgary, AB. Too cool.

  8. Bruce Williams permalink
    March 1, 2012 6:44 pm

    I am working on my 09 NSU 544cc 2 speed, need hub/clutch parts or drawings, and rear brake parts and lever. also need coil for low tension Eiseman mag, could use any help, not much info here in Ohio USA

    Thanks, Bruce

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