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Irish Rally, Veteran (pre1915) bikes

September 27, 2013

 12 and 13 

As we rode along another coastal road, with the water on the right and a rocky hill to the left, the machines in our group made their wonderful and particular putt putt sounds.  There is a video further down this article that plays a few of the sounds.  I like to follow closely enough to hear the bonk, but have to leave generous room for the lack of brakes.  Blissfully enjoying the moment, and then there was a quick left turn.  Oh boy.  I recalled that on the other side of the tall hedge was an inclination, as there is very little flat ground here on the fingers of the southwest Irish coast.  The rocky ground jumps up out of the waves, and climbs up sometimes 1000 feet or so before dropping into a valley, then up again, then back down into the sea.  These changes in elevation wouldn’t concern the riders of most bikes, and give riders some fun climbs and descents.


Up a little hill, I think the road was called Goat’s Path.  What a great name for a road!  We bunched up a bit, as each rider did their best to keep some momentum for the hill, with varying success.  But the road wasn’t steep.  The switchbacks were tight however.  Several in succession were too tight to ride through at a speed more than 10-15 mph.  And each hairpin was inevitably followed by a climb further up, higher onto the hillside.  And that’s where the trouble lay.  We were riding very old motorcycles.  This group today included machines from 1907 to 1914, each with a dedicated and stubborn rider.  The stubbornness came in handy as each bike died one after the other.  These bikes were made before gearboxes were commonly included on motorbicycles, and before clutches were needed.  The rear wheels were tied directly to the motor via a rubber belt.  So as the bikes’ speeds fell on the hairpins to 12 or 10 or 5mph, the motors were lugging at very low rpms, and then they faltered.  Each of us made it to a different spot on that hill, and as I came to a stop I heard Katrin fail just 50 feet ahead of me, but around the next hairpin.  I could almost see her through the tall hedges, and spotted Dieter stopped  just behind her.  Big Dave came by on his big Trump with the Vtwin motor and sputtered and stopped just past me.  He had adjusted his motor pulley to be large, giving him higher speeds on flat ground, with a consequently shorter belt to fit.  That is the tradeoff that you can make on a run-and-bump machine.  Higher fixed gearing for flat territory, or low gearing in the hills and consequently low speeds in the flatlands.  “high” and “low” speeds are all terribly low in comparison to post WWI machines, but we could all do 35-40mph on low gearing, adding around 20mph or more with the pulleys adjusted up.

Stuck on the side of a hill, with more modern bikes (1920’s-1950’s) coming past at intervals.  There were a few choices of how to move on.  Dave went back down the hill, got a better run on the flatland and carried his speed well through the hairpins all the way to the top.  Dieter pushed Katrin to a start, and ran beside her for 20 meters to help the bike get up to speed.  They were on a piece of road that was relatively flat, while I was still below them and facing a section that was too steep to run and jump onto the bike.  I spied that the hairpin below me had a relatively flat area.  If I were to cross it diagonally and use all the pavement that I could, the bike might get up to speed and continue.  (These roads are all about 10 feet wide, without enough pavement for two cars to pass without each of them dipping their tires into the ditch).  I found an opening in the bike traffic, ran diagonally with the bike and bump started, pedaling furiously on the bicycle pedals to assist the motor while I got up to 10 or 15mph where the motor had enough torque to carry me up the hill.  Success!  But then three or four more hairpin corners appeared in the road, and I found myself at a standstill again.  Recall that I mentioned that we riders are stubborn…

But just then Pat Hogan stopped on his Guzzi and asked if he could help!  Oh yes.  We pushed the bike around the corner, up to a flatter portion and he ran and pushed whilst I ran and pushed until the bike had the speed.  I quickly jumped on, careful not to kick Pat in head as he was still pushing!  Success came quickly, as I crested the hill a few hundred yards later and momentarily enjoyed the view before diving down into the next valley and started to think about how to slow down without a front brake and the rear brake doing its job as poorly as ever.

Repeat the scenario a few times a day, for a week.  Stubborn fun, but not for everybody.  Oddly, Pat just happened to be there several times when I stopped, including the steepest hill ever; Camp Road.  I guess he was my angel for the week.

early machines on the road


belt buddies

I really love the early machines, and this article on the Irish Rally shows the earliest machines that took part this year.  Stay tuned for pics of the later bikes.  The eldest was a 1907 Triumph, and there were a total of eight of us on Veteran bikes made before 1915 and twenty more made before the 1931 cutoff of the Vintage era.  (The VMCC defines bikes made 1931-WWII as “post-Vintage”)

 katrin at wall

Katrin’s 07 Triumph.  She and Dieter travel from Germany each year to attend the Irish, and typically are on the oldest bikes of the event.  He was on his ‘13 or ‘14 BSA this year.


Veloce at Dunloe

On the day before the rally officially started, I took the ‘13 Veloce to the top of the Gap of Dunloe.  Wonderful, wonderful road!  If you get the chance, you should ride this one, but watch out for the horsebuggies that haul tourists.  The horses seem ok with the bikes, but their drivers seem less tame.


 camp road

Ignore the sheep.  In the top center you can just make out the road climbing diagonally from the bottom left to top right.  This is the infamous Camp Road.  Hard to tell from here, but it is tremendously steep.

 Camp hill

James and Bryan help me up the top of Camp.  The tow rope was only needed once or twice all week, but it sure was handy.

 johns shop

K took this pic of John Q’s workshop wall. 

  crap on the road

Here’s John Q riding his 1912 Precision down from the top of the Gap of Dunloe.

 Duggie at Blue Loo

John’s Douglas.  I rode it on the Thursday, and it was very surprising.  I had always heard that these were slow, but John has breathed on this one.  And the short handlebars looked funny until I started riding.  Then I realized that it was the best handling veteran motorcycle that I’ve ever ridden.  It didn’t quite have enough beans for a clean ascent of Priest’s Leap, but I got a tow from Phillip Tooth and his Vincent Rapide over the worst section, and then ran beside the running bike on the second worst section.  Photo at the Blue Loo.  Be sure to stop in if you get the chance.

  high gear

This is Chris’s Triumph.  The drive belt runs on that rear wheel pulley, which can be seen with the thick radial spokes.  This allows the pulley to run independently of the rear tire, and is connected to a clutch in the rear hub.  If you look closely, there is an idler pulley just in front of the rear tire, above the belt.low gear

Here, Chris has placed the belt over that idler pulley.  And the front pulley on the motor has been adjusted to be much smaller (hence the extra belt length, which needed to be run up and over the idler).  With this setup, he can quickly change the gearing, without changing the belt.  An additional benefit is that the idler pulls the belt around more of the front pulley, which helps to prevent belt slip.  As the pulley diameters get smaller, belts tend to slip on them, but Chris’s setup prevents that.  He’s pretty clever for a KOBI…  Smile



This Precision V twin looked great and ran great too.  It has a linked belt, made up of 50-100 little segments that snap together.  To adjust the belt length, one or two segments can be added or removed at the side of the road.  This rear hub is a Sturmey Archer, and features three speeds and a clutch.  The shifter lever can be seen on the frame tube above the fuel tank.precision carb 

precision timing

The oil pump has been modified to have a sight glass below the tank.  The brave rider can bend over for a look on the road, to count the number of seconds between oil drips into the motor.

 preists leap p and p

Phillip and I at the top of Priest’s Leap.

 13 Rex

I really liked this c1913 Rex.  Vtwin power and belt drive, clutch but no gears.  Plus a bunch of details to look at!  Look for the hand starter on the right side of the rear wheel, the brass exhaust whistle just ahead of the muffler, the dual sided seat post seat springs, spare belt links and a tow rope on the rear package carrier, oil pump and sight glass on top of the tank, etc.

 air horn

  Veloce at bottom of Ireland

We made it down to the southernmost town in Eire for a lunch stop.

  katrin on road

Katrin always smiles for the camera.


drinky drink

Drinky drink at a castle.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Abbott permalink
    September 27, 2013 10:23 am

    Pete: What a wonderful report. I’m getting closer and closer to trying to find a pre 1915-something to join in. Jim A.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    September 27, 2013 10:52 am

    I think I’d much rather travel around Ireland on this rally, than beat myself up on the Cannonball. Great photos and story.

  3. September 27, 2013 12:37 pm

    Some call it heavenly in its brilliance.

    Thank you for publishing this.

  4. Mark permalink
    September 27, 2013 3:21 pm

    A great report on what looks like a great event. A reminder that this Sunday the 29th is the 8th annual Pewter Run here in New Hampshire. Patterned after the Pioneer and Banbury runs, it is a road reliability trial for pre-1950 machines whith several Veteran machines. Set in rural southern New Hampshire over scenic roads, fall foliage, etc it is a fun low key event that has the machines used as their maker’s intended. Google Pewter Run for more info, photos of past events, etc.
    Thanks for the report.

  5. Alan in Vancouver permalink
    September 27, 2013 5:14 pm

    Thanks Pete. it is great to see that some of these machines are still being put to good use. Ireland looks to be a truly magical place.

    • Tim O'Day permalink
      September 29, 2013 4:54 am

      Know that area well, my family is originally from Corofin in Clare. Wonderful stuff… thank you for sharing.


  1. Flat Tank bikes on the Irish Rally | Occhio Lungo

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