2013 Banbury Run Part 1
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.