Skip to content

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.

2015-03-22 07.32.39 

2015-03-22 07.32.52 

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 2, 2015 8:05 pm

    Pete: Thanks a million and one for sharing your wonderful rides with all of us here at home!
    I look forward to every one. Jim A.

  2. Al Houghton permalink
    April 3, 2015 12:13 am

    Mr Young,
    It must a blast to have friends in high places!

    • April 3, 2015 8:42 am

      I’m lucky, but I can’t take credit for that. My wife is the social one and introduces me to people. I’m usually hiding in the background sipping my beer! 🙂

  3. John Quirke permalink
    April 3, 2015 12:23 am

    Well done Pete and especialy for taking the time to take and post the photos of those exquisit machiens. I am off down to my shed with a large dose of envy.
    From John on another “soft” day in Ireland

    • April 3, 2015 8:45 am

      We missed you this year John and are anxious to see you for the big Irish Rally anniversary next year.

  4. Doug Lyon permalink
    April 3, 2015 1:28 am

    Lucky man to get to ride the Dreadnought, an honour not given to many – and glad it behaved itself. I had a good day out on the veteran and pleased to see you looking fit at the finish – I think the Brighton traffic was particularly taxing this year? As part of a weight loss programme it worked remarkably well, as there’s nothing like a bit of frantic pushing and pedalling with only a mile to go :-/ Looking forward to Parts 2 and 3 of your write-up!

    • April 3, 2015 8:44 am

      Great to see you in Brighton too Doug. I’m glad your bike had no troubles. Brighton traffic was tough, but I just got off the bike at the traffic jams, walked between the cars and re-mounted on the next block.

  5. April 3, 2015 1:04 pm

    Pete, hope to see you at Bielefeld this year. There will be a bike for you for sure !

    • April 3, 2015 1:19 pm

      I’d love to Thomas! But this year’s budget has been killed with the Pioneer Run and the Anglo-Dutch rally in Holland in July. Be sure to send me photos/videos though. Everybody loves to see and hear the bikes being ridden on the banking.

  6. Mike P permalink
    April 5, 2015 6:55 am

    Pete-Thanks so much for the coverage of this event. I appreciate you taking the time to post the pictures & text. It is GREAT to see the people and bikes gathered in far away places having fun too! I look forward to seeing you at one of the events here on the West Coast.
    Mike P

  7. March 2, 2016 12:24 pm

    Hi Pete. I am a follower of your interesting blog from Spain, and a flat tanker lover too!. I guess you have already seen it, but just in case, there is a 1931 video of Harry Karslake with his bike:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: