2015 Pioneer Run part 1
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.
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.
Note 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.
The 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.
Previous 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!
Uwe 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.
As 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.
The 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.
Multiple 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.
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.