Sunday, December 09, 2007


I've kept mum about two Vintage gems arriving from faraway lands, until the deals were secure and the bikes paid for. How I found each of them is exemplary of how to find a Vintage motorcycle today. The first bike is a 1925 Sunbeam Longstroke, which popped up on Mark Upham's website, British Only Austria.

Having found my favorite Sunbeam, a '28 TT90, some years ago out of Yesterday's in Holland, I have been hankering for an earlier sports/racing model, with a sidevalve engine. Frank Mace in England had been kind enough to allow me to ride his '23 Isle of Man TT Sunbeam (original condition, still wearing its IoM number plates) many years ago, although I found the experience somewhat frightening at the time (a combo of narrow muddy roads, dummy-rim brakes, and a quick machine).

Ever since, I have kept in the back of my mind a desire to live with and get to know such a machine, never having owned a sports flathead from the period in which they were relevant (late 'teens thru early 20's). Mark, who is always a reasonable dealer, was willing to work with me on price and payment, easing the pain of our rapidly deteriorating dollar. It should be here in early January.
Robert Gordon-Champ calls the Longstroke, "...the high point of the 'motor bicycle'. As the 'twenties progressed, weight and complexity crept in. If you can, try to ride one of these to taste the magic of a great design". (ref; 'The Illustrated History of Sunbeam Bicycles and Motorcycles'). This model is a replica of the Sunbeam which won the French GP in 1923.

The paint seems to be original everywhere except the tank, which has been repainted at some time, hopefully to fix any leaks! I won't be doing any cosmetic work to this bike, as I think it looks perfect with its period patina, although I might 'age' the petrol tank to match the frame and mudguards, using some of the techniques gleaned from Mike Smith (buffing down 'wear spots' using pumice powder, creating white streaks near the filler cap with methyl alcohol, rubbing off some of the gold leaf pinstripe where knees would have touched the metal, etc)

The period racing shot shows the Austrian racer von Nodherny, on a similar Longstroke (a slightly earlier model, as evidenced by the dummy-rim brakes - '25 was the first year of drums at the front), after a race in 1924. He looks wonderfully Teutonic with his slicked-back hair and aristocratic features. Where is his monocle?

The second bike is from an elusive source; word of mouth, from halfway around the world. My friend Pete Young has been searching all over the world for a Pioneer Velocette (I think two are confirmed to exist, with a rumor of a few more), and tends to find gentlemen with very large collections. A fellow in Western Australia told Pete that while he didn't have a Velo, he had many other Pioneer and Veteran bikes for sale, in various states of repair or decay. Pete forwarded some photos to me, and in the background was an early saddle-tank Rudge, with the characteristic twin-filler gas and oil tanks, and straight pipes of a Vintage period racing machine. I inquired, and was told that the machine was not for sale, but that I would be kept in mind just in case....
a few prodding emails later, and a lot more haggling about price, and we struck a deal. The bike is a '29 Rudge Ulster, which is the first year of this model, created initially as a replica of Graham Walker's works racer, winner of the Ulster GP at an average speed of 80mph (the highest avg speed of any international-level road race at that time). The '29 Ulster was almost a unique model, as the engine is still oiled using a total-loss system (oil is pumped into the engine, but not returned to the oil tank; 'a constant supply of clean oil'), and in '30 they moved to a dry-sump engine with a proper oil pump. The '29 is closest to that original racer, for as far as I can tell, later Ulsters didn't use double-sided tank fillers; this bike has a filler cap on each side of the petrol and oil tanks, for use on all types of racing circuits - Isle of Man bikes always have only left side fillers, as bikes come into the pits with mechanics on their left (click on 3/4 view pix for details).
The Ulster grew into Rudge's hot sports/touring machine in later years, but they also offered a TT Replica model, which was a genuine racing machine, with many differences from the Ulster (extra stiffening ribs on the crankcases, twin-filler gas and oil tanks, etc).

The bike is amazingly standard for something so old and still in use - the former owner used to race it in hillclimbs, and said it would 'pull' any 650 twin at the time, as it is so light and powerful. As the bike has been repainted at some point, and the fenders are likely later, pattern items, I'll probably paint and plate everything to give it the look it deserves. Below is a pic of Graham Walker's bike as it exists today - that's the goal!

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