Sunday, March 16, 2008

1921 Royal Enfield Sprinter

Finding a 'works' racer of any sort is rare, and usually they're in great demand (with a consequent high price)... unless you're speaking of a lightweight! Well, that was the case 8 years ago when I bought this works-prepared Royal Enfield sprinter. It had been advertised in the VMCC newsletter, for what seemed to me a very reasonable sum, considering it had a documented history, and was in beautiful condition. The seller is well known in motorcycle publishing and Scott circles, and must have had a case of too many two-strokes when he decided to sell. But then again, unlike a 500cc motorcycle from the 1920's, a 225cc two-speed two-stroke won't be viable on the public highways, and thus is best for the odd demonstration run, or display. Still, looking at this little machine, it has some compelling attributes. Long and low, very simple, stripped of all silly ancillaries, with a lovely long petrol tank; over time the bike has really grown on me.

The machine was developed in 1921 by the Royal Enfield factory as a sprinter, based on their 225cc 'Sports Model', introduced the following year (1922). It was made to the specification of Syd Wills, an R-E dealer in the south of England, who was a keen competition rider, apparently always flying the flag for R-E in his sprints and other events. The factory was grateful for his efforts, and built up at least two special machines for him.

The bike was state of the art for 1921, with a two-speed countershaft. This isn't a gearbox; there are two sets of PRIMARY chains going from the crankshaft to the clutch. A coffee-grinder handle on top of the tank was turned forward or back to engage one of the primary chains to the countershaft (and hence the drive chain), while the other primary chain spun free. A very simple system, probably copied from Scott, who had their own two-speed drive since the 'teens, using a foot pedal marked 'low' and 'high' instead of a handle on the tank.
Many motorcycles in '21 still used belt drive, so the use of chains and speeds was hot stuff.

There is only one brake, a dummy rim at the rear, and the to-the-public 'Sports Model' would have had a stirrup brake on the front wheel, as well as a steel case over the primary chains, rear chainguard, valanced mudguards, and a luggage rack. Surprisingly, this model was available with no silencer at all, which was rare for a road-going sports machine in the day. It used a Senspray carb (as Rudges used at that time) and a Lucas magneto. Other specs from the catalog include:
"- Petroil lubrication [ie, premix]
- 64mm x 70mm engine (225cc)
- Semi TT rubber grips [!]
- Sloping tank of pleasing design [well, yes]
- Low and comfortable riding position [we'll see about that...]"

I've let this bike languish for years in Scotland, thinking I would use it there, but I'm bringing it home to give it a ride. I'll post videos of the undoubtedly noisy and obnoxious little beastie when it arrives.

If you have a moment, click on the authentication letters from Ivor Mutton, the VMCC marque specialist for R-E at the time (1982)... I love his grouses at having to pay for postage and copying!

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