Sunday, March 30, 2008


by James Johnson

It was a fine Easter here in northern California; I awoke early, full of anticipation of what the day would hold for me. Not many folks get a chance to ride three 1920's bikes in one day, and even fewer get to motor about on three bikes from such a renowned manufacturer as Sunbeam. In the garage, I noted my fuel tank was near empty - with my gas can at the shop, I had to check the tanks on the other bikes.... all near empty. I did however drain a quart of fuel between them; why do they all seem to come home empty!! That and the "Air Fairies" had stolen about 15lbs from the front tyre, so in went some air.

My 1924 Model 5 was just a bit hesitant to roll over when the time came to depart; you would think she would be all a-fluster with the prospect of some riding, and a little TLC this am... could she have been nervous about what the day would hold? (I know I get a bit strange when I am off to visit relatives.) She did eventually spring to life and settled down nicely, as I watched for oil to start dripping at the sight glass... I slowly pushed the manual pump until I saw the first sputter of oil in the glass. This is the signal to get this show on the road, so on went the gloves and helmet and away I went.

It's a short distance from my place to Paul's, with a fine view of the ocean. A bit of a chill wind came up but nothing to dampen my spirit.... the oil was still flowing and fuel was just down the hill at the station. I was beginning to remember what a pleasure it was to ride this bike and was looking forward to mounting the 1925 Model 6 ('Longstroke') later in the day. When I arrived, my Model 5 settled down to a VERY slow idle... she can be such a show off, as if she was setting the scene for the ride to come. But when Paul fired up the Model 6 I knew this would be anything but a sedate adventure. We started comparing the two machines... very similar yet VERY different. The Model 6 has some aftermarket development inflicted upon her - I was eager to see if it was a success.

We set off to Land's End for some photos for Paul's blog. Traffic was heaver than I expected on Easter, but we managed to find our way thru the cars and gave the girls a bit of stick up the hill; that Longstroke sure pulled nicely up the grade. We broke several local ordnances by wheeling the bikes into the park for photos; folks didn't seem to mind but the area was pretty crowded so we rode to a different location for more photos and perhaps a video.

Lake Merced was a short trip, but offered a nice sprint down the Great Highway, where we diced it up a bit, and even chased some modern bikes, whose riders seemed quite impressed. I smiled within, the Model 5 fell into her old habits and steadily pulled me along. She almost drives herself, allowing me to take in the scenery. The anticipation to ride the Model 6 was welling up - that bike sure sounded like it wanted to go... that it just wanted to be opened up... but caution prevailed, as the bike was largely untested (having just came out of a box the week before).

My chance finally came to mount the Longstroke... you could have not designed a more opposite riding position to the Model 5. The controls were similarly laid out, but you have to shape yourself to the bike.... I could see that this was not a touring machine, as even the riding position felt fast.

I prodded the M6 to life, found the position she wanted in, and off we went for a lap about the golf course. The bike really wanted input, all movements made by the operator must be VERY deliberate, as opposed to the M5, on which you simply push the shifter, set the controls and let the bike take you away. This beast required you to KNOW what you were doing. In any event the parade lap was far too short for my liking and I was thrilled when Paul offered to swap bikes on the way home. Some of the aftermarket work started to rear its ugly head... over-oiling filled up the oil sight-glass and she was bucking like a Georgia Mule, so I gave some more stick, and she started to settle down a bit. I would't call it nicely, but the bucking ceased and I was now moving at quite a pace (especially for a bike with effectively no brakes ). She was eager for more throttle - this bike is a cracker. I had to resist the urge to go flat out, balls to the wall... if it was mine I would have, but I didn't want to spend my summer looking for rare bike parts! In spite of my reluctance, the bucking ceased, the bike seemed happy, the oil sight-glass cleared... too bad we were already back at Paul's garage.

I reluctantly returned the bike, but was offered a spin on his 1928 Model 90... sadly I only went around the block twice. That bike REALLY wanted to GOOOOOO; I wasn't entirely sure how Paul would feel if I disappeared for and hour or so, as that's how long I would need to get comfortable on it, so a short test ride it would be... I will have to save the longer ride for another day. All in all a nice outing on three 1920's Sunbeams. I'm eager to repeat it.

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