Sunday, June 29, 2008


When it's sunny and warm outside (and I reassure you that it's NOT in foggy San Francisco), a young man's thoughts turn to two things, and clearly this fellow has indulged in both.
In what must have been a publicity photo for BMW ca 1928 or so, this little R39 had a lot to carry for its 6.5 hp. Getting there was so slow, there was no danger that the lady's chic Cloche hat would blow off - it's sitting on his leather coat. 'Where is the Flapper Bracket', Dave asked when he sent the pic - well, I presume it's sitting on the ground next to the girl... perhaps she sat on the tent and all the crockery as well!
In cinema, this would have been a 'pre-code' shot (ie before the Morals Police cleaned up ribald or suggestive imagery in the mid-1930's). It's interesting that advertising photography evolved in three directions; shots of power/prowess (Man on Motorcycle), shots of impending seduction (Man and Woman on Motorcycle), and implied sexual enhancement (Hot Woman on Motorcycle). This photograph transcends all three - they've been there and done that, now it's time for a smoke and a picnic.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


By Dennis Quinlan.

1970 saw the premier of 6 hour production races in Australia, which lasted nearly 15 years. They were held (except for one race) at the Amaroo Park Raceway, a 1.2 mile tight clockwise circuit on the Northern outskirts of Sydney.
That first year saw a relatively unknown rider, Craig Brown, on his “ride to work” ( later to prove his undoing), CB750/4 Honda.
Craig led the race until near the end, when he ran out of front brakes…he hadn’t the money to start the race with new brake pads and paid the price with a retirement, leaving the late Bryan Hindle and Len Atlee to win on the Ryan’s of Parramatta Triumph 750.
Well at this stage I was still an “occasional racer”, still had my Velocette Venom Thruxton (engine number VMT458), which I purchased new in Feb.1967, so took the plunge and entered the 1971 event, with former ex-International racer Dennis Fry, and John Herrick as co-riders, both also Velocette enthusiasts. My good friend Jim Day was the designated team mechanic.

Now it was a long time ago, so I can let some “skeletons out of the cupboard”…not figuring on getting on the leader board in the 500 class, I decided to “help” the VMT.
I fitted coil valve springs back in, rather than the original hairpin type. We never revved it past the designated 6,200rpm maximum, but the hairpins usually settled and valve float would set in lower and lower as the race progressed, so the coils ensured this didn’t happen and should you miss a gear, the resulting over revving wouldn’t see a valve kiss the piston. This happened in unofficial practice some weeks before with hairpins fitted and a bent Nimonic 80 exhaust valve resulted. An urgent telephone call to L.J.Stevens Ltd, the Velo people in London, UK, saw a replacement airmailed out in time.
As well Thruxton’s are marginal in engine pinging, so working at a scientific research establishment, CSIRO, I found out the dye used to dye the local Super petrol ( 96 octane) we had to use.
I obtained some and using Esso 115/145 aviation fuel, normally purple in colour, I dyed some 20 gallons of fuel to the straw colour of Super..
That was one problem out of the way.
The kickstarter fouled the exhaust pipe, so I re-bent it and replated it to standard…removed the dynamo belt and fitted a broken one left lying in the bottom of the generator cover. The battery was a hollow box and no battery needed, there being no current generated.
I might say at this stage, that the supplementary regulations for this race were very strict in requiring a standard specification... no doubt many of the “production” racers in the IOM Production TT would not have complied either…

Dennis Fry had an ankle injury from several IOM TT crashes in his continental circus career in the early 1960s, so needed a rocking gear pedal. I petitioned the organising committee for permission to fit one.
I also had a bent in that era to use aviation oil and so we eschewed the free gallon of Castrol GTX for Mobil Aero Oil 80. Tyres were to be road tyres and I favoured Metzelers’ so fitted C5 front and rear.
Official practice went off all Ok and we agreed that I would ride the first 2 hours we would then refuel, Dennis Fry would ride next and depending on our position in the race, either John Herrick or Dennis Fry would do the last 2 hours. This leads to an interesting incident at scrutineering... Dennis Fry fronted up with his Cromwell "Pudding basin" helmet ( you can see it in the pictures...likely this was the last time such a helmet was used in competition..)...the examiner baulked at Dennis's helmet... seizing the opportunity, Dennis replied, "Listen mate, this helmet has survived 5 crashes in the IOM TT at over 120mph" and pointed to the IOM TT compliance stickers on the helmet etc. Flumoxed, the official passed it, when in hind sight it should have gone into the rubbish tin....
With good tank capacity (4.5 gal)and fuel consumption (60-70mpg), we had only 2 stops for fuel compared to 4 stops for most of the other bikes. The exception being the large BMWs which also managed 2 hour stints.
The start was a nightmare..a Le Mans start requiring you to sprint across the track, mount and of course we had to kickstart, some others also kicked, other used electric starters. The noise was incredible as the 64 bikes burst into life…I couldn’t tell if the engine was going (yes…I had a tacho and a quick look should have sufficed, but with the adrenaline pumping, I forgot!), so it was a slow start. However, I quickly settled down and my lap times were consistent and we were placed about mid-field in the 500 class. The pit stop was uneventful and Dennis Fry set off and soon his European racing experience showed and he was lapping consistently a second faster than me…then he disappeared!
Anxiously we waited for him to appear or news…then it came -he’d crashed heavily in the Brabham loop, the bike end over ended, destroying the rear rim and silencer and bending the frame. Dennis was carted off to hospital…128 laps and we were out….
Dennis recovered and we straightened the frame and I made plans to ride again next year. It wasn’t to be, for what reason I can no longer remember.
I perused the lap sheets and figured we would likely have done 285+ laps, this would have got us into 12th place in the 500 class, let’s put this into perspective…out of 13 finishers in that class.

Still you know what they say…the old “if”…”If your Aunt had balls, she’d be your Uncle…”
There were 15 starters and 10 finishers in the Unlimited class; 26 starters and 13 finishers in the 500 class; and 23 starters and 8 finishers in the 250 class.
The Thruxton was the only Velocette to have entered in the races history and if you want to be catty it was the only Velo not to finish…..

Where is my old Thruxton today?.... it passed out of my hands in 1980 to Tony Keene, who finished its repair/restoration and was eventually sold on to Western Australia where it is today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My pal Vincent from France recently visited the M2R museum in Andorra, and among his photos from the trip is this lovely 1930 Majestic, 'The New Motorcycle', with a 350cc Chaise ohv engine. I wrote about Majestic in an earlier post, mentioning the unusual and still rare hub-center steering system.
The Majestic could be ordered with an 'alligator' or 'crackle' finish, but this is the first time I've seen a photo - the fellow with the blue Majestic at the Coupe Moto Legende (back in 2001) mentioned that he knew of an original-condition 'alligator' machine, and I suppose this must have been the bike.
This special paint job piques my interest, as I've done faux-finish painting for the past 25 years, and I don't think there's another motorcycle company which has used such an artisanal and labor-intensive paint scheme - the process is inherently unstable, as the 'crackling' is created by using a top paint layer over an incompatible 'base' paint coat. The top layer can't spread out and create a 'film' over the base coat properly, so shrinks onto itself rather than over the base coat as paint normally does. As it all dries, the alligatored topcoat ends up sticking well enough to the lower layer that the whole job doesn't simply fall apart, but it's not a finish I would recommend for a vehicle! Still, since this particular paint has apparently lasted almost 80 years, I suppose it has proven the test of time, and the tremendous skill of the artisan!

Such a job is far beyond the skill of the factory 'coach painter' of the period, who is simply concerned with applying a smooth and dust-free coat of black enamel. The Majestic finisher (and I bet it was one fellow, as their total output was very low), was undoubtedly a member of the Guild of Decorative Painters in France, which traces its lineage several hundred years - they were the folks who decorated the ceiling beams etc on all those amazing 11th - 18th century cathedrals. The Guild retains many of the habits of yore, requiring members to pierce both ears, and wear their hair long. It so happened that during my peak decorative faux-painting years, I fit the bill, and curiously, when I hired French painters to help me, so did they... but membership and details are secret, and I might be endangering myself by revealing too much already!
Having said that, isn't it fascinating that this totally unique motorcycle has a connection to the grand and very old European tradition of Guilds and artisans. It would be as if the Masons built frames and engines once cathedral-building projects dried up... perhaps Dan Brown can figure a Majestic into the next Da Vinci Code adventure!

If you'd like to see more of Vincent's photo gallery, click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


This article was sent to me by a friend; it's part of a new book, 'I've Seen It All, And I Don't Mean Maybe: Coast To Coast By Motorcycle In 1924', by Philip N. Gooding, compiled by his grandson Kevin Jolly - you can order the book from

"In 1924 my wife's grandfather - Phil Gooding - (who was 20) rode his 1923 Indian Scout from Baltimore to Los Angeles - and back. This is an article that appeared in the Dec 1924 issue of the Baltimore Trolley Topics - the newsletter of the Baltimore Transit Company - where Phil worked as a bus driver. Phil took these photos with a brand new Brownie box camera he bought for the trip.

Motored to the Pacific
Blue Bus Man Tells of The Thrills of Trans_Continental Motorcycle Trip

"I guess the only thing that stopped me was the Pacific Ocean," declared Phil Gooding the other day when he was discussing his motorcycle trip to the coast and back. Phil, or rather Phillip N. Gooding, is a Baltimore Transit Company man. Along towards the end of last May Superintendent Martin told Phil that he might have a vacation, and the young man, who had always had an intense desire to see some parts of America, decided to hop on his trusty motorcycle and go from one end of the land to the other. So, on May 30th he started on the trip that was destined to occupy 65 days and to cover 9,478 miles. It was an adventure full of interest, and excitement.

Leaving Baltimore, Gooding went across the Alleghenies, and over the fine roads of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It was not until he had left St. Louis that he ran into "gumbo" mud, and in an experience with this he met his first mishap. He burnt out his clutch at a stretch of road 12 miles from Columbia, Mo. It looked as though he was in for a long walk, pushing a heavy machine over a heavy road, but happily he came upon a gang of road workmen. They had a mule, a white mule, and they agreed to hire the mule and a rider to Gooding for $10 to tow him into Columbia. There repairs were made at a garage and the trip was continued.

Gooding left the National Highway at Kansas City and went north to Topeka and then followed the Union Pacific Highway which is along the trail used in the early days by stage coaches, across the state of Kansas into Colorado. "The road across Kansas was all dirt," says Gooding. "But as it was graded and hard I made fairly good time. The road over Western Kansas is very mountainous and going west it is a slight grade all the way into Colorado. I arrived at Colorado Springs, which is at the bottom of Pikes Peak on June 9th."I spent the day touring through the Garden of the Gods and going up the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit of the Peak. The Garden of the Gods is a large reservation of queer rock formations. Most of the rocks are brown in color and very brittle. The wind and rains have cut them into images resembling animals' heads and bodies. "The road to the summit of the Peak is 18 miles long and very steep in places. From the top you get a beautiful view of the surrounding country and of the highway that you have just come up twisting back and forth up the mountain side. There is snow on the Peak both winter and summer and it is very cold. The Peak's altitude is 14,108 feet.

"The next morning I left for Denver, and after touring the city I went to Lookout Mountain, which is about 20 miles distant. The grave of Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) is at the summit, and also a large museum containing his guns and relics of his Indian fighting days and of his Wild West Circus. To the west of the grave are to be seen the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies and on the east Denver in the valley below. The altitude of the grave is 7,700 feet above sea level.

"The roads through Colorado are mostly all gravel and in fairly good condition, but the state of Wyoming does not keep them quite as good. At Shoshoni, Wyoming, the auto bridge over a small river was washed out and I had to push my motor over a railroad bridge for about a half-mile. As railroad ties and motor-cycle wheels were not built to run together, it wasn't much fun."After crossing the bridge, I struck the first stretch of desert. It was only 16 miles across, but it was so sandy that it took three hours to cross on my motor-cycle.

"The road from Cody to the entrance to Yellowstone Park is 60 miles and runs through the Shoshone Canyon which averages 1,500 to 2,000 feet deep and 200 to 500 feet wide. The Shoshone River runs through it. The river has been dammed in the canyon for irrigation purposes. The dam is 328 feet high and 200 feet wide. It irrigates 300,000 acres of land. "I arrived at the Yellowstone National Park on the afternoon of June 14, and camped for the night near Yellowstone Lake, 7,800 feet above sea level.

"The lake is fairly alive with large rainbow trout and is a real fisherman's paradise. The Yellowstone, with its wonderful variety of falls, canyons, lakes, geysers is the most wonderful place in this country.

"Most of the park is volcanic and has acres of ground which is full of holes giving off gases and steam. There is a small mud volcano which bubbles up mud and steam. The mouth of this volcano is about 10 feet across. There are several geysers which shoot up hot water and steam. The largest of these is 'Old Faithful.' Every 55 minutes 'Old Faithful' shoots up steam 165 feet in the air, and keeps this up for about three minutes.

"After three days in Yellowstone Park I took the highway south into Pocatello, Idaho where I got on the old Oregon Highway which was used by the first Oregon wagon trains, through the cities of American Falls, Burley, Twin Falls, and Mountain Home to Boise, the capital of Idaho. The roads are very bad in places across Idaho, and there are distances of 40 to 50 miles between houses.

It is the northern part of the Great American Desert."From Boise I went by the way of the Oregon Highway to Pendelton, Oregon, then took the Columbia River Highway into Portland, Oregon. The Columbia River Highway follows the Columbia River for 150 miles. The road is never more than 100 yards from the river, sometimes being on the shore, then on the cliffs 300 feet above the river. It has several water falls that are 300 feet high. It is considered the most beautiful highway in the United States.

"After touring Portland, I took the Pacific Highway south through the state of Oregon, into California, the land of palms and oranges. At Vallejo, California, I took the ferry for San Francisco. I was at the Presidio when Lt. Maughan arrived from New York by airplane, flying from dawn to dusk.

"Chinatown in San Francisco is about seven blocks long and two blocks wide. I went on a sight-seeing tour there which included a trip through two blocks of tunnels leading into deserted opium dens.
"Leaving San Francisco on June 26 I headed for the Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Mountains. The climb into the park is over fairly good roads with 25 percent grades, just wide enough for one auto. The road is cut into the side of the cliffs and is very dangerous. A slip means a drop of 3,000 feet."The Yosemite Valley is 3,000 feet deep and eight miles long. The valley contains some of the highest falls in the country. The Yosemite Falls drops 2,680 feet into the Valley.
"There is a large hotel on the cliffs 3,000 feet above the valley and every night a large fire is built on the edge of a projecting rock over the valley. At nine o'clock they throw the burnt embers over the cliff into the valley below. By throwing them off slowly it makes a stream of sparks 3,000 feet long and about thirty feet wide which lasts for about 5 minutes. This Fire Falls is watched every night by several thousand people camping in the valley. It is a beautiful sight to see. There are two roads into the valley. Both roads are very dangerous, but by driving carefully few accidents happen. I went down into the valley by the Big Oak Flat Road and came out the Wawona Road. On the Wawona Road, four miles after leaving the valley, is the Wawona grove of big trees.

Both roads are very dangerous, but by driving carefully few accidents happen. I went down into the valley by the Big Oak Flat Road and came out the Wawona Road. On the Wawona Road, four miles after leaving the valley, is the Wawona grove of big trees. There are two of these trees that have holes cut through them so that buses and autos can drive through them. The largest of them is about 29 feet in diameter and between 300 and 270 feet high.

"I arrived in Los Angeles on July 1, and during my week's stay there visited Pasadena and Berkeley Hills. In Hollywood and Berkeley Hills most of the moving picture stars live. They have the most beautiful homes I have ever seen. Most of them are bungalows with palm trees growing all around. The rose and flower gardens are very pretty. On July 4th I went down to Tijuana, Mexico to a real bull-fight and rodeo.

"I left Los Angeles July 8, for the Grand Canyon of Arizona across the Great American Desert. The first 100 miles from Los Angeles to Victorville is paved, but the rest of the way across was sand. I had a great deal of trouble riding through the loose sand and could only average about 5 miles an hour.

"When I got about 50 miles east of Victorville, the road was so sandy and rough that it broke the frame of my motor-cycle and front spring. As I was fifty miles from the nearest garage or house, I had to wait in hopes some passing tourist would have enough wire to hold the cycle frame

"It was 4 p.m. when I broke down, and I had to camp for the night on the desert all night. At 7 a.m. an autoist came along and supplied me with the much-needed wire. I spent the second night on the desert near Needles, California. At 10 a.m. the next morning it was 120 degrees in the shade and very little shade. Crossing the Colorado near Needles, the road starts rising until at Flagstaff, Arizona, which is near the Grand Canyon, the altitude is several thousand feet.

"There are very few towns on the desert and they are about 50 to 60 miles apart. At Flagstaff I repaired my motorcycle and got my first drink of good water since leaving Los Angeles. I had to weld my cycle's frame myself, and used just about twice as much material as an expert welder would have found necessary, but the job was so well done that the machine brought me all the way home without another break.“I arrived at the Grand Canyon July 11 at 10 a.m. The Canyon is over a mile deep and 13 miles across. There is a very narrow foot and mule trail leading from the top to the Colorado River at the bottom.

"I walked seven-and-a-half miles down the Bright Angel Trail to the river. The trail is so steep that it is hard to keep your feet and most of the time you slide instead of walk. In most places the trail is about 3 feet wide and a slip means a drop of a few thousand feet. Halfway down the trail is a spring of good water and several small buildings. The Colorado River in the canyon is about 75 feet wide and very muddy and swift. After taking several pictures at the bottom I started on the way up. It took two hours to go down, but took me ten hours to climb up. During the day about 50 people on mules went down into the canyon and few hikers. It was 15 miles of hard walking, but the scenery is well worth the trouble.

"I stayed at the Grand Canyon three days, and then started east on the Santa Fe Trail by way of Holbrook. Eighteen miles east of Holbrook is the Petrified Forest. There is a road about two miles long through the forest and a small museum. Some of the petrified trees are very large, but are broken in pieces of five to fifteen feet long. I got several specimens of wood and bark and brought them home with me.

Leaving the forest, Gooding went through New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, to Niagara Falls."During this trip," says Gooding, "I traveled alone on an Indian Moto- Cycle and camped out most every night. Most of the time I camped on public camping grounds near towns and cities, but if I could not get to one of these by night I camped wherever night found me. In most large tourist camps would be autos from most every state in the Union, and every night it was not unusual to see 50 to 100 tourists assembled around a huge campfire singing songs and telling stories and jokes. The average tourist is very congenial and always ready to help a fellow out of road troubles and in giving information concerning road conditions. I had a wonderful trip, but I must say that there is no place like one's home town.

"Going again?" we asked Gooding as he finished the narrative of his wonderful trip.

"No" He answered. "It was a wonderful experience, and I would not take anything for it, but I do not propose to do it again, in the same way, at least.

Phil took his trip from May 30, 1924 through August 1, 1924, and Kevin Jolly is posting up his journal and some of his photos and postcards more or less week-to-week on his web site

Monday, June 23, 2008


Waaay back in November I wrote about a photo shoot with photographer Nick Cedar for Motorcycle Classics magazine... and the July/August issue is finally on the stands, with an article entitled 1933 Velocette: 'The Little Mule'. It's a nice article, written by Margie Segal (who rides her Norton Commando on all our Vintage events), and the photographs of the bike came out beautifully - you hardly mind that the bike is slathered in oil. The story makes me out to be a bit of a nutcase, which of course must be true! A nice touch: they posited a photo of The Mule belting around a corner, above a shot of Noel Pope on a MkIV KTT at Brooklands in 1934 (see last pic)- had I known there would be a comparison, I would have crouched down!

The article is four and a half pages long, and includes a bit of Velocette history, plus a some technical info on the 1933 KTT mkIV Velo, which is a 400cc (cheater) ohc single-cylinder former racer, now roadster (although there hasn't been much of a transition, barring the new numberplate and a mirror).

This bike was one of 4 KTTs imported to the USA from 1929-49, the others included:
KTT102 (a Mk1) imported by 'Oglasud' of New York in Nov. '29,
KTT454 (another MkIV) at Otto Ling &Sons of New York on Dec. 4, '33,
KTT929 (a MkVIII) was sold to Western Motorcycles of Oregon on Apr.4 '48.

KTT 470 was imported to 'Macks' Motorcycles, in Everett, Massachusets, on May 19, 1933. It was sold as an 'engine only', presumably to hot-up someone's dirt racer or even KSS. The chassis in which it is currently installed has no numbers...our local Department of Motor Vehicles had a difficult time wrapping their minds around that, but I explained that racers often used their engine number as the ID for the bike. Which they accepted. And now it's street-legal, using the original factory equipment, plus a dummy taillight and the mirror.

The Mule has become like a second skin to me (albeit a very oily one!), and can be 'thought' in any direction you might need to go, changing lines as necessary to avoid potholes and rough surfaces. Former owner Eddie Arnold built it for Vintage racing in the late 1970's; it's been modified in the engine department with lighter flywheels (7lbs taken off), a home-made cam, 79mm Norton piston (74mm is standard - hence the 400cc), honking great 1 5/16" TT carburetor. Plus, the entire front end is from a MkVIII - with a magnesium front brake and forks with rubber stops and a 'guided' fork spring (which keeps the spring from oscillating/breaking under heavy use, making for more controlled action over bumps).
If you ask nicely, I might let you ride it.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Here's an interesting response to the O'Donovan post; 'Old Miracle' used a Binks 'Rat Trap' carburetor, which is strictly a flat-out track carb, with no idle circuit and no slow-speed cutaway. Howard sent these pix from Australia, showing one of these very rare instruments. Looking at the top photo; the carb is bolted onto the intake manifold tube on the left side (the square bolt head for clamping the carb can be seen past the tickle button). The air intake is on the right, and you can see the connection between the float chamber on the left and the main jet which is in the middle of the brass apparatus towards the bellmouth. The wing nut controls a needle on the main jet with effectively varies the size of the aperture, although as this carb is meant for alcohol, not much finesse is involved. The air intake is controlled by a butterfly valve at the bellmout, although instead of rotating around a fixed shaft in the middle of the bore, the valve acts more like a trap door, being hinged at the bottom. The cable is connected to a small extension on the 'door' - very direct!
The design creates something of a 'ram air' effect, being such a long tube, and is suprisingly similar to a Wal Phillips Fuel Injector. Very simple, but apparently for full-bore track work, it was the hot ticket in the 'teens and early '20's.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


More Grandson Stories...
I wrote about Don O'Donovan in my post on fast sidevalves, as he is one name, like Tom Sifton from Harley, who is associated with making flatheads go streets faster than was expected. His test hack 'Old Miracle' (see bottom photo) drew lots of press attention in the 60's thru 80's, as it had been restored to original spec and 'made the rounds' of shows and featured in many books from the period.

The top photo shows a racing Norton lineup at Brooklands, with the banking looming at the rear. It looks like a pair of racing ohv Model 18s, ca 1924, given the high exhaust pipes, the bend of the handlebars, and the tiny front brakes (5" diameter Webb items). O'Donovan is standing in the middle of the group, wearing his racing gear (collarless double-breasted leather jacket, wool jodhpurs, high lace-up boots, and of course a shirt and tie). Bert Denly on the far left, Brooklands timekeeper 'Ebby' Ebblewhite is on the far right. Can someone ID the rest?

Simon O'Donovan, Don's grandson, contacted me after the post, with these two photos, the second one taken when he was a 'guest' at the recent Brooklands Centenary, which shows the Members Banking and Members Bridge as it stands today... a little less brush visible than a few years ago, but the concrete is crumbling nonetheless.
He sends this note along with the pix:
"Just one I found when I was playing with my camera at Brooklands at the centenary. More interested in the circuit (what's left of it), as it was interesting to feel that I may have stood on a area of the circuit The Don had ridden, whilst I was taking a little tour. It was a surprise when I met with a man who had taken interest in what appeared to be a bunker on the inside of the circuit, so I asked if he was into the old stuff & he pointed to his T-Shirt, so I opened a Bin-Liner with one of Dons Helmets he may be interested in & he burst into life, where he immediately said "The Wizard"? I was Gobsmacked that someone would just know, but he really didn't believe me until I got some I.D. out to confirm my name. With that, he asked if it would be alright to get a picture of the two of us with the helmet to display in his garage. I thought he was having a laugh, but he was deadly serious & it was nice bumping into him again & getting a shot of him."

I think we'd like to see photos of the helmet, too!
Bottom photo shows world champion racer Geoff Duke riding 'Old Miracle' in 1954. I do believe he found it a challenge! The bike gets a regular workout on Vintage Club runs; motorcycles don't come much simpler - no clutch, no gears, just a throttle, magneto control, and valve lifter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


BMG Motor-Cycles Ltd of 352 High Rd, Ilford, Essex, developed a desmodromic valve kit for Velocette 'M' series engines (Viper, Venom, MSS), and applied for a patent (#939,895) on May 17, 1962. The drawing reproduced here is taken from their patent application form, and shows the parts which they manufactured as a direct bolt-on accessory, with no major machining required.
The kit cost £38, or £46.10 if they fitted it to your machine.

The BMG setup is ingenious in its simplicity and clarity of purpose, and is fairly well made, although some have called it a bit agricultural. Regardless, the kit worked as advertised; this was borne out in a road test by Bruce Main-Smith in 1963 (The Motor Cycle), who said 'My summary is that this is the tool for the rev-happy rider'. His road test isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, although he is able to rev the test bike (a 350cc Viper with Butler dolphin fairing - see period photo) to 7500 rpm in the intermediate gears, although he can 'only' pull 6200rpm in top, as the bike is slightly over-geared - this equated to 93.9mph on the Viper, which is going very well. BMG had tested their own Viper and found 6800rpm/102mph was possible.

Having said all that, Main-Smith seems strained to find a reason to spend money on the kit, as the power gains were difficult to gauge (the fairing would have added to the top speed considerably without the desmo kit). The road test was taken in poor, windy weather, and as far as I know, no other road test was published in the day, or since. Supposedly, a Thruxton equipped with the BMG kit took a speed run at Bonneville, and managed a record top speed, but I haven't found firm documentation on the results. All other indications point to an overall moot gain in power with the kit, although I'd love to hear otherwise, or from someone who actually fitted the kit to their Velocette.

The lower photographs are courtesy Dennis Quinlan, showing a display cutaway engine built by Australian Velo technical guru, Norm Trigg. The BMG kit has been fitted and the installation can be clearly seen, including the cam shaped, paired cam followers, and the positive valve stem connection. You can see, slightly in shadow, the lower rocker arm which lifts the valve off the seat. The pushrod connection at the other end of the rocker arm is fairly substantial, and is where the valve clearance is adjusted.
As there is no valve spring, the cam isn't fighting 100lbs or so of spring pressure to open the valve, which theoretically would give the cams a much easier life, and have the effect of vastly lightening the whole valve train, allowing the engine to rev more freely.

These BMG kits come available now and then, and I've always thought, 'what if?'

Sunday, June 15, 2008


While Ducati has a lock on the Desmodromic valve system, they weren't the only motorcycles to use double-acting valve management. Many Velocettes have been subjected to springless valve actuation - first in the mid-1950's, when Sid Willis in Australia made an experimental sohc desmo KTT, then Harry Hinton (also of Australia) in the late 1950's, finally in the mid-1960's, when BMG made a commercially available push/pullrod desmo kit for the M-series Velos (Venom and Thruxton - the BMG kit deserves a post).
Interestingly, in both cases, no power advantage was found, and the conversions were short-lived.

Sid Willis was a champion 250cc rider in Australia, using several ex-works Velo engines and parts. In 1953, he joined the Continental Circus (as the European racing season was called in the 1950's) with friend Tony MacAlpine (pictured with his Vincent racer - second photo), taking his 250cc dohc Velos, built around pre-war Velo ex-works cylinder heads. Even with this advanced engine spec, his bikes still used rigid frames - very light, but difficult to handle over the cobblestones of the Mettet circuit in Belgium. To overcome handling issues while retaining the light weight of his racer, he asked frame builder Doug St.Julian Beasley to bring his chassis up to date. Beasley built the now famous all-welded lightweight double cradle frame which housed several 250cc Velos after Willis' (see top photo), which is similar the Norton Featherbed, being an all-welded double cradle, but isn't a merely a copy, being much smaller in scale, lighter, and with slightly different frame geometry.
With this new frame and his dohc engine, Willis came 5th in the 1953 Isle of Man Lightweight TT, the second privateer home behind Arthur Wheeler's Moto Guzzi, and a field of very rapid Italian lightweights including works Guzzis, dohc NSUs, and DKW two strokes.

At some point in the mid-50's, Willis considered the theoretical advantages of desmodromic valve operation for racing (mainly, unlimited revs without fear of valves dropping), and built up his own desmo head. The lower photo shows his thought process made metal; it shows his cobbled-up model, built to see how/if the project would work. Satisfied that it COULD be done, he set about fabricating a new cambox, which he fit atop a KSS mk2 alloy cylinder head, which he had machined flat. Needing a very tough metal for the rocker arms, he cut up steel wrenches and silver soldered them into shape! Bush engineering at its very finest.
The finished engine would rev to 10,000rpm, and started easily enough, but it had no gas sealing when push starting and thus no compression, as a small amount of valve clearance needed to be maintained when cold, so that the valves would have room when the cylinder head warmed up. When the motor was turned over quickly, gas pressure sealed the valves. Willis tried the completed motorcycle at his local racing circuit (Mt. Druitt), but found that it was no faster than his ex-works dohc engine. Plus, the cobbled-up rockers proved troublesome (he used silver soldered wrench handles for the finished product as well), with breakages at the joints, and as he was only interested in quicker lap times, he decided to give up on the project. The bike languished in his shed for a year, with one further attempt to cure its ills. When this failed, Sid melted down the cambox for another project! No photos exist of the completed desmo machine, although Dennis Quinlan, when interviewing Willis for an article, was able to rescue the model from his scrap metal bin!

This post is based on a story written by Dennis Quinlan which can be found here.

Friday, June 13, 2008


As seen by John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, in his new book 'From the Hip'. Taken ca 1964 at the Ace Cafe in London, now revived by Mark Wilsmore. Such an evocative photo...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


An update for the Roberto Sigrand/ Zenith 'Super KIM' story...

Speedway racers receive interesting prizes for winning a race or championship - the 'Golden Helmet' and all that.
Here is the 'Guante de Plata', the 'Silver Glove', now tarnished dark with age, awarded to Roberto Sigrand at the Huracan Speedway in Buenos Aires, for first prize in the Argentine Handicap series, 1929-30.
Roberto's grandson Ignacio found it recently in a drawer of the family home... He is going to visit his abuela (grandmother) on July 1st, to look for more photographs of his grandfather. More posts to follow as we puzzle together a picture of this interesting man.

I found some period photographs of the Huracan (Hurricane) track in Buenos Aires, snapped immediately after completion. The sport of Dirt Track was new in South America, and racing stadia were built as a business endeavor, in conjunction with a visiting Dirt Track delegation from England and the US (Sprouts Elder). During the winter in England, these racers were looking for a profitable off-season in the South American summer of 1929.
I've found reference to two tracks built during this period; one in Montevideo, and the Huracan track in Buenos Aires - as can be seen in these photos from the grandstand, it's a large track with a very long straightaway.

Dirt Track had mixed fortunes financially in Argentina, and the local promoters were forever running out of money. At one point they were unable to pay the English riders, stranding them without boat fare to get back home! When the racers cabled England to ask their 'own' Speedway promoters for the £39 fare, the reply was 'SWIM!'. The riders had to earn their passage through yet more races, with a different promoter.

The bottom photo shows star rider Frank Varey at this track, who is riding a Scott! The yowling two-stroke was painted all red, and Varey wore a red jersey while racing, earning him the nickname 'El Diablo Rojo', which became his nom de plume back in England (the Red Devil).
Yes, Scott made a Dirt Track machine too, and in '28 had some placings at the Isle of Man, so these machines were hot stuff in the day. Scotts have a fully triangulated frame and handle beautifully, with a good power output for 1929. They tend to get hot over long distance races, with attendant reliability issues, and were the only major manufacturer never to win a 'Gold Star' at Brooklands.

The water cooling of Scott's two-stroke twin cylinder engines is based on the thermosiphon principle, ie there is no water pump between engine and radiator. As water is heated by the engine, it rises into the radiator, and is cooled, which descends back into the engine. Simple, and effective for normal touring use, but when pushed hard the limitations of the system begin to show. Dirt Track races were fairly short, with perhaps 20 mile 'stages' at a time, so perhaps the engines fared better in this sport than on longer road races. Varey did well with his machine, until he, like everyone else in Speedway, turned to J.A.P.-powered racers with specialty frames.