The plan is that 69y old (AJ) Allan Jory takes his 70s Triumph 110, our mate up the county in ‘Carnworthy Water’ 79y old John (Gunner) Penfound will ride his reliable Twin Kwaker 500 that has served him so well. It was unfortunate turn of circumstance that caused the Velo to be put away after a real good hose down as you will discover later.( One never knows when the Ambulance calls!) But all is well now. Wednesday, the morning of departure arrives; AJ and JS cast eyes skywards, then take a chance leaving the wet suits off. JS had intended to get to the older of the Severn Bridge crossing to Wales via the ‘Severn Beach’ at Avonmouth. This time no problem we are soon on a free trip high over the ‘Severn Estuary’ and shortly enter our first night’s stopover the town of ‘Chepstow’ What a great little Town. Come morning after breakfast we move all our belongings back into the ‘Beaufort’ for safety and set off to explore the Town and Castle which turns out to be very interesting.
Anyway, after a thoroughly good stay in ‘Chepstow’ including a short ride out, it is with the intention to return at some later date we set off over and beneath the mountains of Wales.
Gunner is getting restless with a sore ass and has had enough of the lanes lined with moss and lichens that needs full concentration and respect on two wheels. Now it is only a short ride to relieve Gunners Bum and reach our destination when a minor disaster occurs AJ’s rear rack had sheared and his luggage was hanging off the side of the Triumph. This fact had obviously been discovered by the members of the Vintage Club as come evening it is full to capacity with its members.
To my astonishment, AJ has taken a liking to the Tulip Directions and volunteers to take the lead. AJ did a tremendous job over the next 3 days guiding us all over the selected scenic routes. These three days took us along roads that only the locals know and we are in their debt for the time they took preparing the Tulip Guides. The Saturday run of some 130 miles took us through Newbridge, Rhayader, Staylittle, Bettws Cedewain, Garthmyle, Clun and Penybont.
Perhaps the highlight for us was when we were high in the hills suddenly the Kawasaki clutch cable parted company.
Sunday: The main feature of today’s trip was the Heritage site of ‘Blaenavon’ with it’s Steam railway on a special visiting engines weekend.
On arrival well in front of the rest we took advantage of the special rates negotiated for us and had a ride up and down the short track getting off at the Whistle top Inn for lunch. Come Monday Gunner had had enough and pulled out of the last day to rest his posterior prior to the long drag home on Tuesday.
It is inspiring to see as we did chaps of advanced age who had lost the use of one or more limbs yet still wanted to ride a motorcycle. AJ was still enjoying route finding with the Tulip system so it was just the two of us that set off at an upped pace on Monday. Come Tuesday a unanimous decision see’s us take the direct route back via the motor way so with the Velo beating out its steady staccato beat for mile after mile it’s goodbye Wales then 200miles later we say farewell to Gunner at Launceston. Ivan Hart-Davies was killed in a flying accident in 1917, he had been an insurance broker in the Midlands for most of his working life, but he was also the holder of a lands speed record that will never be broken. Most riders of modern machinery have little idea what its like to ride a motorcycle of that time, but one way to of making a comparison between a brand new machine and one made a hundred years ago might be to choose any bike that you want- lets say a BMW GS series. The success of Triumphs design is based around a low compression, 500cc side valve engine which produces an incredible torque, and just keeps going no matter what. Many attempts at the record were made by factory prepared and entered machines, but also by enthusiastic amateurs.
There are those who have re created these journeys on similar bikes in more recent times, often with a back up van, and taking up to a week or so to complete the trip.
The Triumph used is from 1911, and apart from the extra fuel tank is exactly like the one Hart-Davies used. Through Truro with its glimpses of the high tide outside Radio Cornwall, the car parks and Cathedral, Tesco’s roundabout, then uphill to take the Redruth road instead of following the direction toward Falmouth. Now Portreath, pretty as it is, sits at the foot of a very long and very steep hill which is approached by a sand strewn hairpin bend. North Cliffs are steep, Hells Mouth is what it says on the tin, but the views of St Ives and the lighthouse at Godrevy are spectacular. One of the worst scenarios for a single speed belt driver is an uphill approach to a major road at a T junction. Hart Davies had magneto problems in Penzance and pushed the bike all the way to the top of Market Jew street before it would start again. The Triumph and the BSA had done their job, and were remarkably unfazed by the whole thing. With cars and lorries to the left of us and the right of us and behind and in front of us and with Jane (SatNav) shouting in my ear JS missed the turn. For me this was fantastic over the many years we have toured with maps and later with Jane talking in my ear, because of AJ’s eye problems I am mostly up front. We were discussing how to find a means of repair when who should turn the corner was the local postman Pat. Have you ever really looked at an old Scott Twin, tell you what it is a real interesting machine.
It even had turned alloy disc retainers to fit the end of the Footrest, Gear change and Kick Start rubbers. One very sociable fellow we met had a cancer in the leg so had it off and converted his HS Ariel trials outfit to L foot change and brake if he reads this I am still drooling over the Velo he told me about.
AJ continues down the A30 as I, JS branches off at ‘Hamburger Hill’ to ride the swerves of the ‘Ladock Valley’.
He was the fastest official, that is timed by the ACU, person to travel on a motorcycle between John o’ Groats and Land’s End.
The rear wheel is driven directly from the crankshaft with no impediment in the form of gearbox or clutch. The summer months when the hours of daylight were at their longest was a favourite time to have a go. The Triumph clatters away, overtaking and using its momentum to pull it up the inclines, whilst the BSA can rely on its slogging powers and the use of a very low bottom gear to conquer the hills. Note; when going slowly uphill, and having to cross into the outside filter lane, it is advisable to look behind quite often before attempting the manoeuvre. There is no automatic oiling on these bikes, you have to manually push a plunger and give the engines a good squirt of oil straight into their guts. Stronger and fitter people have ridden it on belt drivers, once I did it all the way, on my own, with a 2 ? Douglas. I didn’t do a wheelie over the hump backed bridge, but still the surfer girl with the board under her arm eyed me warily.
He suffered more punctures, and eventually ran out of inner tubes; he finished the last mile with no tyre at all on the rim.
The Triumph, as one writer observed, was the first bike that could break a man, rather than the man break it. Not quite broken we had another cup of tea and an ice cream, then loaded the bikes onto the trailer for the fast trip up the dual carriageway to our respective homes and garages. Here to take part in the Vintage Motorcycle Clubs ‘Touring Section’ event, run over three days in Wales. Then got completely lost and ended up off junction 10 headed for Bristol with Jane going berserk. When we come across the ‘Ashley’ Canal Tunnel we ride alongside it’s flow for quite some miles even making a short stop for sustenance in one of it’s many hostelries. Now this for me JS is going to be a new way of riding I have to go at their speed now, not mine. Now think this is 1927-35 period and you have a two stroke with exposed crank flywheel, individual water jackets and side entry through crankcase doors to the big ends.
He did it on a single speed, 500cc Triumph in June 1911 and it took him an astounding 29 hours and 12 minutes. However the ride is still an epic one, and was beyond the resources and capabilities of many who tried.
It is possible however to get an inkling of what it may have been like by riding the very last part of the John O Groats to Lands End route on a 1911 Motorcycle. The first long hill up to Lanivet sees us both giving lpa, that is light pedal assistance, to assist the labouring engines. If the Triumph is baulked and stalls, then there is little alternative but to go back and start all over again, frustrating and exhausting, once stopped it is impossible to pedal fast enough uphill to get the engine firing. Another of those mini roundabouts successfully completed, and Sunday morning traffic around the Hospital, Sainsbury’s and MacDonald’s negotiated, its on to Chasewater, and the B roads that pass through old mining country.
It’s supposed to be very 5 miles or so, but both of us, in deference to the age of the motors tend to over oil. My eyes were spinning in opposite directions at the top, and steam was issuing from my armpits but I did it. More traffic and roundabouts to be negotiated in Hayle, a ragged cheer from a group sitting outside a pub by the railway bridge brings a smile. Alternatively stop completely and push across, go in the opposite direction until a suitable place can be found to turn around and have another go.
Actually the sight of Land’s End in the distance brings both a sense of relief and of achievement. Try the trip we took on a modern bike, and you might get some idea of what was involved one hundred years ago.
It has done a number of End to End and other Road Trials, numerous Speed Hill Climbs a great trip to ‘Keil’ in Germany.
AJ has ignition problems it seems when cold all is well, hot, o dear, to the extent that the continual kicking trying to fire it up fractures the centre stand.
Odd, anyhow we adjourn to the bar, shortly to be told they had made an error and booked us in for the Thursday not Wednesday.
Thus refuelled we are again climbing into the grey skies and find ourselves on the high cold moors where even the sheep have padded anoraks on. Gunner did an excellent job of keeping the bike going only to stall it in traffic as we entered the Town. One of the ones we saw had had its lube changed with the fitment of a Yamaha oil feed pump to facilitate good oiling but less smoke.
After this attempt, the ACU cried “enough!” fearful of public and legal reactions if speeds were to increase, and accidents to the public might occur.
Now try and ride it 900 miles, some of which should be on green lanes just to understand road conditions of the time and certainly not using Motorways. To start, the bicycle style pedals are used, a decompresor lever allows the engine to turn with little resistance, until a speed of around 5mph is attained, the lever is dropped and forward motion begins as the engine fires up. Sharp flints caused endless punctures, frames broke, handlebars bent in crashes, lights fell off, and the wrong roads were taken. Both machines have experienced riders, both have had a degree of mechanical overhaul, and there is a back up trailer. The BSA‘s neutral, and the availability of the clutch makes such a difference at road works, traffic lights and the like.
Engine house stacks point skywards from gorse bushes and the main railway line to London is never far way. The problem with this is that they smoke; they produce a lot of carbon on top of the pistons, but worse, unused oil is ejected straight onto the belts.
Then it’s on to Long Rock, although I did go to Marazion car park for wee. A helicopter from St Marys whistles overhead and lands in the Heliport, and The Scillonian is tied up in the harbour. The pioneers had to do this many times on their journey, no wonder that by this stage they were getting very close to physical exhaustion.
Do your sums and you'll quickly realise the Lite n' Easy approach represents great value for money.
After a considerable amount of phone calls on their part trying to get us accommodation (Chepstow was very busy as the Horse races were on the following day) they finally tell us they had booked us into a place just down the road, gave us a free drink and the cash difference in the cost of the replacement accommodation. Descending out of the gloom we enter into the Old Coal mining area of ‘Blaenavon’ it must be home to a lot of good people but it seems a cold desolate place after Cornwall. Hart-Davies could have chosen a two speed hub if he had wished, but he stated that the single speeder was more than adequate for all the hills encountered, and in the event of the inevitable puncture, he could take out the rear wheel quickly and easily.
The Cornwall Section of the VMCC organise their annual Lands End Run every June, starting at the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway and avoiding the newer roads, preferring instead the either the ”Turnpike” or the “Traditional”route. This is because having ridden there, we both felt that a lift home in a trailer would be appropriate.
The back roads around the Owl Sanctuary lead through Fraddon and then onto the beautiful Ladock Valley with its downhill sweeps through woods and pastures and which in turn ends up by Tresillian Creek, a tributary of the river Fal. Briefly joining the old Redruth by pass, then off again heading down to the coast, the route goes past the Gold Centre and mining heritage place, to the small seaside resort of Portreath.
On modern bikes you don’t even notice most hills, but believe you me, between Penzance and Lands End there are three real crackers. One can only guess at their emotions, especially those who made the trip but were outside of the record time by just a few hours or minutes. This, together with the starting problem makes AJ reconsider and he makes a change of steed to his two year old Triumph. This general commotion had put a question mark in AJ’s head on his booking of the rooms in ‘Llandridnod Wells’. We are told he is an x winner of the International Six Days on an Ariel and turns up every year. One poor rider was found wandering in an obscure Cornish lane, completely lost and at the point of collapse. These actually go into the towns, preferring the by-passed villages and cliff tops to the hassle of the main trunk roads.
Penzance is not easy with its pedestrian crossings, lights, parked cars but after the Promenade and towards Newlyn it is easier. Soon we discover all the activity is for the ‘Tour of Briton Cycle Race’ must say to be in the centre of it all was quite exciting. One lad broke his right bar on the trip but his ingenuity had used a mudguard stay to brace it from the top of the forks, secured by mole grips and he had a clamp around the crack. Hart-Davies was not a speed merchant and would not have succeeded in racing, but he had phenomenal stamina and strength which enabled him to take part in all day scraps against the best in the Country. Others, with little in the way of backup, ran out of spares, seized their engines or could not find food and petrol during the night.
The Turnpike also has the distinct advantage of being as flat as it is possible to get in such a hilly country as Cornwall. Just after the Art Gallery, by Newlyn Harbour the road turns right to join the main route to Lands End. When the cyclists swished past at considerable speed, we could but imagine the fitness of these athletes to surmount the very mountain we had descended. To help in his attempt he had a lot of amateur assistance, volunteers in white coats on their own Triumphs would wait at junctions and guide him along unfamiliar routes, or through the maze of streets in large towns and cities. It also provides an alternative tour for modern motorcyclists to show off parts of the Cornish Countryside which may not be quite so familiar to visitors. Here you can turn left if you want and go through the narrow streets of Mousehole, or straight on up the very steep Paul Hill leading to the village where the very last native Cornish speaker, Dolly Pentreath , is commemorated.
The roads were still in very poor condition, especially in Scotland, Stray animals were everywhere, and potholes and nails from horseshoes were an extra hazard. During conversation at the Dealers, explaining what we were doing in Wales he tells us a quick way to get to the planned ‘Tulip’ lunch stop, as we arrive the gang are finishing up their meal ready to resume the route.
Here the sheep either have a death wish or want to try riding pillion, dam me it was a matter of inches JS nearly had one on or in the bike, jumping like a gazelle it was. Gunner was getting ready to taste the Lamb Steak before JS had chance to realise what had happened. Continuing eyes wide open, we catch the tale end riders well before the end of a great day.
Replace Tank etc tickle the carb, first kick and away she goes in perfect mechanical rhythm.
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