R.O. Clark, the FN expert

Elsewhere on the site I have detailed the 1914 TT outing for a pair of FN fours, but this was not the first racing experience for FN. From Motor Cycling in April 1910 we get a glimpse of an early FN exponent, R.O. Clark.

Mr Clark on his 2 1/4 hp FN single

While we see him here aboard a c1910 single cylinder, shaft drive FN, he is probably better known for his earlier outings on the 4-cylinder FN, notably in the 1908 TT, as outlined in the accompanying article:

An F.N. Expert.

R.O. Clark, who rode so successfully in the M.C.C. London-Land's End and return trip at Easter, is an inhabitant of Norwich, where he makes motor boats. He is a well-known exponent of the art of F.N., and it speaks well for himself and machine that he came through the 556 miles well up to time. This little engine only has a capacity of 250 cubic centimetres, and was far the smallest in the trials. In 1908 Clark took third place on a four-cylinder F.N. in the multi cylinder class in the Tourist Trophy race, and also won a race at the Stadium after a terrific duel with Gordon Gibson on a Triumph. These two rode neck and neck, but the four-cylinder just managed to whack the single. He hardly ever wears goggles, and is no relation of Eli of the same name, who also rides a lightweight but of a different make.

"The Stadium" presumably refers to Brooklands, but while I can find reference to a tussle between Clark and Gibson on Saturday October 3, 1908, Peter Hartley's book Bikes at Brooklands gives the win to Gibson on the Triumph. It doesn't matter much because there is a catch. Like many Brooklands events, the race was a handicap, and both Clark and Gibson started 2 minutes 20 seconds before the backmarkers. Not surprisingly, the handicappers came in for some criticism following the event. Still, the winner's speed was 53 mph - at which pace the FN must have been really humming if it was geared anything like mine.

Clark was a founding committee member of the BMCRC, and appeared in many events at Brooklands before the first war. From the early days of the track in 1908, he rode four-cylinder FNs, then later he campaigned the single-cylinder shaft drive model. In 1911 he put 41 miles, 1454 yards into the hour on his Class A 249 cc FN single (probably a stripped version of the machine shown above), and late in 1913 he set a string of long-distance Class A1 records riding a 273 cc machine. The record speeds were around 44-45 mph for 2 - 6 hours and 100 - 250 miles: quite remarkable for such a small machine with so little racing pedigree. Not that someone wasn't taking things seriously. Production FNs at this date were 285 cc, so the record breaker - like the four-cylinder machines entered in the 1914 TT - was reduced in capacity to come in under the 275 cc Class A1 limit.

Copyrightę Leon Mitchell 2000

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