A 1923 four-cylinder FN on test

A flexible four

Think of the adjectives that a road tester might use to describe a 1923 four-cylinder FN motorcycle: flexible, ingenious, smooth, silent, superb, easy and natural, ahead of its time, noiseless, manageable...

When Motor Cycling tested the Latest Type F.N. Combination (an 8 h.p. with a Grindlay spring-wheel sidecar) in May 1923, the report did contain these words but not always quite in the way one might expect. In the interests of fair reporting, it seems that every piece of praise was accompanied by a qualification of some sort.

1923 FN engine detail

"There is nothing about the management of a four-cylinder F.N. motorcycle that need frighten the most inexperienced rider" gushes the tester. Really? I wonder how many novice riders would agree that "kick-starting while on the move is perfectly easy and natural". Apparently this maneuver was required frequently at the engine tended to stall while gear changing.

Shaft drive on motorcycles has always been associated with sophistication, so it is only right that the tester lists the virtues of this type of drive and the F.N. history of it stretching back to 1905. Pity that on this F.N. the bevels emitted "just a faint scream" at certain speeds. Not a big problem, though, as "we fully believe that a slight adjustment would have rendered it perfectly noiseless."

The brakes also came in for their share of criticism, being described as "not by any means up to the standard demanded from such a speed and powerful machine as the F.N." The foot brake "required enormous pressure ere it would fulfil its function" and the hand brake "had little effect at all". In a fit of generousity the tester was prepared to accept the claim from the manufacturer that brakes were usually excellent and that a drop of oil on the brakes was responsible for the poor performance of the test machine.

1923 FN outfit at rest

Clearly the reporter was most generous by nature. Even when he discovered that it was impossible to open the toolbox because the lid fouled one of the sidecar tubes, the harshest words he could come up with were to suggest that "there is room for improvement in the disposition of the metal toolboxes".

In all fairness (and with no bias whatever even as the owner of a 1923 model)  I should point out that the tester seemed genuinely impressed with the machine, problems aside. Smooth, fast and powerful; he must have been disappointed by so many niggling faults.

Copyright Leon Mitchell 1999

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