Motor Cyclists on Tour, 1903

Being a bit of an F.N. nut, this article - taken from The Automobile Club Journal (UK) of June 11, 1903 - first caught my eye because it includes Mr Chatterton's account of his experiences with a 1903 2 h.p. F.N. motorcycle. But the article has more than usual general interest, as it is a relatively rare account of the real experience of touring by motorcycle in pioneering days. If you ever had any doubt that early machines were a bit fragile, you only have to share in Mr Pennell's experiences with his Phoenix, the details of which he describes as "beastly".

Less beastly was Mr Candler's Quadrant, which was deemed to be pretty reliable. Just to give a flavour of the machines, here's a period Quadrant taken from a 1903 edition of Motor Cycles and How to Manage Them. Note the famous "Driving Level", which through elaborate linkages "...switches on the current, closes the exhaust valve, opens the gas valve, and advances the ignition."

1903 Quadrant

Anyway, have a read. And if you are ever lucky enough to see one of these early things on the road, don't laugh at its ridiculously slow progress. Instead marvel at the fact that it is going forwards at all!

Motor Cyclists on Tour


Some account has already appeared in the Journal of a tour recently undertaken by a number of members of the C.T.C. on motor bicycles. The gentlemen who took part in this tour have contributed to the current issue of the C.T.C. Gazette, critical descriptions of their machines. The following summary of these contributions will be read with interest by motor bicyclists. The bicycles described include three chain-driven Beeston Humbers, a 3 h.p. 1903 Quadrant, a 2 3/4 h.p. Excelsior, and 2 h.p. F.N. and a 2 1/2 h.p. Minerva.

The first of the 2 3/4 h.p. Humbers was that ridden by Mr. E. R. Shipton, the Secretary of the C.T.C. From the outset the performance of the machine was somewhat handicapped by the fact that the pedal clutch, by means of which the engine is started, was practically worn out, and was of but little service. With the exceptions of the inconveniences experienced from this source and a few unavoidable mishaps, this motor bicycle, however, performed the work admirably. A remarkable feature in this case was that on the machine being returned to the makers to have a new pedal clutch fitted, it was found that there was a crack in the cylinder head that greatly interfered with the compression.

The second chain-driven Humber machine was ridden by Mr. R. Bateman, who says that taking it altogether the machine went splendidly, and was in his opinion the fastest and best hill climber in the lot. The chief trouble experienced was with the exhaust valve, which appeared to get burnt, causing a leakage in the compression. The provision of a spring switch for the brake lever to rest upon would have been a convenience, and saved the little misfiring he had on this tour.

The third chain-driven Beeston-Humber motor bicycle belonged to Mr. E. C. Newell. He states that his only real trouble arose from punctures, and that he has come to the conclusion that for motor bicycles Dunlop's outer covers are much too thin. There were eleven patches on the hind wheel tube, three of which cover two holes each, and two patches on the front wheel tube. Gas appearing on one occasion to fail after 200 or 300 yards, he stopped and took the Longuemare carburettor to pieces and cleaned it thoroughly, after which the motor ran splendidly. Mr. Newell says that he found the machine fast on the level, and a veritable treat up hills.

It is Mr. Newell's opinion "that the chain drive with spring friction clutch tends to minimise the trouble incidental to motor bicycling."

Mr. A. Candler expresses the view that his 1903 3 h.p. Quadrant was certainly the most reliable of the machines represented on the tour. It gave him absolutely no trouble whatever, and enabled him to reach the destination each night at the arranged hour. For speed on the level he has "never yet dared to let it go for all it was worth." He can, however, always when he desires it, average 25 miles an hour over a good hilly road. The patent ignition system he has found after tests of over 2,000 miles to be completely satisfactory; there were no misfirings whatever. The only trouble on the road was a punctured tyre caused by a large nail. The tubes were of the self-sealing type. The Lincona belt proved quite satisfactory, but the weather being fine and the roads dry, the test was not a severe one.

Mr. J. R. Wignall, who rode a 2 3/4 Excelsior, makes the following statements in his report as to thc behaviour of the machine:- First, he had no mechanical troubles, throughout the journey the machine running as steadily as a car, which is attributed to the long bearings, large two to one gear, deep radiators, and the massive construction of the engine generally. Electrical troubles were experienced with the trembler, which on this machine is fixed on the contact breaker, and had to be adjusted about twice daily. The Lincona belt drive caused a loss of power on very steep hills, owing to the belt slipping, although it had been carefully adjusted and the belt and pulleys were cleaned each day before starting. No trouble was experienced on moderate gradients. In regard to the question of belt v. chain Mr. Wignall says: After carefully watching the various machines on tour, I have formed the impression that the chain drive is the drive of the future if the makers will carefully put together the experience of last year and this, and remedy the defects as regards the clutch and locking gears." The carburettor is a surface one, which this rider says, after much experience with two forms of spray carburettors, he prefers when once properly started, on account of the more steady running, the less liability to the piston seizing, through the engine becoming foul, and an absolutely clean sparking plug. He had much trouble in starting after hard driving, and stopping for a period. The exhaust, which is placed immediately under the carburetting chamber, became extremely hot - in fact, boiled the petrol. On cooling, during a stop, the petrol became stale. The exhaust should, he thinks, be some distance from the tank, and means adopted to warm the tank from a branch pipe, which could be cut out after starting. The weight of the machine was such as to render it impossible to mount on an up grade, but the result of the tour convinced Mr. Wignall of the fact that for a long tour, where the ground has to be got over quickly, with a low piston speed and, consequently, more comfort due to less vibration, the inconvenience of weight must be put up with.

Mr. B. Chatterton rode a 2 h.p. machine made by the Belgian Small Arms Factory (Fabrique Nationale) at Herstal, and it was his first experience on a motor bicycle. Although making 25 miles an hour at times, the average speed attained was from 15 to 18 miles an hour. He is strongly of opinion that a motor bicycle for ordinary touring, especially when passing the narrow streets of towns en route, must be provided with ordinary pedals that will propel the machine when the motor with its more or less noisy exhaust is shut off, and F.N. would be much improved if, when pedalling, the engine could be put out of gear. This would also be an advantage for coasting down slight gradients. There was practically no vibration when running. The electrical part of the machine gave neither trouble nor concern, the pulsation of the exhaust proceeding with the regularity of clockwork. During the first part of the tour the belt drive, which is a 1 in flat raw hide band, gave much trouble. It slipped on tightening, it ran off the driving pulley, and reversing bad no good effect. An application of castor oil caused an adherence of dust, which caked on the pulley and had to be scraped off. Finally it was discovered that the wheels were out of alignment, and by altering the position of the wheel in the rear forks a trifle, all trouble disappeared, and the machine was then able to work with a tight belt, and to surmount most of the hills. Mr. Chatterton considers a flat belt when running properly to be a very powerful transmission, quite satisfactory.

Mr. Joseph Pennell rode a Phoenix fitted with a Minerva 2 1/2 h.p. engine. The details were, he says, beastly, the nuts, screws, wires, &c., shook themselves to pieces or dropped off on the road on all occasions. As regards lubrication the Hooydonk's patent sight pressure lubricator worked perfectly. The valve lifter and circuit breaker supplied on this machine were excellent and efficient, save the Bowden trigger, which broke at once. By Hooydonk's method one can control the engine in traffic, driving on half compression, in the easiest manner, and in his opinion it is the best device yet introduced. The tyres were abominable. The Bowden twisting handle brakes proved worthless on the back wheels, and Mr. Pennell says that none of the riders that he saw could stop their machines with them. He broke his twice. In the opinion of this writer the chain drive is the thing of the future, being the method of transmission which gives power just when it is wanted."

Copyright Leon Mitchell 2002


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