My 1914 Triumph charging off the line under full power!
Brighton Speed Trials were first run in 1905 over a flying Kilometre course and are the oldest and longest running motorsport event in the world.
At the Brighton Speed Trials of 1905 the fastest motorcycle set a new outright world speed record covering the Brighton Speed Trials flying kilometre in 26 seconds – 85.98 mph (some reports record it as 87.32mph and 25 3/5th second) . He also did a standing start mile at 67.7 mph.
The motorcycle was ridden by Henri Cissac and was a special works "12hp or 14hp" 2,500cc V-twin Peugeot. The record remained unbeaten for many years.
He is pictured below on the fastest motorcycle in the world in its day. In 1906 he won a Hill Climb at Gallion (or maybe Gallon or Gaillon), France and was clocked at over 80mph on the 1 in 10 gradient, so clearly Brighton was not just a one off win.
The other "works" Peugeot rider was Harry Rignold who also set some world records on a Peugeot at Brighton in 1905, though I have not managed to find out what records/times he set. I believe he set the record for the flying mile (at 46.5 seconds) and standing start kilometre.
Brighton Speed Trials was dominated by Brough Superiors and other large JAP engine beasts until the early 1950’s when the Vincent engine bikes first appeared. The Vincent’s dominated Brighton Speed Trials until the late 1960’s and then for a decade Triumphs did well. At the end of the 1970’s the first fast Japanese bikes arrived and have continued to dominate Brighton Speed Trials since.
All of the in focus well taken photographs are by the kind courtesy of Alan Turner and Carol. All of the dodgy, blurred ones are down to me.
Over the years the Brighton Speed Trials course has been shortened and now it runs over a ¼ mile and runs from a standing start.
Early in 2012 I decided I would try and enter my 1914 Triumph motorcycle at Brighton Speed Trials.
Drag racing a 1914 Triumph at Brighton Speed Trials. Why is the first question I get asked and the answer is simple. I am trying to use my Triumph as much as possible and treat it just like any other bike and hopefully encourage a few more veterans out from dusty sheds. They are not only museum pieces but can be used and indeed machines need to be running to be fully appreciated. So rather than take something fast to Brighton I decided to try and enter the Triumph. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be allowed in, but everyone seemed very positive so it was entered. Brighton Speed Trials have been running since 1905 and run along Madeira Drive right on Brighton’s sea front.
Prior to the event I did some research to see what sort of time/speed a Veteran bike would cover a quarter mile, so I could set myself a target. As far as I can see, it appears as if no one has set a quarter mile time on a Veteran. My research extended into seeing if the Guinness records people had a record for a Veteran and it appears one has never been set. Accordingly I applied to register my run as a new class of world record for Veteran motorcycles over a quarter mile. They wanted to know how I could prove matters. The Speed Trials are run under FIA/ACU timing rules/equipment so the timing would be accepted and the Pioneer dating confirms it as a Veteran so both boxes ticked. It will be a few weeks now why Guinness consider if they will allow it. So I could be riding the world’s fastest veteran motorcycle!
With no benchmark to aim for from the Veteran world I chose another target. As a quarter mile is 402 meters and the Olympics are still fresh in my mind I decided that as a minimum I should try and be faster than a human! The world 400m is held by Michael Johnson at 43 seconds and the 400m relay record was set this year at 36.8 seconds. Is a Veteran Triumph faster than four super fit Jamaicans?
Next up was the preparation of the bike. As it has no clutch and a single fixed speed I needed to set the gearing to allow me to easily push start it and still have a decent ratio to permit a good top speed. The gearing is adjusted by changing the gap between the two sides of the front V belt pulley, so that the belt runs higher or lower in the pulley. The pulley is mounted on the end of the crankshaft and the outer side of the pulley is threaded to allow for easy adjustment. A little experimentation and the sound advice of Ian the Veteran Triumph man and we were set for a ratio of 4.5:1. That is 4.5 rotations of the engine for each turn of the rear wheel. At my self imposed maximum of 2,500rpm this would give me a maximum theoretical speed of about 46mph. I had mounted a phone on the handlebars that had a GPS Speedo gadget and on different gearing had seen a high of 42 mph on a previous ride so I knew we could top 40mph. These bikes in their era were clocking 60mph plus at Brooklands so 46mph didn’t seem too farfetched. I did not know what to expect and decided that anything over 30mph in a quarter mile would be satisfactory.
As the start of any race is the critical bit, I then set off to try and hone my race start technique! Whilst racing the Triumph was primarily a bit of fun, I was also curious to see how well it would go and to possibly set a record. The quickest way to start it is to run alongside it and then once up to starting speed, jump aboard. I went out to quiet lanes and tried this over and over again but it proved rather tricky. Normally bump starting a bike like this is not too much trouble. On the Triumph the handle bars sweep a long way back and foul your knees as you try and jump aboard. I am hampered here as I am 6ft 5 and perhaps a smaller man would not face this challenge. The next issue was that it proved impossible to get my foot onto the front solid footrest as the bars are in the way from a running jump position. Accordingly I was trying to land on the pedalling pedal which freely rotated to its own desire, so not easy to get a foot on it. Even with this bungeed in the down position the technique still eluded me and after almost ending up in a heap a few times I decided to try another approach. I did go out practicing every day in the week before the event and used a small local straight road with a pub at one end. This caused the locals to be amused by my eccentric antics and was handy for a cooling pint as the weather was very warm. On its normal gearing I just sit astride it and scoot it away and in a couple of steps it fires and we are away. With the revised gearing it needed to get to a higher speed before it reached enough speed to start the engine. I could just reach “starting speed” with this technique on the updated gear ratio.
I removed anything that was not necessary and did a final check over. The exhaust valve clearance was marginal so I adjusted that and then set about putting on some race numbers. These days they just print off vinyl number and stick them on. In the Veteran era they seemed to just hand paint the numbers onto the petrol tank. I bought some acrylic paint that should come off later and painted on some white squares and then my other half Tara, who is a bit artistic, painted on the numbers.
A selection of tools and spares were packed into a period suitcase and we were good to go.
Originally I was planning to ride it down to Brighton (c45 miles away) but as the day drew closer I changed my mind as if it misbehaved on the way down then I could be late and miss the cut off time for entry. So it was by bike trailer that the Triumph journeyed down to its race debut. The trailer belongs to an old friend who when he knew what I needed it for naturally came along to enjoy the day.
The course runs along the sea front and the pits are on the road before the track. Very scenic looking out over a very calm blue sea and blazing blue sky. It was going to be a very hot day. When we arrived there was some confusion as part of the pit area had been closed by the police due to a murder a few hours before! Eventually we found a good spot to park and unloaded the bike.
I wondered off to sign in and take in the atmosphere. In the queue for signing in I was talking with a chap and fellow competitor who was running a supercharged Suzuki Hayabusa with around 500bhp! The supercharger runs at 100,000 rpm. There was much talk in the queue of track and tyre temperature and pressures to maximise traction on launch. I joined in the conversations as a fellow competitor though just seemed to confuse some of my other racers who couldn’t quite grasp that I had no gears or clutch.
Scrutineering was next and I pushed the bike around and queued to have it checked. They were clearly amused when it arrived and then gave it a very thorough checking over to ensure it was safe. It passed and then we went to have it noise tested. It was a little reluctant to start and eventually chuffed into life. It is quite a quiet machine and as all around were 500hp drag bikes running and I think it was drowned out by these monsters.
With all these tests passed we were ready to race. When I got back to our pit my cousin Steve the Velocette had arrived and I set about seeing why it didn’t start easily. The first place to check was the carb and this was the culprit. Even though I had cleaned it out before leaving home, further muck had been shaken free on the trip down. This was but a few minutes tinkering and all was back to normal.
I did write to Triumph before the event to see if they wanted to offer any sponsorship for what is probably the oldest Triumph being used in open competion on the planet. They politely declined, which was a shame as they promote their 110 year heritage. The two people who have made it possible to run the Triumph are Ian Jennings who rebuilt my engine and Mr Ronalds who is a font of all knowledge, always ready to help with a misbehaving Triumph and all with a fine pinch of good humour. Accordingly my race plate payed homage.
With the bike ready the next essential was breakfast and a host of greasy cafes were very conveniently placed nearby. A sausage sandwich went down very well as we sat in the sun, surrounded by all sorts of engines firing up with the clear sea just beyond – a very fine spot to be in.
The cars run first so it was a while before the bikes were summoned over the tannoy. It was already hot with the suns heat bouncing off the nearby sea and the stone beach front promenade so getting into black leathers was not ideal. I pushed the bike the ¼ mile from the pits to the start area and fired it up on the stand to let it warm up giving it plenty of oil. I was running number 305, so the fifth bike to run with a big queue of every type of bike imaginable behind me. As I neared the start and pulled in the decompressor to release engine compression to push it forward there was a depressing twang and the cable snapped. Aaahhhh. If I cant fix it then I wont be able to race. A quick look to see if its easily fixable and its not. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger and other words. I then had to push it back to the pits in my leathers to try and fix it. The nipple had come off the cable at the handlebar end and as the cable runs inside the handlebar it had helpfully vanished inside the long handlebar. Bugger!. Much fiddling and swearing and we managed to tease the cable out of the handlebar to see the snapped and frayed cable. Into the tool box for my selection of screw on replacement nipples and found one that sort of fitted but was a little too large to allow the lever to fully return to the off position inside the handlebar end. On it went and the cable cut and then a quick adjustment of the cable to ensure it was lifting the exhaust valve and then a test to see if it fired up. It did so, so on with leathers and head back to the start line. As I got closer all I could see was cars queuing for the start and maybe I was too late to run. As I neared the front I could see that two bikes were still to run – some of the fastest turbo drag bikes. I was waved past the cars by the marshals and into the staging area to watch the seriously quick machines run.
So I had just made it and was the last bike to do a practice run. After the smoke, noise and impressive speed of the Turbo bikes - the Triumph was well received by the crowd with good humour.
Normally the cars and bikes do a burnout to warm the rear tyre, but I skipped this for many reasons ... and moved straight to the start line with a silent engine. The marshalls gently move me backwards slightly until my front tyre is perfectly aligned with the start line. They then put a chock against the rear wheel to stop me rolling back and the start lights are on red. I am hot and my heart is pounding as I await the green light.
Here I am on the line waiting for the lights to turn green.
GREEN and we push away at full speed until I reach a speed sufficient for the engine to catch and start and as I release the decompressor the engine catches and we gently chuff away from the line.
I need to adjust air and throttle together to get the best acceleration and I don’t quite get it perfectly timed so I need to slightly back off the throttle to get it in balance and then reapply the throttle and then we are properly away and I give it another full pump of oil and then try to crouch down over the handlebars and adjust the air and throttle until they are both fully open and race down the course.
Ladies fainted with excitement and had to be revived by gentlemen flapping handkerchiefs in their faces at the spectacle of such impressive speed.
Below, A gasp of amazment from the crowd as the Triumph vanishes down the course at high speed ... well moderate speed anyway.
Without the usual hedges around speed is a bit more difficult to estimate, but we seem to be flying and have reached my preset maximum of 2,500rpm before we reach the line. As we cross the line I gently ease off the throttle and ensure it is getting plenty of oil as we coast the next half mile cooling down to the end of the run off area. Vehicles that start easily pull into a car park on the right and those that don’t run up a little hillock at the end of the road and wait.
I have done it. I feel quite relieved and pleased and await to see what time we have managed.
The course is one way so we need to wait for lots of bikes to run before we all start up and head back to the start. Its a pleasant place by the sea to be waiting and growing collection of fine machinery arrives to look at and chat to the owners about. We don’t know the times we have run as no information is displayed up here. A few of the other older machines are pictured below.
This Hagon JAP ran a time of 16.5 seconds with a terminal speed of 79mph.
The mid 1920's Douglas was running 14 seconds to 90 mph - very impressive.
The Egli Vincent (below) is bored/stroked to 1272cc and is very rapid. It runs a quarter mile in 11.28 seconds/ 118mph. At another event with a longer track it recorded 168mph!
Soon we are off back along the course the opposite way and heading back to the start line. A beautiful flat calm blue sea is on my left as I chuff along and get passed by everybody until we arrive back at the course start and the jam of bikes means I have to stop. I pull the belt off the rear pulley as its easier to push with no resistance and scoot back to our pit area and an urgent need for several cold drinks. The times of my run are now available and I have run the quarter mile in 35.06 seconds at a terminal speed of 45mph. I have exceeded my expectations and almost reached the maximum speed I had geared it for. The Triumph is flying! The other time recorded is the time to the first 64ft mark which is a leisurely 6.02 seconds. Years ago I ran a very quick car at Brighton and it was well under 2 seconds and only bettered by the drag bikes – but then they didn’t have to push the bike off the line.
Below is the Triumph cooling in the shade.
I sit in the cooler shade and cool off and must admit I feel quite pleased with myself. I have gone from the excitement of racing at Brighton to the sudden cable failure and sad thoughts of not being able to take part to the elation of fixing it and then actually racing my Triumph over a quarter mile at a time that passed all my expectations. I bask in the good feeling and guzzle more water to cool down and a celebratory Marlborough moment seems appropriate.
A few hours have passed, but all too soon the tannoy is giving a 30 minute call up for the bikes to run again. Whilst I have been sitting in the shade I have decided my next run could be a bit quicker so out comes the tyre pump and another 10psi of air will make the rear tyre a little larger and slightly improve the gearing. I fire the bike up to let it warm and then put on my leathers to join it getting hot.
I pull off the belt and head off down to the start with a large herd or other bikes. As we get closer to the start the queue gets slower until we stop and wait for the last batch of cars to run. I take the time to put the belt back on and fire it up again as it starts better when its warm.
On goes the helmet and gloves as the queue moves and in no time I am in the area where most bikes do a burnout. A marshal joking asks if I am planning to do a burnout and if only I had a clutch and ten times more horsepower it might be possible. Then I am on the line holding on the red light.
GREEN and we rush off the line again and the motor catches and again a little too much throttle and a moments hesitation and then we are off again crouched over the bars.
The picture below is naturally a little blurred as no modern camera could hope to catch such rapid acceleration...
And then we blast off down the quarter mile at an almost unbelievable pace ...
The best photographs on this page were kindly taken by Alan Turner and his other half Carol. With almost all of the other competitors they just had time to take a picture of the machine on the line and then maybe one of it vanishing at speed. The great speed of the Triumph allowed them to make many fine pictures as it chuffed up the course.
In the picture below, my right hand is not on the handlebar as I am pumping oil into the engine.
This time I am giggling as I am really enjoying this run and even ruin my aerodynamic stance by taking a look at the sea before I cross the line. The motor is eased as we take in the half mile of slowing down track and coast up the hill at the end to a stop.
As we are parked up for a while I have a look at the other bikes and chat with the riders. A good eclectic mix of machines are present including a very trick Vincent outfit. I remember seeing a YouTube video of the beast and start talking to the rider. He is just back from the USA where he ran at 205mph! He seemed a bit disappointed with only 205, but I would be more than happy building my own bike and topping 200mph! Below the Triumph is taking in the view.
A few minutes more and we head back to the pits. The temperature is over 29c or 84f and I just slump into a deckchair to cool down. I have to wait to a few minutes to hear my time and it has improved to a terminal speed of 47mph and 33.93 seconds. I am very pleased with this and even a bit surprised how quickly it has gone in just a quarter mile.
With two runs completed we load up the bike and leave a little early. The traffic getting out of Brighton is grim and it takes us 30 minutes to do 4 miles. Philip who is driving is understandably frustrated, but I point out its worse for me as I have been travelling at high speed ..
So now we know how quickly a Veteran Triumph will cover the quarter mile – 33.93 seconds at a terminal speed of 47mph. The fastest bike was a Suzuki Hayabusa Turbo with 8.85 seconds and a terminal of 163 mph. He had almost done the whole quarter by the time I had travelled just 64feet!
I think with a quicker push start we could shave off a couple of seconds and with the gearing set to 4:1 then I think 50mph would be possible. If I race it again then I think the best technique will be to remove the left pedalling pedal and replace it with a fixed pedal or even a footboard and then I should be able to run alongside it and jump on, which will be a much quicker way to start. With these changes then I think a sub 30 second and c50mph+ quarter would be possible. I do not help matters as I am 17st and 6ft5 so a smaller rider would go even quicker.
Anyone else fancy joining me for some Veteran Motorcycle sprinting in 2013?
So where did I come in the results of the 199 competitors? I wasn’t even the slowest. That honour went to Henry Brooks on his 1901 225cc De Dion Bouton tricycle which took 45 seconds to do the quarter at a terminal speed of 24 mph. His time over the first 64ft was a full second faster than the Triumph as he did some spirited pedalling off the line to get his beast started.
If you have any old veteran era parts that you would part with, then please do contact me via email@example.com
You can see a video of my record breaking run here - http://youtu.be/9neAlpg1Bc0
If you want to check out the speeds of the other 190+ competitors, then the full results are available here -
You can read my ramblings about my 1914 Triumph on my 1914 Triumph pages.
I had thought that Brighton Speed Trials was first run in 1905 and then not run again until the early 1920's. However I have recently found a period article about a 1913 Brighton Speed Trials and have added it below.
Well March has started off very well with us (the Triumph and I) being given an award by The Sunbeam Club. The trophy is the big shiny John St Clair Grondona Memorial Trophy for "most meritous performance in a speed event" and is for our antics at last years Brighton Speed Trials. Below is the trophy in all its glory! Splendid stuff and a huge thanks to the Sunbeam Club for the honour.
I have been doing some further investigation into period era records to see how my speed at Brighton compared. Whilst I cannot find any period accounts of 1/4 mile standing start sprints (I dont think they did this distance then), I have found the following for comparison. It is the 1913 Speed Trials at Colwyn Bay and they had a standing kilometre course.
The winner of the 500cc class was GE Stanley with a time of 43 1/5 seconds at an average speed of 51.75mph. Mr George Enoch Stanley is no ordinary rider of the era, but was one of the very top tuners and riders of the veteran (pre 1915 era). He won a great many races at Brooklands and other venues and held multiple lap/course records and many world records on his bikes. Due to his great success he was held in high regard by the publications and competitors of the time and was known as The Wizard for his great ability to coax speed and reliability from the bikes of the time.
So how does The Wizards speed equate to my speed. Firstly my 47 mph speed is not the average speed, but my terminal speed crossing the line so we need to look at the figures to get a true comparison. My speeds of 33.93 seconds over 1/4 mile (402m) equates to an average of 26.52 mph for the first 402m. My terminal speed at the end of the quarter mile is 47mph so lets assume I continued at 47mph for the remaining 598m, then I would have taken a further 28.46 seconds to complete a kilometre. 33.93 seconds plus 28.46 seconds gives me a standing kilometre time of 62.39 seconds which equates to an average speed over the kilometre of 36mph.
However I was reaching my maximum speed (limited by the gearing on the day and my self imposed 2,500rpm limit) well before the end of the quarter mile and probably easily within 200m as I had to throttle back well before the end of the course. If I take these numbers then I reach 47mph in the first 200m and then continue at 47mph for the remaining 800m. This would have me covering a kilometre in 54.8 seconds at an average speed of 40.8mph.
Now if I factor out my lack of experience in getting the bike off the line and take out say 3 seconds for a more professional run and jump start then the numbers work out as follows. I could have done a standing kilometre in 51.9 seconds with an average speed of 43mph. Still way behind George Enoch Stanley, but he was the top rider/tuner of the era. In the flying half mile we can see that he managed to exceed 68mph whereas my machine's top speed on this occasion was limited to 47mph by its gearing. As my machine reached 47mph quite quickly I suspect it would exceed 60mph on the flat with the optimum gearing. If you factor in it reaching 60mph by 400m into the course then it would cover the kilo in about 45 seconds - just a couple of seconds behind The Wizard. The only way to do a true comparison will be to run the Triumph over a standing kilometre course. We have a slightly tweaked 1914 engine in development and hope to run it later in the year.
Copyright Paul Gander 2012
What were the fastest bikes on the road in the Veteran era. Below are contenders from 1908.
Below is NLG's version with a 20hp 2,700cc JAP engine with Mr Cook at the helm.
A replica of this monster is being built by a very skilled engineer, see - http://theoldmotor.com/?p=75561
Below is the Matchless version with a 20hp 2,700cc JAP engine
In The MotorCycle of November this pictured this engine, below.