The Pioneer Run is an annual veteran motorcycle run for motorcycles made before 1915. The Pioneer Run 2012 took place on March 18th 2012. The Pioneer Run 2012 had 343 veteran motorcycles taking part.
This web page is about my Pioneer Run 2012.
My bike is a 1914 Triumph 4hp. It is a Type B Roadster Fixed engine model which means the engine directly drives the rear wheel via a V pulley on the crankshaft via a linked belt to a big pulley on the rear wheel. It has no clutch so you either pedal it or run and jump on it to start it. It has no gears. Riding it is quite an experience. When it was new it cost £49 and 17 shillings.
After 30 years of going to The Pioneer as a spectator, the day now literally dawned when I would be aiming to take part. I was up before dawn trying unsuccessfully not to wake anyone else up in the house whilst I had some tea and did a final check over of the Triumph. Here it is in the growing light.
Just before 6am we were ready to go and pushed the bike out into the lane. It was still not fully light and I had turned the bicycle lights on so others could see me. I aim to get some proper period acetylene lights when I can find a good set. Normally I start the bike and let it warm before taking it into the road, but she who must be obeyed made it clear that starting the bike at dawn would not be appreciated and as it was Mothers Days I decided not to wake her with the 1914 Triumph Dawn Chorus.
When it’s warm it starts very easily, but as it is only a couple of degrees above freezing so it’s more than the usual pedalling before it fires up – at least it makes me nice and warm as we set off. It’s a lovely time of day to be travelling as the roads are empty, the fields have a coating of mist and the cold damp air is appreciated by the engine. We are heading directly east along the back of the South Downs of Sussex and as we rise and fall over the small hills we get a new sunrise as we crest every hill. Normally I am only up early enough to see a couple of sunrises a year and now I am getting one every few minutes and it adds to the feeling of adventure. The bike is running nicely at about 1,800rpm and we clear the town of Petworth without seeing another car on the road. We continue East along the A272 and then head North on the outskirts of Billingshurst merrily chuffing through more quintessential English countryside. The mist is still hanging a few feet above the fields and I can see Deer in a field half hidden in the mist, they look up as I pass and continue with their breakfast. I can easily imagine my grandfather riding his bikes on roads like this as he set off early to travel 100+ miles to court my grandmother over a century ago.
The picture below was taken in Sussex in the early 1920's and shows my Grandfather Thomas Gander on his 1911 Triumph. The little faces in the sidecar are my father and his sister Doris.
As I am one of the first vehicles to use these roads this morning a few daft Pheasants wait until I am almost upon them before rushing across the road in front of me.
It is still cold as the sun has not risen very far yet but I am quite warm inside my leathers as the first hour of the journey passes without incident. My Furygan leathers have a lining that claimed to keep you cool in summer and warm in winter which sounded to me like marketing bollocks, but having had the leathers for a few years it really does seem to work well.
We leave the small roads and continue to head north to Dorking where we manage a well timed right turn at a roundabout at the intersection of two major roads. We follow the A25 west for a while and then again head north towards Epsom and the Pioneer. We take a small road the B2032 and all is going well as we climb small hills until we round a corner to see that the hill suddenly becomes really steep. The air and throttle levers are opened up and we “charge the hill” as advised in period publications and we almost reach the top before I realise we are not going to make it and pull the decompressor to coast to an abrupt gravity induced stop. It takes five minutes to push to the top and then we are off again and we time our approach to the first traffic lights well and it changes in our favour as we approach. We coast through a few more lights and then see the first sign for Epsom and we are now just a couple of miles from the start. I have to stop at the right turn junction before Epsom Downs, but it easily pedals into life and we have almost arrived – only a right turn at a small roundabout and we will have arrived. It’s a tight turn and the handlebars foul my knee and she won’t turn so we have a small excursion before getting back on the road. We have arrived and done the longest trip to date – a whole 46 miles! If you ride a modern bike you will be confused about the excitement of doing 46 miles – if you have an ancient bike you will understand. We park up and sign in at the start and immediately meet some friends and I am also surprised when I talk to a few people who have read this web page of my ramblings. Everyone is very friendly and real enthusiasts for riding ancient motorcycles. It is 7.45am and I have averaged 26mph on the journey here. It’s more than an hour before my start time but I have hundreds of ancient bikes to see, hear and smell as I munch on a sausage sandwich. The whole start area is covered in a cloud of smoke as a whole herd of veteran motorcycles are woken early for a ride. Today around 330 pre 1915 motorcycles will set off. Many of the riders are almost as old and they can only be admired for still riding these bikes in their 70’s and 80’s.
This NSU seems to have decent front suspension?
This seems a very early and primitive machine - a 1902 Clement Garrard rated at 1.25hp.
At the 2012 Graham Walker Run I took a short video of one in motion, see - 1902 Clement-Garrard Video
The New Hudson outfit dates from 1914 and has a splendid looking sidecar.
A friend Chris who has helped me enormously with my Triumph awaits the off on a 1913 Hazlewood.
I watch a few friends set off and await my turn as I will be one of the last to leave. I start the bike and let it warm and then kill the motor and join a shuffling queue for the start. It seems an age before we finally reach the front and the Mayor waves us off. It easily starts on the slight downhill and we are off, though sadly not for long. We have to stop at the first left turn as someone has unfortunately come off their bike and they are lying in the road and an ambulance is arriving. A few people are around them on the road as I push the bike past.
I hope they are OK – does anyone reading this know?
A moments pedalling and we are off again and a few minutes later we slow in advance of the red traffic lights waiting for them to change and catch them on the turn and just manage to chuff through the lights and we are off again. The traffic is a bit heavy and we have to filter around the snarled up cars that have clogged the roads.
Here I am on route, below.
Having listened to the advice of more experienced Veteran riders I now use the decompressor more to coast along and try and get a bit of clear road ahead of me at all times so I have options if I need to avoid the unexpected. It surprises me how slowly it can be going and still pick up and go when I think it it will stop. It easily climbs the hills and we are even overtaking other bikes. As you approach other bikes you start to hear unfamiliar mechanical noises and start looking at your own bike to see if something is going wrong, but it just turns out to be the unfamiliar noises of the other bikes. I am bowling along now, but get rapidly overtaken by a big 4 cylinder Henderson that is really making progress.
This is the Henderson - it has a 1085cc four cyclinder engine and dates from 1914. A fast Pioneer bike - maybe the fastest on the run?
About 45 minutes after leaving Epsom I have arrived at the Handcross school and a tea break. I chat to a couple of friendly people, one on another Triumph and one on a very purposeful V twin complete with gears that is also capable of a good turn of speed. As I am leaving a friend Chris turns up on a borrowed 3 speed Premier and after a quick chat about the fun and fear of riding these bikes I am off. I stop a mile later in Handcross to chat to Steve, my cousin who has ridden over on his Velocette. He has done over 500,000 miles on it and thinks nothing of doing a thousand mile roundtrip to Switzerland and back for a weekend party.
After Handcross the roads are smaller and less cluttered with cars and I start to think I may actually make it to Brighton. I have passed quite a few people broken down at the roadside and a few miles later come across Chris pushing the Premier. I stop to assist but it seems to have seized. It makes a distinctive dry brass rubbing together squeak and the verdict seems to be that the big end has failed.
The owner of the Premier arrives and as I can do no more to help I set off again. The roads are now quite quiet and it does not take long until I reach the approach to Brighton and can see the dual carriageway backed up with slow moving traffic.
The thought of riding in dense jammed traffic has not exactly filled me with pleasure, but using a steady approach at some points and being forceful in others I start to get through the traffic without needing to stop. I try and have two escape options at all times as if someone does something unexpected then I don’t have the brakes to avoid hazards. I am now half way into Brighton and getting the hang of riding in traffic when two modern Harleys pass me and then pull in front of me and brake hard and block both my escape options. A very sharp left turn and I can only shoot up someone’s drive to avoid a collision. My thoughts on the idiot Harley riders are still loud in my helmet as I re-enter the traffic and continue. The next couple of lights are timed well and the bus lane gives some escape from the nearly static cars. One set of lights on a slight uphill remain annoying red and I have to get off and push for a minute to crest the hill and re-enter the traffic. I am now less than a mile from the finish and could pedal or push it from here. The final sets of lights are jammed up with modern bikes clogging every way around the cars so I have to stop and pedal start it away and then the final roundabout on the sea front is in sight and I am not stopping again and motor through the traffic and cross the roundabout and onto Madeira Drive and the finish beckons. I have arrived and a Marshall tells me to slow down and I park the bike up in a row of the hundreds of other bikes. After 30 years I have finally done The Pioneer and have so far done about 100 miles today. I left Epsom at just after 9am and have arrived at 12.20 with three stops. A celebratory smoke is in order and then I sign in to get my finishers medal. I then bump into a another friend called Chris who has been incredibly helpful and generous in helping get me and my bike going over the last few months and I get invited to join a family picnic on the beach. Also at the picnic is another friend called Geoff who has also been extremely generous and helpful to me as I faced a very steep learning curve of trying to use such an ancient machine.
Without Chris and Geoff I would not be at Brighton today – thanks Gents!
And below is Geoff himself crossing the finish line, I think his expression captures the joy, satisfaction and relief of successfully completing the run. This is Geoff's 40th Pioneer!
Thanks to Gail Ronalds for the excellent picture.
After the picnic I had good wander about the rows of hundreds of veterans and took quite a few pictures and time seemed to fly and before long it was 2pm and time to set off for home.
I had a ltr of fuel in my suitcase and topped up the tank and pushed it out of the paddock and put it on its stand to start it up. A few more friendly people came to chat while I was doing this and it was quarter past before I set off into Brighton’s traffic. I had to stop a few times at the numerous traffic lights and discovered that if I sat on the suitcase on the rear carrier I could easily pedal the bike along whilst I waited for the road to clear. Maybe I will raise the seat to see if it makes pedalling easier. Brighton’s traffic is cleared and we are off back onto open roads again. On uphill’s I open up the oiler to give it a near constant supply and then adjust it back to a gentle drip per couple of seconds for the flat or downhill sections. The sea is to my left and the Downs to my right and all very picturesque it is too. I do not know the route my Grandfather used to take to court my Grandmother, but these roads would have been a likely path. Brighton to home is about another 40 miles and the Triumph just keeps chuffing along. We have now left the sea and have the Downs on our left and are heading West and home. We pass a modern Triumph dealership and the people outside stop to wave as we chuff past. I now quite fancy a pint but what I ideally want is a pub on my side of the road with a downhill slope to aid starting. Nothing appears that suits and we thunder on.
As we come into Storrington and petrol station looms and I pull in to see how much fuel we have as I know there is not another petrol station for miles. The level looks low and I get out a funnel from my suitcase, but don’t need to use it as the petrol nozzle fits into the tank. The tank holds just over a gallon – about 5ltrs and it takes 3ltrs to fill it. Cheap motoring!
The pedal start is becoming more natural now and we are off and heading for home with about 20 miles to go. We get a small shower of rain that only lasts for a couple of minutes and makes the belt slip on an uphill section and then we are passing through Petworth and the final miles to home. The Downs look glorious in the afternoon sunshine and all too soon we are clearing Midhurst and the final minutes to home. We chuff onto the drive and the motor huffs to a stop. We have done it – 130+ miles and not a single moment of misbehaviour.
I have a quick look over the bike and all seems good. Perhaps the belt could do with a link less, but other than that all looks good. It is now nicely splashed with oil and dirt and looks used.
The trip from Brighton took c90 minutes to do 40 miles and so we have again averaged about 26mph including the fuel stop. This seems to be the same sort of average speeds they did a century ago – but they had to do it on dirt roads. I top up the tank and work out the fuel economy and we have managed 97 miles per gallon. We have travelled over 130 miles since we set off this morning and I feel knackered.
I take a mug of tea outside and sit and look at the machine and just appreciate it. A further check over and the front tyre has started to rub on the fork leg so something has moved out of alignment. I will pull the wheel out later and see what is amiss. No oil on my boots and everything else seems good – remarkable performance from such an old machine.
When I first bought it I marvelled at how people could ride these bikes over such long distances and now after just doing 130 miles can appreciate even more the feats they accomplished. How on earth did Ivan hart-Davies do 890 miles in 29 hours in 1911 – a superhuman effort? He should have been knighted!
My Trusty Triumph is put back in the garage and given a gentle pat to thank it for its sterling service. I have accomplished my first major goal on it now feel comfortable using it.
Later that evening I meet up with three veteran owning friends from Belgium that I have met from creating these web pages and take them out for a few beers at my favourite local country pub – never has a pint tasted so good.
A final thank you must go to Ian Jennings for taking my broken engine and so quickly turning it back into a reliable Triumph – your time and help was very much appreciated.
And here we are back home.
Now you may consider such elderly bikes to be barely able to cover more than a few miles, consider the following feats recorded one hundred years ago in 1911:
You see more information about my experiences with my 1914 Triumph on my 1914 Triumph pages.
I have added a 1914 Triumph Repairs and parts Catalogue on another web page, click here - 1914 Triumph Repairs and parts Catalogue
Should you wish to say hello or give a novice veteran rider some advice, my email is:
Movies of Veteran Motorcycles
I have managed to find a few old movies from Pioneer Runs from long ago.
In 1955 Gordon Little organised a Pioneer Run to Paris - all 160 miles! if it, you can see a short video here:
I have also managed to find a movie of the 1961 Pioneer run and that is here:
If you are looking for more information on veteran Triumphs then below are a list of excellent sites:
If you have a veteran era hub gear that needs attention then I am reliably informed that this is the man to talk to - http://www.motorcyclehubgears.com
If you are looking for more information on old Triumphs, then a series of excellent booklets are available via the link below:
http://veterantriumph.co.uk/ - this site are the main manufacturer of early Triumph parts and a font of all knowledge. These are THE Veteran Triumph experts.
http://www.bertpol-vintagemotorcycles.com - this is a Dutch site that also makes parts for Veterans, restores bikes and sometimes has bikes for sale.
If you need a rear hub chain freewheel and cannot find one from a veteran supplier, then try a UK based industrial supplier called Cross & Morse.
Another excellent source of Veteran Triumph literature is http://brucemain-smith.com/framestrans.html
And if you feel inspired to buy a Veteran bike, then I have created a page of places where you might find one for sale -
An excellent book about riding an early Triumph has been written by Noel Whittall. I have read it twice so far! You can buy it at Amazon (see below) and no doubt other places.
I have added some high resolution pictures on separate pages, see:
1914 Triumph Motorcycle - Right Side
1914 Triumph Motorcycle - Right 3/4 View
1914 Triumph Motorcycle - Left Side