The Fastest Veteran Motorcycles

This page is in development and I am adding to it as I research and learn more, all information very welcome, my email is paulg@go-faster.com

As soon as the motor cycle appeared owners and manufacturers wanted to prove how fast they were.

This page is an attempt to pull together pictures and tales about the fastest motorcycles of the Veteran era.

In the era of 1900 to 1908 one man was the King of motorcycling speed and almost nobody has heard of him - Henri Cissac.

His favoured machine was a monster - 1,489cc 45 degree V twin engine with a bore/stroke 92x112mm = 1,489cc
The engine weighed 27kg and the whole bike weighed just 50kg - to comply with racing rules.  It had no brakes!

The engine is often quoted these days at 2,500 but this is wrong - numerous period accounts give the bore and stroke.
I have created a page all about Henri - here
I have also created a page all about these 12/14hp Peugeots he raced - here

In 1905 Henri Cissac rode the V-twin Peugeot to victory at Brighton Speed Trials, covering the flying kilometre in just 26 seconds - equating to almost 86mph and setting a World record that stood for just a week before he broke it at Blackpool the following week with a speed of 87.38mph. That speed record remained the Worlds fastest speed on a motorcycle until August 5th 1911, when Jake de Rosier managed 88.76 at Brooklands. Henri had managed this speed from a standing start and Jake had managed to build up speed riding around Brooklands and gaining more from riding down from the top of the banking into the trapped distance - so maybe the Peugeot was still faster outright. The speed is an average over a measured distance, so for Henri to average 87.38 he would have been going faster at the end of the run as he crossed the line - perhaps around 100mph.

A period account of the 1905 Brighton Speed Trials is below.

Brighton Speed Trials Report 1905

Brighton Speed Trials Report 1905

I have been very kindly sent a souvenir of this 1905 event, The offcial Programme and Souvenir - below

Henri had a great love of speed that extended to four wheels and sadly that is where he expired. He was killed in the French GP of 1908 after a tyre came off his Panhard at 90mph and he rolled it into trees.

He was the first person to be killed in a Grand Prix.

He is pictured below on the fastest motorcycle in the world in its day.

1905 - Henri Cissac - Peugeot. The worlds fastest motorcycle.

henri cissac

Henri Cissac Peugeot

The London Illustrated News of July 1905 had a photo feature on Brightons Speed Trials and used the picture below of Henri Cissac.

His Brighton performance was not a one off either, as he seemed to do very well at many speed events in 1904 to 1906.

Prior to his run in the summer of 1905 at Brighton he had earlier (pre Feb 05) set the hour record for motorcycles at 54 miles and 1058 yards.

Henri Cissac was not new to setting world records, as the cutting below from The Sydney Morning Herald of December 26th 1901 shows.

henri cissac 1901 world record

Below is a medal that Henri Cissac was awarded for a 1st place in a 1901 race - almost certainly the one above. Image kindly proved by the medals owner Skip Lane.

henri cissac

In August 1903 the papers reported "THE MILE-A-MINUTE. MARIC. The astonishing speed of a mile a min ute was actually attained by Cissac, the French rider, on the Buffalo track, Paris, recently,. under circumstances which are somewhat amusing. Marius the wonderful successful motor cyclist, was defeated by Cissac in a race for motor bicycles, but, feeling dissatisfied, straight away issued a challenge to all and sundry. On-the following day, while he was en joying an after-dinner siesta, Cissac burst into his apartment, and, throwing 200 fiancs on the table, exclaimed, "I'll take you on. Cover my money. We will run' the race now, within 10 minutes.", lie was not prepared just then, but Anzani, aniother rider, obtained permission. from :The-to use his motor bicycle, covered the deposits, and the combatants forthwith adjourned to 'the Buffalo track, followed by an excited throng, amongst whom was Major Taylor. Sixteen horse-power mo tors were used. A terrifice pace was set, the spectators, Major Taylor espe cially, becoming wildly excited. After a few laps had been run, Anzani, seeing hlis'opportunity, shot down in front of Cissae, who in turn was obliged to go up the banking; Then lie let his engine out, and covered three miles in 3min. 1 1-isee., eventually winning the match. After claiming the 400 francs, lie and his friends repaired to a cafe, where lie regaled them with champagne. The leg-driven bicycle continues to get faster and faster, so much so 'that in the light of to-day the attainment of a mile within the min ute does not seem to be without the realm of probability. As the best judges admit, it is almost entirely a matter of a good man and gilt edged pacing, and some day the right combination will be struck and the wonderful feat accomplished. It is interesting to recall that it is only a little more than 20 years since thel mile was ridden in 3min., and less than 10 years since J, S, Johnson put the record at 2min. Only last month Walthour rode the last mile of five in lmin 12sec. The present record for the mile 1 min 16sec., held by Coete" Clearly Cissac had a need for speed!

The Sydney Morning herald of 2nd February 1905 reported"Henri Cissac, the holder of the world's hour motor cycle record of 54 miles 1058 yards, intends making an onslaught on the 100 kilometre distance on the Parc des Princes track. He has had a special machine built for the purpose, and in a recent trial reeled off miles under 60s for each The French and English public are wondering when a limit will be put on the ever increasing numbers of monster engined motor bicycles."

I suspect that the "special machine" mentioned above is the "monster" pictured above and was so probably made just to take records.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 13th June 1906 reported "Faster speeds have been accomplished on straightaway tracks, for H. Cissac, of Paris, has covered on the Blackpool Esplanade (England) a flying kilometre (1093 yards) in 25 seconds, equal to 89½ miles an hour, and a standing start mile in 50 1-5s (71 17 miles an hour)".

In 1906 he won a Hill Climb at Gaillon, France and was clocked at over 80mph on the 1 in 10 gradient.

henri cissac 1905 ostend

Henri Cissacs final race was the 1908 Grand Prix where he sadly died on July 7th, below in his monster Panhard car before the race.

He was the first person to be killed in a Grand Prix.

henri cissac 1908 gp panhard

The period reports refer to the accident as a tyre coming off and tangling in the chain drive and the picture below would seem to show him in the pits changing that wheel. It may have been the new Michelin detachable rims that caused the issue, they were a relatively new idea although other reports blame a puncture for the crash.

Henri Cissac seems to have held various motorcycle world speed records setting them from at least 1901 to 1906 (and maybe later) and remained the world record holder long after his death.
With all of these achievements it seems strange that almost nothing is now remembered about him. If you know more about the man, please get in contact.

At the 1909 Florida speed event Cissac's record seems to have been finally bettered by Walter Goerke riding a 7hp Indian.

He was clocked at 86mph and is pictured below.
There was some suspicion in the rest of the world that this recording of speed may have been a bit out and hence some dispute as to what was the fastest motorcycle of the time. It was quite some time before an Indian was able to repeat this speed at Brooklands.

1909 - 86mph.Walter Goerke - 7hp Indian. The worlds fastest motorcycle? - No as Cissac did 86 mph at Brighton and went faster a week later at Blackpool.

Walter Goerke 7hp Indian 1909 86mph

Walter Goerke 7hp Indian 1909 86mph

Cissac was present in spirit as a 14hp Peugeot was also taking part at the event and is pictured below.

It appears have been down on speed and was reported to be down on compression.

A 14hp Peugeot is pictured below at the Florida event where it was clocked at 81mph.

Cissac Peugeot Florida

Cissac's record outlasted him and it still remained in 1909 when some plucky Brits decided it was time to claim it for King and Country.

In 1907 JAP built 2,712cc V-twin engines for customers to use for racing and flying and to try and take the outright world motorcycle speed record which had been set in 1905 by Henri Cissac.
The engines were proper monsters, which by any standards is one hell of a serious lump of motorcycle.
Bore and stroke was 120mm x 120mm.
They are reported as being both 80 and 90 degree engines.
November 1907 in The MotorCycle is the first time one is pictured - below.

JAP 16hp 1907

At the 1907 Stanley Show in late November both BAT and Matchless show off there verions of bikes using the engine.
BAT's listing below.

1907 - November - Both Matchless and BAT have built complete bikes using these engines.

1907 - December. The Matchless gets pictured in the 1907 December show guides in The MotorCycle - and looks rather spindly.

Matchless JAP 16-20hp Racer 1907

The Matchless engined monster was tested out by Charlie Collier at the helm, but found it "unmanageable".

Below is Charlie Collier on the Matchless 16/20hp JAP - with a happy looking face, so I assume it was taken before he rode it!

2700cc JAP

What happened to the engine gets a bit cloudy as it did not continue after as a Matchless bike, but it seems possible it went into a plane.
The engines were also developed to power planes and airships.

The MotorCycle of October 6th 1909 refers to a "well known racing motorcyclist" building a light monoplane at Bromley, Kent and using two JAP 20hp engines fitted in tandem.

The following week the magazine has this, below just to add confusion.
Barnes was certainly a famous racer.

The Collier brothers (Matchless) certainly were building a monoplane as The MotorCycle of March 7th 1910 refers to it -

The Aero does not seem to contain such an article.

1910 - March 8th - "The Aero" of March 8th 1910 reports that two monoplanes are being constructed in Bromley (George A Barnes) and one in Plumstead (Colliers - Matchless).

1910 - March 19th - "Flight" reports H A Collier "succeeded in getting the machine to rise above the ground, and it flew for about half a mile along Plumstead Marshes"

1910 - March - "The Aero" - Flying on Plumstead Marshes is extra hazardous! I like the use if "acute distrubances" in relation to crashing aeroplanes and "deadly explosives" !

1910 - April 19th - "The Aero" edition says -

1910 - October "Flight" reports the 40hp JAP powered Collier Bros monoplane as flying -

Maybe the twin 20hp JAP machine is using the engine from the November Show and one other - perhaps the 3rd engine (not the BAT/NLG engine) or maybe JAP made more engines.

GA Barnes seems to have been after the Daily Mails 1,000 prize and is reported crashed in The Aero of October 19th 1909.
No Mention of JAP engines.

 

The only mention (above) of the twin 20hp JAP engines is " a well known racing motorcyclist" - now this has always been taken as the Collier brothers, but when the same magazine refers to them and aviation its uses "Collier Brothers" as that is how they are known .... so maybe/probably it is G A Barnes that has the twin 20hp JAP monoplane.

1907 - November - BAT

BAT's mention of the big JAP at the Stanley Show in November.

The BAT was not pictured in the 1907 Nov/Dec editions of The MotorCycle.

1908 - July - BAT

In the July 1st 1908 edition it is pictured and it has been registered for the road! - below.
The registration letter "D" is the County of Kent, UK and D3704 gives us a clue when it was registered and the earliest that this picture could have been taken.
The Kent 1908 January year starts with D3579 and ends with D4172 - so D3704 is about a quarter of the way through the sequence so allowing for more bikes registered in spring/summer -
I think safe to say that the BAT was registered maybe Feb-May 1908 - an educated guess.
So the picture can not have been taken until after the registration was issued.

1908 BAT JAP 20hp

So two of the engines went to Matchless and BAT.
Matchless found it a handfull and not surprising with such a feeble frame.
I have yet to find comments on the BAT verion - but as a road bike it seems in use.

The page below is interesting as it mentions both the Bat JAP and the Matchless and the picture top left is a tweaked version of a photo of Henri Cissac on his 14hp Peugeot taken at Brighton in 1905.

1908 - March 25th - The MotorCycle.
At the Cordingly Motor Exhibition JAP has a stand in the "navigable balloon section" (sounds splendid!) and is showing motorcycle engines from 16 h.p. downwards.
Maybe the same engines as the bikes.

1909 - June - NLG.

The next person to try and ride the monster was a Mr Will Cook who built an engine into an NLG frame and took it to Brooklands in 1909 and was clocked at over 84.247 mph on his first run on June 6th or 8th - both dates get quoted in various period magazines.

In the picture below Will Cook looks like a sane and rational individual. It looks fantastic. I would love to have a go on that.
The frame looks quite substantial compared to the more flimsy looking Matchless version.

NLG JAP veteran motorcycle Brooklands

 

NLG JAP 1908 2700cc

1909 - November - NLG

On November 11th 1909 Will Cook was back at Brooklands with the monster and was unofficially timed at over 90mph.
The electronic timing equipment failed and when he had another run with the timing equipment ready to record his speed, the valve timing pinion sheared and the bike retired wounded, probably much to the relief of the rider.

NLG JAP worlds fastest motorcycle

1909 - November - NLG

The beast was exhibited on the NLG stand later that month at the 1909 Stanley Show.
In The MotorCycle of Nov 22 1909 the NLG stands lists the bike as an NLG Bat - so maybe/probably it is using the engine from the Bat one.

1910 - August - NLG

The final mention in the press of a 16/20hp JAP is in The MotorCycle of August 11th 1910 where it is mentioned that "Mr. W. E. Cook will, circumstances permitting, make a time trial on his 16-20hp N.L.G."

After that I can find no more in the press.

Peter Hartley's excellent book "Bikes at Brooklands in the Pioneer Years" suggests that the BAT engine passed to a budding aviator and then to the noted racer in 1912 - Mr W Ward for use in a cyclecar when again it proved too much for the chassis. Maybe the engine that Peter refers to came out of the Bat/NLG as the timings/years would align if Will Cook had finished with it after 1910.

In summary - None of these engines beat Cissac's record. We are unlikely to know for certain, but with two period references it seems likely that 1 or 2 engines were consumed in the crashed plane and the other original BAT engine reappered in the NLG and probably again in W Wards car and then vanished. We had to wait over 100 years before we would hear one roar again ...

A summary of the 16/20 hp JAP:

1907 - November - Matchless & BAT versions exhibited at the Show
1908 - March 25th - Cordingly Motor Exhibition JAP has a stand in the "navigable balloon section" (sounds splendid!) and is showing motorcycle engines from 16 h.p. downwards.
1908 - June - BAT pictured in TheMC
1909 - June - NLG have built one and run it at Brooklands
1909 - October 6th - In Kent, mention of two engines going into an aeroplane and built by a well known racer - probably Barnes.
1909 - November - NLG exbibit the NLG BAT at the Stanley Show - so NLG based upon BAT's engine ... probably
1910 - August - NLG - final mentions of it at Brooklands

Below we have all 3 - BAT then Matchless and finally NLG.

A recreation of the NLG machine is being made from scratch.
The engineering skills to remake it from scratch is staggering and its maker is clearly an exceptionally gifted engineer.
You can see his progress on the links below.

NLG JAP Pavel Malanik

http://theoldmotor.com/?p=106559

Below - this monster was created in England by CB Grimshaw and it won a few hill climbs and then vanished - I do not think it was related to the 16/20hp JAP.

 

You can read my ramblings about my 1914 Triumph on my 1914 Triumph pages.