Back in 1912, W. Harry Bashall won the Junior TT on a Douglas in 3hrs 46min 59sec at an average speed of 39.65mph. Pig slow you say, but right this moment the enormity of his achievement is beginning to dawn on me as I am riding a 1912 Douglas, very much like the one Bashall must have ridden at the TT.
I have been unable to find photographs of the intrepid Bashall on the Internet, but now suspect he had the unusual attribute of an extra arm.
We are several minutes into the start of the 2006 Sunbeam Motorcycle Club Pioneer Run, a wonderful event that's the two-wheel equivalent of the London to Brighton car run. The event was started in 1930 and, apart from a break while we sorted the Hun out, has been run every year since. Only bikes built before 31 December 1914 are eligible. You might think that this would restrict numbers but there are 360 starters this year.
The event kicks off at Epsom Race course's Tattenham Corner and follows a fairly straight route south to Brighton where it finishes on Madeira Drive. Motorways, of course, are not used. The bike I'm riding belongs to my good friend Vic Norman. Vic runs a stunt flying team using old Boeing Stearmans and puts on displays involving lycra-clad beauties wing walking. He has a nice life. And a very nice collection of bikes which he is always looking for excuses to ride.
Today he's riding his 1913 Flying Merkel. It is the most remarkable machine. He bought the 1000cc V-twin from stuntman Bud Ekins (the bloke who did that jump in The Great Escape, and the best friend of Steve McQueen), who found the bike in the '50s in a New Mexican goldmine where it was being used as a generator. It's a fast bike capable, says Vic, of at least 70mph. Trouble is, it doesn't have much in the way of brakes. And nor does the 350cc Douglas I'm riding.
The plan had been for me to come down to Vic's and test ride the Douglas so he could point out the various procedures and rituals to be endured before you can even start it. And this I did, only to arrive at Vic's to find snow on the ground. There was no point riding the bike, but Vic was able to give me enough theory instruction to put the fear of God into me.
Click here for The Pioneer Motorcycle Run page two.