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The 72nd Pioneer Run
Epsom to Brighton, Sunday 14th March 2010

The season begins! And with it some fine spring weather for this year's entrants in the Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club's 72nd Pioneer Run from Epsom to Brighton. We arrived to see two of the first motorcycles to appear along Madeira Drive on the seafront at Brighton (above). We also caught the opening 'welcome' announcement over the tannoy, delivered as usual from the London Routemaster bus used as the nerve-centre and finishing line for the day's motorcycling event (below). We were amused by the droll comments about the day's other significant event: 'something called Mothering Sunday', that the announcer claimed to know little about!

The ancient internal combustion engined machines arrived in a steady stream thereafter. Their state of mechanical composure varying; everything from the plethora of 'trusty Triumphs' living up to their name and generally maintaining a clockwork beat as they pass, to other machines that barely achieved compression or a regular exhaust note. One or two were eight-stroking and some left a tangible aroma of over-heated engine. All this adding to the atmosphere and delighting our senses by way of eyes, ears ... and nose!

A number of machines cut out as they arrived, a few pushed the last few yards with their belt drives trailing ignominiously. We winched as dainty forks 'crash' the steel kerb ramp. On the whole the finishers were running well, as we spot the more well-known marques of Douglas, Ariel, BSA, etc interspersed with a fantastic array of obscure early makes that you'll probably not see on the roads anywhere else. Cameras are snapping, the good Mrs Sidevalve's amongst them! She snaps a number of 'Beams on their way in (below).

The Bonhams' tent added greatly to the day's interest. The star of the show was undoubtedly the Hildebrand und Wulfmuller 'barn find' of c.1896 (below). It is due for auction at the Stafford International Classic Motorcycle Show in April. It seemed perfectly apt that an example of the world's first production motorcycle (1894-97) was here amongst the day's pioneer and veteran machines.

The spectators, a mix of motorcyclists and curious promenaders, showed a special interest in the earliest machines - not every day you see a Victorian motorcycle on the road. The 43 'Class 1' (pre-1905) machines listed in the programme were a mix of tricycles, fore-cars and jaunty, engine-propelled bicycles (below).

The sight and sound of the machines are guaranteed to delight the crowd - especially when riders are dressed in period costumes, which many were (below).

'Class 2' machines from the period 1905-09 are well represented too, with some 36 machines listed in the programme to look out for.

But, it is 'Class 3' machines (1910-14) that are most numerous with some 292 entrants listed. Amongst them were to be found the Sunbeams we had come to see. And, we were not disappointed. There were examples of all three Pioneer-eligible Marston Sunbeam models.

A pleasing sight was the pair of single cylinder machines from the Isle of Man: a 2 horse power (350cc) and a 3 horse power (500cc) model which were ridden in tandem along Madeira Drive before being parked up together (below).

In all there were three examples of John Marston's first production model listed in the programme; the pretty two-speed, 2 horse power (350cc) model with its Harry Stevens (of A.J.S.) designed engine. All three are from 1913 - none of the first year's production from 1912 are known to survive. We only track down the one example, above.

Marston's second production model, the big 6 horse power (660cc) J.A.P. engined v-twin was present in both its 1913 and 1914 guise. We caught up with both in the paddock. The 1913 model is, I think, from the former Verrall collection (above), whilst the latter was at one time owned by vintage collector and enthusiast the late John Griffiths (below). This was the actual machine used by toy-maker Matchbox as the model for its Sunbeam motorcycle combination. Its German owner explained how he is hoping to track down the original side-car which has been split from the cycle. He also regaled us with tales from his ride that morning; an experience dogged by very loose handlebar fittings that caused him to limp home with assistance behind the others.

Finally, there was the John Greenwood designed 3 horse power (500cc) model to look out for. There is a single example from 1913, the first year of production  (OA 8709). However, it is the remainder of 1914 vintage that catch our eye - and the camera lens (below).

As usual, as we wander through the paddock the camera lens of the good Mrs Sidevalve also tracked down Sunbeam's Wolverhampton rivals. Ten of them were listed this year, including seven A.J.S. machines - celebrating the marque's centenary year with its formation in November 1909.

Amongst the A.J.S. machines was one of the company's first production models introduced in late 1910. It is the chain-driven, two-speed Model B - this machine dating from 1912 and one of the earliest Ajays I have seen on the road (below). It  was sold along side a single-speed, belt-driven Model A that I have yet to catch sight of.

There were also a couple of v-twin Clynos from 1912 and '14 (below), both pulling side-cars, and a solitary 296cc Wolf from 1914.

Sooner than we realised it was time to go hunting a late lunch. As we left we came across three fine looking Sunbeams amongst the spectators' machines (below). We enjoyed a chat with regular attendee Gez Cater from Kent who travelled in to see the Run on his trusty 350cc side-valve from the late 1920s. He looked the part too in his Brooklands-style leathers, which we discovered he is making and selling. It is this celebration of not just the motorcycles but the period of the pioneer, veteran and vintage era that brings events such as today's Pioneer Run to life.

Heading back into town, the weather began to look decidedly stormier. Darkening skies made for a dramatic last photo of the Pier (photo).


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