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Modern Speedway bikes look very much alike now, but this wasn’t the case with the early dirt bikes.  Basically any powerful road going bike was stripped down, tuned up, tinkered with, for racing on the dirt tracks.  It was common then to see the great British bike marks, in dirt track form.  Famous names like John Alfred Prestwich (JAP), BSA, James, Royal Enfield, Rudge, Vincent, Velocette, Sunbeam and Douglas from factories the length and breadth of Great Britain once graced the tracks. Now speedway is dominated by Jawas from the Czech Republic and the Italian GM's.  Other bikes have come and gone but the Jawa still remains as ideally suited to going sideways at speed!  But on these pages let us look at some of the older bikes that thrilled the massive crowds of yesteryear: -


Pre Speedway English Track Racing

Evidence of speedway in England well before the cinder sport began in Australia? Well no! The bikes were fitted with Jap engines and certainly look like early speedway bikes.  I believe they raced on grass.  These old bikes show their bicycle frame roots, the front forks for example are borrowed from bicycle technology.


James 500cc V Twin

Courtesy of Paul Wild
Thanks for the above image Paul. A photo of an actual Dirt Track V Twin James is shown below


Crocker

I believe this is a Crocker USA no details known


 

Above: This could be the worlds oldest surviving Dirt Track Bike.  

This bike was used in Australia in 1926 by Tony Batros, it has to be older than any British based bikes as our tracks didn't get under way until 1928.  It is a 350cc AJS Special Racing GR7 Big Port.  350cc bikes were quite common on dirt tracks then, another 350cc was the Harley Peashooter.
the AJS-Speedway  Motorcycle on Your Homepage is an AJS Model G8, it is an 1926 500 ohv TT-Model. 

Not sure if I can agree, what do you think?
Update  Paul Reed says: As the current owner of the Batros AJS, I can confirm that it is a 1926 GR7 350 , described in the AJS catalogue as "Special Racing" . Engine number G 46334,  Bore and Stroke 74mm  81 mm = 350cc. Andreas Raab is incorrect in asserting that it is a G8 500cc. This is obvious at a glance, as the G8 has a horizontal magneto chain cover, while on the GR7, the cover tilts up to the front
Thanks for sorting that out Paul.  Can you send any more pictures of the great bike
 

If you have any pictures of old bikes please email them to me for inclusion on theses pages. e-mail


Courtesy of Phil Newton
 


Phil Newton says: Here is a photo of my Dad Arthur James Edward Newton on his AJS grass/dirt bike in 1927 The picture was taken in the street of (27 Bligh St Wavertree, Liverpool)
Dad used the AJ for work (Liverpool Gas Co ) he was a Plumber /Gas fitter.  He fell off after winning Golden Helmet in about 1926 and got married 1927 Nearly turned pro I believe.  Doc set his collar bone on the track and had a lumb there but lived to 82 d 1983

Webmaster John says:  The years (1926/27) Phil is talking about seem to predate what we call UK speedway, i.e.1928.  I have asked him for more details of his dad (Arthur Newton) not a name I know, perhaps Arthur rode his AJ in races somewhere before speedway started here in the UK and he later went on to race at Stanley Stadium Liverpool when the speedway track was born for "open meetings" in 1928, or maybe Phil has the wrong years in mind?


Harley Peashooter

Frank Arthur with his Harley Peashooter. The bike was an early winner until the Rudge & Douglas came along

A Peashooter inside battles it out with a Douglas


A Number of old bike pics from Tony Webb


The Calthorpe


The Chaterlea


The New Imperial


The Norton


The Velocette


The Wallis DT 1929


The OEC with a Jap engine


The Zenith


The Scott, the only two stroke machine used on the speedways


The McEvoy Blackburne



This bike was assembled from a "box of bits" by Harry Huntly his son Ian emailed this: -

In the late 50's, Dad bought a big box full of motorcycle parts which proved to be a  Douglas Speedway bike !! Some parts were damaged or missing so I remember Dad fabricating new bits in his garage. He gave the bike a very special gear box and some special-metal pushrods. He sat down and built this race bike which ended up being entered at Druridge Bay Sand Track, ridden on the sand by a rider Dad picked for the "job".  It was a heavy bike with straight through exhaust but it bump started immediately. It sounded glorious.  Dad sold it to the local grass track sidecar champion who added a sidecar and did well with it for a couple of years.

I wish I knew where it is now !! Can you help please ?? email  JOHN

 

Above: a BSA 500cc Dirt Track Bike 

A very affordable machine at the time. The poor mans speedway machine!  For those who don't already know. BSA was a great British company that began making weapons. BSA is a shortened version of Birmingham Small Arms. In the 20th century the company turned it's attention to motorcycle manufacture. BSA along with Royal Enfield (another old British company) were armaments makers turned motorcycle makers. The Beezer didn't last long as a dirt-track bike (1929/30), which is a pity as JAP could have done with some national rivalry and who knows maybe BSA would still be going now if they had invested properly in making speedway machines?

New Zealand Restorer Frank Brookland has one of these machines to restore and would appreciate contact from anyone who has any photos etc of the Beesa John

Pat Jeal has been in touch with the following info and a couple of photographs: -

I've attached a couple of pictures you may like.  
I suspect the photo on your site is of this bike, which was ridden by Cyril Lord and
later owned by Noel Somerfield.  
The photo is of it in grass trim at  the 1968 High Beech reunion but I know it later had a brakeless 21" front wheel refitted.  

 
1929 BSA Road Version (For Comparison)


Courtesy of Les Elmer


Courtesy of Les Elmer

This is the 1930 BSA S29- S19


Courtesy of Les Elmer
 


Courtesy of Les Elmer

The 1929 BSA roadster appears to be the machine BSA used as the basis for their speedway machine


Let's hear from you if you own the engine.  Velocette produced many powerful single cylinder engines for their road going machines, pity they didn't concentrate on speedway bikes more


What jumps out from these Sunbeam pictures is the size of the wheels 28".  Later regulations limited wheel sizes to 22" and then to the modern day size 18 inch

 


Above: The Rudge 500.

This example looks very potent even by modern bike standards.  (Four valve technology is not modern ) I bet this machine raced flat out would frighten the life out of a lot of modern bikers!

Jap in a Rudge frame


 

American Riders 1930's at the Richmond Raceway, (Picture courtesy of Carrick Watson)

These riders are obviously mounted on an Indian (left) and a Harley Davidson.  The Indian became a popular mount for Wall of Death riders.  They don't appear to be wearing much body protection.  I assume therefore that they are simply posing for pictures but who knows maybe they raced in their long johns in 1930's, Richmond USA!


Tyneside newspaper clipping from 1929.

It invites wannabe riders to take part.  At the bottom of the clipping is "advice" on stripping down your road bike to race on the cinders.

It says: -

"Lightweight" Machines."

For the benefit of those not familiar therewith, the following regulations must be observed: -

Nearside footrests must be removed, together with front number plates, lamps, speedometers, horns and other similar accessories.  Brakes must, for the period of the racing be made ineffective.

    

To amplify the point I have shown 2 Rudge Ulster's above.  One street-legal but "heavy" and the other track-legal and "lightweight".

Some amateur riders from the pre-war years actually rode their bikes to a speedway track then stripped it down, did their racing and then refitted the number plate and lamps, reconnected the brakes etc and rode it back home.  

The Rudge shown above is shown for illustrative purposes only. It is very unlikely that it was ever taken onto a cinder track?


So, in the late 1920's and early 1930's the pioneers quickly discovered which bikes to use to be a winner. The Harley Peashooter had the edge at first.
The long wheel base Douglas was the first choice of the "leg trailing winners" with the shorter wheel base Rudge giving the foot forward riders the edge.  Then came the JAP in 1931 and the older bikes gradually gave way until all riders were mounted on the mighty JAP.


Glasgow V Newcastle was rained off so some of us headed for the Glasgow transport museum

Webmaster John Skinner, at the Glasgow Transport Museum. The Bike is a 1929 Douglas D.T.

The picture on the wall features Keith Gurtner leading a so far unknown Newcastle Diamond.  Can anyone identify the Newcastle rider?  The Douglas had 3 gears but no clutch! For three years, the Dirt Track Douglas was the supreme dirt track machine selling around 1,200 bikes in 1929 alone.  A bike like this one ridden by Gordon Byers, won the first ever race at Newcastle's Brough Park.
David Turner says: That bike was owned and ridden by George Pinkerton. A farmer near Glasgow. He restored the bike about 25 years ago. I lived on the farm next to him, and now live in Detroit. He had a brother called Jimmy Pinkerton who was of more note in the Scottish scene and also a very successful sand racer. George is also notable for being a Spitfire pilot with City of Glasgow. He and two others shot down the first German plane over Briton (near Edinburgh). I believe the bike is still owned by his son Ian who still farms the same lan
d. George died about 10 years ago

A 500cc Douglas Dirt Bike. 

Alex Kynoch shows how it was done in 1929. No, he is not falling off! These long wheel-base bikes had a very low centre of gravity because the engines were horizontally opposed flat twins.  The Leg Trailers were usually mounted on a bike like this.


A Speedway Rudge

The shorter wheel base and higher centre of gravity of the Rudge did not suit some of the old leg trailers although many adapted to the foot forward style of riding


John Alfred Prestwich. A very clever man who invented a number of things including his Jap engines used in speedway

Dawn of the JAP. 

This early machine probably dates from around 1931? The Jap engine in a variety of frames reigned the world for decades, modern speedway was born.


Courtesy of Phil Newton

 

This picture shows an early Jap. Harry by the way became a Newcastle promoter when his riding days were over.

 

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