TOUGH OLD BOYS
Mike Nicks reviews a book that enlightens us on motorcycling in the 1920s-40s
Behind the Scenes in the Vintage Years was written by Arthur ‘Torrens’ Bourne, who was engineer to the Auto-cycle Union, and then editor of The
Motor Cycle from 1928-51. He completed the manuscript shortly before his death in 1977 at the age of 75, but it has only now been published as an illustrated 308-page softback.
Bourne takes us back to a time when there were more motorcycles than cars on Britain’s roads (495,579 bikes in 1925 versus 473,528 cars). Lean angles and 0-60mph (even 0-40mph) times were not subjects of bar-room discussion – reliability was the quest. Manufacturers demonstrated it in six-day trials, which Bourne supervised in his ACU role. These culminated in epics such as a 1924 3429-mile Roundthe-coast ride, involving a 799cc Raleigh sidecar outfit and a 348cc Raleigh side-valve solo. Bourne occupied the sidecar during this ordeal, which he describes as a ‘happy jaunt’. They sure were tough in them days. Vic Willoughby (who I mentioned in my Life of Speed column recently) crops up in this book. Before he became a doyen of road testers, Willoughby bought a 350cc KTT Velocette to race at Brooklands in the late ’30s. Bourne reveals that, on one occasion, he pushed the bike seven miles to Waterloo station wearing his leathers, caught a train to Weybridge and, having arrived, pushed the bike for another mile before he got to the track and competed. So what was Bourne’s favourite bike from the hundreds that he must have sampled? It seems to have been the 997cc Ariel Square Four. He owned several and rode one for 2000 miles while covering the 1948 International Six Days Trial in Italy. Nowadays we take planes for such journeys! *Behind the Scenes costs £24.99 from Troubadour.co.uk
1 and The publishedbook was by edited Bourne’s son Richard 2 Caricatures from a Bemsee dinner, from The Motor Cycle, January 24, 1924 3 Torrens in sidecar on Raleigh ‘Roundthe-coast’ ride 4 Bourne rides an experimental Moto Guzzi runabout 5 The Duke of York chats to his chauffeur (on a Trump Anzani) at Brooklands, 1922) 6 Torrens article in The Motor Cycle, October 28, 1943