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 Trou­ba­

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...

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