Sunday 20th March saw the 77th running of the Sunbeam Club’s Pioneer Run for Veteran Motorcycles. The very first run was in 1930 and started from Croydon Aerodrome, finishing at Madeira Drive, Brighton and attracted, coincidentally, 77 entrants with George Brough being first away in a field that included many notable works riders and just one female rider.
The start soon moved to Epsom Downs with the finish remaining on the south coast and, barring the war and stoppages due to foot and mouth and adverse weather, it has run every year since. It is seen by many as the season opening event for classic machines as well as the world’s premier event for veterans.
Entrants, though, must be on a machine manufactured prior to the 1st of January 1915 and the Sunbeam Club’s excellent policing of originality ensures that many of the machines are just as they left the factory in those early days and give a real flavour of the history of motorcycling. The Register has 2034 vehicles registered and this year 339 entered the run with all of the bikes having passed their centennial anniversary.
The list of manufacturers reads like an obituary to a once great industry with many famous names adorning the tanks, although a few machines are literally one-offs or from very small scale production runs.
It is notable that the amount of European and American machines increase yearly and this year saw many foreign number plates visible, such is now the draw of the event worldwide.
Many of the riders are not that far behind the bikes in age and some dress in period clothing whilst others prefer to use modern materials to protect against the elements and make themselves conspicuous to other road users. It is also pleasing to report that now that there are a lot of younger riders taking part and the female contingent has grown to nearly double figures.
Whilst there are various awards on offer, for most it is just the challenge of making the run unaided as completing the event is an achievement. A real test of riding ability and mechanical aptitude in modern traffic conditions, not to mention meticulous preparation in the workshop beforehand. Riders have to juggle ignition and air levers and prime manual oil pumps to ensure a trouble free run, often aiding progress with a little Light Pedal Assistance (LPA) on the various hills en-route.
Not all, of course, make it unaided, some need to resort to the tender to make it to the finish and social gathering on the famous seafront, and some riders end up with enough stories to entertain for years to come.
Although it may not have the cache of the car event there is no doubt that the Pioneer Run is just as interesting and includes many of the Forecars and Tricycles that take part in the November car run. Certainly a walk around either paddock and time by the roadside will show that very little is new and, as you glide effortlessly past these pioneers on a modern steed, you need to say a little silent ‘thank you’ to those with the foresight not only to manufacture these machines, but also those who chose to preserve and demonstrate them.
The 78th Pioneer Run will follow the same format as this year’s, and take place on the 19th March next year so make a date in your diary to see a little bit of automotive history!