100% Biker 186

100% Biker 186
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At the recent Brackley Festival of Motorcycling, I fell in love.

As you might imagine, I see a lot of bikes in this job. Some are fabulous, some are fun, some terrifyingly awful (although then again only one person has to like a particular bike and it generally isn’t me). But just once in while I see a machine which brings me to a complete halt, quite literally speechless. The bike that had that effect on this particular occasion? A 1936 New Imperial V-twin racer.

New Imperial started making motorcycles in 1901, although the company then returned to manufacturing bicycles for over a decade before producing the Light Tourist, a 300cc which could out-perform many other larger bikes of the era. Six TT wins followed using a 250cc engine which became one of the fastest in its class anywhere in the world. Someone at the Birmingham factory then had the whizzo idea of building a V-twin out of two of these engines which would, in theory, make it faster than the then all-conquering Norton singles. And it was … in theory. The problem was it didn’t handle like a Norton. On the Isle of Man, it bucked and weaved like a rattlesnake-bitten donkey. Only one rider, ‘Ginger’ Wood was prepared to ride the damn thing and it threw him off at 100mph.

But, as you can see on the 100% Biker Facebook page, the New Imperial vee is a thing of beauty and testament to a company which epitomised the best in pre-war British ingenuity and engineering. New Imperial was truly an innovative company, prepared to take risks with advanced designs, something which ultimately led to its demise at the outbreak of the Second World War.
I would probably never have seen this machine had it not been for the fact that it is, like countless examples of our motorcycling heritage, currently in the care of the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. The National Motorcycle Museum receives no government funding, despite being an invaluable curator of this country’s industrial history; from 1901 to the early 1950s, Britain produced 90% of the world’s motorcycles. Instead, the museum relies upon hiring out its conference facilities as well as donations from individuals and industry.

That’s why the break-in that the Museum suffered on 27th August (and which you can read about on page 9) is all the more galling. In a way, it might have been more understandable had rare motorcycles to which an insurable value could be attached been taken, but the thieves’ haul of base metal trophies and TT plates is virtually worthless in monetary terms. As part of history, those trophies are priceless, particularly to one of the legends of British motorcycle sport, six-time World Champion and six-time TT winner Geoff Duke, to whom many of them had been awarded. And the chances are that this utterly pointless but devastating robbery was committed by someone whose grandfather – perhaps even their father – worked in the motorcycle industry or was, as so many in the local area were, connected with it.

The National Motorcycle Museum will recover from this, but the likelihood is that a tiny nickel-plated part of the collective history of the British motorcycle industry is lost forever, and we can ill-afford that.