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The Art of Driving a Motorcycle  —  £ 4.99

Go to the eBook Shop As an ex-motorcyclist myself I prefer the word 'Riding', however, I do agree it is an 'Art'. You persuade a machine to do what you want by using your body, not by wrenching the handlebars.

Here you will learn how to do it 1916-style, when the roads were full of horses and inconsiderate omnibus drivers and you could buy a brand-new single-seater 2¼ h.p. 'Radco' for £26 10s.

Do read the Introductory Chapter - written in the full-on, tongue-in-cheek manner of Motor Cycling journalism that eventually led to 'Ogri'.

This eBook version contains the entire text, all illustrations and advertisements. Please see the extract below for the contents, introduction and the chapter on skidding.

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This is the first edition from 1916. I have seen a 3rd edition described as 1920, but cannot trace any later ones. It appears to have been 'merged' into the 'Motor Cycle Manual', which was still being regularly updated and reissued into the 1960's.

My copy is very clean internally but the cardboard cover has suffered over the years (click the thumb on the right to see a larger version), so I have recreated it.

The writer singles out Peckham, which "shares the distinction with a few other parts of the Metropolis of a perpetual road-repairing scheme and also a perpetually bad road," although, "at Sidcup the road authorities were apparently endeavouring to eclipse Peckham."

There is advice here that is still relevant today. There is advice that is so irrelevant as to make you laugh out loud. I have never met any passed-out-drunk cattle-drovers on the verge of any country lane, who were then, apparently, a very common hazard. There is also advice that is now so dangerous you wonder how anyone survived these early days of motorcycling.


The text and any images below are identical to the eBook; however, depending on the typeface, etc., that you select, they may not display here exactly as they do on your eReader. Also, pages turn as normal, rather than the scrolling effect seen here.



Chapter I

Chapter II
The Use of the Controls

Chapter III
Learning to Drive

Chapter IV
Training the Eye

Chapter V
Traffic Precautions

Chapter VI
Riding Position

Chapter VII
How to Steer

Chapter VIII
Starting and Stopping

Chapter IX
Starting Troubles

Chapter X
Starting on Hills

Chapter XI
Gears and Gear Changing

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV
The Question of the Use and Care of the Brakes

Chapter XV
The Use and Misuse of the Horn

Chapter XVI
General Notes


Chapter I


     A decade ago a motorcycle was ridden only by an enthusiast who thought of little else besides his mount during the day and dreamed of big-ends and power curves all night. His conversation consisted almost entirely of discussions concerning the efficiency of various accessories, and his company, it is feared, was little sought except by his fellow motorcyclists. He was, in fact, nearly as devoid of ordinary interest as the average golfer, which is saying something.
     It may be said in his defence that the machines of the period required an ultra-enthusiasm almost unknown to the ordinary motorcyclist of to-day, whose predecessors had to contend with the whimsicalities of accumulator ignition and faults of design which had yet to be eliminated. It is well for riders of modern machines that there existed at that time the comparatively small band of wheelmen willing to nurse the petrol mount through its darkest days until the forerunners of our present machines were evolved. In those days a motorcyclist was a motorcyclist and little else.
     At the present day, however, we find lovers of the sport throughout every walk in life, from the schoolboy still in his teens, using his mount solely for pleasure, to the past-middle-age solicitor having a country clientele and utilizing his machine as the pleasantest means to an end.
     Youth is no longer an essential adjunct to the pastime, and the cyclist of long standing, finding that the hills are becoming a little too much for him, will discover in the motorcycle the means of visiting spots dear to his heart and associated with youthful recollections, without the fatigue consequent upon the propulsion of his mount.
     Doubtless he will regret that in his younger days he was denied the means to make the field of his recollections further and broader, but the discovery of fresh centres of interest, which the bicycle did not reach because the going was wearying, will bring him consolation.
     Now that motorcycles are so reliable, simple, and clean to handle, and the energy necessary for the production of the initial explosions has been reduced to the minimum, the fair sex may participate in the pleasures of driving a solo mount or a sidecar. Manufacturers have been exceedingly busy in the direction of the lady's solo mount, and the woman rider has a wide choice of different makers' machines, each designed to make her task, if such it can be called, the easiest possible, due regard being paid to the necessity for keeping clean without the aid of, to say the least, unbecoming attire, a point upon which the mere man is usually less fastidious.
     Who amongst the devotees of the cycle has not welcomed the free-wheel descent of a long hill, with hand on brake, and enjoyed the sensation of controllable motion without muscular effort, lamenting the fact that progress would cease, when the foot of the hill was reached?
     The essential difference between the motorcyclist and the cyclist is that the journey of the former is all down hill. To him a head wind or a steep ascent merely implies a little more throttle opening, and if very serious a change down. What more can be desired on a hot summer day than an effortless spin over hill and down dale, to the accompaniment of the song of the engine nestling between one's feet, happy in its task and ready to obey the whim of its master, whether he desires speed on a wide, white road or an amble at 10 miles an hour through some peaceful village still untouched by the speculating builder of "those up-to-date-model-villas" fame. The lover of scenery during a short week-end (not the Friday morning till Tuesday evening variety) can visit beauty spots positively unassailable by train in so short a period, and return ready for a week of business, satisfied with himself and the world generally.
     Those already devoted to some other sport or pastime will find the motorcycle of inestimable service. The town-dweller with a liking for golf may spend his summer evenings on links 10 miles from his home, losing only half an hour of daylight in his travel. The fly-fisherman and the photographer are able to practise their arts in out-of-the-way places with the utmost facility.
     It is unnecessary to dwell upon the services rendered to the cricketer and footballer since the army of machines and the popping of exhausts at every match speak for themselves.

Cheapness of Running

     A striking recommendation in favour of the motorcycle is its cheapness of running when compared with a car. The ordinary 3½ h.p. machine is as fast as any ordinary car on the road, and can be run at a fifth the cost of a two-seater of equivalent speed. A machine of this horse-power can be run for something between a halfpenny and a penny a mile, according to the skill of the rider, including depreciation loss, which is often the heaviest item in a season's running costs.
     The lightweights and motorcyclettes cost even less; in fact, the financial upkeep necessary to their running is practically negligible to the average owner, although of course their capabilities are comparatively limited. This latter statement is not intended as a depreciation of the usefulness of these handy little machines; the average motorcyclette will negotiate all main road hills, and only falls short of its more powerful brethren in the matter of high speed and its inability to carry a passenger, or perhaps we ought to say the inadvisability of taking one.
     There are thousands of prospective motorcyclists who have no wish to indulge in either of these latter pursuits, and for these gentlemen (or ladies) no more desirable mount could be found.
     The sidecar has made the motorcycle a more sociable vehicle altogether, and the owner of one of the modern comfortable sidecar combinations need not fear to ask even his wealthy maiden aunt to take the air by his side. In most instances the passenger is better looked after than the driver, who is unable to avail himself of such luxuries as hood and screen.
     As with the solo mount, every class of rider is catered for, and horse-powers range from the 3½ with light sporting sidecar to the powerful 8 h.p. machine equipped with every possible convenience, combined with a sidecar rivalling a Rolls-Royce for comfort and elegance, and fitted with a dynamo lighting set, requiring but a turn of the switch to flood the road ahead with light for 600 or 700 ft.
     These super-sidecars are the equal of a car in nearly every respect except perhaps in the comfort of the driver, while the first cost and also the upkeep are but half that of a small two-seater car. As regards the driver's comfort, it must be remembered that the motorcyclist is only at a disadvantage in wet weather, and even then may envelop himself in sundry waterproof articles of clothing designed for his especial need.
     The man of younger years will be interested in the sporting side of the movement. After he has had a little experience on the road he may enter for his club's hill-climbs and speed events, where he will meet an excellent body of sportsmen and experience untold thrills in an absolutely white sport.
     To men whose professions entail a considerable amount of travelling the purchase of a power mount will prove a wonderful economy as compared with the train, in time and also in money, providing amounts spent in the pursuit of pleasure are not charged up in the business running costs. A commercial traveller is able to set out in the morning with his samples in a waterproof case on the carrier, or in a sidecar if they are of a bulky nature, and visit three or four times the number of customers he could reach by train. To those connected with agricultural appliances is the motorcycle especially valuable, since the premises of these gentlemen's clients are, more often than not, some distance from a railway station and the train service extremely limited. Other men who find immeasurable possibilities in the motorcycle are country doctors, veterinary surgeons, surveyors, and, in fact, anybody who is under the necessity of paying many widely-distributed calls during a day.
     In conclusion it must be pointed out that the sphere of this work is not so much the instruction of the absolute novice in the rudimentary principles of driving as the improvement of the capabilities of the already fairly competent driver. For this reason explanations of working parts and technical considerations have, so far as possible, been avoided, this ground having been already covered by excellent handbooks of recent issue with which most readers will be acquainted. Of course the beginner will find loads of useful information, and there is no need for the veriest tyro to rush back to the shop and demand the return of his eighteenpence. Should any novice find a point upon which he desires enlightenment he is invited to lay his troubles before the "Information and Advice" Department of "Motor Cycling," which will gladly give the necessary explanations gratis.
     A failing which is found among the majority of motorists, and in point of fact the followers of every sport, is the tendency on attaining a moderate efficiency to assume that they have learned all there is to be learned on the subject, and class themselves experts. Possibly the proportion of really expert drivers among the motoring community amounts to one per cent.; it certainly is not more.
     The expert must not be confused with the speed merchant of reckless character. Probably we all know the man who blinds past dangerous cross-roads or leans at alarming angles on greasy corners banked the wrong way and pursues his course unscathed to the admiration of the uninitiated.
     This man is not an expert; he is a – well, silly person. His freedom from accident merely shows that other drivers involved in his near shaves have been possessed of a cool head: no credit is due to him.
     At his inquest upon some future occasion witnesses will declare that he was an expert driver and the wise ones will soliloquize and remark how strange it is that the drivers of the widest experience meet with untimely ends. The "Slowcombe Mercury" will probably bring out a leading article on the perils of motorcycling and suggest a universal speed limit of 10 miles an hour and kindred twaddle, and all this for the bogus "expert."
     The genuine expert is the driver who is capable of unhesitatingly doing the correct thing when he has but a fifth of a second to make up his mind, and so converts an impending accident into a mere incident. His brilliance is not that of the hair-raising cornerist, and very often passes unnoticed except by the old hand. The mission of this book is the initiation of the motorcyclist into the ways and means by which this habit – if such it may be called – may be acquired and developed; and it is hoped that the reader will find, after putting into practice the text of the following chapters that he has a better knowledge of driving conditions and may eventually join the ranks of the real expert.

Chapter XIII


     On the above subject nearly everyone has his own views as to prevention, but in spite of these nearly everyone skids more or less. If experience may be considered a criterion of knowledge, the writer, though ignorant in many other respects, ought to be an authority on the subject of unexpected deviation from the straight path, since – according to his friends – he makes it a point of honour to skid on every possible occasion. Tramlines, dust, mud and wet setts have all taken their tribute, but he may answer the gibes of his companions by pointing out that little hurt or damage results, which points to there being a right and a wrong way of skidding.
     On one memorable occasion, during a week-end trip to Hastings and Eastbourne, no fewer them five side-slips were indulged in before the return to town. The first occurred in Peckham, which had a fiendish combination of wet tramlines-cum-stone setts. Peckham shares the distinction with a few other parts of the Metropolis of a perpetual road-repairing scheme and also a perpetually bad road.
     On this particular occasion, in addition to the usual obstructions of the road repairer, a policeman had been placed on duty to ensure that the congestion might be complete. Lest any doubt should exist as to the fate of single-track vehicles in the vicinity, the water cart had been sent out, despite the early hour. The writer, in the face of advice he tends to other riders, attempted to reach the congested area before a tramcar and succeeded only at the expense of stability, registering "cropper" No. 1.
     At Sidcup the road authorities were apparently endeavouring to eclipse Peckham, and the second skid was effected. Leaving Hastings for Eastbourne, the tramlines, having worn on a curve, brought about the third downfall, while the careless descent of Beachy Head caused two dry skids on corners negotiated too fast and the quintet was complete, which is all beside the stated fact that skidding is more or less general.
     The reader must not assume from the preceding remarks that motor cycling is a dangerous sport. Elderly people seldom skid, because they are content to proceed slowly, where necessary, while the younger fraternity are usually prepared to take a little more risk and frequently misjudge their capabilities of correction.
     As a matter of fact, sideslip is more prevalent among seasoned riders than among novices, who are more particular as to their safety than are those of wider experience. The fact that the five skids referred to produced no personal injury whatever only shows how the skidding bogey is over-rated in some quarters.
     As a winter supplement to the spring tips for smashing piston-rings with hairpins and stretching belts with a flat-iron, the novice is annually told to negotiate grease at speed. Those who have the courage to follow this advice are usually forcibly reminded of the dangers of doing this, and if sensible will proceed at a leisurely pace for the remainder of the journey.

Fast or Slow?

     At speed the machine will certainly have a stronger tendency to travel in a straight line, but should one of the tyres lose its grip on the road for a fraction of a second the higher velocity will effectually prevent the correction of a swerve.
     At low speeds the rear wheel may evince a desire to construct a serpentine truck in the mud, but the front one will usually hold, which is decidedly more important. Furthermore, at low speeds, even though the driver be unfortunate enough to forsake the vertical, the damage so caused (if any) will be slight, while at speed a spill may be a serious matter.
     Riding position plays an important part in stability, and one distributing the weight equally between the two wheels should be favoured. On no account should the feet trail on the ground, a bad practice to which many are addicted.
     It is fairly obvious that the precarious grip of the tyres will not be improved by the pedal extremities continually shifting the centre of gravity, nor will out-stretched legs avail against a tumble if the grip of the road is lost. The rear footrest position is more favourable to steadiness, although the forward rests are decidedly preferable to slithering the feet along the ground.

     Tourist Trophy handlebars are to be preferred to the ordinary touring pattern on account of their extra leverage, and also because more weight is conceded to the front wheel at the expense of the rear.
     A skid may be more easily corrected with bars of this pattern, and altogether a greater command of the steering is afforded, giving increased confidence, which is an important factor.
     The most stable machines are those having a low centre of gravity and a moderate wheelbase. In these days, of course, every English machine is satisfactory in this respect, though one or two Continental firms still have a good deal to learn, The ancient high frame and long handlebars, with the saddle superimposed over the back wheel, were exceedingly treacherous on a wet day, and one marvels at the pluck which prompted a stream of riders to face an early End-to-End or London-Edinburgh Trial in stormy weather,
     Undoubtedly good non-skid covers help to keep the machine vertical. The rubber-studded variety will give all-round satisfaction, but the several combinations of steel and rubber treads are preferable, although their cost is somewhat higher.
     Equipped with covers of this type, the rider is prepared for anything. On grease the rubber studs will hold even though stone setts form the highway, while on country roads the steel studs will obtain a firm hold on the loose surface.
     Steel studs, although useful in wet weather, possess the disadvantage of liability to skid on dry setts, and when fitted must be treated with a certain amount of respect for this reason. On the back wheel of a sidecar outfit nothing could be better, but for solo work the combination treads will give better service.

Condition of Front Tyre

     While paying attention to the condition of the rear tread many riders neglect the front tyre. A sound tread to the front wheel is as important as an unworn rear tyre, Although not subject to driving shocks, which tend to negative the adhesion of the back wheel, the grip of the front member, once lost, cannot be restored by any movement of the handlebars or shifting of weight, and a spill is inevitable.
     Provided the front tyre has a respectable hold upon the road, progress is more or less certain, even when the machine tends to "wag its tail" – a circumstance disconcerting to the beginner but of little moment to an experienced rider, The practice of changing over covers half-way through the season is responsible for a large proportion of front-wheel skids, and the economy so effected is purely mythical.
     In ordinary use the front-wheel cover will retain its tread through two or three seasons, while the back one loses its anti-skid virtues during the first few months of the year. Thus within a month or so of the transposition one is left with two tyres minus a tread and the likelihood of sideslip obviously increased fourfold.
     When the back cover loses its non-skid formations it should be retreaded if the walls appear good or replaced if any doubt exists as to its outlasting the new tread. Here it may be mentioned that bad retreads are so much money thrown away; a fair price should be paid to a firm specializing in this work, in exchange for which a tyre equal in wearing qualities to a new article may be expected.

     An appreciable proportion of spills take place on corners directly traceable to careless negotiation or approaching at too great a speed. In wet weather due regard must be paid to prevailing conditions, and one's speed on turning reduced accordingly, especially so on roads of a pronounced camber. All curves should be taken on the inside, where the camber will be found a help to the maintenance of wheel contact, both front and rear.
     When bends are taken in a wide sweep the resultant angle of the machine, combined with the slope of the road, renders a sideslip the natural outcome, as the sketch below shows. Of course, in dry weather this proceeding may be perfectly safe, or even desirable on a sharp bend, but during the less pleasant aspect of the countryside the indulgence of wide cornering is asking for trouble. To ensure that all corners are rounded close to the hedge or kerb will probably demand a reduction in speed, and this ought to take place some distance from the corner, inasmuch as braking while leaning at an angle is not to be recommended in wet weather.
     An essential to the safe passage of a slippery curve is a steady track from start to finish. Any suggestion of a wobble on account of nerves is conducive to sideslip, and therefore no speed in excess of that at which the pilot has perfect confidence in himself should be countenanced.
     It is unlikely that any motorcyclist riding alone will drive in excess of his competence, but while endeavouring to maintain one's position among several machines risks are often taken which otherwise would be considered out of the question. Because the man in front is able to take corners at speed is no reason for your feeling small if unable to do the same. He may have a more stable machine than yours or may be one of those wondrously lucky people who are popularly supposed to be looked after by a certain elderly gentleman of the name of Nicholas.
     It should be hardly necessary to recommend the abstinence from sudden braking on treacherous roads. If an occasion arises where brake application is the only alternative to a collision the said application should be as light as circumstances will permit. Remember the maximum efficiency of a brake is lost when the wheel ceases to revolve, and a slippery surface will bring about this state of affairs with about half the full pressure from the foot.
     On a sidecar outfit a succession of "dabs" is to be preferred to continuous application as the combination may be brought round after each should there exist a tendency to proceed crabwise. On a solo mount the front brake must, never he used on a bad surface, even though the rider recognizes that a skid cannot be avoided.
     As stated elsewhere, the front-wheel skid is sudden and uncontrollable, whereas that of the back wheel, though unpleasant, takes decidedly longer to complete, letting one down comparatively lightly, and is, in certain circumstances, amenable to correction. It must be borne in mind that skidding is always preferable to a collision, and if the latter cannot be avoided by any other means the back brake may be jammed on, locking the wheel.

     In the event of the machine's speed being excessive, damage may – in fact, probably will – be caused, but in any case it will be less than that resulting from impact at a similar velocity both as regards machine and person.

Skidding with Solo Machine

     The worst enemies of the single-track vehicle are, in all probability, wet tramlines and the intermediate stone setts found in company with the underground system. The centre rail of this system is even more treacherous than those accommodating the wheels of the trams, more especially so after the setts have sunk to a slightly lower level owing to the pressure of traffic.
     When occasion demands the crossing of the lines, as when passing other vehicles, lifting the exhaust valve will be found a help, in spite of advice to the contrary. Opinions differ as to the advisability of this procedure, which is itself said to cause sideslip. What really brings about the fall in such cases is releasing the valve before the machine has resumed its original direction of travel and is still some degrees out of the vertical. When once the valve is lifted it becomes necessary to keep it raised until the forward direction is again assured.
     The writer, who has skidded through the agency of practically every other adverse circumstance, has yet to be brought to earth as a result of using the exhaust valve on a muddy road. On free-engine machines, of course, the clutch may be slipped, the deceleration being naturally more gradual; except on a few models having the control on the tank, when the exhaust valve, allowing the grip of the handlebar to be maintained, will be the safer checking agent. Crossing the lines on curves and points should be avoided so far as possible because wear takes place here, making the slots of the rails wider than the normal and their passage doubly uncertain even in dry weather.
     Tarred roads run a good second to stone setts as skid producers a failing which is more noticeable in the presence of excessive camber. However, their quick-drying propensities and sundry other virtues effectually discount the tendency to sideslip, which may fairly easily be avoided by the cautious rider.
     The crown of the road should he maintained so far as is practicable without hindrance to approaching vehicles, and when it becomes necessary – either in overtaking or meeting other traffic – it is bad practice to make a sudden deviation from the straight in order to pass or allow the necessary clearance. When it becomes necessary to pass a vehicle travelling in the same direction as yourself, commence to draw over while still some distance away. Having passed, retain the crown of the road until well past the obstacle in order that, should a skid occur, your machine (and yourself) will not be thrown directly in the path of the oncoming vehicle at close quarters. Many accidents have happened that might have been avoided had the single tracker waited until well past before taking the left-hand side, a point in the observance of which one cannot be too careful.

     So far our attention has been occupied with skids depending upon wet weather for their origin, but an equally unpleasant spill may be brought about by a dry skid occasioned by road dust or loose sand. Dry skids nearly always take place on corners, their occurrence on a straight road being very exceptional indeed. The cause is too great a leaning angle in conjunction with, as a rule, a worn tread to the front tyre.
     The front wheel is nearly always the cause of a skid of this sort, and the situation may sometimes be saved in the following manner:- When it is discovered that a corner has been approached too fast and that the resultant angle of the machine must necessarily cause it to skid in the dust, the vertical may be usually retained by a dab at the back brake. This has the effect of swinging the rear portion of the machine into line with the front, and if managed properly will permit of the safe negotiation of a bend which otherwise must have caused a tumble.
     This must not be looked upon as advice to take corners in this manner habitually. As an emergency method it is useful to know, but as an everyday proceeding the risks would outweigh any possible advantages.

Sidecar Skids

     A sidecar combination is the least likely of any vehicle to skid, maintaining a hold upon the road where cars are almost beyond control. Nevertheless, sideslip is not an impossibility, and caution must be exercised during bad spells of weather.
     The sidecar skid usually occurs when turning sharply to the right, and the outfit, instead of following the turn, skids bodily in the previous direction of travel, turning round in transit. To correct a sidecar skid it is necessary to do what nine people out of ten feel disinclined to do – namely, steer towards the direction of the skid. Thus if on a cambered road the sidecar wheel commences to slide towards the kerb the steering must be in the same direction. Turning the front wheel away from the kerb, as one feels inclined to, will merely have the effect of augmenting the sideslip and causing the sidecar wheel to finish its journey kerbwards.
     A steel stud – or, even better, a steel and rubber stud cover on the driving wheel – will prevent a sidecar skidding, and is well worth the price paid.
     In buying steel or combination studded covers it might be mentioned that the cheap stuff tempting to the buyer, although fairly serviceable on a solo mount, is useless on a sidecar combination, as, owing to the severe strains, the studs are either pulled out or work their way through the cover, when, of course, the tube is pierced.
     In addition to personal risks one must be prepared for sideslip on the part of other traffic, especially so in town riding. On the asphalt paving of the Metropolis motorbuses are rather addicted to slithering towards the kerb, and for this reason a position intermediate with a heavy rubber-tyred vehicle and the pavement should not be held longer than absolutely necessary. The skidding of a heavy vehicle towards the crown of the road is practically without an example in the writer's experience, little anxiety need be felt, therefore, provided one keeps to the right-hand side of traffic proceeding in the same direction.
     To sum up, then, the most useful and at the same time the most easily procured guard against sideslip is a moderate speed and a clear head. Of course, some machines are more prone to sideslip than their fellows. A twin with a long wheelbase will behave far better than a short wheelbase single-cylinder mount, and a lower gear is preferable to a high one. Nevertheless, the personal factor counts most, and to say a machine skids is very often to acknowledge that it has been unfortunate in its owner. Then, again, nerves and moods have to be taken into consideration. On some days one feels ready to plough through oceans of mud undisturbed, while on others the sight of a water-cart is sufficient to give one a chill down the spine. However, provided the speed is in due relation to the state of the liver, the digestion, or whatever controls a blue funk, little anxiety need be felt.


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