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The First Sunbeam and AJS Testers' Run, 1993

Conversation over beers during the evening's stop-over in Dinas Mawddwy on the 2008 Testers' Run turned to its origins as a Marston Sunbeam Register event - in partnership, of course, since 1995 with the Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club. Heads were scratched and memories searched.

Among the group of us musing over the question were Trevor Davies and Brian Watton. For some years now Trevor and Brian, both former IMI Marston men, have been responsible for organising the run - sorting accommodation, arranging support vehicles, providing riders with their route maps - that sort of invaluable stuff. However, both expressed a debt of gratitude to Ray Jones and David Davies who in the mid-1990s mapped out the route used today. This, the gathered 'Beamers remembered, was done with much assistance from the Register's 'home team' of motorcyclists based at IMI Marston. In doing so, they had relied on the recollections of George Peck who had worked alongside Sunbeam's original factory testers in the 1920s and '30s.

However, Trevor recalled that the initiation of the event came from a chap called Ron Sands. It had been his idea in the early 1990s to recreate the old Wolverhampton testers' route into Mid Wales as a two-day event. The Marston Sunbeam Register was itself well-established at that time.

Now, this information sparked a memory of something I had read in the classic bike press many years ago. The Sunbeamsidevale archives were subsequently scoured and sure enough the legendary Frank Westworth in his 'From the Saddle' column for Old Bike Mart had been there at the very first Testers' Run in 1993. And, he had written about the event - a copy of which is included below.

Reading through the article, Ron Sands is certainly credited with first mapping out a route to Dinas Mawddwy based on the old factory testers' routes. However, he had followed the A5 west from Wolverhampton into Shrewsbury. Now this is not the most pleasant of rides on an old motor cycle. But, he did take in old abandoned sections of the road that had been by-passed in favour of straighter, more efficient lines laid down over subsequent decades by Shropshire's Highway Engineers (much to Frank Westworth's scorn).

The current route for the Testers' Run no longer follows Ron's route. It now skirts south of Shrewsbury along Shropshire's far more pleasant country roads via Bridgnorth and Craven Arms. Trevor and Brian at our Dinas Mawddwy ruminations recalled that George Peck had advised that there hadn't been a prescribed route for the testers other than to get their machine over Bwlch-y-Groes and back home to Wolverhampton in the day.

For the first Testers' Run organised by Ron Sands it seems the19 riders taking part used various British motor cycles including modern machines from the sixties. This, along with the route into Mid Wales, may have changed but the over-night stop near Dinas Mawddwy and the marvellous sense of camaraderie remain. In these respects, the run is very much as Ron intended it 15 years ago.


Old Bike Mart, July 1993: From the saddle

Transcript ...

It is usually pleasant to receive letters, and this column is occasionally blessed with communications from the outside world. One of the more challenging recent missives was penned by a Mr Ron Sands, from the once industrial West Midlands conurbation, who was organising a ride into the rather mountainous Welsh country not a million miles from my Shropshire residence. Could I, asked Mr Sands, suggest somewhere his party could stop for a little lunchtime refreshment?

Of course I could. And I did. I became quire excited about it, and I suggested an assortment of grub hovels ranging from ancient castles to Little Chefs, remarking sadly that I rarely stopped at pubs when I'm out for a ride, and so I was embarrassingly unable to suggest any Border hostelries (It's true; despite my occasional references to internally warming liquid refreshment, I do in fact never drink and ride. Although it was not always thus, so I can't take any sort of moral high ground here).

Some time later, Ron Sands replied to my reply announcing that he would not in fact be using any of my wonderfully helpful suggestions, but would would be stopping instead at a pleasant pub in Montford Bridge, near Shrewsbury, and would I fancy dropping in? So I did, taking a mate along for the ride.

The run which Ron Sands had organised was in itself a quite excellent notion. He had  decided to re-ride the test routes used by road testers from the ancient Midlands factories of Sunbeam and AJS, and to invite other riders to accompany him. What a fine idea. The major difficulty for anyone attempting to re-create an ancient ride is that generations of road planners and developers have all too often replaced the old roads with new ones. And the new ones are all too often boringly straight; indeed, were the once-mighty Sunbeam and AJS concerns still knocking out their splendid models from Wolverhampton, I doubt very much whether the modern A5 would be much of a test, or indeed of much interest. Apart from featuring a cholesterolic plethora of greasy spoons and suspicious roadside mobile snackeries, much of the modern  A5 which passes through Shropshire's dreaming acres is depressingly dull and desperately direct.

So Ron Sands has painstakingly uncovered which bits of the old road remained, renamed but not removed after the introduction of the Eighties' super-highway, and he had worked out what their new designation was, so that his riders could indeed follow in the tyre tracks of those ancient riders. The old A5 had become, for instance, the B5061 through Atcham to Shrewsbury, and further west. A challenge indeed, and it is challenges which produce the more interesting rides.

On the Sunday, then, I pointed the Norton out to Montford Bridge to say hello to Ron Sands and find out just how his Testers' Run had been received. Nineteen riders had started out on a range of machinery as varied as Sunbeams from the distant pre-War period up to Fifties and Sixties twins. In one of those sad ironies Ron's own Sunbeam had wrecked its clutch and was being transported back to the Black Country in a large Mercedes van, but the reliability of the rest of the bikes was exemplary. As was the cheer of the riders!

It appears that the over-night stop near Dinas Mawddwy had produced a crop of rested and refreshed riders. Their return ride towards the industrial Midlands was running to time, and the comments from riders of the more modern machinery was full of compliments regarding the abilities of the old Wolverhampton workhorses to maintain a decent rate of cruise. There was nothing of that depressing over-polished and under-ridden gleam from the bikes on the run, either. Every machine looked well used, their riders sat their saddles with the comfort of familiarity, and the bikes kicked up with that ease which indicates a relaxed state of tune. Good humour was everywhere evident.

Isn't this the very best of this old bike movement of ours? When all of the concours glamour has been forgotten, and all those irritating quibblers about how exactly which pattern of rear light lens was fitted in 1954 have driven off in their cars and cardigans, isn't the best part of it all sharing memories of a good ride with a bunch of cheery, slightly weary souls in a car park some miles from home on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon?

Among those riders, there was a spirit of a shared pleasure, of a successful mission, of a decent ride. This may have been the the first of Ron Sands' Testers' Runs but I think it won't be the last, methinks, and with a little more publicity there should be more riders if he does decide upon a re-run next year. And if he does, it is entirely possible that I know a man with a Wolverhampton AJS, who has let me ride it once, and might again...

Frank Westworth



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