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Sunbeam MCC 70th Pioneer Run
Brighton, Sunday 9th March 2008

The 2008 season for historic motor cycle events commenced, as is traditional, with those stalwarts of pre-1915 machinery braving the early spring weather to ride from Tattenham Corner on the Epsom Downs to Brighton’s Madeira Drive on the seafront.

The run was earlier than usual this year, I assume because Easter was early. (Strange, Easter is always either 'early' or ‘late’. I’ve yet to hear someone say, ‘Easter’s about right this year’!) The weather is always the big unknown - especially so this year with the event two weeks earlier than normal. However, contrary to all expectation, the sun appeared practically on cue to give us a burst of sunshine between the drizzly, grey skies of the day before, and lashing rain and gales that were to follow the day after the event.

The seafront gathering was the usual good natured mix of leather-clad bikers, traditionalists in wax cotton and the gentleman veteran motorcyclists in tweed and deerstalker. Not forgetting the long-suffering ‘better halves’. That said, there was a strong contingent of lady motorcyclists; and, beneficial for the future of the event, a healthy number of youngsters, too. The youngest was possibly the dummy-sucking infant seen squeezed with family into a 1914 Triumph combination!

Riders are announced as they arrive – a few of the clutch-less preferring not to pull up for the commentator! Helpful tannoy messages included a warning to one rider that his petrol tank had seemingly fractured, with petrol seeping out. Not that anyone would notice with the smell of petrol masked by the hundreds of plates of chips as riders and spectators re-fuel!

£2 buys a programme and entrance to the paddock with its wealth of overheard conversations; one ‘grey beard’ advising his concerned family that he had clearly said they would find him either at the finish … or in hospital en route! There is fascinating talk about veteran riding techniques to eavesdrop, along with much exercising of knee joints as the idiosyncrasies of early engines are explained.

Amongst the 364 entrants this year were a fine collection of early Sunbeams in the third of the event’s three classes which covers the years 1910-1914. There were three excellent examples of the 2¾ hp (350cc) model from 1913. Their larger 3½ hp (500cc) relative, hitched to a sidecar appeared in the programme but was not to be seen. From 1914, there were a couple of 3½ hp (500cc) machines and a JAP-engined v-twin of 770cc.

Also in evidence were a couple of big ‘model D’ 700cc V-twin AJS machines and a lovely little 269cc Wolf of 1914 (see photos below).

A couple of later Sunbeams were also in attendance amongst spectators’ machines: a flat tank, side-valve of c.1928 (see photo below) and a later saddle tank from the early 1930s which disappeared before I had chance to snap it.

As a final delight for the Pioneer Run crowd and the curious mid-morning promenader, the following collection was placed on display. Even amongst a collection of the rare and unusual the downright odd has a place, too ...


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