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On Saturday 14th July 1990, Simon Whitehead, David Freeman, my Cyclemaster and I set out for Land's End in a Jiffy Camper van. Our purpose? I was going to ride the Cyclemaster from Land's End to John O'Groats and the others were going to goad me. The preparations had started several months earlier, as I carefully rebuilt the engine, added a long range tank (5 pints!), oil, water bottle and luggage racks to try to ensure my success. Following a careful running-in, during which I NEVER exceeded full throttle, I was reasonably confident that the machine would make it. Whether I would was another matter entirely... After an overnight stop at Tavistock we headed for Land's End.
Anyone who hasn't been there for a few years will have a shock. Now, there is a mini theme park on the site, with a suitably inflated entry fee. We explained our purpose and were allowed in free to take our photographs. I set out at 12:51pm, having arranged to meet the others at Okehampton, some 100 miles distant. Everything was going fine when I stopped at Indian Queens, two hours later, for a coffee at a roadside caravan. I'd begun to settle into the pace of the little machine and had stopped wishing I was on my 1000cc Moto Guzzi. A little later the van overtook with much horn blowing and hand waving.
After 75 miles, the engine coughed, hiccupped and died. After a rapid check I found that the carburettor was completely choked with a fine rust. It had descended from the long range tank. I cleaned out the carb', started, caught a wire with my foot, retrieved the front lamp from the A30, refitted it and continued. Okehampton was reached without further mishap and my friends were waiting with a very welcome coffee and sarnies. It was now 6pm, so David and Simon went on ahead to find a campsite 30 or 40 miles further on. I rode through Crediton and met the first hill of the day. I thought that it would never end. Then, as I reached the top, to my delight I found a steep decline followed by... another hill. I was glad to reach the campsite, just the other side of the M5.
Next morning I arose early and was heading for Taunton by 7:30. The Cyclemaster liked the cool, still, damp morning air and fairly flew along. As the morning wore on though, a headwind developed and my speed dropped. I rode toward Glastonbury along an old, willow-lined Roman road. I thought Suffolk was flat! I could see the Tor half an hour before I arrived! I met the van for breakfast just before Chippenham. My friends had bought an in-line filter for me, which was soon fitted to the top tank fuel line, 16 miles later the carb' blocked again. How embarrassing. I cleaned it out and that was the last of that problem. As I approached Leicester on the Fosse Way the engine was decidedly unwell. I couldn't stop it four-stroking. I was 3 hours behind schedule when I reached the city (I should have been in York!), but I stopped to tinker before I braved the rush hour traffic. It was all to no avail and the next couple of hours were sheer purgatory. Due to a miscalculation I had to refuel for myself on the A46. I turned onto the A6097 north of Nottingham and my friends finally overtook me. As I waved them down I was about ready to give it all up. We stayed overnight at Clumber Park, near Worksop.
The next morning I dismantled the Cyclemaster whilst Simon burned the breakfast. An unbelievable amount of carbon had built up in the ports and the rings were completely gummed up. I decoked the cylinder but unfortunately, after 37 years, one of the studs chose this moment to pull out of the crankcase. I refitted it with Araldite and crossed my fingers. I was returned to the previous nights stopping point and set out again at 12:30. On the way to Doncaster the engine seized three times. I stopped, enriched the mixture and continued. It became increasingly obvious that the Araldite wasn't working. The cylinder head was leaking and the poor thing could hardly hold 15mph on the flat. Simon and David overtook on the A19 near Selby and I waved them down. After an animated discussion, the Cyclemaster and I were bundled into the Jiffy and taken to Selby to find someone who would Helicoil the thread for me. We didn't find anyone. Off to York. After a full tour of the city we finally found Eric Gibbs Engineers who promised to fix it first thing the next morning. We found a campsite for the night and I stripped the engine down to its cases.
As promised, the studs were fixed the next morning. I reassembled the engine in their yard and by 1:20pm, having been taken back to the breakdown point in the van, I was on my way (No cheating here!). To quote David, in our diary "We are seriously behind - we are going to have to burn". I next met the van just south of Darlington. After a brief rest I continued towards Carter Bar. The hills in Northumberland and Durham were not intended for Cyclemasters. It appears to be an unfortunate fact that all the valleys run east-west, whilst the A68 goes north-south. I reached the Scottish border at 10pm and took some photographs and finally stopped for the night 18 miles short of Edinburgh at 12:30am. I had covered 185 miles in 11 hours and still had 300 to do. I left at 8:05 the next morning and rode through Edinburgh at rush hour. Most of the city seemed to be under scaffolding, which was a pity as it's quite a beautiful city most of the time. I picked my way through the potholes towards the Forth Bridge. At the booth I had an 'interesting' discussion with the Toll Man, who didn't want to let me through as I was on a bicycle! Eventually he relented after I told a little white lie about the Cyclemaster's terminal velocity! After the bridge I turned onto the back roads where I met David and Simon for breakfast. My centre stand was loose so, while I ate, Simon tightened it and refuelled the tanks. I got a bit lost at Perth but finally found the A9. I was to follow this road the rest of the way to John O'Groats. The stand was loose again so I stopped to retighten it and it promptly fell off! Another stripped thread. It was strapped onto the carrier and I rode on.
The dualled part of the A9 is extremely boring at 25mph. The scenery's quite spectacular but, after a few hours, if you've seen one heather covered mountain, you've seen them all. I saw the van about 40 miles south of Aviemore and just had to stop for a few minutes shut-eye (4 to be exact!). After a coffee and suitably refreshed I carried on, turning into the Spey Valley soon after. That was great - downhill and a tailwind for over 20 miles. A whisker tried to catch but I managed to blow it out for 12 miles until finally I was forced to stop and clean the plug. After a lot of LPA, having climbed over 1,700ft, I eventually reached Inverness.
I met David and Simon at the Cromarty Firth for food and coffee. It was now 7:30pm and there were still about 120 miles to go. We decided to push on to try to reach John O'Groats that night. I took the short cut over the hills from Alness to Bonar Bridge as it was 10 miles shorter. At the foot of the mountain I stopped to put in a fresh plug and to strip for pedalling. It wasn't too bad really, or else I had become fit during the previous few days! The Cyclemaster was going great as the evening got cooler. It was cruising at an indicated 35mph along the coast road until the coffee stop at Dalcham at 10:35pm. After that the going became heavier. Helmdale is not to be taken lightly on a pedal assisted machine and Berridale shouldn't be taken at all! After the second 1:6 hairpin I had to rest for a while. Maybe I wasn't so fit after all! At this point the Jiffy and I were leap-frogging, never being more than 10 miles apart. I had not planned on night riding and so had not packed any spare bulbs. A blown filament would have stopped me dead (with a 200ft drop on one side, it would stop anyone!) The final run to John O'Groats was marvellous, spoiled only by rain - the first of the trip.
I decided not to 'proof up, but opened the throttle and dropped down onto the crossbar. The Jiffy was waiting at the village sign for photographs, after which we rolled down into the village and brewed up. It was 2:05am. I had covered 879 miles in 109 hours, 14 minutes, including a 22 hour breakdown. I was ready to party but for some reason Simon and David were tired! My thanks must go to Simon and David for their help, food, coffee and precious little sympathy (well, they were there to goad me!), as well as to Simon's mother for the load of the Jiffy.
First published in two parts - April & June 1992
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