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Travels with a Lohmann

by Philippa Wheeler

I had been running the Lohmann for four years and it was about time to have a look inside and see how it was doing.  An hour or two later it was apparent that this companion of many a Continental mile was destined for a less active life, the irreplaceable piston assembly worn and only just serviceable.

You have to be past fifty to remember the cyclemotor heyday, past sixty to have been part of it.  Youthful memory extends only to the sight of speedy Cyclemasters and the parental pronouncement that Mini Motors and Power Paks were especially good helped bring me to teenage cyclemotoring when the cognoscenti were already on Raleigh mopeds.  By 1960 you hardly saw a cyclemotor anyway, most were already disused in garden sheds, that antechamber to municipal oblivion on the Council tip.  It is no coincidence that the most prolific survivors are the Fords of the cyclemotor world and in the industrial Midlands the exotica were seldom seen.  Ergo, outside the pages of a book I had never seen a Lohmann and indeed never did until Andrew Pattle produced his at Nottingham some years ago. I simply had to have one and of course, once one was acquired, it was not enough simply to get it going ... what were they really like, was there substance in the myths that would dissolve as those about the Cucciolo on closer acquaintance?

I put the piston down and turned the engine over.  The timing cover had a long scratch.  I remembered an endless midsummer evening in Serre, on the Somme when I pulled it carelessly against a high kerb.  There had been several such trips to those haunted chalky uplands where men slew each other for a few yards of foul mud.  The little motor had been more than once close to whence it had been made and eastwards to Poland, southwards to Normandy and Brittany.

It had been tea time as I left Dinan for St Malo, the heat haze shimmered over the tarmac and the teenagers of a new generation raced homewards on their mobs in a rising crescendo of tortured two stroke, crouched over the bars and feet on footboards and looking like balls on sticks as they disappeared northwards over the horizon.

I had met Mr Lohmann in Dinan.

The square in Dinan had been crowded with tourists and shoppers as I sat eating croissants on a low wall when a middle-aged man with very short hair spoke to me.  I only caught "Lohmann" and then realised he was speaking German and looking lovingly at the bike.  Communication established, it turned out that his pal standing aside was called Lohmann and would I wind it up so they could hear it.  "Not here" said I, and their wives called them away.  A few minutes later, on my way out of town, he flung himself almost beneath my wheels and stood beaming.  Not quite knowing what to say I wondered if Mr Lohmann would care to have his photo taken with the bike.  His pal was now well out of earshot but nothing daunted his shout echoed up the crowded street, "Herman, kommen sie hier!" I believe several grey French heads twitched at the reminder of old far off unhappy times.

I looked again at the engine and its pieces on the bench.  The engagement lever was worn.  A hard frost gleamed under the moon on the high ridge of the Black Mountains outside the cottage as I peered out of the window.  The engagement lever.  The road to Trun.  It seemed a world ago rather than months since I had sailed to Cherbourg.  That was its last major trip, sad that it was probably the last.  Cherbourg at six o'clock in the morning might have its charms, but they were not apparent.  I stayed long enough for the camera batteries to go flat, to inspect the Fort du Roule and collect a puncture.  I was happy to be on the road to Briquebeque, took an alfresco lunch beside a stream and glad to be travelling again.  The tiny folding bike was cruelly burdened and the 16" wheels carried a total of 20 stones (about 140kg in my admittedly suspect maths; we didn't have Maths Advisers in my young day) so I needed all the motor could give.  Just about enough as it happened on the hilliest bit and all the local lads on mobs swarmed out of the village and past me to the top where they lined up and shouted encouragement as I pounded along; I gave them a wave and a grin then gritted my teeth again and cleared the ridge.

A memorable few days.  Towards the end of the week I rode up from Argentan and over the wooded ridge into the broad valley of the Dives.  There was the donjon at Chambois just as I remembered it from my fleeting visit by Firefly three years before.  These poppy studded wheatfields and old bullet pocked farms had seen appalling carnage a lifetime ago.  There was one reminder of those days reputedly standing by the roadside near Vimoutiers yet.  One of the armoured leviathans, the terror of the Bocage, a Tiger Tank.  A trio of these monsters had stopped the 7th Armoured Division (Desert Rats) in its tracks at nearby Villers Bocage.  It could hardly been more different to those desperate days as I ate my dinner beside the babbling little river at Moissy Ford and traversed Mont Ormel and took the road to Vimoutiers.  All roads seem to lead downhill to the town, which was en fête and the church bells ringing deafeningly.  I asked passers by about le char Allemand but received only the Gallic Shrug in response.  Was it really here; sixty tons of war surplus scrap iron could not be that easy to hide, surely?  The tourist information was of course closed but the map outside showed an arrow to a roadside site - la Tigre - of course!  I had to ask my way again and was directed uphill out of town and there it was, long barrelled 88mm gun above the squat menacing hull.  I leant the Micro/Lohmann against the steel plates, 0.75hp of German engineering being propped up by 650hp of Dr Porsche's handiwork.

I sat in the evening sunshine to eat my tea.  I still had a good few hilly miles to go back to the camp site and the gates shut promptly at ten so I couldn't linger.  So when a passing native, more interested in the Lohmann than the road ahead, completely lost control of his car, bounded across a ditch, somersaulted in the field and landed right way up in the ditch and climbed out unscathed I was, to say the least, startled.  Since he declined help I wound up the Lohmann and turned for Camembert.  It was a magic ride to Argentan and the campsite past timbered Norman farms through a golden valley bordered by fields crowned with woods and the miles slipped agreeably by.  I could rely on the little motor getting me back in time to where my safe return was watched and waited for, until finally as the sun set I was back.  As I paused above the town for the free-wheel down, I reached down and disengaged the engine.  I noticed the lever was getting worn.  Memorable days indeed.

First published - February 1999

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