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Cyclemaster & VéloSoleX

by John Blackburn

I'm interested to read comments about using cyclemotors. I've covered about 2,000 miles on a VéloSoleX 3800 and another 500 on a 25cc Cyclemaster. That's not a large mileage compared with some of the stories I've heard about people who rode them in the 1950s, but it's enough to become familiar with what they are like to use regularly and to discover some of the benefits and drawbacks.

People's reactions to my using a cyclemotor for transport vary. In Sheffield, where I used the VéloSoleX regularly, these ranged from hilarity that I could ride such a machine from kids who had never seen anything like it before (the more interested ones asked if I had built it myself); to reminiscences from a number of people whose first motorised transport had been a cyclemotor; to appreciation of the real practical values of it as a means of transport, including being approached one day by a lady of mature years who was quite taken by its obvious light weight and practical value. When I moved to Liverpool, the bike didn't attract as much attention, the majority whom I spoke to about it being older people who had used a cyclemotor for commuter transport in the 1950s, including the present owner of Evans Cycles of Blessington Road who completed a holiday tour of Wales on a 32cc Cyclemaster and from whom I obtained parts for both Cyclemaster and Power Pak.

My tuned VéloSoleX has been written about previously. It was tuned primarily to enable it to master the majority of Sheffield's hills, but also to maintain my pride in competition with the keen pedal cyclists there. The resulting performance turned out to be comparable with a good 25cc Cyclemaster with a top speed of 35mph down the hills and 25-30mph on level ground. I subsequently obtained a standard exhaust system from the spares secretary, who had acquired a couple of rough VSXs. This reduced the performance by 3 or 4mph, but this was sufficient to prevent a repetition of the flywheel disintegration problems in addition to making the bike significantly quieter.

Noise and vibration are definitely the worst features of the VéloSoleX, with the motor mounted on the front wheel. I regularly took this to the EACC meetings at Ashover, when they were held there, a distance of about 18 miles, so I could get there in a little over an hour. My longest trip on the VéloSoleX was to the VMCC run at Southam, a distance of 85 miles, which took 5 hours. By the time I had covered another 30 miles on the run, I was extremely tired having left Sheffield at 5 o'clock that morning. However, the spares secretary was staying at a local Youth Hostel with his car, so I rode back there and gratefully accepted a lift for the return journey. I also took the VéloSoleX from Liverpool to a motor cycle club meeting on the other side of Winter Hill near Belmont on a very wet Sunday, where it was received as "a bicycle with a cement mixer on the front wheel". Surprisingly I had no problems with slip, unless I induced it, and this time I used earplugs so that I was much less tired by the time I reached home.

The problems I had with flywheel spokes cracking were due to excessive vibration as a result of over-speeding the motor. At 27mph, which the bike could keep up on level ground, the motor was spinning at approx 6000 rpm and going downhill at 36mph raised engine speed to 8000rpm, which was somewhat above the speed at which it was originally designed to run. From time to time, the springs that hold the engine on to the front tyre broke one of the end loops, allowing the motor to spin on the tyre in the wet. Occasionally I also experienced problems with sticking valves in the fuel pump, generally after the bike had been left standing for a while. The bottom bracket bearing and the chain and freewheel also need lubricating with a little oil from time to time. The original throttle/brake control is novel and clearly designed for maximum ease of operation, being full throttle unless you hit the brake: but although the twist-grip position can be varied, it is imprecise and has positive closing only. So I changed the control to a standard twist-grip with positive opening, which allowed full throttle to be positively selected and a quicker take-off from the traffic lights. Another problem which came to light with the symptoms of drive slip proved to be the large nut holding the clutch drum to the mainshaft coming loose. There is no tab washer on this nut nor any key-way or other positive location of the clutch drum. It is simply held from slipping by the tightness of the securing nut. I screwed mine back up again with Loctite.

The VéloSoleX is very convenient for use around town with its centrifugal clutch and you can park it on the pavement while you go into a shop without creating a major nuisance (the centre stand is very convenient). My model 3800 is also very comfortable with its 2 inch tyres and well-sprung seat, which tame the road irregularities reasonably well and far better than the tyres of a roadster bicycle. Economy varies from 160mpg when using all the performance available (which generates a high grin-ability factor, especially motoring downhill) to a best of 1/3 gallon for a return trip to Newark in company with Simon Farrier on an ailing Cyclemaster. The distance was 40 miles each way and I towed him the last 5 miles in addition to carrying on the VSX a roadster bicycle in pieces that I had bought from a scrap dealer in Newark who conveniently parked his pick-up full of scrap bikes outside the cafe where we met up.

Once I had completed the Cyclemaster, it was used principally for special trips. I rode it to the Woodvale International meeting near Southport in August '86 where it generated a lot more interest than some of the bigger motor cycles there; many more people identify with a practical economical machine such as this than with a larger, more "prestigious" motor cycle. I also rode to a show at Macclesfield, a distance of 40 miles, more to see what else was on display than to show it, but was persuaded to park it with the classic motorcycles on display, where it proved a popular exhibit whilst I looked round the rest of the show. Over this distance and on minor roads, I found the bike very pleasant to ride, allowing plenty of time to view the countryside and occasionally pedalling easily up a hill to relieve the boredom. The noise was the worst factor: it was nice to stop and listen to the countryside from time to time. The most interesting trip I undertook on it was over the Pennines and back to Sheffield to show the completed bike to the friends who had helped me to get it together. The day I chose to go was a slightly muggy day in August, but reasonably bright. So I took the Friday afternoon off and set off straight from work at 12:30pm. I used a minor road down to Widnes then over the Runcorn bridge keeping my nostrils pinched shut against the awful chemical smells and via a minor road to Macclesfield. There is a choice of routes out of Macclesfield, but the one which rises over the South Pennines with the most gradual gradient is the Cat and Fiddle, well-loved by motor cyclists for its many twists and turns. It is an exciting route and on a fine day the views are superb. I set off up the hill with some mild trepidation as to the amount of LPA or even HPA which would be necessary. However, it proved to be no problem: I twirled the pedals merrily and remarkably lightly for about two miles, which served very well to keep me warm in the cool breeze blowing. The Cat and Fiddle Inn itself was shut by the time I reached it, so I went further on before stopping for refreshment and relief from the noise. The road to the South of Buxton via Harpur Hill has, on the whole, easier gradients, so I used this route to Taddington and Ashford, turning off here for Baslow and only a few twirls of the pedals on hill that climbs gradually to the Peacock at Owler Bar (this route was made a turnpike by an Act of 1821), from where you see the best view of Sheffield from a position high up on the moors. Total time for the journey was only five hours, which is a very good average over the undulating terrain for a distance of 80 miles. However, I paid for it with a broken wheel bearing: the inner race of the right-hand bearing cracked and broke, which allowed the whole hub to move. Fortunately the bearing is a standard size and was easily obtained from City Seals and Bearings on the Wicker, where I have found the proprietor very helpful and the bearings cheap (often at 60% discount for cash).

The motor itself was in fact in very good order having been used solely to power a generator set on a frame in a garden shed. However, the wheel and hub had been left out in the rain and were in a poor state. I was very fortunate in obtaining new spokes from Syd Smith in Sheffield. I had hoped he might be able to make up new ones in the original 13swg, so I took along one or two of the old ones as pattern. Les, who runs the shop, disappeared into the back and emerged five minutes later with a complete new set. So I had these re-plated in zinc and the wheel parts, exhaust and other small items blast cleaned and epoxy coated in black, which helped to gloss over the worst of the rusting and gave a durable surface for the brake on the wheel rim. The fuel tank bore the original transfer of the Sheffield suppliers, Roper's, so I lacquered over this with clear varnish and painted the rest in the standard colours of black with red lining. Simon provided the cycle, a Dragonfly, which I duly refurbished and I have now sold the complete bike to him, so I hope we shall see him riding it this year.

Is there anyone in the club who uses an electric cyclemotor regularly? The restrictive and expensive vehicle regulations in this country make these a better bet than an ICE-powered cycle. Following the relaxing of the regulations regarding electric vehicles, there was quite an upsurge of interest in these, but this seems to have waned. At £400, both the Sinclair and the Pandora seemed overpriced, but the simplest I've seen is the Booster Bike, made in Huddersfield and priced at about £200 for the motor unit about two years ago. In fact, Andrew Roddham tested one of these for Buzzing and found it very simple to control with reasonable staying power and regulation maximum speed, but I've yet to see one of these on the road. I've recently seen an electric tricycle in Buckingham, where I work now, but it was passing. Have you seen one and do you know what is available on the market?

First published - June 1989

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